The last step in the solidifying and systematizing the transmission of the gospel truth involves the selection of "canon" or the official standards of scripture. The word "canon" come from the Greek word "kanon" meaning a measure, or standard. Judaism at the time seems to have it's canon settled at the Council of Jamnia (90 A.D.) in which the Old Testament canon (which incidentally is the same books as in the "Protestant " Bibles) received the consensus as being scriptural. By Jewish reckoning, since they consolidated many smaller books, the number of books in their canon was considered 22. Josephus, in Apion I decalres that "we have 22 books in our Bible", which effectively proves at the time of Christ, the Apocrypha, which will be discussed in more detail later, was not part of the Jewish canon.
Despite the fact that the Christian canon would not be officially settled until the late 4th century, there is evidence that even from the time it was written, certain writings of the apostles were received in the same regard as "scripture" from the outset. For example, Peter, in referring to how some malicious individuals were misrepresenting what the Apostle Paul was teaching, said regarding his epistles
which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (II Peter 3:16)
Peter equates Paul's writing with "scripture" which must have been an astonishing claim for the new church. Although this does not answer which books Peter is referring to, it still tells us that the concept of inspiration for apostolic writing was generally held. The idea that God was adding scripture would have been borderline blasphemy, or at least repugnant to the average Jew, who held the Law and Prophets in such high and sacred esteem. Furthermore, Paul himself seems likewise to have understood the full import of what he was writing . Besides his insistence in the I Corinthians 7:10 that his directives were actually coming from the Lord, he also requests that his writing be circulated throughout the churches, even though they are letters specific to certain churches. He writes to the Colossians:
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16)
In this manner his epistles were soon copied and distributed amongst the apostolic churches. At this point, however, there was not a formal definition of what was part of sacred scripture and what was not. Since the church's acceptance of the apostolic writing was based on such informal criteria, there quickly arose numerous "bogus" letters, gospels, revelations and "sacred" writings in the early church. There was an Apocalypse of Paul, Apocalypse of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of Mary, Paul's epistle to the Laodicians, and the list goes on. Moreover, various heterodox groups were starting to declare for themselves what they considered canonical and what was not. Most notably, there was one heretic named Marcion (ca. 140 A.D.) , who thought that the God of the Old Testament was a cruel, and evil god, quite distinct from the Father of whom Christ spoke of. Marcion delineated what the he thought was canonical, which, in this case only consisted of a truncated Gospel of Luke and several Pauline epistles, all largely edited and amended by himself. The Ebionites, who shall be dealt with more fully in later chapters, rejected Paul's writings, and received only the Gospel of Matthew from the New Testament. It was becoming more and more important to settle which books were canonical for the whole church, and which books were spurious, or forgeries.
One of the common misconceptions today is that the orthodox Christian church always had an unanimous opinion of what was scripture and what was not. The fact is that there was some variance in opinion, even among the early apologists and writers. The first Christian witness to the Old Testament canon is found in the writings of Melito of Sardis, who very meticulously researched the question in Palestine.
Melito of Sardis ( 170 A.D.)
I accordingly proceeded to the East and went to the very spot where the things in questions were preached and took place; and having made myself accurately acquainted with the books of the Old Testament, I have set below, and herewith send you the list. Their names are as follows: The five books of Moses- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The four books of Kings, the two of Chronicles, The psalms of David, The proverbs of Solomon, also called the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiates, The song of Songs, Job, the books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, of the twelve contained in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. From these I have made my extracts, dividing them into six books."
The books that he lists follow very closely to the Old Testament in contemporary Protestant Bibles. Today, we would call the "four books of Kings" 1 Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings and II Kings. "The Book of Wisdom" is undoubtedly in this case, the Book of Proverbs, and Esdras was commonly the heading for Nehemiah and Ezra. (not to be confused with the Apocryphal book "Esdras"). Lamentations was considered a part of Jeremiah. The only book missing from Melito's list is Esther, which was held suspect by many Jews since it did not contain the Divine Name (YHWH). Esther, incidentally, also happens to be missing from the rolls of Qumran, amidst the "Dead Sea Scrolls". Esther and Song of Solomon were two of the disputed books at the Council of Jamnia. More importantly, it should be noted that the Apocrypha (Tobit, Judith, Esdras, I and II Maccabees, and Sirach) was still not accepted as Scripture.
For the Old Testament. the early Christians relied heavily upon the Septuagint, which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Septuagint was translated sometime in the 3rd century B.C., and there were various versions in existence by the time of Christ and the early church. Some of these versions of the Septuagint did have the Apocrypha in it, as well as some additions to Daniel, Jeremiah and Esther, although they were without Hebrew validation. A number of Christians, clearly in the minority, accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture since it was in the Septuagint. As a result, most of the lists of the canonical books contain some reference to them, usually refuting their authenticity. We have, from the 3rd century A.D., one of the most fascinating debates between two apologists over the validity of some apocryphal additions. The occasion of the debate is arose when Origen, who was perhaps the greatest Christian scholar of his day, made use of the story of "Susanna", which is an apocryphal addition, in one of his letters. Julius Africanus challenged Origen, calling the section "spurious" and a "forgery", on the grounds that it was not in the Hebrew Bible. He offered several proofs for his position. One proof that shows an exceptional degree of his acute understanding of language was his assertion that the Greek wording of this section shows a play on words that is obvious and intentional in the Greek, but is impossible in the Hebrew, Aramaic or Chaldee.
In the story, Daniel interrogates two men who are accusing Susanna of adultery. Daniel questions them separately as to where they witnessed this, in order to catch them in a contradiction, and so rescue Susanna. When one answered "under the holm tree" (Gr. prinos) Daniel answered that he shall be sawn asunder (Gr. prisein). The other accuser answered independently "under the mastich tree"( Gr. schinos) to which Daniel answered that he should be rent asunder (Gr. schithenai). The play on words can be clearly seen in Greek, and is central to the story, but none of the words, if written in Hebrew or Aramaic, bear any resemblance to each other. In short, the story must have originated in the Greek, and could have no connection to any events in Babylon. Not only does it clearly show the fictitious nature of the story, but it quickly rules out it as having been part of the original Hebrew scriptures at any time.
Origen wrote a response, in which he defended his use of the story. He doesn't answer the query regarding the play on words, but mentions that it is in the Theodotian version (a Greek transaltion) of the Old Testament, as well as the Septuagint, and the verse is "found in every church of Christ in that Greek copy that the Greeks use, but not in Hebrew." The Theodotian version, as well as Aquilas and Symmachus version of the Greek Old testament were written after the apostolic age, at least partly to counter the Christian adoption of the original Septuagint.
Despite the fact that "Susanna" and "Bel and the Dragon" were frequently found in the Greek copies of scripture in use in the churches at that time, that should not immediately draw the conclusion that it was part of the original text. Africanus appears to have Origen over the barrel as far as having to explain a veritable proof that the texts were never part of the Hebrew documents. Origen never succinctly answered the issue about the originality of the text, but instead, banked the crux of his defense on what we might consider a very arbitrary and somewhat sarcastic point. For he says:
When we notice such things, are we forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books currently among them, and coax the Jews to persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with and free from forgery!
It is apparent that Origen's primary thrust against Julius Africanus' challenge was that, if Africanus was right, then the whole church would have to acknowledge that Jews had one-up on the church with respect to the purest Old Testament manuscripts. It is merely Origen's thinly-veiled anti-Semitism that kept him from acknowledging that the Jewish scholars knew better what was in the Hebrew scriptures that the church of his day. Fortunately, as we shall see, it was ultimately Africanus' rationale that won out.
At about the same time, there was debate going on as to which books were considered canonical for the New Testament. In the early 3rd century, we have a fragment by a presbyter named Caius that positively identifies which books in the New Testament were accepted as Scripture at that time. It is referred to today as the Muratorian Canon. He says that:
(Paul) writes to no more than seven churches by name, in this order: the first to the Corinthians, the second to the Ephesians, the third to the Philippians, the fourth to the Colossians, the fifth to the Galatians, the sixth to the Thessalonians, the seventh to the Romans. Moreover, though he writes twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians for their correction, it is yet shown i.e., by this sevenfold writing that there is one Church spread abroad through the whole world. And John too, indeed, in the Apocalypse, although he writes only to seven churches, yet addresses all. He wrote, besides these, one to Philemon, and one to Titus, and two to Timothy, in simple personal affection and love indeed; but yet these are hallowed in the esteem of the Catholic Church, and in the regulation of ecclesiastical discipline. There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey.
The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John or bearing the name of John are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honor. We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church.
We have mention of the fact that certain letters were being excluded from the canon because it was recognized that they were spurious. Notice that one of them was allegedly the epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans. Who ever forged it had the benefit of being able to claim that it was the previously mentioned letter from Colossians 4:16. The Muratorian Canon is also missing the third letter from John, although some considered that as part of the second letter. Absent also is the epistles of Peter, Hebrews and the letter of James. There is some thought that anti-Semitic sentiments that were found in some quarters of the church may have contributed to the controversy around these books. James' epistle is so weighted towards Judaism, it is actually addressed to the "twelve tribes" and uses the Greek word "synagoge", instead of the word for church (Gr. ekklesia) when referring to a Christian assembly. According to Eusebius and Josephus, James was so closely identified with Judaism that he actually was serving as both bishop of the church at Jerusalem and high Priest in the temple simultaneously! Some heretics likewise reasoned that Peter, after being joined by some that had come from James, was carried away in this "Judaizing" (see Galatians 2:12-14) and was therefore not qualified for authoring a canonical epistle.
Moving into the 4th Century, there was some more settling on the question of the canon. Arguments like the one Julius Africanus made against the Apocrypha were revisited to help crystallize the consensus on the Old Testament. Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy at the Council of Nicea, wrote a letter concerning the Lenten season which included a decisive statement on what was canon in the Old Testament and what was not.
Athanasius (Festal Letter, 350 A.D.)
As I am about to speak of the divine Scriptures, I shall use for the support of my boldness the model of the evangelist Luke, and say as he does, forasmuch as some have taken in hand to set forth in order for themselves the so-called Apocrypha, and to mix these with the inspired Scriptures which we most surely believe, even as they delivered it to our fathers which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having been urged by true brethren, and having learned the truth from the first, to publish the books which are admitted in the Canon, and have been delivered to us, and are believed to be divine, that if any one had been deceived he may condemn those who led him astray, and he that has remained pure from error may rejoice in being reminded of the truth. All the books of the Old Testament are in number twenty-two.
There is no doubt that, in this case, since the Jewish reckoning of the Hebrew canon (consolidating the minor prophets and previously mentioned books) is figured at twenty-two books, we know that the church at that time held in common to the same books as do modern-day Protestants. Athanasius also said regarding the Apocrypha that it was a source of heresy, and that
the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtlety of certain men, and should henceforth read other books those called apocryphal led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books.
Clearly he understood that there were things in the content of these books that were unorthodox doctrinally,. Besides the fanciful stories that Julius Africanus mentions, II Maccabees promotes the idea of praying for the dead, which has no other biblical support, and contradicts the both the biblical and traditional consensus of the afterlife (see section on "After-life" for fuller discussion). Athanasius also lists the New Testament books.
Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.
This squares perfectly with our New Testament canon. Amazingly, there has been little debate subsequent to this as to which books belong in the New Testament canon. Erasmus and Martin Luther did raise some question on the canonicity of certain New Testament books based on the Muratorian canon, but the canonicity of our New Testament has otherwise been unanimous from these very early days. Although it was still another generation until it was officially ratified at a council, there was very little challenge to the list.
Even though it would likewise seem that there could be no emendation to the Old Testament, the question of the Apocrypha did not go away. St. Augustine of Hippo( d. 430 A.D) was one influential figure who felt that it should be included in the canon, primarily on the basis that it was frequently found in some versions of the Septuagint. The majority of fathers, however, had ruled against this.
At this point in history, Greek was becoming a much less spoken tongue in the West, there was need to make a standard translation from the original languages into the Latin tongue. Jerome ( d. 420 AD.) was commissioned to meet this need. As one might expect, Jerome's opinion of the Apocrypha would be an important factor as to whether the Apocrypha would be passed on as apostolic tradition. Jerome, in the preface of his work in comparing the Septuagint with other Greek versions (cited in his letters with Rufinius) said that some were ignorant of the differences in readings in the Old Testament and:
Being ignorant of all this many follow the ravings of the Apocrypha, and prefer to the inspired books the melancholy trash which comes to us from Spain. It is not for me to explain the causes of the error.
It is clear that his personal opinion of these books borders on contempt, and that they did not have a place in the canon of scripture. Although he did translate them, he had no intention of including them his version of the scriptures (called "The Vulgate"), he did acknowledge that some of them had some value in the devotional life of the church. When he finished his translation of the scriptures, certain persons in the church desired that he place the Apocrypha in the Vulgate. He refused. Even so, in his preface of the Vulgate he made mention of the Apocrypha:
As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.
His one-time close friend Rufinius also had much to say about the Apocrypha and the canon of scripture. Rufinius was a scholar of similar caliber of Jerome, which may have ultimately accelerated the termination of their friendship. Being both scholars of the scriptures and history, they began a series of quarrels over points of doctrine and word-usage that is chronicled in a number of letters that are still in existence. One of the main points of contention was Rufinius' admiration of the work of Origen, which was written some 180 years earlier. Although Origen was admired by all for his scholastic work, many were divided over Origen's unorthodox views on certain issues. Since Rufinius was a great admirer of Origen, it would go to follow that he would probably defend the Apocrypha, since Origen had defended the use of certain apocryphal additions, already cited. However, in a commentary on the apostle's Creed, Rufinius said the following about the canon:
This then is the Holy Ghost, who in the Old Testament inspired the Law and the Prophets, in the New the Gospels and the Epistles. Whence also the Apostle says, "All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for instruction." And therefore it seems proper in this place to enumerate, as we have learnt from the tradition of the Fathers, the books of the New and of the Old Testament, which, according to the tradition of our forefathers, are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and have been handed down to the Churches of Christ.
Of the Old Testament, therefore, first of all there have been handed down five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Then Jesus Nave, (Joshua the son of Nun), The Book of Judges together with Ruth; then four books of Kings (Reigns), which the Hebrews reckon two; the Book of Omissions, which is entitled the Book of Days (Chronicles), and two books of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), which the Hebrews reckon one, and Esther; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; moreover of the twelve (minor) Prophets, one book; Job also and the Psalms of David, each one book. Solomon gave three books to the Churches, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. These comprise the books of the Old Testament.
Of the New there are four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke; fourteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, two of the Apostle Peter, one of James, brother of the Lord and Apostle, one of Jude, three of John, the Revelation of John. These are the books which the Fathers have comprised within the Canon, and from which they would have us deduce the proofs of our faith.
But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not "Canonical" but "Ecclesiastical:" that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas, [and that] which is called The Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named "Apocrypha." These they would not have read in the Churches.
These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken.
This canon, once again, in line with what is in the majority of Bibles today. He addressed the what is commonly known as Old Testament Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, First and Second Maccabees. ) and the New Testament Apocrypha ( The Two Ways, The Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter) as being "ecclesiastical," that is, books of the church. They are in a distinct category and separated from the canonical books. This view is balanced and was, by and large, the accepted view.
In the writing called "Apostolic Constitutions" we see a similar list, but in this case, it includes Maccabees, the Epistles of Clement and the "Apostolic Constitutions" themselves. This last work is written by an unknown author, and since it claims to be a late first century work written by Clement, (which it is not) it can only be classified as "spurious".
Apostolic Constitutions ( Late 4th century )
Let the following books be esteemed venerable and holy by you, both of the clergy and laity. Of the Old Covenant; let the five books of Moses- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, one of Joshua, one of the Judges, two of Chronicles, two of Ezra, one of Esther, (some manuscripts have inserted here "one of Judith"), three of the Maccebees, one of Job, one hundred and fifty psalms; three books of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs; sixteen prophets. And besides these, take care that young people learn the wisdom of the very learned Sirach. Of the New Covenant, are these: four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Like and John, the fourteen epistles of Paul, two epistles of Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, two epistles of Clement, and the Constitutions dedicated to you bishops by me, Clement, in eight books, which it is not fit to publish all because of the mysteries contained in them; and the Acts of the Apostles
After Jerome's death, there was increasing use of the Apocrypha for liturgical use. The Council of Hippo in the late 4th century included it in it's canonical list. Even though it was still disputed as to whether it was indeed canonical, the fact that it was now in the Latin Vulgate and Hebrew was virtually an unknown tongue greatly helped solidify it's position within the Roman Church. Finally, in an effort to justify it's position on indulgences and Masses for the dead which under the scrutiny of the new Protestant churches, the Roman church finally declared the Apocrypha as fully canonical in 1564 A.D., over a millennia after the apostolic church had clearly rejected it.
Today, a number of the Catholic apologists have asserted that the Apocrypha was always considered scriptural, and that it was the Protestants who removed it from their canonical lists. That, as we have seen, is totally false. It is true that a few of the early fathers and writers do on occasion, quote from Sirach and the additions from Daniel, it would be safe to say that there are far more quotations from Plato and Homer. Periodic use as a quotation does not mean that a writer believed it to be scriptural. All of the earliest canonical lists reject the Apocrypha, with the first offical list to endorse the apocrypha not showing up until the Councilof Hippo in the late 4th century.
The Gnostic Gospels of Nag Hammadi
In 1945 a discovery was made not far from Cairo, Egypt that would likely be considered one of the most significant event in contemporary Biblical studies. The discovery was the unearthing of the Gnostic Gospels, found outside of Nag Hammadi, which are a collection of esoteric and mystical writing that in many ways paralleled the New Testament. The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of the Egyptians, The Gospel of Truth and some other fifty works were found bound together in 13 codices, all which dated to around the fourth century. Many of the works originated in the second century, and some scholars even believe that some of sayings of Jesus, particularly those in the Gospel of Thomas, date back to the apostolic age itself. Although there is a significant amount of diversity in the collection of writings, there are some elements that seem common to most of the writings. With respect to world-view, they almost all purport an extreme form of Dualism or "hyper" Platonism. In this case, it is so extreme that the realm of the divine maintains no intercourse with the matter and the natural world. The material world is considered evil. In many cases, the physical world is considered to be the handiwork of an evil demigod, who is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Consequently, there are descriptions on how the Logos had to descend through numerous realms just to merely appear (gr. "docet") in our world. The incarnation of Christ is denied, and the passion and death of Christ are negated. Since the sacrificial death of Christ has no meaning, devotion to this other Christ consisted of seeking the secret knowledge (gr. "gnosis") that he supposedly gave his disciples privately. Also common to most of the Gnostic writing is the introduction of numerous other intermediate beings, which may be the personification of a certain virtue. Sophia ("wisdom") is a goddess that enjoys significant distinction, sometimes as a part of a triad where she fulfills the role of the Holy Spirit/Mother of God the Logos. One might also find "Pistis" ("faith") and Metanoia ("repentance") as well as scores of others quasi-deities from varied sources. The principles of Gnosticism and Docetism are condemned quite soundly by the apostles John (See page 23 ) and Paul. One of the clearest condemnations is found in 1Timothy 6:20,21 where Paul directs Timothy to stay clear of the speculative banter of the Gnostics.
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge (gr. "Gnosis), which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.
With respect to the question of canon, the Gnostic Gospels never found any support for their inclusion or acceptance with the fathers. The discovery of the Gnostics Gospels should properly then be interpreted as an event which helps shed light on the content of what the early church was fighting against. Many of the most significant heresies in the early church drew from the principles of Gnosticism, and until 1945, our understanding of Gnosticism was primarily though the polemic of Irenaeus, Tertullian and the other apologists. However, many modern day scholars have found in the Gnostic Gospels a new arsenal for critiquing and assaulting the New Testament. The scholars of the "Jesus Seminar" for example, seem to give more credence to the Gospel of Thomas than they do the authors of the canonical gospels. The Gnostic works are elevated by many seminary professors to be alternative traditions of Jesus that are on equal basis as literature with the New Testament. Many Mormon scholars are claiming that the discoveries at Nag Hammadi support the Book of Mormon, particularly in the areas of ritual and teachings about a divine "Mother". On a less scholastic level, the goddess "Sophia" was recently introduced as an alternative Deity for the Christian concept of God at the now infamous multi-denominational "Re-imaging the Godhead" womens conference. New Agers likewise revel in the discovery of early documents, allegedly by apostles of Christ, that equate the true God with our inner "Self", another common theme in Gnosticism. The discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, therefore, instead of being a tremendous validation of the apologetic work of the early church, has been utilized to undermine the solidarity and unique position of the orthodox canon, as well as the accepted rule of faith. Unfortunately, there has been little response from conservative Christians today on this question of these other "gospels".
In summation to this point regarding the transmission of doctrinal truth, it must said that there is a serious need for the church today to return to the same passion for spiritual truth that the Pre-Nicene church had. For generations after the apostles, the church firmly held to the apostolic teachings by incorporating it into their teaching, their exhortation, their vocabulary, and even their music. The believers thrived on words of faith, centered on the Lordship of Christ, and the salvation that he purchased for the church. Consider the stark contrast with contemporary Christianity. Today, most of Western Christianity has moved away from concerns about what is empirically true regarding the gospel, and has become experience and sensation-driven. Although we may verbally assent that the Bible is the rule or standard for truth, we have for the most part, created arbitrary standards to measure what we like and don't like in a church. In some cases we judge doctrine according to our denominational distinctives, or the "ism" that we hold dearest. We have come to esteem churches based on criteria such as if we like the humor of the pastor, or if the service ends on time, or the quality of the worship band. Whether we realize it or not, most individuals today judge a sermon based on how it makes them feel, rather than how accurate it was in expressing biblical principles. There are whole movements that exist in the church today, that promote non-biblical practices, that are prospering purely on the grounds that they cater to individual's desire to experience something unusual. Many other movements exists because they either promise "health and wealth", or self-esteem, or offer a some type of social structure for it's members. Many other strains of Christianity exists because a preacher or teacher claims that what they are teaching was received by special revelation, which they expect should give them more credence than if they had found their doctrine in the apostolic tradition. One such preacher might suggest their teaching was secretly known and understood among the apostles, but unknown to the church as a whole until our day. Such an idea is the epitome of Gnosticism. In any respect, most deviations exist because so many of us have the "consumer-oriented" mind-set, and we will go with anything that tantalizes our senses, or gives us hope, or alleviates our loneliness, or meets whatever other need we might have.
By creating these artificial and arbitrary standards for what we accept and don't accept, we are essentially creating another measure or canon in opposition to the historic canon that God providentially preserved for and through the apostolic church. We must move away from the mentality that blindly accepts every wind of teaching on the basis that it moves us or stirs up some type of emotion in us. How many times have I heard a flamboyant or eloquent preacher dazzle a congregation with completely unbiblical doctrine, and then hear the members of the congregation rave about how "anointed" the speaker was. That is a complete misuse of the biblical term for "anointing". According to John, the "anointing" is the Spirit's presence that teaches us and leads us into "all truth" ( see I John 2:20, 27). Anointing has to do with empirical, bonafide, apostolic truth. What most people mean today when they say "anointing" is that they felt stirred emotionally by the preaching. Just because we were emotionally stirred up, does not mean that the message was true, or anointed. For example, if we were to find the person in this century who stirred the most people to action by his speaking than anyone else, who would it be? Hands down, the most persuasive speaker this century, who mesmerized the most people to the most action would certainly be Adolph Hitler. Would you want to then concede that he was anointed by the Holy Ghost? Definitively not. Anointing is not based on emotion and subjective experience, but upon truth. Let us then reaffirm that the measure or standard of what we hold as true is truly the Bible. If we move back to the paradigm of evaluating truth on these objective grounds, according to the measure of scripture, then we instantly will eradicate much of the destructive heresies and damaging practices of aberrational churches.
It was said of the Bereans that they were "More noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the Word eagerly, and daily searched the scriptures, to see it these things were so." (Acts 17:11). We need to have that same searching and confirming spirit that gripped those early churches. I long to see the zeal as was expressed by Julius Africanus, who challenged the greatest scholar of the day, and his one-time mentor, to demonstrate that a false-standard for truth had crept in unawares. That same Christ-centric, Bible-based mentality should be reflected in our music, our conversations, and our studies. We need to re-examine our own beliefs to make sure that they are fully and definitively found in the canon of scripture. Although the various doctrines discussed throughout this paper will have substantial amounts of extra-biblical sources from the early church supporting them, it must be understood that no early church father, apologist, or "doctor" of the church has the authority to define truth outside the parameters of the canon of scripture. The sole reason why most of the writings of the early church are so valuable and insightful for doctrine is because the fathers strived so hard to maintain the apostolic doctrine and practice. If any of them should stray outside those parameters (and there are a few incidents where they do) then the patristic writer's viewpoint is nullified by the supremacy of scripture. The great doctrinal errors that are found later in the church find their genesis in the concept that the tradition of the day was on equal footing with the scriptures. That is false. Tradition is true only in as much as it follows the apostolic pattern, which always falls within the scope of scripture. Some have imagined that the "successors" of the apostles have the right to bring forth new doctrine because they are in the line of succession from the apostles. As we saw from Irenaeus, no one has the right to add to the apostolic teaching, nor anyone the right to subtract from it. The only reason why the early church ever drew upon such imagery as a succession of bishops was not to justify new doctrine, but to make the case that the current bishop was holding to old, apostolic doctrine. The same principle holds true for us today; if it is verifiably apostolic, then it is to be received. If it is not, then it must be suspect. Having now established the basis for truth, let us continue with the specifics of our study.