Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, “Chapter 12. The Development of Catholic Theology in Conflict with Heresy” Sections 137-158, Loc. 18758-20235.
§ 138. The Holy Scriptures and the Canon.
Schaff turns his attention to canonicity and the authority of Scripture because he considers it foundational to theology. He insists that Scripture is the authoritative source of doctrine (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18888). For this reason, separating canonical writings from others is very important, especially since numerous apocryphal writings exist, some contradictory to the truth. Schaff recognizes the Old Testament as we have it, along with the Apocrypha which were included in the Septuagint, as a body of work passed on to Christianity. The New Testament as we have it was gradually recognized during the 1st through 4th centuries (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18894). Marcion’s canon, from the mid second century, seems to be a reaction against a recognized collection of writings, some of which Marcion was rejecting (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18900). By the time of Eusebius, there was a recognition of the “homologoumena,” the four Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 Peter, and 1 John, recognized as authoritative (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18905). The other seven books, called by Eusebius “antilegomena,” were not as wholeheartedly recognized, but were included in the two solid old Greek New Testament manuscripts which date from Eusebius’ time (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18911). Several other documents, considered “spurious” by Eusebius, are generally not found in manuscript evidence along with the writings recognized as canonical, though some are found in some manuscripts (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18916). The canonical lists showing the New Testament as we have it now first appears in 393 in Hippo, then again in 397 in Carthage. A list from 363 in Laodicea has the same collection but omits Revelation (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18922).
Schaff recognizes that the church fathers considered that the Holy Spirit had given the text of the New Testament through the authorsin a completely accurate way but without restricting the personality and expressive mode of the writers (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18933). Some, especially in Alexandria, considered the same kind of inspiration to influence other works, but this was a rare stance, not accepted widely (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18938). The apologists Tertullian and Origen took the Old and New Testament alike as authoritative and rejected doctrines not proven from Scripture (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18944).
With the rise of Gnosticism, a different way of using Scripture grew. In the face of opposition, interpretation of the biblical text took on more of a rational and polemic tone, rather than being used for general edification (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18944). Interpretation was generally allegorical rather than being based on grammar or historical methods. The allegorical interpretation could, at times, “spiritualize away the letter of scripture” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18956), so is not broadly accepted today. While the Fathers are not unanimous in all their opinions, they do typically follow the same overall principles of interpretation.
Schaff goes on to review Eusebius’ account of how Scripture is recognized and used. Schaff quotes Eusebius (mostly in translation) in his description of the Homologoumena (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18968), summarized above. In this portion of his writing Schaff helpfully points us to the pertinent locations in Eusebius. He does the same for the antilegomena and the spurious books (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18986). Schaff closes the section by observing that the heretical books, among which he lists the “Gospels of Peter and Thomas” as “worthless and impious” (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18991).
Schaff observes that the shape of the canon was apparently complete and accepted, but not discussed in detail at the 1st Council of Nicea. The Scripture was treated as authoritative and its content was not in question. However, in the second half of the fourth century lists of documents came into circulation (Schaff 2014, Loc. 18998). By this time, Revelation and the two epistles of Clement were still in some doubt, but there was very broad agreement on the other documents. Schaff notes that these questions were not a matter of debate again, but were confirmed in the 1546 Council of Trent (Schaff 2014, Loc. 19021).