Book Review: The Canon of Scripture, by F.F. Bruce

A few months back over in FB-land, I posted a ‘status update’ basically ‘thinking out loud’.

“Been thinking a lot lately on how the Bible became the Bible and how canon of Scripture was formed.  Would like to know more”

The post went something like that.

I did this because I knew that I have a small handful of friends who went to a couple different bible colleges and I wanted to be pointed in a good direction, instead of just wandering around the internet, hoping I find a good resource.

Just like the dependability if a finely jeweled timepiece, two of those friends sent me some links to check out and offered a few books that they had on hand.

The one I chose, of course, is the one that this little blog post is about.

“The Canon of Scripture, by F.F. Bruce”

Taken from the back of the book, on the dust cover:

“How did the books of the Bible come to be recognized as Holy Scripture?

Who decided what shape the canon should take?

What criteria influenced these decisions?

After nearly nineteen centuries the canon of Scripture still remains an issue of debate. Protestants, Catholics and the Orthodox all have slightly differing collections of documents in their Bibles. Martin Luther, one of the early leaders of the Reformation, questioned the inclusion of the book of James in the canon. And many Christians today, while confessing the authority of all of Scripture, tend to rely on only a few books and particular themes while ignoring the rest.

Scholars have raised many other questions as well. Research into second-century Gnostic texts have led some to argue that politics played a significant role in the formation of the Christian canon. Assessing the influence of ancient communities and a variety of disputes on the final shaping of the canon call for ongoing study.

In this significant historical study, F. F. Bruce brings the wisdom of a lifetime of reflection and biblical interpretation to bear in answering the questions and clearing away the confusion surrounding the Christian canon of Scripture. Adept in both Old and New Testament studies, he brings a rare comprehensive perspective to his task.

Though some issues have shifted since the original publication of this book, it still remains a significant landmark and touchstone for further studies.”

My review in a word:  WOW.

While the back of the book, doesn’t fully do Mr. Bruce’s work justice, he does a great job in answering the three questions posed at the top of that excerpt.  This book is a jewel regarding the history of how the canon of Scripture was formed.

Now, it doesn’t go into a huge detailed writing of how, say, the King James Bible came to be.  No, he stays on track to answer the questions of canon.  Mr. Bruce also does a great job of not bending his book this or that way concerning his own view or take of christianity or christian faith.  He stays focused and gives great insight into many aspects of the history behind what we now know as “The Bible”.

In order to do this, he breaks his book up into a few different sections. first documenting how the Old Testament canon came to be by both Jews and Christians, then he goes into the New Testament canon and other issues concerning that.

There are footnotes on almost every page, I mainly focused on the footnotes where he adds more depth or a little extra to the topic at hand, he also cites other books, texts, scripture references and documents (which I assume would be present in a theological type book like this…but I wouldn’t know, I am very much a layman).  I am going to buy this book and read it a few more times.  There is just so much to enjoy in this book!  I didn’t have my bible with me when reading to cross-reference the scriptures he sites, but I am tempted to do just that when I get the itch to read it again.  Mind you, I wouldn’t need to do this to make sure he is being ‘scriptural’, no, it would be to see in better detail the examples he brings out.   There are many great historical insights to be understood and enjoyed as you read through this piece.  There is a lot to learn regarding everything that has happened in the last two thousand years, and beyond!

To give but one example of something I learned:  I didn’t know that after the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D., that there was a ‘council’ of sorts that was held by some of the influential Jewish leaders of the time.  The purpose of the meeting?  To determine what to do with the sacrificial requirements of the Law now that the temple was destroyed.  Now, this struck me.  Why wouldn’t they just try to do something like in the days of Moses and have a ‘makeshift’ temple?  Also, I remembered that in past times of destruction, persecution, etc., God would normally send a word through his prophet, like in the Babylonian captivity.  To do a terrible paraphrase of the Babylonian captivity:  You are going to be here awhile, make homes, marry, have kids, I will bring you back home later.

This time…there was nothing.  It was there, at that council, that they basically decided to get rid of the sacrificial requirements of the Law.  Could it be that no “word” came because:

  1. Jesus, the Incarnate God, had already warned them about what was to come.
  2. Jesus was the final revelation of Who God really was.
  3. God’s Word had come, fulfilled and nullified the Law and a New Covenant that was sealed with a one-time sacrifice.
  4. His purpose now is to have His Spirit live in and with us.

Just a few thoughts on the matter.

I’m currently reading the appendices where Mr. Bruce has supplied a couple transcripts of lessons or speeches he has given.

I would recommend this work to anyone.  I don’t think that my review could really do the book justice.


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