Exploring the Role of a Canon-Within-the-Canon in Biblical Interpretation, part 6

The Quest for Understanding the Bible on its Own Terms
There is not space herein to begin to explore what Childs famously termed a crisis in Biblical Theology. Childs’ reasons for arguing that such a crisis existed, and the fallout of his claim, are widely documented elsewhere.[1] The ‘crisis’ that Childs responds to is not entirely dissimilar to the problem that Barth challenged post-1915. Both Barth and Childs defend using the Bible as Holy Scripture as part of their respective hermeneutical programmes. In this sense Childs sees himself as following Barth.[2] Whatever else we might make of Barth’s doctrine of Revelation and scripture (see the six earlier posts on Barth), his focus on the sache (subject matter)[3] of the Bible seems eminently sensible.

More recently, Dunn has argued that on the basis of the diversity of the New Testament writings, that a unifying inner canon is necessary.[4] He argues persuasively that there is no need for some arbitrary choice and therefore a plurality of rival legitimate inner canons. Rather the key unifying narrative of the New Testament is ‘Jesus-the-man-now-exalted.’[5] Later he expresses this differently in arguing that the Christ Event is the inner canon[6] and in fact we might change perspective and see Jesus as the canon through the canon[7]. In this sense we have essentially a unity which comes from faith; the thing that galvanises the New Testament together is recognition of a coherence based in the self-revelation of God in Christ. This is precisely the substance of Barth’s theological breakthrough – the Bible has a sache, one and the same Jesus Christ which Dunn argues for, the same Jesus Christ who was the unquestioned pre-critical centre of the Bible. As Barth recognised, it was the Enlightenment that had deluded interpreters to stand on a different rock to view the Bible.

What Dunn and Barth essentially suggest is close to the so-called Rule of Faith. Despite protestations from the Reformers, the necessity of an interpretive lens through which to focus the diversity of Scripture has a long pedigree from Irenaeus onward. [8] The Rule of Faith was often referred to as ‘the rule’, i.e. Greek kanōn.[9] In this sense the Rule of Faith has been recognised as an inner canon for much of church history. It is an inner canon because the Rule of Faith contains nothing which is not to be found in Scripture. In this connection it is notable that ‘the rule’ was not fixed. It might be argued that it is not so much about specific information, though it always has this guise, but rather it’s about a stance of faith. A faith in what Jesus Christ as Son of God accomplished. Though later creeds were to play a similar role to ‘the rule’, the necessity of fixing their wording perhaps unhelpfully casts them as what Abraham calls an epistemic norm.[10] Perhaps their essential stance of faith given their point of departure as credo, i.e. “I believe”, is too easily masked by the detail.

Thus through these diverse voices of Irenaeus, Barth and Dunn, amongst others, we have some justification for seeing the necessity of a stance of faith in the core elements of the Christ Event as a legitimate inner canon. Our next post will develop this further as we examine the inevitability of presuppositions.

[1] See, for example, the succinct summary Childs, Biblical Theology, passim and the wider context in Brueggemann, Old Testament, pp.42-49.
[2] However, see Barr, Biblical Theology, pp.408-412 and his criticism of Childs’ interpretation of Barth.
[3] See Burnett, Exegesis, pp.74-78 for the subtle nuance of meaning intended by Barth.
[4] Dunn, New Testament, pp.374-376.
[5] Dunn, New Testament, p.376.
[6] Dunn, Canon, p.562.
[7] Dunn, Canon, p.572.
[8] See Abraham, Canon, pp.151ff.
[9] See, for example, Wright, Creed, p.258.
[10] Abraham, Canon, for example, see p.1.

Author: PsalterMark

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

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