Wednesday, May 30, 2012

3 The Canon of Scripture

OT Canon
As with the previous chapter, Grudem's story of the OT canon's development seems more like a two-dimensional comic book version rather than one that demonstrates any depth of understanding.  Just as an example, Numbers 33:2 says that Moses recorded the stages of Israel's journey at the LORD's command.  Does Grudem want us to infer from this comment that the book of Numbers itself is the record? Inductively, this comment surely wants us to think of Numbers 33:3-49 as the record.

It is exactly this sort of inductive incompetency that plagues Grudem's understanding of the Bible in general. Numbers, like Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, talks about Moses in the third person.  There is material in these books that is Mosaic.  But the books as books, as wholes do not want to be read inductively as books written by Moses. We will have to abandon exegesis and inductive Bible study as our preferred method if this is the way we are to read Scripture and adopt an eisegetical hermeneutic, one that comes to the text trying to find the conclusions we already have.

Exodus, for example, makes reference to a "Book of the Covenant" that Moses reads to the people (24:7).  This book is not just the Ten Commandments, but presumably other laws in Exodus as well.  Inductively, is not this the material that Exodus 24:4 wants us to think of, the laws God wanted Moses to write down, not the book of Exodus itself? Similarly, there is no place in the Pentateuch that fits the description of the scroll mentioned in Exodus 17:14.

Again, like a high school student, it doesn't seem to occur to Grudem that these might be references to material that isn't actually in the Pentateuch.  Why? Maybe because he doesn't have much of a place for revelation outside the written text as it has survived? So 1 Samuel 10:25 does not refer to anything that has survived in Scripture. 1 Chronicles 29:29 does not refer to anything that has survived in Scripture. Although I think Chronicles is well aware of Samuel and Kings, it doesn't seem likely to me that the "Chronicles of Jehu" are 1 Kings. Nor does Isaiah read like a catalog of the acts of Uzziah "from first to last."

In short, Grudem at least seems to reflect the classic pre-modern inability to distinguish between things in a biblical text and that biblical text itself as a historical document.  The main character in a story irrationally becomes the author of the story.  Why would anyone think, for example, that Joshua wrote Joshua because of Joshua 24:26? Joshua is not the Book of the Law?  Joshua is talking about a book, not about itself!  You begin to wonder who the Bible professors were at wherever Grudem studied!

Then there is the old fable about the Jews considering the canon closed with Malachi in about 435BC. There is of course no statement within the Old Testament itself that would attest to this. We know that in the 100s BC the Greek preface to Sirach mentions the Law, the Prophets, and "the other writings," but it doesn't say what those other writings were.  Luke 24 mentions the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (24:44).

If you ask an actual scholar of Second Temple Judaism, they will tell you that the general consensus is that the edges of the canon remained fuzzy at this time in its third section, "the Writings."  There's actually no evidence for another legend, that the OT canon was set in stone at Jamnia in around AD90, but even this legend supposes that the precise contents of the canon remained fluid at the time of the New Testament, some 400 years too late for Grudem.

No reputable Dead Sea Scroll scholar would say that the Essenes did not consider a book like 1 Enoch to be Scripture.  And if Jude 14 were talking about a book in the canon, Grudem would absolutely be touting the verse as proof that Enoch wrote 1 Enoch and that 1 Enoch should be considered Scripture. To try to argue that Melito of Sardis didn't think the book of Wisdom was Scripture is obviously special pleading because it doesn't work for Grudem.

And while the NT does not quote any of the apocryphal books as Scripture, they use them.  No one interested in the truth (rather than just trying to justify what you already think) will conclude that Jesus in Matthew 11:28-29 is not comparing himself to wisdom in Sirach 24 and 51 or that Hebrews 1:3 is not an allusion to Wisdom 7:26 (Romans 1:21ff also has very similar themes to Wisdom 12-14).  And Hebrews 11:35 is likely an allusion to 2 Maccabees 7.  By far the Bible the early Christians used, even Paul, was the Septuagint, and even Grudem acknowledges that the Septuagint included these books (57 n.7).  I suspect he had to add these notes in later editions because someone pointed out he'd missed a few things.

I can't see how anyone can actually read the patristic literature and not conclude that the fathers quoted books like Wisdom similarly to how they quoted the rest of the Old Testament.  It is true that Jerome classified them as part of a "second" canon (deuterocanonical), not as authoritative as the first. So the Council of Trent in 1545 did arguably elevate their official status in response to Luther. But part of acknowledging this fact is also to recognize that Luther himself demoted their status from what they had been from almost the very beginning.

The status these books have within most of Protestantism seems almost certainly less than the status they had from the very beginning of Greek-speaking Christianity.  If we have to choose between the two statements, it is more accurate to say that Luther took the books out than to say that the Catholic church added them in.  The middle way is to go with Jerome.  From almost the beginning, they had the status of a kind of "second canon," of more status than Luther gave them but less than the Council of Trent.

NT Canon

Someone who sees the Bible as Scripture is going to agree with Grudem that the books of the New Testament are the right books and that no more books should be added to the Bible. But there is a dreamy quality to the way he unfolds it that again is more like a two-dimensional legend with flat characters than reality. And there's no reason for it other than a compulsion for certainty.

Ironically, there is a great deal of "common sense" to his argument that implies what he will not tell you--he cannot rely on the Bible itself for the answers to which books are in the canon. This is a massive hint of the inadequacy of his overall view of Scripture. When it comes to justifying the contents of Scripture he must resort to a common sense completely outside of the text.

So it is "not accidental" that Revelation comes last or that Genesis comes first in the Christian canon 63).  It "must" be that way. Why? Because it makes sense to him. Smile. Or is because there is a circularity to your argument, Wayne? Convinced that the Bible as it stands has to be the canon, you will find any argument that sounds like it makes sense to justify it?

What's the bottom line?  It is because we can have confidence in "the faithfulness of God" (65). I agree. But where was that faithfulness manifested?  Say it; say it.  In the church.  AD367. He acknowledges it. No writing prior to 367 has the same list of New Testament books that are now in our canon.  AD397 before any official recognition of these books as the New Testament canon anywhere that we know of. Looks like the church wrestled a little with the question--and that it wasn't the first order of business (which contradicts the all-importance these issues have for his theology).

His argument for the finality of the New Testament canon gives a glimmer of depth. If Christ is the final revelation, then it makes sense that the canon would not be far behind. This Christ-focused approach points us toward substance, revelation as something more than words, something deep and cosmic. But Grudem is so written word focused that this hint of depth comes only because he has no recourse in the biblical text itself. There's no text that says, "And with Revelation, the canon is closed." Grudem himself admits that the words about adding and subtracting were about the book of Revelation itself, not the Bible or the New Testament as a whole (65).

Ultimately, the collection of the canon--and the collection of doctrine and ethics--require mechanisms that are outside the biblical texts themselves. Some external organizing principle is required to determine the limits of the canon, as well as to systematize biblical teaching. Grudem is forced to engage such factors in this chapter, but he will return to pretending they are not at work in later chapters. His answer is actually quite good: we must rely on the faithfulness of God... in the church, through the Spirit to affirm the canon of Scripture.

Of course those who argue for the Majority Text (roughly that behind the KJV) use this argument as well--surely a faithful God would have preserved the precise text.  Of course the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches use this argument as well--surely a faithful God would have preserved the right interpretations and applications of these texts.

Again, Christians will agree with the destination.  These are the books that belong in the New Testament canon.  Historically, though, that conclusion was won with far more disagreement and real debate than Grudem imagines.  He imagines that it was almost obvious from the very beginning that Paul's writings were Scripture, that the gospels were Scripture. Galatians 2 points to much more conflict and disagreement in the early church. The real story was much more real, much more three-dimensional, like real history.

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