There are several areas in the early church on essential issues such as the deity of Christ, nature, and humanity. This period of dispute was also characterized with the emergence of groups like Gnostics, which brought a completely new set of presumed beliefs to the faith that came alongside the faith and in total compromised tenets of the faith. These new beliefs were supposedly based on the truth of Christ's teachings as presented to his followers. Consequently, there was a great need to explain the true writings that presented the truth of Christ. The need for clarifications of these truths was necessary because of the fact that heretical parties involved would constantly present texts and teach them as being the writings of the Apostles. This process should include clarification of key events and movements that impacted the acknowledgment of the canonical books.
Orthodoxy and Canon:
Canon is a term that is generally used to refer to the identity of a group of people through differentiating a line around a group of texts that are associated with the beliefs and values of these individuals. Canon basically plays a crucial role in the social, political, and economic roles mainly because of its ideological function. In essence, canon defines the identity of the believing community and the ownership claims of the standardized texts by this community. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers to the accurate, traditional or currently accepted religious beliefs. Throughout the history of the church, several events have occurred and caused the need for orthodoxy of Christians' belief system such as Constantine consolidation of power.
While canonized texts are considered as valuable, canon restricts the reader's possession of and power over the standardized texts
. This implies that the reader does not have the freedom to read the text in any manner that he/she chooses but is bound or limited to the canonical inter-text. Since the early church, the canon of the scriptures is desirable partly as a technique for claiming ownership of the biblical texts. These canonized texts provide the basis for identifying the Christian community and differentiating them from others.
Canonization is not only an issue of reality but also value since it is used to create a meaningful world through choosing some texts and rejecting others. Therefore, canons do not generate communities but communities develop canons for identity and to govern their beliefs and values. Notably, ideologies manifested in canonized texts do not appear in the individual text themselves but in ways through which these texts are put beside each other, juxtaposed with non-canonical texts, and embedded in the interpretive practice of the believing community. The understanding and interpretation of canonized texts and canonical books are considered as acts of choice or free-will.
From a biblical perspective, the ancient criteria for canonization of texts or inclusion of books were usually conservative and even reactionary. In essence, this process was never innovative, particularly in books on apostolicity and orthodoxy. The identity function of these texts or books as used by the early church included text with catholic or universal status. As a result, the books and texts were not understood to be exclusively addressed to restricted communities or interests but were important truths to all readers. Therefore, the canon universalizes the texts and the reading community through which the Church is authorized as God's chosen people.
Major Events and Movements in Recognition of Canonical Books:
Even though the Bible is arguably the most popular book in the history of mankind, it canon was not determined easily. Actually, historical concerns on issues related to the genesis of Old Testament and New Testament canon are extremely complex
. The determination and recognition of the canon of the Bible was a relatively difficult process because questions surrounding the origin of the Bible. Recognition of the canon of the Bible was also affected by the fact that the apostles were operating with the conventional verbal means of transferring the rule of faith before the completion of assemblage of New Testament by the early church. During this period, the apostles also functioned in the method of writing single letters to churches. Despite being the most popular book in human history, the Bible has been surrounded by several questions and concerns by believers and skeptics on why and how there are only 66 books assembled in it
The need for recognition of the canon of the Bible was influenced by several incidents including the fact that many people started writing about religious practices and experiences in the initial church age. This period was characterized by the widespread circulation of many letters from one individual to another across churches in the Roman Empire. While these letters were regarded as important for teaching and instruction for growth, they were delicate and contributed to the persecution of believers. As a result, there were questions on which letters were authentic and which manuscripts could be accepted as divine authority. It was until the third and fourth generation Christians that this topic became important to the Christian community, particularly theologians and apologists. These people started to express their doctrinal positions and explain and defend their beliefs and values intellectually.
The other events that led to the need for recognition of canon of the Bible was the emergence of Gnostism following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which created vacuum in the lives of both Jews and Christians. Gnostism was a major threat because it resulted in direct opposition against the established Jewish faith and swayed many people. Marcionism was also a major factor that was brought by the decision by Marcion, son of the bishop of Sinope, to challenge the doctrine of the heads of the Roman church. As a result, he rejected the Old Testament books and stated that the Jewish God was evil. In addition to arguing that Scriptures were corrupt and unacceptable, Marcion's views were not only widespread but also dangerous. Finally, canonization was influenced by the rise of another heretical movement in Phrygia, a region in Asia Minor, which was characterized with variant teaching of Scriptures.
Old Testament and New Testament Canon:
Old Testament Canon is based on the concept of covenant, which is expressed by the dominance of law as evident in the Pentateuch. However, this concept has generated numerous concerns due to various factors including the lack of evidence to determine the presence of individual authoritative manuscripts or books and collections. Notably, there is no evangelical agreement about the literary history of the books of the Old Testament since the origin and date of these books is relatively difficult to determine. The early history of the Old Testament canon is quite elusive because of the absence of concrete historical evidence showing the authoritative position of these books in Israel's history. Nonetheless, many scholars concur that Ezra completed the gathering of canonical work since the canonicity of Ecclesiastes and Songs of Songs was still incomplete. As evident in the timeline and number of Josephus' writings, Old Testament canon is primarily the currently known 39 books. Old Testament canon can also be established by the various aspects of these books, especially canon consciousness. Therefore, the canon of the Old Testament was firmly ascertained before the 1st Century AD, which Jesus and the apostles embraced as God's Word with normative weight.
The New Testament canon is based on the belief that canonicity is determined by God rather than being approved by men
. In essence, a text or manuscript is considered canon because God inspired it rather than being regarded as so because men made it canon. Therefore, the Bible is not canon because of the authenticity, ancient times, or religious community but because God inspired it. New Testament canon is centered on the major theme of Acts of the Apostles, which is commonly known as the apostolic age. This period played a major role in the emergence and self-justification of proto-orthodox communities that ultimately developed to become typical Christianity or early church
. The mainstream Christianity or early church obtained channels of faith from Apostles who obtained it from Jesus who was given by God
. In General, New Testament texts are canonized because they are by-products of the words and actions of Jesus as witnessed by the apostles while the Old Testament texts are canonized because they words of Jesus and the apostles.
Criteria for Canonization:
The recognition of the Old Testament and New Testament books was not only influenced by several major events and movements but also followed a certain criteria. First, the writing had to be from an apostle or an individual with intimate contact with the apostle. Secondly, the writing needed orthodoxy i.e. consensus opinion across the hearts and minds of men God that used to establish His order. Third, the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the ultimate authority and approval to the individual Christian or reader was a major factor. The Holy Spirit guides interpretations of these texts or books to the individual Christian…