The Holy Bible, as we know it today, comprises the Old and New Testament; both testaments are a collection of books revealed over time. The Old Testament was revealed over a 1,000 year period, 1450 B.C. to 425 B.C.; The New Testament, was recounted over a much shorter time than the OT, a 60 year period, from A.D. 33 to 100. The New Testament is separated from the Old Testament by approximately a 450-year period which has come to be called the Inter-testimonial period.
What many of us may not know is that during Jesus’ time, the term “Old Testament” was not yet named. The Torah and the Prophets canon was already closed 450 years earlier. This is a strong reminder that Jesus and the Apostles only knew God’s Word as the Torah and writings of the Prophets.
The question many people have then is how did the New Testament find itself added alongside the Torah, and when did the Torah get renamed as the Old Testament? In addition, how did the books in the New Testament get included in a canon?
Here’s the history:
The First Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of bishops held in 325 AD at Nicaea in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This first ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. Its main goal: 1) to get settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of ‘the Son’ and his relationship to God ‘the Father’, the construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea, 2) settling the calculation of the date of Easter, 3) and promulgation of early canon law.
The purpose included resolving disputes in the church – primarily those concerned with Arianism* – regarding the relationship between the Father and the Son. Constantine (ca. 288-377), the sole emperor of the Roman Empire, feared that the church would split over this theological issue and thus called a universal council meeting. In May 325, Constantine opened the council where roughly 250-300 bishops attended, the majority from the East. The council produced the first ecumenical creed known as the Nicene Creed, which essentially became a mission statement of Christian orthodoxy and set a precedent for future councils.
The church was required to give a more concrete definition of Jesus’ relationship to the Father, further specifying his unique status as “Son of God”, “Son of Man, “Word” or “Logos.” Many solutions had been proposed, yet the efforts to define and agree on Jesus’ nature had been unsatisfactory. The council settled, to some degree, the debate within the Early Christian communities regarding the divinity of Christ. This idea of the divinity of Christ, along with the idea of Christ as a messenger from God (The Father), had long existed in various parts of the Roman empire. The divinity of Christ had also been widely endorsed by the Christian community in the pagan city of Rome. The council reached agreement, though not unanimously, and defined what it believed to be the teachings of the Apostles regarding who Christ is: that Christ is the one true God in deity with the Father.
It’s been of large upset for many to learn in modern times, once they do, that it was a man-made decision how to define Jesus. A meeting-of-the-minds, so to speak, during the canonization periods. We aren’t taught about it from the outset, and so when we do finally learn about the Council’s function, we have to revolutionize our thinking. Perhaps a close connection might form for us as to how the Congress works, yay’s on one side and nay’s on the other until finally “a bill is passed”. And so, that is the similar process of the Council of Nicaea. Despite a long history of disagreement, the Trinitarian bishops prevailed. Emperor Constantine may have been a Christian at the time (although this is a matter of dispute: Constantine was baptized shortly before he died).
Despite this, he had made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire.
Once the Council agreed on what books were canonized as the New Testament, the term Holy Bible also emerged as the combination of the Old Testament and New Testament. Before the establishment of the New Testament Canon, the Torah (Old Testament) was the scripture of the early church.
*[The Arian controversy describes several controversies between the Christian Church fathers Arius and Athanasius related to Christology which divided the Christian church from before the Council of Nicaea in 325 to after the Council of Constantinople in 381. The most important of these controversies concerned the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ – with Arius defending the non-trinitarian position, while Athanasius supported the trinitarian position.]