Greg Goswell and NT Canonical Shape

Greg Goswell, lecturer in biblical studies at Presbyterian Theological College, has published another article in JETS on the shape of the biblical canon. His previous three articles have discussed the LXX, MT, and NT orders, while this newest essay asks how the shape of the OT might have influenced the shape of the NT.

I agree with Goswell’s conclusion – it isn’t possible to decide if the NT is consciously shaped through consideration of either OT order. Asking the question, though, helps to draw out certain themes, exegetical points, and narrative threads that we might overlook otherwise. One of the most helpful aspects of the essay, in my opinion, is the introduction, where Goswell explains the role of considering canonical order in interpretation.

Before proceeding any further, it is necessary to consider what status is to be given to the phenomenon of book order. The sequential ordering of the biblical books is part of the paratext of Scripture. The term ‘paratext’ refers to elements that are adjoined to the text but are not part of the text per se. . . . The (differing) order of the biblical books is a paratextual phenomenon that cannot be put on the same level as the text itself. It is a post-authorial imposition on the text of Scripture, albeit an unavoidable one when texts of different origin are collected together in a canonical corpus. Where a biblical book is placed relative to other books inevitably influences a reader’s view of the book, on the supposition that juxtaposed books are related in some way and therefore illuminate each other. A prescribed order of books is a de facto interpretation of the text (emphasis mine).

Yes, exactly.

As a side note, many might simply stop at, “yes, exactly,” and assume that everyone agrees here. But, based on first hand experience in graduate work, conference participation, and conversations with colleagues, I’d still venture to guess that many NT scholars, and perhaps OT scholars as well, don’t agree that canonical order influences interpretation.


2 thoughts on “Greg Goswell and NT Canonical Shape

  1. Hi Matt, question:
    Considering some of what you have written here and elsewhere, do you think the proper field under which the ordering of the canon is studied should be more historical theology rather than biblical theology? You grant in multiple places that the ordering of the canon is non-inspired. You grant here that it is a study of “paratextual phenomena,” not of the text itself. You further agree that “…it is a study of “post-authorial imposition on the text.” Therefore, it would seem just like studying other paratextual phenomena (like scribal cross-references or marginal commentary) the study of canonical ordering would be a study of the church’s interpretation of biblical theology, not a study of God’s progressive revelation from the text itself. No?

    • Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for the comment. I’d say the proper field in which to study the canonical order is hermeneutics. While historical data helps us in a limited fashion when thinking through differing orders, the real question is “what effect does this order have on our reading strategy?” That’s a literary and hermeneutical question, not necessarily a solely historical one.

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