During its first three and half centuries, the church was free to circulate and share various texts of the scripture such as the Old Testament. However, due to the activities of various individuals, movements and heretics, it became essential to establish a standardized canon. One of the earliest heretics was Marcion of Sinope.
His thinking somehow followed Gnostic viewpoints. He differentiated the God who is contained in the Old Testament from Jesus Christ’s father in relation to the New Testament. In addition, he rejected the majority of scriptural writings. In his Canon, he had the book of Luke as well as ten of Paul's letters. During the second century, orthodoxy underwent a challenge from different quarters. Another notable player in this area was Montanism.
Montanism was a movement formed by Montanus and which started in ca. 156 in Phrygia within the Asia Minor. Montanus believed that the promise, which God gave us of the Holy Spirit, (Paraclete) had already been fulfilled. He acted as the Paraclete’s mouthpiece. The advent of Paraclete acted as immediate precludes to Christ's Second Advent as well as the foundation of the New Jerusalem within one of the Phrygia towns.
Montanism had spread throughout the Roman Empire by the time the second century came to an end. As a result, fathers of the church decided that they had to settle this debate permanently. The criteria they used included; the Holy Spirit’s internal witness, apostolic sanction or origin and usage within the church. The other means entailed intrinsic content, spiritual and moral effect and attitude of the early church.
During the early Christianity, several questions in regard to faith and what it meant arose. As the gospel message spread to the Greco-Roman civilizations among others, it became essential to clarify what was the orthodox doctrine. This was especially important in order to clarify what were the opinion and the fact.
During the church's first three and half centuries, the church was free to circulate and share various texts of the scripture such as the Old Testament. However, by the end of the fourth century the organized church found it important to canonize the scriptures. This was spawned by the decline of the Roman Empire.
The main questions were pertaining to which manuscripts ought to be taken as divine authority. Further, the question of letters, which should be included within the canon and the ones which should just be left out arose. In this paper, I will discuss various heresies which faced the early church, and key events and movements that were influential in the recognition of the canonical books.
Schism in the church was one of the first factors which led to the need to canonize the scriptures. In addition, when the monastic movements and contradicting views in relation to the perceived heresies such as Montanism and Aryanism took root, the church was worried due to its inability to protect itself. Further, the early church was unable to control or speak for the masses from the negative influences.
There was also fear that if it lost influence among the masses, that could mean the demise of its high status in the remainder of the Roman Empire. The factors I have enumerated shows that, "canon in flux" was disputable, and therefore, the need to come up with the canon of scripture which we know today.
Since the victory of Constantine in 312 AD at the Milvian Bridge, the church was almost instantly changed. It changed from being a target for persecution to the status of official state religion within the Roman Empire. Through the following years of the fourth century, the empire and the church became increasingly entwined. Many of the results of this interaction had a positive impact especially among the poor and the Christians.
It is unanimously agreed that this relationship between the empire and the church resulted in the first welfare system among Romans. In addition, Constantine did implement the "Episcopal audience" which was a civil court composed of the clergy. This court was empowered to settle the civil disputes within the church as well as within its members. This resulted into the emperor injecting his authority into the dogma and doctrine of the church. As a result, there was much resentment to the state of things. This made it essential to reconcile the dissenting factions, centralize its power and suppress dissent through a standardized form of canon or "rule".
The result was that the mainstream church looked for a way of moving from the canon model which was recognized rather than determined by believers to the community canon. The latter was a canon which was authoritatively agreed to by using a criterion of an established ruling body. In this case, the body was a church hierarchy. It is evident that this early church circulated and shared the apostolic writings.
By c160 AD, a gospel of canons was already in existence. It is thought that Origen may have had up to 27 books which are contained in the current Old Testament by c. 200 AD. Athanasius' 367 AD Easter Letter as well as the African Synod of Hippo (393 AD) all recognized the current set of books in the New Testament. Athanasius has actually referred to the books as being the "canon" in his letter.
This list was formally accepted in 382 by a council which met in Rome. All these predated the council of Carthage (397 AD).One of the earliest heretics was Marcion of Sinope whose thinking followed somehow Gnostic viewpoints. He differentiated the God who is contained in the Old Testament from Jesus Christ’s father in relation to the New Testament. In addition, he rejected the majority of scriptural writings.
In his Canon, he had the book of Luke as well as ten of Paul's letters. He presented his views to the Presbyters in Rome but, they totally rejected them as a result of his very radical Gnostic points of view. Marcion was of the opinion that God of the Old Testament was an inferior being. In his opinion, Jesus had come to liberate human beings from the Old Testament’s God.
The aim was to reveal a more superior God of Mercy and Goodness to whom he referred to as the father. His views were widespread and dangerous. However, the Marcionites became the first people to have a canon which was clearly defined. As such, Marcion's Canon became both an incentive and a challenge to the Roman church and the other churches of similar orientation. Gnosticism also acted as a catalyst for the establishment of the current canon.
It has been proposed as an important catchment pertaining to traditions of the historical Jesus Christ. Gospel of Truth is another important apocryphal associated with Gnosticism. The books used are essentially the same as those contained in the current New Testament canon and the way in which the author has treated these books shows that these books had an authority for him. The effect of Gnoticism on the church was intensified concern pertaining to adherence of the faithful to the teachings as the apostles had intended.
Montanism was a movement formed by Montanus and which started in ca. 156 in Phrygia within the Asia Minor. Montanus believed that the promise which God gave us of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete) had already been fulfilled. He acted as the Paraclete’s mouthpiece. The advent of Paraclete acted as an immediate precludes to Christ's Second Advent as well as the foundation of the New Jerusalem within one of the Phrygia towns. Montanism spread throughout the Roman Empire. By the time the second century came to an end, Montanism had one of its most fervent converts through Tertullian of Carthage.
Montanism emphasized renewal of the prophetic gifts and stressed that the Holy Spirit could be seen through works of prophets and prophetess’s notable of who was Montanus himself. However, the result of challenge which Montanists brought to the canon has been debated for a long time. What is evident is that the claim to inspiration through the Holy Spirit greatly challenged how the church understood authority. The Montanist polemic did not have any direct attacks on the validity or authority of the Biblical writings and even the Montanist oracles are not seen as being equivalent to scriptures.
As a result, fathers of the church had to come up with a canon which could be accepted across the church divide. The method they used in determining whether the books could be part of the canon or not included the following aspects:
In conclusion therefore, so much human element was involved in the formation of the New Testament. It is impossible for anyone to overrule the providential basis of the entire book. Further, it is evident that all the books do not have a similar clear title to their specific places in the canon where history of their attestation is concerned. In addition, several individuals and movements played a big role ensuring that there was a clear Canon to tackle heretic teachings.