Some time ago I wrote a bit about the authority of the Bible, which you can read here. Beneath the issues of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, theology and denominationalism we will often find some discussion about the Scriptures, with questions as seemingly elementary as, “what constitutes Scripture?” We are taught as children that the Bible consists of 66 books, beginning with Genesis, ending with Revelation, all inspired by the Holy Spirit (the Aprocrapha is, of course, not inspired). We even somehow think that the order of the books is important, sometimes judging those who don’t know where Romans is.
This morning I read a couple of very interesting posts on the subject on the internet monk blog. The first is by Michael Spencer (the IM himself – he’s actually Baptist, I think), who identifies himself as a “post-evangelical,” which he defines elsewhere on his blog. The second post (on the same internet monk site) is by guest-poster Josh Stodtbeck, a Lutheran blogger who gives a Lutheran perspective on the Scriptural Canon.
Both posts raise very interesting issues and challenges with regard to how militant we can be concerning our position on the Canon of Scripture. As I think I’ve mentioned before, it is interesting to note that based on what we read in the New Testament, the “Word of God” does not seem limited to anything which was written down, and in fact, seems to speak of oral testimony. It would seem that some fundamentalist approaches to the Bible, while trying to raise the stature of the Bible and encourage faith by assigning adjectives such as inerrant, may in fact have the opposite effect.
As Paul told Timothy, all scripture is inspired by God. However, as I realized some years ago, in context we see that Paul was referring to that “scripture” which Timothy learned as a child. While I do not doubt the inspiration of the New Testament books, it seems fitting to ask (and not assume), “What did Paul mean by ‘scripture?'” Michael Spencer writes:
It is important, however, to note that the term “scripture” was not synonymous with “approved canon.” It is apparent that Jewish writers could use the term “scripture” in a much broader sense than we would use the word “canon,” and that books not included in canonical lists might be referred to as scripture. This seems to provide strong evidence that there are books- such as the Apocryphal books- that may have been quoted as “scripture” while not appearing universally on all Jewish lists of canon. In fact, it’s clear that the Jewish canon was never as settled as the retelling of the canonical tale might sometimes imply. This suggests that the category of “beneficial, but not authoritative” should be applied to some writings, and that supplemental collections of non-canonical books and readings are appropriate.
Spencer’s post give’s his own, “post-evangelical” views. Mr. Stodtbeck presents a Lutheran understanding of the Canon and how it works in practice; that is, how it impacts Lutheran theology. For example, he discusses how not all books were unanimously adopted into the Canon; some books, like Revelation, were highly contested:
An example of the application of this is that Lutherans will never make some particular interpretation of Revelation a church-defining issue. Yes, we preach from it, write commentaries in it, and read it in our lectionaries, but because the early church witness to the origin of this book is divided, our confessional principles on eschatology are ultimately drawn from the Gospels and Epistles.
You may not agree with either position, but if you have any interest at all in the subject, I think you’ll find the articles worth your time.