CHHI 301 D08
10 November 2014
The Foundation of Orthodoxy and the Canon
The early church, though a cheerful community characterized by new life, joy, love, and peace, also faced many difficult challenges that would forever change the way Christians think, believe and behave. From very early on, Christian orthodoxy (right doctrine) was challenged to the core. Was Jesus divine, or was he merely a man? Did God change from the Hebrew Scriptures to the emerging Scriptures that would eventually form the New Testament? Did the physical creation matter, or were humans just spirits trapped in a body awaiting salvation from all that is physical? These questions and many more forced the Church at large to respond in a way that would constitute orthodox Christian faith. Part of the Church’s response had to do with which letters and books were truly orthodox. As N.T. Wright has written elsewhere, “Canonization was never simply a matter of a choice of particular books on a ‘who’s in, who’s out’ basis. It was a matter of setting out the larger story, the narrative framework, which makes sense of and brings order to God’s world and God’s people” (Scripture, 64). This is precisely what the Church needed: order. Thus, they had to ask and answer the question, “Which books do we hear most clearly the story of Jesus?” (Hardin, 136). This story, as told on the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, and now fulfilled in Jesus, is the story of how God is saving His creation in and through Israel’s Messiah and the world’s True Lord, Jesus. Thus, the church chose books that fitted into the larger narrative framework of the story of how God was restoring the cosmos. With this in mind, as N.T. Wright, Michael Hardin, and others have noted, the Church was not necessarily trying to determine which books were “inspired”, but which books carried the Spirit’s authority to sustain, energize, shape, judge, and renew the Church (Scripture, 51).
Over and against the many people, events, and movements that sought to change Christianity into a religion that more resembled the pagan ideologies of its day and age, the Church began to form its creeds and canon that would constitute Christian orthodoxy. Before exploring how the church specifically responded to certain events and movements, it will be proper to explore these various movements in brief detail.
Of the many movements that influenced the recognition of the canonical books was Marcionism, named after its leader, Marcion. A problem arose in the second century that left the Church trying to answer how (and if) the Jewish Scriptures should be used for Christian life and practice. According to Michael Hardin, author of The Jesus Driven Life, Marcion asked the question, “What does the violent God of the Jewish Scriptures have to do with the gracious, compassionate God taught by Jesus and Paul?” (Hardin, 138). Marcion answered this question by throwing out the Hebrew Scriptures and formed his own “New Testament” of sorts, comprised of Luke and some of Paul’s letters (Hardin, 139). However, Marcion removed any references to Judaism. He had concluded that there were actually two Gods: Yahweh, the God of the Jews who created physical matter, and the “higher God” of pure spirit, taught by Jesus (Hardin, 139). Thus, being influenced by Gnosticism, Marcion rejected the physical creation, as well as the Creator, God of the Jews.
According to Ron Dart, writer for the Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, “Gnosticism was seen as a heresy and a heterodox movement within the larger orthodox and creedal tradition of the church. Many church fathers, both in the Bible and Patristic tradition, wrote against the Gnostic way” (Dart). Gnosticism, in its various expressions, essentially taught the denial of matter. According to the Gnostics, all physical matter is evil; spirit is good. They claimed to have a special “knowledge” (hence the name Gnostic, derived from the Greek word gnosis,...
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