Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Open Canon of Scripture: Gods Words Never Cease



"Some Christians, in large measure because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles. Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity."

Elder Holland goes on to say that "the fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease."

"One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: 'On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? . . . If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” We humbly ask those same questions."

"Continuing revelation does not demean or discredit existing revelation. The Old Testament does not lose its value in our eyes when we are introduced to the New Testament, and the New Testament is only enhanced when we read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In considering the additional scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints, we might ask: Were those early Christians who for decades had access only to the primitive Gospel of Mark (generally considered the first of the New Testament Gospels to be written)—were they offended to receive the more detailed accounts set forth later by Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of the unprecedented passages and revelatory emphasis offered later yet by John? Surely they must have rejoiced that ever more convincing evidence of the divinity of Christ kept coming. And so do we rejoice..."

"One other point needs to be made. Since it is clear that there were Christians long before there was a New Testament or even an accumulation of the sayings of Jesus, it cannot therefore be maintained that the Bible is what makes one a Christian. In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ “ In other words, “Scripture itself points . . . away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.” So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation."

-Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “My Words . . . Never Cease

8 comments:

Jack Mormon said...

Many traditional Christians cite Revelation 22:18 as their justification for a closed canon. Rev. 22:18 states, "...if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book". Furthermore, they use Revelation's position as the last book in the Bible as additional justification.

But it would seem like that Rev. 22:18 applies only to the specific vision given to John in the book of Revelation, and not to the entire Word of God itself. There is no logical reason why God would speak to us only for the first 4,000 years of our recorded existence, then suddenly slam the window of heaven shut.

Clean Cut said...

That's right. Elder Holland actually addressed that in the talk as well:

"One of the arguments often used in any defense of a closed canon is the New Testament passage recorded in Revelation 22:18: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of . . . this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” However, there is now overwhelming consensus among virtually all biblical scholars that this verse applies only to the book of Revelation, not the whole Bible. Those scholars of our day acknowledge a number of New Testament “books” that were almost certainly written after John’s revelation on the Isle of Patmos was received. Included in this category are at least the books of Jude, the three Epistles of John, and probably the entire Gospel of John itself. Perhaps there are even more than these.

"But there is a simpler answer as to why that passage in the final book of the current New Testament cannot apply to the whole Bible. That is because the whole Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume—did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection. Of the entire corpus of 5,366 known Greek New Testament manuscripts, only 35 contain the whole New Testament as we now know it, and 34 of those were compiled after A.D. 1000"

Mormon Heretic said...

Clean Cut,

Sometimes I think that Mormons have a closed canon as well, especially when we compare the LDS with the CoC. In our current D&C, we had about 134 revelations prior to Joseph's death in 1844. Since then, there have been just 3 (5 if you count the official declarations ending polygamy, and ending the priesthood ban.)

Yes the CoC has about 50 new revelations since 1861--the most recent one added in 2007. What do you make of that?

Clean Cut said...

Well, I don't think you could definitely say it is "closed", even if we haven't added to it much lately. Even some Evangelical scholars (I'm thinking specifically Craig Blomberg) have conceded that the Christian canon is open in theory, but closed in practice. In fact, in "How Wide the Divide?", in their joint conclusion in the chapter on scripture, Robinson and Blomberg write: "At least some Evangelicals believe the canon is open in principle, though virtually all believe it is closed in practice, while Mormons believe the canon to be open in both principle and practice."

But the irony is duly noted. It's important enough for us to have an open canon in order to accept the Book of Mormon and subsequent revelations, but the questions might be asked: How often should one expect the cannon to be added to? What would you like to see added, if anything, to the canon as we now have it? What is the Community of Christ's criteria for determining what to add to their Doctrine and Covenants?

Mormon Heretic said...

I'm not sure if your questions were rhetorical or not, but I'm going to answer them the best I can. What revelations would I like to see? I think women should either be allowed to exercise the power of priesthood blessings they used to do (up thru the 1940's), or they should be granted the priesthood just the same as men.

Other than that, I don't have any real expectations for future revelations, other than I wouldn't mind seeing the Proclamation on the Family added as a D&C section, and original revelations from Lorenzo Snow and Spencer W Kimball to replace the Official Declarations we have now. I also think it would be nice to have more frequent additions to the Doctrine and Covenants, as the CoC seems to have. Nobody is as prolific as Joseph Smith--and I do wonder why some sections of the D&C--especially mission calls--are there. They don't seem to hold relevance to the general church.

I'll have to invite FireTag to fully answer your question about how the CoC adds revelations. My post on Pres Veazey on Scripture Literalism has some comments from Firetag about canonization of D&C sections. If you check the 1st page of comments, comment #6, FireTag talks about it first, but continues in some of the other comments. Briefly, here's what he said:

We canonize D&C additions quite often. I gather if a revelation is given in the LDS, you accept it, and THEN may seek personal testimonies of its truth (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) We are supposed to do it in the opposite order. Think about the issues, pray and discern what God wants us to do as a people, and then the Prophet almost “confirms” the word heard by the people.

Now that isn’t the way it works in practice. High levels of leadership usually come to a conclusion about what should be done, and then they sell it to the membership in advance of any actual inspired document being brought to the conference and quorums. If they themselves are not sure what to do, they may be open to listening to the people, but if they are not sure, it’s more likely that the process will merely tread water until they are sure. Frankly, much of the “discernment process” involves “discerning” whether there is sufficient support among the membership to push through what the leadership believes to be right.

Rich Alger said...

I have also thought about how the rate of adding to our canon has slowed. Perhaps we are not ready as a people to accept more. We need to practice more fully the truth we have been given. I am reminded of the first several hundred years of the Book of Mormon. Nephi and Jacob, then very little from the stewards of the records.

I would not be surprised if "The Family:A Proclamation to the World" is eventually canonized. Perhaps also "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles"

I think it is important to note when that the Pearl of Great Price was not canonized until 1880. (See its introductory note). Even though these additions were authored mostly by Joseph Smith the acceptance as cannon was many years later.

Perhaps this is a pattern for dispensations. The works canonized of Moses is much more than those of the 165 years after his death. Who knows when any of these early writings were canonized?

Rich Alger said...

I have also thought about how the rate of adding to our canon has slowed. Perhaps we are not ready as a people to accept more. We need to practice more fully the truth we have been given. I am reminded of the first several hundred years of the Book of Mormon. Nephi and Jacob, then very little from the stewards of the records.

I would not be surprised if "The Family:A Proclamation to the World" is eventually canonized. Perhaps also "The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles"

I think it is important to note when that the Pearl of Great Price was not canonized until 1880. (See its introductory note). Even though these additions were authored mostly by Joseph Smith the acceptance as cannon was many years later.

Perhaps this is a pattern for dispensations. The works canonized of Moses is much more than those of the 165 years after his death. Who knows when any of these early writings were canonized?

thefirestillburning said...

Joseph would never have gone into the grove if he'd been confident he knew the answer.

Maybe the CofChrist gets direction more often because we get ourselves into a crisis more often -- for better or worse.

Maybe as your growth brings you more into engagement with the rest of humanity so that you are less set apart as a culture, you'll need to seek more direction beyond "personal" revelation.

Maybe you're awaiting your blossoming as the Nephites did from contact with Zarahemla. It's a big world; I doubt that God has run out of things you can do.

FireTag