Who decided what books were included in the New Testament?

Recent books, movies and popular news reports have spread the idea of a group of church leaders meeting together to determine which of the many letters and gospels being passed around the early churches were actually authentic and Biblical. Some use this supposed meeting as proof of a conspiracy to reject certain gospels, redefine Christianity to maintain the importance of a privileged few or to exclude women from the leadership of the church. Despite the popular opinion and brash assertions by certain scholars, no such council, meeting or determination was ever held.

Possibly the most common depiction of this event accuses the council of Laodicea held in the 360’s (a council is a gathering of pastors and bishops from many churches to discuss important issues the churches were facing) of formulating a list of approved New Testament books. Copies of the Laodicea meeting notes do contain a list of New Testament books, but the inclusion of the list is very suspect. Many believe it was added in later. Even if the list is genuine, nothing in the council argued for or against the acceptance of books. No determination about which books were Biblical was made, all the council did was list the 66 books of the Bible.

Without a doubt the church council of Carthage in 397 did publish an official list of the books of the Old and New Testament. However, this list cannot be read as a determination on which books were to be included and which ones were not. The bishops did not argue about which books to include. They did not vote on which books to allow into the New Testament. They did not blackball some books from the New Testament. No church council ever created a list of New Testament books. Those councils which included a list of New Testament books were only identifying those books which the church already recognized as Biblical. They listed the books to help prevent controversies, but these pastoral meetings did not decide which books were Biblical.

To help put this in perspective, consider a couple other issues discussed by early church councils. The council of Nicea held in the early 300’s declared that Jesus is God. The council of Nicea did not devise the doctrine that Jesus’ deity and humanity were combined in one being, who is fully God and fully man. The council only affirmed the already existing Biblical teaching of Jesus’ humanity and Deity. Because of some who were spreading false teaching about Jesus, the church leaders had to address the issue in a council and issue an official statement for the benefit of the entire church. The council of Constantinople in the late 300’s had to address the Deity of the Holy Spirit. Once again, they did not gather together and create a new doctrine. They spelled out in brief and clear fashion what was already recognized Biblical doctrine. In the same fashion, no council determined which books would be in the Bible. At most the councils spelled out in a simple statement the list of books already recognized as genuine Scripture.

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When did the church decide Jesus is God?

From the same sources that brought us such startling news that Mary Magdalene is Jesus’ wife, the early church conspired to oppress women and the New Testament wasn’t written down until over one hundred years after Jesus’ death, we are demystified again by the declaration that at a strategic church council it was decided by the bishop’s present that Jesus actually was God. As the story goes in popular parlance, the disciples began to tell of how great a person Jesus was and the story grew and grew and grew until a few hundred years later people began to believe Jesus was God. Once people began believing this, certain church leaders met together, decided to make Jesus’ Deity the official doctrine of the church and declared a heretic anyone who doesn’t believe Jesus is God.

This story is spun because of one or two controversies in the early church around 300 AD, though in reality teachers opposed the deity of Jesus from the very earliest days of the church. The most noted controversy surrounded the teachings of a man named Arius. Arius was alive in the late 200’s and early 300’s. He taught that Jesus was not the eternal God, but was created by God at some point before the rest of creation. Arius’ errors led to the calling of the first historic church council, which met in Nicea. In that council the pastor’s cl arified the position of the church and condemned Arius as a false teacher and heretic. The Nicene creed declares that Jesus is, “not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

The Council of Nicea did not devise the doctrine of Jesus’ deity. They affirmed that which the church had believed all along. All of the New Testament is filled with the claim that Jesus is the Eternal God. From the claims of the disciples during Jesus’ life (“My Lord and my God.” -John 20:28), to the claims of Jesus during His ministry (“He said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” -John 5:18), to the teachings of the apostles Paul (“Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” -Romans 9:5) the testimony of the New Testament is unequivocal. Jesus is God. The church fathers did not create the doctrine of Jesus’ Deity, they upheld it as the truth of God.

Was Peter the Leader of the Disciples?

Peter is never identified in the Bible as the leader of the disciples. We have enough clues in the Bible about Peter’s personality to expect he was not going to be bashful or afraid to speak his mind on a matter. Peter was a leading figure among the disciples and the early church. Peter, with James and John, was a part of Jesus’ closest inner circle. Peter did play the role of leader on occasion. One example of Peter taking the leadership after Jesus’ death can be found in Acts 1. The disciples went back to Jerusalem after Jesus returned to heaven. The and over 100 others gathered together in prayer. While the 120 believers were together, Peter stood up and spoke about Judas’ betrayal and told them that they needed to appoint another to be the twelfth apostle in Judas’ place.

We then see Peter acting as the chief spokesman to the people of Jerusalem and the leadership of Israel. In Acts 2-6 Peter is in the forefront of all the events that happened in the first few years of church history. Peter is unmistakeably an important figure in the history of the church. Peter is the one who God chose to send to the house of Cornelius to first preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter was one of the two apostles sent to Samaria when Philip preached the gospel among the Samaritans. Peter was imprisoned for his boldness in preaching the gospel. He did great miracles as part of his apostolic ministry. Peter was a leading apostle, but he was not the leader of the apostles.

We know of several occasions in the Bible when Peter was not treated as the chief apostle. When the church in Jerusalem appointed a pastor, they did not pick Peter. They chose the apostle James. When James was beheaded by Herod, the church picked another man. They again passed by Peter to choose James the brother of Jesus. When a great controversy sprang up in the church, Paul sternly and publicly rebuked Peter for his actions in the matter. Later, when a group of elders and apostles met together to discuss the issue, Peter was not the leader. He spoke but it was Jesus’ brother James that led the church in making the right decision.

Peter can be found as one of the leaders among the disciples and in the early church through most of the gospels and the first part of the book of Acts. However, after Acts 12, which is about 15 years after the church began, Peter drops out of the history of the building of the church. He appears one more time in the book of Acts and that’s it. Peter is the author of two books of the Bible, 1 and 2 Peter, both written to Jewish believers. After the book of Acts, Peter is only mentioned one other place in the New Testament, and that reference is far from a positive one. If Peter was the leader of the apostles, one would expect him to show up more often in the later New Testament history of the church. It would be wrong of us to assume that any one of the apostles was considered their leader. They were men gathered together in allegiance to Jesus and followed His commands to go into the whole world telling of Him. Peter was a leading figure, but he was not the leader. He was one of a group of men used by God to start His church and spread His gospel across the globe.

Was Mary Magdalene a disciple?

The recent Bible miniseries that showed on cable television and it’s sequel, the movie Son of God, gave the very definite idea that Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus twelve disciples. She is seen with Jesus shortly after the calling of Peter and then is visible with Him throughout his journeys and during His years of ministry. She is give as much importance in the film as any of the disciples. Was Mary a disciple? Did she travel with Jesus during His ministry? Was she there among the twelve as another close disciple of Jesus?

The gospels give absolutely no indication that Mary traveled around, participated in Jesus ministry or sat under His long term teaching. Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus. She was probably one of the 120 disciples that gathered together after Jesus’ death and resurrection. She was probably part of the first church in Jerusalem. We know she was one of the ladies who went to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning and found it empty. She was one of the ladies who first told the disciples about the resurrection. She was the first person to see Jesus after He was restored to life. Mary Magdalene was definitely one of those who loved Jesus and worshiped Him as God the Savior.

However, Mary Magdalene was not a disciple. The Bible gives us a definite list of the twelve disciples. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts each give a list of the disciples. Mary is not mentioned in any of those lists. Mary isn’t mentioned in the next anywhere close to those lists. Instead, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in only three Biblical scenes. Mary Magdalene first shows up in the gospels about a year and half into Jesus’ ministry. She is not in the picture for at least the first half of Jesus’ public ministry. The earliest reference to Mary is in Luke 8:2-3. She is part of a group of ladies that provided food for Jesus as He preached throughout Galilee. The only other direct references to Mary Magdalene are found in connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection. She is most likely a part of the group of believing women mentioned in Acts 1. Aside from this, we have no other direct information about Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene loved and served Jesus. He healed her, driving seven demons out of her. She worshiped Him and believed Him to be God and the promised Savior. She was not one of the twelve. She had no special position or relationship with Jesus other than that held by every Christian.

Why are there so many different kinds of churches?

In my small community one can readily find a wide selection of churches are fitting into the broad category of Christian. Within a 20 mile radius serving a population of less than 5,000 people there is a Bible Church, a Methodist Church, a Pentecostal Church, a Foursquare Gospel Church, an Episcopal Church, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Presbyterian church, two Baptist Churches, two Lutheran churches and a Congregational Church. I may have missed some, but you get the idea. There are a lot of different kinds of churches in our small community. In larger communities there are even more churches with an even greater variety of denominations.

Why do we have so many churches? The reason is simple, each church believes differently than the others. Even between those sharing the same denominational name (like Baptist or Lutheran), different churches have significant differences. The differences vary, some churches have more in common than others, but all have noticeable differences from all the rest. The differences between the churches are not just differences of outward forms and denominations. The differences between the churches are differences between what is being taught about the Bible, salvation, Jesus, God and other things. These differences are very, very important.

While I think most of the churches described as Christian would use similar descriptions of their beliefs, they really don’t believe the same things. Sometimes the differences are hidden under the same word. All may teach that you have to be saved, but they do not all teach that salvation is received in the same way. Some may teach salvation is acquired by asking Jesus for forgiveness, being baptized, attending church and participating in the sacraments. Some may teach salvation is acquired by asking Jesus for forgiveness and being baptized. Some may teach salvation is acquired just by being baptized. Some may teach salvation is acquired just by asking Jesus for forgiveness. Some may teach that you are not really saved if you don’t speak in tongues. Some may teach you are not really saved if you don’t observe the Sabbath. Some may teach that God loves everyone and that in the end everyone is going to get saved. Though all can say that you must be saved through Jesus, they are not all saying the same thing about how salvation is received. What the churches teach on salvation are obviously not the same. These differences cannot be glossed over under a fine gilt of “we all love Jesus”. If one church teaches that to be saved you must trust in Jesus and be baptized that teaching directly contradicts the church that teaches that to be saved you must trust in Jesus alone.

The reality is, there is already a genuine division between the churches that cannot be papered over by ignoring the differences. The differences are significant, not mere semantics, which is why there are so many different kinds of churches.

Was Paul Married

No. Paul was not married. We know this from 1 Corinthians 7:7-8. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul discusses several questions the church had about marriage and singleness. In that discussion he tells them, “I would that all men were even as I myself. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” Paul is stating that he is single. Paul is not giving a command to never get married. Paul goes on in that chapter to teach that it is not wrong to get married, and if one is already married they should not leave their spouse. In other books Paul highly praises marriage and teaches some of the most wonderful truths about marriage. Paul is not giving a command that church leaders should remain single. In the book of 1 Timothy Paul teaches that pastors should be “the husband of one wife” and later Paul says teaching that forbids marriage is a “doctrine of devils”. Paul does not place any restriction against marriage for those who are church leaders. If anything, it seems preferable for the pastor to be married. Paul himself was single and recommended singleness as a great way to serve the Lord, but singleness is not required of anyone by the Bible.