There is one subject that continues to divide Christendom in our day. Few books are written on the subject, even though it was an enormous controversy with the Protestant Reformers. I am speaking of the subject of canonicity, or what many know as the Bible. I have written about the canon of Scripture under the Bible tab on this site and have downloaded a video on it that can be found on the right column of the web page. You can also look at the sub-tab “Oral Tradition” under the main Early Fathers tab.
Here are four false assumptions that I see modern Christians making in regards to how they understand the very nature of Scripture.
1. The assumption that St. Paul and the other authors actually knew that they were writing letters that would be compiled several hundreds of years later into one large canon to last thousands of years.
2. The assumption that the New Testament was written in propositional form and was meant to contain dogmatic standard of paradigm and terminology.
3. The assumption – like number two – that the canon is a type of manual, that the church cannot grow in philosophy and meaning and must do what was done in the particular narrative of Scripture is meant to be done the same exact way today.
4. The assumption – like number two – that the way the gospel is to be presented is that exact way that the person in the narrative was presenting it, and that there were no other communications happening within that same narrative; that there were no other letters and that there were no relationships being built.
Qualifications to each:
1. Paul did mention the fact that he wanted others to read his letters. So there was indeed a sense of knowledge that Paul knew it was from God. But there is no evidence anywhere in history that those letters were supposed to be more divine than the spoken word. Paul does say to the Corinthians that he has found himself to be more effective in writing, but that was primarily because he was a man of poor stature. The Septuagint certainly had a canonical value to it in the early church but Paul’s letters and the letters of other apostles were in no way attached to that Old Testament canon in those times. What was authoritative was the message of the apostles that was given to the successors of the apostles: the priests and bishops. This is why, for instance, the book of Hebrews was one of the latest editions to the canon. It was not known to be written by an apostle.
2. Taking words like “justification” and turning them on their heads to become something that they are not is just heretical. We must remember the letters within the first century culture and how Paul, for instance, was not always proclaiming dogma but was more so combating cultural terms with other terms not meant to be dogma-words for future Christians. With that said, it would also be heretical to strip his words of all meaning, leaving us with complete doctrinal relativism. There is an equity to be had within the words of the apostles that needs to be cherished. There is an “holy science” to this, for lack of better words. Proper linguistic studies, understanding of first century culture, knowledge of Old Testament theology and direction, coupled with a masculine sense of the Holy Spirit gives leaders of the Church the ability to teach and preach the Scriptures.
3. The Bible is in no way a direction manual as we know direction manuals today. It certainly has direction within it. But if finding directional verses is our hermeneutic than we could find yourself to be in dire straights at some point. I’m not saying that we should not hear the word of God speak to you through only one verse. On the contrary! What I am saying is that we may one day believe ourselves to be “theological” simply because we accumulated many good verses to memorize or that justly spoke to us, and then begin to connect the dots with those verses. Many connect the dots believing that it is a proper theology because someone with a modern theological degree or following has published a similar dot-to-dot theology.
Another problem with viewing the Bible as a manual is that once taken for this type of document, the very text of the Bible begins to be worshiped. Christians begin to look at the way that the Church in Acts communicated and worshiped and insist that they do exactly the same. Oh, the church only met in homes, we must do the same. Or, oh, the Church had communion in the context of an entire meal, we must do the same. Or, how about this one?: Paul said that leaders must have their families in order, so that means the celibacy is not biblical.
Once it is assumed that the beginning of the Church was some sort of big bang, we are done! The Church is an organic union with God and man. It has been growing from day one! First, the Church had to meet in houses and then it actually went backwards and met in caves, then it made its way through the blessings of Constantine, to worship in public. She acquired sanctuaries (and sanctuary) and began to grow rapidly. Not all of the growth was substantial, but if we read Matthew 13, we can see that Christ wants both wheat and the tares to grow together until the final day he returns.
Yes, the Church had communion within the context of a meal, but do remember that Paul knew it was a complete disaster; people getting drunk off of the communion wine and eating like pigs.
No celibate pastors? Uh…what would you have called Paul, or even Christ himself? The available men at the time had families and Paul was addressing that fact by making sure they were godly men. He was in no way saying that all leaders must be married.
Are you getting what I am saying here? Progress is good if it has apostolic roots! If it was not good then we would not have been able to even inherit the Bible itself. Think about it. But with all of that said, do not think that liberal theology is correct and that Churches like the Episcopal Church are correct in being inclusive to Satan himself through the call of being progressive. Apostolic equity! That is what must be retained.
4. I see St. Paul preach to those that are worshiping “the unknown god” in Acts 17 to be a totally different way of evangelism than, say, the way Stephen did in Acts 7. Many modern Christians have been assuming this sort of you-are-in-sin-and-repent talk-track as the core doctrine of the gospel. They see Paul preach this here and there and they see John the Baptist do something similar and so they come up with their own version. But this is to assume that that is all that Paul said to the people, as if he said those few things and then hightailed it out of there. To assume that those people were not continually ministered to is a grievous mistake. The gospel message is about becoming a part of a kingdom. No one talk-track should be used as an encompassing theology. Again, this is dot-to-dot theology gone wrong!