Book Write-Up: The Canon of Scripture, by F.F. Bruce

F.F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture. IVP Academic, 1988. See here to purchase the book.

F.F. Bruce was a renowned evangelical biblical scholar. As the title indicates, this book, originally published in 1988, is about the canon of Scripture: which religious books Judaism and Christianity treat as canonical, and which ones they reject.

Here are some thoughts:

A. In 2004, I attended a debate between Protestant James White and Catholic Gary Michuta about the canon of Scripture, specifically the question of whether the deuterocanonical writings are divinely-inspired and authoritative. White, of course, said “no” and Michuta said “yes.” White argued that the New Testament largely agrees with the Palestinian Jewish canon that eventually emerged out of Jamnia, which excludes the deuterocanonical books. The early church fathers, by and large, treated the deuterocanonical books as non-canonical: as useful for edification, but not as authoritative for Christians. It was the Catholic Council of Trent in the sixteenth century that declared that the deuterocanonical writings were canonical. Michuta, however, presented a different historical scenario. In his scenario, the deuterocanonical books were accepted by the early Christians, and the New Testament even alludes to some of them. It was the Jewish Council of Jamnia that later excluded the deuterocanonical books from the canon. The Council of Trent affirmed what Christians have long believed. To which of these scenarios is Bruce closer? Probably the White model, at least overall. But Bruce acknowledges some messiness, as when church fathers treat non-canonical books as authoritative.

B. Bruce lays out the conventional historical data that are relevant to canonization, making this book an effective primer on the topic. The book is rather lacking, however, in laying out the canons of different Christian communities, preferring instead to focus on Catholics and Protestants. There were interesting details that I learned from this book. For example, many students in introductory New Testament courses learn about Tatian, a second century Christian who combined the four Gospels into a single narrative, a harmony of the Gospels, if you will. Students are usually taught that the New Testament is not like this, for it preserves the distinct accounts of four Gospels. Bruce provides more information about Tatian, saying that Tatian believed in vegetarianism and showing how that belief impacted Tatian’s harmony of the Gospels. Bruce also highlights when church fathers changed their minds about the inspiration of certain books.

C. The book includes a presentation by Bruce on the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” This must have been delivered before scholars concluded that the “Secret Gospel” was a forgery concocted by biblical scholar Morton Smith. Bruce evaluates its authenticity and concludes that the author of Mark’s Gospel did not write it. He is not aware, though, that Morton Smith created it, for he thinks that it was something that Clement gullibly accepted as authentic, just as Clement gullibly accepted other sources as authentic.

D. There is not a whole lot of theology in this book. For example, Bruce argues that Daniel 11 depicts the fall of Antiochus Epiphanes in light of the fall of the Assyrian in Isaiah 14 and 31 as well as the destruction of Gog in Ezekiel 39. This is an important detail, but Christians may then wonder, in this scenario, how all three biblical writings are true: is Daniel relating what Isaiah and Ezekiel are saying to a situation that is outside of their frame of reference, when they may have been relaying what they thought would occur in their own times? The dearth of theology, at the same time, allows Bruce to be honest with the sources. For instance, Bruce says that Justin Martyr’s belief that it was Christ who appeared to Moses at the burning bush contradicts the view of Jesus, who thought God the Father appeared to Moses.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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