A Non Sequitur in the Argument for the Canonical Approach to Scripture

Articles Leave a Comment

What is the “canonical approach,” and in what respect is its main supporting argument a “shell game”?

Revised: 05-Dec-2008

One approach to Scripture that has gained a strong following since its appearance in the early 1970’s is the so-called “canonical approach,” associated with Brevard Childs (†2007). This way of reading the Bible assumes that literary aspects of the Bible in its final form, including aspects not native to any of the individual writings, should have a bearing on what the Bible is said to mean. Although this approach appeals to many of the more pious habits of thought that Christians have concerning the Bible, I am convinced that it represents a huge step away from the approach of the early Church.

Although I have long recognized the debt that Childs’ approach owes to a certain non sequitur, it is only recently, while watching an online lecture by Childs’ student Christopher Seitz, that I came to see just how central this non sequitur is for this approach. In some respects, of course, referring to Childs’ argument as a “shell game” is unfair, as it is obvious that Childs was not doing anything dishonest with his arguments about “meaning,” while those who work real shell games (like those I have personally witnessed on 52nd Street in New York) know fully well what they are doing. I say this as more than just an admission that my rhetoric, in this respect, is not trimmed to fit Childs’ true intentions, but also to make the important point that many (like Childs himself?) are attracted to the canonical approach for pious-sounding but misguided reasons.

What is the “canonical approach,” and in what respect is its main supporting argument a “shell game”? Simply put, the “canonical approach” is a way of reading Scripture in which those aspects of the biblical canon that postdate the work of the individual authors (e.g., the ordering of the books within the canon, the addition of a spurious ending to Mark, etc.) are viewed as aspects of what the Bible “means.” “Scripture” is construed, on this view, not as a collection of writings to be interpreted according to what its authors mean, but in a corporate sense as well, as if the arrangement of the whole were itself “authored.”

Paid Content
Premium Members and Friends of JP must be logged in to access this content:

If you do not have a paid subscription, please consider registering as a Premium Member starting at $10/month (paid monthly) or only $5/month (paid annually): Register

One Time Purchase Rather Than Membership
Rather than purchasing a membership subscription, you may purchase access to this single page for $1.99 USD. To purchase access we strongly encourage users to first register for a free account with JP (
Register), which will make the process of accessing your purchase much simpler. Once you have registered you may login and purchase access to this page at this link:

Login & Purchase

Leave a Reply

  • Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier is the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio (scheduled to open in Fall 2008). Jack earned his doctorate in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he wrote a dissertation…
    [Read more about author]

  • JP Content

  • Suggested Reading

  • Hospitality Heritage of the ChurchPetros Petra WordplayHistorical Jesus a Tanna FIDeliver Us From Evil6 Stone Water JarsEnemies of the HarvestWere Women Segregated?Luke 9-51-56—A Hebrew FragmentUnlocking the Synoptic ProblemNew Portrait of SalomeInsulting God's High PriestLoving BothMedieval JargonBeating the (Thorny) Bushes title 2Gergesa, Gerasa, or GadaraPG‘Everything Written…in the Psalms About Me’ (Luke 24-44)And OR In Order To RemarryAnti-Jewish TendenciesScribal ErrorsAllegro to ZeitlinTwena With All Due RespectTorah in the Sermon on the MountBethsaida 002Flusser Times of the GentilesIf Your Eye Be Single cover imageIntro to SynopticStewards of God's KeysBy the Finger of GodPower of ParablesTrees of LifeBest Long-TermFlusser Parables of Ill ReputeNew International JesusReich Design and MaintenanceSafrai Synagogue CenturionNun GergesaSabbath BreakersNeot KedumimWealth of Herod the GreatGood Morning, ElijahMiraculous CatchSalted With FireJewish Laws of Purity in Jesus' DayMidrash in the New TestamentAesop's Fables and the Parables of the SagesJesus’ Temptation and Its Jewish Background