“The Canon Within The Canon”: An Assessment of Brian Zahnd and Christocentric Hermeneutics

imageImagine a Calvinist and an Arminian in a room together reading Scripture. Eventually, there would be a strong disagreement between the two regarding some the meanings of some passages. Why is this so? Of course, all of us interpret Scripture differently – this is a truism in the (post-)evangelical climate of America. Christian Smith has also brilliantly discussed the issues of biblicism and the different sets of beliefs (theoretically, up to five million!) possible within Protestantism.[1] What are some better ways we can discuss these interpretive issues without throwing Bible verses at each other?

To discuss these issues further, I want to use the concept of “the canon within the canon”. This phrase refers to the key passages that make up the essence of Christianity for a particular group or interpreter.[2] These key passages determine the interpretation of “divergent” passages from the established core. For example, let’s say someone takes Luther’s statement seriously that justification is “the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine”. If one follows this approach, then one prioritizes the passages which explicitly discuss justification over and against other soteriological texts. However, disagreements over the meaning of a passage is not exclusively an Evangelical or Protestant issue. Catholics and Orthodox also have their respective disagreements concerning interpretation as well. One could even say that Orthodox and Catholics have their own “canon within the canon”! One could say that this “canon within the canon” could stem from the earlier practice of interpreting the “ambiguous” or “difficult” passages in light of the “clear” or “plain” passages. The difficulty is determining what is actually “clear” and what is “ambiguous”. What is clear to one may be ambiguous to another, and vice-versa.

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Searching For Meaning, Part VI: Textual Criticism

We now move into second section of Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning, which explores the world “within the text, or the concern to understand the actual words of the text regardless of the events that inspired them or the reader who is reading them” (xviii). This chapter covers textual criticism, which “seeks to discover, as far as is possible, the original version of the text found in a manuscript and to remove errors or alterations that have been made by scribes when they transcribed the document” (47). This differs from source, form, and redaction criticism as textual criticism works with physical copies of New Testament manuscripts, whereas the previous historical criticisms theorize on the development of a text. This methodology requires a functioning knowledge of Greek (or Hebrew, if one is working with Old Testament texts) and an understanding of ancient scribal transmission. This is, by far, one of the most technical methodologies within New Testament studies.

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Searching For Meaning, Part V: Redaction Criticism

The fifth chapter of Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning discusses Redaction Criticism. It is “the study of the way in which the Gospel writers ‘redacted’ (edited) their source material” (38). As I’ve mentioned before, source, form, and redaction criticism have similar interests and overlap in methodology. Source criticism focuses on discovering and analyzing the sources of a text, while form criticism aims to “isolate these small units of tradition and then discover how these units were used within the [oral] community.”[1] According to Randolph Tate, redaction criticism presupposes source and form criticism, focusing “upon the author’s use and alteration of the traditions rather than upon the sitz im leben of the traditions themselves.”[2] The main difference between form and redaction criticism is that the former assumes the material in the Gospels developed over time within the community, while the latter assumes that the authors of the Gospels also functioned as editors. In other words, they “selected, arranged, and altered their sources and traditions according to their own theological purposes or those of their community.”[3] Unlike form criticism, which divides the literary units within any given text, redaction criticism “emphasizes the unity of the text, the manner in which the smaller units are arranged to form a single unified whole.”[4] Like source and form criticism, the Synoptic Gospels have been the focus of redaction criticism due to the historical nature of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

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Searching For Meaning, Part IV: Source Criticism

imageThe fourth chapter of Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning covers Source Criticism, which is “the attempt to discover the sources used by an author in the construction of a text” (28). Source criticism is sometimes considered the mother of form and redaction criticism, as it establishes the historical source that other methodologies base their work upon. Source, form, and redaction criticism (which we will cover in the next article) are born from historical-critical interests, “each separating source material from editorial material, tradition from redaction, with source criticism pursuing evidence of written sources underlying the text, form criticism investigating its oral antecedents, and redaction criticism (at least in its earlier manifestation) engaging the editorial remainder.”[1] Source criticism in the context of Old Testament studies has been largely focused on the sources of the Pentateuch and Hexateuch, often associated with the JEPD hypothesis.[2] In New Testament studies, the Synoptic Gospels are the main focus of source criticism, though the Epistles have also undergone similar treatment.[3] The root concern of source criticism is identifying the “sources within the text”, if any exist.[4] According to Randolph Tate, when “a portion of a text [is] thought to be uncharacteristic of the author’s style, vocabulary, or ideology, source critics usually suspect that the author has drawn from a source”.[5] Though it isn’t free of historical and literary issues, source criticism has been popular in modern biblical studies since the nineteenth century.

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Koinonia and Cash


Money is often a deeply personal topic that many want to avoid, and that is especially true in some Christian circles.  Discussions about money in church settings are usually hush-hush, with facts and figures coming up when it comes to how much money has been raised for a new project.  Asking your fellow church member, or even anyone on your church staff, if they actually tithe, give to charity, and/or donate to others is a topic many shy away from.  This topic is rightly avoided for at least one reason: we should be cautious about not letting our left hand know what our right is doing when it comes to our charitable deeds (Matthew 6.3).  So what does cash have to do with koinonia?

I wrote a guest post for Patricia’s blog, Gentile Next DoorRead the rest of my post here.

Interviewing Ikons: Fr Aidan Kimel

Fr Aidan Kimel served as an Episcopal parish priest for twenty-five years.  He entered into the communion of the Orthodox Church three and a half years ago. In an earlier life, when his brain still worked, he published essays in Pro EcclesiaAnglican Theological ReviewScottish Journal of Theology, Interpretation, Sewanee Theological Review, and Faith & Philosophy.  He now lives a tranquil retired existence in the foothills of Roanoke, Virginia, where he writes articles no one reads (or so he thinks) for his blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy.  He currently writes on the Church Fathers and other theologians, drawing from both Eastern Orthodox (such as Alexander Schmemann, John Zizioulas, John Meyendorff, Hilarion Alfeyev, Kallistos Ware, John Breck, John Behr, Paul Evdokimov) and Western Theologians (Thomas F. Torrance, Robert W. Jenson, E. L. Mascall, Robert Wilberforce, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Joseph Ratzinger, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, Herbert McCabe, and C. S. Lewis).

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Trinity For Me, Please

imageMark Sandlin’s post “No Trinity For Me, Please” has been making the rounds with some of my friends. Sandlin makes a few striking claims in regards to the Trinity, including this strong statement:

[B]iblically there is no mention of the Trinity. There are a few places where the Spirit and God are mentioned somewhat closely together but they are few and far between – and even then, the text is far from clear if it is talking about a Trinity. If anything, it seems to be talking about three distinctly different entities. Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quelled some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory. A somewhat politically motivated theory at that. And it’s a theory that the Bible puts absolutely no energy toward explaining. I’m not saying the theory of Trinity is wrong. I’m just not saying it’s definitively right, which is exactly what many of its adherents do when they say that if you don’t believe in the Trinity, you can’t be Christian.

I’d like to challenge these sentiments by examining them in light of baptismal practices in Early Christianity. Sandlin states that the Trinity is a “politically motivated theory”, so I am going to assume that he is suspicious of the formation of Trinitarian thought within the Early Church Fathers (2nd - 10th century). He has also stated that he is suspicious of the Gospel of St. John. Therefore, I will limit my discussion to certain passages in the New Testament and the often overlooked work known as The Didache (mid to late 1st century).[1] We have to agree with Sandlin that there is no strict literal mention of the word “Trinity” in Scripture.[2] Are we then limited to a strict theological vocabulary only found in Bible? Is the Trinity “biblical”? Is it necessary for Christians to discuss God in Trinitarian terms?

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