A closely related question addresses the tag, but I'm curious whether should even be on topic here at BH.SE. Here is a definition of from Wikipedia:

[Canon criticism] is a way of interpreting the Bible that focuses on the text of the biblical canon itself as a finished product.... Whereas other types of biblical criticism focus on the origins, structure and history of the text, canonical criticism looks at the meaning the text in its final form has for the community which uses it.

This seems pretty much doctrinal to me (which community that uses the text?). I believe Jas 3.1's answer further illustrates this:

The tag is extremely important and should be preserved. Important questions under this tag would include questions pertinent to the Canonical Interpretation of Scripture, such as how the arrangement of books in the Old Testament / Tanakh might impact the interpretation of the "excellent wife" of Proverbs 31 and/or Ruth. If we were to nix that tag we would lose an entire field of Biblical Studies... an entire hermeneutic. (Or at least, the tag for it.)

How would the arrangement of books have anything to do with interpreting a passage in a given text? Especially when many of those books hadn't even been written when those texts were and different traditions order the books differently? That seems like an anachronistic hermeneutic if I ever saw one - and a purely doctrinal/theological one.

While I think such an approach to the text would be perfectly acceptable over at C.SE or MY.SE, it would be off topic here since it involves defining a canon and is specific to a religious tradition.

Help me think through this. I'm still of the mindset that a purely religious/doctrinal hermeneutic (outside of those that embrace pluralism) is a better fit for a different SE site. If so, this tag should probably be burninated. If not, help me screw my thinking cap on straight ;)

If it is on topic (and I'm willing to concede that it may be depending on the direction of other meta questions), does it need its own tag as it is essentially a hermeneutic approach/method? We don't have tags for every single hermeneutic, so why this one?

2 Answers 2


I do think canon criticism should be on topic for this site. I'm hoping soon to answer your other meta question pertaining to the direction of the site, but the skinny of my answer is that our site is not aimed at a definition, but at a group of people/experts. Brevard Childs, were he still alive, would fit into the group that I think we are (or should be) targeting. A Professor of Old Testament at Yale, and those who have succeeded him, seem to fit well with our site's aim. His approach, dubbed by others as "canon criticism" had a large impact on the field of biblical studies in the 20th century. And so I would consider it on topic.

How would the arrangement of books have anything to do with interpreting a passage in a given text? Especially when many of those books hadn't even been written when those texts were and different traditions order the books differently? That seems like an anachronistic hermeneutic if I ever saw one - and a purely doctrinal/theological one.

This could probably be a question for the main site; and it's not my goal to drift off into a discussion of epistemology, but my short answer here is that a text can gain meaning beyond its author's original intent.

For instance, the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner were originally penned as a poem and certainly did not carry the weight of American pride that it does today having been adopted as the national anthem. Similarly, the final editors of a particular canon of scripture saw potentially new meaning in the way that they ordered their books. Canon criticism looks at this meaning.

Canon criticism has been particularly significant as it relates to the study of the prophets. Different groups have ordered the Twelve Minor Prophets in different orders and to different effect. For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Joel immediately precedes Amos. Near the end of Joel we read: "The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble." And Amos begins, "The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem." In the LXX, Amos is placed a couple books before Joel, and so it doesn't have the same connection as the MT as you read from book to book. This seems intentional on the part of the MT editors.

For a long time biblical scholarship largely ignored this kind of thing, focusing more on trying to get behind the text to the original prophet, etc... But canon criticism looks at the text in its final form(s) and asks what meaning can be found there. Why did the final editor include Psalm 127 by Solomon among the Songs of Ascent? Why did the MT editors arrange the Book of Twelve one way? And why did the LXX editors arrange it the other way? Why are the oracles against the nations in Jeremiah at the end of the book in the MT? And why are they in the middle in the LXX? And what meaning is intended by their placement? Etc...

It should be clear I hope that none of this requires agreeing on a canon. And I don't see it as a particularly religious endeavor. I'm not even sure if I had questions about the makeup of the LXX whether I should ask them on MY.SE or C.SE. They seem to be a much better fit simply for BH.SE.

  • To me this later meaning seems to be doctrinal and thus off topic. I don't think discussing the ordering of sections and context should be equated with canon criticism, however, even if they also analyze this. I dunno - I'll have to think about it more.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 9, 2013 at 16:27

Disclaimer: I have authored the only extant question with the tag.

What Canon Criticism is about

My understanding of what is often called "Canon Criticism" (or similar) is a bit different than what seems to be understood here.

I understand Canon Criticism to be contrasted with other fields of study like, say, text criticism, or redaction criticism, or questions of date and authorship and related problems (documentary hypothesis, synoptic problem, etc.)

Canon Criticism instead sets asides those questions and considers the text as it is received. It says, "regardless of how we arrived at this text in its current form, given that we have this as it is, what does it mean?"

Thus, I believe that that characterizing this field as being concerned with which texts are "in" or "out" of a canon, or their order within a canon, is at best misleading, and more broadly misses the point of the approach.

Our approach to hermeneutical methods, broadly

I am, at best, nervous about picking and choosing which methods are considered acceptable on this site, and which are not. Frankly, the question is on very dangerous ground.

Don't get me wrong--I do not mean to say that all methods are equal, or that all methods are correct. I've seen a couple of folks come around here with some approaches that most folks considered completely off-the-wall; but given that their posts are thorough and well-argued, they are often high-quality posts and more than deserving of a place on this site. It is simply not our place to go shutting them down just because we don't agree with their approach.

TL;DR: Hermeneutical approaches belong here, whether or not you agree with the particular approach

  • 2
    I see. I'm referring to the field pioneered by Brevard Childs. Perhaps we have a terminological confusion or I am completely misunderstanding what it is?
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 6:17

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