by C Michael PattonMay 20th, 2013 Be First to Comment
The term “canon” refers to the accepted books of the Scriptures. The Protestant canon contains 66 books, while other Christian traditions will vary, adding a few books often referred to as the Deuterocanonical books (“second canon”) or the “Apocrypha.” A commonly accepted understanding among most Christians of all traditions is that the books that belong in the Scripture cannot be added to. In other words, the canon is “closed.”
While there is a sense in which I believe the canon is closed, there is also a sense in which I don’t believe the canon is closed. Let me explain.
In order to maintain that the canon is closed, most Christians would refer the the first few centuries of the church. In particular councils such as Rome, Hippo, and Carthage, as well as Athanasius’ Easter Letter will be referred to as evidence that the canon of the New Testament had closed. The Old Testament, according to most, was already established and closed by the time of Christ. For this, reference would be made to the New Testament itself, as well as the testimony of Josephus, Philo, and some of the inter-testamental works.
My contention with this assumption is that to say that the canon is “closed” needs to be understood more in an observational way rather than an authoritative pronouncement. The term “closed” might not be the best word since it implies a necessary finality concerning the contents of Scripture. This is something that I don’t believe we can say in the way that we often say it for two primary reasons:
1. Scripture itself does not limit the canon to 66 books. No matter how hard you look, one would be hard pressed to find a place that definitely “closes” the canon. Revelation 22:18-19 is often referred to as evidence:
Revelation 22:18-19: I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
The problem with using this passage is that it is specific to the book of Revelation. Just because the book of Revelation occurs last in our canon does not mean that this warning serves as a book end for the entire Bible. It is meant to communicate a general statement about those who would be tempted to add to or take away from God’s word in general, and to the book of Revelation in specific. Yet the same warning is given in the book of Deuteronomy and the Proverbs: Continue Reading »