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This post will begin a series of posts exploring the importance of ‘canon’ to biblical interpretation. It will seek to define ‘canon’ for the reader and explore some fruitful ways that viewing the Bible as a ‘canon’ might have on its interpretation.

What is the canon of Scripture and how should this impact interpretation? This is an important question that since the mid 1960’s has continued to gain relevance for biblical scholars. In fact, the two parts of this question were, until recently, often seen as entirely unrelated. For those interpreting the Bible within an historical-critical tradition, the canon of Scripture was seen to be a matter of religious or ecclesial tradition that functioned as a means of imposing authority over the interpreter. In order to arrive at an unbiased (and, therefore, correct) interpretation of the biblical text, it was thought that the biblical interpreter would need to shake free from these chains of oppression. As Barton has put it, “Critical scholars have insisted that biblical books should be ‘freed’ from their context in the Church’s canon of Scripture — a context artificially imposed on them in the past — and studied in their own right.”[1] Questions of canon could still be asked within this framework, but the answers to these questions belonged to the study of theology or church history; the questions of canon were independent from any questions of interpretation.

Fortunately, however, this functional division between canon and interpretation is no longer present for most biblical scholars. In large part, this re-emphasis on canon is due to the works of Brevard Childs, who made a career of pushing back against this divide. In a 2000 interview with John Knox Press, Childs was able succinctly to summarize his conviction that canon and interpretation are interrelated. He stated that,

“the crucial issue turns on one’s initial evaluation of the nature of the biblical text being studied. By defining one’s task as an understanding of the Bible as the sacred Scriptures of the church, one establishes from the outset the context and point-of-standing of the reader within the received tradition of a community of faith and practice. Likewise, Scripture is also confessed to be the vehicle of God’s self-disclosure which continues to confront the church and the world in a living fashion. In sum, its content is not merely a literary deposit moored in the past, but a living and active text addressing each new generation of believer, both Jew and Christian. Of course, the Bible is also a human work written as a testimony to God’s coercion of a historical people, and extended and developed through generations of Israel’s wrestling with its God. Biblical interpretation is a critical enterprise requiring exact handling of the language, history, and cultures of its recipients. The crucial hermeneutical issue turns on how one uses all this wealth of information.”[2]

For Childs, the fact that the Bible is the “sacred Scriptures of the church” should have a profound effect on one’s method of biblical interpretation. Thus, Childs has become the standard bearer for scholars who aim to bring together the questions of what the canon is and how that should impact interpretation.

As the title of this series of posts suggests, it will address that question of how the canon impacts biblical interpretation. Although it briefly will discuss what the canon is, it predominately is concerned with the how recognizing the Bible as canon should impact the interpreter and his/her interpretation. First, as a way of breaching the topic, ‘canon’ must be defined.

[1] John Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (London: Darton, Longman and Todd), 79.

[2] Brevard S. Childs, “An Interview with Brevard S. Childs,” <http://www.philosophy-religion.org/bible/childs-interview.htm&gt; accessed 29/12/15.