The Implications of Persistent Biblical Pluriformity (3)

Persistent Pluriformity and the “Canonical Approach”

Many evangelical and fundamentalist biblical scholars and theologians are bothered by what they refer to as the “atomization” of the Bible which, they claim, has resulted from over reliance on both the historical-critical hermeneutic and the work of textual criticism.[1] Believing that the canon of texts was brought together by the providential working of God, the way to read and interpret biblical texts is in their “final form.” They insist “that a biblical theology must be built on the final form of the text, and not on some reconstructed earlier form” and they object to “giving canonical or normative status to an earlier stage of the text’s production, rather than to its final form.”[2] For the most part, these scholars consider the final form of their Bibles to be the only “God-breathed” (i.e., divinely inspired) texts. From their perspective, specific texts are included in their canon in this final state because such was God ordained—i.e., theirs is the only God-ordained canon in Christendom. They ignore texts that were considered authoritative (or maybe even divinely inspired) by various Jewish sects during the Second Temple period and by various Christian sects of the first several centuries CE.[3]

The canonical approach is based on two presuppositions that are unsupported by the manuscript evidence: (1) that at some point the canonical Scriptures achieved a God-ordained, final form; and (2) that the content of their chosen final form is consistent and uniform in nature.  As has been established thus far, the developmental evolution of the texts, both in their prebiblical forms and even in their canonical (i.e., biblical) forms is clearly, consistently, and persistently pluriform. Which “final form” does one choose with which to utilize a canonical approach? Which “final form” is the result of God’s oversight? As will be discussed in the next chapter, the content of any chosen “final form” is not uniform in content but multivocal or polyphonic in nature.    

Walter Brueggemann refers to the canonical approach as “massively reductionist” as it “limit[s] the reading of the Old Testament text to what is useful for Christian theology—that is, for witness to Jesus Christ.”[4] The canonical approach utilizes the Christian-biased and fallacious hermeneutical lens of “scripture interpreting scripture,” which results in the frequently asserted Christological hermeneutic. As Knight and Levine note, this approach “necessarily marginalizes one part of the text and enhances the other [particularly the New Testament Gospels], and it also privileges the last voice over the earlier voices…and it downgrades the centuries and generations of contributors who developed the tradition to the point that it could even become canonized and authoritative.”[5]

For me, as well, the Christological hermeneutic is an expression of Supersessionism[6] which minimizes the largely Jewish literary and theological contribution, not only to the Old Testament but to the New as well. It delegitimizes Jewish biblical interpretation and privileges only a Christian perspective. Such an approach is anachronistic—that is, a reading back into historical texts that which the Christian interpreter desires to see and believe. The canonical approach is a confessional lens—not academic—which varies considerably depending on which “final form” one determines is the God-ordained canon of Scripture.

[1] McDonald, The Biblical Canon, 466-467, “Both Childs and Sanders agreed that the Bible had become a catalogue of isolated texts for the specialist, leading to the fragmentation – what Childs calls the “atomization” – of the biblical text. Childs stresses that the historical-critical practice of dividing biblical passages into their various historical stages (a “diachronic approach”) and developments often destroyed the “synchronic” dimension of viewing the text as a whole. He rejects the fragmentation of the biblical text and instead calls for a synchronic approach that views the Bible as a whole in its final form rather than in its various literary stages of development.”

[2] Corrine L. Carvalho, “Canonical Cristicism” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 1, ed. Steven L. McKenzie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 70.

[3] For example, see Gregory A. Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God, Volume 1: The Cruciform Hermeneutic (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), “…I consider it beyond dispute that Jesus and the authors of the NT shared the traditional Jewish view that all the material found within the canon was “God-breathed” … For this reason, the church throughout history has traditionally confessed that all material within the canon of Scripture is “God-breathed…this “breathing” entails that God is, in some sense, the ultimate author of all canonical works. …we can focus on the final form that texts have assumed within the canon and not concern ourselves with whatever prehistory a text may have had prior to taking this final form” (4-6). I will respond specifically to Boyd’s thesis and theory in Chapter ??? since he is a leading evangelical open theist whose interpretations are based on a canonical approach of the sixty-six book Protestant canon only which he clearly states, “For this reason, the church throughout history has traditionally confessed that all material within the canon of Scripture is “God-breathed.” 6, n. 8.

[4] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 92-93.

[5] Douglas Knight and Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us. (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 72.

[6] Supersessionism, also called replacement theology or fulfillment theology, is a Christian theology which asserts that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ has superseded or replaced the Mosaic covenant  exclusive to the Jews. Supersessionist theology also holds that the universal Christian Church has succeeded ancient Israel  as God’s true Israel  and that Christians have succeeded the ancient Israelites as the people of God. 

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