John Hobbins’ fourth installment is about establishing coherent tests of canonicity. Too often the tests proposed by apologetics textbooks and other works commonly circulated in evangelicalism are simplistic and self-serving, designed to point readers (only) to the Protestant canon. The problem with that is twofold: (1) the primary data that *could* give us a good idea of how the ancients tested canonicty is omitted, and (2) the tough issues are sidestepped. Here are John’s tests (abbreviated — for his full treatment, go here).
John’s fourth installment covers five points. Here are excerpts of his first two tests:
(1) The existence of pesharim, midrashim, or other forms of commentary on a particular text is strong evidence for said text ruling faith and life in a given context. Thematic pesharim among the Dead Sea Scrolls comment on passages from the following writings; each, in other words, was understood as canonical in the functional sense: Deut, 2 Sam, Exod, Amos, Pss, Ezek, Dan, and Isa (4Q174); Deut, Num, and Josh (4Q175); Isa and Zech (4Q176); and Pss, Isa, Mic, Zech, Ezek, and Hos (4Q177). Continuous pesharim are attested for the following writings: Isa, Hos, Mic, Nah, Hab, Zeph, and Pss. . . . In rabbinic Judaism, exegetical and homiletical energies focused on the books of Moses. . . . The exegetical and homiletical ouput of early Christianity was also prodigious. . . . It is noteworthy that among the extant examples of the chief genres of exegetical literature of the first six centuries – continuous commentaries, scholia, and quaestiones Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, Judith, Tobit, and 1-2 Maccabees are not treated, nor for that matter, are 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras (= Ezra-Nehemiah), or Esther. Commentaries on Chronicles and Baruch are extant from one author only (Theodoret). On the other hand, comment by three authors on the Song of the Three is extant (Hippolytus, Origen, and Theodoret); on Susanna, Bel, and the Dragon, by two (Hippolytus and Origen).
(2) Alongside writings enjoying pride of place among Jews and Christians alike, additional writings came to serve as quarries of prooftexts for the establishment of truth and action. . . . Non-inclusion in a core set of authoritative writings notwithstanding, quotes from a text in teaching documents nonetheless imply that said text was deemed suitable for purposes of instruction in a given time and place. For example, attributed and unattributed quotes from Hebrew Ben Sira occur in the Talmuds and other rabbinic documents. The example is instructive. A book might be deemed worthy of study but not considered a basis for establishing a direction of thought or action, nor fit to read in assembly. In a nutshell, that is what discussions of Ben Sira in the Talmuds demonstrate. . . . On the other hand, attributed quotes of Ben Sira, sometimes introduced by a phrase like scripture says, are found in teaching documents of the early church. The example of Testimonia ad Quirinum was already given. To be sure, Athanasius (Festal Letter, 39), Rufinus (Comm. in Symb. Ap. 37-38), and Jerome (Prologue to the Books of Solomon [Vulg.]) move in a different direction. According to them, Ben Sira might be deployed in catechesis, and they acknowledge it was read in the churches, but they deny that it should be used to establish a point of dogma. Others, however, dissented, Augustine foremost among them (De Doct. Chr. 2, 8; De Civ. Dei, 18, 20, 1). For Augustine, and Cyprian before him, Ben Sira and Wisdom were just as useful as Proverbs for establishing a direction of thought or action . A canon agreed upon by all Christians, even by those of roughly the same tradition, did not exist in antiquity.
I’m not sure why John makes the statement he does at the end of point 2 (about there being no canon in existence in antiquity) on the heels of acknowledging that “deutero-canonical” books were not quoted for points of dogma, only “thought and action.” It is one thing to read wise writers to know how to think and live; it is another to articualte doctrine. The greater caution with respect to dogma (it seems to me) does point to canonical thinking.