When Paul wrote to the church at Colosse, a city in ancient Phrygia about twelve miles to the north of Laodicea near the road that led from Ephesus to the Euphrates, he most likely wrote on papyrus. Because of the frail makeup of this material, it would begin to fall apart, if it was handled very much. The same is often true of well-used Bibles today, which fall apart at the seams. Because the letter was read over and over, a scribe would copy it to another piece of papyrus or make several copies. The scribes were the early Xerox machines, with one exception: they often made some errors in writing. Besides the possibility of a scribal copy because of usage, Paul told another church that they should read the letter he had sent to the Colossians (Col. 4.16), which would cause more copies of the letter to be copied, which in turn would cause more copy errors.
The letters written by Paul were the first to be circulated and began to be understood as carrying the same authority as the First Testament as suggested by Peter in 2 Peter 3.14-16. By the mid-Second Century, the four Gospels were being used in an authoritative way in the church. However, there was no consensus within the Second Century Church of a list of authoritative books. The first known attempt at making a list occurred with Marcion. He tried to persuade the church of her need for having a canon by composing one of his own. In the Bible of Marcion, there was only a Second Testament of which he had rewritten some parts. The church in this century cast aside Marcion while retaining his concept. His excommunication contributed to the expansion of the canon within the church.
Over the next two hundred years, the church began to define her canon. At the close of the fourth century, she decided on twenty-seven books, which the church today still holds to be the authoritative word of God.
The two basic criteria that were used in the formation stages of the canon were: Was the book or letter written by an Apostle or one of his protégées and did its message change the lives of people? While this process occurred as a part of human history, it is my contention that the Church listened to God over these years and saw in these certain pieces of literature the hand of God and heard in its reading the voice of God.
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