Constantine, Conspiracy, and the Canon

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Dan Brown’s bestselling conspiratorial thriller The Da Vinci Code appears like ancient history now. At its peak of recognition, the novel set records each for sales and for irritating scholars with its view that Jesus and the 12 apostles held to gnostic heresies. The book’s bizarre plot focuses on Jesus’ bloodline extending via a kid born by Mary Magdalene. Inside that narrative, Brown asserts that the New Testament canon was determined by the Roman Emperor Constantine—who was not friendly to gnostic Christianity—at a time substantially later (fourth century AD) than any New Testament scholar would endorse. However, this myth has given that taken on a life of its personal.

The notion that Constantine decided which books must constitute the New Testament springs from the ancient Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263–339). Eusebius reports that in a letter written in ad 331, the emperor instructed him to

… order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on ready parchment in a legible manner, and in a practical, transportable type, by expert transcribers completely practiced in their art.

This exact same Constantine had earlier convened the Council of Nicea (AD 325), well-known for its concentrate on the complete deity of Christ against Arianism, which taught that Jesus was a produced becoming. Brown carelessly conflated the two events in The Da Vinci Code to place forth the preposterous thought that Constantine had decided at Nicea which books belonged in the New Testament. But can we be positive this didn’t occur? And if not, what precisely did Constantine demand in this letter?

We can be specific that the Council of Nicea did not decide the books of the New Testament at Constantine’s request. The date of Eusebius’ correspondence tells us that Nicea did not take into consideration the concern of the canon.

Now, any individual can study the 20 choices rendered at Nicea (coincidentally named “canons”). None of them issues the New Testament Scriptures. In addition, accounts of what occurred at Nicea had been described by various early Church historians and theologians who lived at the time of the occasion or shortly thereafter. Their testimony is unanimous in opposition to the thought that Constantine determined the books of the New Testament.

So what did Constantine want? Through the initially various centuries of the early Church, the concern of which books had been to be viewed as sacred and authoritative was uncertain. A number of early lists of sacred books have been recovered, as have records of rejected books. Constantine’s order brought the difficulty to a point of selection. As soon as the emperor commanded copies of the sacred books to be distributed, early Church leaders had been forced to generate the item that required to be copied. The outcome was a minimalist consensus canon—books viewed as authoritative by the vast majority of Christian leaders all through the empire. Books consistently disputed or currently rejected had been therefore set aside in faith that the Holy Spirit had effectively enlightened his believing Church to attain consensus.

We hold that consensus New Testament in our hands now.

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why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Application. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught lots of Mobile Ed courses, which includes Difficulties in Biblical Interpretation: Tricky Passages I.

This report is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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