During the early days of Christianity, there were writings being circulated around (apocryphal and today-considered scripture texts). When these were being circulated, did the Christian community think that some of these writings were divinely inspired or that they were all just “good” writings to read and learn from, and wasn’t until the Church proclaimed selected texts as scripture that they were regarded as scripture?
Some of the early Christians thought that the Didache (teachings of the 12 apostles) was scriptural as did some of the Church Fathers! Remember, the canon that we have today was not officially ratified or accepted until hundreds of years after the start of Christianity…the year 397 perhaps at the council of Carthage?
There could not have been much circulation - no printing press or methods of communicating it, other than hand copies. I seriously doubt they were read at large by the communities of Christians. The gospel was orally transmitted, by and large.
The books that actually are declared the inspired Word of God was decided by Pope Damasus at a Council of Rome in 382, confirmed at the Councils of Hippo, 393, Carthage III 397, Carthage IV in 419 and canonised at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) – 46 books in the Old Testament, 27 books in the New Testament.
It really depends on what writing you are talking about.
If you’re talking about stuff like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, while it did enjoy a certain level of popularity among Christians, it seems that they didn’t really take it seriously. They read these stuff more as a form of pious entertainment (eventually forming the basis for Christian folklore), but there’s no evidence that they treated such works as authoritative Scripture. It’s kinda like modern Christians reading stuff like Ben-Hur or Quo Vadis or The Robe.
If you are talking about the so-called ‘gnostic’ gospels (things like the Pistis Sophia or the Gospel of Philip): those writings did not have much of a circulation in the first place, because they targeted a specific audience (gnostic communities) and were only meant to be ‘read’ by members of those communities (more specifically, members of those communities who have passed a certain degree of qualification - think something like Scientology and their secret materials). So obviously, they were only considered to be authoritative within the communities or sects that produced them.
As for writings like the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas, while some communities and individuals did think of them as being authoritative on par with the more or less undisputed writings (say, the four gospels), it was hardly a universal opinion.
The Bible as we know it did not exist until the Vulgate of Jerome in approx 400 AD. Before this time there were various writings that were held by various churches to be used in the liturgy. Usually this was at the direction of the local bishop. There were, therefore, many different codices in use. Bishop Athanasius in approx 350 AD was the first to use the canon we have today. This was the canon approved at the councils of Rome, Hippo and Carthage. However, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1547 that the canon was formally defined. Trent approved those writings that were in the Vulgate of Jerome (the same ones used by Bishop Athanasius). The primary reason for the canon of scripture was to eliminate the confusion caused by the writings of Gnostic authors who sowed discord by issuing writinfgs claiming to have been written by apostles or others. The Gospel of Thomas is one such writings. There were and are, a lot more.
Hi Kmon: It depends on which scholars think some of the early Christian writings were Scripture or not. Some scholars think the Gnostic writings were alternate Christian beliefs that were suppressed by what was considered orthodox or right beliefs. That being said, these early writings circulated among the various Churches being read during Mass. Not every Church had all writings but all I understand had all of the Gospels and some of Paul’s writings or Epistles. It was not till about the 300’s that some type of canon was considered as to what writings would be called inspired and which ones would not be considered inspired.
There was plenty of discussions on it and not all agreed with each other as to what was inspired and which were not. they did come to some conclusions to how to go about deciding. One needs to remember that nearly all of the earliest writings were burned and destroyed during the first three hundred years of Christianity, till the Edit of Milan.