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What happened at the Council of Carthage?

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Question: "What happened at the Council of Carthage?"

There were several meetings regarding Christian doctrine held in the city of Carthage in northern Africa. Prior to the Council of Nicea, the councils mostly discussed issues such as how to handle apostates, whether or not to accept unorthodox baptisms, and so forth. None of the seven major councils, or “general councils,” was held in Carthage, and there is often dispute over how authoritative the decrees from Carthage are, as a result.

In AD 397 the most important of the Carthage meetings was held. This is the one most commonly referred to as the “Council of Carthage.” What we know of this council is limited, as the only surviving records are indirect accounts and depictions in other sources. The foremost result of this convention was a list of the biblical canon, or the “accepted” books of the Bible. The Council of Carthage listed the 27 books of the New Testament, as well as the 39 books of the Old Testament, but it also included several books not part of the typical canon, such as Maccabees and Esdras. These books are part of what is known as the Apocrypha and are not considered inspired texts.

It should be noted that, both before and after the Council of Carthage, most Christian and Jewish scholars held the Apocrypha to be non-canonical. This is seen in the Apocrypha’s omission from the works of Philo and its explicit exclusion by church leaders such as Origen, Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, and Athanasius. The Council of Laodicea, which was held less than forty years prior to Carthage, also excluded the apocryphal books.

Recommended Resource: Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle Cairns

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