How early were scriptural works considered scripture?


#1

This came from another thread, but I figured it’s best answered separately:

How early were the various works in scripture each considered as scriptural by the early church?

I’m not talking about canonization here – I’m asking how early individual churches considered these to be valid as scripture. I hope it’s not the contention of anyone here that no one considered any of them as scripture until a council defined them – after all, these councils consisted of bishops, who each would have had to come to the conclusion of the canonicity of the works some time before the respective councils met to discuss the issue. The question is…how long before? A day, a month, a year, 10 years, a generation or more?


#2

The short answer is oral Tradition beginning with the Apostles.


#3

As Marco said; and the Tradition was at work in the liturgical readings, i.e., what was read during the celebration of the Mass. This was one of the main criteria in the Church discerning what was to be included in the canon of Scripture or not - was it read during the Sacred Liturgy?


#4

The OT was accepted from the beginning–at least the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which are all mentioned as Scripture in the Gospels. Daniel is treated as a prophet. Some of the other “Writings” are less certain (and that would include the deuterocanonicals).

As for the NT, the first reference we have is II Peter, which describes Paul’s letters as Scripture. The four Gospels seem to have been widely accepted by the beginning of the second century, though this is more officially stated by Irenaeus at the end of the century.

Edwin


#5

“considering” something as scripture, and it actually being scripture, are two totally different things.

The Jews had 5 canons of the Hebrew writings/scriptures, so there was no one set that all jews used and called “scripture”. About the only one most of them agreed on was the pentateuch(first 5 books of the OT).

Many people claimed many letters to be inspired scripture, including the gospel of Thomas, etc… But none were considered scripture in an infallible capacity until after the canonization in 382 under pope damasus, and then the ratification of the canon in 393 and 397ad under augustine at the councils of Hippo and Carthage in N Africa.

Still today many claim letter and books to be scripture(book of mormon, quran etc…) yet they were not written by anyone who knew the preannounced messiah Jesus Christ, and they came wayyyyyy too late to be valid anyway…


#6

Why is is that you constantly try to seperate God’s word from His Apostles and from His Church???

The TWO ARE INSEPERABLE. No matter how you try PC you can not separate Scripture from The Catholic Church and Her Teaching. Scripture is only infallible through the interpretation of The Church not through private interpretation.

James


#7

Another way is to check for references from the early church fathers to scriptural texts. For example, between Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp we have quite a long list of scriptural sitations, but there are a few missing. These are Philemon, 1 and 2 John, and Revelations. They don’t mention 2 Thessalonians, but Diadache does.

Only Clement sites from Titus, and Hebrews (there was some speculation that Clement may have authored Hebrews, but I think this theory is now defunct, or unprovable).
Only Ignatius sites from the Gospel of John and Colossians.
Only Polycarp sites from Jude.

Of course, if you are going to rely on them as to what is scripture, you should probably rely on their interpretation of scripture as well. No?

God bless,
Ut


#8

Marco, I don’t think you properly read my post. The question I asked was not “where do we get scripture from”. My question is how early the 27 works found in our New Testament were considered to be scripture. (Note that this need not be done in a group basis – establishing one, or a small group of these at a given point of time is quite beneficial.)

Putting aside that I don’t agree there was a “sacred liturgy” as you might think of the concept, my question to you would then be – which works were read in that setting, and how was it determined which were suitable and which were not? Which works were used, and how early were they used?

In short, I’m trying to piece together a historical timeline regarding the acceptance of various works in “the Bible” as scripture.

Welcome Edwin – glad to see you offering insight here. :slight_smile:

And I guess I should have been more clear – the OT canon was widely established before then, and really isn’t what I was speaking of. I’m looking for NT-specific info.

As for the NT, the first reference we have is II Peter, which describes Paul’s letters as Scripture.

Peter’s death is placed at, what, 65AD by many sources, right? That means that Paul’s writings were considered scripture by one of the twelve, and thus probably by many others. It would seem, in context, that reading Paul’s letters in the churches was not a rare thing. Would you agree?

(That’s approximately half of what’s in the NT right there. A great start.)

The four Gospels seem to have been widely accepted by the beginning of the second century, though this is more officially stated by Irenaeus at the end of the century.

There are several references mid-to-late second century that show with a good deal of certainty that the gospels were accepted as scripture. The question is then, how much before that were they accepted?

True, but the only difference is whether something actually is scripture or not. Clearly, the gospel of Matthew is scripture, and was from the moment of its creation. The question is – how early did the churches recognize this reality? That’s what I’m asking about – not about how early things “became” scripture. Clearly any scriptural work is scriptural in and of its own content and divine inspiration, not because of recognition by an earthly body.

The Jews had 5 canons of the Hebrew writings/scriptures, so there was no one set that all jews used and called “scripture”. About the only one most of them agreed on was the pentateuch(first 5 books of the OT).

Your point is taken. In that case, please feel free to mention any work which had gained similar acceptance to what we now call scripture in the earliest centuries of the church.

Many people claimed many letters to be inspired scripture, including the gospel of Thomas, etc…

Marcion certainly seems to have claimed that the Gospel of Thomas was inspired, but I don’t know of many other sources which claim it to have been so. Are you saying that the church at large seems to have accepted this work?

To clarify – I’m not looking for a case where one person, or a tiny group, espouses a particular work, but where the church at large seems to (as much as is possible, given how little of historical proof we actually possess).

But none were considered scripture in an infallible capacity until after the canonization…

Are you sure about that? Perhaps it wasn’t explicitly defined as inerrant (not infallible), but it seems to have been treated as such. For instance, Peter’s comments of Paul’s writings seems to indicate that people believed them to be true, including Peter himself. This is over 300 years prior to the supposed canonization by Rome.

I’m fairly certain I can pull up quite a few quotes that support the inerrancy of at least certain parts of scripture prior to 382. And again, as I stated in my opening posts, the bishops that met and supposedly decided what was canon and what was not would have had to have individually formed an opinion on the matter before the meeting of the council. So the question is merely how long before.

Continued…


#9

…in 382 under pope damasus, and then the ratification of the canon in 393 and 397ad under augustine at the councils of Hippo and Carthage in N Africa.

Ratification…that’s a clever way of avoiding the discrepancy of dates. Rome makes a decision in 382, but over 10 years later, they feel the need to make that decision again in Africa? If Rome were the cheif church, there’s no need for anyone else to ratify or confirm any of it – all they would do is promulgate the decision of Rome.

Agreed – the whole of the canon was not completely accepted in the earliest days of the church, but clearly a large chunk of it was.

Of course, if you are going to rely on them as to what is scripture, you should probably rely on their interpretation of scripture as well. No?

A logical point – but I’m not relying on them as authoritative sources. Rather, I’m using them to serve as indicators of what the church at large believed. But that’s only really a small piece of the puzzle. Their interpretations of such, and more importantly, your interpretations of their interpretations, are quite another matter.


#10

Actually, 1 Timothy 5:18 also joins an Old Testament reference and a New Testament reference and calls them both collectively as ”Scripture”.

For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,”[a] and “The worker deserves his wages.”**

Footnotes:
a. 1 Timothy 5:18 Deut. 25:4
b. 1 Timothy 5:18 Luke 10:7 **

It would not have been unusual in the context of first-century Judaism for an Old Testament passage to be called “Scripture”. But for a New Testament passage to be called “Scripture” so soon after it was written says volumes about Paul’s view of the authority of the New Testament books.

By some accounts only three years or so has elapsed between the writing of the Gospel of Luke and the writing of I Timothy. Some would say more time had elapsed.

Either way, Paul, himself a Jew (a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”) does not hesitate to place Luke on the same level of authority as the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. Paul definitely recognized that Luke’s Gospel was just as “God-breathed” as was Deuteronomy.

I’ve never particularly liked the argument that the early apostles did not know what was considered “Scripture” from the earliest times, and that it had to be later defined centuries later. This seems to be a distorted perception of the times from which the Catholic Church grew.

More accurately, the Bible most likely was known from the earliest periods and the later proliferation of unauthentic books (mostly Gnostic) as the Church spread throughout the world forced the Catholic Church to define the canon more accurately so as to avoid confusion and error, something which I definitely accept as a Catholic.


#11

Of course, this would become more and more of an important issue as the church grew over the ages. Especially with all the Gnostic Gospels flotting around.

A logical point – but I’m not relying on them as authoritative sources. Rather, I’m using them to serve as indicators of what the church at large believed.

OK.

But that’s only really a small piece of the puzzle. Their interpretations of such, and more importantly, your interpretations of their interpretations, are quite another matter.

Sounds good.

God bless,
Ut


#12

Excuse me? I am afraid I do not follow you here.

Obviously there was a question as to what books were officially inspired and canonized and which were not. this is no way means there was any other church than the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. That is a nice thought though.

T=I used the terkm 'ratify" of my own free will, and i do not believe it is the language of the documents of the time. The fact is, it is not like they had a mail system, or email at that, it took time for these decisions to be extended out to the masses, and the people had to make sure it was the correct information. Evidently, Augustine was someone who was able to transmit the decision properly and trustworthily to the people.

thats all. :slight_smile:


#13

They were preserved by The Catholic Church and they were confirmed by The Catholic Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as such.


#14

How early were the various works in scripture each considered as scriptural by the early church?

An objective answer is very simple.
We can bracket this by putting time constraints on it.

Certainly while the Apostles were alive people would have preferred to listen in person to the real spoken work of an Apostle over any other form of communication. The Apostle John was the last Apostle to die. He preached in Jerusalem, and later, as bishop of Ephesus, south of Izmir in western Turkey, worked among the churches of Asia Minor. During the reigns of either Emperor Nero (AD54-68) or Domitian (AD81-96), he was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD100. Most scholars accept that the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, perhaps as early as c AD68-70, and that he either wrote or provided the material and theology for John’s Gospel and the three Letters of John.

It is not even clear that the concept of a “new testament” as scripture was even in the mind of “The Church” until well after John died. The Christians of this period all expected Christ to return at any day.

After John died it would be a natural assumption that the next generation of Bishops and faithful would have started to worry about keeping a continuity of Universal Catholic Teaching. So the earliest possible date that even a fledgling sort of scripture could start to form would be sometime after AD100.

We already have as an indisputable "The Catholic Church through CATHOLIC Pope Damascus forming official cannon. Specifically Catholic Pope Damascus I, at the Council of Rome in 382, stated the canon of Scripture, and listed the exact same books we have today.

So there is the answer - the scriptures are used to augment and reinforce oral teaching sometime in the period after 100AD and around AD 393. No doubt some of the early apostles gave speeches from their notes and talking points - but we don’t have any of these articles either.

But if anyone thinks there is some “other” non Catholic Church using scripture underground during this period of time - they are deluding themselves. The early Church was in fact none other than The Catholic Church we have to date - as teeth grinding as that is for Protestants to accept - they have NO legitimacy to be found anywhere in the apostolic successor nor in even in the fringe history of some unknown “hidden” underground church - NONE.

In the Synod of Hippo (A.D. 393) the same Canon was officially stated and adopted for all the Church. This was the entire Church - East and West - there was not yet any split or schism in the heart of Christ yet. All of Christianity had one Holy Book. And it was this scripture that it maintained, whole, and unblemished, until the 16th century.

However, it is evident that the initial canon in the 4th century found many opponents in Africa, since it took three ratifying councils there at brief intervals - Hippo in A.D. 393, and Carthage in AD 397 and then again in A.D. 419 - to reiterate the official catalogs. **This canon was once again ratified by the Second Council of Nicaea in 787; and then again confirmed and ratified by the Council of Florence in 1442. ** But if was first officially declared, for all time, as the official canon of the entire Church at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD, and has never changed.

Ironically, it was not the deuterocanonical books that were the stumbling point, initially, but apparently the NT Scripture of the Book of Hebrews. Once this agreement on Canon was reached in it’s final version, all major Christian churches used the same Canon. Basically, the Canon proclaimed in AD 367 by Athanasius is the same exact version of the Bible that the Catholic Church uses today. Remember, at the time there WAS only ONE Church, and this was the Bible that all Christians used.

Bottom Line - officially the NT scripture was widely recognized in AD 367 but not accepted by ALL of the Church officially until AD 419 to be conservative.

No other “Christian Church” other than Catholicism existed until Luther comes on to the scene 1500 years after Christ to try to hijack the name “Christian” under the banner of the state governments rather than papal rule. To this day there is still only one apostolic Christian faith - Catholicism. Everything else is heretical and man made.

End of topic.

James


#15

My answer remains the same. :slight_smile:


#16

FYI In then early 1900’s a fragment of a copy of the gospel of Matthew was discovered in Egypt. Later scientific test determined this copy of Matthew was produced in 66AD. So written copies of the books of the Bible were produced with in 1 generation of the life of Christ.


#17

This is, interestingly, the first time I’d heard this. While it would seem to be a strong argument in favor of very early NT recognition (something I’d personally like to see), I don’t think we can jump to this conclusion. As typical for the NIV, footnotes are incomplete.

The Amplified Bible provides something just a little better. I says that (as you mentioned), 1 Tim 5:18 is a reference to Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7. However, further examination shows that Luke 10:7 is itself a reference to Deut 24:15.

In all, I don’t think we can conclusively say Paul was referencing Luke in this instance, but at the same time, I don’t think we can conclusively say he wasn’t. It could be that Paul got it from Luke, or that Luke got it from Paul…or possibly that they both got it from the same Old Testament source independently of one another (as unlikely as that seems).

But for a New Testament passage to be called “Scripture” so soon after it was written says volumes about Paul’s view of the authority of the New Testament books.

Paul’s works are usually considered to have come into existence before the gospels, so this doesn’t seem to fit.

True, but it’s interesting to see that none of them seemed to gain wide-spread acceptance.

Was there? Do you have some evidence on this point?

The fact is, it is not like they had a mail system, or email at that, it took time for these decisions to be extended out to the masses, and the people had to make sure it was the correct information.

Holding to the model of papal authority for a moment:

313AD - Edict of Milan ends religious persecution of the church. There’s no need to be underground anymore, and letters and information can travel at normal speeds to other parts of the world.
325AD - Constantine convenes the council of Nicea. So Rome’s emperor officially supports Christianity.
382AD - Rome defines scripture canon.

At this point, Rome is known to be the head church, and is no longer underground from persecution. Following the decision made regarding scriptural canon, it’s almost implicitly necessary to see that they spread this information (since they supposedly believed in the infallibility of the pope) to various other churces in different regions (such as Africa). So, they compose a letter and send it via courier (or whatever other means were common at the time).

Even if a man had to walk the distance on foot, there’s just no way that it would take 10 years to get the information from A to B. It doesn’t add up, unless you drop the assumption that Rome’s canon was recognized as valid by Hippo without question. If you drop that, then it makes sense that they would hold a council to decide the issue for themselves.

Please read the original post and answer the question I asked. I didn’t ask how they were preserved, or where they came from – I asked when they were recognized as scripture by the early church.

True, but there were few apostles, and many churches. Paul himself wrote many works during his life. And we shouldn’t think that Matthew or Peter weren’t actively preaching while at the same time writing their respective works.

Peter himself demonstrates that Paul’s letters were read as scripture in the early church – they knew these to be scripture, as did Peter. Sure, I’d have loved to hear the apostles preach too, but that doesn’t mean that the written works didn’t exist, or that they weren’t used.

Just because inspirational speaker X is still alive and preaching doesn’t mean that his books don’t exist, or are invalid in some way.

Continued…


#18

The Apostle John was the last Apostle to die…It is not even clear that the concept of a “new testament” as scripture was even in the mind of “The Church” until well after John died.

As a combined collection of works – I would suppose not. But clearly, Paul’s writings were considered scriptural.

After John died it would be a natural assumption that the next generation of Bishops and faithful would have started to worry about keeping a continuity of Universal Catholic Teaching. So the earliest possible date that even a fledgling sort of scripture could start to form would be sometime after AD100.

Actually, Paul seems to have been concerned with this same issue prior to his death. It seems that he was taking steps to ensure that the truth was known. And even by your own view, given that all of scripture was in existance by around 100AD, can we not think that the early Christians would have made sure to make use of these works if they were concerned?

By your view, what would this “fledgling sort of scripture” have contained? Can you suggest a timeline for this? (I’m not asking for proof here – just your theory.)

We already have as an indisputable "The Catholic Church through CATHOLIC Pope Damascus forming official cannon. Specifically Catholic Pope Damascus I, at the Council of Rome in 382, stated the canon of Scripture, and listed the exact same books we have today.

Okay, I’ll bite – how do you know this? It seems we haven’t actually addressed this question.

But if anyone thinks there is some “other” non Catholic Church using scripture underground during this period of time - they are deluding themselves.

No one has suggested such. In fact my contention is that the true church was not yet fractured by paganism and other heresies having crept in in these earliest centuries.

In the Synod of Hippo (A.D. 393) the same Canon was officially stated and adopted for all the Church.

Not at a council convened under a pope? :eek:

Then it remains a non-answer. That’s okay. You’re free to not join in the topic of the thread if you so choose, though I would much prefer it if you actually did.

When I first read your post I was going to say that there’s not really any dispute over when the canonical works were authored, but clearly even that seems to be in question here.


#19

This is an interesting question, and we may not have enough historical documents to really ever know. We can see that Peter considered Paul’s writings as scripture, but it does not specify which, and we know some of Paul’s writings were lost. I think that as soon as the oral preaching was penned it was considered scripture:

" And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." 1 Thess 2:13-14

They recognized the preached message as the Word of God, so therefore, it would not become less so when it was written.


#20

I don’t think we can “put aside” the notion of sacred liturgy. The reason I say that is because it was the use of these writings during Divine Liturgy from the earliest days that was one of the main factors in determining the Scripture. This section of Divine Liturgy, which has not changed since the first century, is called the Liturgy of the Word.

" And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things." (Justin Martyr 1st Apology)

The question is, are the “memoirs of the Apostles” the four gospels as we know them? Are the “writings of the prophets” the epistles? Could they be Revelation? Jude?

Certainly an endeavor worthy of a dissertation. :thumbsup:

Ok, but I disagree about the OT canon. We can even see by the fomentation of debate that Paul caused in the Sanhedrin the effects of the Sanhedrin only accepting the Torah, and not the Psalms and Prophets as scripture.

Yes, I do agree. :bigyikes:

I agree that any scripture is such as a result of divine inspiration. However, the recognition of that fact by the earthly body was necessary. It is still necessary, as people are still producing books that claim to be from God, or an angel of God.

.

Ancient records indicate that the Epistle of Barnabas, or parts of it were read during Divine Liturgy.
newadvent.org/cathen/02299a.htm

It was certainly widely used in a variety of heretical sects.

.

Yes, I agree. I think the question of what was considered canonical was an ongoing issue from the time the documents were penned. Why do you say “supposedly decided”? Do you think they did not decide? I mean, do you reject the pronoucement of the canon?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.