never theoretical but always simply practical: ever prone to self will, men ever needed reminding of obligations which had always existed. To quote another example: ‘Follow your Bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too, as you would the Apostles … Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the Bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the Bishop himself, or by some person authorised by him.’* No such warnings and reminders however are to be found in his Epistle to the Romans. He had heard that moves were afoot in Rome to save him from death in the Colosseum. He wrote therefore to the Romans begging them not to intercede to save him. He begged them not to deprive him of the martyr’s crown for which he yearned ‘not that I am issuing orders to you as though I were a Peter or a Paul.’ St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans was to be immensely popular, a virtual ‘martyr’s manual’ of the early Church. 9
In Rome itself the Church kept a low profile indeed. The poets Martial (d. 104) and Juvenal (d. 140) were sharp observers of the Roman life of their time and were merciless satirists, for example, of the Jews. Yet we search their works in vain for the slightest reference to the Christians.* 10
Inside the Church however the second century saw an acute struggle on two fronts: against the Judaisers and the Paganisers (the Gnostics). These represented the two opposite extremes of those who longed to return to the legality and safety of Jewish status, and those who wanted to paganise Christ and the whole Gospel. 11
In the second century the Judaisers were represented by the Ebionites. These recognised only their own version of St. Matthew and believed that our Lord was not the Son of God, but the son of Joseph. In the course of the second century, in their struggles with the Church, they produced two sets of apocryphal writings which they attributed to St. Clement I of Rome: the ‘Clementine’ Homilies, and the Recognitiones. These writings cast St. Paul in the role of villain and in struggle against the Twelve Apostles led by St. Peter and St. James. Eventually defeated in their judaising endeavours, the Ebionites retreated into bitter isolation and slowly died out over the following centuries.* 12
Meanwhile the first open challenge to the integrity of the New Testament Scripture came from a Gnostic named Marcion of Pontus. Arriving in Rome in the reign of Pope St. Hyginus (138 – 142), Marcion published his own version of the New Testament which he had reduced to his own edition of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Epistles of St. Paul. (Not surprisingly, though, he rejected all three of the ‘pastoral’ epistles.) He was excommunicated by Pope St. Pius I (142 – 155) at a synod for that purpose held in July 144. Marcion was a Gnostic. He claimed that the Old Testament and the New Testament were from two different gods, the old one being bad and Jewish and the new being good and Christian. He represented an opposite extreme to the Ebionites. While they accepted only their version of St. Matthew and upheld the importance of observing the Jewish Law, Marcion accepted only his own version of St. Luke and St. Paul’s Epistles (purged of
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...