Biblical and Theological Studies Faculty Publications

Toward a Canon-conscious Reading of Scripture: The Legitimacy of Utilizing the Concept of Canon as a Control on the Interpretive Task

Ched E. Spellman, Cedarville University

Ph.D. dissertation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary


This dissertation seeks to answer two broad and basic questions. First, How did the biblical canon come to be? Second, What hermeneutical effect does that canon have on its readers? Though these questions have often been pursued in virtual isolation from one another, there are considerable gains from noting the inherent interconnections between the two lines of inquiry. In examining these questions, I seek to demonstrate that contemporary interpreters of the Bible have legitimate grounds for utilizing the concept of canon as a control on the interpretive task.

In chapter one, methodological issues central to the canon debate are delineated, including the nature of a broad and a narrow understanding of "canon." In chapter two, I examine and develop the nature of "canon-consciousness." Internal and external evidence suggests that a form of canon-consciousness was active among the biblical writers and among the believing community during the composition and canonization phase of the formation of the Christian canon.

In chapters three through five, I seek to provide a theoretical framework for how the concept of canon might function for a contemporary canon-conscious interpreter. In chapter three, I describe the guiding function of the canonical collection in terms of mere and meant contextuality. If the biblical authors and those who were collecting the biblical writings were aware of a larger body of literature, then it is plausible that they could have strategically composed and arranged certain writings in particular ways in order to create a particular intended effect.

After noting the shape generated by the broad canonical context, in chapter four I investigate how the concept of canon informs the study of biblical intertextuality. This chapter examines the way a "production-oriented" approach to the study of intertextuality can function within the canonical context. In chapter five. I utilize the notion of "implied reader" and "ideal reader" to examine the way biblical authors envision a certain type of reader and a certain type of response that their writings are intended to produce. The collective argument of chapters three through five is that the concept of canon guides biblical readers as they investigate the context of a biblical writing (contextuality), the compositional strategy of its author (intertextuality), and the proper response demanded by that author's textually mediated message (ideal reader).