A good introduction is like a good pair of shoes: when it fits it’ll go a long way. On the big screen, right after the title credits you see that line and automatically you start expecting historical fiction. Oh you’ll easily acknowledge what parts are fact (like the Revolution, or the signing of documents) and which parts are fiction (the messy love triangle maybe) but in the end you come out thinking you’ve actually seen a bit of history, Hollywood style. Well, maybe we’re not all that naÃƒÂ¯ve-but do we ever go back and research the facts from the false?
Back when Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code came out I had a few buddies quietly admit to me that they were facing a crisis in their faith. They had read the book and kept going back to his introductory page: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
It made them wonder. It made them doubt. Was Christianity a carefully orchestrated religion? Dan Brown’s evidence was very compelling and as far as I know, not many of us went to the book store to separate his facts from the false. Indeed, my friends would come through their crisis stating “it’s all about faith and Dan Brown can’t take that away from me.”
Well, here’s the cold fact: it’s not all about faith. Christianity claims that its origin is founded in a historical person and a historical event. If Christianity’s historical claims are false then it is probably the stupidest religion around. Yeah, stop and re-read that.
One oft-repeated claim that (also in the DaVinci Code, pg 231) was that the choosing of the New Testament Bible was by council where there were over 80 gospels to choose from, four of which are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Presiding over the council and making the final decision was Emperor Constantine.
Lie: never happened. In fact, the first council that ever stated which books are the official books of the Bible happened in the 16th Century during the Reformation.Ã‚Â And then it wasn’t even a decision it was pure acknowledgment and something that both Catholics and Protestants agreed with, besides a few apocryphal books not included by the Protestants.
Historically speaking, the books we have today were mostly accepted within the first century when there were no other Gospels. Paul (in or around 35A.D until about 60A.D) wrote a bunch of letters to churches and those stuck. They were passed around the churches as official since the get-go and were never doubted. We have historical documents of folk from the First Century quoting from Paul’s letters. Not only had that, around 150AD we actually have letters being passed around sometimes labeled The Gospel According to Matthew (and Mark, and Luke and John respectively).
The First list of the books of the New Testament came about from a guy named Marcion (150A.D) who thought there was too much Jewishness in Christianity so he proceeded to take his ancient X-Acto and cut out everything which he didn’t agree with.Ã‚Â We notice that his list had most of Paul’s letters (the same ones in our Bible today except for 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) and a trimmed down version of Luke.
Luke-not even an apostle!
Here’s interesting: the Four Gospels of the Christian Bible claim to be written by two actual disciples (Matthew and John), some guy who wasn’t one of the original twelve (Mark), and a doctor who was a traveling buddy of Paul (Luke). These were the books that were always seen as official.
The Gospels (the 80 to choose from) that Brown is talking about came about much later written by People known as Gnostics. They believed a whole mess of weird stuff that you can probably find by watching the Matrix and Star Wars a few times over (the Real is not what you feel with this crude matter, but the Spiritual).
A marked point of interest in all of the Gnostic Gospels is that
- they attributed their origin to one of the Twelve (like Thomas or Phillip, etc)
- that they’re mostly a collection of sayings that reinforce Gnostic teaching and
- they’re not Gospels.
Gospel, to Paul (and the early churches) was Good News. The Good News being that God became flesh, was seen, was touched, died on the cross and on the third day rose from the grave. If anything the letters of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are just long introductions to that main point.
The Gnostic Gospels don’t bother with a crucifixion:Ã‚Â it wasn’t their point.
Anyway, around the 18th Century a guy named Muratori discovered an ancient document (scientifically dated to about 190AD) with a list of the books of the Bible that has been authenticated by the early Churches. Those books being the four gospels, Pauls letters: in fact, most of our New Testament. Around 250A.D we have another document that has some disagreement about some of the books (like James and Hebrews) but the four gospels and Paul’s Letters are still in there.Ã‚Â Another document from 300A.D has a similar list, but the authorship of Revelation is in doubt. In an Easter Letter from 367A.D we have the list of books in our Bible today.
So here’s a historical shoe anybody can put on and get some wear out of: the Books in our Bible today are the same books that have been marked official since early on.
If you want to do some easy and fun reading on all this, check out Church History in Plain Language.