McDonald’s Biblical Canon

Consider this an explanation of the reason that I’ve yanked a 500+ page book out of my “Currently Reading” slot on the blog, after having read not even 100 pages. The book is Lee Martin McDonald’s The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007). I’m just not enjoying this book. In fact I’m finding it hard to read. I blame the editor. Its argumentation is diffuse and meandering. The writing is peppered with infelicities of expression, quizzical solecisms, and astounding propositions.

An example of a quizzical solecism: “These stelae, from around 600 B.C.E. to roughly 300 B.C.E., are quite uniform in style, progressing from one-dimensional to two-dimensional and finally three-dimensional stelae” [pp 39-40]. Now, I suppose he means the artistic depictions on the stelae go from painted (?) to bas relief (?) to sculpture in round (?), but that’s not what he says. A one- or two-dimensional stele is a physical impossibility.

As an example of an astounding proposition:

Along with the Prophets, a body of literature, some of which was written well before 200 B.C.E. and some perhaps even later (e.g., Daniel), circulated widely among the Jews. These writings circulated in Palestine and were later translated from Hebrew into Greek

That is enough for perdition

Academic theology is not enough for salvation. Read especially the ascetic Fathers. From them you will learn true theology, the right attitude of the mind and heart where God is concerned.

Pure prayer is not given to those who study a lot. In that sense, the path of academic theology is hardly effective, and can rarely lead to pure prayer.

God can touch the spirit of man and give him, directly and immediately, knowledge of Himself. There is a great difference between this knowledge and that which is acquired in theological schools. It can be very dangerous to do theology without having an existential experience of life in the spirit of Christ. One risks, in fact, turning the study of theology, especially in its apophatic forms, into a subject like philosophy or poetry. One risks adopting a false attitude, thinking oneself superior, and that is enough for perdition. In our life in Christ, it is another kind of inspiration that we must seek.

Theological science, which is taught in academic institutions and has become an intellectual specialisation open to all, does not give knowledge of God. Knowledge of God comes from life in God, which is born in the deepest place of the heart.

One can be a great scholar, with academic qualifications, and yet remain completely ignorant about the path of salvation.

Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov). Words of Life. (Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 1998). Selected “Extracts from spiritual talks,” from pages 40, 41, and 42.