THE FIRST CHRISTIAN BIBLE (Unofficial)
Some 150 years after the birth of Jesus, Marcian of Pontus, a wealthy ship merchant and leader in the early Christian church, with very specific theological opinions, studied the Hebrew Bible and came away feeling as though there was a need for this new following of Christians to have their own Christian Bible. Without church authority, Marcian would create his own version of a Christian Bible, leaving out all of the Old Testament. He would include Luke’s gospel, however deleted all references to the Hebrew Bible. Also included in Marcian’s Bible were the letters of Paul.
There were those who accepted Marcian’s Christian Bible, but the early church leaders did not. However, they did accept the idea that there was a need for the new Christian church to have its own Bible. The church fathers of the day began creating lists of books they felt compelled to include in and to exclude from this new Christian Bible. There was a wealth of material to choose from, seeing that many individual writings had been distributed and were circulating at random and independently through the various communities of Christians from the latter part of the first century. Some of these writings included the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles to Timothy and Titus and other letters of the Apostle Paul.
At least another century would pass however, before the first official Christian Bible would be sanction.
In 312 A.D., Constantine’s forces would conquer the forces of his rival, Maxentius, becoming the Emperor of the Roman Empire. As Emperor, he sought to unify the people of the empire and the vehicle of choice for this effort was religion. At this time in the near east, there was an incredible melting pot of cultures, races, religions and religious viewpoints on the proper ways to worship. One of the challenges that rose to prominences was the battle of viewpoints between Arius, a monastic (the religious practice where one renounces worldly pursuits to fully devote themselves and their lives to the work of God) priest from Alexandria Egypt, and Athanasius, the Bishop of the church in Alexandria. Arius was of the belief that Jesus was the highest created being by God, but was not, God. Passionately opposed to this view, Anthanasius taught that Jesus was both man and God. Cemented in their beliefs, the two waged an intense fight as to whether the Jesus the Christ was mortal or divine.
In order to unite his empire, Constantine sought to put an end to this bitter feud. Therefore, some 300 years after the crucifixion of the Savior, Constantine would summons all Christian Bishops to his summer palace along the sea at Nicea, the area we know today as Turkey. The first goal of this meeting was to come up with one explanation that could be taught about the humanity and divinity of Jesus. He charged that they each had to agree upon something before the meeting could be adjourned. We now know this agreement reached by the Bishops as the Nicean Creed which proclaimed that Jesus was indeed both God and man.
Subsequently, their next assignment was to determine which writings, that could be acceptable to the church as a whole, would go into the making of the canon.
THE FIRST OFFICIAL CHRISTIAN BIBLE
Around 325 A.D., Constantine summons all the Christian Bishops to assemble at Nicea to unify the teachings regarding the life and ministry of Jesus. After they had reached an agreement on what would be taught on the most significant point of contention, that Jesus was indeed both God and man, and not just the highest created being by God, they set their sights on determining which of the existing writings would make up the first official Christian Bible. With such a vast number of varying opinions, beliefs, cultures and teachings within the Roman Empire, a key factor in this compilation would be that the books considered for inclusion most be those that were acceptable to the entire church.
Eusebius Pamphili was a historian and considered expert by his peers. He would often be called upon to explain or interpret difficult sections of written works. He also became the Bishop of Caeserea in Palestine around 312 A.D., and was one of the most prominent of the church fathers assembled at Nicea. In that very same year that the council at Nicea met, Eusebius had already published his work on church history, which contained eighteen books that he felt should make up the new Christian Bible, and thus was asked to present it to the council. It is interesting to note that in his presentation, Eusebius makes reference to the “books or writings that were accepted by the people, which were currently being utilized”, such as the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letter. He also mentions what he called “disputed books” some of which we currently have in the canon such as 2nd & 3rd John, James and Jude. Eusebius also insisted that the epistles of John and Peter must be included, although being very aware that many of his fellow Bishops struggled with the thought of including the revelation of John. They thought that his apocalypse of violent metaphors directly conflicted with Christ’s message of peace. Here we again we see that what would be accepted by the people, by the entire church was a critical component to what would go in this new Bible.
The council would adjourn without reaching a resolution on which books would make up the canon. However in 331 A.D., six years after the Nicean council, the Emperor Constantine would send a letter to Eusebius, granting him the responsibility of creating the official Christian Bible, and to produce 50 copies for the churches in Constantinople. Eusebius would simply take the 18 books that he believed worthy of inclusion, from the church history he had written in 325. In addition, he included the Hebrew Bible, creating both an Old, and a New Testament.
Unfortunately, this Bible commissioned by Constantine, and thus the list of books that it contained, was lost with time. And even though Constantine’s Bible, created by Eusebius was sent to each of the churches in Constantinople, 40 more years would pass before the church would officially canonize an ultimate list of 27 New Testament books.
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