Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Limitations of Biblical Canon

I have recently realized that I love collecting Bibles. I don't know how many I have, but I have a lot. My wife has started complaining about it, particularly as we start planning to move (we just entered escrow on our first house).

My first Bible was of the NIV Life Application Study variety. It was thick and chunky, with lots of good information, like I thought a Bible should be when I became a Christian as a teen. I was starting out as a good evangelical. :)

Over the years, I have collected Bibles from several translations, which I think is a useful thing. I have a massive (seriously, I think it's the biggest book I own) Bible encyclopedia. I'm not sure I would buy all that now since most of it can be found more easily and more quickly online for free. But there's still something I like about having it on my bookshelf. Maybe it's memories. Maybe it's pride. But there's a weighter feel to the Bible and Bible study with the actual texts (pun somewhat intended :) ).

However, over the years, I've noticed that my Bibles have moved away from the study variety that are large and chocked full of information. They are more of the devotional type. As I wrote a month ago, there's is great value in approaching the Bible as a devotional text rather than just a theological text of proof for one's doctrine.

In many ways, approaching the Bible devotionally allows me to view the Bible as more holy, or sacred, than if I had to defend it all day long to maintain my belief system. The devotional nature definitely has theology in it, but it is more organic and relational than a systematic theology text. And I don't believe God inspired the latter. God is organic and relational, and that is the type of the text he inspired.

Interestingly enough, even the biblical canon (the accepted compilation of texts that comprise the Bible) has been relatively organic. The Protestant canon is different from that of the Roman Catholics and the various Orthodox traditions. And it has changed a few times. This can make understanding 2 Timothy 3:16, stating that "all Scripture is inspired by God," rather difficult to fully understand because what is considered Holy Scripture is very much in the hands of men (and generally not women).

I have faith in our canon. Yet I also have to recognize that it was not handed down by God on tablets like the Ten Commandments. I have to have faith that the men who put together the current canon (and since I'm a Protestant, most of my Bibles exclude the Apocrypha) did listen to God.

This is where my studies of church history were very interesting and useful. There were many debates over what would be included as canon. There continue to be debates today. Ultimately, as people of faith, we need to look for consistency in the messages. And frankly, in moving against the Protestant tradition, the canonical tradition can be useful, too. There is something to be said for the fact that the existing canon has been so meaningful to so many people.

Ultimately, we have to come back to the fact that we approach the Bible with faith. Many Christians use it to bolster their faith in order to avoid the anxiety that arises with ambiguity from doubt. Yet it is possible to destroy support for the biblical canon as it stands, leaving no more "beyond a shadow of a doubt" certainty for faith.

I do believe the Bible was inspired by God. And it helps keep me connected to him. However, it does not "prove" my faith. Faith is not based on fact. It is based on my trust of God rooted in my relationship with him. Just as I have faith in the beauty and wonder of my wife based on my trust of her rooted in our relationship.


  1. Aww, you're so sweet, hon. :) But I still say YOU get to pack up all those mountains of books...

  2. "The devotional nature definitely has theology in it, but it is more organic and relational than a systematic theology text. And I don't believe God inspired the latter. God is organic and relational, and that is the type of the text he inspired."

    One note on this - God is fairly complex (certainly beyond our full understanding - "God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding." Job 37:5) and is fully capable of creating a text which can be read validly for both systematic theology and for relational application. Limiting God to only being organic and relational is just that - limiting God. He is fully also a God of order and systems...

    “Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven." Job 25:2

    "For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together." Isaiah 34:16 (ie. God is both orderly and relational)

    I believe that all things have a place - for some, they are gifted with preaching and teaching - explaining truths. For some, they are gifted with exhortation or serving others. Each one of us has an area of strength and all are useful as parts of the body of Christ. Your gift may be in encouraging relations and that may be how you are able to bring a person to Christ. But someone else may be gifted in explaining doctrine, which may bring a totally different kind of person to Christ. The best way that I've heard it put is that we are all a part of the "shattered image of God" - ie. inside of each of us is a reflection of the image of God that we were created with - and we need to dig deep to find that reflection in others.

  3. Hey, Kim!

    Thanks for your comment. I would completely agree that God is extremely complex and beyond our understanding. I would also agree that God is very systematic and orderly.

    Ultimately, the point of this post is that the Bible is primarily to provide a context for belief and further understanding the character of God rather than providing a systematic theology.

    While we can (and do) read the Bible to get a theology, that's not all the Bible is, nor is that the only way we should read it. I also don't think God's goal with the Bible is to create a document to understand theology, but to understand the character of God and the context of life.



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