Monday, May 30, 2011

the Canon of Scripture

F.F. Bruce here produces an eminently readable text full of fascinating history concerning the formation of the Canon of Scripture. Some of the information may be a little dated today. But on the whole it is fairly reliable. He touches just a little on the use of scripture in worship as being part of it’s ability to gain recognition in the canon. It is thought by some scholars that this was much more a criterion than previously thought.
Reading the book should still be encouraged. Christians tend not to think enough of how the Bible came to be the Bible these days. I think most would be horrified to find that prior to 1806 you would not find a Bible in its present form. This is greatly problematic.
However, that is the bigger problem I have with this book. F.F. Bruce, though recognizing that every church body will naturally have a canon within the canon, he still tends toward the adoption of a flat canon. This can’t be done. We cannot make scripture what is not scripture, by fiat or tradition. This is where Lutherans stand ever since Luther wrote his now infamous prefaces to James , Jude and Revelation. In the end either the text has a provenance that establishes it’s authority and is recognized or it doesn’t. You can’t take an Epistle like Jude or James and put it on the same level as Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. When you try to flatten the canon, and not recognize the caveats of men like Eusebius concerning the apostolicity of certain books you end up with a two book canon of James and Revelation. Or you play into the hands of men like Bart Ehrman, who would all but discard the entire Bible, because a book like Second Peter is shown to be of dubious origin. The truth is, the early church knew this, and never meant for second Peter to be on the same level as 1 Peter or any of the Pauline Epistles which have much stronger attestation. This is why doctrine was not established on the basis of the Antilegoumena, and no matter how much you would like to today, you can’t make antilegoumena to be homolegomena. You just can’t. it isn’t and it won’t be. There is criteria to establish what that canon within the canon should be, and a book is a bit dishonest not to recognize that. Holding a prejudice against Lutherans does not justify that dishonesty.
On the other hand, the book is enlightening on many different aspects such as the violence that ensued within the church when it changed from using the Septuagint to the Hebrew scriptures. And I did not know that Revelation is not to this day read in the churches of the Eastern Orthodox. (Now there is a reason to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy!, would that we were spared the improper premillenialist interpretations of that book rampant in American Evangelicalism and infecting every other church body too.)

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