Part I Biblical Scroll links to Bible 1. Part II Electronic Bible links to Part 2.
The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia

The Christian Empire: 313-476

Jesus Christ Pantocrater

Authority and the Bible

After the Edict of Milan, many more people became Christians. Most were not Jewish and were ignorant Judeo-Christian scripture, tradition, and theology. With more converts from multiple geographical, language, and other cultural contexts, additional variations of Christianity developed.

Conflict and controversy were not new to Christianity; however the Christian Empire experienced some substantial disputes. When Constantine I became the ruler of Rome in 313, the Donatist controversy was raging in North Africa and Numidia. A soldier and a statesman who liked order and agreement, Constantine tried to quell it but not very successfully. Constantine was not a theologian, but he took steps during his rule to try to make Christianity less conflictual by calling the Council of Nicea to settle the Arian controversy. One result of the the council was the drafting of a version of what we now call the Nicene Creed.

Ultimately creeds such as the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed were affirmed as "orthodox" -- right teaching. Those teachings not considered orthodox, such as Gnosticism, were defined as heretical.

The process of canonization continued during the era of the Christian Empire. Those communities that became known as orthodox came close to agreeing on an authoritative collection of scriptures. As far as we know, Athanasius was the first person to name in 367 the 27 books of the New Testament accepted by most Christian groups today.

Constantine played a significant role in the canonization of the Bible. His desire for and actions to create unity and uniformity contributed to the process of deciding upon a fixed canon. In addition, he financed fifty copies of the scriptures to be produced for use in Constantinople. The production of these manuscripts were supervised by Eusebius of Caesarea, who tells about of the request in his book Life of Constantine. Presumedly, these scriptures were the complete New Testament but some scholars think they consisted only of the four gospels.

Athanasius of Alexandria

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Athanasius (c. 296-373) is known as the "Father of Orthodoxy." In his lifetime, he struggled against Arianism.

Athanasius accompanied Bishop Alexander of Alexandria to the Council of Nicea in 325. Tradition says he played a significant role in the decisions at the council, but this may not be true because he was only a deacon. Without a doubt, Athanasius championed the Nicene formula for the rest of his lifetime and was recognized as a major authority on Christology.

When Alexander died in 328, Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria, a position he held for 45 years until his death. He found himself constantly embroiled in conflicts as he adhered to orthodoxy; he was exiled five times. He wrote literature on controversies related to the Arians, the Holy Spirit, and Christology. In his "Letters to Serapian," Athanasius became one of the first theologians to pay serious attention to the status of the Holy Spirit.

At Easter time each year, Athanasius sent a letter to the Egyptian churches. His 39thFestal Letter, written in 367, provides the oldest list of the 27 books of the New Testament canon that we have today.

Athanasius introduced the West to the monastic rule of the Egyptian Desert Fathers. His book Life of Antony helped to popularize this ideal. His book played an important role in the conversion of Augustine to Christianity.

   The drawing of Athanasius is a detail from "Athanasius" in An Outline of Christianity: The Story of Our Civilization, Vol. II (New York: Bethlehem Publishers, Inc., 1926), p. 91.

Take the Highway

Journey Through Time

Learn about the some of the ways early Christians interpreted the Bible. Meet Ephraim of Syria of the Edessan School of Interpretation, Clement and Origen of Alexandrian School of Interpretation, and John Chrysostom of the Antiochene School of Interpretation.

Choose a Byway

1. Take a look of some of the documents mentioned on this page. Read the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds. Read Athanasius' 39thFestal Letter.

2. Read the complete text of Athanasius of Alexandria's Life of St. Antony (180K).

3. Read about Augustine of Hippo and the Donatist and Pelagian heresies. Athanasius' Life of Antony played an important role in Augustine's conversion.

   Disclaimer: Some links jump to outside sites for further information on the Bible, interpretations, the canon, translations, manuscripts, resources, and other perspectives. Links do not constitute an endorsement by the Women's Division of the information on other web sites. External web sites offer us diverse perspectives; afford us an opportunity to compare them to United Methodist positions; and, encourage us to critically analyze the issues raised by The Bible: the Book that Bridges the Millennia web pages.

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