Thursday, January 27, 2011
Canon (not the thing you shoot)
I am frequently asked, "How did these books end up in the Bible?" The implication of this question is that there were some books that might well have been included but were not. For many Christians this idea can be unnerving. How can it be that God's inspired word was pieced together? How do we know if they got it right? Who is the "they" that decided what books made the cut?
The recent media frenzy over the so-called "secret gospels" has only made the questions more confusing. In addition, Dan Brown's wildly popular The Da Vinci Code plays on this confusion in portraying the final cut as the decision of a pagan Roman emperor centuries after the apostles died. These are just two prominent examples of the kind of sensationalism that often passes for historical inquiry about the Bible at the popular level.
Being from a protestant tradition in an area with quite a few Roman Catholics, I am often asked why my Bible is slimmer than the one Joe Ratzinger uses. Usually people only ask me to confirm that "Bible-believing" Christians do not have to pay attention to Joe's extra books. Still, there is doubt. Are we missing something? Are they adding something?
These questions and concerns revolve around a concept called "canon." The word "canon" comes from the Greek word kanōn (pronounced: CAN - O [as in open] N), which refers to a "measuring stick" like a ruler. It means a "rule," "standard" or "limit" and appears only rarely in the NT (Gal 6.16; cf. 2 Cor 10.13, 15, 16). Today, when people talk about the books in the Bible, they are talking about the "canon" – which books are read as Bible and which ones are not.
When it comes to the canon of scripture, what questions do you find yourself asking most often? Or what questions do you find yourself asked most often?