If the early Christians decided they needed writings by apostles to provide them guidance in what it meant to follow Jesus – what to believe, how to act, what rituals to follow, how to understand them, etc. – how did they decide? Which writings were they going to include? And which exclude?
I continue here my reflections on how we got the 27 books of the New Testament, some preliminary thoughts as I consider how to write a book on the topic down the road.
How Decisions Were Made
Early church communities, leaders, and individuals accepted and appealed to a range texts written by apostolic authorities. Some Christians revered the Gospel of Thomas, which maintained that it was the secret teachings of Jesus, not his death, that could bring salvation. Other Christians accepted the divine revelation found in one of the Apocalypses of Peter (not the one I described earlier) in which Peter narrates his own most peculiar vision of the crucifixion. It is a puzzling scene that is difficult to imagine. The man Jesus and the divine Christ are imagined as separate beings who had been temporarily united during Jesus’ ministry. But at the crucifixion the divine Christ left the man Jesus to experience his excruciating pain alone; Peter sees Christ floating above the cross (that Jesus is hanging on) laughing at his enemies who think they can hurt him (a divine being!). Other Christians revered more clearly orthodox “apostolic” writings, such as the letter of Barnabas, which insisted that Jews had been misled by an evil angel to think that the law of Moses was to be followed literally, and so from the very beginning (the time of Moses) Jews had always practiced a false religion: only followers of Jesus knew what the Jewish Scriptures really meant.
There were lots of books widely available, attesting views that most modern readers would consider very odd indeed. But they seem odd only because
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