what he regarded as additions by Judaisers), and freely accused his orthodox opponents of being Judaisers. Church scholars fought back and battle was joined. ‘I call my Gospel the genuine one,’ wrote Tertullian later in 207, ‘Marcion maintains that his is genuine. I say his is adulterated. He says mine is! What is to decide between us but the argument from time: that authority lies with that which shall be shown to be the older, and that that is adulterated which can be convicted of being later? …‘And the same authority of the Apostolic Churches will stand guarantee for the other Gospels too... I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew. Moreover the Gospel which Mark published may be termed Peter’s, for Mark was his interpreter, just as people customarily assign Luke’s digest to Paul. And indeed what the disciple publishes should rightly be assigned to his master. ‘Consequently Marcion must be called to account regarding these other Gospels. Why did he omit them and especially insist upon that of Luke? As though these latter were not from the beginning in full use in the churches just as was Luke’s? Indeed it is quite believable that these other Gospels are of even greater authority. They came first because they were from Apostles, and had come into being at the same time as the churches themselves.’ The ‘Apostolic churches’ referred to here by Tertullian were the churches founded by Apostles. Note that Tertullian is quite unaware of any late writing of St. John. Indeed he takes it for granted that, like the rest, St. John was in use from the first founding of the churches.* 13
With the reception of St. John’s Apocalypse in the church in Rome, probably by the end of 70, all the 27 works in the canon of today’s New Testament were gathered together for the first time in that one place. All these books were written by churchmen for churchmen and were kept for use only in church. Indeed they have never been properly comprehensible anywhere else. With St. Peter and St. Paul gone however no Apostolic authority remained willing to authorise any substantial clarifications or amendments or further additions to the canon of Christian Scriptures. As writings of Apostolic authorship or authority, the texts of the 27 works now comprising the New Testament were now sacred Scripture and untouchable. It was now too late authoritatively to remove any of the apparent inconsistencies among the four Gospels, or to clear up some of the more troublesome of St. Paul’s obscurities and breaches of the rules of grammar. 14
Amongst orthodox Christians, none of the four Gospels was ever challenged, although some early writers did feel the need to excuse St. Mark for having written his Gospel without prior authorisation from St. Peter. Being the shortest and simplest Gospel, St. Mark was often used for instructing Catechumens. For the same reason this Gospel played little part in the great doctrinal battles of the first centuries. Thus while heretics had begun writing commentaries on St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. John in the early second century, it was not until the fifth century that anyone at all wrote a commentary on St. Mark.*
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...