How the New Testament Came to Be

There are many articles, books and television specials today about supposed new books of the New Testament that were supposedly suppressed by the church authorities and only now discovered.  Somehow these new gospels and epistles cast doubt on the rest of the New Testament.  Conspiracy theories abound about whether the early church tried to suppress certain gospels and epistles to allow only certain political views to be expressed.

When one looks at some of these newly discovered books, one discovers they portray a Jesus that is out of character.  He has human frailties, or we see a side of him never before portrayed–things we would almost certainly have seen at least a hint about if they were true.

Just as the tabloid press exists today, it existed then.  What would we think if a thousand years from now a story emerged that Hillary Clinton raised an alien baby in the white house, but it must have  been killed because it was never heard of as an adult.  That is tabloid news.  It existed in the early centuries of this Christian era as well.  Gospels that claimed little Jesus got revenge on his friends, or worked silly miracles to amuse the neighbors are all are out of character for Jesus.

The New Testament wasn’t composed by an editorial board determined to decide orthodoxy.  The books of the New Testament were included based on certain criteria, the biggest one being their acceptance by a majority of the early churches.  If a book had widespread acceptance, it was accepted into the canon (contents) of the New Testament.  If it was only being used in one or two churches, it wasn’t accepted.  The books used also had to be connected to an apostle in some way.  However, there weren’t any books widely used in the churches that did not also have that connection.  Therefore, when books were written  later, and not very widely accepted, they simply weren’t included.  People were writing books for money and fame, even then.  And then, as now, sensationalism sold.

So today’s conspiracy theories about important gospels being left out of the New Testament are just that–conspiracy theories.  They sell books and get names mentioned. And the agenda of some of the theorists is to cast doubt on the whole bible and Christian faith.  Whatever their reasons for that, it isn’t based on what the process of the New Testament formation really was.


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