Friday, March 4, 2016

Book of Jasher and How the Canon Came About – Part II

Continuing with the questions we have received about the Book of Jasher, and how the canon of the Bible, the 66 Books of the Bible, and specifically the 27 Books of the New Testament came about. 
First of all, there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Together, the 66 books are referred to as canon, i.e., the canon refers to the books regarded as inspired by God and authoritative for faith and life. Anciently, the various churches, including the seven in Rome, but also including those in Egypt and Asia, and their councils gradually accepted the list of books recognized by believers of the period everywhere as inspired. 
    Officially, it is believed that it was not until 367 that the Church father Athanasius first provided the complete listing of the 66 books belonging to the canon. It was held that though there were many such writings (epistles) circulating at the time, that these 66 were the ones, and the only ones, universally accepted. As to the Old Testament, while the first five books, called the Torah or Pentateuch, were the first to be accepted as canonical, probably some time around the fifth century B.C., though “The Law” was held by the Hebrews for centuries before that. It was probably Ezra and Nehemiah (under Masoretic tradition, the writings of each were initially a single work, called “Ezra” and in the Greek I Esdras and II Esdras). Evidently, by about 200 B.C., all 39 books of the Old Testament had been accepted and placed in their order in the Bible. Of course, over the years and even today, some of the authors of these books are not considered definite. As an example, in the early 19th century, it was believed that the author of Chronicles was also the author of Ezra and Nehemiah, and today, two or three authors are considered to have written Isaiah.
Biblical manuscripts, with a few minor exceptions such as verses written on amulets and pots, were written on one of three materials: Papyrus, Parchment, or Paper. Each had advantages and disadvantages. Parchment (treated animal skins) was by far the most durable, but also the most expensive, and it's difficult to get large numbers of sheets of the same size and color. Papyrus was much cheaper, but wore out more quickly and, since it is destroyed by damp, few copies survive to the present day, except from Egypt (and even those usually badly damaged). Paper did not become available until relatively recently, and while it was cheaper than parchment once paper mills were established, the mills had high overhead costs, so they were relatively few and far between; paper was by no means as cheap in the late manuscript era as today (when paper is made from wood pulp rather than rags)
It should also be kept in mind that while we call them books today, originally they were referred to as epistles and were written on parchment paper and rolled. In the Jewish faith, their scriptures are still rolled.
    One last thought. When books and works were accepted or rejected, particularly in the New Testament, one of the very important criteria was whether or not the author agreed with the basic writings of Paul—perhaps because Paul had the majority of works, or more likely, Paul could be translated or interpreted to mean (or agree) with what the early bishops (after the death of the Apostles) considered to be doctrinal, i.e., the trinity of three-in-one as claimed in the Nicine Creed (Symbolum Nicaenum), and salvation by grace alone, rather than a combination of works and grsce. Thus, early on, when one writer or another sounded more like a current LDS Apostle on doctrine, he was considered then to be out of step with Paul and his authenticity questioned.
There were such writings that were claimed (and some believe so today) were writings of the Apostolic Fathers—a term used to describe a group of Early Christian writings produced in the late first century and the first half of the 2nd century. These writings, though popular in Early Christianity, were ultimately not part of the New Testament once it reached its final form.
Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature that did come to be part of the final form of the New Testament, and some of the writings found among the "Apostolic Fathers" seem to have been just as highly regarded as some of the writings (that remained) in the New Testament—even after much of the New Testament had been brought together, referred to as homolegomena (“the books spoken for”)—meaning recognized as correct—but there were still many other writings claiming divine authority floating around the wildly dispersed membership of the early Church. They were in three categories: 1) antilegomena (“the books spoken against”), or disputed; 2) the notha (spurious) and 3) heretical. Of the antilegomena, which included seven books, though they were included in the Muratorian fragment as being accepted as canonical, that were doubted by some members of the early church. Hebrews was one of those antilegomena works, as was James, who even Martin Luther questioned during the Protestant Reformation, which was over how one could be saved—they claimed Paul said by grace alone, and James said by works. A point LDS today alone seem to understand. 2nd Peter as mentioned earlier, was another, as were second and third John, and even Revelations.
    Many in this heretical category were nevertheless known to most churchmen, including such works as the Gospels of Peter, of Thomas, of Matthias, or even of the Acts of Andrew and John and the other Apostles—of these, none of those who belonged to the succession of ecclesiastical writers ever thought it right to refer in his writings. Yet, in this group is “Hermas, the Shepherd,” which should be noted that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account Ecclesiastical cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and we have found that some of the most ancient writers used it. This will serve to show the divine writings that are undisputed as well as those that are not universally acknowledged.
The so-called Gospel of Thomas found in the Gnostic Society Library (The Nag Hammadi Library), claiming to be “secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded
     It seems that heretical movements were rising, each one choosing its own selected scriptures, including such documents as the Gospel of Thomas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas. There is the Book of Jude, included in the Testament, written by the brother of James and Jesus’ half brother. Jude writes about the fall of angels, meaning Satan’s followers after the War in Heaven, but such an idea was not popular in the time period of the early Church and rejected, causing many to feel Jude’s writing should not be included, since fallen angels was included in the apocryphal book, and of doubtful authority (“The Monthly repository of theology and general literature,” Hackney, George Smallfield, Sherwood, Neely and Jones, January to December, 1822, Vol 17, p603).
    In Eusebius' list, published in his History in 325 A.D., a consensus had already been reached on at least 20 books to be included in the new collection of sacred writings to be known as the New Testament—the same list, by the way, that Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon in Gaul, compiled in 185 A.D. Origen of Alexandria endorsed twenty-two writings as canonical, including Revelation and the Shepherd of Hermas. Eusebius’ list was later supplemented but never altered in later debates about the canon. One heavy debate was over whether or not there should be four different gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), or that all four should be combined into one gospel; while attempts were made to compile a single gospel, the early Church rejected the idea, arguing that just as there were four regions of the world and four direction of the wind, so there were four pillars of the gospel God had given the world. The number four Irenaeus took to be direct evidence of the authenticity of the gospels: the world-wide church could possess neither more nor less than a four-fold gospel. It is interesting, however, that none of the canonical lists mentioned inspiration as a criterion for determining which writings were to be included in the canon.
    The reason, apparently, is that since all Christians were filled with the spirit, a claim of inspiration would not have been useful as a way of distinguishing canonical from extracanonical Christian writings. It is often noted that the one writing in the New Testament claiming to be inspired is the Revelation of John, and it is precisely this book that was most often among the disputed nominees for inclusion in the New Testament. Eusebius' list of 325 A.D., names twenty-one writings as "acknowledged," or accepted as canonical, if we assume that he included the letter to the Hebrews among the letters of Paul, and if we count Revelation among the disputed works. He does not say what the letters of Paul includes; and he lists Revelation twice, once among the acknowledged books and once among those disputed.
Saint Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, towards the end of the third century, and from his youth was pious, learned, and deeply versed in the sacred writings. He left the paternal home to be raised by the bishop of Alexandria like a new Samuel in the Lord's temple, as befitted one whom God had chosen to be the champion and defender of His Church against the Arian heresy, which denied the Divinity of Christ
    The next list that survived from antiquity is the list of Athanasius published in 367 A.D. His list names the same twenty-seven books that constitute our New Testament today. In the years intervening between Eusebius and Athanasius, the six books that were disputed or rejected had found their way into the acknowledged category. From Athanasius' day to our own they remain in the canon, although they have been challenged from time to time by leading churchmen and theologians. Martin Luther, for example, thought James, Jude, and Revelation unfit to be included among the canonical books.
    The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. did not address the question as to how the final six books became accepted, and neither Eusebius nor Athanasius nor any other writer from the period tells us how this came about. One development suggests an intriguingly plausible explanation. In 331 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine sent a letter, the text of which has survived, to Bishop Eusebius in Caesarea asking him to arrange for the production of fifty bibles. These books were to be skillfully executed copies of "the divine scriptures" on fine parchment for use in the churches of the new capitol of the Empire, Constantinople.
Constantine not only promised to pay all of the expenses incurred in this project, he also provided two carriages to assure the swift shipment of the completed copies for his personal inspection. Evidently, he included the books to be included in the actual copied Bible. However, we may never know exactly how those final books were determined—thankfully, they were.

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