Understanding and Using the Bible
By What Authority?
The first Christians were Jewish and used what we now refer to as the Old Testament as their Bible. The Church didn’t agree the shape and content of the New Testament until the Council of Nicea in 325. They kept the Old Testament as it was the Bible that Jesus and the apostles would have known and was believed to foretell the long-promised Messiah.
The books that were recognised as being authoritative in what we now call the New Testament were related to one or other of the Apostles; this apostolic link is what gave them authority.
So Matthew’s Gospel was deemed to have been written by Jesus’ disciple, Matthew. Mark was seen to be linked with Peter in Rome. Luke was seen to be another disciple and John was identified with the “beloved disciple” of Jesus. Acts was written by Luke and the various letters were attributed to, mainly, Paul and four other apostles – James, John, Peter and James. There was some debate about Revelation but there was some sense that the writer was also the writer of John’s Gospel.
Current Biblical scholarship would dispute much of these traditional attributions. Other gospels and letters were circulating around the Early Church. You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas or the Epistle of Clement. These didn’t get into the New Testament for a variety of reasons. Some of them taught theology which was at odds with the Christian faith – with especially odd views of women – some of them weren’t linked to the original apostles and so were seen to have less authority.
The Church, therefore, had to decide which books were authoritative and they did so based on their links, real or supposed, with Jesus’ first apostles. Even as late at the 16th Century the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, who wanted to stress the supremacy of Scripture as a source of authority wanted to remove the Epistle of James from the New Testament as he disagreed with its authority!
Read on to "Scripture".