“You should know how to behave in the household of God,
which is the church of the living God,
the pillar and foundation of truth.”
First Letter of Paul to Timothy 3:15
The point of origin and central figure of the Christian faith is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This page reviews the transmission of the Christian faith from Jesus Christ and the Apostles through the Traditions of the early Christian Church and the formation of the Canon of the New Testament of the Bible.
God has revealed himself to man through Divine Revelation. The Father accomplished the “mystery of his will” by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10). God chose to reveal himself to us so that we may become partakers of his divine nature (Second Peter 1:4). God first made himself known by creating our first parents, Adam and Eve, in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). Following the Fall of Adam and Eve through original sin, God’s promise of Redemption gave mankind the hope of salvation (Genesis 3:15). In preparing for the redemption of the human race, God made covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the people and prophets of Israel. Salvation history is fulfilled through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh.
Our appropriate personal response in our relationship with Christ Jesus is what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5, 16:26)!
There were three stages in the formation of the Gospels: the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, the Oral Tradition of the Apostles, and the Written Word.
THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF JESUS CHRIST
Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry when he was about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23). He called his first four Apostles, Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John (Mark 1:16-20), and then formed the Twelve. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) gave us the Beatitudes, affirmed the Ten Commandments of God, and taught us the prayer of hope, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Golden Rule. He taught the Apostles through parables and performed miracles. Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth (John 1:14), is the mediator and fullness of all revelation.
Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper and directed his Twelve Apostles (Luke 22:19) to “Do this in memory of me.”
Jesus Christ suffered and died on the Cross for our Redemption. Following his Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days instructing his Apostles and speaking about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3) prior to his Ascension. He informed them that they will “receive power from the Holy Spirit” to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Paschal Mystery of Christ refers to his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, through which he accomplished our salvation. Christ’s life and teachings formed the Faith and Oral Tradition of his Apostles and disciples, and inspired them to hand on his message of salvation to future generations.
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
Gospel of Mark 8:34-36
And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them
in all the scriptures the things referring to himself.
Gospel of Luke 24:27
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs,
appearing to them for forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
Acts of the Apostles 1:3
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness,
but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Second Letter of Peter 3:8-9
THE ORAL TRADITION OF THE APOSTLES
The Holy Spirit appeared at Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension of Jesus, to the Apostles and disciples in the Upper Room, and inspired them to proclaim the faith (Acts 1:13-2:4). The Twelve Apostles at the Pentecost were Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Nathaniel Bartholomew, James son of Alpheus, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Matthias. There were about one hundred and twenty persons gathered together in the Upper Room. This community of disciples of Jesus was the beginning of our Church. The Oral Tradition of the Apostles was established in the infancy period of the Church, from the time of Jesus to the written Gospels. During this period the Christian faith was transmitted by word of mouth (Romans 10:14-15).
The Levant, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, served as the cradle of Christianity. The Acts of the Apostles describe the emergence of Christianity beginning with the mission in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and spreading throughout the Mediterranean world to Asia, Africa, and Europe. St. Luke portrays the actions of the Apostles and disciples, focusing primarily on Peter, upon whom Jesus created his Church, and Paul, who was converted when he (Saul) saw the risen Christ. Acts describes Peter’s early leadership and ministry, such as his four powerful speeches in Jerusalem (Acts 2-5), the healings of Aeneas and Tabitha (Acts 9), his mission to the Gentile Cornelius and return to Jerusalem (Acts 10-12), and his presiding at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Peter went to Antioch, Syria (Galatians 2:11) and then became the first Bishop of Rome. Mark the Evangelist joined St. Peter in Rome (First Peter 5:13) and later established the Coptic Church of Alexandria, Egypt in northern Africa. Philip baptized the treasurer of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:26-38). Following his conversion (Acts 9:1-9), Saul first preached in Damascus, Syria, traveled to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus where he stayed for three years (Galatians 1:17-18). Barnabas and Saul took the first missionary journey from Antioch to Cyprus, where Saul was named Paul (Acts 13:9). Barnabas returned to Cyprus (Acts 15:39) and founded the Church of Cyprus. During Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:7-12), the Spirit of Jesus redirected Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy to Philippi in Macedonia, a journey which was the first recorded introduction of Christianity into Europe! Paul returned to Ephesus in Asia Minor on his third missionary journey, where he spent a total of three years (Acts 20:31), but also revisited Macedonia and Greece in Europe, traveling as far as Dalmatia or “Illyricum” (Romans 15:19). Paul’s two disciples, Timothy and Titus, were assigned as Church administrators, Timothy to Ephesus and Titus to Crete. The Acts of the Apostles concludes with Paul’s Mediterranean voyage on his fourth missionary journey to Malta and Rome as a prisoner in chains.
The Apostles, heeding the message of Jesus Christ to Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), fulfilled their mission by traveling East and West during the Apostolic Age to all parts of the known world to proclaim Christianity. Andrew, Peter’s brother, evangelized Byzantium and Greece, appointed Stachys (Romans 16:9) the first Bishop of Byzantium, and was crucified in Patras, Greece. Andrew is known as the Father of the Byzantine Churches. James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John, is believed to have preached in Spain; he is the only Apostle to have his martyrdom recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, was the “one Jesus loved.” He is called the Theologian for his mystical writings – the Gospel of John, three Letters, and the Book of Revelation. Christ on the Cross entrusted his mother Mary to John (John 19:26-27), who took her with him to Ephesus; he was later exiled to the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9). James, son of Alphaeus, stayed in Jerusalem and is believed to be the writer of the Letter of James in the Bible. Tradition has it that Matthew preached among the Hebrews and wrote his Gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic. Philip preached the Gospel in Phrygia and was martyred in Hierapolis, Asia Minor. Nathaniel, Son of Talmay, or in Aramaic Nathaniel Bartholomew, taught the Way in Armenia. Jude Thaddeus, the author of the Letter of Jude, spread the faith to Edessa, Syria and then evangelized Armenia. Bartholomew and Jude Thaddeus are the Patron Saints of the Apostolic Church of Armenia. Thomas Didymus, or Thomas the Twin, is known as Doubting Thomas for questioning the Lord’s Resurrection. But when he put his hand in the Lord’s side, he reacted with a beautiful profession of faith: “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28). Thomas traveled through Chaldea and Persia all the way to India! He is recognized as the Father of the St. Thomas Christian Churches.
And I say also unto thee, that ‘thou art Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Gospel of Matthew 16:18-19
For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people;
and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.
Acts of the Apostles 11:26
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Letter of Paul to the Romans 10:14-15
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26
THE WRITTEN WORD
In order to fulfill Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations, some Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to the written Word. It is believed that the first Christian Letters were composed by St. Paul in the mid-first century AD.
Apostolic writings were considered Scripture in the early Church. Second Peter 3:15-16 refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture. Since no original manuscript by the author of a biblical book has yet been discovered, we cannot truly say when Apostolic writings were actually composed. An important observation is that not one Christian writer recorded the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Matthew 24:1, Mark 13:1, and Luke 21:5-6 recount the prediction of the destruction of the Temple. According to the prologue of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel of Luke was written before Acts. It is noted that Acts ended abruptly with St. Paul under house arrest around 62 AD, with no mention of his trial or his subsequent activities. Furthermore, Luke did not mention the Roman persecution of Christians or the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in the mid-60s, the leading figures in Acts.
Mention of Apostolic writings began to appear with the approach of the second century. The Apostolic Fathers were the next generation of Church leaders who received the Faith directly from the Apostles. St. Clement (Philippians 4:3), the Bishop of Rome in his Epistle to Corinth in 96 AD, referred to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians (47). St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven Letters circa 110 AD on the road to martyrdom in Rome and was one of the first to distinguish between the writings of the prophets and the Gospel; he often referred to the sayings of Matthew. A disciple of the Apostle John, St. Polycarp became the Bishop of Smyrna in the second century AD and quoted the writings of Peter, Paul, and John. St. Justin Martyr placed the memoirs of the Apostles on equal footing with the writings of the Prophets in 155 AD.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that believing you may have life in his name.
Gospel of John 20:30-31
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Second Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians 2:15
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life – for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us –
what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
First Letter of John 1:1-4
Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,
for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.
Second Letter of Peter 1:20-21
THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The heart of Christian tradition and the Christian way of life is Jesus Christ.
The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23, Colossians 1:18) and provides continuity for the Word of God.
Transmission of the Christian faith was dependent on Traditions in the Early Christian Church, which included the Memorial of the Last Supper – the Divine Liturgy or Mass with the celebration of the Eucharist or Communion, on Sunday the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10), and Prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, a profession of faith during Baptism.
The early Christian Church fell under intense persecution throughout the Roman Empire, beginning with Nero in 64 AD. But it was the powerful witness of Christian martyrdom that led to continued expansion of the faith.
The fish became a symbol of the Christian faith, adorning the catacombs and early Christian Churches. In a time when professing the Christian faith was an invitation to death, the fish became a secret code to introduce one Christian to another. One Christian would draw a curve representing half of the symbol, and the other one would complete the cryptic symbol by drawing the second curve (see image).
The fish captures the central meaning, the essential creed of the Christian faith, for the Greek word for fish is ιχθυς or ichthus, an acronym or acrostic for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
The statement “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” captures both the person of Christ and his mission. Who Christ is, the Son of God, and His mission, Savior, are both expressed by the ancient symbol of the fish.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Syria circa 110 AD described the transmission of the Christian faith through the bishop, priest (presbyter), and deacon, who received their authority through Apostolic succession. The possession of sacred texts in times of persecution could mean discovery, imprisonment, and death. Also, it was common for people of that time to be illiterate. In addition, production of written Scripture was a monumental task in itself, as each page of any text had to be hand-written on papyrus scrolls (Luke 4:16-20) and later parchment codices (Second Timothy 4:13)! Written Scripture was in the hands of only a few. Thus the oral Traditions of the Church and the Sunday liturgy (public worship service) were vitally important to teach and guide the early Christian community.
Persecution of Christianity under Roman rulers lasted nearly 300 years, until the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which mandated complete toleration of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST IN THE LITURGY
The traditions of the early Church were passed on to the faithful followers of Jesus Christ at the Sunday liturgy (worship service) from the very beginning of the Church at Pentecost. The Celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist serves as a Memorial of the Last Supper of Our Lord with the reception of Communion. Thus the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery of Christ by which He accomplished the work of our salvation.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.”
Gospel of John 6:35
The community would gather on Sunday in divine worship. St. Justin Martyr described the Memorial of the Last Supper on Sunday, one that would be called the Divine Liturgy in the East and the Mass in the West, an event which has remained essentially the same for nearly 2000 years. The Church assembly would first have the Liturgy of the Word with readings and then a homily or sermon. This was followed by giving thanks in the Liturgy of the Eucharist: “And this food is called among us eucharistia – εὐχαριστία. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word…is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (66). The congregation then received Communion, as described in his First Apology written in 155 AD:
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.
The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read.
When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.
Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.
Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.
He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.
When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded ‘Amen’, those whom we call deacons give to those present the ‘eucharisted’ bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.
Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 67, 155 AD
PRAYER AND BAPTISM
Jesus teaches us to pray – “All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24). The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) was taught by Jesus and continues the tradition of prayer exemplified by the Patriarchs of Israel such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The Didache, written about 100 AD, advised one to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day!
The Sacrament of Baptism followed the instruction of Jesus to his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The Sacrament of Baptism in itself is a handing on of the Christian faith from generation to generation. In accordance with this, the person about to be baptized was asked three questions: “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty…? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord…? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…?” The person being baptized would answer “I believe.”
Jesus Christ himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9). On the way to martyrdom to Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians (18): “For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.”
The Apostles’ Creed arose in the early Christian Church during Baptism as a way of passing on the Christian Faith. The Didache noted: “And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in living water.”
A creed is a willful and brief summary statement or profession of the Christian faith. The word “Creed” comes from the Latin word Credo, which means “I believe.” Examples include the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. They are also known as symbols of faith. The Creed, or rule of faith, was also an important guide to presbyters in interpretation of Scripture. The three-part profession of faith resembling our present form of the Apostles’ Creed was recorded by early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Cyprian of Carthage, and Tertullian of Carthage, and was evident by the third century AD.
The Apostles’ Creed is presented here in 12 lines, representing 12 Articles of Faith for the Christian.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to hell. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting. Amen.
THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT OF THE BIBLE
There were eight named writers of the New Testament of the Bible: Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude. The Canon of the New Testament was formalized within the early Christian community, the Church. The Church Fathers were important to the early Church, for they were the ones who had an important role in the process of the formation of the canon of the New Testament, as well as the interpretation of Scripture. Their objective was to choose those written books which were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and best reflected the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as understood within the Tradition of the Church. Consistent with the rule of faith and the books read within the Church as Scripture, Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, France first proposed the four Gospels as the canon of the New Testament in his work Against Heresies in 180 AD. Origen of Alexandria (185-254) agreed the four Gospels were “indisputable in the Church of God,” and also appreciated the Epistles of Paul, Peter, and John. Three Fathers of the Church – Athanasius of Alexandria in his Letter of 367, Jerome in Bethlehem with the completion of his Latin New Testament in 384, and Augustine at the Council of Hippo in 393 – agreed that 27 Books were the inspired Word of God. The Canon of the New Testament of the Bible was confirmed at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.
The canon of the New Testament is exactly the same for all of Christianity! There are 27 Books in the New Testament: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the fourteen Letters of the Pauline corpus, the seven catholic or universal Letters, and the Book of Revelation.
The New Testament writers accorded to the Old Testament the value of Divine Revelation. They proclaimed this revelation found its fulfillment in the life and teaching, and above all, in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, source of forgiveness and of everlasting life. They frequently drew upon the Old Testament writings, primarily to confirm Jesus Christ as the Messiah, or to serve as a source for moral instruction, or for the interpretation of events. Typology in Biblical studies finds an Old Testament story serving as a prefigurement or symbol for an event in the New Testament. Referring to Christ, Paul called Adam “a type of the one who is to come” (Romans 5:14). In Hebrews 12:24 the blood of Abel speaks to the “blood of Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” Peter saw the flood during the times of Noah as a figure of baptism (I Peter 3:20-22). In reading Scripture one looks beyond the Literal sense, the genuine meaning, and searches for the “spirit in the letter,” the Spiritual sense of Scripture.
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Gospel of John 6:63
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 3:3
“He also it is who has made us fit ministers of the new covenant,
not of the letter, but of the spirit;
for the letter brings death, but the spirit gives life.”
Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 3:6
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Second Letter of Paul to Timothy 3:16-17
Thus the Word of God was written within the Church, the Body of Christ, flowing from the authority and teachings of Jesus Christ and the oral traditions and writings of the Apostles in the early Christian community. Scripture and Tradition form a unity of the faith experience.
Tradition and Scripture go hand in hand in understanding the Word of God!
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