Walter Bauer’s (d. 1960) discussion of canon in the last century has led many scholars to believe that the early church created the canon by choosing the books that should be included in it. This is a popular theory today, but it’s not one without holes. Michael Kruger and Andreas Kostenberger argue well against Bauer’s thesis in The Heresy of Orthodoxy. Here’s one section where the authors argue that the canon shapes the community of the saints – not vice-versa.
“When we again turn to the Old Testament background – the immediate canonical context for the earliest Christians – we see a very different approach to the relationship between canon and community than the one offered by Bauer. The manner in which God established the old covenant at Sinai demonstrates that covenant documents not only attest to God’s redemptive activity…, but they subsequently function to then provide the structural and organizational principles to govern God’s people so that God can fellowship with them and dwell among them.”
“In other words, the canon does not simply announce God’s redemptive acts, but serves to shape a community of people with whom God can unite himself. This pattern can be observed in how God’s initial revelation to Moses, right after redemption from Egypt and the establishment of the old covenant at Sinai, bore commands about divine house building – how his ‘house’ (sanctuary) should be organized and operated (Exodus 26-40).”
“Although in one sense this sanctuary was God’s dwelling place, it was symbolic of the fact that his real dwelling place was in the hearts of his people, the community of faith, the ‘house of Israel’ (Ex. 40:34-38). Thus we see a biblical pattern in which God triumphs over his enemies by redeeming his people; then he gives his canonical documents that function to structure, organize, and transform God’s people into a dwelling place suitable for him. According to the Old Testament paradigm, then, canon constitutes and shapes community, not the other way around.”