The Canon (Part 5)

Questions to think about during this lesson…

  • Of the 27 books that finally ended up in our New Testament canon, which ones were widely accepted by all almost all Christians?
  • Which ones faced some kind of question or opposition?
  • How can we determine which books early Christian writers and Fathers considered a part of the canon of Scripture? (Hint: it has to do with how a quote would be introduced in the writing)
  • Although the four Gospels were recognized as genuine, apostolic and ancient early on, why was there a certain amount of controversy over the Gospel of John and other Johannine writings?
  • Who were the Alogi?
  • St. Irenaeus was the first church Father to recognize the importance of a four-fold Gospel canon and champion the four Gospels as a unit. Why did he say that a four-fold Gospel canon was intended by God?
  • How did St. Irenaeus’ defense of the concept of a four-fold Gospel canon relate to what we learned about Tatian and Marcion in The Canon (Part 3)?
  • The Acts of the Apostles was always universally recognized by the Church. Why is this?
  • What are some probable reasons that 2 John and 3 John ended up being accepted into the New Testament canon of Scripture?
  • Even in antiquity there was a lot of debate about 2 Peter; many people did not want to accept it into the canon. Why is this?
  • Well into the 2nd century — and even into the 3rd century — people were still passing on the teachings of the Lord through the Oral Tradition. How do we know this for a fact? (Hint: think about the writings of early Christians like Origen.)

** Remember, even in the 3rd century people still trusted the Oral Tradition more than they trusted the writings. This is a good time to review Dr. Jeannie’s lesson on the¬†Oral Tradition if you need a refresher. **

  • Because the Oral Tradition was still very alive and relied upon in the 3rd century, people were not even aware of all of the Apostolic books that were out there. So something like 2 Peter suddenly appeared at some point. Who was the first person to actually mention this book in any of the early Christian writings that exist?
  • Why didn’t people believe that 2 Peter was actually written by Peter… why were they very suspect of it?
  • Despite the early controversies over 2 Peter, why isn’t it a problem for Orthodox Christians that it ended up in the canon of Scripture?
  • Like 2 Peter, there were a number of early Christians that did not accept the Epistle of James. Why is this?
  • Why was Hebrews widely accepted in the East but mostly rejected in the West?
  • How do many of the icons of Christ that we see in the Orthodox Church relate to the book of Hebrews?
  • For the most part, how did Hebrews end up getting accepted into the canon by the West?
  • What was millennialism?
  • Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that was initially universally accepted but then slowly lost favor (in the East). Why did it lose favor in the East?
  • Why was the West able to standardize its New Testament canon much more quickly and much more easily than the East?
  • Why wasn’t there an opportunity for standardization in the Greek East?
  • Some say the canon must have been fixed when Constantine commissioned 50 bibles in the early part of the 4th century… but why is it quite clear that Constantine didn’t fix the canon of the New Testament?
  • Another date that is sometimes offered is 325 AD, the year of the first Ecumenical Council at Nicea. But why isn’t this correct either? (Hint: Think about why the Council was called in the first place)
  • Probably the most common date given as when the canon of Scripture was fixed is 367 AD. This is the year that St. Athanasius the Great, the Bishop of Alexandria, issued a Paschal Encyclical (paschal epistle #39) that listed the books he considered Scripture. This is the first time the same 27 books which we have in our New Testament appear on anyone’s canonical list. However, why is it quite obvious that the issue of the canon was not yet resolved at this point?
  • Why aren’t opinions about the canon essentially dogmatic? (Hint: what makes you orthodox isn’t your canon, but how you interpret the books in your canon. Think about the Arian heresy and the Gospel of John.)
  • In the West there were three regional synods that issued canons: the Council of Hippo in 393AD and two synods at Carthage (one in 397AD and one in 419AD). All of these listed our same 27 New Testament books. Why didn’t these councils resolve the question of the canon for the entire Church?
  • Notice that all three of these regional councils took place in North Africa and they kept promulgating the same canon. Why was there a need to do that?
  • At what council was the canon of Scripture actually addressed in the East… and when was this?
  • Why wasn’t the issue of the canon resolved in this council?
  • How do we know that those canons and the fathers and the councils never conclusively resolved the issue of the canon? (Hint: think about the books Didymus the Blind accepted as authoritative Scripture)
  • Even as late as 828 AD we know the canon of Scripture was still not settled in the East. How do we know this? (Hint: think about Nikiforos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and his view of Revelation)
  • With the exception of the Coptic Orthodox, why don’t the Eastern Orthodox ever read from the Book of Revelation in church?
  • What factors finally led to the widespread acceptance of the Book of Revelation within the Church of the East?
  • To this day, the question of the canon has never been resolved by the Orthodox Church. Why is this?
  • When was the canon of Scripture fixed for the Catholic Church — in what council and in what year?
  • When deciding which books should be in the New Testament canon, the Church considered its antiquity, apostolicity and orthodoxy. What do each of these mean?
  • What does it mean to say that the Bible is the Scripture of the Church and that it can only be properly interpreted and understood within the context of the life and the Tradition of the Church?
  • What does it mean to say that the Bible is a PART of the Tradition of the Church and that it does not have authority “over” the Church? For more information, listen to Presvytera Jeannie’s podcast: Does The Bible Have Authority “Over” The Church?

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