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History of the Church #21

The New Testament #1


BRIEF CHURCH HISTORY

30-100 AD

From the multi-volume work of Philip Schaff (late 1800s)


Rise of the APOSTOLIC Literature


Christ is the book of life to be read by all. His religion is
not an outward letter of command, like the law of Moses, but
free, quickening spirit; not a literary production, but a moral
creation; not a new system of theology or philosophy for the
learned, but a communication of the divine life for the redemp-
tion of the whole world. Christ is the personal Word of God, the
eternal Logos, who became flesh and dwelt upon earth as the true
Shekinah, in the veiled glory of the only begotten from the
Father, full of grace and truth. He spoke; and all the words of
his mouth were, and still are, spirit and life. The human heart
craves not a learned, letter-writing, literary Christ, but a
wonder-working, cross-bearing, atoning Redeemer, risen, enthroned
in heaven, and ruling the world; furnishing, at the same time, to
men and angels an unending theme for meditation, discourse, and
praise.

So, too, the Lord chose none of his apostles, with the single
exception of Paul, from the ranks of the learned; he did not
train them to literary authorship, nor give them, throughout his
earthly life, a single express command to labor in that way.
Plain fishermen of Galilee, unskilled in the wisdom of this
world, but filled with the Holy Spirit of truth and the powers of
the world to come, were commissioned to preach the glad tidings
of salvation to all nations in the strength and in the name of
their glorified Master, who sits on the right hand of God the
Father Almighty, and has promised to be with them to the end of
time.

The gospel, accordingly, was first propagated and the church
founded by the personal oral teaching and exhortation, the 
"preaching," "testimony," "word," "tradition," of the apostles
and their disciples; as, in fact, to this day the living word is
the indispensable or, at least, the principal means of promoting
the Christian religion. Nearly all the books of the New Testament
were written between the years 50 and 70, at least twenty years
after the resurrection of Christ, and the founding of the church;
and the Gospel and Epistles of John still later.

As the apostles' field of labor expanded, it became too large for
their personal attention, and required epistolary correspondence.
The vital interests of Christianity and the wants of coming
generations demanded a faithful record of the life and teaching
of Christ by perfectly reliable witnesses. For oral tradition,
among fallible men, is liable to so many accidental changes, that
it loses in certainty and credibility as its distance from the
fountain-head increases, till at last it can no longer be clearly
distinguished from the additions and corruptions collected upon
it. There was great danger, too, of a wilful distortion of the
history and doctrine of Christianity by Judaizing and paganizing
errorists, who had already raised their heads during the lifetime
of the apostles. An authentic written record of the words and
acts of Jesus and his disciples was therefore absolutely
indispensable, not indeed to originate the church, but to keep it
from corruption and to furnish it with a pure standard of faith
and discipline.

Hence seven and twenty books by apostles and apostolic men,
written under the special influence and direction of the Holy
Spirit. These afford us a truthful picture of the history, the
faith, and the practice of primitive Christianity, "for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 
The collection of these writings into a canon, in distinction
both from apocryphal or pseudo-apostolic works, and from orthodox
yet merely human productions, was the work of the early church;
and in performing it she was likewise guided by the Spirit of God
and by a sound sense of truth. 

(So far all is well with Schaff - I agree - Keith Hunt)

It was not finished to the satisfaction of all till the end of
the fourth century, down to which time seven New Testament books
(the " Antilegomena" of Eusebius), the second Epistle of Peter,
the second and third Epistles of John, the anonymous Epistle to
the Hebrews, the Epistles of James and Jude, and in a certain
sense also the Apocalypse of John, were by some considered of
doubtful authorship or value. 

(This is all garbage - doubtful by some - yes the "some" of false
Chrisatianity that was rising even before the first century was
over. But the canon of the NT was already approved by the
apostles and by John, the one to live to near the end of the
first century. See the studies "The Canonization of the New
Testament" on this website - Keith Hunt)

But the collection was no doubt begun, on the model of the Old
Testament canon, in the first century; and the principal books,
the Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first
Epistle of Peter, and the first of John, in a body, were in
general use after the middle of the second century, and were
read, either entire or by sections, in public worship, after the
manner of the Jewish synagogue, for the edification of
the people.

(The canon of the NT was done by the apostles in the first
century - see "Canonization of the New Testament" on this
website - Keith Hunt)

The external testimony of tradition alone cannot (for the
Protestant Christian) decide the apostolic origin and canonical
character of a book; it must be confirmed by the internal
testimony of the book itself. But this is not wanting, and the
general voice of Christendom for these eighteen hundred years has
recognized in the little volume, which we call the New Testament,
a book altogether unique in spiritual power and influence over
the mind and heart of man, and of more interest and value than
all the ancient and modern classics com bined. If ever God
spoke and still speaks to man, it is in this book.


Character of the New Testament

In these inspired writings we have, not indeed an equivalent, but
a reliable substitute for the personal presence and the oral
instruction of Christ and his apostles. The written word differs
from the spoken only in form; the substance is the same, and has
therefore the same authority and quickening power for us as it
had for those who heard it first. Although these books were
called forth apparently by special and accidental occasions, and
were primarily addressed to particular circles of readers and
adapted to peculiar circumstances, yet, as they present the
eternal and unchangeable truth in living forms, they suit all
circumstances and conditions. Tracts for the times, they are
tracts for all times; intended for Jews and Greeks of the first
century, they have the same interest for Englishmen and Americans
of the nineteenth century. They are to this day not only the sole
reliable and pure fountain of primitive Christianity, but also
the infallible rule of Christian faith and practice. From this
fountain the church has drunk the water of life for more than
fifty generations, and will drink it till the end of time. In
this rule she has a perpetual corrective for all her faults, and
a protective against all error. Theological systems come and
go, and draw from that treasury their larger or smaller additions
to the stock of our knowledge of the truth; but they can never
equal that infallible word of God, which abideth forever.
"Our little systems have their day, They have their day and
cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, And Tbou, O God,
art more than they."

The New Testament evinces its universal design in its very style,
which alone distinguishes it from all the literary productions of
earlier and later times. It has a Greek body, a Hebrew soul, and
a Christian spirit which rules both. The language is the
Hellenistic idiom; that is, the Macedonian Greek as spoken by the
Jews of the dispersion in the time of Christ; uniting, in a
regenerated Christian form, the two great antagonistic nation-
alities and religions of the ancient world. The most beautiful
language of heathendom and the venerable language of the Hebrews
are here combined, and baptized with the spirit of Christianity,
and made the picture of silver for the golden apple of the
eternal truth of the gospel. The style of the Bible in general
is singularly adapted to men of every class and grade of culture,
affording the child the simple nourishment for its religious
wants, and the profoundest thinker inexhaustible matter of
study. The Bible is not simply a popular book, but a book of
all nations, and for all societies, classes, and conditions of
men. It is more than a book, it is an institution which rules the
Christian world.

The New Testament presents, in its way, the same union of the
divine and human as the person of Christ. In this sense also "the
word became flesh, and dwells among us." As Christ was like us in
body, soul, and spirit, sin only excepted, so the Scriptures,
which "bear witness of him," are thoroughly human (though
without doctrinal and ethical error) in contents and form, in the
mode of their rise, their compilation, their preservation, and
transmission; yet at the same time they are thoroughly divine
both in thoughts and words, in origin, vitality, energy, and
effect, and beneath the human servant - form of the letter, the
eye of faith discerns the glory of "the only begotten from the
Father, full of grace and truth."

The apostolic writings are of three kinds: historical, didactic,
and prophetic. To the first class belong the Gospels and Acts; to
the second, the Epistles; to the third, the Revelation. They
are related to each other as regeneration, sanctification, and
glorification; as foundation, house, and dome. Jesus Christ is
the beginning, the middle, and the end of all. In the Gospels
he walks in human form upon the earth, and accomplishes the work
of redemption. In the Acts and Epistles he founds the church, and
fills and guides it by his Spirit. And at last, in the visions of
the Apocalypse, he comes again in glory, and with his bride, the
church of the saints, reigns forever upon the new earth in the
city of God.

This order corresponds with the natural progress of the Christian
revelation and was universally adopted by the church, with the
exception of a difference in the arrangement of the Epistles. The
New Testament was not given in the form of a finished volume, but
the several books grew together by recognition and use according
to the law of internal fitness. Most of the ancient Manuscripts,
Versions, and Catalogues arrange the books in the following
order: Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline Epistles,
Apocalypse. Some put the Pauline Epistles before the Catholic
Epistles. Our English Bible follows the order of the Latin
Vulgate.

(Which is not the correct order. The correct order should be: The
Gospels, Acts, General epistles, Paul's epistles [including
Hebrews] the book of Revelation. The order being from grade
school, to high school, to university. When the "general epistles
are put before those of Paul, we establish the keeping of the
commandments of God, including the 4th - the Sabbath command,
then we must understand Paul in the light of truth already given.
To do it backwards is like putting the cart before the horse  -
Keith Hunt)

The Four Gospels

GENERAL CHARACTER AND AIM OF THE GOSPEL

Christianity is a cheerful religion and brings joy and peace from
heaven to earth. The New Testament opens with the gospel, that is
with the authentic record of the history of all histories, the
glad tidings of salvation through the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
The Greek word (Greek) which passed into the Latin evangelium,
and through this into modern languages (French, German, Italian,
etc.), means 1st, reward for good news to the messenger (in
Homer); 2d, good news, glad tidings; 3d, glad tidings of Christ
and his salvation (so in the New Test.); 4th, the record of
these glad tidings (so in the headings of the Gospels and in
ecclesiastical usage). The Saxon "gospel," i.e., God's spell or
good spell (from spellian, to tell), is the nearest idiomatic
equivalent for Greek given, are only variations of the same
theme, a fourfold representation of one and the same gospel,
animated by the same spirit. They are not full biographies, but
only memoirs or a selection of characteristic features of
Christ's life and work as they struck each Evangelist and best
suited his purpose and his class of readers. They are not
photographs which give only the momentary image in a single
attitude, but living pictures from repeated sittings, and
reproduce the varied expressions and aspects of Christ's person.

The style is natural, unadorned, straightforward, and objective.
Their artless and naive simplicity resembles the earliest
historic records in the Old Testament, and has its peculiar and
abiding charm for all classes of people and all degrees of
culture. The authors, in noble modesty and self-forgetfulness,
suppress their personal views and feelings, retire in worshipful
silence before their great subject, and strive to set it forth in
all its own unaided power.

The first and fourth Gospels were composed by apostles and
eye-witnesses, Matthew and John; the second and third, under the
influence of Peter and Paul, and by their disciples Mark and
Luke, so as to be indirectly likewise of apostolic origin and
canonical authority. Hence Mark is often called the Gospel of
Peter, and Luke the Gospel of Paul.

(This is only human conjecture, there is no internal proof to
support such a view. The point made by the NT is that it is
INSPIRED, hence no need for another human person to aid another
human person in writing the books of the NT - INSPIRATION is the
bottom line - Keith Hunt)

The common practical aim of the Evangelists is to lead the reader
to a saving faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah
and Redeemer of the world.

The Gospels have their common source in the personal intercourse
of two of the writers with Christ, and in the oral tradition of
the apostles and other eye-witnesses. Plain fishermen of Galilee
could not have drawn such a portrait of Jesus if he had not sat
for it. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.     
They did not create the divine original, but they faithfully
preserved and reproduced it.
The gospel story, being constantly repeated in public preaching
and in private circles, assumed a fixed, stereotyped form; the
more readily, on account of the reverence of the first disciples
for every word of their divine Master. Hence the striking
agreement of the first three, or synoptical Gospels, which, in
matter and form, are only variations of the same theme. Luke
used, according to his own statement, besides the oral tradition,
written documents on certain parts of the life of Jesus, which
doubtless appeared early among the first disciples. The Gospel of
Mark, the confidant of Peter, is a faithful copy of the gospel
preached and otherwise communicated by this apostle; with the
use, perhaps, of Hebrew records which Peter may have made from
time to time under the fresh impression of the events themselves.

(Again the bottom line is INSPIRATION. Of course the apostles
knew each other. Of course Christian people fellowshipped
together. Of course Jesus and His life would have been spoken
about among each other as a Christian community. But when all is
said and done it is INSPIRATION of the Holy Spirit that wrote the
NT - Keith Hunt)

INDIVIDUAL CHARACTERISTICS

But with all their similarity in matter and style, each of the
Gospels, above all the fourth, has its peculiarities, answering
to the personal character of its author, his special design, and
the circumstances of his readers. The several evangelists present
the infinite fulness of the life and person of Jesus in different
aspects and different relations to mankind; and they complete one
another. The symbolical poesy of the church compares them with
the four rivers of Paradise, and with the four cherubic
representatives of the creation, assigning the man to Matthew,
the lion to Mark, the ox to Luke, and the eagle to John. The
apparent contradictions of these narratives, when closely
examined, sufficiently solve themselves, in all essential points,
and serve only to attest the honesty, impartiality, and
credibility of the authors. At the same time the striking
combination of resemblances and differences stimulates close
observation and Minute comparison, and thus impresses the events
of the life of Christ more vividly and deeply upon the mind and
heart of the reader than a single narrative could do. The immense
labor of late years in bringing out the comparative
characteristics of the Gospels and in harmonizing their
discrepancies has not been in vain, and has left a stronger
conviction of their independent worth and mutual completeness.
Matthew wrote for Jews, Mark for Romans, Luke for Greeks, John
for advanced Christians; but all are suited for Christians in
every age and nation. 


The first Gospel exhibits Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and
Lawgiver of the kingdom of heaven who challenges our obedience;
the second Gospel as the mighty conqueror and worker of miracles
who excites our astonishment; the third Gospel as the
sympathizing Friend and Saviour of men who commands our
confidence; the fourth Gospel as the eternal Son of God who
became flesh for our salvation and claims our adoration and
worship, that by believing in him we may have eternal life. The
presiding mind which planned this fourfold gospel and employed
the agents without a formal agreement and in conformity to their
talents, tastes, and spheres of usef ulness, is the Spirit of
that Lord who is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, the
Saviour of us all.

TIME of COMPOSITION

As to the time of composition, external testimony and internal
evidence which modern critical speculations have not been able to
invalidate, point to the seventh decade of the first century
for the Synoptic Gospels, and to the ninth decade for the
Gospel of John.

The Synoptic Gospels were certainly written before A.D. 70; for
they describe the destruction of Jerusalem as an event still
future, though nigh at hand, and connect it immediately with the
glorious appearing of our Lord, which it was thought might take
place within the generation then living, although no precise date
is fixed anywhere, the Lord himself declaring it to be unknown
even to him. Had the Evangelists written after that terrible
catastrophe, they would naturally have made some allusion to it,
or so arranged the eschatological discourses of our Lord (Matt.
24; Mark 13; Luke 21) as to enable the reader clearly to
discriminate between the judgment of Jerusalem and the final
judgment of the world, as typically foreshadowed by the former.

On the other hand, a considerable number of years must have
elapsed after the resurrection. This is indicated by the fact
that several imperfect attempts at a gospel history had
previously been made (Luke 1:1), and by such a phrase as
"until this day " (Matt.27:8; 28:15).
But it is quite impossible to fix the precise year of
composition. The silence of the Epistles is no conclusive
argument that the Synoptists wrote after the death of James,
Peter, and Paul, for there is the same silence in the Acts
concerning the Epistles of Paul, and in the Epistles concerning
the Acts. The apostles did not quote each other's writings: the
only exception is the reference of Peter to the Epistles of
Paul. 

(Yes true, proving they were each INSPIRED personally to write
what they wrote - Keith Hunt)

In the multiplicity of their labors the Evangelists may
have been engaged for several years in preparing their works
until they assumed their present shape. The composition of a life
of Christ now may well employ many years of the profoundest
study.

The Hebrew Matthew was probably composed first; then Mark; the
Greek Matthew and Luke cannot be far apart.

(There is NO MSS in existance of a so-called "Hebrew-Matthew" and
no proof Matthew was first written in Hebrew then into Greek -
there is a study on this website on the matter - Keith Hunt)

If the Acts, which suddenly breaks off with Paul's imprisonment
in Rome (61-63), were written before the death of the apostle,
the third Gospel, which is referred to as "the first treatise"
(Acts 1:1), must have been composed before A.D. 65 or 64,
perhaps, in Cesarea, where Luke had the best opportunity to
gather his material during Paul's imprisonment between 58 and 60;
but it was probably not published till a few years afterwards.
Whether the later Synoptists knew and used the earlier will be
discussed in the next section.

(Dating, though sometimes there is internal evidence or possible
external history marks, is somewhat speculative. What we can know
is the NT canon was put together by the apostles and John being
the last apostle to die near the end of the first century, would
have made sure the canon of the NT was in place before the rise of
the Roman Catholic church during and after the second century AD 
- Keith Hunt)

John, according to the universal testimony of antiquity, which is
confirmed by internal evidence, wrote his Gospel last, after the
fall of Jerusalem and after the final separation of the
Christians from the Jews. He evidently presupposes the Synoptic
Gospels (although he never refers to them), and omits the
eschatological and many other discourses and miracles, even the
institution of the sacraments, because they were already suffi-
ciently known throughout the church. But in this case too it
is impossible to fix the year of composition. John carried
his Gospel in his heart and memory for many years and gradually
reduced it to writing in his old age, between A.D. 80 and 100;
for he lived to the close of the first century and, perhaps, saw
the dawn of the second.

(The Gospel of John has no internal evidence to prove it was
written after 70 AD contrary to what Schaff has said. But on the
other had as the context of the gospel of John is based on a much
different view of Christ than Matthew, Mark, Luke, it could have
been written before 70 AD or after 70 AD. - Keith Hunt)

CREDIBILITY

The Gospels make upon every unsophisticated reader the impression
of absolute honesty. They tell the story without rhetorical
embellishment, without any exclamation of surprise or admiration,
without note and comment. They frankly record the weaknesses
and failings of the disciples, including themselves, the rebukes
which their Master administered to them for their carnal
misunderstandings and want of faith, their cowardice and
desertion in the most trying hour, their utter despondency after
the crucifixion, the ambitious request of John and James, the
denial of Peter, the treason of Judas. They dwell even with
circumstantial minuteness upon the great sin of the leader of the
Twelve, especially the Gospel of Mark, who derived his details no
doubt from Peter's own lips. They conceal nothing, they apologize
for nothing, they exaggerate nothing. Their authors are utterly
unconcerned about their own fame, and withhold their own name;
their sole object is to tell the story of Jesus, which carries
its own irresistible force and charm to the heart of every
truth-loving reader. The very discrepancies in minor details
increase confidence and exclude the suspicion of collusion; for
it is a generally acknowledged principle in legal evidence that
circumstantial variation in the testimony of witnesses confirms
their substantial agreement. There is no historical work of
ancient times which carries on its very face such a seal of
truthfulness as these Gospels.

The credibility of the canonical Gospels receives also negative
confirmation from the numerous apocryphal Gospels which by their
immeasurable inferiority and childishness prove the utter
inability of the human imagination, whether orthodox or
heterodox, to produce such a character as the historical Jesus of
Nazareth.

No post-apostolic writers could have composed the canonical
Gospels, and the apostles themselves could not have composed them
without the inspiration of the spirit of Christ.
..........

NOTE:

And with those last words of Schaff "inspiration of the Spirit of
Christ" we have the sum of the matter, the basic foundation of
the matter. All the books of the New Testament are INSPIRED by
the Holy Spirit of God. If we look at creation on this earth,
land, sea, air, and believe it is the working of an Eternal God.
If we look at the universe with all its mind blowing creations
and expanse, from the "big bang" to the "ever expanding of the
galaxies at a fast and faster pace from each other." If we look
at what modern space-age Hubble and other telescopes are sending
to us; what our space-probe machines are sending to us as they
move out into our solar system and our Milkyway galaxie. If we
look at all this and say this proves the Almighty God exists,
that His hand has done all this creating, then it should not be
hard to understand how He can, with His Holy Spirit, INSPIRE the
writing of the books of the New Testament, and also making sure
that by the death of the apostle John, at the end of the first
century, ALL the canon of the NT was complete. See the study
called "Canonization of the New Testament" on this website.

Keith Hunt

To be continued


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