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Church History Scripture

Controversial Books of the Canon

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness”

II Timothy 3:16

This is 3rd of a 4-part series about the importance
of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition based on the the booklet


Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?

by Fr. A. James Bernstein

[To read the full unabridged booklet without comment from the author of this blog post, please do see the link above.]

Some books in the New Testament canon were not clearly or quickly received by the Church…

Controversial Books

  • The Syrian Church ignored for a time, the Epistles of John, 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation.
  • The Church of Egypt, as reflected in the second-century New Testament canon of Clement of Alexandria, included the “gospels” of the Hebrews, the Egyptians, and Matthias.
  • The Egyptian Church held the following books to be of Apostolic origin:
  • St. Irenaeus (second century), martyred Bishop of Lyons in Gaul, included the Revelation of Peter in his canon.
  • The Epistle to the Hebrews, was clearly excluded in the Western Church in a number of listings from the second, third, and fourth centuries.
  • The Book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse) written by the Apostle John, was not accepted in the Eastern Church for several centuries.
    • Among Eastern authorities who rejected Revelation (The Apocalypse) as canonical were:
      • Dionysius of Alexandria (third century)
      • Eusebius (third century)
      • Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century)
      • the Council of Laodicea (fourth century)
      • John Chrysostom (fourth century)
      • Theodore of Mopsuesta (fourth century)
      • Theodoret (fifth century)
    • In addition, the original Syriac and Armenian versions of the New Testament omitted Revelation (The Apocalypse).
    • Many Greek New Testament manuscripts written before the ninth century do not contain Revelation (The Apocalypse) and it is not used liturgically in the Eastern Church to this day.
    • Athanasius supported the inclusion of Revelation (The Apocalypse), and it is due primarily to his influence that it was eventually received into the New Testament canon in the East.
  • The early Church actually seems to have made an internal compromise on Revelation (The Apocalypse) and Hebrews:
    • The East would have excluded Revelation (The Apocalypse) from the canon, while the West would have done without Hebrews. [However both were ultimately received as canonical]. Simply put, each side agreed to accept the disputed book of the other.
  • Interestingly, the sixteenth-century father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, held that the New Testament books should be “graded” and that some were more inspired than others (i.e. that there is a “canon within the canon”). Luther gave secondary rank to Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation (The Apocalypse), placing them at the end of his translation of the New Testament.

Conclusion

It took over 300 years, but the Church eventually received the 27 books that make up the New Testament canon that we know today. The reception of the New Testament canon and the wisdom to recognize which books to venerate as Holy Scripture came through Holy Tradition by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

– Parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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