Bible or not Bible: a canon with fuzzy edges

I was intrigued by the lectionary options when planning ahead for the licensing and admission of new LLMs (Readers). This will take place on 16 September, which is also the feast of St Ninian (technically a lesser festival). According to the Church of England’s provision, the recommended gospel for the Eucharist is Mark 16:15-end.

Depending on the translation you are using, you may struggle to find this as anything more than a footnote. Most modern editions are fairly clear that this ending of Mark is a later addition to the text. Most Christians before the end of the 19th century read it as a matter of course as part of their Scriptures. Many still do: notably the Orthodox and those Protestant groups wedded to the King James Bible.

It therefore seems to represent what might be called a fuzzy edge to the canon. Many evangelicals, especially those wedded to the idea that divine inspiration resides in the non-existent (but more or less reconstructable) original manuscripts,  insist that Mark 16:9 following (and John 7:53-8:11) are not scripture.

However, this is not a universal view, even among evangelicals. Peter Gurry suggests here (effectively on the basis of the reading tradition of the church) that it can be considered as Scripture. A majority of his readers disagree on the basis that it is not original.

It sharpens up the question, which is already pointed: what is the canon, if it is not the list of books the church reads as inspired scripture. There is some kind of mutuality between church reading and book read, which shapes the concept of canon and scripture alike. Texts like the longer ending of Mark challenge that, by not quite fitting the pattern of mutuality.

I have blogged on the idea that Scripture has a fuzzy-edge before now. It seems to me that the existence of such passages as this, as well as disputed and differing practices in reading the deuterocanonical texts, compel this conclusion. We can agree the core: we struggle to reach consensus on the periphery.

Perhaps there’s something providential in discovering that even when it comes to canonical Scripture, God’s Word has a certain resistance to tight and tidy definition.

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