An Ontological Definition Of “Canon”? -- By: John C. Poirier

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 24:4 (NA 2014)
Article: An Ontological Definition Of “Canon”?
Author: John C. Poirier


An Ontological Definition Of “Canon”?

John C. Poirier

Kingswell Theological Seminary

Michael Kruger’s most recent book calls for a revised understanding of “canon” as the confluence of a closed-canon definition, a “functional definition,” and an “ontological” definition. Kruger intends his call to replace the now-common understanding of “canon” as (simply) the closing of a corpus of Scripture. This article seeks to show that Kruger’s complaints against the exclusive use of the closed-canon definition of “canon” are unfounded and that his attempt at an ontological definition is problematic.

Key Words: canon, Scripture, hermeneutics, Michael Kruger

During the past several decades, scholars have increasingly used the word canon to denote the closing of the collection of books that the church regards as Scripture, over against an older convention of using it simply as a synonym for Scripture.1 This distinction between canon and Scripture, popularized by Albert Sundberg in a number of writings,2 is intended to provide conceptual clarification for the development of the idea of the “Bible.” Scripture, on this understanding, refers to the attribution of authority to religious writings, while canon refers to the idea that only a limited corpus

of writings can be considered Scripture.3 In the words of Sundberg, “the church received ‘scriptures’ from Judaism, but not a canon.”4 It is often implied that this use of “canon” is simply a matter of modern convenience, but it is rather more than that: it corresponds closely to the way the term came to be used at the end of the fourth century.5 As Ulrike Mittmann and Rouven Genz note,

At the turn of the [fifth] century, Macarius testifies to the consolidation of terminology. Previously, in the Canon of Laodicea or with Athanasius, reference to the Christian canon was made by the expression “canonical books” (τὰ κανονικὰ βιβλία resp. κανονιζόμενα βιβλία). Amphilochius had spoken of a “canon of divinely inspired Scriptures” (κανὼν τῶν θεοπνεύστων γραφῶν). ...

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