Covenant —-> Canon

Here is an interesting argument for the canon.  It came from Meredith Kline, a man with whom I made it a point to disagree fervently.   Kline’s theology, specifically his ethics, had a deleterious effect on American Presbyterianism.    Still, this argument bears some thought.   I think most will agree with Kline that ANE covenants resembled suzereignty treaties.   Besides the stipulations of these covenants, there were also canons (written documentation) included within the covenant.  Applied to God, something like this appears:

  • If there is a covenant, there is a canon.
  • Whoever authorizes the covenant, authorizes the canon.
  • God authorizes the covenant; God authorizes the canon.
  • Therefore, the canon’s authority depends on God, not the church (if you accept the first three premises, which OT scholarship makes abundantly clear, you have to accept this conclusion).

The above is a fairly straight-foward, non-controversial take on OT canonization.  Can it also be applied to the New Testament?   I think it can.   Jesus makes the new covenant (diatheke) in his blood.   His death ratifies the diatheke.   As Sutton clearly argues, the New Testament itself resembles a diatheke.  But does the New Testament canon depend on human ratification?  Peter didn’t think so, since he called Paul’s writings Scripture.  While we don’t know which writings he referred, the point remains that Paul’s writings were self-evidently Scripture.  Further, Paul says he got his revelation from God, not man (Galatians 1).

I don’t deny that there was disagreement about what constituted the canon in the early church.  I just don’t see how that is only a problem for Protestants and not one for EOs and Catholics.  For the latter, the Fathers are reliable and necessary  guides to the faith, yet they can’t even give us matching lists of what is in the canon.

But what about the Apocrypha?   Big deal.  If you want to include it within the binding of your bible, it doesn’t matter.   I have no problem calling them Apocrypha “deutero-canonicals.”  Here is why it doesn’t add anything to the EO and RCC argument (keep in mind those two traditions differ on what is actually in the Apocrypha):  neither tradition reads these books aloud in liturgy, and only in Maccabees is a key point of doctrine at stake, and even then it is a highly strained reading.  Say it another way:  if the EO took the Apocrypha out of their bibles, nothing would change for them in terms of liturgy and doctrine.




4 comments on “Covenant —-> Canon

  1. Andrew Buckingham says:

    What helped me along, several years ago, was starting to get an understanding of ‘Biblical Theology.’ I would say along these lines, my appreciation of Scripture flourished and I haven’t looked back. Good post, Jacob, you have a lot of knowledge and you tie things together nicely. I still am struck by how simple the WCF is on the doctrine of Scripture – the Holy Spirit convinces me that the Bible I am now reading per my daily schedule, is God’s Word. The language of WCF chapter 1 is quite beautiful. Anyway…I was just thinking about your canon thoughts. It was the Holy Spirit that guided and sustained the church for hundreds of years before a more formal written canon in the 4th century was formalized. That same Holy Spirit is with us now! As we blog theology, discuss among friends, sing hymns on Sunday. I don’t want to drop that crass line I hear when people are complaining at work, ‘oh, same stuff, different day.’ But in some sense, we have much more in common with the early church, and in day say, the ‘church under age’ (aka Israel) than we realize. That’s because we worship the same God! It is about Him and His glory alone. But I digress…thanks Jacob.

  2. Andrew Buckingham says:

    *I dare say

  3. DCF says:

    You wrote: “neither tradition reads these books aloud in liturgy.” That’s incorrect. I have personally read and heard those books read which are commonly called the “apochrypha” at Vespers. If you are talking about Divine Liturgy on Sunday–then yes, but we only read the NT on Sundays anyway (excepting the Psalter).

    You also wrote: “[t]herefore, the canon’s authority depends on God, not the church…” You understand that the EO do not share this dichotomous presupposition, don’t you?

    • I was referring to Divine Liturgy.

      As to the canon: I was n’t trying to imply a dichotomy, only to raise the point that if the Suzerain gives the covenant, he authorizes the covenant includign the covenant document–the canon.

      I have no problem wtih the church having a ministerial role in clarifying the canon. But the canon’s ultimate ratification comes from the self-revelation of the canon-giver, which is God’s theologia ectypa.

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