Where Was the New Testament Canonized?
Since the Gospel of John has all the earmarks of being one of the last books of the New Testament to be canonized (along with the Book of Revelation, also written by John), we should look at any hints within that book that can help us in finding the location for putting the books of the New Testament into their final order, and who authorized them to be read in the Christian congregations. We will find that the city of Jerusalem comes into play once again.
We now know from Eusebius that some of the most prestigious early Christians returned to Jerusalem after the destruction of the city and Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. They came back to the area and established an official Christian congregation in Jerusalem that produced 15 Jewish overseers in succession until the Romans once again destroyed the city in 135 C.E. 1
After that time, the Jerusalem congregation continued to exist until the time of Eusebius and Constantine, but it was made up of Gentile overseers because anyone of Jewish ancestry after 135 C.E. was prohibited from entering the Jerusalem area (except on rare occasions). But more important than his Ecclesiastical History in this regard, Eusebius in his work called The Proof of the Gospel, gives us many more interesting details about that Christian congregation in the Jerusalem area and its influence in the world up to his time. This information from Eusebius is seldom mentioned in scholarly studies today on the history of Jerusalem after the fall of the city in 70 C.E. (and even after 135 C.E.), but it is time that all in the world begin to realize just how significant the region of Jerusalem continued to be among Christians in the world.
Eusebius (who was a native of Palestine, bishop of Caesarea on the coast, and in charge of its major library) tells us that a very important congregation of Christians was raised up in Jerusalem after 70 C.E. and was especially prominent until 135 C.E. Note what the historian says about this matter. All scholars need to direct their attention to these essential statements of the first Christian historian. They are most informative.
“History assures us that there was A VERY IMPORTANT Christian Church IN JERUSALEM, composed of Jews, which existed until the siege of the city under Hadrian. The bishops, too, who stand first in line of succession there [at Jerusalem] are said to have been Jews, whose names are still remembered by the inhabitants”
The Proof of the Gospel, 111.5 ¶124d 2
This Christian congregation was “very important” (as Eusebius states). He goes on later in his book, however, to tell us that this congregation of Jewish Christians were not actually living in the city of Jerusalem itself, but at a city (apparently a small one) located on the Mount of Olives. This congregation of Christian authorities was raised up on the Mount of Olives to replace the former significance of lower Jerusalem.
“The Mount of Olives is said to be over against Jerusalem, because it was established AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM, instead of the old earthly Jerusalem and its worship”
Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, V1.18 ¶21d
emphasis is mine
Eusebius states that the Christians lived in a city on the Mount of Olives where they had “the holy Church of God.” 3 Note how clear he makes his point:
“The Mount of Olives is therefore literally opposite to Jerusalem and to the east of it, but also THE HOLY CHURCH OF GOD [is located there], and the Mount upon which it [the Church of God] is founded, of which the Savior teaches: ‘A city set on a hill cannot be hid,’ raised up IN PLACE OF JERUSALEM that is fallen never to rise again, and thought worthy of the feet of the Lord [when he returns from heaven], is figuratively not only opposite Jerusalem, but east of it as well”
Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, V118 ¶289b,
emphasis and words in brackets are mine
Eusebius also states that this Christian city on the Mount of Olives contained not only what he called “the holy Church of God,” but this particular congregation was reckoned to be THE FOUNDING CHURCH for the Christian faith AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM.4 Eusebius also stated that the Mount of Olives (and the holy Church of God located on its summit) was acknowledged to be the central part of Christ’s church in the world before the time of Constantine. 5 It was from that center on the Mount of Olives that all Christians (who lived in the four directions of the compass) had their claims for being attached to the geographical focal point of all Christendom. 6
Indeed, Eusebius went even further and said that the Mount of Olives was recognized by Christians as the new Mount Zion as well as the place where the Christian “House of God” was resident. 7 Eusebius states in ¶289c through ¶294d (referred to above) that the Mount of Olives represented in his time the center of the whole of the Christian Church no matter where Christians were located in the world. This is one of the main reasons the Mount of Olives was the only place before the time of Constantine where Christian pilgrims came to worship God in the Jerusalem area. 8 The Mount of Olives, according to Eusebius, actually replaced the region of old Zion (where the Temples had stood in Jerusalem), and that it was now the new Mount Zion for all Christians because the Shekinah glory of God retreated to the very summit on Olivet with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. 9 The Mount of Olives had thus become the central “House of God” (or a new type of Temple — the geographical focal point) for all Christians in the world, and it was nothing less than the new Mount Zion. This appraisal of the words of Eusebius is not stretching his meaning because this is precisely what he states. Note his words.
“The law going forth from Mount Zion, 10 different from the law enacted in the desert by Moses on Mount Sinai, what can it be but the word of the Gospel, going forth from Zion through our Savior Jesus Christ, and going through all the nations. For it is plain that it was in Jerusalem and Mount Zion adjacent thereto [just east of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives], where our Lord and Savior for the most part lived and taught [the Gospels show this was on the Mount of Olives], that the law of the New Covenant began [with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection on the Mount of Olives] and from thence [the Mount of Olives] went forth and shone upon all”
· Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, 1.5 ¶8d, 9a,
emphasis and words in brackets mine
As a matter of fact, Eusebius in his commentary on Isaiah and on the Psalms shows that this Zion (the Mount of Olives) was indeed the place of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. 11
It is also where the Red Heifer was sacrificed, and the author of the book of Barnabas (in the late 1st century) said that Jesus was the calf (the Red Heifer) that was led out of the gate of Jerusalem by the priests to be sacrificed (8:1–2). The Red Heifer was killed indeed on the Mount of Olives. Besides that, on top of the Mount of Olives before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. there was the village of Bethphage, where Christ obtained the donkey for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That village was one of the seats of the Sanhedrin and it was where some of the books of the Holy Scripture were kept “outside the camp” of Israel.
After the Jewish Christians came back to Jerusalem after 70 C.E., they went directly to the top of the Mount of Olives and raised up the “Mother Church” (the founding church) for the Christian communities that then existed in the world. This was the very area called Golgotha where Christ had been crucified and where He was buried and then resurrected from the dead. This is why Eusebius called this city area on the Mount of Olives the city of the central church for all Christendom up to the time of Constantine. So influential was this Christian region (at least it was according to Eusebius), that much of the Mount of Olives was taken over by the Jewish Christians and continued to flourish until the time when Hadrian forbade Jews (even Jewish Christians) from residing in the Jerusalem area after 135 C.E.
As for the Jewish authorities themselves, they moved their headquarters (their Sanhedrin) from Jerusalem to a town close to the Mediterranean called Jabneh (Jamnia) soon after 70 C.E. The reason they did so was because Jabneh was considered a part of the metropolitan area of Jerusalem (in the matter of geography and in maintaining their ritualistic system involving calendar matters, etc.).
As for the Romans, they considered the capital city of Palestine as being Caesarea — the port city to Jerusalem. In one way of looking at it, Caesarea was reckoned a part of Jerusalem in a political sense. Caesarea was located on the coast and was simply the port city of Jerusalem. It was where Eusebius later lived and where he headed the famous library named after Pamphilus.
The library of Pamphilus was the successor to the library of Origen who also lived in Caesarea and did his literary work on the biblical manuscripts in the early part of the 3rd century. But both the library of Origen, and its later development by Pamphilus interchanged their books and records with the library that existed in Jerusalem. Eusebius, as the curator of the library of Pamphilus tells us that he obtained much of his historical material and important Christian documents from the library that was at Aelia, the Roman name for Jerusalem. Note what Eusebius said.
“Prominent at that period were a number of learned churchmen, who penned to each other letters still surviving and of easy access, as they have been preserved to our own time IN THE LIBRARY established AT AELIA [Jerusalem] by the man who then presided over the church there, Alexander — THE LIBRARY from which I myself have been able to bring together the materials for the work now at hand”
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.20,1
This shows that Eusebius himself resorted to the Library at Jerusalem to garner source material to write his Ecclesiastical History. This emphasizes the importance and connection of that library with the “mother” congregation which was actually located on the Mount of Olives. What this reveals is that the Jabneh/Jerusalem connection for the Jews (which they looked on as sister cities), was the same for the Christians with their Caesarea/Jerusalem connection, which were likewise reckoned as sister cities. Both Jabneh for the Jews and Caesarea for the Christians represented entrance cities to Jerusalem on or near the coast. Their connections as sister cities to Jerusalem were well established in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Indeed, Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History associates the bishops of Caesarea and Jerusalem as representing a unified political effort as far as Christian government in Palestine was concerned. 12 Caesarea was called by Eusebius the “neighbor church” to that of Jerusalem. 13 Caesarea was an entrance city (a connecting city) to Jerusalem; it was simply the port city of Jerusalem and in many ways similar to a city today like San Pedro, California which is the port city and a part of the city of Los Angeles, though San Pedro is about 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
What this shows is the high probability that the library that Origen studied within at Caesarea, and that Pamphilus enlarged, and that to which Eusebius finally became the curator, can reasonably be called an extension of the library that existed in Jerusalem. In fact, Eusebius was familiar in this region of Palestine with a number of libraries which were, as he called them, “private collections,” the repositories of many books. 14
It is no wonder that Constantine in the 4th century, when he wanted to make fifty complete copies of the Holy Scriptures in codex form, called on Eusebius (of all the scholars in the empire) who was the head of the Caesarean library (of all the libraries in the empire) to perform the job of creating the New Testament manuscripts in codex form. 15
For Origen in the early 3rd century to leave Alexandria and go to the library at Caesarea to study and to gather together many of the ancient Christian manuscripts (because that was where many important Christian documents were preserved), it is the same as saying that Origen went to the extension of the library of Jerusalem. The two cities were simply expansions of one another. One was the port city and the Roman political capital of Palestine (Caesarea) and the other was at the spiritual center (not political) for the whole of Christendom before the time of Constantine. The two were interlinked.
The area of Caesarea/Jerusalem was very important at the end of the 1st century and on into the 2nd, 3rd, and even to the 4th century. This is because this region must have been recognized as the central area where most of the books that came to be in our New Testament canon were preserved by John and the Elders. Recall that John took seriously his commission to go to the Jews while Paul and others went to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9–14). The last part of John’s life was within the Jewish environment. In fact, the historical records even relate that he was martyred by the insistence of some Jews 16 and that this occurred on the last of his many stays in Ephesus. 17 John was consistently in contact with Ephesus in his last 30 years of life, but since he considered himself the remaining apostle commissioned to go to the Jews, he must have spent time among the Jews in Jerusalem, Jabneh and in Palestine.
In his old age when he could not travel himself, John sent his representatives whom he customarily called “the brethren” to teach the Jewish people in the areas of his responsibility (3 John 5–6). During this time, John specifically commanded that his representatives take no support from Christian Gentiles (3 John 7). His emphasis on teaching the Jews must have allowed him to have intimate connections with the Mother Church and its library in Jerusalem located on the Mount of Olives.
Later, the library of Caesarea was nothing more than an extension of that library on the Mount of Olives which was the central mount of Christian influence from a historical point of view in the eyes of Eusebius. That is why the great textual scholar, Origen in the early 3rd century, went to this region to study the early authoritative manuscripts which contained the early documents of the Christian community.
1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, IV.3,5
2 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, vols 1 and 2, ed. & trans. by W.J. Ferrar (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001), emphasis and words in brackets are mine.
3 Eusebius, being Greek, used the term ekklesia.
4 Jerome a few years after Eusebius also stated that the Church of the Lord was founded on the Mount of olives at the same time. See Letter CVIII.12.
5 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, ¶287c, 288a.
6 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, ¶289c through ¶290d.
7 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, ¶288a.
8 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, ¶288d.
9 Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, ¶288b.
10 Eusebius is citing Isaiah 2:3 and Hosea 4:2.
11 Peter W.L. Walker, Holy City, Holy Places: Christian Attitudes to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 302–345.
12 E.g. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.19,16; 27.
13 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VII.28.
14 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.22.
15 Just as the Jewish authorities at first had the Jabneh/Jerusalem connection (and the two cities were intertwined as sister cities for the administration of Jewish affairs), so the early Christians in Palestine had the Caesarea/Jerusalem connection for the same purpose.
16 Papias, Second Book.
17 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V.24.
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