Canon Fodder

No, I didn't get my can(n)ons mixed up! I thought it might be a good title to tie up a conversation that I opened up to mixed results.

So, here are a few miscellaneous comments:

  1. There has never been one official determination of the canon. The canonical lists that we have probably emerged as a response to Marcion,whose truncated canon was rejected as insufficient.
  2. If, as Robert Funk once said in a regional AAR session that a canon is merely a list determined by a publisher, then we could easily reconfigure our canons. His suggestion was that we eliminate Revelation. His reasoning was based more on how it is used today than its original merits. As for whether Revelation out to be in the canon, well it was one of the last texts accepted.
  3. The Reformers chose to affirm the Hebrew canon rather than the Septuagint/Vulgate. They had their reasons, and whether right or wrong, tradition suggests that this is the appropriate version for the church
  4. While the early church, including the New Testament writers, used the Septuagint, its highly unlikely Jesus would have used it. He was a Palestinian Jew, not a Diaspora Jew. But, that being said, we need to take into consideration the fact that the Early Christians used the Greek Old Testament, including deuterocanonicals.
  5. As for the Didache. It's a fine little book, that gives us important insight into what the church in the 2nd century looked like. But I wouldn't consider it any more important than Justin Martyr or Ireneaus -- or 1 Clement for that matter. But note, all of these are 2nd century texts. While 2 Peter and Jude could be 2nd century, they laid claim to 1st century roots. But the main reason for not including the Didache in any canonical conversations is that it was largely unknown until late in the 19th century.
  6. Finally, while, as one commenter suggested, Kurt Aland may look at the situation through rose-colored glasses, I still think that by and large he's right. There is a qualitative difference between those deemed canonical and those deemed non-canonical. Thus, I receive these texts as the normative texts for Christian practice and thought. That being said, they always need to be interpreted carefully, with great discernment.
  7. This ends my comments!


John said…
Many think the Didache is First Century.

Steve K said…
Bob, your (presumably) erstwhile Evangelical past surfaces from time to time in ways that suggest that you may not have left it that far behind. The notion that one can observe a superior spirit in the canonical writings making the others rightly noncanonical is merely a bias for orthodoxy/tradition that is now subconsciously controlling your sensibilities. I imagine a Gnostic might look equally negatively on your canon, to say nothing of those who, in Matthew's congregation could make little sense of the Gospel of John.

We all have our "canon within the canon," necessitated by all that we can't stomach that is supposedly authoritative. That truncated, yet appropriate, canon is the only one worth endorsing. As for me, let's include Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers! It fits my little canon very well.
Mystical Seeker said…
But note, all of these are 2nd century texts. While 2 Peter and Jude could be 2nd century, they laid claim to 1st century roots.I'm not sure what you mean, Bob, to say that Jude and 2 Peter "laid claim to 1st century roots". 2 Peter, for example, is a forgery that claimed to be written earlier than it was by an author who was long dead. I realize that was a common practice back then, so I am not specifically denigrating the works just on that basis. But I don't think you saying that claiming to be written by a first century author gives it first century roots, but I am not clear on what that does mean.

Even within the first century, there are theological shifts that take place within the canon. Borg and Crossan in The First Paul talk about the differences between the more radical message of the authentic Pauline letters and the attempts of taming that radicalism in the pseudo-Pauline epistles that made their way into the canon. So here we have a case of competing theological perspectives making it into the canon, one from an authentic early apostle and another from authors using that apostle's authority to (to a certain extent) undermine or at least revise the very message that the original author was making! This is Borg's and Crossan's contention, and I agree with them on this although I don't think that they are going as far as suggesting that these later epistles don't belong in the canon. Perhaps they should, though. If those who devised the canon were hoodwinked by later pretenders to being Paul by including these letters into the canon, perhaps part of the reason wasn't just who they thought wrote those epistles; perhaps also it served the increasingly conservative agenda of a Christian faith that was evolving towards its eventual accommodation with Roman imperial authority.

John -- yes there are those who claim 1st century origins of the Didache -- the problem is there is little evidence for it. So, I'll go with the majority on this.

Steve-- yes my evangelicalism remains part of me, but Aland isn't an Evangelical as far as I know. But you are correct that we all have our canons within canons -- As for the Gnostics, I'm not all that attached to them.

Mystical Seeker -- I think that scholars generally agree that pseudonymous authorship was rather prominent in the era and I don't see that as a reason to evict from the canon. What I meant by 2 Peter and Jude is that they got in because they claimed apostolic authorship, and the church recognized them as canonical -- though not without some difficulty.

Ultimately it's not canonical status that determines use or authority, it's interpretation. So, while Paul may not have written 1 Timothy, that doesn't mean it doesn't have value -- it's value simply doesn't stem from authorship, but application.
Anonymous said…
Bob, you’re obviously wrong about comment 7.

Steve K, your comment
"Necessitated by all that we can't stomach that is supposedly authoritative."

Struck home with me. After attending my first service at CWCC (trying to butter up the wife?) Bob ask me what I thought. I blurted out that "this might be something I could stomach". I was a little embarrassed, but so far it has been very true (regarding sermons and the congregation anyway). Oh, I should mention the music and singing is included.

This topic is interesting, but pretty scholarly for the new, casual or more spiritual/ prayerful followers maybe. I would like to study the origins a little more though. Do you do this from a historical perspective, or are you searching for (more) truth? Or is it fodder to refute what is “gospel” but generally suspect?

I took 2 semesters of Bible as literature in a technical college. Never learned any history there either. Mostly from TV I guess!

David Mc

Steve is an old friend and knows me well -- he likes to needle me!

My postings on the canon emerged from my earlier comments about the use of Scripture. I look at Scripture historically, in part because I'm a historian by training so I do such things, but also because I believe the Bible needs to be interpreted contextually. I don't always display the history in my sermons, but it frames how I interpret it for my preaching.

Ultimately, we can argue about which texts should or should not be in the canon -- but ultimately we're left with a canon that the church has given us. Yes, the church (tradition) has shared with us a list of readings that define to some degree who we are as Christians. I might not agree with everything contained with in the text, but it remains the text we must deal with. Reading the Didache is interesting and helpful, but ultimately its place in the authoritative texts is negligible. But more on that later!
Steve K said…
David Mc-- Having been one of Bob's sheep (Santa Barbara), I can tell you that you and your wife are in good hands. You'll like Cheryl too.

Mystical Seeker-- Keep posting! You have a way of relating complex ideas in a clear manner.

Bob-- I'm continually grateful for your work.
Mystical Seeker said…
If the pastoral epistles claimed apostolic authority for themselves to undermine or alter at least part of the theology that the bona fide apostle expressed, then shouldn't one acknowledge the bad that may have resulted from including that work in the canon--regardless of whatever good you also see in it? And doesn't that make the whole use of "apostolic authority" a bit of a cynical ploy, a means of winning the theological debate?

As for the actual application (if we ignore the self-applied claim of apostolic authority), one example of where this has gone wrong is that a lot of sexism over the centuries within Christianity has stemmed from the pastoral epistles, and this has done a lot of damage to women. If we instead acknowledge that this is contrary to the spirit of what the actual apostle taught and believed, I think we would do women a great service.
Anonymous said…
Heretics Like Us? Mee too!

I like some of your links SteveK.

Speaking of indulgences… I must have said 10,000 prayers when I was a kid for my grandfather at the request of my mother. He must have been one bad @&*ed dude. I only remember him drinking himself blind and laughing. He let me drag my first cigarette at about 4.
There was more, but I think I passed out.

David Mc
Steve K said…
Mystical Seeker, based upon what you just wrote, I must amend the idea of a "canon within the canon" to "a 'canon within the canon' that undermines the authority of the rest of the canon." That suits me just fine!

The only way that using the entire Bible as canon works is by making it "flat"; that is, seeing it as univocal, as though coming from one author. The task is then to try to make all the contradictions work out. For some, this has been a career.

Once we discover that there are many authors with differing, even opposing, points of view, we are in a better position to deal with the differences. I have often marveled at how the church has tried to make Paul and James say the same thing about grace and works which says more about the interpreter than either James or Paul.

I guess this is to say that we don't need to eliminate objectionable canonical works as long as we understand them for what they are: witnesses to how the church saw itself without the need to maintain such views in the present. In this way they have a positive value: they show us the diversity of thinking in the early church and encourage us not to seek unity in conformity, but give room for many points of view.
On the Pastorals, let me say that I agree == we should say that the statements here about women don't reflect Paul. The only problem is that we still have to deal with 1 Corinthians 14, which tells women to be silent in the church. While it's possible that this passage is an interpolation, there's little textual evidence.

Might we just say that Paul is a complicated fellow, who both has both radical and non-radical sides to his personality!

Steve is right about the canon being read flatly -- which I think is the idea upon which the whole conversation got started.

The question that has always plagued us is where do we start? What should be our interpretive key? With women, is it Galatians 3:28? Or some other text?

Ah, such fun.
Steve K said…
Bob, why is it necessary to place the "authentic Paul" beyond criticism? As you point out, we have to choose between his positions. If 1 Corinthians 14 is truly from his pen, he gave bad advice. How do I know? Because Jesus' two great commandments violate his position. That's how I apply my canon within the canon. We even judge the worth of Gal. 2:38 on that basis, not the other way around.

This is especially important in regards to the gay inclusion issue. I don't care what Paul may have said, or Leviticus. Any biblical voice that would exclude gays is, ipso facto, unworthy of Jesus' canon. As the messenger said to Peter on that Joppa rooftop, "I don't care what your Bible says, kill and eat!"
Mystical Seeker said…
Steve K, I agree with you that it makes sense to look at the Bible as the record of a community of witnesses, with all the diversity that this entails. And it is certainly true that even a single witness can contradict him- or herself (as Walt Whitman would have said, these people embraced multitudes.)

It is worth pointing out that the statement allegedly by Paul that women should be silent in church contradicts what he said earlier in the same letter about women in church praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered. This would be an argument for the suggestion that the passage about women being silent comes from a later scribe. Be that as it may, though, I think Steven K is right in suggesting that Paul could actually be wrong about things, or he could have contradicted himself. His statement in Romans about the legitimacy of imperial government authority is particularly bizarre, given that his Lord and Savior was executed and Paul himself was repeatedly arrested by this same authority. My guess is that he was either poorly expressing himself or perhaps engaging in hyperbole and that his real concern was violent rebellion against the government, or maybe he just had a lapse in judgment. It really made no sense for him to be praising the legitimacy of an authority that he was essentially rejecting by proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus instead of the Lordship of Caesar.
Anonymous said…
oops,I'm not a very good blogger.

Didn't mean to accuse you of anything Steve K, I got you confused with Mystical.
Bob, to kill this thread, you only need to go nuclear. Watch...

This has been my take on Paul-

"The war that went on between what he desired with his mind and what he desired with his body, his drivenness to a legalistic religion of control, his fear when that system was threatened, his attitude toward women, his refusal to seek marriage as an outlet for his passion -- nothing else accounts for this data as well as the possibility that Paul was gay."

It's a "thorny" issue. Which reminds me. Time to finish raking the yard.

David Mc
John said…
I believe that Christians should feel free to disagree with pronouncements by Paul. That is the nature of genuine engagement with the text. To examine it, in context and out, and in one's own context, to find the truth that may be lodge there for the one with eyes and ears for the word. If you cannot disagree, then the whole process becomes wooden and the text becomes anachronistic and irrelevant.

The real core issue is what is one's "interpretive key". Any text can be used in a variety of ways, many being rather unsavory and effectively anti-Christian. So for my 'key' I come back to the notions of grace, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love. anything which doesn't embrace these in some fashion is not 'kosher' to me.

I highly doubt Paul had any interest in violent revolution. He was after all a Roman citizen and used his citizenship to his advantage whenever he could. You see no evidence of rebellion in his writings, merely working within the existing system to effectuate his ministry.

As sophisticated as he was, I presume he had some training in Plato and Aristotle and therefore was every bit as capable of defending the need for civil order as he was of defending the Gospel.

Not bizarre. Just reasonable. The new movement would not survive it was perceived to be in open rebellion against Rome.

Mystical Seeker said…
Christianity was never about violent rebellion, but its founder was executed by an Empire in the fashion of political criminals. Further, as Crossan points out, early Christians were committing High Treason against the established Roman imperial theology by calling Jesus Lord, since this was the very language that was used to describe Caesar. I am sure that Paul saw the value of things like roads or other civic projects that an organized society provides, but he understood what Jesus and his immediate apostles in Galilee understood, that Rome was a brutal, oppressive imperial regime that maintained its control by violence, torture, and execution, and that the Roman imperial theology that bolstered this regime stood in contrast to the message that Jesus (and Paul) preached.
John said…
I have often wondered if we don't overplay the notion that the Roman Empire was brutal and violent - towards its enemies, yes, and powerful people got their way, by violence if necessary. But on the whole, as long as you steered clear of the authorities, I think the Empire especially during the Pax Romana, was a peaceful and relatively civilized place where the authorities were generally viewed as defenders of the peace and not as threats.

Of course when the Empire determined to persecute Christians, they became enemies of the state, and state sponsored violence became the rule of the day.

But even during periods of open persecution Christianity adopted a position close to rebellion, as the Jews would periodically.

Chris said…
Pastor Cornwall,

With respect to Jesus and the apocrypha, Jesus appears to have accepted ideas from the Book of Enoch. (See for example his remarks on marriage and angels-as-abstinent: classic Enochian stuff there.) Jude quoted Enoch as scripture, too. On a related note, I'm convinced that the Wisdom of Solomon is far and away the most important book one can read for understanding Johannine and Pauline (or at least pseudo-Pauline) Christology.

As for the Didache, I think a decent case can be made for a first-century date. The Gospel of Thomas also likely dates at least partly to the first century. The same cannot be said for 2 Peter.

I'm pretty sure my canon would include a little Spinoza, some Nanak, and quite a bit of Schleiermacher. Probably a good thing I wasn't on the committee. ;)


Well, if we're expanding the canon -- let me add in Moltmann (complete corpus)!
Anonymous said…
One thing I am not hearing is.. what books (besides the Didache) should be added? The Gospel of Thomas is one that seems to be popular, but none of us are going to get home with the verse about Jesus saying women must become men to be saved. I will say with fairly strong assurance that most of us can read the currently accepted canon and find very few problems with it. Maybe you don't like the idea of wearing hats to church, but from a bedrock Christ teaching, its very on board.

I agree that reading the other books is interesting and adds color to understanding 1-2nd century Christianity. However, we must be so careful about lifting it up to scriptural level. We don't know the true history of the writing, who wrote, who used it, etc. There was a reason it was rejected and the assumption I work from is this is a failed canonical work....but I will read it to see if there is benefit.

I called these conversations a "ditch" the other day, only b/c we risk getting lead down paths with no end. Sort of like watching the History channel for your theology. You get all kinds of guesses, speculations, etc.. which can sound great, but are a simple chasing of the wind.

Anonymous said…
Ditches and wind. I love them. They bring in the fresh and vital, and take away the stale and harmful.

I'll have to review the hats thing.

David Mc
John said…
The canon is what it is and not likely to change.

But it is interesting to examine other writings to get a fuller picture of what came before.


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