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The Early Centuries and the Truth
Introduction, The Didache and 1 Clement.
pp. 126 - 130
The subject of Church History is a vast and complicated one, which entails much
study and research in order to get a good grasp of it. Yet a knowledge of this subject is
necessary in some degree if one is to understand the set-up of modern Christendom. Of
particular interest are the early centuries, the sub-apostolic age and those following it,
which give us the reactions of the early Christians to the books and doctrine of the N.T.,
before the Canon was fixed and afterwards.
As many will know, the fixation of the Canon took time to achieve, as there was much
apocryphal and spurious literature among the churches thus necessitating careful sorting
out, and there is no doubt whatsoever that the Holy Spirit overruled in all this, thus
ensuring that no uninspired writing was finally admitted to the N.T. Canon.
As long as the Apostles and their disciples lived, with their oral and written teaching,
there was no need of a Canon and it is not until the end of the second century that the
concept of a Canon began to reveal itself, and this was precipitated by controversy and
heresy, such as that provoked by Marcion of Sinope, who broke with the church of Rome
about 150A.D. However, not yet were all the books now existing in the N.T. decided
upon. Those accepted generally speaking, were the four Gospels, the Pauline epistles
(but not Hebrews), the Acts of the Apostles, some of the general epistles and after a
period, the Revelation.
It was not until the fourth century that we find the N.T., as we know it today, finally
fixed. In the east this was achieved in 367A.D. as declared in the Thirty-ninth Paschal
letter of Athanasius. In the west a similar point was reached at Carthage in 397A.D.,
when the same list of N.T. books as those contained in the Athanasian letter was agreed
However, from the age of the Apostolic Fathers, one or two of the Gospels were
known, and the epistles of Paul, as a whole, although there were doubts about Hebrews.
The important point is: did they understand the teaching of the Apostle, whose writings
are the key to the truth for this age of grace? What actually happened after the
martyrdom of the Apostle Paul? We do know for certain that the body of Truth given by
revelation of the Lord Jesus to him, was passed on to his son in the faith, Timothy. What
happened to Timothy? Alas, we cannot say, for the earliest Christian literature does not
mention him. The later apostolic age to the great apologists of the middle and late second
century has been described by historians as a "very ill-lit tunnel". We know little except
that it was a period of persecution and pernicious propaganda. The earliest writings were
those of the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas and those of the Apostolic Fathers,
meaning men who had contact with, or who were appointed by the Apostles, although
only for Polycarp is there real evidence of such contact. We can examine these writings