January 15, 2021

IM Classic: Thinking About the Canon: A Post-Evangelical’s View

Today, Chaplain Mike continues our discussion on the Scriptures by setting forth this classic IM post from Michael (1/08) on a foundational issue with regard to the Bible: What is the “canon” of Scripture?

UPDATE: I will not re-run the post on the Lutheran view of the canon (which Michael references below) at this time. However, if you want to read Josh Strodbeck’s post from Jan. 2008, go here.

After reading Mark Shea’s By What Authority? and revisiting Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? I started making some notes on my own ideas about the question of canonicity.

This post will be followed later by popular Internet Monk poster and famous Lutheran blogger Josh Strodtbeck, who will give us the Lutheran view of the canon. So this ought to be fun, interesting, and make the right people mad enough to call me an “invertebrate.” (Love those flashes of TR rhetoric.)

As some of you know, discussions about authority, who is the true church, what franchise operation did Jesus found and where should we all shop really give me the hives. Inerrantists, some Calvinists, most recent evangelical converts to the RCC and the entire Church of Christ in western Kentucky are all into this. Still, you have to think about these things. So get ready to discover that I don’t think the canon is as closed as most of you, and I am not nearly as afraid of tradition as some of you want me to be. The one thing I know is that on this bus, we’re all fallible, and that makes the subject interesting.

See you in the comments.

I’m no expert on the subject of canon, and I need to spend more time studying the subject, but I get a fair amount of questions from students about the canon and canon-related issues. Without trying to write a polished essay, I have several ideas about the canon I’d like to cover.

We have to be very careful with the concept of canon, because there is clearly a tendency to practice considerable anachronism with the whole business. Most of the questions I’ve fielded about canonization assumed that what were talking about is the approval of a list of books by some official and authoritative body, which actually becomes another discussion entirely. If we can hold off debating what denomination is the “true church” we can get much further with this idea.

Scripture itself has no formal table of contents in any book. In fact, the form of the scripture as a bound single book necessitating a table of contents is a construct of ours and not a specific command of God. On the other hand, those of us with an appreciation for tradition need to consider whether any view of tradition results in a final and authoritative “list of books in the Bible” that is never open for further discussion. The idea of “canonical” books is never as neat, simple and final as Christians would like it to be. No amount of posturing, shouting, waving Bibles or citing votes will make canonicity simple. It is, and always will be, one of the most difficult of Christian beliefs.

Canonization as event makes for a nice chart or lecture, but reflection on the nature of the writings we have in front of us will remind us that we can’t be talking about a particularly neat process, but one that is very organic and spread out. For example, consider a book like Jeremiah. We begin with Jeremiah himself and his sense of call. Then we move to his belief that God is speaking a particular message to him and through him. That message is written down, let’s say by Baruch, who is also convinced that this is from God. All of this is a kind of “canon,” in seed form.

Jeremiah’s disciples read what is written and share it with others. It is copied, shared, recopied, sent to other communities and spread even more through the Jewish community. At every point, a decision is made both individually and corporately that “this is God’s word written.” This is canonization in process. There is no insurance that the inspiration of the writing will cause universal acceptance, but this is not required perfectly at every level for canonization to happen.

As Jeremiah’s writing gains more and more acceptance within the community that believes God speaks through his prophets, his “scroll” is used in worship, reading and teaching, it will gain more recognition by the informal authority structure of Judaism at the time. The recognition of divine inspiration and purpose grows through experience, repetition and use.

This kind of canonization process is not the parallel of church councils or popes, but seems to be the consensus of rabbinical authorities in particularly influential communities. It is unlikely anyone can put a date on canonization as an “event.” This consensus is reflected in the inclusion of Jeremiah in collections of inspired writings and the references to Jeremiah as “scripture” within that community. (Again, it is important to remember that this consensus is likely not unanimous, nor does it need to be for the writing of Jeremiah to be “scripture.”)

For Christians, Jeremiah’s canonical status comes from the acceptance and use of Jeremiah as scripture by Jesus and the Apostles. In the case of the book of Jeremiah, there are obvious examples in several places. This is not, however, true of all of the books in the “Old Testament” canon. Books such as Esther and Ecclesiastes do not have specific Apostolic attestation in the New Testament, but it appears that the canon used by Jesus and the Apostles was the canon of the Septuagint. While there may have still been canonical debate and disagreement among rabbinical schools, it is clear that the concept of canon extended to “Law, Prophets and Writings” as commonly- though perhaps not uniformly- understood by the Jewish community. This makes debate on the status of books not quoted in the New Testament- like Ecclesiastes- a bit of a moot point.

It is important, however, to note that the term “scripture” was not synonymous with “approved canon.” It is apparent that Jewish writers could use the term “scripture” in a much broader sense than we would use the word “canon,” and that books not included in canonical lists might be referred to as scripture. This seems to provide strong evidence that there are books- such as the Apocryphal books- that may have been quoted as “scripture” while not appearing universally on all Jewish lists of canon. In fact, it’s clear that the Jewish canon was never as settled as the retelling of the canonical tale might sometimes imply. This suggests that the category of “beneficial, but not authoritative” should be applied to some writings, and that supplemental collections of non-canonical books and readings are appropriate.

In the matter of a New Testament canon, much the same kind of organic process of creation, use, collection and canonization occurs. Christianity, however, developed a more rigorous authority structure with more “official” status given to the idea of canon and to the importance of canonical inclusion and restriction. This seems to be for two primary reasons.

First, canonical pronouncements were a way for heretical teachers to garner power, as Marcion demonstrated with his abbreviated canon. This necessitated more canonical pronouncements on the part of early church leadership in order to prevent false teachers from defining the apostolic faith.

Secondly, a canonical consensus was needed for a confessional consensus. Christianity was a faith with a strong sense of “oneness,” and while this did not eliminate diversity, it made diversity of some kinds more problematic. The witness of early Christian literature is of a diverse church that reaches for doctrinal unity through a continuation of apostolic authority in elders, bishops and councils. Christian history has proven that doctrinal disagreement often has implications for what we consider scripture.

Was the New Testament canonical debate an expression of an infallible church decision expressing God’s will regarding “closure” of the canon? Or do canonical issues remain open? Consider the canonical status of Mark 16:9-20 as it applies to the continuation of spiritual gifts or the necessity of baptism for salvation. I do not consider these verses to be apostolic or to go back to Jesus, and this affects how I respond to the use of these passages. For me, there are still canonical questions in play.

Within particular church communions, the question of canon is largely inseparable from the question of church authority. This is not surprising, nor is it surprising that many who join particular denominations find the question of “who defined the canon?” to be persuasive. For those who reject the concept of human infallibility and who believe the process of canonization to be a combination of God using scripture as His own Word and humans recognizing the inspiration of God, the canon is, as R.C. Sproul said, “a fallible collection of infallible books.”

Such language will make claims of an infallible canon produced by an infallible church authority all the more attractive for some, but those who want to approach the subject of canon honestly will, in my opinion, find Sproul’s conclusion to be truthful and helpful. Those who must have an infallible settlement of the canon question will find one in several places, along with a tendency toward an uncritical acceptance of tradition being in an extra-Biblical, superior relationship to scripture.

It is important to remember that the process of canonization exists at all the levels described earlier in this post, and continues in some ways even today. The pronouncement of one church that “Tobit” is canonical does not make it so within the experience and communities of believers that encounter the book. It is far more likely that the broader idea of “scripture” is functioning at the same time as the narrower concept of “canon.”

It is obvious to me that the canonical discussion is never entirely “locked down” and over in the church as a whole. The discovery of other Gospels and other first century Christian literature will continue to make the canon a subject of debate at every level. The discovery of another letter of Paul would quickly demonstrate that the votes of councils or denominations do not end the discussion.

If our approach to canon is focused on the canon as affirmed and formed by Jesus and the Apostles, we will find that the canonical discussions that were going on in the early church are still alive. Should a text in Hebrews carry as much weight as a text in the Gospel of John or Romans? Should extra-canonical citations in Jude bring about the inclusion of those books in the categories of “scripture” or “canon?” Was Luther’s criticism of the Epistle of James out of line, or are such discussions still valid? Should Revelation and II Peter be in the canon, given the doubts about them in the early church? Should a letter like I Clement or a teaching like The Didache be considerd “scripture” in some sense? If not, why not? If the author of the Fourth Gospel was Lazarus, and not the apostle John, would this affect its status in the canon? Are sayings of Jesus from outside the current four Gospels of any value to Christianity? Can Protestants still cite the witness of the early church in the construction of the canon without admitting the Roman Catholic view of infallible authority? Does the RC view of canon as stated at Trent stop the RC Christian from adjusting his/her view of the content of holy scripture based on textual discoveries regarding passages that were accepted at the time of the council, but are not in the Greek text now? These are important questions regarding the canon that are still in play today.

The Lutheran approach to the canon has been more of a “middle way,” suggesting that we should be more conservative in regard to issues of apostolic authorship in particular. Recent evangelical discussion of the canon has suggested that a recognition of the difference between the use of the term “scripture” and authoritative pronouncements of “canon” may be important for Protestants to accept. Anglicans read books in worship that most evangelical Protestants exclude, but do so from the standpoint of values other than strict canonicity.

Thoughtful consideration of the issue of canon will lead the post-evangelical to see the effect the printed Bible has on the concept of scripture. To be able to hold up A BOOK and say “this is the word of God” is, from the standpoint of what God has actually inspired, misleading. God’s revelation was not of “the Bible” as a book, but of the writing that the Christian community considers to be Holy Scripture in its various forms. The continuing canonical conversations are not a witness against God speaking his Word to his people, but an expression of the conviction that God has spoken and works through his Word.

Hard, clear and authoritatively pronounced lines drawn between what is the “Bible” and what is not are very attractive to a person seeking certainty in regard to “what is the right church and the right doctrine.” A more open, dynamic idea of canonicity- that includes the fallibility of human canon-makers while emphasizing connection to Jesus and the Apostles- is far less attractive by way of certainty. If we are to constantly see the scriptures as being given to us by Jesus and through his Apostles, then a middle way is the right way to avoid the ditches of narrow authoritarianism and individualistic chaos.


1. So do you believe in an open canon?

I believe the word canon implies a long process that is not controlled by any vote or event, but that goes on dynamically as God’s people encounter God’s Words in various ways. I believe that the process of canonization is not entirely closed, but for all practical purposes it is. Even though questions, issues and future events remain, the current consensus within the major communions is strong.

2. Could something produced by a modern prophet be scripture?

No. It isn’t connected to Jesus and it isn’t Apostolic.

3. So we don’t know what God’s Word is?

First, you’re probably assuming that God’s Word is a single book. That’s seems to me to be an artifact of recent technology. God’s Word comes to his people in the writings that faithfully attest to Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

As to your specific question, I don’t entirely know the boundaries of what may be scripture. There are canonical questions that remain and I do not believe pronouncements at various times in Christian history closed the door on the boundaries of what Christian may consider to be scripture.

But certainly the scriptures that all Christians agree on provide more than sufficient attestation to the truth of Jesus and the Gospel. There is no central Christian doctrine at stake in any possible canonical discussion.

God’s Word is Jesus Christ. Beyond that, proceed with caution. God knows what he has given as his inspired Word, and it does what he set it into history to do.

4. What about the Gnostic Gospels or the Gospel of Thomas? Don’t these threaten our view of Jesus?

The Gnostic gospels clearly fail the test of canonization, and the presence of some authentic material would only make these writings of “interest.” They could never be Christian scripture. The Gospel of Thomas is the most interesting of these writings, but only a few marginal Christian groups would even attempt to make a case for some kind of canonical inclusion.

Ehrman’s suggestion that the scriptures of the diverse communities of the first century provide a very different picture of Christianity than what many Church historians want us to see seems like a valid point. But to suggest that the “Nicene” faith is overthrown by these writings is simply untrue. These Gospels are too late, unconnected to Jesus and unconvincing in any claims of Apostolicity.

5. Does the Protestant view of the canon depend on the Roman Catholic Church?

No, it doesn’t.

Protestants and Catholics disagree on whether the actions of the early church substantiate all the claims and dogmas of today’s Roman Catholic Church. Protestants need not reject the early church, the value or place of tradition, or the significance of actions by the church in order to reject the claim of infallibility. Protestants can have a canon by its affirmation by Jesus and the criteria of Apostolicity, though as I said in the post, the best we can have is a “fallible list of infallible books.”

Certainly, I believe a more “catholic” view of the why and what of scripture is appropriate. Scripture wasn’t canonized by the Southern Baptist convention, but by the church before it was sundered by division. Athanasius and the early church councils belong to all Christians. These are important milestones in how Protestants view scripture today. These are “windows” into some of the history of some of God’s people. But if God himself were writing the history of his people, I am not sure we would be reading the history of Roman Catholic canonization alone. I tend to believe the process in very organic, broad and diverse in ways no one denomination can ever completely see.



  1. I wish that these arguments for the Protestant canon could hold water, but as I and many other former Protestants have found, they don’t.

    You wrote “Those who must have an infallible settlement of the canon question will find one in several places, along with a tendency toward an uncritical acceptance of tradition being in an extra-Biblical, superior relationship to scripture.”

    This statement is inaccurate at best and a utterly false at worst. If anyone needs to have an ‘infallible’ settlement of the canon, it is Protestants who hold to sola Scriptura. If the Bible alone is our sole infallible rule of faith, then we better darn well know what books comprise the Bible and have great certainty on that. Protestants do not, which I will explain momentarily.

    You wrote: “Protestants can have a canon by its affirmation by Jesus and the criteria of Apostolicity, though as I said in the post, the best we can have is a “fallible list of infallible books.”

    It doesn’t work. You read Shea’ By What Authority, which demonstrated that “quotation by Jesus/Aposltes does not equal canonicity.” The fact is that only through _extra-biblical_ sources do we have evidence that certain books which we all accept in the New Testament were written by the Apostles.

    Luther demonstrated how little we can trust the canon, as during the Reformation he stuck James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation at the end of the first edition of his landmark NT translation, in an appendix, and prefaced the books with scathing denunciations of their contents, saying they were unapostolic and un-gospel. Read the Bible-research site for his words (which I think is a Protestant site). He also was involved with the other Reformers in rejecting the 7 deuterocanonical books–this all occurred about 1,500 years after Christ founded his Church! By what authority did they make such a determination?

    The fact is that Protestants rely on the decision of the Church of the first four centuries in accepting the 27 books of the New Testament. But that Church already taught so many doctrines which Protestants reject that a Protestant can hardly consider the Church of these centuries to be trustworthy

    If all we have is a fallible collection of books, then saying that they are infallible doesn’t work..

    I recommend reading the article, The Canon Question, on calledtocommunion.com.

    • Hi Devin,
      You seem to be trying to highlight a perceived chasm between Protestant and Catholic with respect to the canon. Setting aside for the moment the so-called Apocryphal books, is there really any question or difference on this issue? I mean, whether you read the Catholic catechism or Sunday school lessons from any local Pentecostal church, they’re both going to be talking about the same books. I don’t think the Luther example is really all that significant. He overreacted and downplayed some books showing that he was imperfect. But we could just as well point to others in early church history that had issues with certain books—-whatever fallibility has been demonstrated in individual humans, Providence has produced a remarkable consensus which has persisted unchanged since those early times and I don’t really see the huge chasm that you seem to be emphasizing.

      By the way, you tend to make very good comments and I respect your personal journey, even though I disagree with some of your conclusions.

      • Thanks Jeff,

        I had to type fast because I was at work, so I wrote some thoughts down quickly. You are right that Catholics and Protestants (and Orthodox) all accept the same 27 books for the NT, but what is the basis for accepting those–historical consensus? How you respond to the challenge that historical consensus in the early Church also gave us: baptismal regeneration, the Mass, prayers for the dead, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and so on?

        God bless!

        • I think acceptance was based fundamentally on the books being connected directly with an apostle (sanctioned by direct apostolic authority) and that the connection was determined not so much by historical consensus as empirical fact. I think the fact that the “consensus” seems to have been in place so early—way back to the very earliest post-apostolic writers like Clement—and so widespread, even among sectaries noted for unorthodox views, is what I find very compelling. I think it was Tertullian who said that the original letters (or very, very early apostolically approved copies) of some of the epistles could still be viewed in churches—in other words, it was simply a fact that these were writings of the apostles who founded the church and therefore they were de facto authoritative.

          Later historical consensus in the working out of particular interpretations, although carrying much weight that is worthy of respect (and we Protestants don’t do well respecting it enough in my opinion) to me is not the same as a much more certain direct empirical fact which seemed to drive the very early recognition (by and large) of the accepted books. Americans have argued for 200+ years about the precise meaning or scope of sections of our constitution and bill of rights and consensus has been reached on many things. But that consensus to me is not of the same kind as the empirical fact that we know exactly who wrote these documents and that they are authoritative simply because of who wrote them.

          Sorry if that’s not coherent…it’s late. Thanks for your thoughts.

          • Hi Jeff,

            Thanks for your reply. My understanding is that the four gospels and the 13 epistles of St. Paul were widely accepted early on, certainly by the mid- to late-2nd century, as attested to be the first four Church Fathers (you mentioned Clement, also Ignatius, Justin, and Irenaeus).

            That accounts for 17 of the 27 books we now accept. Three to five more became widely accepted in the 3rd century, as we see from more Church Fathers (like Origen for example), and then there were the more questionable remaining 5 to 7 books (ones like 2 Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, even Revelation and possibly 2 & 3 John (depending on whether they had been lumped with 1 John earlier on and accepted along with it)).

            Those last seven or so took until the mid to late 4th century to gain widespread acceptance, centuries past the times of the Apostles when they could empirically be determined as coming directly from an Apostle (or an Apostle’s disciple/scribe). That is why I would argue that it was a “consensus” that developed for the NT canon over the first three centuries, with some books accepted widely early on and other much later.

            But if God didn’t protect that process of consensus and those Christian leaders involved in making the decision from error, then we can have no confidence that they got all of those 27 books right (much less the 39/46/50/55 of the Old Testament right (depending on whether you accept the Protestant OT or the Catholic one or an Orthodox OT). Did God protect the decision on the canon from error, or do you also think it is a fallible collection that very possibly contains non-inspired book (or left out inspired ones)?

            God bless and God bless the Internet Monk!

          • Hi again Devin,
            I think where we likely differ is in whether the authority for those disputed books comes from the consensus or from the books themselves. Is that right? I would argue that even for the small number of disputed books, there was a very early (2nd century at least) recognition of their apostolic origin at least among some respected sources. To me, the “signal” being generated by these books indicating their authority was somehow subjected to more “noise” and it took longer for the church to learn how to filter out that noise and recognize their inherent authority. So ultimately, the consensus was the church finally recognizing the inherent authority (the “signal”) of those books rather than creating that signal in the first place. Crazy analogy perhaps. Enjoy talking with you.

    • Why would you wish that an argument for damnable heresy could hold water? The Protestant view of the canon is nothing more than an open defiance of the authority of the Vicar of Christ to speak on behalf of God to the faithful, telling them what to believe and what to reject. Protestant views, being lies and being rejections of the Word of God in Tradition, have their origin in sin, rebellion, and the work of the devil.

      • It’s hard to defy an authority you’ve never accepted nor been under. As a fellow Catholic…maybe you just want to make your position clear, but please, don’t “go there”. 🙂

        • The Protestant view of Scripture wasn’t invented yesterday, nor were the arguments for it. They were born by rebels, inspired by wicked desires and arrogant rebellion. Luther and Calvin were doing the devil’s work. Properly speaking, Protestantism is a tool of Satan to mislead souls from the path of salvation, away from the Sacraments of the Church and from rightly working out their salvation and meriting grace, and into worthless dependence on faith alone. No one should desire that the arguments for damnable heresy be sound. That is equivalent to desire that the work of the devil had a firm basis.

          • Fearsome Tycoon,

            As a Catholic, I think you’re a little off base here.

            Whether Luther and Calvin were doing the Devil’s work is not pertinent to this discussion.

            Your logic doesn’t hold though…”Protestant views, being lies and being rejections of the Word of God in Tradition, have their origin in sin, rebellion, and the work of the devil.”

            Ummm…yeah, the entire Christian Faith has its origin in sin, rebellion, and work of the devil. If you don’t believe me, please reread Genesis 3.

            God creates tremendous good out of evil. I believe the Reformation was tragic and the work of the devil in splitting the Church. That doesn’t make Protestants evil or non-Christian. I’ve known many a Protestant who take their faith more seriously than most Catholics I know. That also doesn’t make those Catholics evil or non-Christian.

          • As a fellow Catholic, I agree with Dennis in that Fearsome Tycoon is “a little off base here.” Excellent points, Dennis.

      • “Why would you wish that an argument for damnable heresy could hold water…Protestant views, being lies and being rejections of the Word of God in Tradition, have their origin in sin, rebellion, and the work of the devil.”

        While what you say is true, though a bit out of character for a Lutheran to admit, I think this falls under the category of proof that Original Sin exists. 🙂

        I know that after I saw the truth of the Catholic Church, I spent months trying to disprove it to myself. As such, coming into the Catholic Church was a failure on my part to rationalize what I wanted to be true, namely Protestantism.

      • Fearless Raccoon says

        Spoken like a “true believer.”

        How’s that Kool-Aid taste, son?

  2. I have always asked myself, as a Protestant, what my faith would be if for some reason scripture just disappeared. Without the gospel accounts, would I still have grounds for believing in Jesus as Christ?

    Having a cannon can be very important when determining and preserving the place from where a person justifies their belief. At the same time, before there was any sort of cannon, there was word of mouth and that raises other questions as well.

  3. The teachings of Christ and the apostles are infallible, and accepted on faith. Our recordings of those teachings are not perfect, and we accept them based on evidence of being approved by the Apostles.

    And we get the same answer you do. So the catholic argument boils down to that protestants should accept catholic authority because we need somebody in addition to Christ and the Apostles to reveal Gofs will for us. But that’s a claim not taught by Christ or the apostles.

    And every problem I have figuring out what Christ and the Apostles taught and interpreting their teaching, I also have figuring out what the Roman church teaches and interpreting that. What’s authoritative? Who can explain this contradiction? Is this ancient teaching based on a forged document by a different author? In fact, you have more problems, because you have millions of Romans claiming the ability to correctly intepret its teachings,and a constantly evolving body of authoritative pronouncements.

  4. I recommend reading the article, The Canon Question, on calledtocommunion.com.

    And I recommend reading THE BIBLICAL CANON: Its Origin, Transmission, And Authority (Third Edition, Third Corrected printing) by Lee Martin McDonald, and THE CANON DEBATE by Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders.

    And re: the so-called Septuagint and its relationship to the Christian Bible, read THE SEPTUAGINT AS CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURE: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon by Martin Hengel.

    These three books would make for lively home group discussions (if people can get past their academic tone). Issues related to “the canon” can be a bit of a sticky wicket. 🙂

    And if you can afford it, you might want to order or otherwise listen to the relevant audio recordings of the 60th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 2008, Providence, RI), whose theme topic was “TEXT AND CANON.” Program with list of lectures/papers:


    • Oh yeah, Eric. I definitely see these books being used in home groups. 🙂

    • As long as we’re stating our favorite references, my book of choice is Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures by R. Laird Harris. Great breadth and depth on these subjects.

      • I liked Metzger’s text on NT.
        I’ll have to check out the one on the LXX I need to learn more about that and how it relates to canon and textual issues.

  5. There is no need for infallibility if you realize that Jesus would still have existed and would still be working in our lives today even if the Bible did not exist.

    If one’s Christianity rests on a book and one’s faith rests on the assumption that that book is infallible and more or less a proxy for God, then really it doesn’t matter if Jesus existed or not. The book is all that matters.

    Far too much evil has entered into this world through the actions of men using the Bible. in this country alone, the Bible has been used as a justification for slavery, genocide of native Americans, denial of health care to the poor and the physical abuse of women and children.

    The Bible is a weapon to justify our own sinning, in other words, and the very concept of an infallible canon is at the root of that evil.

    • Only corrupt professing Christians use the infallible and inspired Word as a justification for slavery, genocide of native Americans, denial of health care to the poor and the physical abuse of women and children.

      At the same time, anyone who calls himself/herself a Christian but denies that the 66 Books of Scripture is God-breathed (the corollary of infallibility) is not a true Christian either.

      • David Cornwell says

        And where did Jesus, Paul, or Peter say that this is a condition for being saved? I keep hearing this or that condition or belief makes or breaks a person’s salvation. We are fallible people with limited knowledge. How can we ever even think of judging a person’s salvation? A person can know absolutely nothing about the bible and yet know Christ and salvation.

        • We’re not going to be questioning people’s salvation here, folks. The subject is the Biblical canon, how it came to us, how we should view. Stay on topic, please.

          • I think Mark is making a leap in logic by equating the term “God breathed” with being infallable. And while not using the exact words, he is saying in effect that anyone not agreeing with him is not a Christian. That’s definately the low road to take in any argument.

            “Stay on topic, please;” very Michael Spencer of you Chaplain Mike. The very topic at hand is how/why those 66 books Mark makes reference to are considered scripture, and if any others should also be considered scripture. He seems to have declared himself judge, jury and executioner. The rest of us may be excused now.

    • Uhm, I beleive that there are more than 66 books to Scripture. We share the same New Testament, but not the same Old Testament. There are three widely held Old Testament lists: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

      • Aren’t there some variations in the NT within some of the middle-Eastern and African groups among the Orthodox? E.g. Ethiopian and Syriac Churches? Admittedly, I know very little about our Eastern brothers in general and the non-European variants therein in particular.

  6. I liked these statements:

    It is far more likely that the broader idea of “scripture” is functioning at the same time as the narrower concept of “canon.”

    Thoughtful consideration of the issue of canon will lead the post-evangelical to see the effect the printed Bible has on the concept of scripture. To be able to hold up A BOOK and say “this is the word of God” is, from the standpoint of what God has actually inspired, misleading. God’s revelation was not of “the Bible” as a book, but of the writing that the Christian community considers to be Holy Scripture in its various forms. The continuing canonical conversations are not a witness against God speaking his Word to his people, but an expression of the conviction that God has spoken and works through his Word.

    Not that you probably want to get into it, but I think your answer to question #2 has holes in it:

    2. Could something produced by a modern prophet be scripture?

    No. It isn’t connected to Jesus and it isn’t Apostolic.

    I suppose I know what you are getting at, but what is to say that someone who prophesies today could not be connected to Jesus and be faithful to apostolic teaching? I guess that’s the whole point, right?

  7. Also, Michael Patton has also started a series along these lines over at Parchment & Pen. Here are two articles that might be of interest:

    Article One

    Article Two

  8. As much as modern Catholics would argue this, Roman Catholicism as we know it formed during the fifth century with the Fall of Rome and the need for the Roman See to start getting a hold of the political life of a destroyed city. At that time, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch had more power in determining doctrine. So much of the writing in regard to the canon was done in the East. Athanasinus was from Egypt, so was Origen (who complied a canonical list a century earlier by writing to different churches in the Empire asking them what books they used). The Young Nicenes, who all lived in the east were far more influential than any Roman Bishop up to that time. Leo the Great was the first really Bishop to speak on doctrinal matters. So this is not about the Catholic Church but our shared heritage. Many protestants would do well studying this more about this issue. because the canon was already being used and utilized by the Church before the “rubber stamp” in 367 AD.

    I don’t think iMonk has engaged in any weird historical nonsense that some do suffer from when talking about this and actually hits on some very good questions. However the focus seems solely on the New Testament canon in the comments. I will agree that probably our view of canon differs with the Second Temple view of the scriptures. There are lots of layers to this onion. I agree the Bible points to the true word of God (Jesus) but there is some precedent of calling the written word with God’s word. How your does this view coincide with David’s understanding of Psalm 119 equating the Law with the word of God?

    @Fishman: the canon is fallible, then what should we trust as our rule? It is not the canon that is fallible, we are. Your list forgets to mention that this Book also created Hospitals, schools, ended slavery, Civil Rights, and people traveling to countries much poorer to provide healthcare to those who TRULY cannot afford it before any government agency. Actually, many of the items you mention come from sources of thought that are not biblically sound but are read into the text from people who are submitting themselves to what the Word said. Your point shows that as a good example. Without it, we are left with our experience alone. Obviously, we all have blind spots.

    While we can argue as much as we want, do we even question our own biases? What are our reasons for not wanting this to be true? Is there something the Bible is saying we disagree with that is causing us to search for problems?The Bible allows us both an experiential ANDa empirical anchor to God. We error if we try to make it only about one or the other. You are making all about experience by your statement and ignoring any rational evidence.

    Plus, historically Jews and Christians stood for these words are the Word of God and always wanted to hear God speak. They were dogmatic and generally humble in letting their experience point to texts that God spoke through. They want to be formed by the word of God, not form it themselves. See the care they used in transcribing it and the respect they had for it. I can’t say I hear the same humility from the people that try to argue the fallibility of Scripture and/or God.

    • There is no “the canon” that you can describe as “fallible” or “infallible.” There are different canons that different churches have used at different times and in different ways.

  9. The Canon does not include the Apocrypha…….agreed?

    • Well, considering – according to the margin of NA27 – that the author of 2 Timothy, from which we get the “all Scripture is inspired by God” phrase, may himself have quoted from the Apocrypha (specifically Sirach 17:26 and a variant reading of Sirach 23:10) as Scripture…. 🙂

      • David Houston says

        That makes sense because there’s no chance that Paul would have come out with that on his own… Ya know, I heard someone say that Bush was an idiot the other day but I also know that I saw that very same statement written in the newspaper years earlier… he must have been quoting from it! There’s no way that he would come up with that on his own!

        Not trying to be rude but I do think that there is a tendency for us to see connections where none exist in these matters. For an example of this problem in action you should check out the last James White vs Dan Barker debate.

      • May being the key word there EricW —–Thank you for that, I was not aware of it.

        Can you please let me know where some believe Paul quoted Sirach in the NT?


        • The verse is 2 Timothy 2:19 (NA27 p. 553). One has to read the Greek text of 2 Tim 2:19 and the Greek text and variants of the LXX of Sirach to see the word connections and why this is a plausible conjecture, because it seems to conform more to the wording of Sirach than to the other possible references (Numbers 16:5 and Isaiah 26:13 are also involved). The complete list of references in NA27 (Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece 27th edition) for this verse is:

          Is 28,16 (European system uses commas, not periods or colons to separate chapter:verse)
          Nu 16,5 (A verse reference in italics in NA27 indicates a direct quotation – see Introduction p. 78*) * Sir 17,26 ;
          35,3 Job 36,10 *
          Is 26,13 Sir 23,
          10 v.l. (variant reading) cf Lv 24,16

          • FYI – In listing the NA27 margin notation for 2 Tim 2:19, I used a * in the verse listing where NA27 uses a •. The only * that’s supposed to be a * is the one for the Introduction page 78*. Thus, the margin notes actually read and look like:

            Is 28,16
            Nu 16,5 • Sir 17,26 ;
            35,3 Job 36,10 •
            Is 26,13 Sir 23,
            10 v.l. cf Lv 24,16

            Again, a verse reference in italics in NA27 indicates a direct quotation (either obviously or in the editors’ judgment/opinion), not simply an allusion or cross-referenced verse. E.g., whereas Sirach 17:26 is regarded as being directly quoted here, Sirach 35:3 is given as simply a cross-reference to a related verse.

            v.l. = varia lectio = a variant reading

    • Disagreed. If by “apocrypha” you include the 7 deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic Church (and all Orthodox Churches) as God-breathed.

      That’s another problem with the Protestant OT canon: It disagrees with the Orthodox Churches as well. Above, commenter Dan was (inaccurately) praising early Christians from the East as being the really influential ones, yet all the Orthodox Churches (read: Eastern Churches) accept the seven deuterocanonicals _as well as_ anywhere from 4 to 8 more OT books (not accepted by Catholics or Protestants), depending on which Orthodox Church you are talking about (Russian, Syrian, Armenian, generally Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, etc.) To a Protestant, “the (Orthodox) East” got the OT even more wrong than the Catholic Church!

      • Disagreed. If by “apocrypha” you include the 7 deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic Church (and all Orthodox Churches) as God-breathed.
        Which version of Judith was God-breathed? Is the story of Bel & the Dragon God-breathed? What about the story of the adulterous woman in John? What about I John 5:7?
        That’s another problem with the Protestant OT canon: It disagrees with the Orthodox Churches as well.
        So does the Catholic canon. If the standard is Orthodoxy, Catholicism is wrong.

      • Disagreed. If by “apocrypha” you include the 7 deuterocanonical books accepted by the Catholic Church (and all Orthodox Churches) as God-breathed.
        Which version of Judith was God-breathed? Is the story of Bel & the Dragon God-breathed? What about the story of the adulterous woman in John? What about I John 5:7?
        That’s another problem with the Protestant OT canon: It disagrees with the Orthodox Churches as well.
        So does the Catholic canon. If the standard is Orthodoxy, Catholicism is wrong.

    • Ahh, NOPE.

    • I’ve always thought that the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical debate could settled by some simple study of Church history. Or rather, pre-Church history. By Jesus’ time there were effectively at least three ‘canons’ of the Jewish scriptures: 1) Greek version from Alexandria (i.e. Septuagint), 2) Hebrew version of the Pharisees’ Babylonian Synagogue tradition (i.e. Masoretic Text, or rather it’s ancestor),, 3) Hebrew version from the Palestinian tradition which partially survives in the form of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      A very simplified version of what happened in the Church was that while the Church had pretty much adapted the Greek version as the OT Scriptures for over a thousand years, the Protestants went back to the Hebrew version from the Pharisees’ tradition (which was the only surviving form of Judaism after 70AD).

      As for extra-biblical quotations and allusions in the Epistles, they’re all over the place, whether or not one accepts the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals as inspired. There’s also a ton of ’em in the OT. It’s not a big deal.

      • Also, I’d like to quote from the 1979 BCP regarding the canon that includes what I would considered a reasonable and balanced approach for Protestants to take regarding the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals:

        Q. What are the Holy Scriptures?
        A. The Holy Scriptures, commonly called the Bible, are the books of the Old and New Testaments; other books, called the Apocrypha, are often included in the Bible.

        [skipping a few questions ahead]

        Q. What is the Apocrypha?
        A. The Apocrypha is a collection of additional books written by the people of the Old Covenant, and used in the Christian Church.

        Q. Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
        A. We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.

        Q. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?
        A. We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.

    • For those who accept the Apocrypha as Scripture, how would you respond to these assertions about those books? I ask honestly, not meaning to “stir up trouble”. To me personally, these are what I consider probably the strongest arguments against full canonicity and I would be interested in an honest response. I don’t mind having the truthfulness of these assertions questioned—I base these on what I consider strong evidence, but I’m not perfect.

      1) Early Jewish sources such as Josephus, Philo and others do not place the Apocryphal books on the same plane as the universally accepted OT canonical books.
      2) Christ and the apostles quote the Apocrypha rarely if ever (if anything, Enoch is the best attested extra-canonical book based on Scriptural references).
      3) Most early Christian writers take the same view as in 1), although many refer to the Apocryphal books and recommend them as worthy of reading. Augustine, I think, is the closest to elevating these books to canonicity but does explicitly, I think, say that the Maccabees are not on the same level as the rest of Scripture. Jerome himself refused to acknowledge canonicity of the Apocrypha but grudgingly did a hurried translation and included the books in the Vulgate.
      4) It was essentially an overreaction at Trent to Protestant doctrinal challenges to elevate the Apocrypha to full canonicity.

      I don’t see a problem with revering these books but not as Scripture (sort of like the dulia, latria dichotomy). I think of the Apocrypha as books like The Imitation of Christ or Pilgrim’s Progress that I think every Christian should read and take in…but I don’t think of them as Scripture.

      Thanks for any help on the subject. Peace.

      • 1)That may not be quite accurate. They’re in the Septuagint, which predates Josephus and Philo by a couple hundred years. To modern Judaism (i.e. the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees’ theology) Josephus is considered a traitor and Philo’s considered too influenced by Greek philosophy to be reliable. The reason I bring up modern Judaism’s take is that the protestant OT canon is largely an adaptation of Pharisaic Judaism’s canon in contradistinction to the Septuagint’s canon. Also, I’ve read that Philo considered the Septuagint (which includes the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals) to be of miraculous inspiration. Josephus also quoted from it extensively.

        2) There is a lot of the OT that doesn’t get quoted by Christ or the Apostles. For example, many of the books known to Protestants as “the historical books” or to Jews as the “former prophets” and “writings” don’t get quoted from.

        3) Also debatable. It kinda depends on whose history you’re going with. Jerome, for example, viewed them rather ambivalently. While he integrated them in the OT, he noted them as apocryphal (he did the same with some books. On the other hand, other Church Fathers seemed to accept the Septuagint wholesale.

        4) I have definitely heard this argument. It seems to be somewhat of a “he said/she said” thing to me.

        Really, the issue to me is that the canon wasn’t completely set for ANYONE until the 2nd Century (earliest date for the canonization of what we now consider the Hebrew Bible). While I don’t consider the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals to be at the same level of inspiration as the rest of Scripture, I don’t have a problem with traditions that do.

        • With respect to 1), again I don’t claim to be an expert but I at least believe that I’m fairly representing things. Neither Philo nor Josephus treated the apocrypha as canonical and Josephus mentions a canon that is essentially the Protestant OT canon and he says that it was established long ago. I know there’s some debate about the count of his books and whether he was including Ruth in Judges or skipping Ecclesiastes, but the point is he says the canon is well established and it essentially matches the Protestant canon.

          As to a Septuagint canon, I don’t think it’s accurate to call it a “canon.” Editions of the Septuagint may have contained other books besides Scripture, but that doesn’t make those extra books canonical. I have Bibles with introductions to various books, maps, inline commentary, added poetry, etc—-all these extras are there but they’re not Scripture.

          Thanks for the reply. I’m with you in that I don’t consider these books Scriptural but don’t have terribly strong concerns about traditions that do. There are things that make me nervous about attributing divine origin to books which I believe to contain actual inaccuracies, but many Christians believe there are inaccuracies in non-disputed books as well. I personally have read much of the Apocrypha as well as many additional pseudepigraphal works and find all to be useful in certain ways in better understanding Scripture.

  10. “Those who must have an infallible settlement of the canon question will find one in several places, along with a tendency toward an uncritical acceptance of tradition being in an extra-Biblical, superior relationship to scripture.”

    The second half of this sentence really is the key. Tradition defines what “Biblical” is. If the Bible has no table of contents, then men decided what books make up the Bible. And if there are no verses in any of the canons (see <a href="http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/interactive/canon/"this great chart) defined by any of the branches of Christianity, then the canons are extra-Biblical. Seems pretty obvious, though very threatening if you haven’t heard this before or have a low tolerance for ambiguity.

    We can be as sola scriptura as we want to be in our hearts, but what scriptura is doesn’t come to us sola from scriptura, if you can parse my latin….

    This doesn’t mean we have no Bible, or that the Bible doesn’t matter, or any of that relativistic nonsense! And, thankfully, the point of Christianity isn’t the Bible, right? The Bible isn’t about itself; it’s about God. A real God whom we can know instead of just reading about, and commune with, and hear from — even if we, like many others, never have the luxury of holding a Bible again for the rest of our lives.

  11. Matthew, I don’t know where Paul quoted from Sirach in 2 TImothy, but I did check Sirach in the New American Bible for the passages that Eric mentions and they are:

    Sirach 17:26: ” Is anything brighter than the sun? Yet it can be eclipsed. How obscure then the thoughts of flesh and blood!”

    Sirach 23: 10: “Just as a slave that is constantly under scrutiny will not be without welts, So one who swears continually by the Holy Name will not remain free from sin.”

    I will check out 2 Timothy later. Off to get wood stove going and do supper.

    • You really have to check the wording in the Greek of both 2 Tim 2:19 and the referenced verses in Greek Sirach (LXX), as well as the Greek (LXX) texts of the other Scriptures listed there by NA27, and not an English translation so you will see the correspondence between 2 Tim 2:19 and these verses, or the lack thereof.

      • David Houston says

        So you’re arguing that from:

        Sirach 17:26: ” Is anything brighter than the sun? Yet it can be eclipsed. How obscure then the thoughts of flesh and blood!”


        Sirach 23: 10: “Just as a slave that is constantly under scrutiny will not be without welts, So one who swears continually by the Holy Name will not remain free from sin.”

        Paul came out with:

        2 Timothy 2:19: ‘But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”’

        Now… I know I’m quoting them in english but it seems like these statements are worlds apart. It reminds me of the time when a fundamentalist pastor tried to tell me that you could find plenty of Bible verses that banned dancing, alcohol, smoking, and card playing so long as you know read it in the Greek. In both cases I think that the conclusion is based more on fancy than reality.

        • To validate or understand the NA27 attributions of these as being quotations from Greek Sirach, you need to work directly with the Greek texts of 2 Tim and the LXX (and look at the Hebrew and Greek texts of the related verses, which I listed from the NA27 margin, as well). What it “seems” to you based on an English translation is worlds apart from what I am saying. 🙂

          I.e., before you reject what NA27 is indicating by likening it to what some unnamed fundamentalist pastor told you, do the textual work yourself and make statements based on that. I.e., look for where these phrases occur elsewhere in the LXX and see if their attribution to Sirach is valid.

    • There’s some neat stuff in the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals. Sirach is a favorite of mine, as is Tobit and Baruch. If I have my history correct, all of the earliest Protestant translations included the Apocrypha as an appendix for many years until some radical bible societies in England threatened to pull funding.

  12. Sorry about the link failure. Here is the canons chart.

  13. Louis Winthrop says

    Lost in the above discussion are the following points:

    1. The NT canon was less a product of organic consensus than of brute force. Large, powerful churches promoted literature associated with their founding saints. As Christianity gained official status, these churches imposed the beliefs and practices which they preferred, suppressing alternative versions.

    2. The notion that some books boast “apostolic” sanction is an article of faith / mythology with little to recommend it historically. Textual criticism reveals the synoptics and Acts to have arisen from a complex process of oral transmission and literary appropriation. Meanwhile Paul, like Joseph Smith, was an “apostle” only in his own imagination. We don’t know who wrote the Book of Revelation.

    • Warning, Jesus Seminar/Bart Ehrman have entered the building.

      • Louis Winthrop says

        Warning: the skeptical tradition within biblical scholarship really can’t be ignored if we are to claim anything like scholarly integrity.

    • ROFL, you need to read some of the philosophical and archeological counter-arguments against what you have said.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      Look buddy, it’s totally fine if you come in here and challenge commonly held assumptions. God knows we Christians need some of our commonly held assumptions challenged.

      However, can you please back up your assertions with some evidence? A few books or links?

      As for your comments.

      1. If this is true, then why do the most common of early Christian literature, the four gospels (which started circulating together quite early, though not as early as some Christians might wish.), why don’t the gospels have powerful apostle’s names attached to them?

      Similarly, which of the alternative versions of Christianity (I assume here that you are referring to things like the Gospel of Thomas) paints a realistic picture of Jesus who would be crucified by the Romans? Would any prefect even care to crucify Thomas’ version of Jesus? [Btw, this to me is the failure of the Jesus Seminar’s portrait of Jesus: not crucifiable. Of course the same could be said of many evangelical portraits of Jesus.]

      2. Textual Criticism has revealed no such thing. Textual Criticism has revealed that the process was a little more complex than thought before, i.e. Matthew and Luke both using Mark and some kind of other common source designated Q. The two source hypothesis is widely accepted. Other complexifications (such as several editions of Q) are not widely accepted because of lack of evidence.

      If you are saying that Paul was not an apostle because he was not one of the 12, you are correct. However, Paul defines apostle as someone who has seen the risen Lord Jesus (see 1 Cor 9:1, and 1 Cor 15:7 were apostles are something other than the 12).

      We have from Paul’s letters, a 1st person account of his seeing the Lord Jesus (albeit not in narrative form like in Acts, but in hints and references). Who are you to decide that this was Paul’s imagination? If you do not allow Paul at least a hearing here, then you must disregard all eyewitness testimony of things that are outside of a society’s norms. Do you really want to go down that road? Where culture tells people what they can and cannot see? Where we only accept testimony of what we already know to be true? Have you thought through the implications of that?

  14. My own understanding of the canon is that there was far less confusion and disagreement than I think is often presented as the case. There’s no question that some of the accepted books posed difficulties for various groups here and there and there’s no question that this or that group had a favorite book which was not in the accepted canon. But to me what is quite amazing is that pretty much right from the start in the earliest sources we have available, there was consensus concerning the very books that have been handed down to us. There was perhaps a fallible process amongst the humans involved in sifting out the final canon, but it seems that there was clear and powerful guidance from the Holy Spirit right from the start that produced widespread consensus in the majority of cases. I don’t think it’s at all a fair reading of the process to say that there was a mass of books, any of which could have been picked, and some councils just got together and whatever political group was strongest got to choose their favorites—this is the view that I think often comes across and I think it’s not a fair summary at all.

    • Look at the canon in a macro sense. Out of the hundreds of letters that Paul probably wrote during his life, yet we end up with the handful in the canon. How did that happen?

      More broadly, I have always wondered how the words of Paul take up the majority of space in the NT. In itself, this disproportion shapes our theology — for example, I just went to another blog and looked at the latest post. Of the scriptures referenced, 4 are from the OT, 6 are from Paul and 1 is from Matthew. 6 to 1.

      Did the Holy Spirit really work in such as a way as to diminish the reporting of the actual words of Christ in favor of the words of Paul? It’s almost as if Paul were the second savior, Jesus Jr. Paul was a man, but we’re expected to treat his writings as if breathed by God.

      Give me the gospels — I need nothing else.

      • Well, without Paul, you lose a lot of what makes Christian theology uniquely (for lack of a better term) Christian. For example, the whole concept of justification by faith is firmly rooted in Pauline theology. For the most part, the Gospels are neither kyrigma (preaching), nor are they didache (teaching), but are rather theological narrative. I submit we absolutely need Paul’s kyrigma and didache to have the Christian faith. Isn’t the concept of a canon the idea that we need it all to get the full picture?

      • I agree with the basic idea that evangelicalism has more of a Pauline flavor than a Jesus flavor. The remedy is a solid knowledge of the Gospels, and the person of Jesus therein, but I wouldn’t throw out the rest of the NT, I’d just use it as a lens with which to view the Christ of the Gospels, rather than using the Gospels as a spotlight for Paul, or reform theology, or whatever. The amount of Scripture credited to Paul doesn’t force us to diminish Jesus’ standing as the object of faith.


      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        First off, Paul doesn’t have the most words in the NT, Luke does. Then it’s either Paul or John, depending on if you believe that John’s gospel and the Revelation are written by the same John (and of course, if you consider all 13 of Paul’s letters to be authentic.) Either way, Luke and Acts dominate the NT when it comes to word count.

        That being said, I completely agree with your frustration. We evangelicals are obsessed with Paul. I think it’s because he seems more propositional/doctrinal, in other words more modern. Also, Paul can be tamed. We can make Paul say what we want. Jesus on the other hand is a little bit trickier to tame. 🙂 A related problem is that we interpret Jesus through Paul, and not the other way around. I seriously doubt that Paul himself would want that.

        However, I recently became an Anglican, and one of my favorite things about Anglican worship is the public reading of scripture, climaxing in the reading of the Gospel. This is the way it should be.

  15. A lot of the problem is that in order for the Radical Reformation folk to justify their reconstructions of Church history they had to seriously deconstruct early Church history. (NOTE: This was not true of the Reformers, only of the Radical Reformers, but most Americans have a Radical Reformation viewpoint.) But, if one deconstructs early Church history one immediately runs into a problem with the Canon.

    The reality is that the Early Church and the Canon are tied together. The more that one casts doubt on the decisions of the Early Church regarding worship and ecclessiology, the more that one casts doubt on the Canon.

    Thus, the more “Anabaptist” or “Radical Reformer” type of Protestants have the difficulty of saying that the Church was fully wrong about ecclessiology and worship while asserting that they were totally right about Scripture. Modern liberals have simply gone one step further and said that the Early Church was mistaken about all of it.

    Classic Protestants are a minority in this country. But both Jean Cauvin and Martin Luther gave full support to the Early Church while saying that the Medieval Church was mistaken. Even so, Jean Cauvin cut enough that the doctrine of the testimonium of Scripture became necessary in order to guard it against charges of fallibility.

    The reality, as Martin Luther was aware, is that only if the Early Church is correct in its view of ecclessiology is there any guarantee that it is also correct in terms of its view of Scripture. And, modern liberals are quite aware of that.

    • I’m hesitant to dispute you, Fr. Ernesto, because I’m quite certain you’re more educated in these matters than I. Still, I’m not too sure that the ecclessiology integrity of the early church (meaning the first three or four centuries) necessarily has to be placed in the same boat with accuracy or reliability regarding what the early church held to be the authoritative writings of the apostles.
      To give a more modern example of what I’m trying to say, consider the writings and declarations of the founding fathers here in America. There really is no dispute about what constitutes those writings and declarations — everyone agrees on that as simple historical fact. But not everyone has agreed on exactly how those writings should frame and limit things like governmental control and judicial interpretation. And one might easily argue that while we still give lip service to those original declarations, we’ve departed considerably from the original intent of the founding fathers in many ways in the course of just a couple of centuries. One might even argue that we as a nation have never really fully practiced what the founding fathers tried to establish — mainly due to powerful persons or interest groups always finding ways to circumvent the intent of those declarations when it suited their purposes to do so. And in the course of time, these circumventions have become precedent from which to establish further departures from original intent and design.
      With that said — Is it really unreasonable too look at early church history and see some of those same kinds of dynamics at play? I myself see a good deal of evidence for this. One thing I see is the gradual centralization of authority from a plurality of apostles and elders, to the one-bishop rule of each church, to the rule of some bishops over others, to the supremacy of Rome, and hence to the Papacy (or even CEO-style megachurch moguls). Another progression is that from relatively informal gatherings where everyone was free to contribute something from the Holy Spirit to more and more formality and ritual and finally to a grand liturgical spectacle wedding Christian tradition with Roman imperial court ceremony. Reading the NT, it seems that the love feast — a shared meal and fellowship with Eucharistic observations included as part of it — was established by the apostles as the mainstay of church gatherings. Why was that practice eventually abandoned and even banned by the church? What forces, human or divine, were at play there? And did some of these gradual changes represent not just an addition of religious ornamentation, but also an alteration in the essential character and definition of what the church was originally intended to be by those that first founded it? Are those even legitimate questions that are worth asking? And is it completely unfounded and irrational to view the NT as divinely inspired, while, at the same time, turning a more critical and questioning eye toward ecclessiological history and evolution?

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      I almost became an Anabaptist, so I know the tradition somewhat well.

      Anyway, a more nuanced Anabaptist generally loves the early church, right up until Constantine, since they find a lot of support for some of their emphases (pacifism and love of the Gospel of Matthew for example.) They are pretty suspicious of the church after Constantine, because they believe that the church sold out to the forces that crucified Jesus. This includes the creeds and the canons. I’ve never heard an Anabaptist say that they certain parts of scripture aren’t scripture, however, they are very honest about having a canon within a canon. They read scripture through the gospels, and the gospels through the Sermon on the Mount. Some Anabaptists are suspicious of the creeds, others not so much.

      As for ecclesiology, I think an Anabaptist could affirm the four marks of the church, but they would (and have) radically defined apostolicity. To them, being an apostle means bleeding for Jesus. To be an apostle means that you die like Jesus and the Apostles. I think there is something to respect in this understanding of Apostolicity that is missing from other ‘high church’ definitions.

      Ultimately though, I became an Anglican, but with some Anabaptist leanings.

  16. Hmmm….a fair number of criteria here that seem to me to be pretty problematic–so just my own observations:

    1) How does one gauge apostolicity exactly, since most of the Bible’s writers are anonymous? To determine authorship (if that’s what you’re hanging your hat on for canonicity–and I’m not saying that’s a good criteria), one has to depend mainly on TRADITIONS of authorship–which are shaky, late, and circular since the books have already been pretty much accepted as scripture by the time the evidence surfaces (Eusebius mainly, fourth century–who incidentally points out there are serious questions as to the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews for example.)

    2) Quoting or not quoting (in NT or Church fathers) also seems pretty shaky as a criteria for canonicity. So if a book isn’t quoted by Jesus or the apostles–and remember apostolicity already depends on #1 above–then we just throw it out? If it’s only quoted once, then its in? Or out? Ten times is ok, but nine no? Short or expanded Esther? (I feel like Abraham bargaining for Sodom.)

    3) There’s really no such thing as “The Septuagint” or “The Canon of the Septuagint” at the time of Jesus and the apostles. There were scrolls of texts in Greek that we know people were using and considered scripture. The Torah was likely translated first, followed by various other books over a very long period of time. There was no standard collection of scrolls as far as we know–in fact the varying canons among churches of the east testify to the contrary in my view. Scrolls don’t have tables of contents because, except for the book of the twelve, they only contained one book–or less.

    4) There’s really no such thing as a Masoretic Text or Proto-Masoretic text or “Palestinian canon” at the time of Jesus. Again, the codex hadn’t yet been invented, so communities had varying collections of scrolls based on what they thought was important and what they could afford—although we can see at the time of the Gospels that groupings of books were probably beginning to come together. Again though, no tables of contents as to what was included or excluded. The best we can do is posit a forming consensus based on a much later outcome. We see the “answer,” especially with the NT, but we really know almost nothing about the process.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls likely tell us what books from our present Bible the people at Qumran thought were important–but they also read a lot of material that’s not included in any Western canon (e.g., the Book of Jubilees, which IS canonical for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church). The Dead Sea Scrolls display a text type that at times follows more closely to what we now know as the Septuagint and what we now know as the Masoretic Text—sort of a middle road which challenges a lot of Masoretic and Septuagint purisits.

    5) The infallibility of the Roman Catholic canon is in my view fatally challenged by differing Eastern Orthodox canons. But I don’t think the Catholic church particularly needs an infallible canon.

    6) I’d like to see some evidence of: “Josephus, Philo and others do not place the Apocryphal books on the same plane as the universally accepted OT canonical books.” Sounds like something out of a stock apologetics book–especially the “and others” part–what “others??” But I could be wrong and I’m open to considering evidence.

    7) I think Luther’s best innovation is his frank admission that some parts of the Bible are more important than others. Churches should be more up-front and honest about their views on this. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on Nahum or the genealogies in Ezra? When have you heard a Sunday morning lectionary reading from a book bearing a woman’s name? (I’m thinking never.)

    Canonicity really only comes to a head only when someone has to compile a codex or prepare a translation (or both) because someone in authority needs to make a definitive statement as to what will be included or excluded in the body of work.

    • Regarding 4) we do have the beginnings of canon by Jesus’ day. For example it’s generally accepted that the Pharisees accpted what in the Hebrew Bible is called the Torah and the Prophets by Jesus’ day. Based on some discussions in the Mishnah, we can gather that the Writings were still being debated with respect to a small handful of books (E.g. Song of Songs, Esther, and Ecclesiastes), but that the rest was pretty much accepted by then. By the time the Mishnah was codified, however, the Hebrew canon was clearly established. Granted, the Rabbis would traditionally say that the canon was established by Ezra and his crew in the 5th Century BC. But that seems to be a somewhat revisionist view.

      So, sure, we don’t have any sense of “official” canon during the 2nd Temple times. But we do have kinds of proto-canons from differing sects of 2nd-Temple Judaism.

      6)As I browse online stuff about the Septuagint as well as Philo and Josephus, I keep coming across references to them viewing the Septuagint as divinely inspired and/or even miraculous. However, I don’t know if that just refers to the initial translation of the Pentateuch into Greek or of a broader idea of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

      • 4) Right–I mentioned that we have sort of a “grouping of books,” but unfortunately we just don’t have a list of their content: We can make educated guesses: Pentateuch, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalms, but to assume “the rest” except for a few seems a pretty long list and a bit of a leap to me–and there just very little evidence. Because the Mishnah wasn’t compiled until around 200 years after Jesus’ death, we have no idea whether these were contemporary debates or debates which date back to an earlier time. The Rabbinical view certainly reflects their tradition, but the material in the Talmud’s probably about 800-1,000 years after Ezra. Development of the Talmud is even more complicated than the Bible.

        6) My guess is that Philo and Josephus would be speaking about he Pentateuch when they speak of the Septuagint (and I don’t recall if/where they do speak of the Septuagint–and again I’d be very interested in some quotes). I certainly don’t recall that either has a comparative discussion about which books are considered Scripture and which are not, or where they show that the Apocryphal books are not on the same plane. I’d be very interested in finding out how one would argue this from the text.

        • Jacob Neusner argues that the rabbinical writings are almost worthless for determining the Judaism of the 1st century, and hence are basically useless for aiding NT interpretation and understanding. The problem is that the statements in the Mishnah, etc., are unreliable in terms of their claimed sources and time periods and attributions.

          • Oh, absolutely. The rabbinic writings are horribly biased. The reason why I look to the Mishnah for some clues as to these 1st-century debates is that we know these particular debates were already solved by the time of the Mishnah’s codification, but are giving the reasoning behind these handful of books from the K’tuvim (Writings) being included. While the Mishna reflects 2nd-Temple ideas, they’re very biased to one sect of 2nd-Temple Judaism.

            While these dates may still be a bit earlier than some scholars would agree on, a relatively conservative dating of the developement of the Hebrew canon is that the Torah as we know it was in it by the 400BCE, the Prophets as we know it by 200BCE and the Writings by 100CE. By 200CE it was certainly in its present 24-book form (as far as which books were accepted as belonging in the canon). The only book in the Prophets I’ve seen on any list of disputed inspiration in the 1st Century was Ezikiel (Daniel’s in the Writings rather than the Prophets by the Hebrew reckoning).

    • Hi,
      As for 6) regarding Josephus and Philo, here’s where I came up with my statements.

      Josephus says in Against Apion that there are the laws, the prophets and the hymns and gives 22 total books. 22 is consistent with our current list when the books are grouped as in the Talmud (1 and 2 Samuel are just “Samuel”, for example) and certain small books are merged into larger books—something Jerome and others document. Josephus goes on to say that additional history was written after Artaxerxes but that this is not of the same authority as the earlier books due to a lack of succession of prophets since that time. He says that noone has been so bold as to add or subtract anything from that established list.

      Philo also refers to law, oracles (from prophets) and hymns—the same language used by Josephus to describe the Scriptural groupings of books—in “On the Contemplative Life.” And Beckwith in The Old Testament Canon in the NT church (this is a major scholarly work not just some wacko quoting things he happened to come across out of context, etc—but since he does present a case against the Apocrypha, I note that Catholic scholars generally do not hold his work in high esteem) provides a study of Philo’s quotations and finds no references to the Apocrypha. I note that he also finds no references to a handful of nondisputed books, so this is not a “proof” but I think I’ve fairly stated the position at least.

      For what it’s worth, just wanted to answer the question about 6) to the best of my abilities.

  17. The LXX adds some wrinkles into issues of both canon and text. E.g., the LXX translation of Genesis 3:15b is not “he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel,” but “he will keep your head and you will keep his heel” (Greek têreô), and no one seems to know why, unlike Genesis 3:16b where it appears the LXX translator misread t’shuqah (desire) as t’shubah (return).

    And I really like the ending of LXX of Psalm 22 (23 in the Hebrew): “You anointed my head with oil, and your cup intoxicates me like the most excellent [wine].” 🙂

  18. I think this whole discussion seems pretty futile. For me, as a Catholic, I believe the Canon is what the Catholic Church says it is. The Orthodox believe their canon from what the Eastern Churches say it is and the Protestants ultimately turn to Martin Luther and then look for reasons to justify it.

    I don’t buy the arguments of Josephus and Philo as they’re not my authority nor anyone else’s in this blog. I really don’t buy all the other arguments as well.

    The reason Protestants don’t accept the Deuterocanonicals is because Luther rejected them. If he didn’t, this would not be an issue.

    It seems that Protestants have difficulty accepting how the Canon was formed and need to find reasons to justify it.

    Is it reasonable to accept the Protestant Canon as is because Martin Luther declared it as such?

    If the Catholic Church tomorrow were to adopt the Orthodox Canon and add the extra books, I don’t think it would be a problem for Catholics.

    • I think you’re absolutely right in terms of each group following along on the authority of their own Tradition (big “T”)–that’s a great way of looking at it.

      My only personal beef here is with certain Catholic apologists who basically present the narrative as follows: 1) the Old Testament canon was already set by the time of Christ and is the same as the Catholic canon 2) Everyone in the Church agreed on this canon until Luther came along–except for Jerome’s little blip, which is can be dismissed 3) later, Luther came along and “took out” the parts that were not in the MT for theological reasons.

      Each of these assertions are either highly problematic or just plain false (as can be seen in the variety of posts above.) For 1) we really don’t have enough evidence to assert this as a certainty–and there is some evidence to the contrary; 2) is just wrong as is evidenced by the varieties of Orthodox canons 3) Luther’s “taking out” books is waaay more complicated than is presented–enough so as to be grossly misleading.

      On the flip side, there are some dents in the assertions of Protestant groups that want to avoid any appeal whatsoever to church authority (especially occurring after the death of the last apostle) and simply point to scripture alone. (Solo Scriptura vs. Sola Scriptura).

  19. The reason Protestants don’t accept the Deuterocanonicals is because Luther rejected them. If he didn’t, this would not be an issue.

    I would say that this is a bit simplistic. Read, e.g., the “Introduction : The Value of the Apocrypha” in Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance, by David A. deSilva, for some information on the history of the Apocrypha in the church. And read the rest of the book for more detailed information about each of the books of the Apocrypha.

    • Maybe I do view things simplistically. For Catholics, it’s not an issue and deSilva’s book would be of historical interest only. The Church has declared Canon and we accept it as valid. The reasoning from what I understand is that it was the canon at the time of Christ. Was it? It doesn’t really matter as the Church declared it as the valid canon regardless of what Jerome thought or what certain early Church Fathers expressed.

      For Protestants, Luther rejected the LXX and thus, they reject it as well and now they look for reasons to accept it. Accepting the Josephus argument means that Josephus (or Philo…or the Pharisees) is your authority for the valid Canon. None of that makes sense and it ignores the reality that your authority was Luther–which for Protestants should be valid enough.

      • Catholics can at least say re: their Biblical canon: “The Magisterium and the Council said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

        I’m not sure Protestants can absolutely and with total agreement say why they accept with respect to the Old Testament these 66 books – no more, no less, and no other; and with respect to the New Testament these 27 books – no more, no less, and no other.

        On the other hand, I’m not sure any of the traditions – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant – can declare which textual readings for each of their canonical books they consider to be the canonical text/wording, though I suspect the Orthodox Church is closest via its use of the Byzantine text for the NT and a particular LXX text for its Old Testament, IIRC, even if the EOC itself hasn’t officially declared an official OT and NT text (or maybe it has).

        • I’d just like to make the point that out of hundreds or thousands of ancient books in the Jewish community and early church community, it’s actually pretty impressive that we have the level of agreement that we do on the 66/27. Where we differ in a handful of cases in the specific books, I don’t think the doctrinal disagreements involved are that earth-shattering and the textual variants that do exist don’t really affect any major doctrine significantly at all. Disagreement makes for better news, but the level of agreement to me is the better untold story. It’s a fascinating subject to me, however one looks at it.

          • So, you’d have no problem removing the tale of the woman caught in adultery, eh?

            No fistfights? No bloodshed? No heated arguments? 🙂

      • I.e., I think both Catholics and Protestants appeal to the church re: what they accept as their Bible (i.e., their canon), whether it’s a Catholic appealing to what the Roman Catholic Church has declared is the canon, or a typical Protestant accepting what their First Bapticostevangical Church of the Blessed Second Coming has said in its statement of faith re: what it considers to be the The Scriptures.

        • Amen to that Eric.

          I have been thinking about this though and I honestly believe that the early Church used Christ’s teachings as the yardstick of what was Scripture and what wasn’t. If the writings conformed to the teachings of Christ as taught by the Apostles, then they were worthy for use in teaching. If they did not conform, then then they were rejected. Maybe a bit simplistic but it’s the logic that makes sense to me.

          From my experience, I think Protestants derive their faith from the Scriptures (which I don’t have a problem with). This can ultimately bring them to the roadblock all of you are discussing in this post. For EOC and Catholics, the Church came before the writings and thus is not the roadblock it is for Protestants.

  20. Its funny how people reject Marcion out of hand because the Roman Catholic Church back in the 2nd century decided they should. Are we really still in shackles to Rome 400 years after the reformation?

    His Trinitarianism is more logical. Orthodoxy divides the Trinity, Father vs Son, Son vs Father, via penal atonement theory, where the Son dies to appease a blood thirsty Father. In Marcionism, the Trinity is one united front against the lower creator God whom they defeat by the cross.

    Then there is the fact that although the Catholic writers say Marcion appeared 100 years after Christ and cut stuff out of Paul’s epistles, the Marcionites themselves said Marcion was Paul and that the Catholics changed his name from Marcion to Paul (as concerns his letters) and then split him out as a second person Marcion and pushed him forward 100 years in time. All this is apparent in Tertullian’s Against Marcion where he reveals (1) they believe only Paul was an apostle (2) they believe Marcion was an apostle (3) they say “I reject Paul.” Add that together and you get the idea, i.e. they reject the name “Paul” because the figure we call “Paul” is the figure they called Marcion. Clement of Alexandria also says in Miscellanies 7.17 that Marcion began preaching before Simon Magus heard Peter preach. You’ve been sold a bill of good, oh ye rejectors of Marcion.

    • This is not even mentioning (yet) the illogical nature of Paul’s Old Testament based argumentation (especially in Romans) all of which didn’t exist in the Marcionite version. And of course the false claims of prophecy fulfillment in the gospels. Isaiah 7-8 is clearly about Mahershalalhashbaz being born of a virgin and the two kings that oppose Ahaz being defeated before he learns the difference between good and evil. “Behold the Lord will give you a sign: a virgin will conceave and bear a son and before he knows the difference between good and evil the two kings will get their butts wooped”–there’s nothing that can say about Jesus. Has to be about Mahershalalhashbaz whom Yahweh himself declare to be the fulfillment in Isaiah 8 “Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz because this is him: before this child can say ‘momma’ the king of Assyria will woop the kings of Samaria and Damascus’s butts!” The Marcionite canon is proven to be the original.

  21. A soon-coming book that deals with the topic of this thread: