Canon and Covenant -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 32:1 (Nov 1969)
Article: Canon and Covenant
Author: Meredith G. Kline


Canon and Covenant*

Meredith G. Kline

[*A version of the substance of this article will be found under the title “The Correlation of the Concepts of Canon and Covenant” in New Perspectives on Old Testament Study (Waco, 1969), a volume of papers presented at the twentieth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in December, 1968. The primary concern of the present study is with the Old Testament canon, but suggestions are made for the extension into the New Testament of perspectives gained in the investigation of the Old Testament.]

The history of the formation of the Old Testament canon particularly its beginnings, has been relatively neglected. A biblico-theological elaboration of the subject along genuinely Scriptural lines has been forestalled by the preoccupation of orthodox scholarship with the critique of aberrant current reconstructions. These modern approaches have concentrated narrowly on the aspect of a final definitive “limitation” of the canon and consequently the attention of all concerned, the heterodox reconstructionists and their orthodox critics alike, has been directed for the most part to developments, whether actual or alleged, in the last pre-Christian and the earliest Christian centuries.

Discovery of the relevant evidence from this period in the library of the Qumran community has been hailed as the most significant new light on the Old Testament canon and has engendered reassessments. However, no really radical revisions of the characteristically modern viewpoint have emerged. Accounts of the subject in the latest editions of the standard Old Testament introductions produced by that school adhere to the same theological posture and the same general historical positions found in the old handbooks on the canon from the end of the last century.

Fohrer, for example, in his revision of Sellin’s work, asserts that the “formation of the Hebrew canon in the strict sense did not take place until the time of Sirach and his grandson”

in the second century B.C., being “completed between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100.”1 This delimiting of a sacred collection of scriptures is said to have been a dogmatic decision reached by way of reaction to threats to legalistic Judaism from apocalypticism, the Qumran faction, and above all from Christianity. More precisely, the process of canon formation supposedly involved three separate stages, each with its own collection of books—the law, the prophets, and the writings. Fohrer traces the pre-history of the process to Josiah’s reformation, to which he attributes “the introduction of the Deuteronomic law as an obligatory norm” for a...

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