In doing some work on the doctrine of Scripture I have now read through Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture? and wish to commend it to you for your reading. Here’s why:
Tied into our view of the Bible is our view of the Church. No matter how much we’d like to say “The Bible is my only creed” the facts are against such a view. Why? The Bible we believe in did not drop from the sky, nor was it discovered in a bundle all at once — Presto! there it is on the day the last book was written. There’s no signs that God’s big business was getting the whole Bible put together so we’d have something for our sermons. It’s all messier than this.
Instead of a clean single act of arrival, as Craig Allert has made abundantly clear, we need to recognize three phases in the “arrival” of our Bible:
Phase 1: the central core of what we now call the New Testament — Gospels and major letters of Paul — rose to prominence in the 1st Century. These books were probably called “Scripture,” they were authoritative, but they could not yet conceivably be called “canon.”
Phase 2: in the second and third centuries Acts and the Catholic epistles etc rose to the level of the Gospels and major Pauline letters, these “New Testament” books were called “Scripture” alongside the Old Testament, but the word “Scripture” was used for more books than those we now find in the New Testament. [This is a big point for all of us.] Some of the books called “Scripture” are now found in what we call the OT Apocrypha. There is not yet something we can really call the “canon.” What was called “Scriptures” was more open than many of us think.
[I think Allert’s view of the word “canon” is tightly defined, perhaps too tightly. Once we have a collection of Four Gospels with Irenaeus we have the rudiments of a “canon consciousness”.]
Phase 3: in the 4th and 5th centuries there developed a clear sense of “canon” and the 27 books we now read were in that canon. But, there was some dispute over which books and there was some openness to other books.
The major thrust — in fact, it dominates the book — of Allert’s intelligent and important book is that one is hard-pressed to believe in the Bible without believing in the process the Church used to discern those books. In other words, the notion that we can believe in the Bible alone wrecks against the reality that Bible was never alone and is never alone. There is always a Church with it. To believe in the Bible is a tacit belief in the Church that discerned which books were in the “canon.” The Bible emerged out of the Church as its primary authority for doctrine and practice, but it was not alone — the Bible and the Church are together. Which also means that belief in the Bible is also belief in the creedal understanding of the gospel that was at work in the Church as that Bible rose to the top of its sources of truth.