Historical Jesus Part 3: Politics of the New Testament Canon


Next, Onfray questions the validity of the process that went into creating what we know as the New Testament canon. Onfray asks, “Why were some texts left out.” He responds with the following: “Who put together the corpus and decided on the canon? The church, its councils, and its synods toward the end of the fourth century of our era.” [Onfray, In Defense of Atheism, 127.]

Onfray’s understanding of canon formation is poorly understood. The New Testament as we know it today was fairly complete by the end of the second century, which is one hundred years prior to the life of Constantine, who played a key role in organizing the first church councils and synods. And, the final works that were included in the New Testament were readily understood, in the first and second century, to be written by someone who could have been alive during the time of Jesus. Thus, the final canon was considered to be as accurate as possible.

The formal canonization of this already accepted package of writing came at the Council of Hippo in Africa in 393. The Synod of Cartage in 397 listed the New Testament books in the order that ours are in today. And, the final canon was reaffirmed in 419 at the Council of Carthage. The Gospels and Paul’s writings were never disputed. Some books were debated, but they were not debated based on political motivations. They were debated based on their Catholicity and value to the truth of the Church. This conflicts with Onfray’s version of events considerably. Why doubt Onfray’s version? With two councils and a synod separately documenting and validating the same list that had been used for quite some time, it makes it quite difficult to ignore this evidence. Councils and synods were convened for special purposes and their findings were documented quite meticulously. It would be quite difficult to forget these results, especially when considered against one another and against the multiple sources that exist to attest each individual council or synod. So, the overwhelming evidence dismisses Onfray’s claim in this regard.

Up next: “Contradictions and Improbabilities

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