Over the last few months, we’ve looked at a number of tests used by Christians to determine what we accept as Scripture. This week, we’ll continue this theme as we take a look at the Test of Authenticity. Why does authenticity matter? Quite simply because it is the eye-witnesses (like Matthew and John) and those who were close to them (like Luke and Mark) who were in the best position to describe what Jesus actually taught. They saw the events for themselves and were closely associated with the person of whom they spoke. More importantly, as Apostles or those close to the Apostles, they were privy not just to Jesus’ public teachings, but also to what He had to say in private. As such, they were uniquely qualified to purvey His doctrine to other followers not just in Judea, but around the world.
That isn’t to say that accurate accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings couldn’t or didn’t originate from those who weren’t Apostles. Indeed, there are a number of excellent accounts from the time period, not all of which were provided by followers of “The Way”. When it comes to establishing the doctrines of the Church, however, Christians are and were concerned with ensuring that the teaching came from someone with Apostolic authority.
Verifying authorship and date of composition is relatively easy when copies of “Scriptural” books are confined to a limited geographic area, such as the region of Judea (as was the case with most of the Old Testament). Add in the rest of the world, however, and confirming the origin of a text becomes a challenge. Though all 27 books of the New Testament were written within 70 years of Christ’s death, writings like these were copied and sent to churches individually and not every congregation in the early Church had copies of every document. Most churches subjected new writings to serious scrutiny (using the previously discussed tests) before accepting the documents as authoritative. Books like James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John and Revelation, were not immediately embraced by all Christian congregations and, as a result, decades passed before the New Testament officially stood as it does today.
The Church would later face similar difficulties when it came to verifying the authenticity of Old Testament writings as well. The Alexandrian Jewish Diaspora had an edition of the Scriptures which contained numerous works which did not pass the authentication process utilized by the Orthodox Judean Jews. While some Christians accepted these apocryphal books, others rejected them outright.
While these “hidden” or “secret” books contained material pertaining to this time, they were eventually excluded for a number of reasons varying from lack of authenticity (as found in additions made to Daniel and Esther long after the events in their volumes supposedly occurred) to scientific inaccuracies (as found in 2 Esdras, Tobit, and Judith) to contradictions with other Scripture (such as found in 2 Esdras, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) or simple historical inaccuracies (as those manifested in Baruch). Indeed, Jerome (one of the early Church fathers) struggled with the idea of including these texts in his Latin translation known today as the Vulgate and did so only with deep reservations.
That said, if you want a broader understanding of varying Christian traditions, all of these make for excellent reading. Most High School students should be able to pick out the reasons for their exclusion from the evangelical tradition and, if they think carefully, the reasons for their inclusion in other traditions.
Next week, we’ll take a look at one final test applied to determining whether a text qualifies for a place among the Holy Writ: The Test of Value. Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts and discoveries in the comment box below!