You have heard about the “canon of the Bible”, but what does that mean? You have heard people put down Christianity as being based on made-up fiction formulated to strike false doctrine onto others. We Christians hold that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, divinely breathed upon authors by the Holy Spirit. Thus the term “canon” is used to describe those divinely inspired books, which belong in the Bible, and have held up to scholarly review for many centuries. Jewish Rabbis and Hebrew scholars first conducted this review process. But the main energy in the review of these early writings came directly from the Triune God, revealed by Jesus Christ and directed by the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament was fairly firm early in the process; Hebrew scholars had been using the Torah for centuries and had long believed God’s prophets and accepted their writings as being inspired words. The only issue that remained was the “Apocrypha”, where a majority of Hebrew scholars thought the collection to be good religious documents, but not on the same level as the Hebrew Scriptures. Considering the New Testament and the work of the Apostles, Mark was probably the first Gospel written. This, along with a collection of the sayings of Jesus Christ known as “Q” (a German word for Quelle, meaning “source”), was the basis for Luke’s Gospel, and probably Matthew’s and John’s as well. Paul considered Luke’s writings and Peter recognized Paul’s work, so there was a great deal of continuity in the New Testament.
Also, the discovery of scrolls and thousands of scroll fragments recovered in the Qumran area, an extremely large collection of Jewish documents, has supported the accuracy of the early Old Testament writings. These documents date back to the third century BC, and are written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Among these documents are the “Dead Sea Scrolls” which are all of the books of the Bible except Esther. Many councils, such as the Council of Laodicea (363 AD), the Council of Hippo (393 AD), and the Council of Carthage (397 AD), followed affirming the same 27 books are authoritative scripture. Questions asked were: 1) Was the author an apostle or closely associated with an apostle? 2) Was the book consistent with Christian doctrine and orthodox teaching? And, 3) Did the book put forward high moral and spiritual values consistent with the instruction from Jesus? As stated above, the Bible is God inspired and written by directing men driven by the Holy Spirit; therefore, it can be said that it was God that selected what was to be the Biblical Canon. I would never be so bold to claim to be an expert in the Bible, though I have taught adult Biblical Scripture Classes for over 35 years, anyone who has studied the Bible for any length of time has surely noticed how it all fits together cover to cover inspite of the many authors over centuries.
The Orthodox believer holds on to a theological knowledge based upon God’s Revelation. This Revelation is presented to the world through the written words in Scripture and through what is known as “The Apostolic Tradition”. Christ passed on in Pentecost the power for the apostles to do great things in the name of Christ. Jesus passed on “The Great Commission” for the apostles to go throughout the world and affirm the foundational Christian Truths as clearly taught in the Bible:
- That the Triune God is three distinct persons in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
- The True Deity and True Humanity of Jesus Christ.
- The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- Salvation of the believer by grace alone, through faith in Christ Jesus our LORD and Savior.
- The atonement of Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of a sinner.
- The physical return of Christ to earth at the end of time to judge the wicked and reward the righteous.
Any Christian group that would alter or distort one or more of these orthodox beliefs would be considered an aberrant group. To push the issue farther, theologically, a cult is any deviation from orthodoxy, or denial or outright rejection of one or more of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Not to be confused with a “cult”, the “occult” deals directly with demonic forces; this awful practice has been engaged in throughout all history. Nothing good can come out of it. I once heard a woman on the radio, critical of churches, saying that they needed to change with the culture; this is the exact opposite of what an Orthodox Christian Church should do! Adapting to the culture only creates aberrant and cult groups; Jesus did not do nor did He teach that we should adapt to the culture. Deviations take all forms with some being very minor; groups normally must pull verse out of context and twist it around (give it new meanings) to create their own new theology. One notable group, that produced “The Jesus Seminar”, goes so far as to uphold that Jesus’ ministry had nothing to do with salvation nor that Jesus viewed Himself as Messiah or the Son of God. Pretty darn blatant when you consider the New Testament is extremely clear that Jesus in fact knew Himself as Messiah and what His role in the salvation of humanity was to be.
Today, the aberrant churches are growing and the orthodox Christian churches are struggling and are under persecution. We must not change to suit the culture or we risk losing our way. In the first century, lions ate many Christians; today we are nibbled to death by political correctness.
[For more discussion on Orthodox Christianity, please refer to the book, I Am, the Great Creator God by Haven D. Mankin. Information about the book and how to obtain a copy is available at: http://www.MuskratBooks.com]