The Foundation of Orthodoxy and Canon
Many times we find ourselves wandering just how the Bible and its origins really came to be. When asked, a lot of people do not even know what orthodoxy means in reference to Christianity, much less the term canon. Unless you were raised Catholic, you might have never even heard the term canon referred to outside of an old war film. Bill Arnold defines canon, “The word ‘canon’ comes from the Hebrew word qaneh and the Greek word kanon. Both words originally signified a reed or measuring stick. So the biblical canon was measuring standard for faith and practice.” Much like we use rulers and measuring tapes as to measure up the standards of objects in our lives, the canon measures the biblical standards up with our lives. Walter Elwell defines orthodoxy as, “The English equivalent of Greek orthodoxia, meaning right belief, as opposed to heresy or heterodoxy. The term is not biblical; nor is it used prior to the second century by Christians or secular writers. The word expresses the idea that certain statements accurately embody the revealed truth content of Christianity and are therefore in their own nature normative of the universal church.” So just where did this all develop and who put it all together? That is the purpose behind the developing this foundation. Christianity did not happen by the life of Christ alone. The foundation precedes Christ birth, as Paul states in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ was the Word; this is what we refer to as His logos. Jesus was there in what some call the old beginning or the creation of the world and when He was born some refer to it as the new beginning. Warren Wiersbe states, “God created all things through Jesus Christ.” In writing to the church at Colosse about the preeminence of Christ, Paul states in Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Now that we understand the foundation of Christ logos from the beginning of time itself, we can begin our journey into understanding the foundation of orthodoxy and canon.
The Foundation of Canon
When we look at the canon we need to consider the Bibles original text of scripture. The original text of scripture is referred to as autographs in the biblical world. We currently do not possess any of the autographs. We only possess copies of the autographs called manuscripts or apographs. There were manuscripts made and some deviate a little from each text. These manuscripts are: “Masoretic Text (composed A.D. 100; oldest copy A.D. 1000), Samaritan Pentateuch (composed 200-100 B.C.; oldest copy A.D. 1100), Dead Sea Scrolls (composed 200-100 B.C.; oldest copy 200-100 B.C.), Septuagint ‘LXX’ (composed 300-200 B.C.; oldest copy A.D. 300-500), Targums (composed most A.D.500-1000, some B.C.; oldest copy about A.D. 150).” The differences from one text from the other do not introduce fallibility to the Word of God because of textual criticism. Duvall and Hays define textual criticism as, “a technical discipline that compares the various copies of a biblical text in an effort to determine what was most likely the original text.” This means that only having two manuscripts together would not allow you to decipher the original meaning of the text if there are differences in some scriptures. By having multiple manuscripts, you are able to discern more accurately what the original text was. According to Britannica “the printing press was never even mentioned until a lawsuit about it sometime in 1439.” That would mean the printing press was not even invented until sometime in the 1400’s. Putting this in perspective for our generation, you have to understand that these manuscripts were all written by hand. Duvall and Hays asserts, “There are over five thousand manuscripts (handwritten copies) of all or parts of the New Testament in existence today.” The Dead Sea Scrolls are probably the most well-known of all the manuscripts of our generation and they were not even discovered until 1947 in Qumran. The astounding thing was that some of these scrolls pre-dated by a thousand years the other manuscripts of the Old Testament. The important concept to understand about the foundation of the canon is that all these manuscripts further supported the other. Although some slight difference were found, the textual criticism allowed us to understand the Word of God in the translations we have today.
From Canon to Orthodoxy
Now that we can understand what the foundation of canon is based upon, we can now begin to look into the foundation of orthodoxy. In the Old Testament God spoke to prophets and they led the people. God chose these prophets and blessed them. From these covenants or promises that God fulfilled, He multiplied the decedents of Abraham into the nations. God continued to bless them and He rose a Jewish people were known as Israelites. God taught His people many valuable lessons throughout many generations. God rose up leaders to defend and lead His people. God provided grace over and over when His people consistently turned from Him. Jesus Christ came in the flesh to save us from our sins and in did so in fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament. Ed Hindson states, “The Old Testament included more than 100 distinct prophecies of Christ. The chance of all these prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man is one in 84 followed by 131 zeros. These fulfilled prophecies of Christ are overwhelming evidence of the divine origin of Scripture, the messiahship of Jesus, and the truth of Christianity” However, the Jews that lived during that time were very focused on the law of Moses and the teachings that God had given them through the prophets. The Jewish council that was in charge at the time when Jesus Christ was crucified was called the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin was made up of two major party factions: the Pharisees, a group that was made up of the majority and was very legalistic to the Law; and the Sadducees, the aristocratic and conservative party that focused all their energies on the temple. There were also to smaller yet equally important groups: the Zealots, a terroristic group that contributed too many atrocities that were more of a faction or cult; and the Essenes, this group withdrew from the others like monks and are attributed to the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they are very intense to their interpretation of scripture. The teachings of Moses and the other prophets from God was called Judaism. These teachings were Law and were from God. Even though they had the knowledge of the autographs of the Old Testament and from them could see the very prophecies that would foretell of Christ, some of them would be blind to the savior in the flesh. Jesus Christ not only came and died for our sins; He came and lived to teach us the way. Christianity’s foundation was built in the beginning of creation. As sin entered the world, so would Christ to conquer it one day. As Christ died, His blood washed every sin of those who believe in Him. This is the foundation upon which the Christ follower knows is their orthodoxy in their faith. The apostles were the Christ followers that took Christ message to the world on His command.
Go! In the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
Caiaphas believed he dealt a mighty blow to these followers of Jesus. However, Jesus rose from the grave and he gave the disciples and all Christians a command that is the bedrock of Christian orthodoxy called The Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” That is exactly what the disciples did. The Romans had huge control over a vast area of land because of the Pax Romana. This opened the door for the apostles to disciple many more and to branch out into more mission fields. Paul was able to cover a huge area of the Roman Empire on his missionary journeys. As this Christians grew the Romans realized they were not just another dysfunctional faction of Judaism. The Christians went through many years of persecution before Empire was dominated by Constantine. Up until this point Christians had to hide and avoid persecution, but once Constantine became a Christian it allowed them to be a part of society. This allowed society to be a part of Christianity like it had not been before. When people started to interweave different beliefs into Christianity, it started to develop divisions that we call schisms. The biggest schism to focus on for orthodoxy has to be the Arian conflict. This was a conflict between Athanasius and Arius about the doctrine of the trinity. Athanasius is often called the father of orthodoxy because of his defense of the doctrine of the trinity and many others during his lifetime. Arius became famous because he proposed that Jesus was a separate entity from God and entirely separate. This conflict got so bad that Arius was booted out of his position as a deacon in Alexandria and labeled a heretic. The conflict continued until a council was held of all the bishops, called the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. During the council the doctrine of the trinity was affirmed and all seemed to be settled. Constantine had a bishop named Eusebius who believed in Arius position, which is called Arianism. Eusebius eventually convinced Constantine that the verbiage in the Council of Nicaea actually affirmed Arianism as well. Eusebius was a gifted politician, who would definitely have a job here if he were alive today. What is important to understand is that even though Eusebius held a high position at the Impearl Court, the foundation of orthodoxy and the Trinitarian doctrine still stand in tact today. There were several more schisms when philosophical differences and secular believes interweaved with orthodox teachings. However, it was here in the fourth century that Christian orthodoxy made its stand on the foundation that Christ laid for us at the foot of the cross and at the beginning of creation.
. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999).
. Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1984).
. The Lockman Foundation, comp., Life Application Study Bible: NASB Updated (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).
. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament in One Volume (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007).
. The Lockman Foundation, Life Application Study Bible: NASB Updated.
. Arnold and Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey 2nd Edition.
. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001).
. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, Printing Press, http://www.britannica.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/EBchecked/topic/477067/printing-press (accessed April 8, 2013).
. Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word: Second Edition.
. Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004).
. The Lockman Foundation, Life Application Study Bible: NASB Updated.