I’ve been going through some of my files recently and have come across a few pieces amidst some school assignments that I though might be interesting to post. This is a short essay I wrote for an Intro to World Religions course I took a few semesters ago that briefly touches upon the canonization process of the New Testament and the idea of an “Authentic Christianity.” Feel free to interject, leave comments, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!
Mary Pat Fisher makes quite clear that “What became mainstream Christianity is based not only on the life and teachings of Jesus as set forth in the gospels selected for the New Testament, but also on the ways that they have been interpreted over the centuries” (318). This descriptively speaks volumes of not only the evolving development of the Christian faith and tradition but, also adequately describes the process of New Testament canonization, as this could certainly be considered an interpretative process. Indeed, it seems that by the fourth century when the leaders of the Christian communities were finalizing their determinative consolidations of what would become New Testament scripture, the entirety of the proceedings were performed under the auspices and deliberative understandings of an affirmative apostolic authorship and a particular interpretation of what, in their minds, constituted an authentic Christianity. Thus, leading to what would be professed as an authoritative and inspired, or “God-Breathed” text. Yet, it cannot be overemphasized that every step in the procedure was indicative of subjective particularity and is, quite possibly, more representative of an ‘accepted,’ or a decidedly normative Christianity rather than what could necessarily be called ‘true.’ Moody D. Smith, thus explains,
The existence of scripture as well as canon implies the existence of a religious community that accords status and authority to certain texts. It goes without saying that the community in question believes that such status and authority actually belong to, adhere in, the text because of its subject matter (4).
Here, a multiplicity of questions arise, as Carlos Bovell states well,
How can there possibly be no creed save the Bible when creeds were fundamental to the Bible’s own formation? How can one possibly get closer to ‘real’ Christianity than the early church by going directly to the New Testament if it was within the early church that the New Testament was actively formed(373)?
In this way, one could say that canonization process, itself, was something of a reactionary movement and a responsive endeavor. Moody D. Smith suggests that “The very idea of a closing canon implies the existence of claimants to be denied” (16). This also seems to emphasize the kind of binary exclusivity involved in these institutional categorizations leading to what could be considered the bureaucratization of scripture. This is interesting considering that, as Smith explains, “the Gospels were written at a time of great literary productivity within Judaism, a time when the continuing production of scripture was not unthinkable in some circles” (16). Yet, we find that “In reaction to Marcion’s teachings and ‘canon,’ the Church of Rome convened councils to formulate an ‘orthodox’ canon,” which was intended to counter “other interpretations, both anti-adoptionist and Gnostic, from rival churches” (Gottsch 26).
With these facts of history in mind, they do seem to produce some difficulty for the adherent and observer of the Christian faith, leaving the “what is a believer to do?” One could simply turn a blind eye, but, surely there must be a more beneficent way available. Perhaps the best approach at the disposal of the believer is one of religious pragmatism, embracing the tension, the contradiction, and the complexity, with an apophatic understanding that there is still, after all, a phenomenologically experiential ‘truth’ readily available in the text, even as we have it now. As John Shelby Spong writes, “I am no longer concerned about discovering whether certain biblical events actually occurred. I am far more interested in entering the experience that lies behind the description that found expression in the biblical text” (19).
Bovell, Carlos. “A High View Of Scripture? The Authority Of The Bible And The Formation Of The New Testament Canon.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 34.4 (2010): 372-374. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.
Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.
Gottsch, John D. “Mutation, Selection, And Vertical Transmission Of Theistic Memes In Religious Canons.” Journal Of Memetics – Evolutionary Models Of Information Transmission 5.1 (2001): 1-40. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.
Smith, D. Moody. “When Did The Gospels Become Scripture?.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 119.1 (2000): 3. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.
Spong, John Shelby. Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Print.