Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Argument that Canonization is Ongoing

These aren't fully digested thoughts and I retain the right to recant but here goes:

I think there is a certain sense in which the canonization process is always ongoing.  Yes, the 2nd-4th century Ecumenical Councils put in place a canon of Scriptures for the Christian Church.  And I believe that in doing so they were being guided by the Spirit--as is the entire Church throughout history.  Nonetheless, it also seems clear to me that they used a certain set of criteria to decide what is in and what is not in and also used evidence to determine which books better met this criteria.  The question of what criteria is best and what evidence is best is not something that is in the canon itself and seems open to constant evaluation.  For instance, Luther, we're told, tried to have James, Hebrews, Revelation, and Jude stricken from the canon. Of course it hasn’t been (in German Lutheran Bibles, these are ordered last), but certainly Christians--leaders in the Church--have called certain books into question and so it seems to me that canonization is still ongoing.  (It wouldn’t be ongoing if no Christians would ever question what is to be included, but that ain't happening). 

Or take the KJV.  For many not a single word of it was questioned for years.  But today, most think that certain passages in the KJV shouldn't be in the Bible, and they are either footnoted as such (in the NewKJV) or left out entirely.  Why think those passages shouldn't be in the canon?  Well, most people seem to think this because they think that (a) the evidence suggests they were written at a later date and (b) if written at a later date they weren't the words of the original writers and (c) if not the words of the original writers they weren't inspired with the same sort of inspiration necessary to be included in the canon. 

But of course, neither (a), nor (b), nor (c) jumps off the pages of Scripture itself!  And whether (a), (b), or (c) are true is a matter of some dispute--a dispute BETWEEN CHRISTIANS.  Or at least that is what I think.  Some people think that you are only a Christian if you believe the KJV is inspired--all others are heretics.  I think they are dead wrong, and the reason I think this is because that view is neither in the Scriptures nor in any of the Ecumenical Creeds.  There were Christians before there was a KJV.  (And there were Christians before there was a written New Testament!). 

Another reason for thinking that canonization is still going on is with what I said in the previous post.  It seems POSSIBLE that another letter of Paul's is discovered.  Or it seems possible that a slightly different version of the Gospel according to Mark is discovered.  And it certainly seems possible that these Greek texts end up being confirmed by discoveries of other ancient texts which support their authenticity.  And then it seems possible (I think it would be probable) that in light of this, Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, etc. end up (after much dispute and fighting amongst themselves with people leaving churches and starting their own religions) printing Bibles with these things in them, in much the same way (in reverse) that non-Catholics included the so-called "apocrypha" in their Bibles (like the original KJV) until finally they stopped printing them at all (well, in most non-Catholic Bibles--a few include the apocrypha with a note that they are less authoritative). 

Anyhow, I'm still not sure how to think of all of this.  But, since neither the Bible nor the early Creeds say that to be a Christian one must believe that the canonization process was closed in the 4th century, I'm not a heretic entertaining this possibility and trying to think through it with other Christians!

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