The novelty of the canonical approach is questioned and its fascination at least partly traced to the Reformation, as well as to the post-Reformation’s need for a clear and authoritative canon to perform the function previously performed by the church. This does not minimise the elusiveness and deeply contradictory positions both within the canon and triggered by it. On the one hand, the canon itself is a centripetal phenomenon and does play an important role in exegesis and theology. Even so, on the other hand, it not only contains many difficulties, but also causes various additional problems of a formal as well as a theological nature. The question is mooted whether the canonical approach alleviates or aggravates the dilemma. Since this approach has become a major factor in Christian theology, aspects of the Christian canon are used to gauge whether “canon” is an appropriate category for eliminating difficulties that arise by virtue of its own existence. Problematic uses and appropriations of several Old Testament canons are advanced, as well as evidence in the New Testament of a consciousness that the “old” has been surpassed (“Überbietungsbewußtsein”). It is maintained that at least the Childs version of the canonical approach fails to smooth out these and similar difficulties. As a method it can cater for the New Testament’s (superior) role as the hermeneutical standard for evaluating the Old, but flounders on its inability to create the theological unity it claims can solve religious problems exposed by Old Testament historical criticism. It is concluded that canon as a category cannot be dispensed with, but is useful for the opposite of the purpose to which it is conventionally put: far from bringing about theological “unity” or producing a standard for “correct” exegesis, it requires different readings of different canons.
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