Lecture 14: Canonical Model: Historical
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
Lecture: Canonical Model: Historical
I. Sub-categories of the historically-determined model
The second model, the historical canonical model is almost the opposite of the community model. The community model says that you know the books of the canon by virtue of the community, a sort of affirmation of these books. The historically-determined model just goes the opposite direction; well no, actually you don’t know which books is canon by virtue of the community. Instead, we know which books is canon by virtue of the book’s historical background. In other words, where did it come from, is it historically reliable, who wrote this book? And so it really goes the opposite direction of the community determined model. The community model puts everything later within their perception. The historical model pushes everything to the front and says that it is the origins of these books that tell us whether they are canon. And so for that reason, the historically-determined model is going to be big on historical investigation. You will notice that in the community determined model there is hardly any historical investigation. They are not interested in the attributes of the book as they simply don’t matter. What matters is that the community is saying that these are the books. The historically-determined model asks, don’t the historical aspects of these books matter? Doesn’t it matter who wrote them; doesn’t it matter where they came from? Now, under this umbrella of the historically-determined model, there are a couple of examples such as a canon within a canon.
So, there is what I call, a canon within a canon model, which argues that we have these twenty-seven books and when we start exampling their historical merits, we realize that some of them are not historically accurate. We need to understand how to know which of these books really give us true things and which of these books don’t. It needs a way to sift through the books so we know what the real canon is in the midst of a larger canon. That is what I mean by a canon within a canon. The problem you run into with this model is determining what criteria I am using to determine which books count as canon and which books don’t and where does that criteria come from. That is a really difficult problem and people end up choosing the books that fit their worldview from the outset. So, if someone goes into the canon interested in feminist theology, they see that the only books from the canon with feminist theology are canonical or whatever that happens to be. There is some sort of grid that people use to sift through these books. The problem is that the grid itself isn’t from Scripture; so you end up with a human collection.
The second example of a historically-determined model is what we call the criteria of canonicity model. This is probably what you would consider to be a very popular one among evangelicals. If we are going to know which books are canonical, we will set up criteria of canonicity. These are the things we are looking for that make a book canonical; it could be a popular book, an old book, an apostolic book and so once a book meets this criteria, then we know it is canonical. There is a rigorous historical investigation to make sure it meets those criteria. Many things about this model are positive. I think it gets a lot of things right, particularly the idea that we might be looking for books that are apostolic. When you look at a book historically, you want a book that goes back to the apostles. The core problem with the criteria of the canonicity model is the criteria for the criteria. This is something that I am a little surprised that hasn’t been dealt with more. So, where did we get these criteria? They seem to be plucked from various places. Some are taken from church history, for this is what the early Christians did. Sometimes, it is from other places. The point I am making is that the criteria of the canonicity model gets many things correct but ultimately you only know what to look for in a book from the Scripture itself. And here we are back again to a realization that you have to use the Scriptures to authenticate them.
II. The Myth of Theological Neutrality
Another challenge to the historically determined model which is designed to go into these books is do a historical investigation which proves their validity. One of the problems with that, there is a sense in which some people approach this from the idea that you can do a neutral historical investigation that will lead to an assured historical resort. If you just follow the facts, you will know whether a book is in or out. The difficulty with this isn’t in the facts, it is the interpretation of those facts and so there is no neutral historical investigation. If I say, hey the canon can be determined by historical investigation and I leave it at that, what happens when the critical scholar comes in and says that he has done that investigation and says, I conclude that these books don’t belong in the canon. So how do we argue this? We can only say that they haven’t done their investigation using the proper grid. You haven’t interpreted the evidence correctly and once you say this, you have to back up to a larger world view. That shows that your investigation isn’t neutral in the first place. So my point is simple this, yes, historical evidence plays an important role but we can’t be naïve about the way people interpret that historical evidence through their grid. We have to recognize that there is no neutrality when evidence is being interpreted.