Exploring the Role of a Canon-Within-the-Canon in Biblical Interpretation, part 5

History, Praxis and Paradigm Shifts
Dunn comments ‘that all Christians have operated with a canon within the canon’.[1] This idea is not controversial today in the light paradigm theory (see below) and it is to be expected that if the Bible is a means of grace it will function within the context of the Church’s diverse needs through the ages. For the individual and for local congregations there is a similar and perhaps more obvious inevitability about having an inner canon in that both are finite contingent entities.[2] It should be noted that in this sense such inner canons have a very limited normative authority outside these contexts.

Paradigm shifts illustrate the argument made from praxis above, but on a macroscale. At the same time the inner canon tends to assume a stronger normative function. The application of the paradigm theory of Kuhn, which was posited to explain the development observed in the physical sciences to subjects like theology is not without controversy. However, Bosch has argued in a compelling way, building on Kung’s epochs of Church History, that the Church has tended to adopt a paradigm of mission, based essentially on a single model supported by an individual text. Each text and the associated paradigm is a subset of larger biblical missiology but encapsulates the needs, or nature, of the time, for example:

  1. The text that exemplifies the missionary paradigm of the Eastern Church is John 3:16 emphasising the centrality of Incarnation, the love of God and the goal of mission as life in Orthodoxy.[3]
  2. The text for the medieval Roman Catholic paradigm is Luke 14:23 which fits the emphasis on there being no salvation outside the Church.[4]
  3. Matthew 28:18-20 has become the key mission text in Protestant churches post William Carey.[5]

In short, for our purposes, we can note that there is a strong case to be made that despite the broad nature of mission presented in the Bible, for a range of complex historically contingent reasons, it has often been the case that a single text has been the inner canon of the Church’s mission. The point might well be made that this identification with a single biblical motif is simply eisegesis in the sense that the context of the Church largely dictates the nature of mission read from scripture.[6] Indeed Bosch’s thesis is that the consequences of both postmodernism and world-wide Christianity are a context in which, perhaps for the first time, the Church might recover a sense of biblical mission that is broad and holistic.[7]

Much of our discussion thus far points to the inevitability of operating with an inner canon. The next post is an appropriate point to assess the desirability of an inner interpretive canon.

[1] Dunn, Canon, p.559.
[2] For example: (i) when I became a Christian (1986) all I held a crude doctrine of justification by faith which was made effective by the penal substitutionary atonement of the Son of God. This provided a lens through which I read the Bible. Whilst I would still hold to this lens, other texts that seem to say something complementary, or even contradictory, now mean something else to me as this inner canon has evolved, (ii) my local church has been, we feel, lead in diverse ways to Deuteronomy 10:18-19 as a necessary exhortation to mission.
[3] See Bosch, Mission, pp.208-209.
[4] Bosch, Mission, p.236.
[5] Bosch, Mission, pp.340-341.
[6] In Bosch’s work it is unclear whether the text is an inner canon or rather reflects a more complex web of historical contingency.
[7] Bosch, Mission, pp.511-519 and passim.

Author: PsalterMark

Psalm addict, disciple, son, husband, father, academic, theologian, cacti grower, steam enthusiast and ale drinker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s