We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Canon and Calendar

Enduring communities are characterized by marks of identity. A person or family, even in a foreign land or in a polis (city) of plural cultures, can be identified by observing or practicing such marks.

In Judaism and Christianity, as in most religions, there are two basic identity-giving marks: canon and calendar. If a neighbor celebrates Christmas in early January one immediately knows that he or she is a member of an Orthodox Christian community; if a neighbor celebrates Hanukkah rather than Christmas one knows that neighbor is a member of a Jewish community of faith; if a neighbor observes Ramadan one knows the neighbor is Muslim. But such marks are not primarily for the information of neighbors; they are first and foremost means whereby each new generation in a community may know who they are and what they stand for.

Knowledge of one's canon of Scripture gained in community provides in-depth faith identity. Knowledge of Scripture recited in community is a principal means whereby each new generation of that community may know who they are and what they stand for, wherever they happen to live or whatever may happen to them. On the other hand, if one's identity is primarily shaped by definitions acquired in the secular community, one's individual reading of Scripture may create distance between the reader and Scripture's story. Abraham and Sarah in such an individual reading may remain simply remote figures in history; and such reading is encouraged by the modern mind-set and supported to a large extent by the tenets and tendencies of western scholarship, with its concern for sources of the literature and the origins of individual biblical figures. By contrast, when the Abraham-Sarah story (and its Jewish and Christian sequels) are read in a faith community, they become primary marks of an individual's identity beyond any trait peculiar to the individual alone. The faith community becomes thereby the principal identity-giving force, and the individual knows herself or himself as a person within that community. Not only is the community more than the sum of its parts, it (rather than the individual) is the starting point for self-understanding.

The power of the community so perceived can be overwhelming and even abusive to the individual. The Westerner who travels for the first time to third-world nations is often impressed with how dehumanizing and oppressive such communities can be. But third-world citizens traveling to the West often perceive the opposite danger: the disintegration of any sense of community, the denigration of community values, and the abusive pursuit of “self-realization” which cares little or nothing for even the closest neighbors or their plight. The Renaissance in the West brought many correctives to the community's smothering of individual gifts and graces. But the loss of community brings its own pains and voids, including a lack of consciousness of identity by which the individual gains a sense of roots and of fulfillment which spans generations and even ages.

Within the Bible there is a rather poignant debate or dialogue about individual responsibility within the community of faith. The very concept of covenant, which pervades both testaments, stresses corporate or community responsibility. There are several forms of covenant manifest in the Hebrew Bible, but they all deal with God's relation with corporate Israel. That is basic, but within that relationship individual responsibility eventually became a conscious issue of faith and obedience. The basic statement of corporate responsibility may be found clearly stated in Exod. 34.6–7 : “…the LORD, the LORD, a God…who punishes children and grandchildren to the third and the fourth generation for the iniquity of their fathers.” And that concept is never completely abandoned. Somewhere between the defeat and destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (722 B.C.E.) and that of the Southern Kingdom of Judah (586 B.C.E.) there was, however, considerable debate about the relation of individual to corporate responsibility (Jer. 31.29–34; Ezek. 18; Gen. 18.16–33 ). In the rise of Judaism out of the ashes of defeat, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia in 586 B.C.E., the notion of individual as well as corporate responsibility undoubtedly was very important in helping Jews scattered all over the Near East to survive in the belief that they could be obedient, could please God, and could avoid being punished again because of the manifold sins of their ancestors (Ps. 1; Ezra 9.6–15; Neh. 9.32–37 ; et passim). The covenant was still with Israel as a people, but within it individuals would express both faith and obedience. The classical understanding of Judaism arose out of this fruitful tension: “A Jew is called to the service of God and Judaism is the expression of that service.”

Still today, by following weekly synagogue lessons, Jews throughout the world read in community the entire Pentateuch, or Torah, each year, just as Christians throughout the world read traditional lectionaries in cycle. Read in this way, Scripture as canon also provides each faith community with a common sense of values; members know what is expected of them as individuals and as a community. A canon provides answers to the two basic questions of life—“who are we?” and “what should we do?”—in ever-changing circumstances and situations.

Even while canon was only emerging (before Scripture had a particular structure), it had an identity-defining function in the community. Early oral traditions about what God had done for and with ancestors in the faith functioned in the precanonical period in much the same way oral recitations of Scripture in community function even yet. This steady and constant rehearsal of the roots of faith-identity keep that identity ever fresh, because the traditions are heard in ever-changing situations. This canonical process has provided a filtering factor, so that only those traditions survived which were adaptable to new situations and were truly life-giving. That is, the traditions which persisted were capable over and over again of reviving a sense of continuing identity in different situations. The same process of community recitation has provided the ongoing community with fresh strength to be obedient to the abiding principles of that identity even when the precise modes of obedience had to be altered and modified to fit new circumstances.

This on-going function of canon, whether in its early oral and fluid stages of repetition/recitation or in its later more stable stages of recitation of Scripture, is called norma normans, a Latin expression literally meaning “norm norming.” It is Scripture as canon at work in the community, doing its thing again and again for each new generation, but marvelously never in quite precisely the same way each time. Each new set of circumstances brings a slightly different (or in the case of trauma a radically different) light to bear on hearing again the old story or stipulation. Traditionally this has been identified as the on-going work of God's shekinah or holy spirit. Believing communities that have survival power thus understand God to be giving continuing guidance through the past (Scripture) and in the present (the spirit). Word and spirit are the two power-giving elements of the faith of a believing community. Sometimes they have seemed to move together to provide the strength needed in given situations, sometimes they have seemed at odds.

At those times of crisis when new situations have seemed to demand new thinking and new departures have been indicated, word and spirit have sometimes seemed at odds. However, eventually Scripture has been found to contain within it the grounding needed for the community to “recapitulate and transcend” the crisis with identity intact, albeit reshaped for the new day. Is this experience of the flexibility of canon purely “eisegesis,” that is, reading the new into the old? No. Scripture by its very nature and because of its history of formation in canonical process is adaptable for life. How so? Those traditions in which early communities found value for their continuing common lives, and which they recited again and again in ever-changing circumstances in their early histories, are the self-authenticating ones which make up Scripture. These traditions had the potential of becoming canonical because, from their first use, they were sufficiently multivalent to speak to different, changing situations.

But canon as norma normata, a Latin expression meaning “norm normed,” or shaped in a certain way, is also pluralistic to a certain extent. When one speaks of “canon” one must specify of which canon and of which community one speaks. Community does affect the shape of canon. Though close to each other in content, the short Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible, the Protestant first testament which has the same books but a different order, the longer Roman Catholic canon which includes books important to some pre-Christian Jewish sects, or the several Orthodox canons, do differ from each other in ways that are significant for each community. Yet, each of these collections is pluralistic within itself, to the extent of providing internal dialogues on many issues a community or an individual in the community might face. That is, even if one thinks of a canon as being a certain set of books, there is both considerable fluidity of order and content, according to which canon one addresses, and a certain amount of dialogue within each one. As a result of the historical process of canon formation, a community's canon has the voice or voices necessary to address new situations—whether a community is dealing with stability and the threats of prosperity or with discontinuity and the threats of trauma. If it was time to settle down, God was called on as God Most High; if it was time to move on to new ventures, forced or voluntary, God was called on as a guiding deity on the move and ready to accompany the community in pilgrimage. But because of the compression of so many views of God into one, it was eventually believed that even the most high God was capable of “going with” and “being with” the people whatever their fate (compare Exod. 33.16 and 1 Chr. 29.10–16 ).

The canonical process was thus parallel to the monotheizing process, the process of viewing Reality whole. Thus, there is movement from normal ancient belief in numerous deities, each with differing attributes and “job descriptions,” to belief in the One God, with a heavenly council and heavenly hosts (made up undoubtedly of the many gods of normal polytheism but now denied all power in themselves). That God is seen as sole God of all creation, heaven, earth, and even the chthonian (underworld) regions—indeed, the God of risings and fallings, victory and defeat, life and death (e.g., Deut. 32.39; 1 Sam. 2.6–8; Lk. 1.52–53 ).

It was believed, even so, that the one God of all that is had a special relation to the Abraham-Sarah family and community (Deut. 32.8–9 ) for whom God had in mind a special mission and task toward all peoples (Gen. 12.1–3; Isa. 2.2–4 and 51.1–6 ). While even those passages noted can be matched by others for dialogue within the canon, there is clearly a monotheizing thrust to the whole epitomized in the first three of the Ten Commandments: no polytheism, no idolatry, and no co-opting of God's name for one particular view or agenda (Exod. 20.1–7; Deut. 5.6–11 ). The one God is God of all peoples. There is an integrity to Reality which is beyond description and proof but is the first article of biblical faith for all communities which find their identity in its basic story and shape their lives in its light.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2019. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice