07 June 2013

A short note on Scriptural canon

Certain religious adherents, especially fundamentalist Christian and orthodox Jewish leaders, represent the canon of the Holy Scriptures as having been decided millennia ago and remaining unchanging all the time.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  As a matter of fact, canon was decided rather late, even among the Jews.

The Samaritans, as well as the Jewish Sadducees, are well-known to have held sacred only the five books of the Torah, or Pentateuch.

The Septuagint, accepted by Hellenistic Jews throughout the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia, was complete about the year 132 BCE.  It was, however, not ordained by any religious authority, except perhaps the Jewish leaders of Alexandria.  Of course, that city hosted the largest synagogue in the entire world.

The Council of Jamnia, supposedly meeting in 90 CE to decide a number of matters relating to the Jewish religion, is now widely acknowledged to be only legend.

Jewish canon, including the Tanakh, Aramaic Targum, midrashim, Mishna, and the two Talmuds, was only defined in 1525 when the first version was printed (rather than scribed).

The Lutherans agreed on their canon after much acrimonious debate in 1534.

The Reformers on the Continent, with Calvin at their head, issued their canon with little debate in 1539.  Sometimes it’s good to be the dictator.

The Church of Rome, although using the Vulgate for centuries, did not actually rule on what books made up the official canon until the Council of Trent in 1546.

The Church of England set forth its canon in one section of its Thirty-nine Articles of the Christian Faith adopted in 1563 and accepted by all Anglicans, including Episcopalians.

Insular Calvinists defined their canon in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647, which became the official statement of the Church of Scotland in its Presbyterian guise.  Their southern ideological cousins, the Congregationalist Puritans, modified the statement (though not the canon) in 1658 as the Savoy Confession.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches, those in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch and See of Constantinople, decided their canon the latest in 1672.

In previous posts of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, I noted that there are only five of the books which make up the modern Tanakh/Old Testament which have always been agreed upon by authorities of all Hebrews and that quite a number of writings of the Christian New Testament have been challenged over the past two millennia.  If we were to put together a collection of sacred scriptures into a “holy bible” of just the universally-accepted books, that canon of scripture would look like:

Unchallenged Holy Scripture

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy

*****

Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Luke
Acts of the Apostles
Epistle of Paul to the Romans
1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
2nd Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
Epistle of Paul to the Philippians
1st Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians
Epistle of Paul to Philemon
1st Epistle of Peter
1st Epistle of John


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