The Biblical Canon Lists From Early Christianity

Oxford U press have sent  some weeks back a review copy of Gallagher and Meade’s new book.

The Bible took shape over the course of centuries, and today Christian groups continue to disagree over details of its contents. The differences among these groups typically involve the Old Testament, as they mostly accept the same 27-book New Testament. An essential avenue for understanding the development of the Bible are the many early lists of canonical books drawn up by Christians and, occasionally, Jews. Despite the importance of these early lists of books, they have remained relatively inaccessible. This comprehensive volume redresses this unfortunate situation by presenting the early Christian canon lists all together in a single volume. The canon lists, in most cases, unambiguously report what the compilers of the lists considered to belong to the biblical canon. For this reason they bear an undeniable importance in the history of the Bible.

The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity provides an accessible presentation of these early canon lists. With a focus on the first four centuries, the volume supplies the full text of the canon lists in English translation alongside the original text, usually Greek or Latin, occasionally Hebrew or Syriac. Edmon L. Gallagher and John D. Meade orient readers to each list with brief introductions and helpful notes, and they point readers to the most significant scholarly discussions. The book begins with a substantial overview of the history of the biblical canon, and an entire chapter is devoted to the evidence of biblical manuscripts from the first millennium. This authoritative work is an indispensable guide for students and scholars of biblical studies and church history.

I appreciate the review copy but was a bit surprised when the cover letter which arrived with it was addressed to someone named Michael Kruger.  I’m not sure who Michael Kruger is but I am positive I am not him.

The volume is made up of six chapters, an introduction, an appendix, a bibliography, and a couple of indices.  In regard to the chapters these are

  1. The Development of the Christian Biblical Canon: A Survey of the Early Period
  2. Jewish Lists
  3. Greek Christian Lists
  4. Latin Christian Lists
  5. The Syriac Christian List
  6. Selected Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Hebrew Manuscripts

These ‘canon lists’ are relatively hard to find in one place and the present volume solves that problem.

What counts, and what counted as Scripture in various communities across Christian history is a very important question because when we talk cavalierly about ‘the Bible’ we have to specify, even now, what we mean by that.  Do we mean the Hebrew Bible?  Do we mean the Greek Bible?  The Protestant Bible?

The question becomes even more complicated the closer we get to the early Church.  Now we have canons by the dozens and we have to ask even more specific questions about whose canon we’re discussing.  Do we include the Shepherd of Hermas?  Revelation?  The Didache?  1-2 Maccabees? Judith?

How did Christianity manage to develop within its fold so many varieties of Scripture and how did they differentiate between them?  Those are the questions this very helpful study discuss.

The volume has a decent ‘feel’ about it in terms of typography and layout.  The only shortcoming, in my view, is the exceptionally small font used for the Greek and Syriac and Latin texts.  I realize that I’m advancing in age whilst no one else seems to be, but tiny font is uncomfortable to deal with.

Footnotes are copious and thorough.  In some instances there is more note than text, which is perfectly fine with me.

Will readers find the present work helpful?  I think so.  Will it be useful for undergrad and graduate students?  Certainly.  Will readers ‘read through it’ as though it were a monograph or a novel?  I think probably not.  This volume feels more like a reference resource than it does a ‘read right on through it’ book.  People interested in Greek canon lists will refer to that chapter whilst persons interested in Latin lists will find their home there.

I think the volume is completely worth the reader’s time.  Just not all at once.  The reading of lists can be a tiresome task and of the making of book lists there is no end.  Fortunately, here, readers find all the essential lists in one location and don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to track them down in various places and volumes.  For that alone our authors are to be thanked.