The Value of a Personal Canon
It is my opinion that Christians need to know the Bible’s origin when we study scripture personally and in worship. That compilation of books which have been determined as the rule of faith or the measuring stick by which we learn about God and our relationship to the Divine. We call those books the Biblical Canon.
The Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, which we largely share with the Jewish faith, began with Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Leviticus, then added Deuteronomy and Judges, but the final form took another 200 years to complete. This was the work of councils of Royal scribes as they labored to preserve the royal history and heroic legends of their faith as society moved from oral tradition to written record.
The New Testament was also finalized by councils of men who gathered to determine which texts were to be used as the standard for the Christian faith. The Gospels also came first by way of oral tradition with the first Gospel, Mark, being recorded or written down in approximately 40 C.E. The list of books we hold as authoritative to our faith or the canon that we have today is not the only one in existence. Many other lists were compiled, especially early in Christian history, but eventually, the list was finalized first to the Catholic Canon. Then during the time of the Reformation, some of those books were weeded out, and the list of scripture we read today as Protestants came into
These lists were carved out by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the councils that came together to prayerfully consider what to include and what to exclude. I think we can be confident that the Holy Spirit guided these men because…well, they were human and prone to disagree, just like we are today. Yet they were able to eventually agree through compromise and prayer. In my opinion, that was a miracle. And knowing the history behind the text that we hold as sacred enables us to speak to the critics of our faith who would say that what was chosen to be our canon of scripture, what comprises our bible was an arbitrary process, therefore discredited. That is simply not true. It was good, faithful, Holy Spirit work. When we know the history, we can make an informed argument for the truth that lies within the pages of this book we call sacred text.
I mention all of this to introduce the idea of the personal canon. We have the Old Testament and New Testament canon, and we each have a personal canon. The personal canon is the list we, as individuals, compile as authoritative in our expression of Christianity. We all do it, consciously or unconsciously. Certain books, scripture passages, or even single verses are chosen from all the rest, and they become the measure or standard by which we live out our faith. Just think of all the passages you have underlined in your bibles, all those scriptures that stay with you and sustain you.
Those are included in your personal canon.
Compiling our personal canon is a natural consequence of our life experiences and who God created us to be. They are good for us to recognize and hold onto. They are for our personal discipleship but should not be used as authoritative in another person’s life. We often mistake our preferences and our meaningful passages as superior. The scriptures we hold to are the passages everyone should favor because they reveal true faith or true Christianity…no. It stands to reason that God would lead a uniquely designed person to scripture that speaks to their soul, and if we are unique, then those
scriptures would not be the same for everyone.
For instance, I am drawn to the Gospel of John. While I love each of the gospels, John’s lens on Jesus is the one that most resonates with me. I have a dear friend who loves the radical Jesus of the Gospel of Mark. I draw life, encouragement, and inspiration from Matthew’s 15th and 18th chapters, the Christmas story in Luke. Romans 8:38-39, Galatians, and 1st John (especially chapter 4) speak to me from the epistles. Still, I know brothers and sisters who cling to Revelation. Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, and Isaiah are a few of the Old Testament scripture I hold dear. My choices are not superior. They are just the ones that I would include in my canon. What books, passages, and verses do you hold near and dear? What have you read from the bible that gives you life? Determining our canon is worthwhile because it will provide insight into what you value and why.
My next Pastor’s Corner will arrive after the season of Advent has begun. I would like to challenge anyone who is looking for a project to make your Advent more meaningful this year to start compiling your personal canon. Look at what speaks to you. Examine your life and think about why the words you gravitate to touch you. If you feel inspired, share that with someone. I am convinced you will learn
about yourself, others, and most important, God. Blessings on your work! Amen?!