Love, Faith & Stewardship
Origin of the New Testament of the Christian Bible
What is the Bible? Where exactly did it come from? It didn’t drop down from Heaven bound in leather and gilded in gold, so how did it come to be in the form it is today? For Christians, a consideration of the means by which the New Testament came to be canonized is even more important than a review of the Old Testament, as it is more frequently referenced and has a greater impact and meaning in the lives of Christian readers.
The writer of the Book of John in the New Testament said, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they should be written, every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain all the books that should be written” John 21:25. That is an astounding statement if you consider that if you were to eliminate the frequent repetition of the first four books of the New Testament, and simply render a work that contained all the sayings, parables and events in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, it would only fill a precious few dozen pages.
The first Christians were all Hebrews, as Christianity sprang up from within the religion of the Hebrews. The historic scene for the birth for Christianity, in the land of Palestine, 1st century AD, was a very tumultuous time. It was under the rule of the Romans, but had been conquered by a succession of nations during the previous 400 years. Many of the Hebrews were fervently looking for a Messiah as had been foretold in their scriptures. For the early Hebrew Christians, their expectations and hope were fulfilled in Yeshua of Nazareth, who came to be known as Iesous Christos in Greek, which was the prevalent common language in the land. The Romans later latinized the name into Ieseus.
As Hebrews, the early Christians were quite familiar with the concept of “scripture”, for the sacred and holy writings of the prophets and the law had been read to them in the synagogues all of their lives and formed a foundation for their religious instruction, worship and actions in life.
It became a natural evolution for early Christians to begin collecting letters from the Apostles who had been living witnesses to the life of Yeshua, and from other early leaders of the church, and using the teachings contained within these as a foundation for their own beliefs and actions and the essence of the evolving Christian scriptures.
The problem with doing this arose from the fact that there was a wide disagreement among the various sects of Christianity as to which letters from Apostles and early church leaders should be elevated to the sacredness of “scripture”.
The first few centuries after the death of Yeshua saw the rise of numerous sects of Christianity with sometimes wide chasms in the differences of their beliefs. This difference was often seen by which early Apostolic letters and epistles the various sects preferred, each choosing “scripture” that most agreed with their beliefs.
One of the significant early Christian sects was the Gnostics. We know more about this sect than any other early group of Christians because of the treasure trove of 4th century Gnostic manuscripts containing original compositions dating to the early 2nd century, that were discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, by camel drivers.
Although many of the fragile papyrus books were destroyed by carelessness before their true value was known, 45 unique early Christian manuscripts survived in whole or part and have been translated and made available to the public. Among these are some very notable books that have gained significant readership among inquiring Christians today, including the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Phillip.
In addition to the Gnostics, some of other notable early Christian sects included the Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem, as well as the Simonians, Ophites, Naassenes and the Cerinthians, all which formed during 30-130 AD.
It is curious that Protestants today wouldn’t even consider following the edicts of the Catholic Pope, but they do not hesitate to endorse the books of their Bible as being inerrant and inspired, even though it was assembled by leaders of the early Catholic church after a thorough suppression of all other manuscripts that did not support their particular religious views and doctrines.
It wasn’t until the end of the 3rd century, almost 400 years following the death of Yeshua, that a Bible of Catholic scriptures was finally canonized by the Roman Church after their leaders had purged what they felt were spurious letters and epistles that were either lacking in substantive content, or unsupportive of the doctrines of Catholic Christianity.
It is this same collection of Catholic New Testament letters which are published and used in the Protestant Bibles today. This, despite the fact that such iconic Protestant leaders as Martin Luther did not feel several books of the Catholic New Testament should be included in Protestant Bibles.
Given these facts, it is always confounding to hear Protestants of great faith, but little historical understanding, proclaim that their Bible is perfect and inerrant, by their belief, having been assembled as it exists because of the inspiration and guidance of God. The truth is, the Protestant New Testament came from the Catholic Church, and it was a tumultuous 400 year ride to get the version that Catholics and Protestants use today.