Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God's word written down and published.
It took over 1,600 years for the Bible to be written. God the Holy Spirit used people who were as different as kings from peasants, fishermen, poets, clerks and doctors. Between them they authored the sixty-six books. Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages were used. While lots of different subjects are covered, there is one underlying message throughout it all: God the Father saves people through faith in God the Son, as witnessed to by God the Holy Spirit. The original documents were written on papyrus, parchments (shaved and scraped skins), vellum (specifically calf skin), pottery, stones, clay and waxed-wood tablets. All of these have limited life spans. They are easily destroyed. This resulted in new copies often being made by hand, for hundreds of years before the printing press was invented. The first Hebrew Old Testament ever printed was in A.D. 1488 at Soncino, north Italy. The first Greek New Testament ever printed was contained in Complutensian Polyglot, Volume 5, in A.D. 1514. Printing multiplied the number of copies more easily. The standard collection of sixty-six books in our Bible is called the ‘canon’. The church did not create the books included in our Bible. It recognised them as being given from God and it set the limit on further additions. From early in the second century five basic questions were asked as they evaluated all the documents going around the Christian gatherings: 1. Does God’s authority come through this one? 2. Was the author a known, godly servant of God? 3. Is everything in it authentic and proven to be reliable?
4. Is there evidence of God speaking and working through it, transforming people’s lives?
5. Did the very earliest church accept it and use it?
The Old Testament canon accepted by the church was the one Jesus had used and never questioned. The New Testament canon was needed by this time, to keep in the authority of the original apostles’ teaching and to keep out writings from the growing number of false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3-7; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-27).
The same Holy Spirit Who superintended the writing of all the individual books, also superintended the recognition, selection and collection of them into our Bible. By doing this, Jesus Christ kept His promise to guide His disciples into the truth (John 16:13-15). The written canon of Scripture meets the church’s two great needs: for teaching the truths by which all Christians should live, and for pointing out errors into which Christians frequently fall, encouraging their correction.
Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt, wrote the earliest list for a New Testament canon the same as ours, in his 'Easter letter' of A.D. 367. The same list was recognised at the Synod of Hippo A.D. 393 and the 3rd Council of CarthageA.D. 397.
Thinking it through.
(a). What is the difference between a ‘church-created’ Bible and a ‘church–recognised’ Bible?
(b). Why was a ‘canon’ (standard) of Scripture needed?
(c). How did Jesus describe the Bible in John 16:13-15? What can we learn from this?