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The Canon Debate

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"This exemplary historical overview should be a prerequisite for all future discussion of the canon in biblical theology."--John J. Collins, Yale University
What does it mean to speak of a "canon" of scripture? How, when, and where, did the canon of the Hebrew Bible come into existence? Why does it have three divisions? What canon was in use among the Jews of the Hellenistic diaspora? At Qumran? In Roman Palestine? Among the rabbis? What Bible did Jesus and his disciples know and use? How was the New Testament canon formed and closed? What role was played by Marcion? By gnostics? By the church fathers? What did the early church make of the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha? By what criteria have questions of canonicity been decided? Are these past decisions still meaningful faith communities today? Are they open to revision?

These and other debated questions are addressed by an international roster of outstanding experts on early Judaism and early Christianity, writing from diverse affiliations and perspectives, who present the history of discussion and offer their own assessments of the current status.

William Adler
Peter Balla
John Barton
Joseph Blenkinsopp
Francois Bovon
Kent D. Clarke
Philip R. Davies
James D. G. Dunn
Eldon Jay Epp
Craig A. Evans
William R. Farmer
Everett Ferguson
Robert W. Funk
Harry Y. Gamble
Geoffrey M. Hahneman
Daniel J. Harrington
Everett R. Kalin
Robert A. Kraft
Jack P. Lewis
Jack N. Lightstone
Steve Mason
Lee M. McDonald
Pheme Perkins
James A. Sanders
Daryl D. Schmidt
Albert C. Sundberg Jr.
Emanuel Tov
Julio Trebolle-Barrera
Eugene Ulrich
James C. VanderKam
Robert W. Wall


"This volume comprises chapters written by more than thirty scholars who discuss a wide variety of historical and methodological topics bearing on the development of the canon of both Testaments. Encyclopedic in scope, the book will long remain indispensable in assessing the evidence as well as many hypotheses past and present on the origin and formation of the Bible."--Bruce M. Metzger, professor of New Testament emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary

"This collection of essays is without doubt the most comprehensive treatment ever published of canon formation in Judaism and Christianity. The most strikingly innovative aspect of the volume is the inclusion of both Testaments. Each is illuminated by juxtaposition with the other. The treatment of each Testament is exceptionally thorough. The subject is approached not only through study of the material that was included but also through that which was excluded--the Jewish and Christian Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. This exemplary historical overview should be a prerequisite for all future discussion of the canon in biblical theology."--John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament, Yale University

The Authors

  1. Lee Martin McDonald

    Lee Martin McDonald

    Lee Martin McDonald (PhD, University of Edinburgh), before his retirement, was professor of New Testament studies and president of Acadia Divinity College. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Biblical Canon, and coeditor of...

    Continue reading about Lee Martin McDonald

  2. James A. Sanders

    James A. Sanders

    James A. Sanders is professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology.

    Continue reading about James A. Sanders


"This is an important dossier on the canon of the Bible. It is rich in content and is a good representation of the main positions defended by Jews and Christians. A certain variety of opinions is discernible when dealing with authors from different communities of believers, but, all in all, the documentation accompanying the various studies permits the readers to situate themselves and to know how they may enrich their personal consideration of the canon as students of the question or as believers. Arguing their own positions, the authors give the reader the opportunity to further their understanding of the problem and, at times, to exercise their critical sense, since some arguments need either clarification or contestation."--Theoforum

"The book, encyclopedic in scope, gathers 32 essays representing the main advances in the study of the canon formation in the last 50 years. Internationally recognized authorities present in a distilled form widely accepted results of research as well as less established fresh interpretations of historical, social, textual, and theological issues related to the origins and the development of the Bible. . . . The book considerably advances our knowledge of the process of canonization of Scripture and, most importantly, challenges our confidence in what we thought we knew about it."--Theological Studies

"The fifteen papers on the canon of the OT and sixteen articles on the canon of the NT make this collection the ideal handbook on the still elusive history of the biblical canon. . . . [An] attractive volume."--International Review of Biblical Studies

"This collection of essays is a state-of-the-art articulation of issues related to the canon. Besides addressing important historical considerations, the book deals with the great theological issues that surround the canon. On this subject the book is indispensable for its level of theological engagement."--Christian Century

"Questions about the origin and formation of the canon always cause a lot of excitement and controversy. Finally, we have a comprehensive book that deals with these issues from a variety of viewpoints. This book is comprehensive because it deals with both the Old Testament and New Testament canon questions with nearly three hundred pages on each topic. . . . I especially appreciated the addition of four appendixes where detailed information is listed on the primary sources for study of the canon and a list of the catalogues of canonical books is recorded in an extremely readable format. If you want one final authoritative opinion on the difficult questions of the canon, this is not the book for you. The authors disagree with each other on substantive issues, but the volume contains a wealth of information on every important topic of canon debate. It should get good attention."--Calvin Theological Journal

"In many ways this volume may well become the canon about the canon: its overall lessons are that canons as phenomena are as full of diversity as the communities which create them and that canons as processes are a remarkable testimony to the complexity of how textual authority emerges within those communities. There are useful appendixes on primary sources for the study of the canon of the OT/HB and on lists and catalogues of OT collections, together with full indexes."--Reformed Theological Review

"While essays in a collection inevitably exhibit various levels of competence and cogency, this assemblage of articles is exceptionally high in quality. The dense erudition and clear-headedness of virtually all the pieces testify to the skill of the editors. Scholars, students, and preachers who study seriously will find here a treasure trove of information. The many Christians who find the uncertainty of the early history of the canon disconcerting will discover here, if not reassurance that the church got it right, at least a sense that the formation of the canon reflects an intense process of theological discernment, one that continues unabated."--Restoration Quarterly

"Many of the most significant scholars in the field of canon research have contributed to the volume. . . . The wide range and high quality of the thirty-two essays in this volume will very likely bear out the editors claim that 'the reader will find these chapters to be foundational for the discussion of the origins of the Bible, probably for some time to come.'"--Review of Biblical Literature

"The various contributions to this book represent a plurality of views, theories, and approaches, and as one would expect there is no uniformity of opinion here. But that is, in fact, a major strength of the book. By combining this diversity into a single volume the editors have produced a work that encompasses the entire spectrum of current opinions on the nature, formation, and influence of the canon. As such, this is a volume that should be consulted by anyone interested in the current state of the question. The extensive appendices, bibliography, and indices greatly facilitate such consultation."--Toronto Journal of Theology