The Canon Of The Old Testament -- By: Edwin Cone Bissell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 043:169 (Jan 1886)
Article: The Canon Of The Old Testament
Author: Edwin Cone Bissell


The Canon Of The Old Testament

The Rev. Edwin C. Bissell

The Greek word for canon (κανών. has an interesting history. Its original meaning was a straight rod or ruler. Then, as being itself straight, it came to mean something that measured or tested straightness in other things, both material and immaterial. It stood, especially, for the norm, or regulating principle. Grammatical rules, for example, were called “canons.” The monochord used as the basis of musical intervals was styled their “canon.” Great epochs in history, made to serve in the determination of intermediate dates, were entitled “chronological canons.” And in a still more pertinent sense, a certain higher class of Greek authors, taken collectively, were spoken of as forming a literary canon, that is, as furnishing a worthy model of good taste in composition. This last usage marks the final stage in one line of development, the word going over at this point from an active into a passive sense. From being used to measure something, it was used for something that had been itself measured and so had passed into the category of approved standards.1

Now, if our information ceased here, we should infer that the present somewhat extraordinary technical use of the term canon arose in this way. But it is not at all probable, since the word, even in its Greek form, has gone through almost precisely the same series of changes in biblical and ecclesiastical literature. In the original of the apocryphal book of Judith,2 for instance, where we first find it, it is employed in its primitive sense of a

straight rod, improperly rendered in the common version “pillar.” In the New Testament it twice occurs with the meaning of measure or norm,3 and in the second of the two passages (2 Cor. 10:13) there is already a foreshadowing of the later patristic usage. Clement of Rome 4 still adheres, in general, to the New Testament definition; but Clement of Alexandria,5 who speaks of the “canon of truth,” and others of his contemporaries we find broadening it to signify, not a single rule alone, but the leading, fundamental principles governing the church of Christ. So, little by little, the word took on the higher meaning of a rule of doctrine, a certain correct type of teaching as over against that which was erroneous or heretical. From this point the transfer...

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