Eavesdropping in my Conversation With a Friend About Canonization of Scripture (Part 2 of 2)

1 Mar

Follow Up Question (related to the last blog I wrote):

Are you saying that, as the books of the Bible were being written that they were becoming canonized (pronounced as Holy Writ and placed in the Bible as scripture)? That is to say, were we working with an open canon for quite some time, during both the Old and New Testament times?

Answer

It worked this way.

As the texts were being written… (around 1500BC-400BC for the Old Testament, and 40-100 AD for the New Testament), there were these general understandings that the People of Israel/Jews had about this literature they were exposed to, as there were with the New Testament writings (which, again, came MUCH closer together and were more widely circulated, because the Christian Church was geographically spread apart than Israel and Judah). So there were a ‘little’ differences between Jewish perspectives about authoritative tests and that of the Christian church, but that’s too technical to really matter here.

So let’s don’t get tripped up on the word ‘canonized.’ That’s showing a more Roman Catholic perspective, and we want to think in terms of the New Testament period and that of ancient Judaism, not to suspend a several-centuries later perspective on it.

So what happened was that the people of God were exposed to both false prophets and prophets/apostles of God throughout time. Some of them had writings that were ostensibly received from God. As the people of God heard or read these things, the Spirit of God bore witness in the hearts of people, along with the tests of canonicity– general principles that were taken into consideration, that these were (or were not) the Word of God. (Keep in mind, when you read the Gospel of Mark, you don’t have to be a theologian with a Ph.D. to know it is God speaking, if you follow me). But the people of God quickly and immediately identified certain books as scripture. And as they were being identified and written, more and more were accepted (and others were universally rejected, like the apocrypha and pseudopigrapha, etc.). And as this happened in real time, over centuries, as God dynamically gave His word and self-revelation to people, the ‘canon’ grew. When the Old Testament was completed in or around the 400s, it was already an established fact which books were official. Later on, like in the article below, because of some later challenges by smaller factions of people who probably weren’t even true believers and the like, there were sometimes a need to ‘reaffirm’ or ‘clarify’ officially what was universally known, accepted, believed, and taught all along. So when groups like this met, they sometimes reminded people of what they believed and sometimes offered a statement publically to summarize their beliefs. So, like at Jamnia below, there were times when the “canon” was identified in writing and it became a part of the historical record we have. And that’s fine and no problem.

The problem is that, because churches like Catholicism think that their church and their bishops speak for God in an official authoritative way– in ways that go beyond scripture, I might add– and when they do this, they make statements that make the untrained theological eye believe that they had the authority to make official pronouncements about canonizing scripture and establishing what scripture was, etc. While, in fact, that was already established by the people of God, universally, in the past. There was no need for any canonization because (and this is my central point), HUMANITY CANNOT ‘CANONIZE’ AND DICTATE WHAT GOD’S WORD IS OR WHAT THE BIBLE IS– GOD DOES THAT. GOD DICTATES WHAT HIS WORD IS AND HE DETERMINES WHAT THE BIBLE BOOKS ARE… THEY DON’T NEED THE APPROVAL OF SOME CHURCH BODY LED BY IMPERFECT PRIESTS. The fact that they are from God is a self-justifying reality and they are easily identified as scripture, and it is God (not we) who establishes the canon. We only recognize and affirm what it is, we don’t determine it. However, through discernment, we can compare other writings against the established canon, and through that, we speak to establish what ISN’T THE CANON. So the church’s job is one of polemics and apologetics.

Polemics is when Christian leaders speak to the church and clear up confusion to people inside the church and call out on the carpet false teachers pushing false teachings and false books. Apologetics is when Christians defend the faith against unbelievers outside the church. I hope that makes sense.

So, like at Jamnia, the point wasn’t to “try to figure out what books will be included in the Bible” but to come to consensus among those people (who didn’t have universal authority in the church in the first place) regarding issues about certain scriptural questions they had. Just like today, if there was an issue we needed to really establish clarity on, we could call a church council to discuss and try to DISCOVER what God said about the matter– and not to create a policy about it. God has spoken, and our job is to discover what He said and to then communicate that– our job isn’t to speak for Him by putting words in his mouth.

So canonicity was God’s people agreeing publically and “for the record” stating the obvious and helping, once and for all, to promote ideas that were already widely understood and accepted– and to clarify minor issues related to those topics as well.

Final point:

Because the Bible came to us not as one finished book, but as it was being revealed in real time in history by God at the appointed time– it HAD to be ‘open’ during those days.

But, at the completion of Revelation, God made it clear there (in chapter 21 or 22) that it was the concluding authoritative book, and said so. This officially CLOSED the canon, so now we know that any and all books (form the pseudopigrapha to the Quran to others) that claim equal status to scripture are in error, because God made that clear. And that’s why there has never been any serious challenge to what is authentic canon since that time. Only small factions of uninformed activists ever dream up these ideas, but the universal church speaks against those things and they never materalize, because it’s clear to the church what is and what isn’t scripture.

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