Takeaway: The Bible has a long history.
I started listening to this because I am looking for a book on the history of the canon and how we use scripture to recommend as an introduction. Before this week I have told people that I have read and enjoyed this book. But once I was into it a little but I realized I have not actually read this before. I thought I had read it, and maybe I had started it, but I had not read it.
Jaroslav Pelikan is an important scholar of the history of Christianity. I first read him in a Christian history class in seminary. Some day I will get back and read the rest of his series of five books on the history of the development of Christian doctrine. Pelikan was a professor at Yale from 1962 until his retirement in 1997. He was also a Lutheran pastor for most of his life until 1998 when he converted to the Orthodox Church.
I believe that “Whose Bible is It?” was the last book he published and one of the most popular in orientation. I have listened to several interviews with him and have always been impressed both with his Christian faith, but also with his desire to teach and his desire for ecumenical understanding.
“Whose Bible Is It?” follows right along with that focus. The first part of the book talks about the formation of the Christian and Jewish canon of scripture and how and why the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish bibles are different. Mostly this is a historical survey but it does not dive as deeply as some might like, but probably more deeply than many will read.
I was asking a friend for a recommendation about the formation of the cannon. My friend said the problem is that most books have too much of an agenda to push and that in general you should stick to shorter articles about the formation of a cannon because too much detail usually clouds the issue. So far in my reading I agree with him.
I think Pelikan does a fairly good job balancing detail, agenda, and bias with his history. You can never remove all bias, but I think more people will complain about his ecumenical survey than any other particular bias. Pelikan’s problem is that he adds too many details.
The second part of the book is devoted to the history of biblical interpretation. I have been reading a lot about the history and method of biblical interpretation, so this was a good addition, but if you are just looking for information on the formation of the cannon, you might get bogged down in the second part.
The biggest problem is that Pelikan’s language can be a bit obtuse and it he wanders down some paths that I think he should have skipped if he wants to have a popular focus, but not deeply enough down others if he wanted a more academic focus.
I am still looking for a good book to suggest to people about scripture. I am looking for something on using the bible (hermeneutics) as well as something that describes the creation of the canon. That might be the same book but it does not need to be. If you know of a popular level book that meets either of these two areas please let me know in the comments.