Meditations in Hebrews 13: 64. Holding the Truth
Heb 13:9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.
Conflict: The first century of the Christian Church was much involved in intellectual conflict. Not only were they having to battle against outright heresies but also against simple distortions of the truth of doctrine agreed by the apostles: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,” (Acts 2:42) and when there were major questions over doctrine the apostles got together in Jerusalem to consider it and make a decision (see Acts 15) which would be followed: “As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.” (Acts 16:4)
Church Sayings: In the early days it is clear from the writings of the apostle Paul that there were a number of ‘sayings’ that the early church used to teach basics of the truth, for example, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” (1 Tim 1:15) and “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task,” (1 Tim 3:1) and “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;” (2 Tim 2:11) Each one conveys a nugget of doctrinal truth and it is clear there are at least a half a dozen of these sayings that Paul uses. We just don’t know how many more there might have been.
Gospels: As the years passed questions were raised and it soon became obvious that the basics of what had happened with Jesus needed to be written down. It is thought that Mark (aided by Peter) was the first to put together his Gospel somewhere between AD50 and 56, then Matthew the tax collector, somewhere between AD56 and 58, then by Luke somewhere between AD58 and 60, and finally many years later after many more years reflection on what Jesus had said, John wrote his somewhere about AD95.
We have to observe that these dates, and even the order [Matthew & Luke being reversed] are open for discussion. All we can say is that we have these four accredited records, the first three of which each have similarities, using common sources for part of each of their Gospels. Over the next hundred years all of the writings (of what we now call the New Testament) were collected and read in the churches and in the following hundred years they were carefully examined and compared with dubious writings and between 300-400 AD complete agreement was arrived at as to which books were to be included in what we now call ‘the canon’ of scripture. It is little wonder that while this process went on, there would be those who questioned the truth.
The beginning of Luke is especially good at showing us the care that these men took in compiling these ‘Gospels’: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Lk 1:1-4) Note the integrity of this doctor (a professional man) and particularly the words, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” i.e. you can be assured there is no question as to the truth of what you have been taught by the apostles.
A Body of Truth: Thus we come back to our beginning; there was a body of truth being passed on by the apostles to the early church which comprised the truth about Jesus’ coming, his ministry, his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the teaching about what he had achieved and how it is applied into our lives. Thus the apostle Paul was to eventually write, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (2 Tim 3:16,17) meaning both the Old Testament scrolls and the new writings. There is, therefore, this established body of truth and we need a) to know how it came it to being and why it can be trusted, b) to know what it teaches, and c) obey its teachings and finally, ensure we d) do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, that run counter to the truths that we have before us. May it be so!