Thursday, March 19, 2009

Canon, open or closed, or partially shut.

Col. 4:8-17 (ESV)
I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, [9] and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
[10] Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him), [11] and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. [12] Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. [13] For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. [14] Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. [15] Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. [16] And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. [17] And say to Archippus, "See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord."
"See that you also read the letter from Laodicea." One wonders what happened to that letter. Where is it now? Do we have it under a different name? We know that some of Paul’s letters have been lost. I suppose we didn’t need them. It would be nice to have them though. One wonders what might happen if one of these letters were to turn up? Would it go in the canon?
I’ve been thinking about this canon bit, quite a bit. I don’t believe it is closed, nor open. Catholics maintain with Eastern Orthodox that it is closed, and that the church created it, or had the authority to close it after including what they want. Curiously Rome didn't get around to doing that until the council of Trent. I as a Lutheran couldn't give two figs about that council.
History tells a different tale about the canon. Not that the canon is completely open either. You see, we find that there are some books in the Bible that have been disputed from the very beginning, books like James. No one knows for sure who wrote it. Without knowing who wrote it, you don’t know if it has any binding authority or not. Other books are certain. The Pauline Corpus is known to have been written by Paul, who had apostolic authority. The Gospels are certain. The books either had to be written by an apostle, or given approval by an apostle. This is the requirement for canonization of a book. Of course we probably wouldn’t canonize Paul’s grocery list.
Some take issue with this. They would think it was blasphemous for Luther to question James. It’s in the Bible! Well that is sort of the question. That is the thing. Many aren’t sure it is. We don’t know who wrote it, and if he had apostolic authority. We can’t just go saying it is God’s word because we like it. We can’t say it isn’t because we don’t like it. I’d be tempted to make all sorts of things scripture if that were the barometer. Neither can we appeal to Church tradition, or claim that the church has the authority to make it scripture. The church simply doesn’t have that authority.
But we know that if an apostle wrote the book then it has the authority of the apostle, Authority Christ gave the apostle to speak in His name. When an apostle says something it is the same as if Christ said it. So the books that were beyond a doubt written by an apostle or given the approval of an apostle are accepted. There were others which people were hesitant about. There was question of where it came from. These books will never be certain like the others. They can be good to read, and wholesome. But they can’t decide doctrine. They are held subject to the others that are certain, and must be interpreted in light of those other more certain books. We may want to canonize James, and bring it up to the same level as Romans, but it is impossible for us to do that. If we could we could do the same with my sermon last week or the Book of Mormon. The Bible would actually then lose all authority to judge doctrine. We would have nothing on which to stand, and say that is wrong, or that is right. The distinctions, of necessity, must remain.


Anonymous said...


I'm glad you posted this and that there is at least one other person that thinks about this this way. I've run into many who if you begin to go this route they think you've gone all the way over to total undermining of the bible as authority (which I'm sure you know what I'm saying here).

Good ponderings.


Bror Erickson said...

by my reconning going the other way undermines Biblical authority, and elevates the authority of man. We may want it to be scripture with the full weight of Apostolic authority. But if it wasn't written or approved by an Apostle it just doesn't have it.

Steve Martin said...

The Word does not serve the scriptures, but the other way around.

What is of the Word is profitable, and what is not is...well...less than.

Does that make any sense?

Bror Erickson said...

If you can't point to scripture and say without equivocation this is the word of God. Than you have nothing in the end. The Gospel whenever it is preached will convert. But in the end you need something that will hold up and serve that faith. Scripture is the foundation of the faith the apostles left to us. If it is to serve us it must be reliable. Without the sure word of the apostles we have no way of knowing what is profitable and what is not.
I don't think you have to believe in inerrency to be saved. But I think not believing in it, leaves a huge chink in your armor.

Nancy said...

If there be other letters of Paul's...I believe the Holy Spirit could have found them if we needed them and had them on hand when the scriptures were canonized...As far as the writings being closed...when they appeared to be so...and further inclusion was not possible...Someone just had to go with the Bible Codes!?! Tricky, tricky tricky...

Bror Erickson said...

We know that Paul wrote letters to churches copies of which we do not have. But even if found they probably would not be included in the canon. There would just be too much debate. The problem with the closed canon really isn't a question of adding new books, it is more of a question as to those books in the covers already, do they belong there?

Nancy said...


Nancy said...

I have to admit, that if under a great tragedy, all ref. outside of the writings of Paul were to dissapear...we could still mange to live a godly Christian life with the information provided!