All good Protestants are supposed to believe that when they read the Bible properly, the Holy Ghost assists them. So what happens when a good Protestant writes with the same assistance? Is the resulting text something like scripture? The orthodox answer would be no: the canon of scripture is closed, and the days of revelation are over. But from the middle of the 17th century onwards, people began to have problems with the idea of a closed, eternally synchronous Bible. In England, extreme radicals wrote pamphlets in which no real distinction was made between biblical quotation and biblical ventriloquism. Sprinklings of pseudo-Hebrew here and there added to the mystique. When the former army chaplain Robert Bacon visited the 'Shakers' God', John Robins, in London in around 1650, he found Robins sitting on a bed before his disciples speaking in tongues: 'But the words he spake I did not understand, only they seemed to me to be a mixture of Latin, and some other tongues (they said Hebrew) and all other Languages.' The Quaker apologist and scholar Robert Barclay argued:
That which cannot be proved by scripture is no article of faith;
The precise canon of the Bible is not listed in the scriptures;
Therefore the received canon is no article of faith.
LRB 8 February 2007 | PDF Download