Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Canon Fodder, So Bunker Down

I hope, by now, people understand that the things I write here aren't designed to diminish or devalue a person's faith in Christ. The flipside of that - I hope people understand that I DO want to diminish AND devalue faith in traditions and commandments of men, which frankly, many, maybe most, well-meaning Christians confuse with genuine faith in Christ. We need to cut through all the romanticized notions about our faith, all of the "blood of believers" martyrdom that makes us feel justified, all of the "old-time way" and "old paths" bullbutter.

The evangelical community would like to think, for instance, that the founders of our country were a group of spiritual stalwarts who prayed day and night and had some kind of big campmeeting revival and praise-fest before drafting our Declaration of Independence and eventually our Constitution, swayed ONLY by the voice of God. Well, I've no doubt that there were some very sincerely spiritual men among them who DID do a lot of praying, but there were also non-believers, whoremongers and adulterers, probably an alcoholic or two, and some slave-owners. With the exceptions of owning slaves and having no women involved, it probably looked a lot like our Congress now in its moral make-up. Not quite the religious, storybook beginnings that the Christian community would like to believe. Our founding fathers were fallible people, just like we are, prone to make mistakes at times, just like we are. People are ever people - back then, today, 100 years from now. We may continually have access to more and better information, more technology, and more material resource, but people are ever people. And with that, I'll turn back to the construct of the biblical canon...

You know the old saying, "If you want to know the future, look at the past"? I think there's a whole heckuva lot of truth in it. It can also be used as a mirror in the opposite direction, as in - if you want to know what the construction of the biblical canon looked like in the past, imagine if it happened today. I mean, seriously, imagine if it happened today. To do so, you have to take the fact that most of mainstream Christianity has delved into some degree of bible worship (as have its leaders) off the table, and imagine we were starting from scratch. You'd have a council consisting of all the leaders of various demoninations (such as the SBC, Assemblies of God, Churches of God (Cleveland and Anderson), Presbyterian, Methodist, and so forth) along with men like Billy or Franklin Graham, and Word of Faith movement people like T.D. Jakes, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, et cetera, along with people like Rick Warren - and, of course, dominionists like Gothard, Phillips, Wilson, et cetera, would demand their seats at the table. I wouldn't be surprised to see some prominent Christian politicians like Huckabee wanting a piece of this action, too.

Would you trust that bunch of buffoons to conclusively determine what was of God and what wasn't? I mean, our new biblical canon might include everything from the 4 gospels (which are an interesting story in and of themselves) to the Pauline epistles to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition to The Purpose Driven Life to The Shack to the Basic Life Principles.

Think long and hard about it. Not very spiritually romantic, is it? The fact of the matter is, the church HAS accepted such a thing. History repeats itself - and look at how many people unquestioningly accept the modern biblical canon as the absolute standard and capsule of all truth and of all that God could and would ever need to say to men. The groups of men who created it were no better and less fallible, and had no fewer personal hangups and dogmatic baggage, than the group of men in my scenario above, yet the modern church has put ALL faith in their conclusions.

In the modern protestant faith, the two most revered men are usually Martin Luther and John Calvin - and both were religious addicts and fools. These men had HUGE voices in the construct of the modern protestant canon - and both were religious addicts and fools. That's not to say that they didn't say and do some good things or have some good ideas. Rather, it's a look at the entire body of work.

Martin Luther hated the Jews. HATED them. Now, you can argue that his words and teachings might have been abused and misused, but many of Adolf Hitler's beliefs were formulated from the words and works of Luther concerning the Jewish people and faith. Sorta offsets whatever good he did in helping to bring the Christian faith out of the Dark Ages, and certainly renders him as someone revered when he probably shouldn't be.

John Calvin was a legalist's legalist. His teachings led to the creation of a Christian theocracy in Geneva that was one big religious shile of pit. Oppression, zealotry, idolatry of biblical law, mandatory church attendance. CONTROL. People were executed for promoting ANY other version of the faith than that which Calvin taught and the city council endorsed. Geneva's answer to Catholic religious oppression was protestant religious oppression. It looked a lot like dominionism and what we call "hyper-calvinism" today. From the link...

The state had to obey the teachings of the church, according to Calvin, and once he had managed to ensure this power, he felt confident enough to shut down taverns - though this was actually done by magistrates - and replace them with "evangelical refreshment places" where you could drink alcohol but this was accompanied by Bible readings. Meals (in public) were preceded by the saying of grace. Not surprisingly these were far from popular and even Calvin recognised that he had gone too far and the taverns were re-opened with due speed!!

Was Calvin totally supported in Geneva? It must be remembered that he was introducing a very disciplined code to the city and that this code effectively controlled peoples lives. There were those who opposed Calvin and he was never totally secure until he had the support of Geneva’s most important families. These 1,500 men had a right to elect the city council which governed the city’s 13,000 people. Many felt angered that their privacy was being trespassed on and though a moral code to maintain standards was accepted, Calvin saw it going all the way so that everybody in the city was affected - a view not shared by everyone.

Regardless of whatever good may be found in his teachings, and whatever you think of Calvinism and its doctrines today, it shouldn't be forgotten that he wanted to force other people, by law, to accept his own religious standards - something that couldn't possibly make him more anti-Christ.

And these men had a voice in the biblical canon as we know it today. Calvin questioned the divine inspiration of 2nd and 3rd John and Revelation. In my last piece, I mentioned Luther's resistance to the NT books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, but he also strongly opposed the inclusion of two OT books. His opinions regarding these books from the link...

Esther"I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist."
Jonah"The history of Jonah is so monstrous as to be absolutely incredible."
Hebrews"The Epistle to the Hebrews is not by St. Paul; nor, indeed, by any apostle."
James"St. James' Epistle is truly an epistle of straw."
Jude “The Epistle of Jude allegeth stories and sayings which have no place in Scripture." (apparently, he doesn't like Jude's direct quotation from the Book of Enoch - a book which, btw, the early church accepted as inspired)
Revelation"I can discover no trace that it is established by the Holy Spirit."

The only reason that most people who claim to believe the bible is inerrant, infallible, and completely inspired by God believe this is because other men told them so - and their investment into a form of Christianity that amounts to bible worship is so deep that to examine the biblical canon, its construct, and its divine inspiration, would unravel everything about their faith.

Regarding the heroes of the Christian faith, I think it's pretty silly to include men like Luther, Calvin, and those who were part of the various councils through the centuries which determined divine inspiration of scripture by majority vote. The TRUE heroes of the faith, back then, now, and in the future, are people you've never heard of and will never hear of, people who didn't demand a voice at the table of leadership, but people who simply lived out the message of Christ in loving and giving ways.

Here's a pretty good place to start measuring your own religious addictions where the bible is concerned: Have you ever heard of, or read, the Book of the Secrets of Enoch (sometimes known simply as the Book of Enoch)? If not, despite this lack of knowledge, do you still believe the 66 books of the modern protestant canon are the completed "word of God"?

My advice - start unraveling.

Know why you believe what you believe. Make sure your faith is truly in Christ and not in a man-made bastardization of Christianity based on a man-determined, majority vote dictated collection of books.


  1. I love the bible, both for its own sake as sacred writings (revered along with the sacred writings of other traditions, I just like this one more because it is my tradition) and for its place in the cultural legacy of my heritage (art, music, literature, law). Nothing has had an impact on Western civilization like the bible (well, until perhaps the last hundred years). Because of that love and respect I have for a genuinely great library of literary works, I am glad that you are exposing the clay feet of the idol of The Bible.

    Many years ago when I allowed myself to begin questioning doctrines of inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration, I was afraid for the bible because I (in my fundy black-and-white thinking) was sure that if those doctrines proved erroneous that the whole of Scripture would become useless and devoid of meaning. For a long time, I only valued the bible for its sociological import into Western culture (and great value it has, too) but I was saddened about the loss, as I saw it, of its spiritual value.

    Then I began to educate myself about the history of the bible (see Karen Armstrong's "The Bible", any of Bart Erhman's books, many recently re-broadcast National Geographic and History Channel documentaries), and I became aware of how this amazing document came into being and all the amazing stuff (and some not so amazing stuff) exists outside of canon that was equally spiritual valid to several centuries of Christians, up to half the history of Christianity (sometimes more in some places). I have found that knowing the entirely man-made and man-controlled origins of the canon has made the spiritual relevance of the bible MORE clear to me, MORE valuable to my spiritual development, and MORE facilitative of my communion with the Divine--not less as I was so worried.

    So, many thanks to you for bringing awareness to the whole story of the bible, knocking out the clay feet, dusting off the forgotten treasures, and honoring the sacred that is rightly to be found in the bible.

  2. "The TRUE heroes of the faith, back then, now, and in the future, are people you've never heard of and will never hear of, people who didn't demand a voice at the table of leadership, but people who simply lived out the message of Christ in loving and giving ways."


    *So true* As a student of history I long to know more about the types of heros you describe.

    In the words of Margaret Mead:
    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

  3. The Bible becomes a whole lot more interesting when you learn the history behind it. For a scholarly understanding of where the Old Testament comes from, I recommend Friedman's Who Wrote The Bible, and for a similar discussion on how we got the New Testament, see Bart Ehrman's Jesus Interrupted. Just to clarify, neither author is against faith or against Christianity, both just happen to have spent their lives studying how this religion developed and where its sacred books came from. It's really fascinating stuff!

  4. Lewis, your info is very misleading. Most importantly: 22 of the 27 books of the NT has already been listed in the Muratorian Canon in approximately 180 A.D.

    The other 7 were included by 363. This don't mean that their value have been decided in 180 and 363 AD, but that they have appeared on lists of what the church already found valuable before, at the latest, that time.

    Your link -not you- talks as if many current NT books should be compared to apocrypha like the "gospel of Peter." To that, I will quote Craig A Evans, PH.D., and founder of the dead sea scrolls instutute, say:
    If one examines all the evidence fairly and completely, then it’s a logical conclusion that the canonical writings have an exclusive claim to being connected to the gospel. For crying out loud- the gospel of Thomas doesn’t! And would anyone claim that the so-called gospel of Peter- found in the coffin of a monk in the ninth century – has any connection with Peter? Come on!
    If you had ten documents and you arbitrarily selected four of them and said only they have a connection with the apostels, and you didn’t have any reason for saying that – then that would be prejudice, I agree. But if you go through all ten and then discover that you actually do have credible historical evidence for four of them as having some kind of apostolic connection and the others not a chance- then it’s not a dogmatic, prejudicial assertion. It’s a reasonalble and considered conclusion., based on the evidence.

    You mention that Luther did not want certain books in the canon, but he did not remove or add any books. Like you, he disliked some of the contents of the bible, but he did not delete it. To be honest, there are some things I dislike in the bible, but I don't remove them, and won't if I had the power.

    As for your link to a website called "freethought", my experience is that atheists (who like to call themselves free thinkers) often think free from truth and will tell any kind of lie if it is anti-faith. They will call Galileo an atheist (he was a believer) and Hitler a Christian. (Hitler was strongly anti-Christian and, according to the book "Hitler's table talk", wanted to finish off Christians when he gets through with the Jews.)
    Your link claim -without evidence- that the dead sea scrolls is evidence for scripture being changed a lot. Apologists- who give proper examples - say the dead sea scrolls is evidence for the accuracy of the scriptures, and how the books did not change over 1000 years, except for minor spelling and styling changes.

    I appreciate that you try to warn people against relying on the bible instead of Christ, but this is using misleading "facts" to make people doubt the bible.

  5. Lewis, I love you bro! You are so bold that it breaks my heart, because I am afraid someone is going to drag you out in the country and crucify you.

    May Jesus shine through your life, your words, your actions. And mine as well. Amen.

  6. Retha...Even Craig Evans has his own bias - it's evident in his quote. All scholars and apologists have personal bias, because they're people.

    The point of the article, and the pages I linked to, is that NO human canonization of religious texts will come without the personal dogma, religious baggage, and personal preferences of the men putting it together. It's why I used the examples of Luther and Calvin.

    It's up to US, individually, to discover the inspired truth through the Holy Spirit - and that's a far spiritually healthier thing to do than to trust the work of men centuries ago. What I offered was just information for people to consider, and I think there's a lot of validity in it.

  7. And just so everyone knows, the link to the atheist account of the biblical canon was just for their factual overview, not for whatever commentary might be there - and it doesn't mean I agree with everything said there.

    I could give you a link to a Christian summary of the process of canonization, like this one...

    ...but the problem is, while I don't dispute everything in that account, it's waaaaaay too religiously romantic - using the pixie dust approach to conclude the whole process.

    It's why I also made mention of the "founding fathers" of the USA. To hear the Christian account of the process generally does the truth a disservice.

  8. My understanding is that the books we now call "the Apocrypha" that are still included in the Roman Catholic Bible, were never given the same weight -- from the beginning of the faith-- as the books that the Protestant and Catholic Bibles share. The Protestants therefore decided to remove the apocryphal books from their Bible. But though Luther may have wanted to remove other books, the fact was that he could not-- because these books had the witness of history as to their authenticity and efficacy to the Christian faith.

    Yes, we should understand how the canon was formed. Yes, we should consider Christ Himself, not the scriptures, to be the center of our faith. But I don't think there is any reason to toss out the canon as we have it.

    However, I think what you're attacking here, Lewis, is the doctrine of "inerrancy," and not the canon itself per se. "Inerrancy" is a very new doctrine that came out of fundamentalism. The vast majority of the church, through the ages, has not believed in inerrancy. It certainly isn't necessary to believe in inerrancy to receive grace and truth from the scriptures, as we know them today.

    I think this essay by N.T. Wright is a very balanced and helpful way to read the Bible.

    It advocates seeing the Bible primarily as conveying the overarching story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation. Thinking of it as the first four acts of a play, and we the church now writing the fifth act, makes at lot of sense to me.

  9. However, I think what you're attacking here, Lewis, is the doctrine of "inerrancy," and not the canon itself per se.

    That's a fair assessment - the fundamentalist inerrant aspect.

    I'm not compelled to believe we need to remove anything from the canon as we know it, just to read it all openly and with discernment, seeing what applies universally, what applies specifically, and what was written to the specific cultures at the time it was authored - understanding that it has human fingerprints. I do give weight, though, to books like Enoch that most Christians don't or wouldn't.

  10. Kristen - On the apocrypha (because I didn't know this until a couple years ago either): During early Christianity, the Jewish canon was still being formulated, and there were actually two different canons in existence, one with more books than the other. The early church accepted the version that was the most popular at the time, the longer one. Luther decided to go with the shorter one, which had become the more accepted one among Jews by his time. The books that are in the longer Jewish canon and not in the shorter one are thus called "the apocrypha." It's only the Old Testament that is affected, not the New Testament.

  11. Okay. I just found your blog today via a link to the story of your relationship with your ex. I've read the whole thing and am very disappointed to see that there's been nothing new posted in over a month. Obviously things don't have a happy ending but I am very curious to find out how it all played out.

    I plan to read through more of your posts but I'd really like to know when you think there will be another installment to your story and about how many more total installments you think it's going to be.

    For now, I need to get my kids to bed and then I'll probably be back here reading some more. :)

  12. Lewis, have you seen this? Thought you might find it interesting.

  13. @anon 9:09...I really can't say. It could be tomorrow, or it could be months down the line. Just a matter of being moved to write it and figuring a few ancillary issues out. The whole series has been written in realtime (I sit, start typing, and hit "publish" when I finish), as are all of the rest of the pieces here, so it's only being written as I'm inspired (perhaps that's the wrong word), and as I have resources to handle it (it's emotionally expending to write). Installment wise, it'll probably take as many as have already been written, if not more. It may take two or three to cover her time spent here, if not more, and once she went back west, the dysfunction cranked up to where it could be measured in gallons. Lots and lots of ground to cover.

    SOME of the delay has been consideration of a book. I'm not sure how many publishers would be looking for a book that's already available for free - so the break has allowed me to think about that - and frankly, I'm ambivalent about it. Those who have read it for entertainment or curiosity purposes, sure, it'd be nice to have some reimbursement for that considering the amount of soul-baring involved, but I want those whom the story might be resonating with, helping, and educating to have access to it without any benefit to me. It's a delicate line I'm trying to figure out how to walk.

    @K...Thanks for the link.

  14. Lewis;

    i've heard of the Book of Enoch, but was under the impression it was lost - no way to read it. [what can i say? i'm not Christian and, aside from here and NLQ, i don't run into any Christians other than my boyfriend, who is the laziest Catholic ever, and my mom, who is still really confused as to what "Christianity" is and how it differs from the, erm, "family faith". and the last time i tried to get more info about it, in a religion class taught by a Catholic Priest, he got REALLY angry that i'd ask. then again, my sister and i took that class together and we were a HUGE thorn in his side - not thru intent, but because we kept asking "Why". and that was fine in every religion but Christianity, which is when the "thorn in his side" issue developed... anyway]

    where could i find a copy? and do you happen to know where, chronologically [i guess?] it fits in with the rest of the Bible?

  15. @denelian...Here's a link to it...

    It fits in among the early chapters of Genesis.

  16. Interested bystanderJune 26, 2011 at 11:48 AM


    As long as you keep posting anything, I'll be content. I find your writings and the thoughtful comments to be the most interesting discussion on religion that I have ever been part of. I find myself thinking of what you have said and contemplating how it fits in with what I believe and why I believe it. I found you through the story but have stayed because of who you are.

  17. Has anybody here read the Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas? They were at one point considered canonical by early Christians and then discarded like last week's leftovers.

    What happened? The people in charge apparently didn't like them anymore, and so they're not part of the 70-odd texts of the Catholic canon or the 66-books of the Protestant canon. I think only the Ethopian Orthodox church considers them canonical.

    We must remember that generations of Christians have lived and died without there ever being a "bible" or any singular authority telling them that "This text here is holy writ, and this text here is a blatant heresy." That didn't come until later.

    As a student of history, I'm taught to look for the motivations of elite groups and how their power affects the daily lives of non-elites. We have to remember that the canon-builders of our faith were/are men (note: not women) and usually representative of the most powerful sections of society. Whether or not they were guided by the Holy Spirit or just seeking power for their position is up for debate.


    I've been going to a particular church for the past few weeks that I really, really adored until today when they made the VBS students and the entire congregation swear allegiance (which they spelled incorrectly) to the American flag, the "Christian flag," and the "bible."

    I put my hand over my heart out of respect, but I didn't say the pledges, and I certainly didn't swear allegiance to creations of men (flags). My allegiance is to the God who rescued me, to the woman who loves me, and to the family who supports me, in that order. That's it.

    Some, if not most Christians see the "bible" as "God's Great Big Rulebook for Life on Planet Earth," with every word being authored by God himself.

    A look at biblical textual criticism and the history of the formation of the Christian canon leads me to believe that the bible is less God's rulebook than a biography written from the point of view of his children -- some of them fawning over God, some of them angry at God, some of them frightened of God, and some of them in love with God.

    We should look less at what the bible says and more about why it was written the way it was. All of these authors did their best to capture God through their own eyes and tried to tell the world what was important to them about God. We should read with rapt attention, but to say "that's it, the canon is closed, everything in this book was written by God, and that's that" is disingenuous when one realizes that if we took that view, we'd have no Protestant Reformation and we'd all still be Catholics right now.

    (Note: this post was not intended as a rebuttal/criticism of any particular person and definitely not intended as a slander against Catholics. I just wanted to put my view in, and the information in the post above is worth exactly what you paid for it.)

    -- Mr. Green Eyes

  18. "They were at one point considered canonical by early Christians and then discarded like last week's leftovers."

    Not so. These have never been discarded. In the Orthodox church, which has been around for 2000 years, there are quite a number of books which are considered historically accurate and beneficial, but which simply are not a part of scripture. (I myself absolutely LOVE the Protoevangelion of James. :)) They are part of our tradition, which of course most Protestants prooftext Mark 7:8 to argue against (this is the problem with hard core sola scriptura, which is itself, ironically, an unbiblical doctrine, but that's another post).

    As for what is Scripture and what is Tradition, I would point you to this: These writings are still a part of the overall jeweled pendant. They are certainly not last week's leftovers. :)

    Here are some good links as to the history of the Bible and its canonization. Interesting stuff.

  19. I was just searching for a realistic, objective biography of Calvin. I got through about 8 or 10 pages at Amazon and I still have not found one. I clicked over here to read the latest post and ahhh - relief,... someone talking about Calvin as he really was - just a man and not a god. I'm used to hearing him venerated, so thanks Lewis, for being a voice of reason.

  20. If I understand correctly, the OT Jewish Bible that the Jews at Jesus time is the same as the Catholic or Orthodox Bible and around 100AD the Jews took some books out for political, theological and language reasons. Fast Forward to 1500 with the Reformation and since Catholics are evil and wrong they must have added these books.

    Reformers then decided that the Jewish Bible must be the correct one. So anti-catholic leaders decided to accept the cannon of anti-christian rabbis of the 2nd century. With this information, I think I'll have to read the Catholic or Orthodox Bible.

  21. Lewis,

    thanks for being willing to open the can of worms. :-) I think we as Christians need to be willing to honestly evaluate why we believe the way we do, instead of just believing what other people tell us to believe. Keep up the good work!


  22. Just came across your blog. Interesting stuff. Coming from a conservative, reformed background, I was always told that the Bible was God's word, as if he wrote every word through the pens of neutral authors, and to question this doctrine was equal to apostasy. But I wondered why that was repeated so often with no way to prove it. I was told God directed the men who decided the canon. So the doctrine of infallibility rested entirely on this doctrine about God's preservation of the scriptures in the forming of the canon, etc., yet not on the actual content of the scriptures included in the canon. So this view of the Bible was determined by an extra-biblical source, namely, a doctrine about the Bible instead of the scriptures' own account of itself. (yes, there are proof texts, but these verses are in individual books and many have differing meanings over what God's word is, depending on the context, and couldn't refer to the canon as we have it since the canon was closed hundreds of years later) So much for Sola Scriptura.