Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Poll: Text as Corollary of Canon

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Let’s take a poll on this statement from Carl E. Armerding: “Moreover, the development of an authoritative text is a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books.”*

Is the development of an authoritative text a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books?



*The Old Testament and Criticism, 101

25 comments :

  1. The question seems to me to be a non-starter.

    Seriously, how can such be the case when one finds textual variation in almost every MS, even in the original languages?

    And secondly, does an "authoritative text" need to "develop"? or is the basic authoritative text simply "recognized" already to exist (with subsequent transmittal by scribes in a reasonably accurate manner)?

    Absent Papal or Conciliar decrees to which all would be bound, I would think the normal mechanics of transmission coupled with careful textual analysis tend to suffice for all practical purposes.

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    1. Shall we put you down as a "Whaat?" then? ;)

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  2. I think the whole question shows a number of really serious (and common) confusions. Canon is an etymologically old term, which, like many old terms, is being used in a sense which has little if anything to do with historic usage. In its silly modern meanings it should be banned. It's also an unnecessary term. Why not use the term 'List'? 'The List'. 'Canonization' (which I ironically call 'listification', i.e. getting on a list) is also a word we don't need. Canon is an utterly unclear word. Here it seems to be equated with an authoritative list of books, but as Metzger began his book on canon, that's only one option. He asked whether the word should mean 'authoritative list of books' or 'list of authoritative books'. I can't understand why anyone would want an authoritative list of books in this context, but a list of authoritative books would be nice. What can an authoritative list of books do if the books themselves don't have authority? Why would putting a book on a list give it authority? Do Genesis, Psalms, John or Galatians get their authority from being on a list? I don't even think that 3 John does that. Makes no sense. Why talk of the 'development of an authoritative text'? Does the text gain in authority through transmission? Again, crazy formulations which have nothing to do with historic evangelical theology, but everything to do with confusion of terminology which has arisen through carelessness in recent decades ... Sigh :-)

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    1. Shall we also put you down for a "Whaaat?" then? ;)

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    2. I agree with PJW and had put 'Whaat?' before reading this! :))

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  3. If that's the only option, but I'd prefer to boycott the poll.

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  4. I voted "No," if anyone cares. Text form seems to have little to do with a book's canonicity (one thinks of Daniel, for example). The book of Daniel's canonical status never seems to be in doubt, although it circulates in a couple of different text forms. And yes, I plan to keep using the word "canon" and derivatives, since our sources do ;).

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    1. John Meade,

      << The book of Daniel's canonical status never seems to be in doubt, although it circulates in a couple of different text forms. >>

      Are you saying that the folks who regarded Daniel as authoritative accepted both (or, all) forms??

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    2. James, you found me on the right thread ;). I'm saying that aside from the Origen-Africanus correspondence and Jerome's Vulgate there appears to be no evidence that Christians or Jews for that matter ever had an issue with the text form of Daniel. In all of their canon lists without exception "Daniel" is the title. Christians almost certainly intended the longer version in all cases. When Origen comes to Daniel in his Hexapla and later Tetrapla he retained both versions with his signs. So all I'm saying on this matter is that if the ancients had a particular canonical version of Daniel in mind, they never specified it in their lists.

      What's your understanding?

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  5. I do want to agree with Pete Williams's point on "the authoritative list of books" business. I don't think our evidence indicates such a phenomenon. Typically, the use of canon and synonymous terminology refers to a list of authoritative books; that is, the books have authority, not the list. That is my understanding of the intro to the list of books in the list from the Synod of Laodicea (see The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity, p. 132n296).

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    1. What about an authoritative list of authoritative books?

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    2. Whose "authoritative list"? That of the Protestant Reformers? or that of the Greek Orthodox Church? or some other such list?

      And who then makes such an "authoritative list"? Councils? Decrees? Wayne Grudem? Seems like this opens more worm cans than should be necessary.

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    3. Gurry and Robinson: Eric Rowe beat me to publishing a similar comment on Trent. Trent's "anathema" on anyone who does not accept its ruling on the canon of Scripture comes the closest to "an authoritative list of authoritative books." Since this was the first council and canon list to add "anathema," I think it's pretty safe to say it's the first time in history we see such a phenomenon.

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  6. I answered the poll question as it is asked, just whether the one is a corollary of the other, irrespective of my belief in either.

    On the phrase "authoritative list of books," note that the adjective "authoritative" there modifies "list" and not "books." I don't personally recognize the authority of any allegedly authoritative list of books. Roman Catholics have what they consider an authoritative list of books that was written at the Council of Trent. But evangelicals have no such list.

    The phrase "authoritative text" seems more vague to me. In the context of this blog, I will assume that Amerding meant something with a word-for-word specificity, such that all decisions about textual variants must be made by appeal to this particular text.

    I think one could infer (whether rightly or wrongly) from some of the wording of Trent that it also asserted an authoritative text in the Vulgate. I have spoken to Roman Catholics who have told me it didn't mean that, and there was no obligation to give preference to Vulgate textual readings over others.

    So, I can at least say that it must be possible to have an authoritative list of books without an authoritative text, since that's just how it is for the only people I know of who actually have an authoritative list. And even if it weren't for the actual case of Trent, and we just considered it hypothetically, surely someone could have an authoritative list of books, similar to what was decreed at Trent, without having any decree about the particular text of those books or how to deal with textual variants in them.

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    1. Would not there still be limits, however? E.g., if we had a copy of Luke in the abridged Marcionite recension, the book itself would still be "canonical", but would/should we consider its text in that form to represent the essence of such canonicity? Or should we recognize in a manner similar to Trent that canonicity also involves the content of a book that in the main ("in all its parts") still represents the more "normal" form of such, apart from undue abridgement or even expansion outside of the expected tendencies that typify scribal transmission?

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    2. I think there must be limits to what text counts as a particular book in practice.

      But this practical necessity doesn't require that an authority external to the book authoritatively define those limits.

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  7. I voted yes, of course, since I approvingly used this quote in my recent article, "The Ending of Mark as a Canonical Crisis" Puritan Reformed Journal 10, 1 (2018): 31-54 (for the quote, see p. 52). It seems little good to me to defend an authoritative book as part of the canon if that book does not have an authoritative text. Does this recognition come through church councils (as our RC and Eastern Orthodox friends say)? No, but through Scripture's own self-attestation.

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    1. But Jeff, are you conflating canon and scripture in the appeal to self-attestation? I still fail to understand how self-attestation or self-authentication has anything to do with canon, a recognized corpus of authoritative books? Does your article attempt to tease this out?

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    2. John, are you saying that canon and Scripture are not related for evangelicals? I think Amerding was saying that canon is not just a matter of books but also the texts of those books. I did not give this much attention in my paper except to say that whether or not the traditional ending of Mark is accepted as authentic is not just a textual matter but also a canonical matter. I see this emphasis in older Protestant writers like William Whitaker "A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists" (1588), John Owen, "Of the Divine Original" and "Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text" (1659), and Robert Haldane, "The Books of the Old and New Testaments Proven to be Canonical, and Their Verbal Inspiration Maintained and Established" (1830). These men were saying, contra the RC, that the canon of Scripture was recognized not by virtue of mother church but by virtue of its inspiration and authority (so that it is autopistos). This, then, is the connection between canon and self-authentication.

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    3. Hi Jeff, of course I think Scripture and canon are related (for all parties, really), I just don't think they are conflated and therefore to be identified strictly with one another. Thus members of the Christian tradition can treat some books as Scripture that they would not recognize as part of the canon (one thinks of Wisdom or Sirach or even the Shepherd). But I think I understand your point better and the sources whence it comes. Early Christians were aware of textual variants between their copies and they do not seem to tie a particular text form to canon. For the OT, some canon lists specified the Book of 150 Psalms or the Book of 151 Psalms, showing an awareness of one version or the other is the standard Psalter. But this type of thing is rare. They do not specify between books like Jeremiah, Daniel, or Esther for example.

      Anyways, thanks for the clarification and I hope you are well.

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  8. There's no real possibility of a passing-off risk here ... any more than is consistently demonstrated by, for example, KJV-only folk who are passing off a version of an interpretation of a version of the text as the text itself.

    The logical corollary of the question of a canon of works, when we look at the works as they genuinely exist (and not as we would disingenuously like them to), is that each named work references a limitedly-broad but significantly-deep cloud of historical actualities. Whether we call the list authoritative or the works, or both, we are always referring more definitely to a particular version of "the" list than we are a particular version of "the" text of each work on it.

    That said: Armerding is not, in context, talking about whether there is an intrinsically authoritative text as the corollary of an intrinsically authoritative list. He's saying that, in the context of the development of canon, the desire to establish an authoritative textual version is a natural corollary of the desire to establish an authoritative textual canon. That historically the one proceeds into the other. And that's hardly disputable!

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    1. (Still, before I looked it up, my vote was "Whaaat?")

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    2. Frost: "the desire to establish an authoritative textual version is a natural corollary of the desire to establish an authoritative textual canon"

      But is this claim really specific to the matter of "canon"? Would it not represent what one would state regarding any work of antiquity, whether Judaeo-Christian, apocryphal, or classical? If so, the only "corollary" that applies is something like "once any text is recognized to exist in some tangible form, there should be a desire to establish an authoritative version of that text", and nothing more.

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  9. Around the 45:00 minute mark in this recent discussion is some interesting discussion of the relationship between canon and text: https://www.facebook.com/G3Conference/videos/1534679359972709/.

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