The church father Athansius wrote an Easter letter in AD 367 that listed all of the 27 books that we find in our New Testament. The Council of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393) and the Third Council of Carthage (AD 397) affirmed these same 27 books.
How did the early church come to choose which books should be included in the canon of the New Testament? The criteria were fourfold: apostolicity, antiquity, orthodoxy, and ecclesiastical usage.
Apostolicity: Was a book written by an apostle? This would be the case for all books in the New Testament except for Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, James, and Jude. For these books, however, though their authors were not apostles, they were closely associated with the apostles in some way. Mark worked with Peter (1 Pet 5:13) and Paul (1 Tim 4:11). Luke traveled with Paul (notice he says “we” in Acts; e.g., 16:11; 20:6; 21:1). The author of Hebrews knew Timothy (Heb 13:23) and sounded “Pauline” in his theology. James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus (Matt 13:55).
Antiquity: Was the book written during the time of the apostles? If not, it was not included. This criterion excluded later writings such The Shepherd of Hermas and The Gospel of Thomas.
Orthodoxy: Did the content of a book conform to books that were already accepted as Scripture? The early church debated whether or not to include letters such as Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. However, because the context of these books did not contradict the other books of the New Testament, the church accepted them in time.
Ecclesiastical Usage: Was the book helpful to the church as a whole? If the book was helpful to the church as a whole, its use was widespread.
No one criterion was enough to include a book. The 27 books of the New Testament meet all of the criteria above, and God providentially led the church to recognize these books in time. God preserved them for the church because of their necessary instruction (2 Tim 4:2; cf. 1 Tim 3:15), ongoing authority (John 10:35), and promised permanence (Matt 24:35).
It would have been wonderful if Adam and Eve had never sinned and we all still lived in the Garden of Eden today. At the same time, Adam and Eve would probably point us to Revelation 21–22 and tell us that as good as Eden was, something better is yet to come. The apostle John describes this “something better” as the New Heaven and New Earth, which is home to the New Jerusalem. We could call all of this the New Creation. One of the ways we see New Creation as better than Eden is by comparing the similarities between the two.
For me, one of the most interesting similarities between the two is the tree of life. The tree of life was planted “in the midst of the garden” of Eden (Gen 2:9), right next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (also Gen 2:10). It seems Adam and Eve never ate from the tree of life. This assumption is based on the fact that God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden after they sinned so that they would not eat from the tree of life in their sinful condition (Gen 3:22–24). Had they done so, they would have lived forever in a state of spiritual death.
Adam and Eve and all of God’s children will eat from the tree of life in the New Creation, and those who eat from this tree have eternal life (Rev 2:7; 22:2; cf. Gen 3:22–24). Every month this tree bears twelve kinds of fruit, and it has leaves that heal the nations once ravaged by Satan (Rev 22:2; cf. 20:8). The tree of life is also described as being on “either side of the river” that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. This description could mean the title “the tree of life” is a collective term and refers to a number of trees that line the banks of this river, all of which are found “in the middle of the street of the city” (Rev 22:2).
We could briefly point out other similarities as well. Similar to the river that flows from the heavenly throne in the new creation (Rev 22:2), Eden also had a garden that flowed out of its midst (Gen 2:10). The land surrounding Eden was good for gold and precious stones (Gen 2:11–12), but the very streets and structure of the New Jerusalem are made up of clear gold and precious stones like nothing we have seen before (Rev 21:9–27). Eden was affected by the curse (Gen 3:14–24), but the curse will be no longer (Rev 22:3). Adam and Eve occasionally walked with God in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8, 10), but we will always see the face of God and worship Him forever (Rev 22:5).
As good as Eden was, the New Creation will be even better. Praise God for His salvation and the perfect fellowship we will have with Him in time to come!
A recurring theme in 1 and 2 Timothy is how these false teachers and their heresies affected women. We see this theme come up in at least three ways.
First, some women disdained marriage and refused to remarry (1 Tim 5:14–15). This disdain for remarriage likely stemmed from false teachers’ heresy of forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:1–3). The church needed to be reminded that God created marriage as good and as something for which to be thankful (1 Tim 4:4–5).
Second, other women were weak in their faith and were led astray by sinful passions. Their downfall took place in part by the sinful encouragement of false teachers who took advantage of them (2 Tim 3:1–7). These false teachers and women should have been like Timothy who followed Paul’s teaching and example of godliness (2 Tim 3:10–12).
Third, some women were attempting to teach and exercise authority over men, something Paul forbade (1 Tim 2:11–14), but the heresy behind these actions is not as clear as what we have seen described above. It is possible that this heresy was similar to what Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians 15. It seems the Corinthians thought that the resurrection was complete since it was only spiritual in nature and would not include a physical resurrection in the future (1 Cor 15:12). If this was the case, they would have seen marriage and gender roles as insignificant, perhaps because they exaggerated the fact that people will not be married or given in marriage after the resurrection (Matt 22:30).
Ephesus knew this same type of heresy. The false teachers Hymenaeus and Philetus taught the resurrection had already taken place (2 Tim 2:18). This heresy may have been present earlier before Paul wrote 1 Timothy. If so, we may be able to see why gender roles would have been dismissed and why women would have felt the right to teach and exercise authority over the church. If they thought the resurrection was complete in every way, they may have also assumed that how men and women were relate to each other had changed as well.
Whatever their reasoning may have been, Paul answered this dilemma in two ways from Genesis 1–3. First, God created man and then woman (Gen 2:18–25). This order implied that Adam was the head of the home and that Eve was created to be his helpmeet. This male headship was to be reflected in authority structure of the church as well (1 Tim 2:13). Second, when Eve exercised headship over Adam, sin was the result (Gen 3:1–7), an illustration of what could take place when men and women do not follow the roles that God has given them (1 Tim 2:14).
Heresy creeps into the church in many ways. The false teachers in Ephesus especially took advantage of women. Let us all be on our guard to watch our lives and doctrine for the sake of our own salvation and others (1 Tim 4:16).
Discipleship involves teaching one another to observe all that Christ commands us to do (Matt 28:20). This takes place through the formal preaching and teaching of God’s Word when the assembly has gathered together. The New Testament illustrates other ways that discipleship can take place as well.
One such illustration is how Paul discipled Aquila and Priscilla. While in Corinth, Paul found this couple and “stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:3). They ministered together in Corinth where Paul taught them and the believers in Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:11). One can easily assume that Paul had many conversations with them about God’s Word while making tents together. They were privileged to hear his teaching as well. In short, they were discipled.
After this, Paul traveled with Aquila and Priscilla to Ephesus, left the couple there, and continued his travels (Acts 20:18–23). At this point, we see another illustration of personal discipleship. Aquila and Priscilla heard some bold preaching by a man named Apollos. He was eloquent, knew the Scriptures well, and spoke with great fervency (Acts 18:24–25). However, his knowledge of Christ was incomplete. Aquila and Priscilla “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Briefly put, they discipled him. And what was the result? He showed from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah and “greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:24–28).
We can never do without the regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word. We must also remember, however, that discipleship is personal and can take place apart from the weekly assembly of believers. Who are you discipling today?
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.