Fundamentalism’s Cannons vs. the Church’s Canon

Reflecting further on the tendency of fundamentalists and inerrantists to flatten the voices of Scripture, to blend them or select from among them in order to reduce them to a single voice, it became apparent to me that the early church chose a different path, consciously trying to avoid this.

Matthew rewrote Mark, adding to, subtracting from, and otherwise modifying Mark’s story in numerous ways. Had the church wanted to go the fundamentalist route, there was a clear path to follow: get rid of Mark, and allow Matthew’s voice to reign supreme, unchallenged.

By creating a canon that includes both Matthew and Mark, the church chose the path of diversity, development and adaptation rather than the path of fundamentalist uniformity. It has not, of course, consistently been faithful to that choice. But the canon remains as a reminder, once again with a profound irony, that the fundamentalist attempt to commandeer the Bible to eliminate Christian diversity is at odds with the Bible itself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    If the church had chosen to throw out, say, a regionally-entrenched Gospel According To John, the church would have split (worse than it actually did) Sounds like the compromise position to me. Why else would they allow a Thursday Crucifixion tradition to co-exist with a Friday tradition?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    … Or, perhaps the Church Fathers desired to keep around the most popular gospels precisely so that passages could be elided together in order to obtain the desired interpretation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16246150114835209174 Mel Schriver

    This argument would be an interesting challenge for some of my friends who are more-conservative-falling-off-the-edge-to-fundamentalist. If only for the reason that they firmly believe that the Church Fathers did not choose the canon but that God revealed the canon. Can you suggest a lead reference to flesh out this line of thought?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’m not sure about a lead quote or reference, but I would point out that, if the canon was revealed to the later church (it wasn’t revealed to the earliest church, at least not in its entirety, since they continued to discuss and debate it), then one has the conundrum that God’s revelation continues beyond the canon. It is often the realization of this that leads some from Evangelicalism to traditions like Orthodoxy. Although it seems deceptively easy to talk about “the Bible” as a unity, perhaps the best way to start the conversation is to ask how authoritative they view the table of contents – or the binding, for that matter! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16623045145691355028 Reformed Baptist

    I do not know of any evangelical who says that the Canon was “revealed” to the early church. I could be wrong, but I have often heard that God’s providence was behind the process. As James said it is THIS that leads many Evangelicals to Orthodoxy. If the Scriptures were guided by God’s providence then why not the other councils and decisions of the church? Blake

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    The appeal of (neo)-Orthodoxy always put me in mind of the Council of Jerusalem. The Acts version is a bit more gauzy and Cecil B DeMille while Paul’s account in Galatians claims that it all occurred in private and grants the “so-called Pillars” every sarcasm and little authority. It’s all too easy to view the Councils of the so-called Church Fathers through a similar filter of universal, God-inspired, accord. This view is much more attractive than the theological thrashing out of the Reformation and Today.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Oops!Did I mean to say (paleo)-Orthodoxy…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14247799389009268470 James Pate

    But, when the church included Matthew and Mark in the canon, did it have in mind the two source hypothesis we’ve come to know and love? I thought it believed that Matthew wrote Matthew, and Mark wrote Mark. If that were in its mind, then of course it wouldn’t throw out what a witness to Christ had to say (although there was that one guy who wrote that big book to reconcile all the Gospels–but I forget his name).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12334188123201041182 scott gray

    james pate–that guy’s name was anonymous, and his great grand children wrote lots of music later on.the ‘unified voice theory’ applies not only to the bible. it also applies to any ism you can name– catholicism, evangelicalism, liberalism, environmentalism, socialism, feminism, and the like. i love conversations with individuals who believe in the unified voice theory, especially if their voice is the ‘one true spokesman.’peace–scott

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14247799389009268470 James Pate

    Hi Scott. Matthew is anonymous, but the Gospel was attributed to Matthew by the time it was canonized, right?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11662713010603845622 K. Signal Eingang

    I’d always assumed that diversity of voice was exactly the opposite of what they were going for when the canon was fixed. The only reason the canon had to be fixed was because the one they had was broken! The gospels didn’t just disagree, they clashed. If you’re going to cull the herd, ideally you want to narrow it down to a few that are as like in tone and narrative as possible – Matthew and Mark are a sensible starting point (whether or not the church fathers were aware that one was poaching the other), Luke doesn’t stray too far from their account, and you keep John in for the fireworks, I guess. (Actually I like Scott Ferguson’s explanation better for that last one, I was unaware of that bit of the book’s history)


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