History

Constantine Didn’t Influence the Canon

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 01/08/2015

By now you’ve probably read, or at least heard about, Newsweek’s cover article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” by Kurt Eichenwald. Here’s what Brian Mattson had to say about the article’s claim that Constantine influenced the assembling of the biblical canon:

There’s an even stronger historical indicator, however, that by the time Constantine reigned the books of the New Testament were near universally understood.

In 331 Constantine wrote a letter to Eusebius of Caesarea asking him to prepare 50 Bibles for use in Rome’s churches. Remember, books were not printed at this time; they were copied by hand. A commission for 50 volumes was an astonishingly large request and a massive undertaking.

If you look carefully, there is something very important missing in the letter.

It apparently never occurred to the Emperor to instruct Eusebius what books to include in the Bibles. And it never occurred to Eusebius to even ask. There is only one plausible interpretation of these deafening silences: the status of the Christian canon was implicitly understood. Can you imagine a world in which there is hot controversy over the number of books in the New Testament, receiving a request from the Emperor of the known world for copies of the Bible, and not clarifying what he wanted in them? Neither can I.

That’s because there was no hot controversy. Whatever messy confusion had existed about the question had obviously been so settled in the public mind that Constantine didn’t feel the need to specify, and Eusebius didn’t feel the need to ask. Moreover, I would suggest that for that level of implicit understanding, the question must have been settled for a very long time.

Read the rest here.