Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Canon (and Dungan)

All of us who teach the New Testament get the same question: "How did we get the Bible?" Or, "Who decided what should be in the Bible?"

In the post-Da Vinci Code age, this question often comes with some suspicion. Was the canon formed in some smoke-filled room by imperial or ecclesiastical authorities? A book sure to grab attention affirms that to be the case, sort of. David Dungan, Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament (Fortress, 2007) is concise, affordable, and likely to appeal. Dungan essentially argues that Constantine's influence shaped the decision to determine a formal canon.

In contrast, I would argue that the canon grew organically. People made and passed around copies of early Christian books because they perceived them to be valuable. Some books grew wildly popular (Gospels, Acts, Paul, some other letters); others widely popular; still others too hot to handle. Well after Constantine, our copies of "Bibles" (bound collections of early Christian books) and canonical "lists" (published by various early Christian leaders) vary in their particulars. Thus, whatever Constantine's influence, he neither initiated the canon process nor did he determine its outcome.

A recent respondent to this blog, Garwood Anderson, has published a helpful review of Dungan's book on the Review of Biblical Literature site: I recommend it.


Luke said...

greg... geez dude... i would expect you to know that the bible was written by God in English and fell from the sky all at once, cover to cover, in that exact order. and since the bible itself states that it’s inerrant, noncontradictory, and the infinite absolute truth, not to mention part of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Scriptures), you best re-read the whole thing.

;-) said...

Pretty helpful data, lots of thanks for your post.