(I feel fairly certain that I’ve written on this matter before, but can’t seem to find it anywhere, so guess I’ll just churn out a 2016 edition this week…)
This is pretty much a continuation of the post on Sola Scriptura, where I explained why I don’t think it’s a good idea to lead your life solely by one’s interpretation of the Bible. Here, I step closer to heresy by elaborating on one reason why I’m not entirely convinced that the Bible is God’s inerrant message to mankind – biblical canon.
For those not so familiar with the development of the Christian biblical canon, here’s my summarised version:
- The Old Testament comprises a bunch of books accepted as scripture during Jesus’s day (also ratified by the Jews as the Hebrew Bible). The assertion made is that Jesus had accepted these books as true, so we should do likewise.
- The New Testament comprises books that were generally accepted as canon by various churches (this wasn’t really universal until sometime around the 4th-5th century (e.g. the Book of Revelation only became universally accepted around 419 AD).
Proponents of Sola Scriptura seem to like to gloss over the centuries of uncertainty and lack of universal agreement on biblical canon (which, incidentally, continues till this day), and the common belief seems to be that the canon had been fixed by apostles like Paul, Peter and John. That seems to me to be completely ignoring what had happened in practice, as well as the need for men to come together and make decisions on which books to keep and which to leave out. There are others who argue that this is merely part of God’s plan, that the internally consistent canon we have today is proof of His hand at work – but to me, this just shows that internal consistency was likely a criteria that men used in their decision-making.
For me, the greatest exemplification of this inconsistency that holds true even today is that of the Catholic and Protestant Old Testament canons – the Catholic version includes additional books viewed as canonical that Protestants do not share. Apparently, the Greek version was in common usage during Jesus’s day would have included these books, and the Catholic theory is that’s the version Jesus would have referred to as ‘scripture’. There are various other differences in canons among different Christian traditions, but to me this specific one is a simple example of a jarring difference between two rather sizeable groups of Christians.
If God was truly behind the selection of books to be included in the biblical canon, would there not be greater uniformity in its present state? Even if he was, and the variant forms are corruptions of his intended message, that is to me even more worrying – should I just take for granted that the version I am holding is the correct intended form?
There are other reasons I have for wondering about the inerrancy of the Bible, but the uncertainty about biblical canon is probably my biggest bugbear. So my personal stance is that the Bible is a useful document for understanding God (for Christians, it would probably be the first point of reference). But as something to be accepted as gospel truth? I need a little more convincing, for that.