Seven Basic Axioms About the Bible and Four Faulty Assumptions: Thoughts from Lee Martin McDonald

When you need a good book on the topic of the canon of Scripture one name that immediately comes to mind is Lee Martin McDonald. The man has done an amazing amount of work on the issue and anything by him is an important contribution. Newly released from Hendrickson Publishers is Formation of the Bible: The Story of the Church’s Canon.  In the first chapter he offers seven basic axioms about the Bible and four faulty assumptions.

1)      The Bible is a Library of Books.

2)      The Bible is a Library of Related Books.

3)      The Bible is a Library of Ancient Books.

4)      The Bible is a Library of Oriental Books.

5)      The Bible is a Library of Redemptive Books.

6)      The Bible is a Library of Translated Books.

7)      The Bible is a Library of Selected Books. (21-24)

Here are four faulty assumptions.

1)      “First, it is often assumed that if one ancient writer in a given location claimed that a particular writing was sacred scripture, then all writers of the same era, location, and elsewhere throughout the Roman Empire drew the same conclusion. . . . On the contrary, the early churches had a variety of beliefs and practices, and the variety of their perspectives is well known among biblical and early church scholars.” (25)

2)      “Second, it is often assumed that the early Christians responded to the second-century heresies by producing a fixed or set collection of sacred scriptures, that is, a biblical canon. However, there is nothing in the history of the second- and third-century churches that supports this view. What we see in those writings is that the early Christians answered theological challenges (often termed ‘heresy’) by setting forth a canon of faith (i.e., commonly affirmed truths), often called in Latin the regula fidei (‘rule of faith’) that had been passed on in the oral traditions of the churches from the beginning of the church in the first century.” (26)

3)      “Third, it is often assumed that whenever an ancient writer cited or quoted a particular text, that the text must be regarded by that writer as sacred scripture. Again, nothing justifies this conclusion. Some quotations were simply used as illustrations and were not cited in a scriptural manner, as when Paul cites ancient philosophers or poets in his speeches (e.g., Acts 17:28; Tit 1:12). Rather, each quotation or citation must be considered in its own right to determine how the writer viewed or made use of the source.” (27)

4)      “Fourth, and similarly, some Bible scholars assume that the total number of writings cited or alluded to by the early church fathers constitute the books that they believed were sacred scripture . . . what is often forgotten is that the listed citations or allusions were often produced to address specific problems in specific contexts. The authors in such cases appealed only to those writings that would necessarily advance their arguments or perspectives in those situations, but this cannot be used to argue that the ancient writers, whose writings may only have partially survived, cited all of the literature that they considered sacred and inspired.” (28)

Formation of the Bible is a paperback with 192 pages and sells for $24.95.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to Seven Basic Axioms About the Bible and Four Faulty Assumptions: Thoughts from Lee Martin McDonald

  1. Pingback: Around the Web | Scripture Zealot blog

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