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Harmony Within The Christian Canon?


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I've been working on a paper for a history class, and my topic is the formation of the new testament canon. Something that's really struck me that wasn't particularly obvious before was that, while modern protestants tend to derived their doctrine from their scriptures, the earliest christians derived their scriptures from their doctrine. In other words, the books of the new testament were chosen based on whether or not they fell within the bounds of already pre-established beliefs. Nowadays, however, we find christians insisting that everything be biblically based, especially doctrine.

 

Evidently, the fundamentalist view of the Bible as the holy, inspired, infallible word of God is not only incorrect, but not particularly christian; the earliest christians cared more about oral tradition and the authority of church leaders than they cared about writings.

 

Furthermore, the fact that the books of the NT were chosen on the basis of how much they conformed to orthodox beliefs pretty much demolishes a common christian defense: "what are the chances that 27 books written by so many different people would agree so well?" One doesn't even need to bring up the myriad number of biblical contradictions to show that this argument is bogus.

 

Agree? Disagree? Comments?

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You are also forgetting the apocrypha. So some canons are 66 books and some are 73 and some are slightly different than that (if I remember correctly like the Ethiopian canon I think is different as well for example).

 

But your point is well taken. When Marcion wanted to create his canon in the latter half of the 2nd century he chose Luke and Paul's epistles. He then removed all references to the Jewish god from Luke because he didn't think xianity should have any connections to such a violent god. Of course this got him branded a heretic and ended his career in the mainstream church but it's a good example of your thesis from a very early time.

 

Now of course the argument as to why the 27 books fit together so well is a dishonest one at best. The usual answer being along the lines of "The spirit guided their hands" or some such nonsense. This way only the proper 27 could have been chosen and not some heretical book. Of course they say it like only 27 were ever written (which is what I believed for many years) and conveniently forget that there were meetings and disagreements over which books and why they should(n't) be included. After the decision was made they banned and burned those books that didn't comply. I used to have the bookmark to a citation to a quote where you could see the penalty for copying these banned items (I believe it was removing the hand for copying). So, yeah, the books fit the beliefs at that time and if they didn't they were destroyed (or hidden away like some we've found).

 

Nowadays, the beliefs have to fit the books. With the canon closed what more is there? But look at the idea of the rapture. It only came about in the 1800's, so with a little creative thought there's still new dogma to be ripped from the tired old books. The Book of Revelation and Daniel are fertile ground for all sorts of crazy ideas and all you need is some charismatic preacher to convince enough people he's right for it to enter the belief system.

 

Sorry, I went on a little long. I'm not sure if any of this is what you were looking for or not. ;) Hopefully there's something here that might help you out. :)

 

mwc

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I wasn't looking for help really, I just thought it was interesting and was wondering what others might think.

 

I really liked your point about Marcion, as well as your mention of extra-canonical books. I remember how eye-opening it was the first time I read an extra-canonical Christian writing from the first centuries (either the gospel of thomas or the shepherd of hermas).

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I've been working on a paper for a history class, and my topic is the formation of the new testament canon. Something that's really struck me that wasn't particularly obvious before was that, while modern protestants tend to derived their doctrine from their scriptures, the earliest christians derived their scriptures from their doctrine. In other words, the books of the new testament were chosen based on whether or not they fell within the bounds of already pre-established beliefs. Nowadays, however, we find christians insisting that everything be biblically based, especially doctrine.

 

Evidently, the fundamentalist view of the Bible as the holy, inspired, infallible word of God is not only incorrect, but not particularly christian; the earliest christians cared more about oral tradition and the authority of church leaders than they cared about writings.

 

Furthermore, the fact that the books of the NT were chosen on the basis of how much they conformed to orthodox beliefs pretty much demolishes a common christian defense: "what are the chances that 27 books written by so many different people would agree so well?" One doesn't even need to bring up the myriad number of biblical contradictions to show that this argument is bogus.

 

Agree? Disagree? Comments?

 

It seems to me that many within the Christian religion have substituted the Bible for the Word (Jesus). I'm afraid it comes very close to idolatry and in some cases might just be idolatry. I dislike so much hearing anyone say, "The Bible says..." and believing that that should end the argument. What the Bible says is certainly quotable and should be consulted, but you are right. St. Paul did not not carry around the King James Version as he traveled form town to town, and I think many believe he did!

 

I remember back when I was a teenager when a traveling evangelist came to town. He was extolling the grandeur of the KJV and how that was the translation we should use. He grabbed my friend's Bible, held it up to the crowd, talked about the power emanating from it. My friend and I were quite worried he'd look at the Bible in his hand and see that it was not KJV, but NRSV. Luckily, he did not! :grin: )

 

-CC in MA

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It seems to me that many within the Christian religion have substituted the Bible for the Word (Jesus). I'm afraid it comes very close to idolatry and in some cases might just be idolatry. I dislike so much hearing anyone say, "The Bible says..." and believing that that should end the argument. What the Bible says is certainly quotable and should be consulted, but you are right. St. Paul did not not carry around the King James Version as he traveled form town to town, and I think many believe he did!

 

Ok, but where do you get these ideas?

 

What is the Jesus the Logos if not something the bible says? What is the problem with idolatry without the bible? In other words what legs do you stand on to believe these things, unless they are "the bible says."

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Mind you, even though christians these days like to claim that the bible as the infallible authority that must be obeyed at all cost, they seem to be quite reluctant to actually obey it.

 

Although I suppose the bible is such a vast collection of documents you can basically make it say whatever you want...

 

As such, christians are constantly "interpreting" the bible to suit their own current fashions + fads in recruitment techniques, prejudices, etc...

 

Perhaps this is a contemporary version of "oral tradition"?

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I wasn't looking for help really, I just thought it was interesting and was wondering what others might think.

Ooops. Sorry. As you can see I tend to think a lot. :)

 

I really liked your point about Marcion, as well as your mention of extra-canonical books. I remember how eye-opening it was the first time I read an extra-canonical Christian writing from the first centuries (either the gospel of thomas or the shepherd of hermas).

I remember reading the G.Thomas and thought it was quite good (it was my first "evil" writing I came across that I actually read). I actually liked the "forbidden" books quite a bit (especially the gnostic). They gave the characters personality. This is something that is sadly missing from the canon now. Perhaps if they had made it in the church would not be quite so stoic?

 

mwc

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