The bestselling book of all time…Part 2

From Biblica- The Bible Atlas

(You can read Part 1 on the Old Testament here.

The Christian Scriptures emerge.

Like the Jewish books of the Bible, Christian tradition developed first by word

Jesus Christ

of mouth and then was written down. Even though Jesus’ disciples had the means to put things in writing from the start, they delayed doing so, because they expected Jesus to momentarily return in his full manifestation as Messiah. And so, after Jesus’ time on earth, his followers spread the good news of his coming by telling stories about him.

The Gospel of Luke gives us a hint of how such storytelling may have taken place. On the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion, two disillusioned disciples are walking from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. When they meet a stranger they tell him all about Jesus, but add that Jesus has been put to death and cannot be the Messiah as they hoped.Though they had heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, they did not believe it. The stranger scolds them for their disbelief and explains how the Messiah’s death was predicted in the Scriptures. Then at supper, the stranger reveals who he is: it is Jesus himself. Overjoyed the two disciples hurry back to Jerusalem to share their experience with the others (Luke 24:13-35). This pattern of passing on stories was repeated over and over, incorporating even more of Jesus’ words and deeds. All Jesus’ followers repeated them, but greater credence was given to those who had known Jesus personally.

As time went on, it became obvious that Jesus’ return was not imminent and that the people who had known him personally were dying off. In order to preserve what was known about Jesus, some Christians began to write down accounts of his ministry, death, and resurrection. Consequently, during the second half of the first century the four Gospels were written, as was the Acts of the Apostles, an extension of Luke’s Gospel, about the early spread of the Church. But even before the Gospels were written, the Apostle Paul traveled throughout Greece and Asia Minor (now Turkey), founding communities of believers. During his travels, Paul kept in touch with these communities, or churches by writing letters. These are the earliest Christian writings to survive. Letters from other Christians followed, and toward the  end of the century Revelation, a book of visions about the end of time, appeared. Other Christian works were written as well, including allegories, books of prophecy, and stories about the child Jesus, his mother, and Mary Magdalene. However, none of these was to be accepted as Scripture.

In fact, Christians were slow to characterize any of their writings as Scripture. The Hebrew Scripture was their only Bible, though worshippers did read from Christian writings. In describing services at Rome in the mid-second century, the theologian Justin Martyr reports that ‘the memoirs of the Apostles’ were read to the assembly.

Still, no authorized collection of sacred writings was adopted. Finally in 367 A.D. , Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, named 27 books (which do not include the Apocrypha) that he believed to be inspired by God and rooted in the teachings of the Apostles. Later Church councils confirmed the books as Sacred Scripture, and they came to be known as the New Testament, complementing the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament.

In establishing the canon Athanasius wrote: „In these [books] alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no one add to or take anything from them.”

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…some Church history – Athanasius (defending orthodoxy)

From 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (P. 17-19):

Athanasius was a theologian (296 A.D.-373 A.D.) who was exiled five times

for fighting „Orthodoxy”. He once said „Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’ rob God of his word, like plunderers”.

„Black Dwarf” was the name his enemies gave him. And the short, dark-skinned Egyptian bishop had plenty of enemies. He was exiled five times by four Roman emperors, spending 17 of the 45 years he served as bishop of Alexandria in exile. Yet in the end, his theological enemies were „exiled” from the churches teaching, and it is Athanasius’ writings that shaped the future of the church.

Most often the problem was his stubborn insistence that Arianism, the reigning „orthodoxy” of the day, was in fact a heresy.

The dispute began when Athanasius was the chief deacon assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. While Alexander preached „with perhaps too philosophical minuteness” on the Trinity; Arius a presbyter (priest) from  Libya announced, ‘If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows that there was a time that the Son was not.” The argument caught on, but Alexander and Athanasius fought against Arius, arguing that it denied the trinity. Christ is not of a like substance of God, they argued, but the same substance.

To Athanasius this was no splitting of theological hairs. Salvation was at issue: only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New testament doctrine of salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ. He said:”Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’ rob God of his word, like plunderers”.

Alexander’s encyclical letter, signed by Athanasius (and probably written by him), attacked the consequences of Arians’ heresy: The Son [then] is a creature and a work; neither is he like in essence to the Father;neither is he the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is he his true wisdom; but he is one of the things made and created and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms…Wherefore he is by nature subject to change and variation, as are all rational creatures.”

The controversy spread, and all over the empire, Christians could be heard singing a catchy tune that championed the Arian view: „There was a time when the Son was not.” In every city, wrote a historian, „bishop was contending against bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats, fighting in the air.”

Statue of Constantine - the first Christian Emperor of Rome (285-337 A.D.)

Word of the dispute made it to the newly converted Emperor Constantine the Great, who was more concerned with seeing church unity than theological truth. „Divisions in the church,” he told the bishops,”is worse than war.” To settle the matter, he called a council of bishops.

Of the 1,800 bishops invited to Nicea, about 300 came–and argued, fought, and eventually fleshed out an early version of the Nicene Creed. The council, led by Alexander, condemned Arius as a heretic, exiled him, and made it a capital offense to possess his writings. Constantine was pleased that peace had been restored to the church. Athanasius, whose treatise On the Incarnation laid the foundation of the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as „the noble champion of Christ.” The diminutive bishop was simply pleased that Arianism had been defeated. But it hadn’t.

Within a few months, supporters of Arius talked Constantine into ending Arius’ exile. With a few private additions, Arius even signed the Nicene Creed, and the emperor ordered Athanasius, who had recently succeeded Alexander as bishop, to restore the heretic to fellowship.

When Athanasius refused, his enemies spread false charges against him. He was accused of murder, illegal taxation, sorcery and treason–the last of which led Constantine to exile him to Trier, now a German city near Luxembourg.

Constantine dies two years later, and Athanasius returned to Alexandria. But in his absence, Ariansim had gained the upper hand. Now church leaders were against him, and they banished him again. Athansius fled to Pope Julius I in Rome. He returned in 346, but in the mercurial politics of the day, was banished three more times before he came home to stay in 366. By then he was about 70 years old.

While in exile, Athanasius spent most of his time writing, mostly to defend orthodoxy, but he took on pagan and Jewish opposition as well. One of his most lasting contributions is his Life of St. Antony, which helped to shape the Christian ideal of monasticism. It became a „best seller” and made a deep impression on many people, even help lead pagans to conversion: Augustine is the most famous example.

During Athanasius’ first year permanently back in Alexandria, he sent his annual letter to the churches in his diocese, called a festal letter, Athanasius listed what he believed were the books that should constitute the New Testament.

„In these [27 writings] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed,” he wrote. „No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them.”

Though other lists had been and would still be proposed, it is Athanasius’s list that the church eventually adopted, and it is the one we use to this day.

Click below to read more on :

Athanasius’ Doctrine of the Trinity and Doctrine of Incarnation.

The Nicene creed

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The Nicene Creed (381 A.D..)

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