November 24, 2014

Thinking About the Canon: A Post-Evangelical’s View

main_2.jpgAfter reading Mark Shea’s By What Authority? and revisiting Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? I started making some notes on my own ideas about the question of canonicity.

This post will be followed later by popular Internet Monk poster and famous Lutheran blogger Josh Strodtbeck, who will give us the Lutheran view of the canon. So this ought to be fun, interesting, and make the right people mad enough to call me an “invertebrate.” (Love those flashes of TR rhetoric.)

As some of you know, discussions about authority, who is the true church, what franchise operation did Jesus found and where should we all shop really give me the hives. Inerrantists, some Calvinists, most recent evangelical converts to the RCC and the entire Church of Christ in western Kentucky are all into this. Still, you have to think about these things. So get ready to discover that I don’t think the canon is as closed as most of you, and I am not nearly as afraid of tradition as some of you want me to be. The one thing I know is that on this bus, we’re all fallible, and that makes the subject interesting.

See you in the comments.

I’m no expert on the subject of canon, and I need to spend more time studying the subject, but I get a fair amount of questions from students about the canon and canon-related issues. Without trying to write a polished essay, I have several ideas about the canon I’d like to cover.

We have to be very careful with the concept of canon, because there is clearly a tendency to practice considerable anachronism with the whole business. Most of the questions I’ve fielded about canonization assumed that what were talking about is the approval of a list of books by some official and authoritative body, which actually becomes another discussion entirely. If we can hold off debating what denomination is the “true church” we can get much further with this idea.

Scripture itself has no formal table of contents in any book. In fact, the form of the scripture as a bound single book necessitating a table of contents is a construct of ours and not a specific command of God. On the other hand, those of us with an appreciation for tradition need to consider whether any view of tradition results in a final and authoritative “list of books in the Bible” that is never open for further discussion. The idea of “canonical” books is never as neat, simple and final as Christians would like it to be. No amount of posturing, shouting, waving Bibles or citing votes will make canonicity simple. It is, and always will be, one of the most difficult of Christian beliefs.

Canonization as event makes for a nice chart or lecture, but reflection on the nature of the writings we have in front of us will remind us that we can’t be talking about a particularly neat process, but one that is very organic and spread out. For example, consider a book like Jeremiah. We begin with Jeremiah himself and his sense of call. Then we move to his belief that God is speaking a particular message to him and through him. That message is written down, let’s say by Baruch, who is also convinced that this is from God. All of this is a kind of “canon,” in seed form.

Jeremiah’s disciples read what is written and share it with others. It is copied, shared, recopied, sent to other communities and spread even more through the Jewish community. At every point, a decision is made both individually and corporately that “this is God’s word written.” This is canonization in process. There is no insurance that the inspiration of the writing will cause universal acceptance, but this is not required perfectly at every level for canonization to happen.

As Jeremiah’s writing gains more and more acceptance within the community that believes God speaks through his prophets, his “scroll” is used in worship, reading and teaching, it will gain more recognition by the informal authority structure of Judaism at the time. The recognition of divine inspiration and purpose grows through experience, repetition and use.

This kind of canonization process is not the parallel of church councils or popes, but seems to be the consensus of rabbinical authorities in particularly influential communities. It is unlikely anyone can put a date on canonization as an “event.” This consensus is reflected in the inclusion of Jeremiah in collections of inspired writings and the references to Jeremiah as “scripture” within that community. (Again, it is important to remember that this consensus is likely not unanimous, nor does it need to be for the writing of Jeremiah to be “scripture.”)

For Christians, Jeremiah’s canonical status comes from the acceptance and use of Jeremiah as scripture by Jesus and the Apostles. In the case of the book of Jeremiah, there are obvious examples in several places. This is not, however, true of all of the books in the “Old Testament” canon. Books such as Esther and Ecclesiastes do not have specific Apostolic attestation in the New Testament, but it appears that the canon used by Jesus and the Apostles was the canon of the Septuagint. While there may have still been canonical debate and disagreement among rabbinical schools, it is clear that the concept of canon extended to “Law, Prophets and Writings” as commonly- though perhaps not uniformly- understood by the Jewish community. This makes debate on the status of books not quoted in the New Testament- like Ecclesiastes- a bit of a moot point.

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.

In the matter of a New Testament canon, much the same kind of organic process of creation, use, collection and canonization occurs. Christianity, however, developed a more rigorous authority structure with more “official” status given to the idea of canon and to the importance of canonical inclusion and restriction. This seems to be for two primary reasons.

First, canonical pronouncements were a way for heretical teachers to garner power, as Marcion demonstrated with his abbreviated canon. This necessitated more canonical pronouncements on the part of early church leadership in order to prevent false teachers from defining the apostolic faith.

Secondly, a canonical consensus was needed for a confessional consensus. Christianity was a faith with a strong sense of “oneness,” and while this did not eliminate diversity, it made diversity of some kinds more problematic. The witness of early Christian literature is of a diverse church that reaches for doctrinal unity through a continuation of apostolic authority in elders, bishops and councils. Christian history has proven that doctrinal disagreement often has implications for what we consider scripture.

Was the New Testament canonical debate an expression of an infallible church decision expressing God’s will regarding “closure” of the canon? Or do canonical issues remain open? Consider the canonical status of Mark 16:9-20 as it applies to the continuation of spiritual gifts or the necessity of baptism for salvation. I do not consider these verses to be apostolic or to go back to Jesus, and this affects how I respond to the use of these passages. For me, there are still canonical questions in play.

Within particular church communions, the question of canon is largely inseparable from the question of church authority. This is not surprising, nor is it surprising that many who join particular denominations find the question of “who defined the canon?” to be persuasive. For those who reject the concept of human infallibility and who believe the process of canonization to be a combination of God using scripture as His own Word and humans recognizing the inspiration of God, the canon is, as R.C. Sproul said, “a fallible collection of infallible books.”

Such language will make claims of an infallible canon produced by an infallible church authority all the more attractive for some, but those who want to approach the subject of canon honestly will, in my opinion, find Sproul’s conclusion to be truthful and helpful. Those who must have an infallible settlement of the canon question will find one in several places, along with a tendency toward an uncritical acceptance of tradition being in an extra-Biblical, superior relationship to scripture.

It is important to remember that the process of canonization exists at all the levels described earlier in this post, and continues in some ways even today. The pronouncement of one church that “Tobit” is canonical does not make it so within the experience and communities of believers that encounter the book. It is far more likely that the broader idea of “scripture” is functioning at the same time as the narrower concept of “canon.”

It is obvious to me that the canonical discussion is never entirely “locked down” and over in the church as a whole. The discovery of other Gospels and other first century Christian literature will continue to make the canon a subject of debate at every level. The discovery of another letter of Paul would quickly demonstrate that the votes of councils or denominations do not end the discussion.

If our approach to canon is focused on the canon as affirmed and formed by Jesus and the Apostles, we will find that the canonical discussions that were going on in the early church are still alive. Should a text in Hebrews carry as much weight as a text in the Gospel of John or Romans? Should extra-canonical citations in Jude bring about the inclusion of those books in the categories of “scripture” or “canon?” Was Luther’s criticism of the Epistle of James out of line, or are such discussions still valid? Should Revelation and II Peter be in the canon, given the doubts about them in the early church? Should a letter like I Clement or a teaching like The Didache be considerd “scripture” in some sense? If not, why not? If the author of the Fourth Gospel was Lazarus, and not the apostle John, would this affect its status in the canon? Are sayings of Jesus from outside the current four Gospels of any value to Christianity? Can Protestants still cite the witness of the early church in the construction of the canon without admitting the Roman Catholic view of infallible authority? Does the RC view of canon as stated at Trent stop the RC Christian from adjusting his/her view of the content of holy scripture based on textual discoveries regarding passages that were accepted at the time of the council, but are not in the Greek text now? These are important questions regarding the canon that are still in play today.

The Lutheran approach to the canon has been more of a “middle way,” suggesting that we should be more conservative in regard to issues of apostolic authorship in particular. Recent evangelical discussion of the canon has suggested that a recognition of the difference between the use of the term “scripture” and authoritative pronouncements of “canon” may be important for Protestants to accept. Anglicans read books in worship that most evangelical Protestants exclude, but do so from the standpoint of values other than strict canonicity.

Thoughtful consideration of the issue of canon will lead the post-evangelical to see the effect the printed Bible has on the concept of scripture. To be able to hold up A BOOK and say “this is the word of God” is, from the standpoint of what God has actually inspired, misleading. God’s revelation was not of “the Bible” as a book, but of the writing that the Christian community considers to be Holy Scripture in its various forms. The continuing canonical conversations are not a witness against God speaking his Word to his people, but an expression of the conviction that God has spoken and works through his Word.

Hard, clear and authoritatively pronounced lines drawn between what is the “Bible” and what is not are very attractive to a person seeking certainty in regard to “what is the right church and the right doctrine.” A more open, dynamic idea of canonicity- that includes the fallibility of human canon-makers while emphasizing connection to Jesus and the Apostles- is far less attractive by way of certainty. If we are to constantly see the scriptures as being given to us by Jesus and through his Apostles, then a middle way is the right way to avoid the ditches of narrow authoritarianism and individualistic chaos.

Questions:

1. So do you believe in an open canon?

I believe the word canon implies a long process that is not controlled by any vote or event, but that goes on dynamically as God’s people encounter God’s Words in various ways. I believe that the process of canonization is not entirely closed, but for all practical purposes it is. Even though questions, issues and future events remain, the current consensus within the major communions is strong.

2. Could something produced by a modern prophet be scripture?

No. It isn’t connected to Jesus and it isn’t Apostolic.

3. So we don’t know what God’s Word is?

First, you’re probably assuming that God’s Word is a single book. That’s seems to me to be an artifact of recent technology. God’s Word comes to his people in the writings that faithfully attest to Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

As to your specific question, I don’t entirely know the boundaries of what may be scripture. There are canonical questions that remain and I do not believe pronouncements at various times in Christian history closed the door on the boundaries of what Christian may consider to be scripture.

But certainly the scriptures that all Christians agree on provide more than sufficient attestation to the truth of Jesus and the Gospel. There is no central Christian doctrine at stake in any possible canonical discussion.

God’s Word is Jesus Christ. Beyond that, proceed with caution. God knows what he has given as his inspired Word, and it does what he set it into history to do.

4. What about the Gnostic Gospels or the Gospel of Thomas? Don’t these threaten our view of Jesus?

The Gnostic gospels clearly fail the test of canonization, and the presence of some authentic material would only make these writings of “interest.” They could never be Christian scripture. The Gospel of Thomas is the most interesting of these writings, but only a few marginal Christian groups would even attempt to make a case for some kind of canonical inclusion.

Ehrman’s suggestion that the scriptures of the diverse communities of the first century provide a very different picture of Christianity than what many Church historians want us to see seems like a valid point. But to suggest that the “Nicene” faith is overthrown by these writings is simply untrue. These Gospels are too late, unconnected to Jesus and unconvincing in any claims of Apostolicity.

5. Does the Protestant view of the canon depend on the Roman Catholic Church?

No, it doesn’t.

Protestants and Catholics disagree on whether the actions of the early church substantiate all the claims and dogmas of today’s Roman Catholic Church. Protestants need not reject the early church, the value or place of tradition, or the significance of actions by the church in order to reject the claim of infallibility. Protestants can have a canon by its affirmation by Jesus and the criteria of Apostolicity, though as I said in the post, the best we can have is a “fallible list of infallible books.”

Certainly, I believe a more “catholic” view of the why and what of scripture is appropriate. Scripture wasn’t canonized by the Southern Baptist convention, but by the church before it was sundered by division. Athanasius and the early church councils belong to all Christians. These are important milestones in how Protestants view scripture today. These are “windows” into some of the history of some of God’s people. But if God himself were writing the history of his people, I am not sure we would be reading the history of Roman Catholic canonization alone. I tend to believe the process in very organic, broad and diverse in ways no one denomination can ever completely see.

Comments

  1. I’ve written some about canonicity on my own blog, but I’ll try to unpack this Anglican’s thoughts.

    One of the classic Anglican descriptions of Scripture is that it “contains all things necessary for salvation.” Before division, the church clearly understood that some books contained material necessary (four Gospels, epistles, law, prophets, writings) and some books had material not necessary (gnostic gospels, etc) for salvation. Some material (apocrypha) was unnecessary, but still beneficial.

    To open the canon for the inclusion of other texts brings the question, “What is necessary for salvation in this book that isn’t already found in the Scriptures?” From a historical perspective, “What did previous generations of Christians miss out on by not having this new book?” To open the canon from this perspective is to say that earlier Christians had something lacking in their salvation that we now provide–an answer that isn’t satisfying.

  2. So the discovery of the Epistle of Paul to the Laodicians wouldn’t open a canonical discussion for Anglicans?

    I think it would, whether anyone wanted to admit it or not :-)

  3. Wolf Paul says:

    Jason,
    I don’t think that it would necessarily raise that question.
    While Scripture “contains all things necessary for salvation,” not all Scripture is always necessary for salvation. After all, one does not have to have read all Scripture in order to be saved.
    Even if another epistle of Paul were to be discovered, and acknowledged as Scripture we could be confident that preceding generations had all the Scripture they needed — just as those who lived before any particular part of Sceipture was written had all they needed, i.e. all that God intended them to have.
    At the same time I want to state my conviction that no new discovery or recognition of Scripture would alter the “faith once delivered to the saints” in an essential way or contradict the Scripture we already have. Nor do I believe that the Holy Spirit would lead the Church into new understandings of Scripture which flatly contradict the consensus of the church catholic of the past 2000 years.

  4. Smart move in describing the canonization of the Old Testament first. It grounds the discussion in something other than church authority.

    I often wonder if the apostles knew that their letters would become part of a cannon. Obviously the gospels were written to preserve Jesus’s words and deeds. But the letters are different. Some seem to be written as supplements to previous (possibly oral) teachings. Others are responses to letters that have been lost. The effect is an incomplete picture, which is where tradition comes in.

    I can’t say that I disagree with you. Good post.

  5. I think that when looking at textual criticism, there is a difference from Old Testament to New Testament. While there are examples (as you cited) of the early church hesitating on canonicity some books, the development of the OT is a different bag. Even conservative scholars will talk about the JEDP, and we also have the three different OT manuscript families (MSS, Alexandrian, Samaritan) and just look at the difference between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint.

    I always teach that if we believe the bible is alive we need to let it do the one think that living beings have to do to stay alive….and that is breathe.

    On that note…I think I have a blog post to write because I don’t want to fill up the comments.

  6. Greetings Michael,

    About Mark 16:9-20: You said that you don’t consider these verses to be apostolic or to go back to Jesus. I don’t think Jesus wrote down this passage either, but I do think it goes back to Mark. What is the basis for your view? Mark 16:9-20 is supported by over 99% of Greek manuscripts, it is included in all text-types, and it has patristic support from throughout the church-era, including patristic usage from Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, et al, that far predates the two Greek codices which do not contain it. (One of which (Vaticanus) contains an anomalous blank space after 16:8, apparently the result of the copyist’s remembrance of the passage in a copy or copies unavailable to him at the time of the production of the manuscript.) Not to mention Jerome’s inclusion of it it in the Vulgate, and Augustine’s citation of the passage in Latin and Greek copies.

    There is a lot of misinformation floating around in commentaries and Bible-footnotes about Mark 16:9-20. I hope that before you reach a firm decision about the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 (if it is not too late), you make sure that your decision is not based on false, inaccurate, or one-sided statements. The defensibility of the view that Mark 16:9-20 was part of the text of the Gospel of Mark when the Gospel of Mark was first disseminated for church-use is much greater, istm, than some uninformed and misinformed commentators and Bible-footnote-writers think. (Eugene H. Peterson, Ralph Martin, Philip W. Comfort, Daniel Wallace, and Larry Richards, I mean you, among others.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. Thought-provoking post, Michael. Can I add some questions I’ve always had (thinking from a Catholic POV) on canonicity? Maybe you or someone else has some answers.

    1. Eastern churches have different canons; some Russian Orthodox have different OT canons than Greeks; Ethiopians have yet another; and it extends even to differences in the NT. They manage to be in communion with each other without needing to insist that someone is missing Scripture or including non-inspired writings as Scripture. Is there something to be learned there? What?

    2. Catholics and Orthodox are at odds on several points, but not regarding the canon. Why not? If there were reconciliation, would there be two canons in the Church? Why are the differing OT canons (apparently) not considered an ecumenical issue? Does the fact that it’s not of interest mean anything for Trent’s definition of the canon?

    3. If Orthodox and Orthodox, and potentially Catholics and Orthodox, can live with different canons in different churches, could Catholics and Protestants? Could they just regard each other as having different canons, without making judgments about the other’s canon, but still be united in one church? Does the canon issue even ever come up in Catholic-Anglican or Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical discussions?

    4. If “canon” could just come to mean “that which is read as Scripture in a church” (and everyone live with someone reading the Book of Jubilees, and some other church forbidding Revelation), could we conceivably live with, say, trinitarian Mormon communities including the Book of Mormon (which they believe to be ancient and connected with Jesus) in their canon, and still consider them within the pale of orthodoxy? Why not, if Greeks can live with Ethiopians reading the Book of Enoch in their church?

    None of these are rhetorical; I really don’t have a good answer to any of them. It does strike me as very strange, though, that Protestants and Catholics should have such catfights over the canon, while differing canons don’t seem to be an issue at all among eastern churches or between Catholics and Orthodox.

  8. To clarify question #2: Catholics and Orthodox don’t seem to have an issue over the fact that their OT canons differ (while Catholics and Protestants do).

  9. I used to joke back in college, “I have a bad feeling when we get to heaven and meet Paul, his first response is gonna be, ‘You kept that book?'”

    Joking aside…

    I don’t think Mark 16:9-20 was written by Mark, but that’s irrelevant. What matters is whether it’s true, not whether Mark wrote it. John likely didn’t write John 7:53-8:11 (and, contrary to Ben Witherington, I really doubt Lazarus wrote it either) but again it doesn’t matter so long that it’s a valid story.

    To me that’s what inspiration comes down to: Does this book, whether Exodus or James or Isaiah or Jude, accurately and faithfully describe God and His revelation to humanity, following the intentions of the Holy Spirit?

    Now, whether it goes into canon is another thing. Likely the Spirit has inspired quite a few Christian authors since the New Testament was written; good luck getting a consensus on whether we should include any newer writings. Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant can’t even pick a final form of the OT. Better we set that one aside till someone actually finds Laodiceans, or Pre-1 Thessalonians, or even 3 Peter. In the meanwhile, we should just consider our discoveries of inspired stuff to be no more than really highly recommended books.

  10. Thinking about the canon calls to mind Brevard Childs. Here’s an interview with him in 2000.

  11. James,
    I happen to agree with you about the ending of Mark, although this is something that I’ve only recently come around on. But please, let us not act as though those who deny the authenticity of Mark 16:9ff are uninformed or ignorant. There just as many big name textual scholars on that side of the table as well who have spent much more time than you and I could ever imagine considering the issue and still come to the conclusion that the passage is inauthentic.

  12. Michael, from a historical perspective I would disagree with one of your comments. I don’t believe it’s at all clear that the first century NT authors used a Hebrew canon of scripture much like the Protestant OT. The most compelling evidence is actually that the NT writings were written using a version of the Greek Septuagint rather than anything like the post destruction of Jerusalem Masoretic Hebrew canon (put together in the late 2nd to 8th centuries I believe) on which the Protestant OT canon is almost exclusively based. In fact, the Septuagint appears to have been exclusively used by the Church until the time of Jerome.

    Now, from the second century on, it seems that the criteria for determining which books and writings were “scripture” was tied to those which were directly written by or recorded the testimony of Apostles (in particular) and other eyewitnesses to a lesser extent. Obviously, by the second century all such individuals had reposed and thus no new writings were accepted. While there were disputes with heretics like Marcion who wanted to cut off a great deal of scripture for their own purposes, most of the discussion and debate in the 3rd and 4th century was over the inclusion of works of less certain pedigree like Hebrews and the Apocalypse of John.

    In that light, if we discovered one of the writings which we know was lost and could authoritatively and certain ascribe it to Paul, Peter, or one of the others, it would open discussion on the NT canon even though I’m not sure we have a way to reach an ecumenical decision today.

    As far as the OT goes (and I was raised without any preferred tradition) it seems that Protestants exclusively use the Masoretic Hebrew canon (which is post all the NT writings in its construction), the Orthodox continue to use the Septuagint (though there is some minor variation in the version of the Septuagint each patriarchate uses), and the Roman Catholic Church uses a mixture of the two.

  13. I tried to correct that error in final editing. Let me try again :-)

  14. Dear Ranger,

    Two reasons why I consider many commentators uninformed and/or misinformed about Mark 16:9-20 are (a) I don’t think they are deliberately lying, and (b) I’ve read their commentaries. In the online Files at the TC-Alternate Yahoo discussion-forum, you can find a file titled “Inaccuracies” in which I review material about Mark 16:9-20 from dozens of commentaries and Bible-footnotes. The documented errors listed there — ranging from minor miscitations to ridiculously false claims — will allow you to come to your own conclusions about the accuracy of my statement.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  15. James,

    According to your email, you are a member of a Christian Church, and it should be said that the doctrine of your church requires a belief in Baptisimal regeneration as a normal condition of salvation. That doesn’t determine the meaning of the text in question, but it does explain why the text is more important to you than to me, because Mark 16 is a crucial text for that position.

  16. Dear Michael,

    I’m not sure how you’re defining “baptismal regeneration;” Christian Churches do not regard baptism as a meritorious work, or as something which God recognizes if it is unaccompanied by faith. But that’s probably something for another discussion.

    It looks like you’re raising the possibility that a fondness for Mk. 16:16 has had an impact on my research. The possibility can also be raised in the opposite direction: some commentators who have been taught that baptism is an afterthought or a public affirmation may be predisposed to dismiss Mark 16:9-20 on doctrinal grounds, working from the premise that a unit of text containing Mk. 16:16 cannot be Scripture. I invite you to consider my research; I don’t think you will find any place where my case for the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20 depends on the sort of doctrinal assumption you mentioned.

    Plus, the claim that the commentators I mentioned (and many other I haven’t mentioned) have promoted falsehoods and inaccuracies can be objectively verified. It doesn’t depend on whatever doctrinal views I have.

    Martin Luther, btw, used Mk. 16:16 as Scripture in his Smaller Catechism.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  17. I’m sure you are aware that the case against Mark 16:9-20 depends on textual considerations Luther was unfamiliar with.

    I believe that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary had a symposium on this subject last. Year. Probably had several presentations of several points of view.

  18. Dear Michael,

    Yes; my observation was simply that the real Luther (like Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus, back in the 100’s) used it as part of the Gospel of Mark. To anyone with a Lutheran background for whom the borders of canonicity are drawn by the landmarks of traditional use, this is a major landmark. (Traditional use is not canon-defining to me, but it matters quite a bit to others.)

    And, yes; SEBTS had a symposium on Mk. 16:9-20 in 2007; I attended it. But I don’t think it, or the book planned to showcase its participants’ views, will settle anything.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  19. Michael,

    Recently, I read an interesting article by Meredith Kline about the canon. His thesis is basically that Scripture is self-canonizing, having been inspired by God. It is not the authority of the church that creates the canon (by a councillar decision or a bishop’s declaration), but it simply recognizes the self-testifying Word of God. From the standpoint of human reason, this idea raises some difficulties. But I am inclined toward it, as it places the emphasis on God’s will to provide his Word to his people rather than on which Church Father said what to whom about which book and whether or not Luther was justified in wanting to use “Jimmy [the book of James] to start the fire.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  20. Yes, Luther used Mark 16:16. Is it the sole source of the Lutheran doctrine of baptism? No. In fact, you could delete the Gospel of Mark entirely, and our doctrine of baptism would be the same. If our doctrine of baptism were based only one proof-text to begin with, it would be worth questioning on that basis alone. Important doctrines mentioned only once in all of Scripture? I doubt it.

  21. The previous comment makes me think about something.

    “Is it the sole source of the Lutheran doctrine of baptism? No. In fact, you could delete the Gospel of Mark entirely, and our doctrine of baptism would be the same.”

    I took a class in the theology of Charles Wesley’s hymns and the teacher asked if we lost the writings of John Wesley, could someone put back together Wesleyan theology from Charles hymns? The answer by the end of the semester was Yes!

    Now, I am not Methodist (although I go to what is generally assumed to be a Methodist school), but I really agreed with that. The quoted post and this observation bring me to raise a new question.

    At what point does our denominational traditions move to a point at which they are no longer defined by scripture, but instead by denominational heritage?

    When we start to look at loosing different points of scripture and their necessity concerning a point of doctrine, how far have our beliefs become non-influenced by scripture (and thence by canon).

    I guess I ask this because my denomination (SBC) usually doesn’t fight over biblical doctrine anymore, but different peoples interpretations of it.

    On a different note, I find it interesting that no one has mention the grammatical problems with the ending of Mark. But I have gone on to far already.

  22. Dear Josh S,

    I was not suggesting that Lutheran doctrine is based solely on Mk. 16:16. My point is that Martin Luther is among the many churchmen who have set a precedent regarding the acceptance or rejection of the passage. Now, it’s always possible to conjecture that he would not have accepted Mk. 16:9-20 if only he had been better informed, just as it is possible to conjecture that all scholars who reject Mk. 16:9-20 would not do so if only they were better informed. But the fact of the historical precedent remains.

    My own view is that the canonical form of a NT book should be the form of the book in which it was first disseminated for church-use. But for those who think that the church’s recognition of a passage as authoritative is what renders that text or passage canonical, regardless of whether or not it was part of the book when it was first disseminated for church-use, Luther’s use of Mk. 16:9-20 has some weight, inasmuch as he is part of the church and the leading figure of the early Lutheran church.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Tipton, Indiana

  23. Well, in reference to the Catholic canon of the OT versus the Protestant canon, it’s a simple matter of the Greek LXX tradition versus the Hebrew MT tradition. When the Church was first working out the canon, the post-Temple Jews hadn’t yet fully codified the Hebrew Bible. However, the earlier LXX (Greek) version of the Jews’ sacred writings had been in use by much of the Church and a good portion Judaism since a few hundred years before Christ.

    Even after the codification of the Hebrew Bible, the Catholic Church continued to use the LXX version of the canon (though they adopted Hebrew manuscripts in the translation process). During the Reformation, many Protestant groups decided to adopt the Hebrew Bible as the OT instead while continuing to put the Apocrypha, etc. in an appendix. The elimination of the Apocrypha as an appendix was a purely political issue.

    So, which version of the OT is correct? I don’t know… I don’t really care either. It’s not that big of a deal to me.

    Oh, and some Orthodox Jews would debate the later codification of the Hebrew Bible. They’d say that Ezra codified it and the LXX was not meant to be an accurate representation of the Hebrew sacred writings.