Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Canon

A Study in Hermeneutics

Holy Bible

CONTENTS

Introduction
1. The Great Pascha
2. An Alternative View
3. An Inescapable Problem
4. Is the New Testament the Problem?
5. Is John Calvin the Problem?
6. The Myth of Calvinism
7. Is the Westminster Confession of Faith the Problem?
8. What About Daniel 9:27?
9. Did the Roman Empire Change the Law?
10. Two Problems Resolved by Two Testaments
11. The Ceremonial Laws
12. Adding to the Scripture
13. By What Standard?
14. The Doctrine of God
15. Old Testament Promises
16. The Challenge of Islam
17. Conclusion

Introduction

It’s increasingly evident why Christians are not really winning the intellectual war over morality. They certainly win some of the skirmishes, but the war itself is far from over. And it will remain so until the unassailable Word of God is brought to bear on the enemy. Here’s the problem.

As I thought about this, I realized something that had not been so clear before. It was the willingness of people to hold not just to the Bible in general, but to the idea in particular that irrespective of what might be taught in the Old Testament, the New Testament now offered a “correction” to the older Testament. By “correction” I mean it has somehow eliminated or altered a teaching in the Old Testament. In the words of Jaroslav Pelikan, “Christians are accustomed to speak of ‘the Old Testament’ and ‘the New Testament,’ the contrast between ‘the old’ and ‘the new’ unavoidably carrying with it connotations such as ‘the superseded’ or at least ‘the updated’.”[1] Lightfoot was not hesitant in declaring that “God made two significant covenants with his people and that the New Covenant has displaced the Old.”[2]

This got me thinking.

Many people are united on this single point: the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and replaces it with new teaching.


If you think this way of arguing from the Bible is limited to particular groups, consider this. Why don’t Christians generally uphold the dietary laws today? Because they believe that the New Testament somewhere and somehow changes the Old Testament teaching so that the dietary laws are no longer binding on Christians. Now this view is strong in Reformed and other circles, that the New Testament somehow makes changes to the Old Testament.

What is evident in Christian circles, even in Reformed circles, is that the idea of the priority of the New Testament over the Old is the commonly accepted approach in determining theology. Consider this. The Old Testament says children should be given the covenant sign, circumcision. Most Christians agree the New Testament changes this sign to baptism. For Baptists the New Testament offers a further “corrective” to this idea. Those with a Baptistic perspective believe that the New Testament restricts the covenant sign to older believers and it should also be applied to females.

It is not just these two issues, however, that indicate a problem. Most Christians agree that the book of Hebrews offers a replacement to the Old Testament teaching on the ceremonial law.

To put this another way, everyone seems to be in agreement that when the Old Testament says one thing and the New Testament allegedly says something else, then the New Testament is to be taken as the superior authority. It is easy to see that of the two testaments, the New Testament holds a priority over whatever the Old Testament might have taught on these things or anything else for that matter. They can hardly be said to be of equal authority.

Apply the logic and you can soon see how easy it is to argue that none of the Old Testament is binding today unless the New Testament says otherwise. Sound familiar? It should, for many people are united on this single point: the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and replaces it with new teaching. That is how many people perceive it and argue their theology.
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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Whose Bible Is It? 2005, p. 5.↵back
  2. How We Got The Bible, 3rd ed., 2003, p. 25.↵back

Odd-ball information. That’s what keeps some of us running.

And here’s a key question. Which Bible did Jesus use? Now before you rush in and say the Old Testament, think about this. The predominant “Bible” in Jesus’s day was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Most, if not all, quotations from the Hebrew Bible that are found in the New Testament come from the Septuagint.

But the problem does not stop there. The little book of Jude (vv. 14-15), right at the end of the New Testament has a quotation from the now-called apocryphal book, I Enoch. Does this NT quotation establish Enoch as being Scripture, and therefore should it be included in the canon of Scripture? If not, why not?

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The Bible Is the Church’s Book

The Bible both grew in and was mediated through the church; hence, the Bible is the church’s book. This is why Tertullian refused to argue Scrip­ture with the heretic: the heretic had no right to claim Scripture because it was not his own, he was interpreting it outside its true home.64 This is relevant for us because by accepting the Bible as authoritative, we must also accept the process and means through which it came to be. We are operating within the universal church’s recognition of canon. Thus, even at this foundational level, one is led to the importance of the church.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) once said that he did not believe the gospel “except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”65 The context within which Augustine made this statement was his reluctance to believe the claim of Manichaeus that he was an apostle of Christ. Augustine refused to believe this because it is not recorded in the gospel that was mediated to him through the church. Scripture and church function together—they coincide.66

“Those who are situated outside the church are not able to acquire any understanding of the divine discourse.”67 These words, written by Hilary of Poitiers (ca. 315-367), are in line with both Tertullian and Augustine. But it is precisely this attitude that many evangelicals find disturbing. Because popes and bishops of the church have at many times in Christian history misused their authority and status, most evangelicals have rejected the very idea of privileged interpretation.68 They believe that privileged interpretation squelches the prophetic voice and oppresses true spirituality. This belief is based on the misconception that evangelicals are indebted to the Protestant Reformation for freeing the Bible from the corrupting influence of privileged interpretation. But the Reformers were rejecting a particular interpretation as out of line with patristic interpretation of the gospel.69 [1]

A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon (Evangelical Ressourcement: Ancient Sources for the Church’s Future)

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Craig D. Allert, A High View of Scripture: The Authority of the Bible and Formation of the New Testament Canon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 84-85. See printed book for footnote references.↵back

Recently, I was speaking with a friend, John, who’s a member of this list. The topic: the canon.

I keep asking the question: what is the authority that determines the canon? The question really needs to be split in two: What is the authority that determined the Old Testament canon? What is the authority that determines the 27 books were the New Testament canon?

For those who hold to the authority of Scripture in the Protestant and Reformed tradition, the answer is in the Confessions. Article 5 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, in dealing with the Authority of Scripture, says this:

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WHAT IS THE CANON?

This is an important question. And confusion over the answer results in some misunderstandings.

Those involved closely in the debate look at the canon from two perspectives. Both are needed.

The first perspective is that of an authority. It can be in either written or oral form. The Ten Commandments written in stone; the words of Moses were an oral and written tradition, and they all were authoritative.

The second idea of canon is that it eventually “came to refer to a perpetual fixation or standardization” (McDonald, The Biblical Canon, p. 55).

A little consideration of these two ideas shows that they are not mutually exclusive. Again to quote McDonald, “the primary debate is over when this literature” took on the status as an authoritative-scriptural manner among the Jews and the Christians. In other words, when was a fixed collection of sacred writings formed, “and what writings were included or excluded by the believing communities” (p. 57)?

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CHOOSING THE FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE

I’m going to simplify an issue to make it easier for you to make a choice about first principles. First, some background.

Over many articles, I’ve been exploring the issue of ultimate authority. This is intimately connected to the way current theological debate is carried out and the assumptions behind most of the arguments.

Here’s the problem as I see it.

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