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Archive for November 19th, 2009

A Canon of Truth

          Many students are deceived by a common perspective in high school and college classrooms of today that attributes the core doctrine of Christ’s divinity and the books accepted as inspired by God to the political scheming of Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  Are these two ideas, that Jesus is God and that the canon of the New Testament includes the 27 books that it now contains, the convenient creation of a Roman emperor and his political cronies for political gain?  No, they are not, because the evidence of both predate the Council of Nicea by 150 to 200 years.

          New Testament historian and apologist, Michael Licona states, “Within 300 years of Christ almost 36,000 quotations of the New Testament appear in the writings of the early church fathers. In fact, every verse in the New Testament is quoted but 11.”  Among these church fathers were Justin Martyr whose writings around 150 and 161 AD affirmed the four Gospel accounts and the Revelation by John as teaching from God.  And Irenaeus of Lyons, disciple of Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, in his writing about 180 AD quoted from 22 out of the 27 books now in the New Testament in defense of their truth.  And Tertullian of Carthage between 200-220 AD affirmed all of the present New Testament books quoting from them, except II Peter, James, II John, and III John.  All of these church fathers and more stated and confirmed what the Council of Nicea merely clarified later.

          On the other hand, a book like the Gospel of Thomas was not affirmed by any of the church fathers and certainly condemned by Origen of Alexandria.  This matters for two reasons.  This book (and others, like the Gospels of Mary, Judas, Matthias, Philip, and Truth and about two dozen others) was a Gnostic writing written at least a century later than the books of the Bible.  Gnosticism was a prevalent religion of the second and third centuries that taught the dualistic view that spirit is good and material is bad.  It twists what the Bible has to say about Jesus.  Secondly, many modern writers, teachers, and some film makers choose to believe these heretical stories, deceiving many to believe lies about Jesus and early Christianity.

          The evidence for which books were considered to be Scripture before Nicea is strong. The evidence against other books grew as their heresy spread and church leaders spoke against them and confirmed the God given books.    But what difference does it make?  It is very important because our salvation depends on what we believe and what we believe is based on what sources we accept and read.  Paul says in II Timothy 3:15-16 that “you [Timothy] have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable to teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.  If the Scripture is added to by accepting books that twist who Jesus is and what He did, we will not have the “wisdom that leads to salvation”.  Jesus declared His purpose for coming in Luke 24:45-47 when “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, ’Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  And Paul the Apostle further confirms what is Scripture when he quotes the words of Jesus (Luke 10:7), and the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 25:4) by  saying, “For the Scripture says” (I Timothy 5:18).  And Peter declares, “our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him wrote to you, as also in all his letters speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  And I might add to the destruction of those deceived by them.  The Scripture is internally consistent and clearly attested by external sources so that we can know that the person and work of Christ for salvation is true.

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