Re: canon

From: Larry Swain (
Date: Tue Mar 11 1997 - 13:44:45 EST

On Mon, 10 Mar 1997, Mark B. O'Brien wrote:

> On Mon, 10 Mar 1997 00:15:33 -0700 (MST) Larry Swain <>
> writes:
> >This issue seems to come up frequently. Actually I think the majority
> >of evidence suggests that most groups of Jews and Christians agreed on
> >most of the canon-there are always minor differences just as there are
in the modern period among various Christian groups.
>Here are a few common assumptions that seem to me to be part of the
> >discussion that need to be done away with:
> >1) That someone(s) decided the canon. Sorry folks, didn't happen,
> >neither for the Hebrew Bible nor the Christian. Rather the content of
the canon is always an organic, bottoms up, active thing, never a static,
cut and dried issue.
> [snip]
> I'm not sure I follow you here... perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but
> I wouldn't have thought that orthodox Christianity would be comfortable
> with the notion that the canon of Scripture is still in flux. Although
> all of the major orthodox traditions may differ slightly in what they
> consider to be the canon of Scripture, within those traditions they *are*
> certainly fixed ("cut and dried," if you will). Again, perhaps I'm not
> fully understanding your point here, so I'd be happy for clarification.

Ok, let me try this again.
1) One of the common assumptions at work in studies on canon is that canon
is universally the same all over. If that assumption is held to be true
then we must conclude that modern Christianity does not have a closed
canon since Protestants, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Copts (and
some others to boot) have some different elements in their canon, albeit
basic agreement. If however, we recognize that what we are looking for in
canon is universal basic agreement both in the modern period and the
ancient, then in my opinion, we have a basic canon to which some groups
may have added additional books-but there is basic agreement universally.
I think the evidence of the period supports that conclusion.

2) Canon is never "closed" in the absolute sense. For example as late as
the 1500s Luther questioned James' inclusion, the Protestants excised 7
books from the Old Testament, and 2 hundred years later Thomas Jefferson
is cutting and pasting to include the "truer" elements of the Bible and
cutting out the "negative" bits. In short, while some circles certainly
hold the canon to be inviolate, others don't-there may in fact come a
situation where some books are questioned again.

Further, interpretation has more canonical authority than the canon most
of the time. For example, (if I step on toes, it is not intentional)-not
too many years ago there was an interpretation of the end times that said
that human history was to be divided into six epochs and we are
approaching the end of the sixth now-and of course Scripture is/was used
to support this conclusion. But, there were many, many more believing
Christians and Jews who rejected that interpretation only to be branded an
unbelievers at best or at worst heretics by those who held that position.
At the same time Scripture is used to justify both sides of the Abortion
debate.....each side uses a particular interpretation of the canon and
that interpretation in turn takes on canonical authority. This notion is
what developed into the Talmud in Judaism and the Teaching Authority of
the Church in Roman name a couple of examples.

Hope that clarifies....

Larry Swain
Rocky Mountain College

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