An Introduction To Canon Formation.

It is popular in conservative circles to suggest that the formation of the canon, especially the Hebrew/Aramaic, is a matter which rests solely on the witness of the Holy Spirit to the individual believer, or the corporate body. Without deny that this is what enables one to make a true judgement, it fails to note the criteria which the Spirit himself has given us within the scriptures themselves, which in fact reinforces their self-referential authority as canon. The reluctance to see any human involvement in this enterprise stems, I believe, at least in part, from the Protestant response to the Roman Catholic dogma that the church, through her leadership, has the final authority to determine the formation of the canon. Again, also not wanting to deny the error of this dogma, it does not follow that the scriptures themselves do not provide the plenary and conceptual criteria which we not only can refer to, but are in fact commanded to do so.

This paradigm is found in the tests given in determining whom were true prophets and who were not. Although not exhausting all the locations where material may be found, two key passages, logically found in the last book of Moses, who was uniquely confirmed to be a true prophet of God by God, are at Deuteronomy 13, and 18:15-22. The former is a qualifying test to be brought to certain empirical phenomenon. A so-called “dreamer of dreams,” doing ‘wonders’, even if also calling themselves a ‘prophet’, were not speaking the truth if they were advocating a commitment to other gods, other than the One Only God as revealed through Moses in the law. The law was to be referred to in the formation of further canon (vv. 1-5). So serious was this matter, that even if one’s own family were guilty, it was literally a matter of life and death (vv. 6-11), so also for any community which ignored or disregarded this canonical test (vv. 12-18).

Although Wolfe does not specifically apply 18:15-22, he does put forward the following with respect to verses 18, and 20-22. “There are three things to notice in this passage. First of all, we actually have here a critical attitude toward what claims to be revelation. Not just anyone can get away with standing up and speaking for God. Specific constraints are imposed upon the would-be prophet so we can discriminate between real and phony ones. Second, the prophet must relate his message to the Mosaic teaching (“a prophet like you”) and relate his teaching to the already established words of Jehovah (“when a prophet speaks in the Name of the LORD”). This is an application of the coherence criterion. A prophet who delivered teachings totally unrelated to the prophetic tradition was not to be taken seriously. Finally, then there is an application of experiential or empirical constraints. No prophet whose predictions fail is to be believed on other matters. [‘Epistemology. The Justification Of Belief.’ (81)]

Fulfillment in history, one might say, was one part of what went into verifying the veracity of the prophet’s truth claims. Note also that God through Moses also reiterates his previous ‘test’ of whether the prophet is true, that being if he or she “Speaks in the name of other gods” (20). These tests then, not only applied to the formation of the law, or the five books of Moses, but were meant to be the canonical standard going forward with future revelation.

[More to come.]

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