This question was asked as a follow-up to my recent post, “Since all religions consider their sacred books inspired, how is the Bible unique?”
Q. If what you say is true, then why doesn’t the Christian community periodically open debate/discussion on what additional Christian literature could be included in the present library (canon)? That is, additional (not to be read “supplemental”) literature that, as time rolls on, more and more contemporarily brings greater global value to the witness of that outworking of the divine-human relationship?
Even though I said in my last post that “God inspired the Bible while human authors were in the process of writing to address concerns that had arisen within the believing community,” and even though to this day the ongoing life of that community raises new concerns well worth addressing authoritatively, I would nevertheless argue that the canon of Christian Scripture should be considered closed. And I would argue this on the very same basis that I answered the original question about the uniqueness of the Bible.
Specifically, while I also said in that post that the human authors of the Bible “used their God-given abilities to a significant degree to shape not just the form but arguably even the content of the sacred books,” I also noted that “it can be recognized in retrospect that the impulse for them to do this actually came from God.” And this happened in such a way that, paradoxically, we can also say that much of the initiative behind the creation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures was divine, even though the initiative behind the composition of the actual books themselves was ostensibly human.
Here’s what I mean. The biblical books, in terms of when and why they were written (as opposed to simply what parts of the story they tell), are actually clustered around significant redemptive-historical events: the exodus of ancient Israel from Egypt; the establishment of the Davidic monarchy; the exile and return; and—consummately—the coming of Jesus Christ to “fulfill” all that came before and bring the unfolding story of redemption to its climax. When we see the Bible in this light, we recognize that God’s contribution to the creation of the Scriptures was to initiate these events; the human contribution was to reflect on them under divine tutelage and express how the community should conduct and reorient its ongoing life in response to them.
Moreover, also when seen in this light, the biblical books, taken together, tell a story that has already reached its conclusion, that is, its dramatic resolution, even though it has not reached its actual ending. To borrow some images from the biblical story itself, the rightful king has now taken his throne; what remains is for his whole realm to acknowledge his authority. Alternatively, we might say that the marriage has already taken place; now the bride and groom must work out how to “live happily ever after,” which (as in a real marriage) will require significant character transformation, at least on the part of Christ’s bride the church—that is the part of the story we are in now.
And the ultimate ending, the return of Christ as acknowledged ruler of his entire realm, is already anticipated and depicted within the biblical story. So our part today is not to add more books to the Bible, as if its story needed more filling out. Rather, our part is to live out the section of the story between its dramatic conclusion and its actual ending—the section between the “already” and the “not yet.” This will necessarily involve more working out, including in writing, of concerns that arise within the believing community. But as valuable and worthwhile as many of these writings will be, they do not need to be added to the Bible. Its story is complete.