The existence of the extra-canonical books is probably the first fact we learn when we begin to consider question on the canon. I know this was how it was for me, and like many my first step was learning of the existence of the Apocrypha. Of course, once you know of the existence of these mysterious books that the faith leaders around you never mentioned, you have two choices: ignore the elephant in the room or dive down the well that is what theologians know and suppose about the formation of the canon.
It’s potentially faith shaking for everyday Christians to learn about canon formation, but this is all the more reason to talk and reason about it in our churches. The internet has been the undoing of many obscure knowledge, and the church, facing the dilemma of shrinking numbers and crisis of belief in the inspiration and infallibility of the Word, should consider how to appropriately educate the membership. It’s increasingly evident that we can either choose to address these topics, or choose to let someone else educate our membership while giving up our influence on how facts are presented.
We know that the victors get to write the history, but a particularly interesting and/or frightening idea I came across in my reading was a position taken by the scholar Robert Wilken, in his book The Myth of Christian beginnings. Wilken supposed that the idea of the apostolic age was a creation of the “great church”, or orthodoxy. According to Aichele, there is extant manuscript evidence that the first century church was far more diverse than church history indicates. A fundamental tenant of the faith, and especially that of the Churches of Christ, is that first century Christianity was simple, relatively uniform due to apostolic influence and temporal proximity to Christ, unified against and because of oppression and persecution, and the foundations are laid out in the Bible itself.
A revelation to the tune of Wilken’s position would be far more faith shaking than simply learning about the human influence on the canon. However, I imagine that a theory such as Wilken’s would need a large amount of data and proof to overthrow the more mainstream teachings on the apostolic age. Then again, maybe I haven’t reached that depth of scholarship yet and the conversation is already well underway.
I feel that coming into this class I was confident that I was heavily interested in textual criticism, and seeing the text for what it is. Questioning the text’s authenticity or authority was not something I would have thought would be on the agenda, but I find myself intrigued, and if honest, a little worried. Ultimately though, I have to trust that God has entrusted me with the tools to receive his Word and effect change in my own life and sphere of influence.