Friday, May 14, 2010

The Canon Question

That is the title of  a terrific and well-reasoned piece, authored by Tom Brown, at the ever-interesting Called to Communion website.  You can find "The Canon Question" here. Here's a bit to whet your appetite:
In this article, I argue that Reformed theology is intrinsically incapable of answering the Canon Question. The confessional and classical Reformed answer to the Canon Question, which will be considered in depth in section II.A., relies upon the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each believer to give assurance of a text’s canonicity. I will argue that since any two Spirit-filled Christians who are new to Scripture might not agree that any given text is canonical, this test is of dubious reliability, and thus cannot be our ultimate measure of Scripture. The inherent subjectivity of this classical Reformed basis for the canon has led to a variety of different answers to the Canon Question, each seeking a more objective basis for identifying God-breathed texts. These various efforts to articulate an objective test for the canon are not mutually exclusive. They can be summarized as follows: the Old Testament canon is that set of Hebrew texts that were canonized by Jewish leaders of Jerusalem around the time of Christ; the New Testament canon is defined as those books which are immediately or mediately of Apostolic authorship; and finally, the canon is defined as those books which received widespread acceptance in the early Church (until a certain point in time). I will explore these topics, as well as Martin Luther’s view that the canon properly consists of those Old and New Testament books which “preach Christ,” in the remainder of section II. There, I shall argue that, given the Reformed assumption that whatever authoritatively testifies to the canonicity of Scripture must be more authoritative than Scripture, each of them necessarily places extra-biblical evidence above Scripture in its effort to objectively identify the canon. This places something from outside of Scripture above Scripture, and thereby violates the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.
You can read the whole thing here.


kkollwitz said...

This is timely; last month I read about 2/3 of The Canon of Scripture by EF Bruce.

Writings about the Canon Question are always interesting as an indirect way to learn more about Scripture, but as a Cradle Catholic, the compostition of the Canon itself doesn't worry me. I do think I would be be worn out trying to figure it out on my own, especially using Calvin's method. The notion of testing each book in the Canon (and presumably books not in the Canon) by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit sounds both exhausting and worrisome.

kkollwitz said...

FF Bruce.

Nick said...

I have an article that builds on Tom's piece, but I go at it from a more "protestant" angle.