This leads to inevitable questions like:
- How do we know we have the right books?
- Why are these books in the NT and not others?
- What about the apocryphal books used by other early Christian groups?
But one of the pivotal questions in modern scholarship is really why? That is, why do we even have a Canon at all? The stakes are too high to turn a blind eye. This question attacks the very nature of the Bible. We stand at the feet of Jesus as the Pharisees did in Mark 11 and have to answer the question of Canon…”Was it from Heaven or men?”. Here is the debate—Is the NT canon a production of the early Church to fit ecclesiastical needs or was it from God?
You really have two options and depending on which framework you choose it will determine how you view the Bible.
- Extrinsic—ecclesiastical product to fit ecclesiastical need
- Intrinsic—from God
As far as the Extrinsic view goes they usually give three reasons why the Church felt the need to produce the canon
- The Marcion controversy--Marcion was a wealthy Christian in Rome who had made very charitable contributions to the churches in that area. Thus, at first, he was well respected. That is until he espoused his new views. He rejected the God of the Old Testament and made a distinction between the Supreme God of goodness and the Inferior God of justice. The latter being the OT God of the Jews. Of the NT books he only accepted Luke, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Therefore, according to the Extrinsic view the Church felt the need to produce their own Canon to combat Marcion.
- The Secularization of the church--That is, the church was being increasingly corrupted by the influx of pagans. Therefore, the Church needed a unified and authoritative source by which to compel the Gentiles how to act properly and according to tradition.
- Influence of Greek philosophy and their desire to possess genuine writings that contain doctrine--According to this point the inflow of Greeks brought a new dynamic. The dynamic was the desire for a corpus since that is what they were use to in their other religions. Therefore, the Church needed to accommodate their new converts.
I like what Everett Ferguson said about the Canon:
“Canon consciousness thus arose at the inception of the Christian church and lies deep within the New Testament literature itself. There is an organic continuity in the historical process of the development of an established canon of sacred writings from the earliest stages of the New Testament to the final canonical stabilization of its scope.” (Ferguson, “Factors Leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon”, in Canon Debate, pg. 295)
He takes the Intrinsic view. That is, the Church didn’t impose, from the outside (Extrinsic), a certain authority to certain books. Instead the NT books themselves claim a certain authority and that the process of canon formation began from very early on. The 4th Century on stabilized the scope of the canon it did not form the canon.
Over the next month I will be posting a series on The Canon every Wednesday so stay tuned.
Which view do you take? Extrinsic or Intrinsic?
These blog posts are primarily based on my readings from Dr. Kruger, The Question of Canon