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Heresy Compels Orthodoxy

Posted: February 24, 2012 in Cannon, School papers, Truth

The canon of the New Testament has been a topic of struggle for the church and its members for many years. Critics of the Bible say that there were dozens of gospels that were not included in the New Testament, and should have been. Some professing Christians will even admit that they wonder if we have the right books included in our Bible, especially in the New Testament. Although the content of the Bible was widely recognized to have divine inspiration by the early church, influential heretic sects forced the early Church to canonize their scriptures. One thing should be acknowledged before the Bible is scrutinized; the Jews and the church always had a method of recognizing which books belonged in the pulpit and which books did not. When new sects arose (Gnostics) they started writing other gospels and letters that were contrary to scripture and replacing or altering (Marcions) books of the Bible. This forced the church to come out with a list of books that were divinely inspired, where as before they relied on other methods that will be discussed in further detail.

The Jew’s had a manner in which they recognized a text into their canon that was rather straightforward and immediate. Once the prophet gave the revelation and the secretary wrote it down, the Jew’s would add the scroll to their canon automatically. The historian Josephus wrote a letter in AD 90 confirming that this was the manner in which the Jew’s canonized their scripture. Josephus wrote that the Jew’s had a collection of books that agreed with each other unlike the Greeks that had many books that conflicted with one another. The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament came to a close around 400-350 BC when there was no voice of a prophet in the land. Although much later, writings dated around 550 AD from the Babylonian Talmud agree with Josephus. The Rabbinical literature says, “(the) Holy Spirit had departed from the land,” after the last prophets (Haggia, Zechariah and Malichai) entered their scrolls into the canon. Thus, the Old Testament was set in stone long before the birth of Christ.

The early Christian church had no issue utilizing the Hebrew Bible in their gatherings. There are several deductions that can be made to come to this conclusion. The early Christian’s were not seen as a new religion; they were seen as a new sect of Judaism. Only Jew’s were included at first, and they knew which books were in the Old Testament for reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. An example of their willfulness to quote the Hebrew Bible comes immediately after the appearance of the Holy Spirit when Peter stands up and quotes several Old Testament passages. When Stephan gave his discourse before the Jew’s stoned him, he gave them a run down of the entire Old Testament. Also, Jesus quoted the Hebrew Bible many times in the New Testament, and that alone gives the Old Testament books authority. A new Christian would have, at first, been an old Jew who followed the law. He or she would have known that the Hebrew Bible was scripture, and surely a good Jew would never have been involved in a religious movement that did not recognize the Septuagint as divinely inspired.

New Testament writings were not immediately canonized for legitimate reasons. First, they did not think Christ would be gone long. In fact in Acts 1:5 the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They thought He was going to come back almost immediately, so why would they bother canonizing their scriptures. Second, there was no universal church or bishop to exert authority, and make decisions referring to canonizing their Gospels and epistles. Third, the letters were immediately sent out to the churches, which were scattered all over the empire. An example of this is found in fragment 7Q5. Many papyrologists’ agree that fragment 7Q5 contains a portion of Mark’s Gospel. Papyrologist Jose O’Callaghan is among those who confirm 7Q5 to be Mark 6:52-53. This fragment was found in a cave that most scholars believe was sealed before the year 68 AD. If the death of Jesus took place around 30 AD (probably between 27-35 AD), and this fragment from Mark is dated around 68 AD, that is enough to say that the letters of the Apostles were written, copied, and immediately sent out to the other churches. No church had all of the originals manuscripts either, since the leaders were scattered all over and were writing the letters from where they were located in the empire. However, just because the writings were not canonized immediately, does not mean they were not widely accepted by the Christian churches immediately.

An early church Bishop named Irenaeus wrote a discourse titled Against Heresies, around the year 180 AD. In this book he quotes 22 of the New Testament books and refers to them as the Holy Scriptures. Irenaeus wrote, “There are only four gospels because there are four zones of the world, and four principle winds.” His logic, though flawed, does prove that the church was only using the same four gospels we have now. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, and Polycarp was a disciple of John. He was only two generations removed from the original apostles, and he is referring to a collection of books as the Holy Scriptures. The testimony of Irenaeus confirms that the churches were using most of the same books that we have in our New Testament today in their congregation before the year 200 AD, with the exception of Philemon, Second and Third John, Second Peter, Jude, and possibly James. Irenaeus does not utilize those books, but that does not mean that he did not count them as Divine, he simply may not have needed to use them in his book. It was not until certain heretical groups arose to challenge the church, that the church decided to get together and make a list of books. Up until that point, they generally agreed that God inspired the writings of the apostles as just stated by the testimony of Irenaeus.

The Gnostics believe that Jesus was not the Son of God, that all matter is evil, that the God of the Old Testament was evil, that the God of the New Testament was good. They believed that Heaven is found through secret knowledge, hence the name Gnostic. This new religious sect referred to themselves as Christians, and had a rather large movement. The Gnostics began writing their own gospels like the gospel of Thomas, and the now famous gospel of Judas. In the gospel of Judas, Jesus is a shape shifter who comes to the 12 disciples as a small child. Also, in the gospel of Judas, Judas is made out to be a hero, and Jesus actually wanted Judas to turn Him in. The entire book is contrary to scripture and was wrote at least 100 years (probably 2-300 years) after the death of Judas. It was popular in those days to write a book in someone else’s name that had credibility. This is why in the Bible Paul began to write his signature on his letters, or even pick up the pen himself and begin writing. When the Gnostics needed a popular name to place on a book, they choose names like Thomas, Peter or Judas. The Gnostics needed to write their own scriptures, because the Bible did not make sense to a Gnostic. Proof of this is found in the Nag Hammadi Codex. Portions of the Nag Hammadi Codex are found in the newest publication of the gospel of Judas. These books include an apocalypse supposedly wrote by James, a letter from Peter to Philip and a book of James. This was just one group that influenced the early Orthodox Church to form the canon of the New Testament.

The Marcion church was a great threat to the early church, even greater than the Gnostic movement. Marcion (a second century heretic) began teaching that the material world was evil. He attracted a crowd, and started his own church. He believed that Yahweh was a different God than the God of Jesus Christ. Marcion taught that Yahweh was either evil, or incompetent or both, and that Yahweh created the world and placed man on it. Unlike the Gnostics, the Marcion’s began forming their own canon of scripture. Marcion began by taking books out of the Septuagint, and took most of the New Testament away except for the writings of Paul and portions of Luke. He did not use Luke and Paul’s writings entirely, he chopped them up to fit his own gospel. Marcion took the Old Testament out because he believed Yahweh was an evil God, and that the God of Jesus Christ would never punish His people. He had a completely different Jesus as well. Jesus could not have born of Mary, because then Jesus would have received the darkness that he believed all material had. Instead, Marcion taught that Jesus just appeared one day as a full-blown man. Because Marcion began creating his own canon, the early church was compelled to respond and become more orthodox in their ways.

Without a collection of books that was unable to be added to or taken away from, the authority of what we now consider scripture would always be open to interpretation by the local congregation. If the Marcion and Gnostic sects had their own scripture or canon of scripture, the new sects would be able to enter a local church and preach a false gospel rather easy. But, if the church had a completed list of books that alone had authority, then the false writings would be dismissed immediately. Such was the case, and the church decided to officially announce their canon of scripture, which nothing could be added to or taken away from. Of course there had to be rules on what kind of writings would be considered divinely inspired. The Orthodox church came to the conclusion that in order for a letter to be canonized, it must adhere to the following; the writing in question must have been wrote by an apostle, or an apostolic man. The author must have been alive during the life of Jesus, and have a certain type of connection with Jesus or an apostle. The letter must not contradict the testimony of the Septuagint, and it must be verified that the listed author was the one who wrote it. Once the Apostles and the apostolic men were no more, the scriptures were sealed, thus preventing any writings after the first century to creep into the canon. Of course before the canon of scripture was finally set around the close of the fourth century at the Council of Carthage, the Orthodox church was using the same books, or very close to the same books that we now see in our table of contents in the New Testament. The list of books from the Council of Carthage was not the first list of Christian books one can find when searching for the truth about the canon of scripture. The very first list was written around 150 AD and is now titled the Moratorian fragment. The Moratorian Canon contains a list of books that were accepted by the church, a list of books that were being debated about as to if they should belong, a list of books that did not belong (but could be read for personal use) and a list of books that were clearly heresy.

When looking back at the way that the New Testament canon was shaped, it should come to no surprise that the process took hundreds of years to unfold. One should now know that the early church had a collection of writings they considered to be inspired, and that the church was in no real hurry to make a formal list. It was not until religious sects like the Marcions came along, that the church realized they needed to become orthodox. The Jewish canon had long been sealed when Jesus came, and the New Testament gives an account that the apostles and Jesus held to the Septuagint as scripture. Men like Irenaeus leave a clear testimony to the fact that the Christian churches generally agreed upon what was divinely inspired, and what was not. The early Christians were not concerned with building a list of books; they expected the immediate return of Christ. Why would they waist time making a list of books when Jesus could come back any day? Furthermore, the Church did not have any reason to say exactly what was in and what was out, until the false religions rose up and began compiling their own lists. If it was not for groups like the Marcion’s and the Gnostic’s, one could suppose that a canon for the New Testament may have never been needed.

References

ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version.. ESV text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Evans, Craig A. “Understanding the Gospel of Judas.” Bulletin for Biblical Research, 20, Jan
2010, 561-574.

González, Justo L.. The story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne,
2010.

Gundry, Robert H. “No NU in Line 2 of 7Q5 : A Final Disidentification of 7Q5 with Mark 6:52-
53.” Journal Of Biblical Literature, Vol 118, Dec 1999, p.698-707.

Irenaeus against heresies. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing, 2007.

Kloha, Jeffrey J. “Jesus and the Gnostic Gospels.” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol 71,
Apr 2007, p.121-144.

Newman, Robert C. 1976. “Council of Jamnia and the Old Testament Canon.” Westminster
Theological Journal, Vol 38, Mar 1976, p.319-349.

Roth, Dieter T. “Marcion’s Gospel and Luke: the History of Research in Current Debate.”
Journal Of Biblical Literature, Vol 127, Sep 2008, p.513-527.

Sheeley, Steven M. “From “Scripture” to “Canon” : The Development of the New Testament
Canon.” Review & Expositor, Vol 95, Sep 1998, p513-522.

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The catholic church of the West took a different approach to leadership than the orthodox church of the East. Rather than having a group of people who made decisions in counsels and such, they had one man who was head of the church and made all of the decisions for the body. This position is known as the Pope, and his office is known as the papacy. The strong reach of the papacy began due to the Germanic invasion. These invasions forced the Catholic Church into a guardian position, and placed the Pope at the top. But, to some, there was a profound reason why the Pope was able to discern right from wrong. The great pope’s from Leo to Nicholas I received almost unlimited regional authority, due to a false doctrine that they, like Peter, were the infallible head (rock) of the Lord’s church. The following will expand on three pope’s, there roles in the papacy, and the belief that Matthew 16 gave the pope unlimited, infallible authority.

Leo’s Rise

Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome when Attila the Hun was on the warpath during the fifth century. After a horrible defeat at the hands of the Franks, Attila set his eye on Rome. Because the Emperor (Valentinian the third) was weak, and Rome was lacking across the board in strong leadership, Leo ventured out to discuss the invasion with the Hun. Leo successfully negotiated terms with the Hun, and Attila died a year later. Some say he died in his sleep, others say that his wife stabbed him. Whatever the case, the greatest threat to Rome was gone, and Leo the Great was the one responsible for leading the Hun away from Rome. Rome was invaded numerous times after Attila. Leo the great was involved in multiple prisoner exchanges, due to the weakness or unwillingness of the emperor or the government to get involved. Leo was also able to save the city from burning in 455 when vandals (led by Generic) sacked Rome. Because of his great negotiating skills, Leo put himself in a position to receive almost unlimited authority from Rome. Leo was a man of action and a man of great religious conviction. He was also a great teacher. He left the church with ninety-seven sermons and one hundred forty seven letters.
Leo had a strong conviction that the reason why he was so powerful, was because he, like Peter, was the head of the church, appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Leo the great thought that he was without error, because God does not error, and he was the head of God’s church. He despised all other belief systems that were not in line with the true faith, which he believed was the Catholic faith. Leo also played a big role in the free will doctrinal belief system of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether or not free will is actually provable from the context of the Bible, a man who is though to be infallible said that free will exists, so it must exist. There is a great danger when a man is given something that only God should have, infallibility. Whether or not free will exists, one should search the scriptures for the answer, and not base our convictions off the thoughts of a mere mortal man, however great that man is or is not.

Gregory’s Surprise

Unlike Leo the Great, Gregory the great did not think the pope was infallible. Although he was the head of the church, Gregory did not believe that he had universal authority as the pope. In fact, Gregory was forced into the position of pope. In the same fashion as Leo, Gregory left behind many letters and sermons. In his own sermons, he rejects the interpretation of Matthew 16:18 that Peter was the foundation that the church was laid upon. Gregory said that the church was founded on, “no one other than the Lord Himself.” John Calvin the great reformer sited the works of Gregory over fifty times in his fourth book of Christianae Religionis Institutio. Of course just because Gregory did not think that he was the infallible head of the church, does not mean that he was not acting as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which at that time usually meant all of Rome. He was given the almost unlimited authority of the pope like many before him. Like the other great members of the papacy, Gregory was able to organize distribution for the poor, avoid war with the surrounding invaders, and sustain the region.
Unfortunately, when someone is though of as infallible, everything they say must be true. Even though Gregory did not think he was infallible, the pope was regarded as infallible to almost everyone else. Gregory also held Augustine in high regard as a religious teacher. Augustine formulated an idea that there may be a place where un-repented sins are paid for. Because the pope held Augustine so high, Gregory the great is now known as one of the founders of purgatory. Gregory talks about a place where the Christian would go in all of his or her sins were not paid for in full yet, much like Augustine. Gregory then takes this a step further than Augustine. He made the mistake of taking something from the old covenant and placing it on the new covenant. In the Old Testament, sin separated God and man from the first Adam to the death of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints are believed to have descended into a compartment of Hades where they were not tortured, they were only waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ to set them free. This place is referred to in the Bible as Abraham’s bosom. When Jesus died, he descended into Hades, and took the Saints up to Heaven with him. Thus, Jesus is now holding the key to death and Hades that was holding the Old Testament saints. Gregory said that Abrahams bosom applied to all saints of all time, if they die without repenting for all of their sins. And so, Purgatory is now a concrete belief for all Catholics. It should be noted, that there is no proof of this doctrine in the Bible of the East. Without the Apocrypha which the Catholics have added to their cannon, there is no evidence of a third place in which one might go if they died as a Christian, but not completely forgiven. Because many regarded the pope as infallible, Purgatory stands as a belief of the Roman Catholic Church to this day.

Nicholas’ Disguise

Nicholas I was crowned Pope in the mid-ninth century. Like Leo the Great, he assumed the infallibility of the papacy, but unlike any others before him, Nicholas did not use the Bible as his ultimate stamp on the infallible authority of the papacy. Of course, Nicholas believed that the pope was the ultimate authority of the church because of the believed commission of Peter in Matthew 16. However, Nicholas also used a set of documents (the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals) that reinforced the supremacy of the papacy. These documents were supposed to have been ancient, they are know known to have been forged in an effort to give the papacy even more power than they already had. Nicholas insisted that these documents gave him the infallible right to govern all things spiritual. Nicholas had great power and was able to persuade many by using the church and his title to threaten those who challenged Rome in any way. He had so much authority over the region that even the mention of excommunication was usually enough to keep the neighboring princes and powers in line. Out of the great pope’s Nicholas I was one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful. Like Leo, Gregory and many other members of the papacy, Nicholas kept the peace as best as possible in Rome when the governing bodies were to weak or lazy to do so. Nicholas I, like many others, believed that his authority was infallible, and that he received this authority because he was the head or rock of the church, as was Peter before him.

The Reason Why (Peter = Rock)

There is a strong religious conviction of the Catholic Chuch that Peter was the first pope of the Church of Rome. There are many reasons for this conviction. First, there is some evidence that Peter may have gone to Rome and died a martyr’s death there. Second, Jesus said that He would build His church upon the Rock, and Catholics believe that Rock is Peter. This is why many popes believe they are infallible, because they are the head, like Peter, of the Lord’s church. Third, when the Bible lists the disciples, Peter is always at the top of the list. It makes sense then, to say that he may have been the greatest disciple. Fourth, Peter is the first to confess Jesus as Lord. Peter is also the first to stand up after the Holy Spirit is given and the first disciple to have seen the risen Lord (although that is debatable). Furthermore, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, and did not give this command to any other disciple. If one only reads this list of reasoning’s, it seems like a no brainer. Peter is the obvious shoe in for the first papal position of authority given the information here. However, all of this information, taken from a scholarly book, is very much debatable. Furthermore, even if all of this information is true, and Peter was somehow the first pope, it is obvious that he made mistakes as we see in the Bible. This means, that Peter was not infallible. And, if Peter were not infallible, why would there be any reason for anyone to believe that his successors would inherit a character that he did not possess? A long time conviction of the infallibility of the pope is a man made doctrine, and is not biblical. This doctrine has led to multiple heresies as seen with the birth of purgatory from Gregory the Great.

Peter made multiple mistakes in the Bible, and the Bible is God’s infallible Word. In Galations 2, we have an account of Paul rebuking Peter in public. Obviously, Peter was acting as a double minded man, eating with the uncircumcised until the Jew’s came. He was not, as Paul says, in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So then, if Peter was acting like a hypocrite, is that not a sin? Peter also denied the Lord three times in the gospels; is that not a sin? The Lord Jesus also rebukes Peter right after he called Himself the rock saying, “Get behind me Satan.” Is that not a sin to rebuke Jesus Christ? In Matthew 17, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle when the Lord was showing him Elijah, and God tells him to be quite and to hear His Son. Is that not a sin? To be infallible would mean to be perfect, and as we can see Peter is not perfect. When examining the sins of Peter, one should note that none of us are perfect. The point is not to poke at Peter for his mistakes, but simply to recognize that he did make mistakes, and an infallible being would not have made any.

Conclusion

Due to the religious conviction that the pope had the ultimate, infallible authority, the Catholic Church has adopted several doctrines that are contrary to scripture. Although the papacy has done great things when it comes to making peace with the surrounding regions that would have invaded and potentially destroyed Rome, their mishaps may outweigh their triumphs. The people of Rome were taken care of for a time, but the doctrines of the papacy have continued on for ages, and will probably never leave the church. There is no way that the Catholic Church will denounce purgatory as a doctrine. No matter how great Gregory was he instituted a false doctrine that sinners can have a chance after death to get into heaven without repenting for their sins. That doctrine has probably sent millions if not billions of people, potentially, to Hell. If one believed that the acts in the flesh could be atoned for in the afterlife, one may not act as wisely in this life. The infallibility of the pope is not scriptural, and is another man made doctrine of the Catholic Church. Because the church took the scripture in Matthew out of context, and the rumor that potentially Peter may have came to Rome and may have died as a martyr there, the Catholic Church will stand on their belief that Peter, is the rock of their church. In the case of papacy, the bad things that have come out of placing one man as the infallible leader of the whole church have outweighs the good things they have done.

References

Clément, Olivier. You are Peter. New York: New City Press, 2003.

ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version.. ESV text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Goff, Jacques. The birth of purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

González, Justo L.. The story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne,
2010.

McEniery, Peter. “Pope Gregory the Great and infallibility.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies, Vol
11, March 1, 1974, p.263-280.

Neil, Bronwen. Leo the Great. London: Routledge, 2009.

Norwood, Frederick Abbott, “The political pretensions of Pope Nicholas I.” Church History, Vol
15, Dec 1946, p.271-285.

Philip Barclift. “Predestination and Divine Foreknowledge in the Sermons of Pope Leo the
Great.” Church History, Vol 62, Mar 1993, p.5-21.