Early Church fathers

Who decided which books to include in the New Testament, when, and why?

Who decided which books to include in the New Testament, when, and why?

The Religion Guy observes that with “fake news” all over the news it’s wise to be aware of fake history.

Consider Dan Brown’s influential pop novel “The DaVinci Code.” Though the plot is fiction, readers may assume the book provides reliable historical background. Experts say that’s misleading, and one example is Brown’s version of how the New Testament came to be.

That’s a timely question due to an important new technical work on the subject, “The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity” by Edmon Gallagher and John Meade. “Canon” refers to recognized scriptures. Oxford University Press published this collection of ancient texts and analysis in Britain this month, with U.S. release due in January.

(The following relies on “The Formation of the New Testament” (1965) by Robert M. Grant of the University of Chicago, and “The Canon of the New Testament” (1987) by Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton Theological Seminary, and covers only the New Testament, not the canon of the Hebrew Bible a.k.a. Old Testament.)

Brown is correct that many texts about Jesus were circulating during Christianity’s first few centuries, so decisions had to be made about which were authentic and recognized as scripture. Many Christian folk don’t realize how complex the process was.

By Brown’s account, the Roman Emperor Constantine was the power-broker who picked only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John out of some 80 Gospels in contention. Actually what Constantine did in A.D. 331 was commission Bishop Eusebius to have copyists produce 50 new copies of the Greek canon to replace Scriptures that had been destroyed during Rome’s previous anti-Christian purge. The 80 count is exaggerated, and most rejected writings did not resemble the genre of the favored four, which were not chosen by the emperor but church authorities.

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Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

JOEL’S QUESTION:

[Explanation:] The pastor of a New Jersey Protestant congregation sent in several “questions that have come up here.” One of them is how to understand the passage in the New Testament letter of 1st Peter about Jesus Christ preaching to “the spirits in prison.”

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible’s major teachings are clear enough. But Joel and his parishioners shouldn’t be embarrassed if they’re confused about this particular New Testament head-scratcher. Even Martin Luther (who so energized Bible study 500 years ago by sparking the Protestant Reformation) said it’s “certainly a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament. I still do now know for sure what the apostle means.” Robert Mounce, president of Whitworth University, agreed that this section is “widely recognized as perhaps the most difficult to understand in the New Testament.”

Here’s the text at issue: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah . .  .” (1 Peter 3:18-20a, RSV translation).

The following analysis relies especially on commentaries by Mounce, an American, the German exegete Leonhard Goppelt, and England’s J.N.D. Kelly. Scholars candidly admit that each explanation has problems. Among them:

(1) Between his death by crucifixion and bodily resurrection, Christ visited the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s wicked contemporaries. That was the view of early church “Fathers,” notably Clement of Alexandria.

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More than an academic question: Was one of the New Testament apostles a woman?

More than an academic question: Was one of the New Testament apostles a woman?

CLAUDE’S QUESTION:

How did you come to the conclusion that Junia / Junias in Romans 16:7 is an apostle?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Paul’s weighty New Testament letter to the Romans concludes with chapter 16’s greetings to various friends. Verse 7 applies the exalted label of “apostle” to Andronicus alongside someone named either “Junias” or “Junia.” Was that name, and thus the apostle, male or female?  What did the “apostle” title mean? And what does this tell us about gender roles in Christianity’s founding years?

Paul commends 8 or 9 women in the chapter, which was notably high regard in ancient patriarchal culture. He even listed the wife Prisca before husband Aquila in verse 3. Then verse 7 states this (in the wording of the Revised Standard Version translation):

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners;they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” (Most agree “kin” means the two prisoners were fellow Jews, not Paul’s blood relatives.)

Translation teams have reworked the RSV into the “ecumenical” New Revised Standard Version and the “evangelical” English Standard Version, and both changed the masculine name “Junias” to the feminine “Junia” while dropping “men.” The evangelicals’ popular New International Version and U.S. Catholicism’s official New American Bible (which never said “men”) originally used “Junias” but likewise switched to “Junia” in later editions.

What’s going on here?

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