An Open Notebook

Quelle Canon?


Two presuppositions haunt the thoughts of both secular and sacred interpreters who are involved in canon studies, when they consider  what books should be in the ‘canon.’ These could be tritely summarized as ‘life as order’ and ‘life as chaos.’

The first connects to people, with varying levels of ‘certitude,’ who have some lingering supposition that there might be a good God, who orders history, who reveals his love and will to the human race. To the contrary, the second views life mainly as chaos, random, unknowable. And, whoever happened to win the ideological crusade, wins the war for time. ‘Winners write history…’ so the proverbial story goes.

Apologists on both sides have done extensive research as to how the books of both Testaments came about, circulated, and entered into the ‘canon,’ but it seems that ideological presuppositions run deeper than many on both sides would admit. Each position begins with a philosophical stance, about what is probable/possible.

Under Christian theological logic (compared to atheistic [a]theological logic), it makes good sense that a good God who ordered the world with particular rationale, atom-systems, environmental harmony, and natural rhythms would assemble these books in a particular way, even utilizing the natural processes and text-communities known to all literature.

Those who doubt the canon is as it should be, contest the flow of history, and claim the canon-process is fairly arbitrary/random. The way they tell the story, more-or-less a range of books could have entered the canon on a whim, while other books were omitted on the same twig. 

But, we realize, our view of the narrative is affected by our metaphysical stances, not just our ‘scientific research.’ Those who do textual criticism fall on both sides of the fence, as do those who do canon-studies. The question becomes, how does the natural realia fit what we know about metaphysics? Is reality even knowable?

Atheists and agnostics have little reason to see reality as ‘knowable’ in an intimate sense. And, of course, this affects ones view of canon. Time is impersonal, fate is impersonal, the world is cloudy, and there is no mediating force to make sense of it all.

Christians, on the other hand, do not keep up the pretense that reality is ‘knowable’ (any researcher has assumed reality is knowable to some degree, often at odds with their ultimate outlook of life), because the Holy Spirit is believed to actually mediate knowledge. The first party begins with the belief that reality is fairly ‘random,’ absurd, (and thus the canon is an eclectic randomness too), while Christians see it as a trajectory towards order maturity, a process which God guides.

Life, in Christian thought, should be viewed as the overspill of love, and can still be ‘known’ in a way which preserves the mystery of reality, and yet pushes your knowledge ever-deeper into it. Eventually, this circles back to canon-studies because Christians think a loving God, who does reveal himself at various times and in various ways, guides the flow of history.

We use sciences to compare-and-contrast realities, refine our pre-suppositions, but at the end of the day still believe in objective truth, and that it is knowable. Canon-studies, too, are affected by this claim. 

The process of canon-research will never be ‘neutral,’ but, you have to give credit to those on both sides who are interested in fairly disseminating the various evidences of life, making their case for their particular view of the world. At the end of the day, however, this science will be affected by one’s metaphysics, not just ‘physics.’

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Ryan By Ryan
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