When the apostle John wrote his letter we call 1st John, he was writing it to combat a heresy that was making inroads into the church. He is writing this book somewhere around 90 A.D., and he was probably living in Ephesus at the time. Shortly thereafter John is sent in exile to the Island of Patmos, where he writes the Book of Revelation
But in this first epistle, he was writing against a group of people called the Gnostics. He wanted to make sure the teachings of this heretical sect were not allowed to take root in the church.
I studied Gnosticism briefly almost 50 years ago. It wasn't a real in-depth study - more of a familiarization with their teachings. And it never occurred to me that Gnosticism would rise again. The Da Vinci Code, written by Dan Brown is, in part, about Gnosticism. We'll come back later and discuss what that is and how to address it very simply.
Let's talk about this book and the DaVinci Code movie that came out on May 19th, 2006. Let me ask you, "How many of you have read Dan Brown's book The DaVinci Code?" In a crowd like this, we may tend not to read a book that trashes our Bible.
But this is one of the most-read books around the globe today. In America alone, they estimate between 80 - 100 million people have read the book. That's one out of ever three. Those are staggering numbers. 40 million books have sold globally and it is in 43 languages. It is virtually the best seller in every country. This is a remarkable thing that is happening. It has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 148 straight weeks.
TIME magazine recently named Dan Brown one of the world's 100 most influential people, among the likes of President George W. Bush and the Dalai Lama. Why is it so popular and what is its story-line? The book is written very compellingly and it will hold your interest. And my concern is that people will have a hard time separating the truth from the fiction.
Here's the story-line: It is a fast action murder mystery. The curator of the Louvre museum in Paris is murdered and he leaves marks on his body with his own blood, some clues to why he was killed. They call in a man named Robert Langdon - he is played in the movie by Tom Hanks. They call him in to solve this mystery because He (Langdon) is a Harvard professor of religious symbiology. There is no such department at Harvard in real life, but in the book there is. And he comes in and tries to solve it, and he is joined by a young lady. It happens that she is not only a police cryptographer, skills that may help in solving this murder, but she also the grand-daughter of the guy who was killed - the curator of the Louvre museum. And there the story begins to unfold.
In the introduction of the book, Brown says, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." And interwoven in the novel is a character by the name of Leigh Teabing, who is a history expert, especially as it relates to the trail leading to the Holy Grail. He is presented as a person who speaks factually on anything historical. On page 235, he says, "Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." This book becomes a platform from which Dan Brown can share his convictions about Jesus Christ.
Dan Brown's book begins with these words: "Fact! (That's on the first page): The Priori of Sion was founded in 1099, and it had the following Grand Masters," and he lists several well-known people, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo Da Vinci. According to Dan Brown, this actual organization - the Priori of Scion - was founded to guard an incredible secret, a secret that if it ever got out, it would destroy the Christian faith. And so the church, and in particular during the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church, did all kinds of things to keep that secret from getting out, because if it ever got out, it would threaten the very existence of the Christian Church.
And the secret, in part, is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. He wasn't divine, He was human only. And Mary Magdalene and their daughter Sarah made it eventually to the south of France, and from them came the Merovingian Kings. Just a factual side-note: The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled parts of France and Germany from the 5th to the 8th centuries.
The problem with that statement, "Fact!", is why so many people will read and think the book is rooted in historical fact. The fact of the matter is that this very statement Brown calls "fact!" is in actually a false statement.
HOW MANY OF YOU KNOW ABOUT THE PRIORY OF SION?
The Priori of Sion was not founded in 1099, AS Dan Brown says. It was actually founded in 1956 - by a man named Pierre Plantard, who on more than one occasion was hauled into court, properly accused of all kinds of fraud and bogus things. What I am saying right now is part of real life, not the fiction of the book. This man - Pierre Plantard - actually died in 2000. He was interviewed on a number of occasions. He actually planted in the Bibliotheque Nationale - The National Library of France, what he called "Les Dossiers Secrets" - "The Secret Letters." He later admitted to the court that these were all bogus. He and a couple of guys made them look antiquated. They had written them between 1962 and 1965, and hid them in the French national library.
And then they were suddenly discovered, and the so-called secret letters said that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they had a daughter named Sarah, and they made it to the south of France, and from them came a line of Merovingian kings, and conveniently, Pierre Plantard inserted himself as part of the lineage. The courts slapped his wrist and told him to stop doing stuff like that, and he was exposed as a fraud.
But three other authors actually wrote a book called, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail". It came out in 1982. They took the stuff that Pierre Plantard had written and made it into a novel - a moderately good - selling novel. And Dan Brown borrowed from this book heavily. So heavily that the 3 authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail" sued Dan Brown a few months ago for plagiarism.
I don't care at all about The Da Vinci Code book or movie. What I care about are the enduring issues that are in the minds of people after they read the book or see the movie.
There are a number of books or movies out that are bashing Christianity. There is undisguised hostility to Christianity like no other time in American history. A couple of months ago, a new book, called the "Jesus Papers," became a best seller. It is written by one of the three authors of "Holy Blood Holy Grail." On its cover it says something like, "Exposing the greatest cover-up in history." It portrays Jesus as purely human. Another book is one called "The Last Templar." On the back of it, in big red letters, it allegedly quotes a statement by Pope Leo 10, in the 16th century, "It has served us well, this myth of Christ."
Then there is the "The Gospel of Judas." This isn't a modern-day novel, but is a second or third century manuscript that has been recently published in book form. It is not a newly found manuscript, but was condemned as heresy by the early church. This manuscript has Judas emerging as the hero, not the villain.
Another movie coming out is called "The God Movie," taken from the book "The God Who Wasn't There," which tries to make the case that Jesus Christ, as God, never did exist. Michael Badgett tries to make the case that Jesus was still alive and well 12 years after what he calls "the alleged resurrection."
The church has never had an attack, in modern times, like it is having right now. At least, not in the United States. And that is why I am speaking about this today. What probably bothers me the most is that there is an anti-Jesus spirit in our culture. And that concerns me and breaks my heart. And it's not just these few books.
I am not here to attack a novel or a movie. I am talking about this topic because of the possibility people might be persuaded into believing a lie. If they treated it as only the fictitious novel that it is, I wouldn't teach against it. The fact and fiction in the book are so intertwined, so blended, it is difficult to sort out what is false, even if you have a fair knowledge of the Bible.
Dan Brown has had all kinds of opportunities to say, "Hey, it's a novel. Chill out! Don't get so up in arms." But, rather, he defends what's in the book. He says that if it would be possible, he would go even further. When Dan Brown was being interviewed on NBC's Today Show, He defended the material he used in the book. Matt Lauer: "How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred?" Dan Brown: "Absolutely all of it. Obviously, Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies - all of that is historical fact."
The fact that so many people are drawn to possibly believing this misinformation, serves to show the real void about the truth of God's Word in our society today.
A number of errant ideas are put forth in the book by Dan Brown.
1. Was Jesus considered only human during the church's first 300 years?
2. Did Jesus marry Mary Magdalene?
3. Has the church conducted a smear campaign against women?
4. Is the Holy Grail Mary Magdalene herself? Did Jesus really want her to lead the church instead of Peter, James and John?
5. Is the highest form of worship found in sexual expression? Has the church through the ages "recast" sex between man and woman as a "shameful act"?
6. Did Constantine "commission and finance a new Bible" to replace earlier gospels with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
7. Did the church rewrite history and destroy all other possible gospels of Christ?
8. Did Leonardo Da Vinci include codes in his art work to discredit the church?
Today we will be discussing only one of these questions. Is the Bible we have today reliable - and how do know for sure?
The reliability of the New Testament
This is a big one. Dan Brown's thesis is this. He says that in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, Constantine called the church leaders together so that he could "commission and finance" (that's his phrasing) a new Bible. He goes on to say that what Constantine did was to take the original gospels out of the Bible, destroy them, burn them, and put in its place Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Why? Because, Dan Brown says, they made Jesus look "better" - particularly the divinity thing. It pumped Jesus up. That would give the church more authority, and he had authority over the church, and it would make it easier for him to politically manage the whole empire.
This one is frankly ludicrous - but we need to address it. Where does he come up with these thoughts he states as being facts? Bear with me. It's going to get a little techie here. In 1945, in Egypt, in a little town called Nag Hammadi, they discovered some documents. These were translated into English in 1977.
2˝ years ago a group of us took a trip to Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Some of you here today were on that trip. On one leg of the trip, we took an overnight ride by rail from Cairo to Luxor, where we visited the Valley of the Kings. We also visited the temples of Karnak, which were an impressive set of ruins.
I didn't realize it at that time, but while we were in Luxor, we were only 30 miles from Nag Hammadi. In Nag Hammadi, they found about 52 gospels. Dan Brown says they found about 80 gospels. They didn't, they found 52. Dan Brown also says they were written in Aramaic. They weren't - they were written in Coptic. He says they were in scroll form. They weren't. They were in book form. Many details he managed to miss.
Now, here's what's wrong with the whole thesis of Dan Brown that those were the original gospels and that Constantine did a switch. Let's establish the actual time line. When was the gospel first documented in writing? What year - approximately? The first statement of the gospel was somewhere in the early 50's AD. And it's not by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but by the apostle Paul.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, says "this is the gospel, that Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected on the third day just as the Scriptures said He would." That is the earliest documentation of the essence of the gospel to be recorded. All liberal and conservative scholars agree (and they agree on very few things) that Paul wrote all his letters somewhere between 48 and 60 AD.
Paul, in about 51AD, documents the essence of the gospel. He is in Ephesus, during his second missionary journey, and he is writing back to the congregation he started in the city of Corinth.
Let's read the first 4 verses of 1 Corinthians 15. NKJV
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
He documents the essence of the gospel - the first person to do that. He goes on to say he learned it from others, and in the following verses he names some of the early followers of Jesus. And in there, He describes the essence of resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He (Paul) was a contemporary of Jesus - alive when Jesus was alive. He certainly didn't follow him during Christ's earthly ministry. He followed him later. But he says, "I learned all of this from those that did follow Him when He was here." Who are those who Paul learned from? Does he mention any of them in his writings? If so, does he mention any Gnostics.
From a historical setting, the writings of Paul become a backbone of the New Testament. Since the life and ministry of Paul overlaps the historical beginnings of Christianity, he is the most historically dependable window into the faith of the earliest disciples of Jesus. If there were other gospels written that predate the four we have in our Bible, certainly Paul would have mentioned them. Dan Brown and others would have us believe these other gospel, known as the Gnostic gospels, were written earlier and show Jesus as a great, but human spiritual leader.
Again, who are the ones Paul learned from? He doesn't mention many of them by name, but enough to give us a hint about the earliest days of Christianity.
In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul mentions, "the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (Peter)."
In Galatians 1:19 (NKJV), Paul relates a time when he was in Jerusalem.
19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother.
In Galatians 2:9, Paul refers to James, Peter and John as being pillars of the church, and mentions that they gave him and Barnabas the "right hand of fellowship." That is, they were foundational, eyewitness figures on which Jesus built the church. It was from these men that Paul had received the original gospel.
If any historical person was in a position to identify what the original faith of the church was and what the original founders believed about Jesus and the Scripture, it was Paul. In 1 Corinthians 15:11, Paul says that what he preached was what these original founders preached. In other word, what Paul preached was what the earliest churched believed.
If anyone would have known about other documents, it would have been Paul. Paul was a Harvard graduate of his time. He was brilliant, and an incredible scholar. If anyone would have researched that, Paul would have. Not one reference anywhere to such a thing occurring. Why? Because it didn't happen.
NOW, WHEN WERE MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE AND JOHN WRITTEN?
Sometime before 70 AD.
WHY DO WE KNOW THAT?
Where are they centered? They are giving eye-witness accounts of events centered in Jerusalem and up in the Galilee region. Now, in Jerusalem, where are they centered there? Often it was the temple. This is why we know they were written before 70 AD.
In 66AD, the Roman army got fed up with the Jews. They said, "You guys are creating so much problem, we're going to come in and smash you ", and so they did. The war broke out, and by 70AD, they destroyed all of Jerusalem, and they burned the temple. According to some historical records, it kind of looks like they didn't intend to burn the Temple, but it caught on fire and they couldn't put it out.
What happened is quite fascinating. As the fire was burning the temple, all the gold liquefied and ran down between the stones, and the Roman soldiers, later, dug stone for stone to get all the gold out, and thus, Jesus' prophecy was fulfilled, where He said, "Not one stone will be left on the other" (Matthew 24:2).
That's actually how it happened. The truth of God's Word is proved over and over again. Christ Had made that prophesy some 40 years earlier.
So Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are written some time before 70 AD. So what we have is, here's the first gospel record, written by Paul, in about 50AD, and on our timeline, before 70 AD, the four gospels are written.
Now, what about these great documents that were supposedly switched by Constantine that Dan Brown would have you believe?
Is it true as Brown says on page 241, "The Bible is a product of man,….Not of God."
Is it true that "the New Testament is a false testimony," as he says on page 342?
Is it true that "the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda…to solidify their own power base," as found on page 234?
Is it true that the chief player was Constantine, who, as Brown says on page 234, "commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike?"
The Bible is the best-selling book in the history of publishing. It has been translated into thousands of languages and is read by millions every day. Yet, if what The Da Vinci Code says about the origins of this book are true, that it is written by mortal men and not of God, then the Bible is not the inspired Word that reveals the Creator to his creation. And, by the way, there are many who would agree with Dan Brown's assessment. Is it fact or is it fiction?
I probably should make at this point a very important statement. We, as Christians, never need to be afraid of the attacks of the enemy. The Bible has stood the test for some 2000 years, and even more for the Old Testament. Philosophies have tried to intellectually discredit the Bible and Jesus Christ. Kings and nations have tried to erase any trace of the Bible by destroying every copy they got their hands on and killing those who would dare make new copies. We do not need to fear entering the arena where truth is discussed. The Bible, which I believe is the Truth, can stand the test of the most intense scrutiny.
In the Council of Nicea, in 325, the Emperor Constantine did call for the church leaders to get together. And they did discuss, and affirm the what the church had been preaching from day one, that Jesus was God - always divine. But they never at all discussed at that council what should or should not be in your New Testament. It wasn't dealt with at all. Dan Brown is dead wrong on that issue all the way round.
The documents he is so in love with, called the Nag Hammadi discoveries, were not written until the late 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. There are no historians that will disagree with that assessment. Now remember, Dan Brown says there were 80 gospels. There were only 52. He says they were written in Aramaic - they were written in Coptic. He says they were written in scroll for - they were in book form.
He calls them 80 gospels. But only 5 of them have the name "gospel."
o the gospel of Egypt
o the gospel of Mary
o the gospel of Truth
o the gospel of Thomas
o the gospel of Philip
Let me make a few statements here. Over the first seven or eight hundred years after Christ, there were no less than two dozen gospels written. Most of them were never intended to be thought of as Scripture. They are a sharing of the "good news." A number of them are not heretical writings. The Gospel of Gamaliel, a 5th century Christian writing, doesn't have any heretical statements, but it doesn't claim, and shouldn't be thought of as Scripture.
Now back to these 5 Gnostic gospels. The gospels of Thomas and Philip have no connection with anyone mentioned in the Bible with the same name.
The Gospel of Philip , a late-3rd century Gnostic Gospel, does not claim to have been written by the apostle Philip. It was given the name, "Gospel of Philip," because he is the only apostle mentioned in it. This is the gospel Dan Brown refers to as the proof that Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. In the Gospel is a line that essentially says, "The companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene." Dan Brown adds: "Any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word "companion", in those days, literally meant spouse" (Page 246).
Firstly, the only copy we have of this Gospel is in Coptic, not Aramaic. The Coptic word for "companion" is derived from the Greek word: Koinonos or Koinonia. This is a term that never required a sexual or marital relationship. This word "Koinonos" appears 10 times, and the word "Koinonia" appears 20 times, in the Greek New Testament, with no hint of a sexual relationship.
Another of the 5 Gnostic Gospels is the Gospel of Thomas. When you look at the Gnostic Gospels, and I have read a number of them in the past few weeks, they are not an historical narrative, like Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. They describe almost no events. They are simply collections of sayings, much like the book of Proverbs. The Gospel of Thomas contains 114 sayings attributed mostly to Jesus, but no narrative of anything He did. It is actually a short writing, which you could read in 5 - 10 minutes.
Many of the statements made I have no problem with. A few are very similar to statements of Christ in the biblical Synoptic Gospels. But most of the statements attributed to Christ are an early form of Gnosticism. Remember, Gnosticism did not believe Jesus to be divine, only human.
One of Dan Brown's agendas is to show that the church has perpetrated a smear campaign against women. He believes we need to get back to the worship of what is called, "The Sacred Feminine." He presents as fact that patriarchal community wrested the control of the early church, and have degraded women ever since. I don't know if Dan Brown read all the way through the Gospel of Thomas, on of those he touts, but near the end it shows women in a very bad light, a view never found in the Bible.
The Gospel of Thomas has Jesus speaking to the disciples saying about Mary Magdalene, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven." That's not exactly a positive statement about the Sacred Feminine.
But Dan Brown contends that since the gospel of Thomas doesn't mention the resurrection of Christ, that it must never have happened. I've got to tell you - no historical event in the course of human history has been so microscopically examined as this event. There is way more evidence for that than there is for the civil war. And I haven't had any question the fact that there was a civil war.
The Gospel of Mary is another Gnostic gospel. Although it is usually listed with the books found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, this gospel was found about 50 miles west northwest of Nag Hammadi, at Akhmim. There are only small fragments of this book, with most of the book missing. The text doesn't actually indicate which Mary is the central figure. She could be any of the 7 New Testament followers of Christ named Mary.
Among the fragments is the statement that Jesus "loved Mary more" than the other disciples. And yet, elsewhere in the manuscripts there is a definite negative view of being female. At one point, Mary declares, "Let us praise Christ's greatness! He has prepared us all by making us men."
Neither this, nor any of the other gospels were presented as possible candidates which should be considered for inclusion in the Holy Scriptures.
So, what about the claim by Dan Brown that the original gospels were the Gnostic gospels, and were later replaced by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the 4th century. This is where Dan Brown has really not done his research or homework.
The question becomes this: Is there any evidence that the 4 gospels we have were not only written earlier, but were used as Scripture by the church earlier than the 3rd century? Additionally, what did the "early church fathers" have to say about the New Testament Canon?
I probably should add that more commonly, the early church fathers are called "Apostolic Fathers." They were apostolic in that they were faithful in teaching what the apostles taught and wrote. And they were "fathers" in that they led the early beginnings of this infant church.
Earlier I mentioned that the gospels most assuredly were written before 70 AD. Most Bible scholars now believe they were written prior 60 AD. There are some who date the gospel of John later, but many give it a date of about 58AD. And probably the other three gospels were written prior to the gospel of John.
How early do we have a record of the gospels being considered holy Scripture? First let's look at some internal evidence.
Let's first look at 1 Timothy 5:17-18. NKJV
17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
Notice that verse 18 is quoting Scripture. In fact, there are actually two quotes in that verse. The interesting thing is that one quote is from the Old Testament and one from the New. But, both are called "Scripture" by the apostle Paul.
IS THERE ANY HERE THAT WOULD LIKE TO INTERPRET THESE VERSES?
As you look to interpret these verses, keep in mind that the first word in verse 18, - the word "FOR" - is used as a conjunction, which ties these two verses together. The first quote is taken from Deuteronomy 25:4. Simply stated, let the ox eat while he is working out the grain. Paul is making this with reference to how Pastors and church leaders should be treated. To paraphrase, he tells the church to make sure the pastor is able to eat, while he is preparing spiritual food for them. The second quote is taken from Luke 10:7, which is essentially saying the same thing.
But, beside the message of these quotes, what Paul has done here is put the writings of Luke's gospel on par with the Old Testament Scripture. As I mentioned earlier, Paul is the one New Testament writer who would know if their were other gospels than the four we find in our Bible. And here he calls one of those four - Luke - "scripture."
What else does this tell us about the gospel of Luke? This quote by Paul also means that the gospel of Luke must have been written and in circulation prior to Paul's writing of 1st Timothy. So if all Paul's writings occurred prior to 60 AD, so must the gospel of Luke be even earlier.
So, how early do we find evidence for the formation of the New Testament Canon?
FIRST, WHAT DOES THE WORD "CANON" MEAN?
It comes from the Greek word "KANON." It is speaking of a rod used to measure things. This Greek word is actually found in the New Testament 5 times. Let me give you just one example.
Galatians 6:16 NKJV
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Here KANON is translated "rule."
Let me make a broad-brush statement. As an antithesis to Brown's version of the Bible's history, it is my belief that the first generations of the Christian movement stated loudly in their writing, the biblical nature of their beliefs. The word "BIBLE" means "book." So when I say the early Christians spoke about the biblical nature of their beliefs, I am speaking of a documented canon.
For instance, let me quote Ignatius of Antioch of Syria. First, a historical background. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, nearing 500,000 people. This is the city from which Paul begins each of his 3 missionary journeys. You can read in Acts 13, where Paul and Barnabas are set apart by the prophets and teachers at Antioch for their first trip. This trip was shorter than the others, and would have lasted from about AD46 to 49.
About that time - AD 50 - a child was born in this city with the name Ignatius. He grows to become the leader of the church in Antioch, and because of his testimony and faith in Christ, is taken to Rome for execution. We don't know exactly when he died, but we know it was sometime around 107 AD. In his short life, he writes a number of letters, many of them during his trip from Antioch to Rome, where he loses his life to the hungry lions.
A moment ago, I mentioned the biblical nature of the practices and lives of the early church. By that, I said I was referring to the documented and distributed writings of the apostles. Ignatius, about 10 years after the death of the apostle John, shortly before his own death said, "the teachings of the apostles are known through their writings."
By stating that, I am not saying that there were not some of the books we have in the New Testament over which there was much discussion, and sometimes disagreement. A few of them took time to be fully accepted by the entire Christian community.
But, again I say, the early generations of Christians believed in a canon uniquely inspired by God Himself. And, in their minds, this included not only those in the New Testament, but also the entirety of the Old Testament. And I find it somewhat telling that in critiquing early Christianity, Brown barely makes a mention of the Old Testament.
The omission of the Old Testament
For me, this is a huge omission. The writers of the New Testament hailed the Old as uniquely and divinely inspired written authority. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [He is referring to the Old Testament Scripture]…but to fulfill them." The very first day of the church - on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 - it is marked by a public sermon explaining the Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament was the authoritative source of all they taught at the beginning. Luke, who wrote the Book of Acts, commended the people who lived in the town of Berea because they scrupulously examined the Old Testament to see if Paul's message could be believed (Acts 17:11).
The inspired Old Testament texts are cited hundreds of times all over the New Testament. As an example, there are 85 quotations or allusions from the Old Testament in the Book of Hebrews alone. In the Book of Revelation, there are 245.
Every Old Testament Book except the book of Ruth is quoted in the New Testament. Christ Himself quotes from 22 of the Old Testament books. And there are well over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ. Christ taught his disciples that the entire Old Testament taught about Him (Luke 24:27). Paul echoes that thought in Romans 10:4, where he says Christ is the end goal, the final installment, of the Old Testament. To try to develop a New Testament canon that does not consider the Old Testament canon is at best spurious.
Though Jesus did not write anything, He made sure there would be those, trained by Him, who would bring His message to the world. Luke mentions the importance of eyewitnesses to what Christ said and did, when he gives an introduction to his gospel (Luke 1:2). Jesus also said that whatever the apostles allowed or disallowed would be allowed or disallowed in heaven.
These apostles who spent more than 3 years nearly continuously with Jesus, were given the keys of authority in the kingdom of heaven. It is the writings of these apostles that Brown wishes to eliminate, and yet, it is the foundation of these apostles upon which the church is built (Eph. 2:20). That means they were part of the very foundation of the Church.
Moving to the second century
The New Testament writings come to a close near the end of the first century. John was the last of the eyewitnesses of Christ.
As we move into the second century, what do we find in the writings of the second generation of Christians? Do we find evidence of at least the beginning of the development of the New Testament Canon? We have many writings from those living in the late 1st century to mid-2nd century. They will help us understand that the development of the New Testament canon was underway.
In our class, we have been studying the second of the 7 churches of Revelation - the church at Smyrna. The leader of this church was Polycarp. He was a student of the apostle John. As the pastor and overseer of this church, his congregation urged him to flee into the countryside in order to escape the persecution of the Romans and others. This was in February, 155 AD. He was hunted down and captured. He did not resist them, but offered them food and drink, and asked for permission to retire for prayer, which he did for two hours.
As they traveled into the city, the officer in charge urged him to recant. "What harm can it do to sacrifice to the emperor?" Polycarp refused. On arrival, he was brought before the proconsul in the amphitheater, who pleaded with him. "Swear by the genius of Caesar… Revile Christ."
Polycarp said: "for 86 years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?"
The proconsul persisted: "Swear by the genius of Caesar…I have wild beasts; if you will not change your mind, I will throw you to them…" "Call them!" Polycarp replied. "Since you make light of the beasts, I will have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude." Polycarp strode to the stake and tells them they need not tie him, because God would give him the grace to stay when the fire was lit. He prayed, "O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of your beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to know you…I thank you for counting me worthy this day and hour of sharing the cup of Christ among the number of your martyrs." And he dies that day.
But about 20 to 25 years before his death, in one of his writings, Polycarp is the first to refer to all four gospels as Scripture. Polycarp did not write as much as one of his students which I will mention later. He did write a letter to the church in Philippi a short time before his death.
I read through this letter again this week. It is not a long letter. Although it has 14 chapters, or sections, each has only a few statements or verses. In chapter 12, he makes a couple of noteworthy statements. His first statement in this section is:
"For I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures, and from you nothing is hid:..."
That tells me he knew enough about the church at Philippi, located in a different country, that they had received and were well versed in the "Scriptures" (plural). That means they had at least parts of the written Word of God and had it in their possession for enough time to become well-versed in it.
He also makes this statement later in chapter 12. "...as it is said in these Scriptures,..." When you look through this entire letter, you find quotes only from what we call the New Testament.
That is not because He didn't believe in the Old. But it confirms that he believed the books which he quoted from were Scripture. In this letter he quotes from or alludes to: Matthew, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy and 1 Peter. For Polycarp, these writings were the Word of God.
The early apostolic fathers, who lived between AD 80 and AD 150 used the material of our New Testament as "authentic apostolic SCRIPTURES."
Clement of Rome, in about AD 95, writes a letter from Rome to the church in Corinth. It is a fairly lengthy letter, and he uses quotes or makes allusions to Matthew, Luke, Hebrews, Romans and Corinthians. And since Clement's letter is addressed by the entire church at Rome to the church in Corinth, it can be assumed that both of these audiences knew these writings. That means these books were widely circulated before AD 90.
Polycarp had a spiritual son named Irenaeus. Like Polycarp had sat at the feet of the apostle John, Polycarp passes on to this young man what he had learned from John. Irenaeus becomes a prolific writer during the middle to end of the second century. He was born in 115 AD and died in 202.
Irenaeus quotes extensively from the four gospels. In fact, in all his writings, he references 25 of the 27 New Testament books we have today. The only books he does not reference are Philemon and 3rd John, both of which are small, one chapter books.
About 180 AD, he writes a book called "Adversus Haereses" - Against Heresies. The full subtitle is: Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge falsely so-called. This is a voluminous set of 5 books, each having between 31 and 41 chapters.
I ask you a question: How does one write so voluminously about heresies unless he has some canon - measuring rod - against which to measure all else as to whether it be true or false. Earlier I said that the early Christians spoke about the biblical nature of their beliefs. And by that I they meant they had written documents, accepted as Scripture. Let me make one more quote by Irenaeus.
This comes from the first of 5 volumes called "Against Heresies," chapter 3. "We have learned from none others the plan of salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us IN THE SCRIPTURES, to be the ground and pillar of our faith."
He uses the very writings that are rejected by the Gnostics. In fact, some of the heresies Irenaeus writes against are the false teachings of some of the earliest Gnostic writers. They were beginning to show up near the mid to late-second century.
I read again chapter 3 of Book 1 - TEXTS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE USED BY THESE HERETICS TO SUPPORT THEIR OPINIONS.
He takes them to task because they have left the "writings of the evangelists and apostles," but they instead "derive proofs for their opinions by means of perverse interpretations and deceitful expositions". This means that a body of written truth existed prior to the Gnostics, which they had taken and perversely twisted in their interpretation of it.
Two versions of Christianity did not develop simultaneously alongside each other as The Da Vinci Code maintains. That would mean the church was born in total confusion with no clear earth-changing message. Nor were the Gnostic gospels written and accepted first and later replaced by Constantine.
Common sense demands that there was first orthodoxy, cemented by widely accepted written texts produced by the first generation of believers. Then came the deviant version followed by its own set of writings.
A written canon existed at the very beginning of the Christian faith. In fact the early church already possessed the Canon of the Old Testament. And as they wrote the New Testament, they were consciously writing, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the conclusion to the Canon - the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The next generation of Christians received the New Testament this way.
Here is another example of the fact that the canon of the New Testament existed well prior to the time of Constantine. The early Apostolic Fathers of the church led the church during the second and third centuries. If all 5,366 manuscripts of the New Testament were suddenly destroyed, it would still be possible to reconstruct the entire New Testament with quote from the writings of these apostolic fathers, with the exception of between 15 and 20 verses.
Up to now, what I have tried to present is evidence of early acceptance of the majority of the New Testament books. This was especially so with regard to the four Gospels found in our current Bible. And Brown's assertion that the Council of Nicea was held in 325 to determine which books should be included is definitely without merit or evidence.
In our next lesson, we will look at the criteria used to include a book in the New Testament Canon.