Introduction: Can These Dry Bones Live?
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The fourth definition of the term ‘canon’ in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is as follows: ‘The list of books of the Bible accepted by the Christian Church as genuine and inspired’. Like many dictionary definitions it gives rise to more questions than it answers, for the term ‘the Christian Church’ is complex and itself notoriously difficult to define, especially in the early years of the Christian era. The Church could be defined, at least after the fourth century, as that community which accepts the canonical Scriptures, while they in turn are defined as the authoritative books ‘canonical’ accepted by the Church - a circular argument. Furthermore, how do we understand ‘genuine’? What is meant in this definition by the term ‘inspired’? One thing is clear, however. The term ‘canon’ as it is used variously in the pages which follow is, in the first instance, a theological one, deriving from the first dictionary definition of the word: ‘A rule, law or decree of the Church; esp. A rule laid down by an eccl. Council’. For the shape of the canon of the Bible was eventually established by political debates and decisions within the Church, whatever may have been the origins, heavenly or earthly, of its individually ‘inspired’ books, and there has always remained a degree of instability in both its acceptance and precise limits.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Religious Tradition Fourth Century Dictionary Definition Biblical Study
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