Saturday, 17 May 2008

The sound of canon fire

Years ago I came across a book called Are Mormons Christians? The author, a Mormon himself, naturally argued that they were. Like any work of apologetics it was weak in places, and avoided the really tough questions. But I was really fascinated by the appeal that was made to the question of the canon.

The canon is the list of authoritative books Christians use, and which we usually take for granted. But how did they get to be authoritative in the first place? Muslims, as I understand it, believe that the Qur'an/Koran was delivered intact to the Prophet, inerrant in Arabic. Mormons believe their prophet, Joseph Smith, translated the Book of Mormon with a pair of magic spectacles or "seer stones". But those are not claims Jews or Christians make about their scriptures.

Leaving aside the thorny issue of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint and Yavneh/Jamnia, why is 2 Peter in the New Testament and not 3 Corinthians, Titus and not the Shepherd of Hermas? Who decided?

The upshot was an article I eventually put together, and still exists on my original ISP server. Someone at Trinity College at the University of Toronto decided to link to it, which is flattering, but a more recent (and hopefully better) version exists here. If I get some time later this year I want to revise it again in light of a terrific little book called The New Testament Canon.

The author, Harry Gamble (University of Virginia), is one of the leading names in the field, and he is mercifully readable for the non-specialist. In less than 100 pages the reader is treated to a thorough survey sure to raise the eyebrows of anyone who has blissfully ignored the implications of questions like those above. Definitely something to add a little curry to any evangelical's diet!


  1. For what it's worth Gavin.
    Even as a mere hireling of the past .....

    You do very nice work on your studies and it's refreshing to see someone understand that neither the Bible nor the books in it, have come about as advertised within itself or by fundamentalists and literalists.

    To discover it's not the best book on anything ever written, I suppose, is annoying.

    What I find is that no one really cares however, save for a few who want answers to all those niggly questions stored away after years of excellent Bible reading in WCG.

    You can get fifty comments on AW about some dumbass event or person and I find that few even listen or comment much on the content of others comments save when they want to poke fun. There is not much understanding or interest in some of the more obvious problems in the Bible. It's just interesting to me and obviously not interesting to most.

    Without critical and liberal thinking, there is no movement.

    At any rate, good on ya!

  2. Exunctly!

    But that's the story of contemporary Christian belief... wander down to any Christian bookshop and cruise the shelves: wall to wall rubbish. "The scandal of the evangelical mind."

    Is it because so many Christians are apathetic? Anti-intellectual? Vapid?

    Is it because they were "born again" minus curiosity?

    Beats me. But what the heck... I don't really care. Ya gotta say what ya gotta say!

  3. have to say what you have to say. It was the Bible that drew me to seek the "true way to view it." I still am fascinated with the book but not because I find it as I was taught.

    As you know, the template of the sun's journey through the 12 signs of the zodiac, which is ancient stuff in the mind of man, has captured my attention as it does promote "as above, so below" and the same story of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels. Where else would humans look on those clear dark desert nights to explain it all?

    I have come to believe, because it just seems true to me, that all the Son's of God originated with the SUN of God from December to December, through the Equnoxes and Solstices.

    Man's initial fear of darkness and rightly so as it was a great time to be frightened or eaten is the motivator for the light/dark theology and all its characters in history.

    For example, every time in the past three years I have questioned Paul's story in the NT and his view of the cosmic christ, vs the Gospel Jesus, NOT ONE COMMENT from anyone curious about that. Not ONE! Is it such a stupid concept to most and not possible, or have they never thought of it? It's an enigma wrapped in a riddle coated with cheese sauce to me!

    I guess it's just more enjoyable to swap (dare I say) pain body stories, than keep looking for how it really is in this world of religion and meaning.

    I still hope for a conscious spirit trapped in a limited five sensed carbon based wetsuit..for now! :)

  4. PS Part of the lack of response to what I consider interesting if not amazing things I never knew about the story of the Bible is that I realize most ended up questioning WCG and choosing another belief to comfort themselves. I ended up bypassing the need or desire to ever sit in a congregation listening to Bible readers tell me how it all is, and ended up questioning the book itself.

    Once I learned that the oft repeated "line up line, line upon line, here a little there a little" teaching was, in Hebrew, God mocking the priests with hebrew babytalk, instead of the true way to study the Bible...

    Or that when God told Moses from the burning bush "I am who I am" really meant "its none of your business who I am Moses" since to know the name of the God was to have power of him in that was all downhill from there on every other question I had accumlated over thirty years :)

    But why that doesn't interest most is beyond me I guess.

  5. If it makes either of you feel better, it interests me! :-)

    I lean more towards pagan roots theory, although lately I find myself beginning to secretly wonder whether or not Budge was pushing his own agenda in those 19th century translations of the Egyptian stele.

    I think the need to find the truth, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, behind the origins of "the bible" comes as a result of too many years being browbeaten with the circular logic of "The bible is true because the bible says it is!"

    I, too, bypassed entering another institutional religious system after exiting the church, for which I am grateful. It does seem to be a stop along the way for many, however.

    Gospel Fictions is another book on my to-purchase-whenever-I-get-through-the-pile-I-still-have-unread pile. I was wondering if anyone here had any opinions on the book, if they had read it?

  6. Hi,

    Hope this does not show up 3 or 4 times since I am having problems posting. I'll try this once more.

    I am also intensely interested in learning which people, if any, were originally contacted by the Deity.

    There are texts upon texts heading in all directions, so that I become stressed heading in one direction, only to find the history is incomplete at best.

    There is always another area to check up on though, and so off I go reading for another six months or more on some other history.

    I have held back from studying very deeply into paganism, but that doesn't mean that I am too fearful to look at it. It seems that most of the religions that I've looked into so far, do have roots that are much like some pagan ideas (at least those pagan ideas that I am familiar with up to this point).

    I guess I first hope to locate some sensible history outside paganism, but this is not looking promising.

    For the moment, I am reading several translations of The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is at least entertaining. I like the names too, like Enkidu and Utnapishtim etc. Seems so much of history comes from Babylon and the Summerians.

    There is another most interesting bit of literature regarding Zoroastianism. There appears to be a purer Zarathustra that people later added texts to form more orthodox religion from a fairly simplistic belief at the beginning.

    Here is an interesting website for them:

    I do especially like to read input from this Ambassador Watch site and Dennis Diehl's articles as well. I can never return to the mindless prison of religious organizations now that I've seen the contradictions and plots in the books of the Bible.

    Anyway, just a note so you know there are others who have looked outside the box known at the church. I expect there are more than a few who have begun to think for themselves since this site and a few others are open to real questions.

    I'm very appreciative of these honest type of blogs.

  7. Anon wondering about Zoroastriasnism, I suggest you do a little research on their eschatological views before you get too deeply involved with them.

    As with all religions, there is always a catch, which is the thing isn't it?