Name Your “Canon within a Canon”
Brevard Childs has argued that the process of canonization allowed for a certain ‘leveling,’ a general equality as it concerns the various books of the Bible. Obadiah is just as authoritative as the gospel of Matthew, and Genesis just as seminal as Philemon. While I do think there is great merit in such a view–quite a Jewish view, no less, as the Jewish Midrashim affirm just such an equality, using one text to interpret another–none of us is an entirely disinterested interpreter. We all have our own experiences, ideologies, and idiosyncracies that inform our reading of texts. And because of this, the canonical ‘leveling’ is in a way distorted.
I’m all for being an honest interpreter of the biblical text, noting that I have a particular set of spectacles through which I and I alone view the text. I also have my own canon within the canon. My view is not as limited as Bultmann’s, who emphasized essentially John and Paul alone as authoritative for teaching. Nor do I agree with Bultmann here (though to be fair, he wasn’t making this point) that one’s canon within a canon bespeaks what one deems authoritative and what not authoritative. Perhaps it is better to speak of gradations of authority? To do so is only to be honest.
(A brief disclaimer: I am not intending to imply here that those books not mentioned are not authoritative for me or for anyone else. Nor do I desire a reevaluation of the concept of canon or the results of canonization. I am simply here trying to be honest about how I read. It only helps me. And those who read me).
So, I present to you my canon within a canon:
Whew. That was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. Any surprises? There are a few that alllllllllllllllllllllmost made it on the list (Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-3 John), but as I reflect upon how I truly read the biblical text, this list seems a good fit. For now.
And so I ask you . . . . what is your canon within the canon. Why?