Revisiting the Concept of ‘Closed’ Scripture

The term ‘closed canon of Scripture’ often surfaces in theological discussions, but it might not accurately represent the inherent potentiality of the Scripture. It is crucial to understand that while we currently have a Scripture to which no additions are being made, it doesn’t imply that it is ‘closed’. In fact, the Scripture remains perpetually open to the degree that God can augment it whenever He so chooses.

This theological understanding is founded on the belief that while Soteriological history is deemed complete, leading to a perceived completion of the Bible, God’s word, embodied in the Scripture, is always open.

Additions to Scripture: The Authority of a Prophet

Additions to Scripture, if any, can only occur if God ordains a prophet who has the ability to demonstrate his divine authority and speak in line with previously revealed revelations. The guidelines for distinguishing a true prophet are elucidated in the book of Deuteronomy.

Interpreting Deuteronomy: Discerning the Divine Voice

Deuteronomy 13 instructs that if a prophet or a dreamer of dreams presents signs or wonders that come to pass, yet he advocates for the worship of unfamiliar gods, his words are to be disregarded. These circumstances are tests from the Lord to discern our undivided love and devotion to Him.

Deuteronomy 18:20-22, on the other hand, cautions against those prophets who presumptuously utter words in God’s name that He has not commanded, or who speak in the name of other gods. The litmus test for false prophecies is their failure to manifest or their lack of alignment with the truth.

The Fear of God and the Third Commandment

The fear of God guides us in the observance of the third commandment: to not take God’s name in vain. This is not about refraining from irreverent language; it is about safeguarding God’s reputation and living in reverential fear of misrepresenting Him. Proposing an open canon, implying that the Scripture might be added to, is a weighty claim that cannot be fulfilled casually. For who among us can demonstrate prophetic signs at will or speak on behalf of God?

Implications and Power of an Open Canon

An open canon perspective carries significant implications. It upholds the integrity of Scripture while simultaneously keeping God’s conversation, power, and authority alive. It paints the Bible not as a static, first-century manuscript but as a vibrant medium of dialogue with God that’s pulsating with life.

Under this perspective, we are ever-ready to hear His voice again. If God so wills, He can add to the Scripture — be it one book or a hundred. Just as our current canon emerged organically, any additions would likewise be organic, maintaining the Scripture’s dynamic nature.

This view of Scripture, as an organic and open canon, invites us into a living, evolving relationship with God, a dialogue that continues to reverberate with His divine wisdom and love.

Adding to the Canon: A High Bar, Yet Open Possibility

The idea of adding to the canon might sound audacious, and understandably so. However, I’m open to this possibility. But it’s crucial to remember that the standards are steep. Fulfilling the stringent criteria as set forth in Scripture for anyone to be considered a divinely ordained prophet is an incredibly high hurdle. Thus, the likelihood of anyone meeting these standards in the near future seems slim.

Nevertheless, it’s important that our apprehensions don’t prompt us to coin theological safe-word such as “closed.” This does not align with the open nature of Scripture as highlighted in the canon itself. Such terms might offer a semblance of security, but they could misrepresent the actual dynamic nature of the Scripture. Therefore, while remaining open to potential divine additions, let’s refrain from incorrect and uncanonical labels that confine our understanding of the Scripture.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    15 replies to "The Myth of a “Closed” Canon: An Open Dialogue"

    • C Michael Patton

      Well, the Apostle we’re prophets, among other things. They spoke with the authority of God (2 Cor 12:12). They had established themselves as authoritative. In various ways. Sometime all a person needed was the public approval of one already established (David with Samuel and Nathan; Luke and Mark with Paul and Peter).

      Just remember, the definition of a prophet is one who speaks authoritatively on behalf of God.

      • Eric Weiss

        Okay, and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote Scripture—I.e., added to the Canon—but neither Mark nor Luke were Apostles. So a person adding to the Canon need not themself be a prophet, right? Maybe we are talking past each other.

        • C Michael Patton

          No you are right. David as well was not a prophet. Neither was Solomon. However, if they organically came about at the time when there were authoritative prophets on the scene, that makes the difference. Their organic acceptance at the time of Nathan and Samuel, along with the Apostles, gives hat-tiptestimony to their established canon credentials.

          I’m not saying that that is a no-brainer, but it does make sense.

        • C Michael Patton

          Just think of all the ways that the church has tried to put Ford why we accept the books we accept. There was never really a council that got together and asked what books should they except. It was normally just getting together to recognize what they already excepted and already rejected. I think the catholicity of the canon is so vital here. I suppose there could be a situation, where a book or letter arose outside of prophetic authority due to the churches, universal recognition of it immediately. Again, that’s in theory. The normative way for God to introduce his word is through prophetic authority, or at least under the prophetic umbrella like Mark and Luke were.

    • David Bell

      Under what conditions or circumstances can you imagine that the canon would be expanded? If I understand Michael J. Kruger correctly, NT attributes of canonicity were divine qualities, corporate reception, and apostolic origins. I’m assuming anything going forward would only have the first attribute, correct? I’m sure it’d be impossible to get corporate reception amongst the church today, and unless you believe in apostolic succession, that seems out of the question as well.

      I’ve thought about this before and have wondered if the canon could be expanded during the Millennial Kingdom, a new dispensation.

      • C Michael Patton

        I suppose all of those are essential. However, to say divine qualities is so subjective. I know that sounds bad, but think of books like third John. I don’t think anything that would stand out to the point of you saying this seems like it should be part of the Canon.

        I think the most important thing is another subject development: the organic nature of hearing, Christ voice. Trae said my sheep hear my voice, and they follow me. Is the mass majority of the church is following Christ, understanding the scripture to be scripture, that is the most divine indicator.

    • Ewan Kerr

      With the coming of the Christ, the outpouring of Holy Spirit and the testimony of this, why, after two thousand years , would there ever be a need ?

      Unfortunately, the idea that God might raise up prophets plays into the hands of people like Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon.

      • C Michael Patton

        The pragmatic argument has never worked with me. It is not as if we do not accept false prophets because the canon is closed. Even charismatics just say, “hands off; we don’t put it in the Bible. Even though it is God’s word, we hold the God’s word of the Bible as truly his word while ours is just kinda.” Of course, I am kidding. But the facetiousness of it should not be lost to see the application.

        When we reject the word of a prophet, we do it the same way as always. They can’t fake it when Duet 14 and 18 are followed. One can’t often just produce miracles in order to deceive.

        So, Mormons are wrong not because they attempted to add to the Bible, but because Joseph Smith broke both stipulations: it was unorthodox and he had no evident access to the power of God.

        If God ever wanted to speak with authority again, it is not as if his hands are tied due to the “closed canon” rule. He doesn’t have such a rule. And where God has not placed himself in a box, neither should we put him in one, even if it makes us feel better.

        God bless my friend.

    • Eric Weiss

      The world’s largest and arguably the—or one of the—most ancient Christian churches expanded the Canon at the Council of Trent when they canonized to so-called Deuterocanonicals. So it’s been done. I’m not sure they would fully agree with your requirements or conditions for a book to be added to the Canon. I don’t recall their criteria. I think McDonald may have discussed it in the 2-volume book of his I recommended here.

      • Eric Weiss

        Of course Trent was a bit different since those were not “new” or post-NT books.

      • C Michael Patton

        Of course I am not Catholic and I don’t agree with it’s canonization. They would definitely disagree as my organic acceptance criteria.

    • Utah Man

      Everyone in Utah is looking forward to credohouse becoming a Mormon blog any day now.

      • C Michael Patton

        Haha

      • chapmaned24

        Mormons give new meaning to the old saying, “Respect your elders”! I had a Mormon elder and his side kick knock on my door. I’ll be 60 on my next birthday. This elder was about, what? 26? Me, I define an elder as someone whose already lived life, been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt…wise, based on life experience. Not someone wet behind the ears! But, that’s religion for ya, thinking that the word elder is an OFFICE, rather than one to whom you seek advice from as a wise man, a mentor, who has already been in your shoes.

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