The New Testament Canon: "Deconstructio Ad Absurdum"? -- By: C. E. Hill

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 052:1 (Mar 2009)
Article: The New Testament Canon: "Deconstructio Ad Absurdum"?
Author: C. E. Hill


The New Testament Canon: Deconstructio Ad Absurdum?

C. E. Hill*

* Charles E. Hill, professor of NT at Reformed Theological Seminary, 1231 Reformation Drive, Oviedo, FL 32765, delivered this plenary address at the 60th annual meeting of the ETS at Providence, RI on November 20, 2008.

Today’s resurgence of interest in the topic of the NT canon has had noticeable effects. It seems it was not long ago that most laypeople were in the dark about the rise and formation of the NT canon, and had to seek out their pastor or local seminary professor for answers. Today that seems to have changed. If you have found yourself conversing about religion with a stranger in an airport recently, as I have, you are as likely as not to hear at some point in the conversation an echo of the words of Arthur Teabing, in Dan Brown’s novel, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”

If the stranger does not mention Constantine, he or she may still be quite assured that the selection of books for the Bible occurred several centuries after the time of Christ, and was a process attended by significant political pressures.

One of my son’s professors at the University of Florida recently asked his class, “Who decided which books would be included in the Bible?” One student confidently responded, “The people with the biggest army.” The professor could think of nothing to add to this brilliant riposte, and simply returned to his lecture.

Similarly, on the question of whether the canon is closed or open, people today seem to know the answer! Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), for instance, stated publicly last July that, “What Barack Obama has accomplished . . . is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance.”1

Christians might comfort themselves with the thought that these are not the pronouncement of bona fide scholars, but vulgar distortions of history abroad in the popular culture. But the problem is, the lay people actually sound a lot like the scholars.

How was the NT canon formed? David Dungan in his book Constantine’s Bible says, “the Christian canonization process involved a governmental

intrusion,”2 and, “When the Roman government, in the person of the emperor, powerfully intruded into the church’s activities, it irrevocably skewed the whole debate by transplanting it into the state’s legal framework where coercive enforcement of...

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