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Heart and History of the Early Church Session 4: Heresy and Canon
Beginnings of Heresy • With the expansion of Christianity came its exposure to differing ideas and philosophies • The Greek culture was very syncretistic (merging of different philosophies, religions, and doctrines to come up with some sort of “truth”) • The syncretistic culture gave the early church some challenges in keeping to sound doctrine • Tonight we will learn about one teaching and one teacher that were dangerous to the early church and we will learn about the churches response to these challenges
Gnosticism • No false teaching was more dangerous and closer to victory than Gnosticism • The word come from “gnosis” which means “knowledge” • They believed that they had a special, mystical knowledge that led to true understanding and salvation • They taught that all matter was evil. A human being is an eternal spirit that is imprisoned in a human body. The final goal is escape from body and all matter in this evil world • All reality was spiritual in the beginning. The supreme being intended a spiritual universe. One of the evil spiritual beings created the material world. • The only way to free ourselves from the evil material world is through special spiritual “gnosis.”
Gnosticism • To be liberated, a spiritual messenger must come to our world and awaken us from our dream, our spirits are asleep in our bodies which are driven by their carnal instincts • The messenger gives us gnosis which works like a spiritual password to allow us to reach spiritual “fullness” in the upper spheres above • Christian Gnosticism believed this messenger was Jesus Christ. He gave us knowledge to reach our heavenly mansions • Jesus did not have an earthly body like ours because all matter is evil and the spiritual messenger is not evil. Some say that he was like a ghost and others said that he had a body of “spiritual matter.” • The early Christians used the word “docetism” to describe the belief that Jesus body “seemed” human but was not.
Gnosticism • How to be lived out? • Ascetics- Control or punish the evil flesh to prepare it to free the spirit • Libertines- Let the flesh do what it wants, because the spirit is unaffected by the flesh • Gnosticism was a significant threat to the church in the second century in particular • Denied Christian doctrine especially in its beliefs about creating, the incarnation, and the resurrection
Marcion • Son of the bishop in Pontus • Was anti-Semitic and anti-material • Went to Rome in 144 A.D. and gained a following • Started his own church that lasted for several centuries as a rival to the orthodox church
Marcion • The world was evil so the creator was evil • The God and Father of Jesus was the same as Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament • Jehovah made the world and all the evil in it • The Father of Christians is a good and loving God
Marcion • Jesus was not born but appeared as a grown man • Old Testament Scriptures were rejected • Accepted only the epistles of Paul and the gospel of Luke (versions that did not include the Old Testament) • Greater threat than Gnosticism because it was an attempt to actually organize an opposing church
The Canon • Marcion’s list was the first effort by someone to make a “New Testament” • Scripture in the early church meant “Old Testament” • Churches also read from a gospel or gospels and from epistles as well, especially Paul, but each church had different writings Codex Sinaiticus Codex Vaticanus
The Canon • Churches responded to Marcion’s list by beginning to compile the writings and lists of their own • Determination of the canon to be used in the Church was done in a formal setting in meetings by church leaders • There was never any objection that the Old Testament was to be a part of the canon • We are descendants of God’s redemptive work from the beginning
The Canon Muratorian Canon Late 2nd Century 4 gospels 13 letters of Paul 1 and 2 John Jude Revelation Debate over apocalypse of Peter Shepherd of Hermas Wisdom of Solomon 1 and 2 Peter, 3 John, Hebrews, and James not included in this list • The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and then John gained the first general recognition in what came to be called the New Testament • Gospel of Thomas was a Gnostic gospel to rival the orthodox gospels • The diversity in the canon was to show that the truth of Jesus was not just spoken of by one gospel writer or one apostle but by many • Gnostics had secret interpretation and knowledge but the Christian canon was chosen in a “open” way by writing known to all
The Canon Eusebius List Early 300’s Recognized Books: 4 Gospels 14 letters of Paul (includes Hebrews) Acts 1 Peter 1 John Revelation Generally Accepted: James Jude 2 Peter 2 and 3 John • After the Gospels, the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul were accepted rather quickly • By the end of the 2nd century the core of the New Testament had reached relative concensus • The other epistles and the book of Revelation took longer to gain wide recognition but there was little debate about it • Complete consensus was not reached until the late 300’s (Athanatius 367; counsel in Rome in 382 gave this same list)
The Canon “The fact that substantially the whole church came to recognize the same twenty-seven books as canonical is remarkable when it is remembered that the result was not contrived. All that the several churches throughout the Empire could do was to witness to their own experience with the documents and share whatever knowledge they might have about their origin and character. When consideration is given to the diversity in cultural backgrounds and in orientation to the essentials of the Christian faith within the churches, their common agreement about which books belonged to the NT serves to suggest that this final decision did not originate solely at the human level.” Barker/Lane/Michaels, p. 29
2 Timothy 2:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17
John 1:1-14 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
John 1:1-14 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Questions • How would you grade the early church’s reaction to Gnosticism and Marcion? • How do you see God played a role in the forming of our New Testament? • Why do you think it has been increasingly difficult for Christians to stay unified?
Heart and History of the Early Church Session 4: Heresy and Canon