Bible Freedom Science
The Canon

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The Canons

The Canons of the Bible

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And of the three, the Christian list, at least unofficially, may be older than the other two. With Islam it is no contest, the church had a canon at least three hundred years before Muhammad began the process that led to the Qur’an. But Judaism was probably in a dead heat in one sense but not in another. By that I mean the earliest evidence for a Christian canon, the Muratorian Fragment, is exactly the same age as the Council of Jamnia (if it happened) where the rabbis settled on their canon. On the other hand, if the Septuagint with Paul's letters and the four gospels is taken as the Christian canon, the Jews were fifty to a hundred years later. On yet another hand, it was not until Fifth Century that the Christian canon was agreed to by both East and West. Actually, some differences continue within Christianity today, so perhaps Islam can claim an earlier date after all.

Or, viewed in another way, unlike either the Jewish canon or the Quran, the Christian list of books—and their texts—was and is more fluid. Less frozen. Alive. And before you point out that there is great value in a fixed text and canon for confidence and trustworthiness, remember that the Quran became fixed only after a long time and at the point of a sword. And the best evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls leads us to believe that the texts of the Original Testament were even more fluid than the texts of the Gospels or Paul's letters. And there was certainly no canon until Jamnia. As always with claims about books being from God, remember that so is your reason a gift of God. And your personal freedom.

Equally significant is the list of books left out of the canon. The Gnostics, heretical books, gross pagan miracle stories, and the books of other religions are excluded. Books on science and other non religious topics, even though excellent, are not excluded, only left for a more appropriate collection. The judgment made is not good or bad, true or false. The line is drawn between those books that are the Word of JHWH and all other books. This means that useful books like Aristotle are excluded and a few with only a marginal connection to the lord, like Song of Songs, are included.

Some will reject a flexible canon because their view of their God and His revelation will not allow evolution, reform, growth, or change. Others will reject any canon at all because in their view there is no god, no revelation, no permanent truth. But the Christian church, as a whole, has learned to live with a canon and a book that is both fixed and flexible, eternal and temporal. Sometimes we argue. Personally, I like that because free enquiry and freedom of speech is the best way, no, the only way, to truth.
Copyright © 2008, Charles Henry Johnsen, III