My previous blog post sparked a surprising number of reactions from strangers and friends who were either worried about my spiritual condition or excited about my new statement of heretical insight.
Funny enough, I really enjoyed both reactions.
Those who knew me in the real world messaged me or texted me or called me because they were really confused or concerned about my message. Either they wanted to see how I was doing, or they were hoping for some clarification on where I was and why.
Those who did not know me contacted me personally to tell me that they were in the same boat and wanted to encourage me to continue to seek the truth in my own way, without fear of questioning, asking or doubting.
Both reactions were from a place of care and I enjoyed them all.
As I took the time to process my last post and clear my thoughts for people over the past few days, I realized the fundamental struggle that became the catalyst for my slide down this slippery slope: The Canon of Scripture.
Specifically, the idea of a New Testament canon, which I have come to resent, is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate and control people who simply want to know and connect with God at through Christ.
I say this because it was created for purely political purposes and not by divine edict.
You see, the Christian movement had grown very well for about 400 years without anyone once suggesting the need for a single collection of approved writings.
Yet, shortly after the pagan emperor Constantine “converted” to their faith, Church leaders suddenly decided that there must be one—and only one—approved set of writings of the New A testament that everyone had to agree to or suffer the deadly consequences.
If you study early Christian history, and in particular the writings of these pre-Constantinian Church Fathers, you will see that each of them had their own personal list of what they considered “inspired writings.”
For example, some of them considered The Book of Enoch and The Didache to be inspired, as well as the four gospels and a handful of Paul’s epistles. Others considered The Shepherd of Hermas and The Wisdom of Solomon to be Scripture, with Hebrews, James, Mark, Luke and John. Yet others have added books we’ve never heard of to their list – like Judith Where The Epistle of Barnabus – while excluding others that would later become the official New Testament Canon a few hundred years later.
My main point is that there should never have even been a New Testament Canon created in the first place.
Why? Because the creation of this Canon was not inspired by the Holy Spirit. He was inspired by a pagan emperor who wanted a tool he could use to control a growing religious movement that had become a threat to the Roman Empire.
No, Constantine did not command Christians, in particular, to go and create a New Testament canon in so many words. But, the influence he had on the Christian Church in his time is very clear and so it is no coincidence that after almost 400 years without any official canon, we suddenly see [post-Constantine] a sudden change in that direction.
So when the first known complete list of the 27 books of the New Testament appears in a letter written by Athanasius [367 AD]and the same official New Testament 27-book canon formally established at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) in North Africa, we see the influence of a pagan emperor on a Christian religion that previously , had no interest in the creation of any official New Testament canon.
Constantine’s program was nothing less than the redefinition of Christianity from a way of life – which included the practice of radical enemy love and creative non-violence as well as the prohibition against joining the Roman army – into a set of creed statements that made it easy to define who was and who was not a Christian.
It also made it much easier to weed out those early Christian practices of nonviolence, love of the enemy, and all those pervasive anti-Empire sentiments that had permeated the faith up to that point.
And the wording of our existing New Testament canon was quite arbitrary and strange. For example, do you know why there are only 4 gospels in our Bible? We know that there were a few dozen other gospels of Christ in circulation during those early centuries, so why those 4 and not more?
Well, according to Irenaeus, it’s because:
“It is not possible for the gospels to be more or less numerous than they are. For since there are four areas of the world in which we live, and four main winds, while the church is scattered throughout the world, and the “pillar and foundation” of the church is the gospel and the spirit of life; it befits it to have four pillars, blowing immortality everywhere, and quickening men again. [As quoted from Against Heresies]
Now, if that sounds a bit silly to you, you’re not alone.
Rather, it seems that Irenaeus knew that there were many other gospels in circulation and that he preferred these specific ones, and so he arbitrarily appeals to any example he can point to that is equal to the number four for justify this preference.
By limiting the approved number of gospels, we have been prevented from benefiting from the wisdom found in other writings such as The gospel of Thomas, the gospel of truth, the gospel of Mary, and The Gospel of Philipamong others.
The other problem with creating a New Testament canon was that it tried to silence the voice of the Holy Spirit for centuries. Not that he could, of course. But, for many, the Canon of Scripture has taken the place of the voice of the Holy Spirit that Jesus and the Apostles assured us [in the New Testament Scriptures] that everyone could hear, discern and understand directly – for themselves – without the need for the presence of a pastor, leader, teacher or spiritual guru.
To this day we still suffer from the loss of faith in the direct, personal experience of Christ by the individual believer outside of the Bible.
While I was reading the Gospel of Thomas for a new weekly series, I am currently writing for my Patreon followers, as well as the Gospel of Truth [another lost text of early Christianity that was found, along with Thomas and other writings, at Nag Hammadi in 1945]I find myself becoming genuinely angry at the loss of this wisdom and poetry.
It seriously troubles me that for over a thousand years Christians could not read these texts and, in fact, would never even have known they existed had it not been for this accidental discovery of codex over 77 years ago.
Obviously, the reasons why these so-called “Gnostic Gospels” were not included have more to do with the internal politics and theological conflicts of the early Christians than anything else. But, it’s hard not to dream of the Christianity we could have inherited if those books hadn’t been condemned and if Constantine hadn’t succeeded in corrupting the faith.
So… all this to say that the idea of a New Testament Canon is just plain offensive to me. There should never have been one created in the first place. The “writings inspired by God” are too numerous to be contained in a single volume. The voice of the Spirit is too pervasive to be bound in a book.
You and I are living epistles of God’s ongoing conversation with all of Creation.
That’s why I can’t stand it when someone patiently comes back to any discussion, “Well, the Bible says…”, because the Bible we have shouldn’t exist and the limitation of the voice of God to what was said to a handful of people 2,000 years ago is just not acceptable to me anymore.
Keith Giles is the author of the best-selling 7-part “jesus oneQuoir Publishing book series. His last – and last book – of this series, Jesus Disarmed: How the Prince of Peace Disarms Our Violence East available now. Keith is also the host of Second cut with Keith [a new solo podcast available now on the Ethos Radio App, for Apple and Android and on Spotify; and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast [along with co-hosts Matthew Distefano, Dr. Katy Valentine, and Derek Day], and the new Anonymous of the apostate podcast with Matthew Distefano. He and his wife, Wendy, currently live in El Paso, TX and work with International Peace Catalyst.