CANON AND BIBLICAL AUTHORITY: A CRITICAL COMPARISON OF TWO MODELS OF CANONICITY, THE
Peckham, John C
What is the proper foundation for theology? Historically, Protestant theology has embraced the Bible as the standard and authority of belief and practice. Yet, this raises some important questions. Why is the Bible the correct foundation for truth? What epistemological criteria do the Scriptures meet? This inevitably leads to the question of the contents of the Bible. In other words, what books are Scripture and why are they included in the canon of the Bible? The proposition that the canon represents the special revelation of God is questioned in contemporary scholarship and society. Why some ancient books are granted status as God’s word while other hagiography is dismissed is a timely question. Hence an exploration of the scope of the canon of the Bible and its importance as the foundation for a theological methodology may provide some support for the biblical canon as the foundation of theology.
The purpose of this article is to investigate the definition and scope of the biblical canon in order to shed light on its role for theology. This focuses especially upon the problem of what determines canonicity. Is the canon determined by humans or by God? At times, the biblical canon is studied from a mostly historical standpoint, focusing on lists and dates of the acceptance of the canon. The information garnered from such studies provides essential information. However, the problem before us regards not only the community’s acceptance of a canon, but the intrinsic merit of the canon. Consequently, the dating of the acceptance of the canon is not the crucial issue. Rather, the fundamental question is whether the canon is determined by humans or by God. This article deals with two major views which produce far-reaching implications on this significant matter. This study thus suggests two broad models based on these general views regarding the nature of canonicity, for the sake of comparison.1
First, some consider the canonization of Scripture to be “something officially or authoritatively imposed upon certain literature.”2 This view will be discussed under the general rubric of the community canon model. The second view holds that the canon was not determined, but recognized.3 This will be discussed as the intrinsic canon model. These models have different definitions of the canon, see the nature of the canon differently, and thus see different functions for the canon. Accordingly, the community canon model will date the canon at the time the lists were recognized by the church (community), while the intrinsic canon model will hold an earlier date, in accordance with divine origin of the canon, separate from the later universal acceptance by the church. Notice especially that the latter model is differentiated by its belief that God determines the canon. Accordingly, the specific dating of canonical recognition is of much less concern to this model. The recognition of the canon will bear on its function for the individual and/ or community, but it will not bear on the intrinsic merits of canonicity.
This investigation considers the continuing dialogue between scholars who hold the canon as a social construct (community canon model) and those who believe it is a divinely appointed standard (intrinsic canon model). However, the models do not necessarily correspond to any one scholar, and there is room for diversity within the models. Here the two models are simplified for the purpose of comparison.4 This article will suggest the validity of the intrinsic canon model and therefore also investigate the criteria that apply to this view of canonicity. This research is not intended to reconstruct or investigate the history of the canon specifically, but rather to interact with the question of the canon theologically.5 Accordingly, this study is not meant as an exhaustive investigation of the original sources upon which the history of the canon is based. Rather it focuses on the contemporary controversies and from that standpoint necessarily reflects some on the history of the canon and some implications. This investigation intends to shed light on the question of the authority of the books of the canon as the source for theology. Hence, the findings on the criteria and scope of the canon will hold implications for the method of utilizing the canonical books in the task of doing theology.
I. THE COMMUNITY CANON MODEL
A. The Definition and Nature of the Canon
In this model the canon is defined as a set of writings that are selected by the community as a standard. Accordingly canonicity is viewed as imposed upon writings which do not necessarily merit canonicity. Thus, the authority resides in the community to select the writings that are in the canon and thus used for theology. Two different but related examples of the community canon model will illuminate the definition and nature of the canon. In both of these examples a group accepts the canon on the basis of an external determination of canonicity by the church or community. These examples are grouped in this model based solely upon their position regarding the community’s authority to determine the canon.6
The first example of this model is canonicity determined by the authority of tradition. Representative of this is the Roman Catholic Church which accepts as canonical those books which have been declared so by the institution. Specifically, books were accepted on the basis of “tradition and liturgical use.”7 Therefore the canon was determined by the approval of the church demonstrated in the lists of the church fathers and councils, notably the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) and the later, explicit, affirmation of the OT Apocrypha at the Council of Trent (1546). The issue of the Apocrypha and the Protestant canon will be revisited below.
Another, quite different, example of this model is the approach of the adaptable canon of the community. In this model the community determines which books are considered canonical for that specific community.8 Some in this view hold that the canon relates to the community’s standard in a constantly shifting context.9 In this way the canon is flexible to whatever the needs of a specific community may be. Over time, this adaptability may allow for a change in the writings that the community accepts as canonical. This approach differs from the canon by tradition approach as it does not appeal to any specific authority for the canon but rather to the contemporary consensus of a given community. Since the first example has received a great deal of discussion in the history of theology, this article will deal more closely with the second example. Because of the underlying unity regarding the emphasis on determination by the community, the implications and conclusions may apply to both examples.
Because the canon is seen as a collection of books determined by the acceptance of a community, the historical study of the canon is concerned with the dates of such acceptance and the usage of the canonical books throughout history. This brings us to Gerald Sheppard’s important definition of canon 1 and canon 2 where the former refers to an authority or standard, and the latter refers to writings in a fixed or permanent state.10 Sheppard states, “one can say that Christian scripture had a canonical status (canon 1) long before the church decisions of the fourth century delimited a fixed list of books (canon 2).”11 Accordingly, some apply this distinction of canon 1 to the history of the canon to emphasize the fluidity of the canon in early times, while canon 2 is the term that applies to a closed and fixed list of authoritative books.
The usage of canon 2 sets the tone for the history of the canon in the community canon model. McDonald claims that “canon” in the sense of canon 2 became widely used from the fourth century A.D. onward.12 In conjunction with this, the lateness of the use of the term canon has been argued as evidence of a lack of the concept in early Christianity.13 On this basis the books are considered authoritative not when they were written but later when the books were determined to be canonical by the community. Thus, as we have seen, this model focuses on the dates of the acceptance of the canon and generally favors a late date for such acceptance.
B. Historical Implications
In accordance with this definition, this view holds a three-stage development of the OT canon. This consists of the Pentateuch and the Prophets functioning at least as canon 1 by 400 B.C. and 200 B.C., respectively.14 However, the entire canon is not closed as an authoritative list (canon 2) until the third section of the OT canon, the Writings, is defined.15 This is dated as late as the fourth century A.D. due to the variance in collections before this time, the abundance of canon lists in the fourth century, and the tradition’s official acceptance of the three parts of the OT canon at the Council of Carthage.16
The NT canon is similarly dealt with in this model. The construct of canon 1 is applied to the NT books from early times. There is an abundance of historical data regarding the NT books which is open to interpretation.17 This data regarding quotations and usage of the canonical books in earlier church ages is viewed as a “canon of faith” (canon 1). However, the authority and function of these books as canon is placed at the later date (canon 2). A disputed list that must be mentioned here is the Muratorian Fragment. The date of its writing is divided between two major positions: one holds a date of ca. 350-375 and the other holds a date of ca. 180-200. The later date is theorized due to the absence of similar canon lists from this period of time.18 Accordingly, this model views the actual closing of the canon (canon 2) on the basis of lists and councils leading to a fourth or even fifth century date for the closing of the canon.19
II. THE INTRINSIC CANON MODEL
A. The Definition and Nature of the Canon
In this model the books of Scripture are not canonical based on the determination of the community, authority, or tradition, but rather based on the intrinsic merits of the books. In other words, the books of the Bible are inherently canonical, even if they were not always universally recognized, just as Jesus was truly the Messiah even though some did not recognize him.20 In this way, divinely appointed books would be intrinsically canonical independent of extrinsic recognition. Accordingly, the recognition of the books bears on the function of the canonical books, but not on the intrinsic canonical merit of those books. Thus, an individual or community may reject the authority of these books, but this does not alter their intrinsic authority, according to this model. These canonical books are authoritative as the rule and norm of theology as a group of writings due to their divine origin.
This important distinction might be illuminated by the concept of an invisible canon and a visible canon, analogous to Augustine’s famous distinction regarding the church. The invisible canon would consist of those books that God has appointed as authoritative. The visible canon would correspond to the collection of books that are recognized by humans. Thus, the intrinsic canon is not dependent upon community recognition. Nevertheless, the intrinsic canon model finds reason to believe that the invisible canon has been correctly recognized so that the invisible canon corresponds to the visible sixty-six book canon. Such recognition is based on many criteria which identify the books as sound, reliable conduits of divine revelation. These criteria will be discussed in detail below.21
Closely related to this view of intrinsic canonicity is the redemptive-historical approach which locates canonical authority in the redemptive-historical context and function of Scripture. In this approach the authority of the canon is founded upon its locus in redemption. Thus, Scripture itself is a “product of God’s revelatory activity in the history of redemption.”22 Importantly, the separation between the history of redemption and its proclamation is rejected.23 Rather, this approach locates the original apostolic proclamation (kerygma, marturia, and didache) as part of redemptive history itself. In this way, the apostolic proclamation is specifically commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and its significance is not only historical, but christological.24 Jesus Christ and his unique, unrepeatable act of redemption are the context and ground of NT canonical writings which themselves are an integral part of the history of that once-for-all redemption. The apostolic witness, enabled by the Holy Spirit, thus inhabits a unique place as the specifically commissioned message of Jesus Christ.25 It is this place in redemption that gives the NT canon its authority.26 Thus canonical authority is bestowed by divine revelation directly through incarnate God, independent of human recognition for its inherent authority.
The intrinsic canon model’s distinction between determination of canonicity and recognition of canonicity constitutes the essential departure from the community canon model in that it requires the revelation-inspiration of the books and divine purpose for their canonicity.27 This presupposes the providential interaction of God in relationship to humanity. If the possibility of miracles is denied a priori, the intrinsic canon model is, consequently, precluded. It should also be noted that the aforementioned categories of canon 1 and canon 2 are not utilized in the intrinsic canon model. This is because they are employed in the community canon model to define a fluid and undefined stage of canon recognition (canon 1), in contrast to a stricter, authoritative stage of canon lists (canon 2), an ideology that makes allowance for no recognized canon until a late date.28 Though belief in an early recognition of the canon is not required by the notion of an intrinsic canon, many find evidences that suggest the recognition of the canon was taking place earlier than is sometimes supposed.29 The obvious historical process of recognition of the canon is not denied in this model, yet, the not-so-obvious dates of such recognition are far from settled.30 Nevertheless, a late date of recognition would not threaten the intrinsic canonicity posited by this model.31 This is because intrinsic canonicity is considered to be historically and logically prior to and independent from recognition.
B. Historical Implications
In the intrinsic canon model, historical study proceeds on much different grounds than the community canon model. The focus is not on when the canon was determined but why the canon was, and is, recognized. Accordingly, this study will proceed to investigate the criteria for canonicity that accord with the data of the Bible. Specifically, the OT itself yields a great deal of information about its place as Scripture.32 It is this internal data that are given great importance in the intrinsic canon model because of the focus on the internal contents of the Bible which give evidence of divine origin.
Consequently, the claim of a three-part development of the recognition (not determination) of the OT canon is not especially controversial for this model.33 Though this model believes that the books of the Bible were canonical prior to recognition, the data regarding the early usage of the Bible are still of interest, though to a lesser extent than in the community canon model.34 Even more important is the NT evidence that Jesus and his apostles recognized an OT canon. Jesus himself refers to three parts of OT Scripture. In Luke 24:44 Jesus refers to “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.”35 Moreover, Jesus makes the statement “from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah” which probably refers to the first and last martyrs in the Hebrew OT, thus encapsulating all three parts of the OT canon.36 Based on this and other data it is reasonable to believe that Jesus did, in fact, hold a closed canon of the OT and passed that on to his followers.37 Further internal evidence from the NT testifies of a strong belief in the authority of the OT.38 There are also a number of external evidences of the recognition of all three parts of the OT by the first century A.D.39 The authority of the OT books, at least ca. 70 A.D., seems explicit since Josephus declares that the books of the OT were held in such high regard that “no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them.”40
The NT Canon originated with the spoken words of Christ and his acts as the special revelation of God on earth. These were recorded by eyewitnesses and contemporaries and faithfully passed down (i.e., Luke 1:1-3). It is clear that the words of Jesus are given authority in the NT (1 Cor 7:10, 17; 1 Thess 4:15; Matt 28:18). Moreover, there is very strong evidence that the words of Jesus were already viewed as Scripture by the Apostolic Fathers.41 Furthermore early writings, such as several letters of Paul, were written to local churches and then enjoyed wider circulation. The other NT books were also collected and preserved.42 The aforementioned Muratorian Fragment also testifies to the preservation and usage of the NT canon. In contrast to the dating of the mid-fourth century A.D., an early second century date is supported by the words of the document which states “Hennas wrote the Shepherd very recently in our times, in the city of Rome.”43 Since Hermas lived ca. 100-145 it seems the document should date from the second century.44 This dating of the Muratorian Fragment does not bear on intrinsic canonicity but does shed light on the early collection of canonical books. Moreover, the NT records an abundance of self-testimony regarding its divine authority.45
Nevertheless, if one accepts the possibility that these books are truly of divine origin and purpose, it follows that the vital question is not when the canon was recognized but the inherent canonicity due to the divine relationship to the books. This perception, in accord with the intrinsic canon model, calls for the consideration of the criteria that aid in the recognition of those books that are intrinsically canonical. Therefore, for the sake of discussion, we will set aside the community canon model’s view and proceed to focus on how those books that are intrinsically canonical may be recognized. This will give us greater insight into the intrinsic canon model’s view of the Bible.
III. THE CRITERIA OF THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE
A. Propheticity and Apostolicity
An especially important criterion of canonicity relates to authorship. For a book to be canonical the author of the book must simply be a writer endowed with divine authority. However, it must be emphasized that God through divine commission (including revelation-inspiration), not the human author, is the source of the canonicity and authority of the writings. For the OT this requires propheticity. In Against Apion 1.8 Josephus points out a clear succession from Moses to the Prophets who testified with “an exact succession of prophets.”46 A line of prophets recording history is also seen quite clearly in 1 and 2 Chronicles.47 Moreover, Jesus considered the OT to be prophetic (see Matt 5:17). For the NT canon apostolicity is required. This is an extremely important criterion because apostolicity insures the most accurate recording of the life and teachings of Jesus by witnesses and contemporaries (Acts 2:42; Eph 2:20; Matt 18:18). There are many historical examples of the application of this principle including the presence and circulation of pseudonymous literature.48
The great importance that was placed on the direct connection of the writer to Jesus Christ either firsthand or by direct relationship to the disciples of Jesus is seen clearly throughout the history of the canon. Notably, a few of the letters of the NT are anonymous. However, it is likely that the recipients of these letters would have known the authors. For example, Paul emphasized his handwriting which marked the letter as truly from him (1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17; Philemon 19). This functions as a “temporary criterion” and shows that the early Christians were aware of and concerned about forgeries and falsehoods.49
Yet, caution must be exercised in the utilization of this criterion since historical certainty on this point is often beyond our reach.50 Apostolicity is an important historical referent which may guide in the recognition of canonical books, but the historical data regarding apostolicity and authorship must not be seen either as infallible or as data capable of unilaterally settling the matter of canonicity. There is reason to be cognizant of the concern regarding a reliance on historical methods to determine authorship.51 Yet, concurrently, the grounding of canonical authority in the commission by the historical Christ to his apostles to preach, witness, and teach regarding redemption leads to the requisite that the canon correspond, in some direct fashion, to the historical Christ and apostles.52 In this way apostolic writings would be those authored either by an apostle or a first generation contemporary associated with the apostles.53 In other words, an apostolic author would have been the recipient of divine revelation or utilized direct access to firsthand witnesses. Consequently, the divinely commissioned prophetic/apostolic authorship of the books indicates that the contents are the revelation of God, and thus intrinsically canonical due to divine action.
The criterion of date or antiquity does not mean that higher value is attributed to older writings. Rather, it is closely tied to the criteria of propheticity and apostolicity. For the OT, dating is quite important in relation to the view of the cessation of prophecy after the time of Artaxerxes (ca. 450 B.C.). Consequently, the prophetic voice for the canon was limited to books written before that time in the context of God’s covenant with Israel.54 For the NT, the book had to be written during the time of the apostles. Simply put, if the book was not written in the apostolic age, it could not have been written by an apostle.55 Bruce contends that “The four Gospels belong to the decades between 60 and 100, and it is to these decades too that all (or nearly all) the other New Testament writings are to be assigned.”56 This fits the criterion perfectly. The principle of antiquity is thus quite simple. For the OT, the writers had to have written in the age of the succession of prophets, before the period that prophecy temporarily ceased. For the NT, the contemporaries of Jesus Christ had to be alive when the books were written, otherwise the witness would not be apostolic.
C. Consistency, Congruity, and Continuity
A third important criterion is that of consistency, congruity, and continuity with past revelation. For instance, consider this question. While the biblical books were in process how would one have known what to believe and accept? The first recorded written canon was the law of God, of which the Decalogue was written by the very finger of God (Exod 31:18). From this point in the history of Israel, and later of the apostles, God’s special revelation was encapsulated in writings by humans and inspired by God. A very important principle then would be that any “new” revelation agree with all previous revelation.57 This is also a very important hermeneutical principle-new light from God will not contradict old light (Deut 13:1-3; Mai 3:6; Isa 8:20; Matt 5:17-18; 24:35). This principle of consistency, congruity, and continuity alone rules out almost all of the non-canonical literature in existence. The consistency of Scripture is an essential part of the inherent canonicity of the books of Scripture as the canon is viewed as a whole.58
D. Self-Authentication By Divine Purpose
A final important criterion in recognizing the canon is that of self-authentication. It is important to realize that though we can recognize certain characteristics of the canonical books that give us confidence, their true canonical merit lies in the providence of God in the revelation, inspiration, preservation, and recognition of the canon. Though the human authorship of the books as prophetic or apostolic is very important as an historical indication of canonicity, this should not be seen in exclusion to the more important, divine authorship of these books which is the pinnacle of the intrinsic canonicity of the Scriptures. Inspiration was (and is) very important to the canon of Scripture. Every canonical book must be revealed and inspired.59 If it is not so, it lacks the divine authority that the Bible, in the intrinsic canon model, requires. However, not every book believed to be inspired was considered canonical.60 It is true that in numerous places the Bible records prophetic books that are not part of the canon.61 Other books, such as Shepherd of Hermas, were considered by some to be inspired but were not recognized as canonical because they did not meet the other criteria, such as apostolicity.
Inspiration is thus required but is not the only indication of a canonical book. There are important external and internal signs in these books which have guided their recognition in the canon and are still useful to us in our own acceptance of what God has done. That such books were recognized is evidenced in their extremely unusual level of preservation and protection by the community.62 Yet, we must remember that intrinsic canonicity ultimately stems from the activity of God, not humans. Having seen the criteria of canonicity it is clear that the acceptance of the intrinsic canon model is a faith decision, but not a blind one.63 Rather, as we have seen, it is based on a faith-based interpretation of objective data. Illumination by the Holy Spirit regarding this decision is paramount.
E. A Notable Corollary
Usage is another attribute which is sometimes seen as an important criterion. It is of prime significance to the community canon model which, as we have seen, stresses the adaptability of the canon to the community.64 Conversely, in the intrinsic canon model usage is not a criterion, though data regarding usage are an important historical referent that informs about the early community’s recognition of the canon. For instance, the NT canonical books were so widely used that the entire NT except for eleven verses could be reconstructed from the church fathers of the second to fourth centuries.65 Importantly, the intrinsic canon model views usage as a product of canonicity, rather than a criterion. For instance, though a community of faith recognized the canon historically, that very recognition, including usage, did not add any intrinsic merit to the book that bestows value for canonicity. Based on these criteria, the only books that are candidates for the biblical canon are the sixty-six books of the Protestant biblical canon.66
Based on this examination of the canon a few brief implications and suggestions for theology should be discussed. In the intrinsic canon model it is clear that canonicity is separate from any tradition or community. Thus, an acceptance of the canon of Scripture does not imply reliance upon the community or contemporary tradition but finds the rationale for recognition of the canon in the merits of the books themselves. Conversely, the community canon model asks whether theology should operate based on a so-called “canon of faith.”67 This would entail a moving away from the canon of Scripture to a more fluid, community-based approach to theology.
This latter approach, however, gives rise to the question of the contemporary usefulness of the canon. This inquiry takes many forms. In one form, the canon is proposed as a means of soteriological grace devoid of epistemological meaning.68 In another form, the removal of the constraints of the canon and the opening to a new, supposedly better, collection is anticipated.69 In still another form, the explicit use of a “canon within the canon” that fits the beliefs of the community is accepted.70 These related issues seem to all stem from a community canon model which lacks confidence in the intrinsic merits, which stem from divine authority, of the canon of Scripture.71
However, by recognizing the intrinsic canonicity bestowed by God upon the Bible, the intrinsic canon model can affirm the soteriological and epistemological function of Scripture. It can reject the possibility that any canon could replace the revelation of God, and it does not need a canon within the canon because it takes seriously all canonical books. While the community canon model leaves a shifting foundation for theology because the canon, or the standard, changes according to the collective will of the community or tradition, the intrinsic canon model sees objective evidence for the canonical books and finds therein the theological foundation.
Yet, this raises one further question. Why is the canon of Scripture closed? As we have seen the community canon model favors the adaptability of the canon which means the contents of the canon may change.72 This is portrayed as a Christ-centered approach where “Jesus Christ alone is the true and final canon for the child of God (Matt 28:18).”73 In response, there is good reason for the closing of the biblical canon. Because the revelation contained in the OT and NT contains all the necessary revelation of God’s activity in the history of salvation, the canon is fittingly closed by the NT writings.74 For example John 21:25 tells us that there was so much information regarding Jesus that “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” Accordingly, the canonical books contain purposely selected information that makes up the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The NT itself shows that Jesus fulfilled the whole OT as the complete revelation (Matt 5:17), and the book of Revelation holds that nothing should be added or taken away from it (Rev 22:18-19).75
Moreover Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into “all truth” (John 16:13). If we have the authentic apostolic writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, along with the OT we have all canonical revelation.76 Finally, the prophetic voice of the NT continues to the eschaton and there is no need for further covenant revelation. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit no longer bestows the prophetic gift, but that no post-apostolic prophet will be canonical, and each must rather be an interpreter of the canon that includes the full revelation of God which culminated in the Godman Jesus Christ. In this way the Spirit continues to speak, but always in accord with God’s previous revelation in the Bible (1 John 4:1; Isa 8:20). Therefore, although the merits of a Christ-centered approach to theology are obvious, the question must be asked, What Christ should we follow? The intrinsic canon model recognizes that the whole biblical canon testifies of Christ. Thus theology should not be restricted to any canon within the canon, but rather, all Scripture must be utilized as the divinely appointed rule for theology.
A. Divine Revelation and the Canon
Throughout this study we have seen that the intrinsic canon model’s view of Scripture is supported by data and evidence. Therefore it is a viable and reasonable alternative to the community canon model. In actuality, if God has not revealed himself in any reliable manner then, regardless of what books we may choose to canonize, we would be doing little more than a projected anthropology. If, on the other hand, God has revealed information about himself, and inspired messengers to record that revelation, then it is our responsibility to recognize that revelation. This is a fundamental point of departure regarding the canon of Scripture. If one, a priori, rejects the possibility that God reveals himself to his people by the process of revelation and inspiration and preserves those writings, one cannot concurrently accept the authority of the canon, regardless of any data. Such a methodology would preclude this conclusion.
On the other hand if one believes in the possibility that God has revealed himself throughout history, then the process of investigating canonicity takes a much different turn. If one makes the latter choice, the evidence for the canon, fairly evaluated, gives reason for faith in the canon of Scripture. Although the divine nature of the Bible cannot be proven anymore than the existence of God can be proven, there is evidence that supports a decision to have faith in the Bible, as we have seen. Certainly, even in the intrinsic canon model, individuals and communities must recognize the canonical books in order to allow them to serve their function in belief and practice. Yet this recognition does not bestow any intrinsic authority, it is rather, a submission to authority. Further, this is no arbitrary decision, but nonetheless it is a faith decision. The intrinsic canon model, believing God has revealed himself, finds evidence of that revelation in the intrinsically canonical books of Scripture. Significant implications for the use of Scripture in theology logically follow from these findings of the intrinsic canon model.
B. Sola, Tota, Prima, Scriptura
In accord with the intrinsic canon model, it is proposed that the canon of Scripture, seen from a reasonable survey of the data available to us, in conjunction with faith in God, is a trustworthy and accurate collection of the writings divinely revealed, inspired, and intended for the use of the church for all belief and practice. Since the sixty-six books of the Bible meet the criteria for the recognition of canonicity, it follows that these books should be the foundation for theology. Consequently, the canon merits the application of the sola, tota, and prima Scriptura principles. Sola Scriptura signifies that the Bible and the Bible alone is the correct foundation for theology. Prima Scriptura upholds that the Bible is the supreme truth.77 Tota Scriptura teaches that the whole of the Bible be taken into account for any belief, thus explicitly rejecting a “canon within a canon.”78 Consequently, the canon of Scripture functions authoritatively as the foundation, critic, and corrective of all theology and practice. The canon stands above the community and tradition as the final arbiter of truth because of its divine authority.
The examination of the canon leads to this expanded definition in accordance with the intrinsic canon model. The canon of Scripture is the norma normans (authoritative standard) which consists of books of divine revelation appointed by God to serve as an authoritative rule of faith and practice. It is also the norma normata (recognized standard) since these books are, afterward, recognized by the community to be prophetic or apostolic, of proper antiquity, having consistency, congruity, and continuity, and self-authenticating. On the basis of its intrinsic canonicity Scripture is accepted and used as the revelation of God. It is the finding of this study that all sixty-six books of the Protestant canon belong to the divinely revealed, inspired, preserved, and intended canon of Scripture, to which no books may be removed or added. As such, the canon of Scripture is the only authoritative and trustworthy foundation for theology.
1 These models do not represent any one scholarly perspective but are representative of contemporary divergent views regarding canonicity. They deal primarily with contemporary perspectives regarding the nature of canonicity which indirectly bears, at times, on the history of the canon. This article suggests these classifications for clarity and comparison.
2 James A. Sanders, “The Issue of Closure in the Canonical Process,” in The Canon Debate (ed. Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 252.
3 “By virtue of their inspiration, and its resultant internal self-authentification and self-validation, biblical books were ‘recognized’ as canonical” (Gerhard F. Hasel, “Divine Inspiration and the Canon of the Bible,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 5/1 : 69). Thus, “what is really meant by canonization-[is] recognition of the divinely authenticated word” (Milton Fisher, “The Canon of the New Testament,” in The Origin of the Bible [ed. Philip Wesley Comfort; Wheatoru Tyndale, 1992], 77).
4 Some scholars may not classify themselves under either of these proposed models. However, certain perspectives are classified under the models they seem to best represent for the purpose of dialogue.
5 For more information and a detailed history of the canon see especially R. T. Beckwith, 77k Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); F. F. Bruce, 77k Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988); Brevard S. Childs, 77k New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia:. Fortress, 1984); Sid Z. Leiman, 77ie Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Misrashic Evidence (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1976); Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988); Lee Martin McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995); McDonald and Sanders, eds., The Canon Debate; Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987); Hans Von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Philadelphia: Augsburg Fortress, 1972).
6 The differences between representatives in these models are, in fact, greater than the similarities. It is not intended that they be positioned as similar in their overall view of Scripture, its inspiration, function, or interpretation, nor regarding other matters of doctrine and belief. Rather, they may be seen in conjunction specifically regarding the underlying framework from which they view canonicity, affirming an authoritative canon determined by the community in some manner. No comparison beyond this is intended.
7 George J. Reid, “Canon of the Old Testament,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (accessed from
8 For instance, “Canon . . . denotes a fixed standard or collection of writings that defines the faith and identity of a particular religious community” (McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 13).
9 In this view the canon is “basically a community’s paradigm for how to continue the dialogue in ever changing socio-political contexts” (Sanders, “The Issue of Closure,” 262). This view of the canon is expressed more extensively in James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972). see also idem. Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984).
10 See Gerald T. Sheppard, “Canon,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion (ed. Mircea Eliade; New York: Macmillan, 1987). Unfortunately, this distinction may be used merely to posit a very loose idea of authoritative writings earlier in canon 1, and an imposed authority in canon 2 It does not deal with the possibility of an inherent canonicity, whether recognized or unrecognized. Nevertheless, the definitions are important to understand the perspective of the community canon model.
11 Ibid., 65. McDonald makes use of these terms which closely resemble his distinction between Scripture and canon saying “Scripture has to do with the divine status of a written document that is authoritative in the life of a community of faith.” Canon “implies a closed set of ‘scriptures,’ to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be subtracted” (McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 12).
12 McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 15. Ulrich claims, “The term is late and Christian … though the idea is Jewish” (Eugene Charles Ulrich, “The Non-Attestation of a Tripartite Canon in 4qmmt,” CBQ 65/2 : 28). He admits this is an argument from silence.
13 Ulrich states that if canon was so important “one would expect that authors would discuss or at least mention it” (Ulrich, “The Non-Attestation,” 23).
14 McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 29, 32. see Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 36-37. The date of the law is based on the time of Nehemiah (Neh 8:1-8). second Maccabees 15:9 is an important reference for this dating of the Prophets. In both regards, earlier dates are considered possible. There is a diverse range of current issues regarding the history of the OT canon. Debate continues regarding the dating of the acceptance of the OT canon in the Hebrew and Christian communities. For instance, see Nancy L. DeClaisse-Walford, “The Dromedary Saga: The Formation of the Canon of the Old Testament,” RevExp 95 (1998): 493-511; David Charles Kraemer, “The Formation of Rabbinic Canon: Authority and Boundaries,” ]BL 110 (1991): 613-30; Ulrich, “The Non-Attestation.” There are also significant issues related to the LXX and the MT which are beyond the scope of this article. see Johan Lust, “Septuagint and Canon,” in 77k Biblical Canons (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003); Emmanuel Tov, “The Status of the Masorerk Text in Modern Text Editions of the Hebrew Bible: The Relevance of Canon,” in 77k Canon Debate, 234-51.
15 It has often been taught that the Writings were closed at the council of Jamnia ca. A.D. 90, but there seems to have never been such a definitive “council.” The theory was originally proposed by Heinrich Graetz in 1871 and “a consensus had formed by repetition of what was at first a tentative suggestion” (Jack P. Lewis, “Jamnia Revisited,” in 77k Canon Debate, 151). see especially the groundbreaking article, Jack P. Lewis, “What Do We Mean by Jabneh?” JBR 32 (April 1964): 125-32.
16 For an argument for the fourth century dating, see McDonald, 77k Formation of the Clmstian Biblical Canon; Sanders, “The Issue of Closure,” 253-54.
17 For instance, Justin Martyr refers to the “memoirs of the apostles” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, ch. 67). Further, Irenaeus unequivocally asserts a fourfold gospel in Against Heresies 3.4.1, and references the apostolic tradition repeatedly throughout Against Heresies.
18 McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 213. McDonald himself acknowledges that this is an argument from silence based on the accidents of history. For a further discussion of this issue see ibid.; and Geoffrey Mark Hahneman, “The Muratorian Fragment and the Origins of the New Testament Canon,” in 77k Canon Debate, 408.
19 McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 195. The supposed absence of authoritative canon lists from before the fourth century is heralded as evidence of late recognition of the canon. Again the Council of Carthage is prominent (a.d. 397). Some important earlier lists include Origen’s (early third century a.d.) which names all 27 NT books but places Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 John, and Jude in a third, disputed category. Eusebius (ca. 260-340) recounts his own list which likewise includes all 27 NT books with James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude suspect (Eusebius, The Church History: A New Translation with Commentary [ed. Paul L Maier; Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999], 115 [H.E. 3.25.3]). Athanasius published his thirty-ninth Festal Letter in a.d. 367 which unequivocally lists all 27 NT books (Metzger, 77k Canon of the New Testament, 312-13). The book of Revelation was also disputed and left off of some lists.
20 The “canon developed at the very point when the biblical books were written under inspiration” (Hasel, “Divine Inspiration,” 73). Norman R. Gulley states “canon is a select group of inspired writings that is definitive and closed” (Systematic Theology: Prologomena [Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2003], 318). The scope of these books is defined and closed by God and, only then, recognized by the community.
21 It is important to notice that some of the definitions and discussions of the canon speak from the conclusions of this belief without sufficiently explaining the nuance, which may unintentionally obscure the importance of the notion of an intrinsic canon. For instance, one who believes the intrinsic canon is in fact the same as the sixty-six book canon may proceed to define this visible canon without mentioning the implicit and theoretical possibility that the intrinsic canon has not been correctly recognized, thus creating ambiguity.
22 Herman N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and tlte New Testament Scriptures (2d rev. ed.; Biblical & Theological Studies; Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988), ix.
23 The announcement of redemption cannot be separated from the history of redemption itself’ (ibid., 15).
24 Ridderbos states explicitly, “Christ established a formal authority structure to be the source and standard for all future preaching of the gospel” (ibid., 13; emphasis his).
25 In this way, “the apostles’ role in the history of redemption was unique and unrepeatable” (ibid.).
26 The essence of Ridderbos’s concept is expressed when he states, “By giving authority to His apostles, Christ himself has given a foundation and canon to His church. This canon has an entirely unique, absolutely authoritative and closed character, and can be preserved only in written form” (ibid., 30). This summarizes the main perspectives that flow from his redemptive-historical approach. First, the canon received an authority bestowed by Christ which establishes it as foundational. second, due to the once-for-all nature of Christ’s Parousia in redemptive history, the canon is closed based “on the once-for-all significance of the New Testament history of redemption itself,” the apostolic witness (ibid., 25). Third, the canon “could exist permanently only in a written form” due to the transience of living apostolic witnesses (ibid.). In the negative sense, this means that only the OT and the NT apostolic witness are recognized as canonical; the canon cannot be reduced to a kerygmatic core or to a canon within the canon; and subjective approaches that remove redemptive-historical meaning must be rejected (ibid., 26-29).
27 The church did not determine the canon, “God determined the canon. . . . The church merely discovered which books God had determined (inspired) to be in the canon” (emphasis his) (Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995], 192).
28 Andrew Steinmann critiques such usage of canon 1 and canon 2 saying, “The problem … is that it purposely confuses two different meanings of canon in the definition of canon I for ideological reasons. The meaning of canon as rule or norm is combined with the meaning of a generally recognized authoritative collection of inspired books in order to argue that the canon was not closed until a relatively late date” (Andrew E. Steinmann, 77k Oracles of God [Saint Louis: Concordia, 1999], 17).
29 For instance, Balla argues “that the later use of the term ‘canonical’ should not prevent us from seeing an awareness in the authors of the New Testament of a connection between the writings of the ‘Old Testament’ and their own writings. . . . [some passages of the NT] are accorded the same level of authority as the Old Testament writings” (Peter Balla, “Evidence for an Early Christian Canon [second and third Century],” in 77k Canon Debate, 373).
30 While recognizing the ecclesiastical history of the closing of the canon, Ridderbos points out the need to entertain the notion of “the material authority the canonical writings had for the church from its inception” (Ridderbos, Redemptive History, 13). This authority is grounded in the redemptive-historical apostolic proclamation directly commissioned by Christ.
31 “That the canon was formed after a long ecclesiastical development is not necessarily incompatible with the special authority that the church has ascribed to it” (ibid., 3).
32 God commanded Moses that his revelation be written, preserved, and passed on (Exod 17:14; 24:4; 31:18; 34:27; Deut 10:5; 31:9, 25-26). After Moses, other inspired writers carried on the recording of revelation including Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, just to name a few (Josh 24:26; 1 Sam 10:25; Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2). Later writers referred to and revered earlier Scriptures (1 Kgs 2:3; Ezra 3:2; Jer 26:18; Ezek 14:14, 20; Dan 9:2; Mic 4:1-3, etc.). Moreover, the words of the OT frequently use phrases that denote the divine origin of Scripture. These include “by the hand of,” “the Word of the Lord,” “declares the Lord,” and “thus says Yahweh.” According to Hasel these phrases are all “the OT’s way of saying that it is God-derived and ‘God-breathed'” (Hasel, “Divine Inspiration,” 78).
33 Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is just a hypothesis. Bruce states that the three stage development “is completely hypothetical: there is no evidence for it, either in the OT itself or elsewhere” (77k Canon of Scripture, 36). As previously mentioned there is a great deal of continuing discussion of the OT canon.
34 For instance, some present an early date for the recognition of the Writings, and therefore the whole OT. For a moderate date see Bruce, 77k Canon of Scripture, 36. For an argument of 164 B.C. see Beckwith, 77k Old Testament Canon, 339-408; Leiman, 77k Canonization of Hebrew Scripture; and David Noel Freedman, “Canon of the Old Testament,” in Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), 130-36.
35 At other places Jesus only mentions the “Law and the Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16) but seems to intend the whole OT, considering that prophets also composed the Writings, or the Hagiographa.
36 This claim is sometimes disputed as some contend that the reference to the “son of Barechiah” in Matt 23:35 points to a different Zechariah than the one mentioned in Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible.
37 For further evidence that Jesus “ratified” the OT Scriptures to his apostles, see Bruce, 77k Canon of Scripture, 255. “According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus quotes or alludes to twenty-three of the thirty-nine books of the Hebrew Bible…. Jesus alludes to or quotes all five books of Moses, the three major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), eight of the twelve minor prophets, and five of the Writings” (Craig A. Evans, “The Scriptures of Jesus and His Earliest Followers,” in 77k Canon Debate, 185).
38 Jesus is clear about the authority of the OT (Matt 21:42; Matt 22:29; Matt 26:54, 56; Luke 24:44, 45; John 2:22; John 5:39; John 10:35; John 17:12). The rest of the NT testifies to the OT writings as authoritative Scripture (Acts 17:2; 18:28; Rom 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 1 Cor 15:3, 4; Gal 3:8; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). For further argument that Jesus held a closed canon of the OT see Balla, “Evidence for an Early Christian Canon,” and Beckwith, 77k Old Testament Canon.
39 For instance, the Prologue to Sirach (ca. 130 B.c-110 B.C.) mentions the Law, the Prophets, and “the others that followed them … the other books of our ancestors.” second Maccabees 2:13 mentions the “memoirs of Nehemiah” and references “the writings of David” among others and v. 14 states that Judas Maccabeus made a similar collection (ca. 160 B.C.). Leiman holds that the collection of Judas Maccabeus may “be a description of the closing of the Hagiographa, and with it the entire biblical canon” (Leiman, 77k Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 29). For a similar argument see Beckwith, 77k Old Testament Canon, 60. Furthermore, in the late first century A.D., 4 Ezra 14:45 references a twenty-four book collection. About the same time Josephus explicitly mentions three parts of accepted Jewish writings and twenty-two books in Against Apion 1.8. Note that the twenty-four book Hebrew collection contains the same books as the current thirty-nine book OT; it simply combines many books to arrive at the number twenty-four. The twenty-four book and twenty-two book lists are most likely identical collections because some books were combined to correspond to the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet. Also important is the passage of b. Baba Bathra 14.14b-15a, which identifies by name all of the twenty-four books of the OT and makes the distinction between the Prophets and the Hagiographa (Writings). However, the dating of this passage is disputed, with opinions on its antiquity ranging from 164 B.C. to a.d. 200. Moreover, all the books of the OT, except Esther, were found at Qumran.
40 Josephus, Against Apion 1.8.
41 See McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 145.
42 There is very early manuscript evidence of parts of the writings of John in the John Rylands Papyrus, copied by about A.D. 125, within thirty-five years of John’s death. Fisher comments, “There is evidence that within thirty years of the apostle’s [John’s] death all the Gospels and Pauline letters were known and used” (Fisher, “The Canon of the New Testament,” 70).
43 See the translation and full text of the Muratorian fragment in Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 305-7.
44 Moreover, the “the heretics and heresies named by the Muratorianum [the MF] all still belong to the second century” (Von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible, 244). see also Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 193. Everett Ferguson, in an article that Metzger thinks shattered Sundberg’s theory of a late MF date, presents compelling evidence for the earlier date of the Muratorian Fragment. He writes, “Not only are the arguments for a fourth-century eastern setting so tenuous as to fail to carry conviction, but other considerations point strongly to an earlier western setting.” For a full presentation see Everett Ferguson, “Canon Muratori: Date and Provenance,” StPatr 17/2 (1982): 681. see also Balla, “Evidence for an Early Christian Canon,” 381; Childs, 77k New Testament as Canon, 238.
45 For instance, 1 Tim 5:18 seems to quote directly from Luke 10:7. Peter declares the writings of Paul to be Scripture along with the OT (2 Pet 3:15-16). Moreover, the gospel is regarded as the very word of God (Acts 8:14; 11:1; 12:24; 13:46; 17:13; 18:11; 19:20). Paul is clear that he does not speak on his own authority but by that of God (Rom 15:15; 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 1:12; Eph 3:5; 1 Thess 2:13) and commands his letters to be read (Col 4:16; 1 Thess 5:27). Finally, Revelation testifies of itself as direct revelation from God and adds that no one should change its words (Rev 1:1; 22:18-19).
46 Josephus, Against Apion 1.8.
47 See 1 Chr 29:29; 2 Chr 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 20:34; 32:32; 33:18-19.
48 If a writing was believed to have been produced by an apostle, it was eventually accepted as sacred Scripture and included in the New Testament canon” (Lee Martin McDonald, “Identifying Scripture and Canon in the Early Church: The Criteria Question,” in 77k Canon Debate, 424).
49 Bruce, 77k Canon of Scripture, 256-58. Moreover, the arguments of authorship in the 2d and 3d centuries “shows how important some degree of apostolic authorization seemed to be for the books which the church accepted as uniquely authoritative” (ibid., 258).
50 Ridderbos points out that the authority received by the apostles from Christ and through the Spirit is “the only demonstrable basis for the canon of the new Testament” (Ridderbos, Redemptive History, 31). However, he contends that the recognition of the canon cannot be clearly settled by an appeal to “the redemptivehistorical principle of apostolicity” because “we can no longer establish with historical certainty what in a redemptive-historical sense is apostolic and what is not” (ibid.). For example, we don’t know the “number and identity of the apostles” beyond the “historical twelve” (ibid.).
51 Ridderbos seems to downplay the criteria of apostolicity because of its dependence upon the findings of “historical judgments” which he cautions “cannot be the final and sole ground for the church’s accepting the New Testament as canonical” (ibid., 32). He proposes that “what is apostolic was not limited to the viva vox (“living voice”) of the apostles or to their own writings but is also what is apostolic in subject matter and content” (ibid.). The most obvious example of this is in the authorship of the Synoptic Gospels. Nevertheless, Ridderbos is careful to point out that this “does not deprive the apostolate of its unique, once-for-all character. Rather, it reveals how the apostles transmitted the foundation to the church” (ibid.). He thus locates apostolicity in the internal content of the NT rather than authorship thus preserving his refusal to appeal to extrabiblical data for recognition of canonicity (ibid., ix, 35). It seems, though, that one might be able to agree with the intent of Ridderbos to preserve the supremacy of the internal characteristics of the canon and at the same time consider historical data in aiding the personal and corporate recognition of that canon. In other words, the criterion of apostolicity in recognizing the canon may be accepted and applied with tentative caution and awareness of the fallibility of the conclusions of historical inquiry. Furthermore, one must also note that the criterion of apostolicity is not comprehensive as it relates to the recognition of the canon.
52 An appeal to apostolicity on the basis of matter and content alone seems to allow some room for interpretation as to what constitutes apostolic matter and content which could, unintentionally, leave room for expansion/reduction of the canon, or a functional canon within the canon. It seems, rather, that the unique and once-for-all apostolic witness in the history of redemption requires apostolic correlation.
53 In this way, all canonical writings would be directly connected in some manner to the living apostles, the Christ-chosen conduits of the divine authority in preservation of redemption history. This connection would ensure that these books record the apostolic witness faithfully, thus making them legitimately apostolic. This applies to the case of the Synoptic Gospels which are believed to all have apostolic connections. Thus, although books like Mark and Luke were not written by apostles, they seem to have had apostolic authority by association. Mark is believed to have recorded Peter’s account of the gospel and many believe that Mark was the one who fled in Mark 14:51-52. The book of Luke utilized firsthand witnesses (Luke 1:1-5). It is possible that Hebrews contains the theology of Paul, and thus is apostolic by association, even if it was actually transcribed by someone else such as Barnabas or even an amanuensis of Paul.
54 Once again, Josephus testifies to this fact when he clearly specifies that the authoritative writings were “till the reign of Artaxerxes” Qosephus, Against Apion 1.8). This is also the same time 2 Mace 2:13 has Nehemiah collecting “the books about the kings and prophets.” This dating matches the last of the OT books, probably Malachi ca. 435 B.C.
55 For this reason, the Muratorian Fragment, lines 77-78 rejects the Shepherd of Hennas. see the translation and full text of the Muratorian fragment in Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 305-7.
56 F. F. Bruce, “The Bible,” in The Origin of the Bible (ed. Philip Wesley Comfort; Wheaton Tyndale, 1992), 9. However, McDonald questions the contemporary use of the criteria of apostolicity and antiquity because of the questions of authorship and dating of some NT books according to the historical critical method (McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 230).
57 There are numerous examples of this criterion inside and outside of the Bible. In the NT a prophet was judged by a confession of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:2; 1 Cor 12:3, 10). The Didache 12.16 also says to test the prophets. An important historical example of this criterion was the case of Serapion at Rhossus, who originally allowed usage of the so-called Gospel of Peter but later rejected it altogether because it implied docetism (Eusebius, 216; H.E. 6.12.3).
58 This may seem similar to the oft-mentioned criterion of orthodoxy, which means that the contents of the book must be orthodox teachings. Unfortunately, the word “orthodox” can mean different things. It may refer to a conforming to tradition or to Scripture, or something else. The test of canonicity is not orthodoxy in the sense of conforming to tradition or the community’s belief system, but only in the sense that it agrees with past revelation. In this way, the Scriptures may reform and change tradition.
59 “All of the ancient church fathers believed that their canon of scriptures was inspired” (McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 239). Irenaeus in Against Heresies 2.28.2 explicitly says the “the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and by His Spirit.” Justin Martyr is also adamant about the inspiration of Scripture. He states in Dialogue With Trypho 65.2 ANF, that if you “imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the scriptures contradicted one another, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing, and if a scripture that appears to be of such a kind be brought forward … I shall admit rather that I do not understand.” This shows a very high emphasis on the inspiration of Scripture.
60 McDonald, 77k Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 240.
61 Some examples of clearly prophetic books are the book of statutes (1 Sam 10:25), the book of Nathan the Prophet and of Gad the Seer (1 Chr 29:29), the book of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the Seer (2 Chr 12:15), among many others. Such prophetic books were not preserved through the ages for the present community.
62 For an extensive discussion of the reliability of the OT and NT see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2001) and F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), respectively.
63 The leading of the Spirit of God in this faith decision should not be overlooked. However, “the internal witness of the Spirit is not the basis for but the means by which the canon of Scripture is recognized and accepted as the indubitable Word of God” (Ridderbos, Redemptive History, 9). Ridderbos notes that recognition of the canon is grounded not in faith alone or the Spirit’s work alone but “simply and solely in the a priori of the canon itself, that is, in the redemptive-historical reality that lies at the foundation of the canon as such and from which the latter springs” (ibid, 36-37).
64 A clear example of the community canon model, in this regard, is Sanders’s emphasis on two characteristics that are close to usage: adaptability and survivability. He states, “Relevance or adaptability has always been the primary trait of a canon, early and late. When one speaks of a canon, in fact, one has to ask which canon of which community is meant, whether in antiquity or today” (Sanders, “The Issue of Closure in the Canonical Process,” 259). McDonald sees usage as “probably the primary key to understanding the preservation and canonization of the books that make up our current NT” (McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 249).
65 For a full tabulation see Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 419-33.
66 It is recognized that such a position on the authorship and dating of the books may not be satisfying to some readers. However, the scope of this work does not allow an examination of the technical issues involved in such discussions. There are diverse perspectives and methodologies regarding authorship. This article accepts the prophetic authorship of the thirty-nine OT books and the apostolic authorship of the twenty-seven NT books. Some data that supports such a position is laid out in studies such as Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3d ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1998) and D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). Of course, the data regarding authorship may be interpreted against apostolic authorship, and often has been. However, if one accepts the possibility that God has revealed himself, then other interpretations of the same data may be considered which support faith in the prophetic and apostolic authorship of the biblical books. From such a perspective, the intrinsic canon model recognizes thirty-nine biblical books shared with Judaism as prophetic and the twenty-seven NT books which are all believed to have been written by an apostle or having direct ties to an apostle. All other books are rejected because they do not meet these criteria. The OT Apocrypha are not accepted in this model, in part, due to the cessation of prophecy about the time of Artaxerxes (see 1 Macc 9:27; Josephus, Against Apion 1.8). For a further discussion of the Apocryphal books see Geisler and MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, 160. The oft mentioned, Gospel of Thomas (ca. a.d. 150), does not meet the criteria because it lacks apostolic authorship, not to mention consistency with previous revelation. For further discussion see Nicholas Perrin, “Thomas: The Fifth Gospel?” JETS 49/1 (2006): 67-80. There are simply no books outside the sixty-six of the Bible that meet all of these criteria of canonicity.
67 McDonald has argued that the early authority was not a canon of scriptures, but a canon of faith. Yet, this viewpoint seems to overlook the text-based tradition (and the ritual tradition) of Judaism that was inherited by Christianity. The early canon of faith may also be seen as the canonization of God’s revelation in Scripture.
68 For William J. Abraham the canon is to function soteriologically, but not epistemologically. Canon may refer to all recognized lists of communities. He states, “I want, that is, to relocate the whole idea of canon within the arena of means of grace within the Church” (William J. Abraham, Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology [Oxford: Clarendon, 1998], 21).
69 Robert W. Funk, of the Jesus Seminar, posits the need for a “new New Testament indeed, a new Bible, that will find its way into bookstores and on the internet in a section clearly marked ‘Bibles'” (“The Once and Future New Testament” in The Canon Debate, 555). His plan includes one version of the canon to “include whatever traces of the original strangeness of Jesus and Paul we can isolate or reconstruct and eliminate everything else” (ibid., 556). A second version “should contain the current twenty-seven books plus others” in sections by dates, a massive book of all literature in successive stages (ibid., 557).
70 James D. G. Dunn claims that “no Christian church or group has treated the New Testament writings as uniformly canonical. . . . the reality is that all Christians have operated with a canon within the canon” (emphasis his) (“Has the Canon a Continuing Function?” in The Canon Debate, 559). Thus, according to Dunn, the church should be “recognizing how few the essentials are and how wide must be the range of acceptable liberty” (ibid., 564).
71 This does not mean all who hold the community canon model reject divine activity in the canon; certainly this is not true of Roman Catholicism. However, the community canon model does require an external, human bestowal of canonicity on the books rather than the recognition of their intrinsic canonicity.
72 For instance, McDonald asks “does that [the closed canon] mean that the Spirit does not speak today?” (The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, 256). He sees the closed canon as restrictive to spiritual growth. He prefers that “the modern church could feel freer to allow other ancient (or modern) voices to inform its understanding of God.” He comments, “I for one am not in favor of rejecting the present biblical canon in order to create a new closed canon of scriptures” (ibid., 257).
73 Ibid., 257.
74 “The closed nature of the canon thus rests ultimately on the once-for-all significance of the New Testament history of redemption itself, as that history is presented by the apostolic witness” (Ridderbos, Redemptive History, 25).
75 Since Revelation is the last book of the NT (both in the placement and chronology) it is plausible that this command may also include all the preceding canonical revelation of God, namely the whole canon
76 The preservation of the canon by God is part of the providential activity of God, no less than the revelation and inspiration. Moreover, Bruce contends, “it is easy to conclude that in reaching a conclusion on the limits of the canon they were directed by a wisdom higher than their own” (The Canon of Scripture, 282).
77 Gulley points out that “Systematic Theology [and tradition] . . . gets its authority only derivatively from Scripture. . . . To be a church or a theology requires beingtrue to the entire canon of Scripture” (Systematic Theology, 322).
78 It is important to note that a wise methodology of Scripture does not hinge any doctrine on just one text, nor should any central Christian tenet rely on any one book of the Bible alone. This principle called “the analogy of Scripture” helps in our practical use of the canon. D. H. Beeby makes the insightful comment that “The devil can quote scripture, but he cannot quote the whole of scripture. The words of the Bible can be used falsely only if they are used selectively” (“No Loose Canon,” International Review of Mission 89/355 : 578).
JOHN C. PECKHAM*
* John C. Peckham is a Ph.D. student in Theological Studies at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
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