My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
WHERE DID THE HOLY BIBLE COME FROM? (Part II)
As the Church spread, it also became necessary to commit the central core of the events of Our Lord's life and His teaching to writing, to provide a written Gospel for those who came to the Faith far from the little out-of-the-way province of the Empire in which the Lord had lived and died. So it was that the four written Gospels came into being. But this came to pass only after the Gospel had been proclaimed and passed from the believer to another by word of mouth, by tradition ("handing-on") for many years. It is readily apparent upon comparison that no one of the written Gospels contains the entire story. Just as important, perhaps more so...as one would assume, had he no prejudice to the contrary, all four of them together yet less than the totality of the Tradition of which they are part. As the Gospel of Saint John concludes: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (St. John 21:25).
To be sure, all that is essential of the Lord 's life and reaching is to be found in the Gospels--but not all that is desirable or helpful to our salvation. Neither anyone nor all four of the Gospels together was written to be absolutely exhaustive and final. Were that the case, of course, we would have no need of the rest of the New Testament, nor the Old Testament either. (There have been heretics who claimed just such outrageous foolishness.)
The Revelation of Saint John the Theologian (more properly translated the "Apocalypse") and the Acts of the Apostles are of course "special cases". The former, almost certainly the last book of the New Testament to be written, is agreed by most scholars to have been written by Saint John near the end of his life, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, probably about A.D. 95 (although parts of it may perhaps have been written at an earlier date). It is the only book of the New Testament concerning which there was significant disagreement in the Church... there were parts of the Church for several centuries in which it was not accepted as part of the Scripture (of this, later). The Acts of the Apostles, written by the Evangelist Luke, of course, could not have been completed any earlier than A.D. 63, as it refers to Saint Paul's imprisonment at Rome which continued into that year.}
THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: THE "TABLE OF CONTENTS"
The earliest known list of books which apparently were regarded as "Scripture" in the Church's history comes from about A.D. 130 and is known as the Muratorian Canon. Portions of the work have been lost, but it is apparent that it includes the four Gospels and most of the Epistles (Letters) of Saint Paul, as well as various other books. But doubts existed in portions of the Church concerning the Epistle (Letter) to the Hebrews, the Epistle of Jude, the 2nd Epistle of Peter, the 2nd and 3rd Epistles of John, and the Apocalypse (Revelation) (this last right up to the council which finally confirmed the canon). As noted earlier, there were portions of the Church in which other books than those we now recognize as part of the New Testament were accepted as such.
It is not until A.D. 369, with Saint Athanasius's "Festal Epistle" for that year, that we can find a "table of contents" for the New Testament which corresponds exactly to that which we now accept. For 336 years of the Church had been living, growing, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit...and only then would it have been possible (though not even yet with universal acceptance) to print "the Holy Bible" as we now know and accept it!
This, of course, is already four decades after the Ecumenical Council (Synod) of Nicaea, after the Creed had been written, after the Church (as many Protestants would have it) had been finally an ultimately corrupted by Saint Constantine. The formal liturgical worship of the Church is already well-defined and so similar to that of the Orthodox Church today (a fact readily established by reference to indisputable historical documents) that a believer transported in time from then to an Orthodox Church service now would find himself completely at home.
What can one make of this? We shall have to come back to this momentarily...but first, let us conclude the history of the "table of contents".
Only five years earlier than Saint Athanasius' Epistle, however, the Council of Laodicea (the canons of which were confirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council) promulgated a list of the books of the New Testament which was identical...except that it did not include the Apocalypse (Revelation) amongst "all the books that are to be read" (Canon 60). It was not for quite some time yet that there was truly universal agreement as to the books of the New Testament, and it was yet to be another thousand years before there would be a single book identical in contents to what we now call the Bible.
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God