bishops) and possibly the original Hebrew St. John and Hebrews (for priests) all the works of the New Testament were, from the beginning, written for listeners assembled in church. From the beginning they were official Church documents to be read out aloud not in classrooms but to congregations gathered in Jesus Christ’s Eucharistic Presence and Sacrifice to worship Him and with Him and to listen to Him in His Gospels and about Him in the Epistles. In the first centuries the New Testament and all matters to do with the Sacraments (also called the ‘Sacred Mysteries’) were subject to the disciplina arcani (‘rule of secrecy’) the rule of silence which forbade the mention of sacred things in any writings which might fall into heathen hands. Even such formulae as the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer (the ‘Our Father’) were treasured secrets to be concealed from the outsider and to be revealed only gradually to Catechumens preparing for Baptism. The pagans were therefore left to the most bizarre misconceptions of what the Christiani believed and practised. In c. 170 came from one Celsus, a professional philosopher, the first great formal philosophical attack upon them. His misconceptions were so strange that it seems that his principal informants could not have been Christians but were rather Jews or Gnostic sectarians. Never until the invention of printing in early modern times (the mid 15 th century) was the New Testament published to be read by private individuals. In these earliest centuries it was only under the duress of persecution that a Christian might yield up copies into pagan hands. Such an individual who did so was called a traditor (a ‘hander-over,’ whence comes our word for traitor). 19
Nor in these earliest centuries were all the works of today’s New Testament necessarily regarded by all as suitable for public use in church. In the course of the second and third centuries various controversies caused some Church leaders to question the suitability of this or that New Testament work for ‘public’ use. We have already noted the two Gospels favoured for opposite reasons by the Ebionites and Marcion. The upholding of St. James by the Ebionites as an authority against St. Paul too seems to have caused St. James to be regarded with distrust by some in Rome during the second century.* 20
In about 172 came one Montanus claiming that he was the Paraclete promised in St. John by our Lord at the Last Supper. This Montanist abuse of St. John even caused a small group in Rome in about 200 to develop their serious reservations about the suitability of St. John itself for public use! (The small group in Rome who were ready to question the suitability of St. John for public use were later nicknamed the alogoi (‘no-Worders’).) Abuse by the Montanists and later (in the mid third century) by the rigorist followers of the Roman priest Novatian, moreover caused Hebrews to be withheld from public use in the church in Rome. 21
Rigorism - the denial of the possibility of forgiveness by the Church for certain sins - was a big problem in the Roman church in the third century. In Rome from the mid second century and throughout the third century, because of the abuse of such strict words as those in 6:4-8; 10:26-31 and 12:17 by the Montanists and the Novatians, Hebrews was kept from public reading. The
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...