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Update: Myth of Black Athanasius
See ancient maps of "Africa". Was Athanasius an "African" bishop? We must be careful to read history AS IS rather than making history fit our modern world.

CH101 - The Third Century

The Expansion of the Church, 202 - 303 A.D.

Outline:
The Severan Persecution
Clement of Alexandria
Origen of Alexandria
The Decian Persecution
Cyprian, Bishops and Pope
New Testament Canon, Part 5
The Issue of the Trinity
The Church Prospers
Key People:
Clement-Alexandria
Origen-Alexandria
Cyprian-Carthage
Sabellius-Libya
Paul-Samosata
Emperor Diocletian
Key Documents:
Protrepticus-The Exhortation
Paidagogus-The Tutor
Stromateis-Miscellanies
On First Principles
Contra Celsum
On the Lapsed
On the Unity of the Church

Canon of the New Testament, Part 5

The NT Canon in the Third and Fourth Centuries
By the third century there is a noticeable increase in citations from the "inspired" writings that eventually become the New Testament, and far less citations from works that do not make it into the New Testament. The most prolific third century writers are Tertullian (already mentioned), Hippolytus of Rome, Origen of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage.

An explosion of Christian literature comes in the fourth century with Lactantius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, and the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus), John Chrysostom, Jerome, Rufinus, and the great Augustine of Hippo (his Confessions was written in 396-97 AD). All of these writers illustrate how the New Testament had become settled with thousands of citations from the 27 "inspired" writings and fewer citations outside that list.

The Official Canon
Many people think the New Testament writings were agreed upon at the Council of Nicea. There were 20 canons (church rules) voted on at Nicea - none dealt with sacred writings. The first historical reference listing the exact 27 writings in the orthodox New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 AD. His reference states that these are the only recognized writings to be read in a church service. The first time a church council ruled on the list of "inspired" writings allowed to be read in church was at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD. No document survived from this council - we only know of this decision because it was referenced at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD. Even this historical reference from Carthage, Canon 24, does not "list" every single document. For example, it reads, "the gospels, four books…" The only reason for this list is to confirm which writings are "sacred" and should be read in a church service. There is no comment as to why and how this list was agreed upon.

Conclusion
The New Testament developed, or evolved, over the course of the first 250-300 years of Christian history. No one particular person made the decision. The decision was not made at a church council. The particular writings that became those of the New Testament gradually came into focus and became the most trusted and beneficial of all the early Christian writings.

If you would like to use this article in a class or have it in a printer-friendly format:
download the paper.

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Third Century Church History
3rd Century Church Heresies
Severe Roman Persecution of Christians
Third Century Christian Baptism
Third Century Bishops
Third Century Church Fathers
3rd Century Christianity
Clement of Alexandria and Heresy
Clement of Alexandria and The Instructor
3rd Century Fathers - Christianity
Clement of Alexandria
Origen of Alexandria
Decian Persecutions
Cyprian on The Lapsed
Bishop Cyprian - Novatians
Cyprian - Lapsed Christians
Clement of Alexandria and Prayer
Clement of Alexandria and Prayer
Third Century Christian History
The Trinity in the 3rd Century
Paidagogus - Stromateis - Miscellanies
Origen - De Principii - Principles
Paul of Samosata - Trinity
New Testament Canon, Canonized
Questions regarding Christian Issues
Clement of Alexandria and The Trinity
Clement of Alexandria and Contemplation
Third Century Christian Issues
Diocletian Persecution of Christians
Diocletian Persecutes Early Church
Novatian Baptism - Cyprian of Carthage
Early Christianity New Testament
Early Christianity Constantine and War
Important Issues in Early Christianity
Clement of Alexandria and Stromateis
Stromata, Miscellanies or Stromateis