Canons, Creeds, Councils: Standardizing the Faith

Sources: C.H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures (Nisbet, 1952); Richard Bauckham, The Gospels for All Christians (Eerdmans, 1998); F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (IVP, 1988); Frances Young, The Making of the Creeds (Trinity, 1991).

Reading: 1 John 4:1-6 or 2 Thess. 2:14-15.

Just What Is Christian?
Other Christians become a new influence/threat
Issue: Which of the many growing varieties of Christianity are legitimate? Why?
Solution: The Church standardizes its scriptures, statements of faith, and structures

The Bible as 'Prophets and Apostles'

The Old:

Israel had a basically settled list of canonical Scriptures (Jamnia in 90, Baba Bathra 14-15, 4 Ezra 14:45-46, Luke 24:44)
At the periphery circulated apocryphal wisdom, narratives, prophets (Tobit, Jubilees, 1 Enoch at Qumran, Apocrypha in the Septuagint, 1 Enoch in Jude)
Greek-speaking Christians appropriate the LXX as Jews cool to it
Christians spread Christological interpretations of Israel's Scriptures (Hebrews 1)
Melito of Sardis coins 'books of the old covenant' around 170

The New:

Christians share and shape oral, then written, traditions about Jesus (Ignatius Philadelphians 8, 2 Clement 2:1-4)
Churches circulate 'apostolic' letters, then 'scriptures', then collections (2 Pet. 3:15-16)
Jerusalem and then Rome are early centers of scrutiny and transmission (1 Cor. 15:3-5; 1 Clement)
Other gospels, acts, and letters circulate officially (Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, Revelation) and popularly (Paul and Thecla)

The Whole:

Authentic Scripture is to be read in Church 'among the prophets and apostles' (Muratonian Fragment)
Scripture is preached, commented on, used for teaching and training
Catholics resist Marcion's shortened canon in ~140
Montanists' prophesying provokes canonical closure (Muratonian Fragment, <200?)
Church Fathers continue to make lists of scriptures (Origen Commentary on Psalm 1, Athanasius Festal Letter 39 in 367, Laodicia canon 60 in 363, Jerome Epistle 53.9 in 394, Augustine On Christian Doctrine 2.13 in 395)
Athanasius is the first to list the 27 books of our New Testament
Councils and bishops in the next 50 years continue promulgating canonical lists
Rome eventually accepts Hebrews and the East accepts Revelation (cf. Hippolytus of Rome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus)
Christians never quite agree on the Old Testament Apocrypha
Scribes transmit and sometimes gloss texts as situations require
Note the canonizing authorities: Local church practices, churches in major cities, prestigious theologians, bishops

What Is to Prevent Me? Rules of Apostolic Faith
Christians confess "Jesus Is Lord"
Creeds (credo) grow out of preparation for baptism into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Creeds protect details of Jesus' story from the editing of those who deny them
(Ignatius against Docetists on Jesus as human being)
Creeds embody and guide biblical interpretation
(Irenaeus against Valentinus on God as Creator)
Creeds demand claims some Christians are unwilling to make
(Athanasius against Arius on Jesus as divine)
Creeds promote uniform congregational worship
(Basil against Pneumatomachoi on glorifying the Spirit)
Creeds strengthen the authority of the Catholic hierarchy
(Cyprian against Novatian on Church's authority to forgive)
Creeds identify (create? construct?) 'orthodoxy' and 'heresy'
Creeds begin as local but become ecumenical under Constantine
Highlights: Nicea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, Chalcedon 451

By What Authority? Apostolic Successors
Jesus gives authority to his apostles (Matt. 10:2)
They and their appointees become bishops (episkopoi) and elders (presbuteroi) (Acts 20:28, Titus 1:5)
Antioch, Rome, and other prominent cities had monarchical bishops
(Polycarp of Smyrna in 100; Clement of Rome in 90; Ignatius of Antioch in 67)
Hierarchy formalizes as bishops, priests, and deacons (diakonoi)
Bishops are responsible for maintaining the original faith (Ignatius Magnesians 6-7)
How to carry on? Bishops appoint an apostolic successor (1 Clement 42-44, Cyprian On Unity)
Rome and other major cities have wider jurisdiction
Outside this network is 'no Church' and 'no salvation' (Cyprian)

Apostolicity as Catholicity
These three authorities reinforce each other as expressions of the apostolic traditions
Other communities lie outside all three (
Marcionites, Gnostics, etc.)
Catholic orthodoxy understands itself as uniquely centered and uniquely open
Are all three inextricable? Are any dispensable?
Is Catholic Christianity so clearly distinguished from other varieties?
Does the actual history support Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or free-church claims?