Quality Control and the Development of the New Testament Canon
December 30, 2010
This is a paper I wrote for an Organizational Management class I took in 2006. I have not had a chance to update it but thought it would be of interest to some friends who are currently discussing the authority of Scripture and the so-called “lost books” of the Bible. I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to leave any comments.
This paper will show that the Kolb Learning Cycle, Learning Style Inventory and the Johari Window are concepts that have been used throughout the centuries and have many similarities with the quality control used by the Church in the formation and completion of the New Testament Scripture.
Quality control and the release of information are important issues in any field but even more so for the student of Scripture. At a time when popular culture advocates adding “new” gospels, such as the Gospel of Judas, to the canon many Christians become doubtful and confused concerning battles which have already been fought and won (Arnold, 2006).
Since the Learning Cycle is based upon the premise that the “more often we reflect on a task, the more often we have the opportunity to modify and refine our efforts” (Swenson, n.d.) the similarities between it and the development of the New Testament canon will be easily demonstrated.
Marcion, an early Christian Gnostic, found supposed differences between God’s activity in the Old Testament and His work in the New Testament. As he reflected on this, he began to refine these thoughts and came to the conclusion that the God of the Hebrews was not the same God that the early Christians worshipped. His conception of these differences led him to the conclusion that the mean God of Judaism had Jesus, the messenger of a loving God, crucified. To support his theory, he chose only a few of the current Christian writings and edited them to support his own conclusions (Gundry, 1994).
On the surface, one can see that Marcion used thoughts and ideas that have great similarities with the learning cycle. He was engrossed in the task of doing, used reflection, interpreted the events that led to his conclusion and then planned on what actions to take to reinforce them (Swenson, n.d.). However, Marcion’s editing of the Gospel of Luke and choosing only Pauline letters which agreed with his viewpoint (Gundry, 1994) shows a personal bias as well as a desire to limit early Christian Scripture (Bruce, 1988).
From Marcion’s example we can see that every step of the Learning Cycle can be completed “while still perceiving, interpreting and acting in a biased way” therefore, “one should question the model itself; look for exceptions to the rule; and challenge the dominant paradigm to determine whether it still holds.” (Swenson, n.d.)
The catholic (universal) church realized that it must address Marcion’s limitation of the early Christian writings by expanding, rather than limiting, the information available to early Christians (Bruce, 1988). By doing this, they began the long process of developing what we know of today as the New Testament canon. They, unlike Marcion, were willing to use the same format but also realized the need to reevaluate their conclusions before fully deciding on an answer.
One will begin to see that these early Christians were also using examples of the four learning styles defined by David Kolb (Kolb, 2005). They had to take leadership in the task of deciding upon these Scriptures (Accommodating), solve the problems they were facing about the Scripture (Converging), gather information about these Christian writings (Diverging) and, eventually, gather these writings into a logical and cohesive unit (Assimilating) (Gundry, 1994; Kolb, 2005). The ability to use these varied learning styles seems to be a necessity when faced with such a task and is an essential part of the quality control process.
The two learning styles that seem to be exhibited most by the early Church Fathers were the Accommodating and Converging. Often it is seen in the development of the canon that leaders had to arise to deal with these problems and take charge of the situation. Many times they also had to deal with numerous persecutions some of which even threatened the burning of all Christian writings (Bruce, 1988). These very threats caused Christian leaders to examine which writings they could reasonably hand over while keeping hid those works which were truly authoritative (Bruce, 1988). It was by making these leadership decisions they were able to take great strides in assuring the quality of the Scriptures for future generations.
The monumental feat they faced in developing the canon of Scripture over a period of four to five centuries (Bruce, 1988) required they maintain a wide range of learning styles; an
absolute necessity in solving most problems (Kolb, 2006). If these steps had not been taken one could reasonably state that what we know today as the New Testament canon would be seriously limited (Bruce, 1988). This is, of course, contrary to the current misconception that there are many missing books of the Bible that were deliberately left out or obscured (Arnold, 2006).
As the church began to develop the canon, it eventually settled upon three major criteria for granting a book the authenticity of Scripture. These areas are Apostolic authority (was it written by an Apostle, disciple of an Apostle or within the Apostle’s style), Catholicity (was the information generally recognized and used by the universal church) and Inspiration (was the writing speaking with the authority of God) (Bruce, 1988).
These issues relate directly to the Johari Window. While the Window is primarily focused with self discovery (Knowles & Ervin, 2004), I believe that it can be used in a broader sense of distributing information for the purposes of quality control. If one is not willing to properly evaluate and release information then the quality of any product or research will always fall short.
Apostolic authority is a prime example of what is known as The Blind Self. Those who were trying to determine the canon of Scripture had to make sure that the letters that had this authority were made known to the churches at large thereby making information known to some available to all (Bruce, 1988). On the other hand, Catholicity is one of the best examples of The Public Self. Eusebius greatly uses this concept to show how many of the early Church Fathers accepted certain writings as part of Scripture because they commonly used these writings among themselves as well as their common acceptance among many of the churches (Eusebius, 1995). In fact, the Roman church accepted the book of Hebrews for this very reason. While it was not used within their local churches, they agreed “to receive Hebrews as canonical so as not to be out of step with the rest of orthodox Christendom.” (Bruce, 1988)
As one can see, widespread public knowledge was used to determine whether or not information should be used. Good quality control makes sure that all concerned parties are aware of the information.
Inspiration, however, is firmly placed within The Private Self arena. Most early Christian writers did not always claim to speak with the direct inspiration of God but, when they did, they had to choose whether or not this information should be made public. The early Christian community believed itself to be inspired by the Spirit of God but did not put forth these ideas as being authoritative for all Christians. Therefore, while this might be used as criteria for the canon of Scripture, it could only be used if the writer admitted to inspiration and the Church decided that these writings were, in fact, inspired (Bruce, 1988).
Ultimately, it can be seen that the development of Scripture is an excellent example of quality control. The same methods used today are very similar to those that have been used in the past; therefore any Christian should have no problem accepting the canon of Scripture as it stands simply because of the quality, time and effort that went into deciding it.
I would be remiss, however, in leaving out the most important step in quality control. Who makes the final decision and decides that the project is complete? As in any quality control situation someone must take this responsibility and whoever makes that decision should be an expert within that field (Tagliaferri, 2006). In the determination of the canon of
Scripture, even though it would still be debated over the next two centuries, it was ultimately set down by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, in 367 AD (Bruce, 1988). He ultimately believed that these books had to be finalized to guarantee the quality of the Scripture against any past or future spurious writings (Bruce, 1988).
In conclusion, you will find that the quality put into the completion of the canon of Scripture is without measure. The people who spent their time, effort and lives in the development of this canon should cause Christians to bring the same care and quality control to their study and practice of this most ancient and authoritative work.
Arnold, Clinton E. (2006, May/June). A Response to the Gospel of Judas. Sacred History Magazine, 3, 22-24.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The canon of scripture. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Eusebius. (1995). The history of the church from Christ to Constantine. (G. A. Williamson, Trans.). New York: Barnes & Noble Books. (Original work published approximately 325)
Gundry, Robert H. (1994). A survey of the new testament, third edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Knowles, Kelly, & Ervin, Dwayne (Eds.). (2004). Orientation to adult learning. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.
Kolb, David A. (2005). The Kolb Learning Styles Inventory [pamphlet]. Boston, MA: Hay Resources Direct.
Swenson, David X. (Date of publication unknown). The kolb learning cycle. Retrieved July 25, 2006, from http://faculty.css.edu/dswenson/web/PAGEMILL/Kolb.htm.
Tagliaferri, Louis. (2006). Proceedings from Orientation to Adult Learning: Respondent Booklet for Hunt for T-Rex: An Experiential Learning Exercise. Jackson, TN.
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