Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Argument from Canon Certainty


The last major argument against the Protestant rule of faith, sola Scriptura, that we shall consider is the argument from the canon. Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox like to argue that the only reason that the Protestant has a canon of Scripture today is because it was the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church that created it. They will argue that the Protestant must rely on their Church’s tradition as found in the writings of the church fathers so as to ascertain the canonicity of the Scriptural books. Sometimes they will use textual variants, New Testament Apocrypha, and Gnostic Gospels (i.e. Bart Ehrman-style arguments) to argue that the only way to have certainty with regards to the canon is to have it established by an infallible authority. “The Church created the canon, and so, it has the sole right to interpret the canon,” they argue. To this we reply:



  1. The “Church” Did NOT Create the Scriptures: First, the Church does not have the sole right to interpret Scripture just because members of the Church wrote it.


  1. The Scriptures were not penned by committees but by individuals moved by the Spirit and written to the Church.

  2. These individuals were apostles given the gift of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. No bishop in either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches claims to be inspired.

  3. The Holy Spirit is the author of both the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16) and the Church (Acts 2:1-4), and so, He decides which will have priority.



  1. Historical Witness, Not Sacred Tradition: The Protestant canonical approach in regards to the church fathers has been to see them as historical witnesses whose testimony should be weighed instead of seeing them as recipients of ‘Sacred Tradition’ (in the dogmatic sense). In fact, since the church fathers give us conflicting accounts as to the origins of certain books, seeing them as historical witnesses whose testimony must be discerned as to its relevance through careful historical study is necessary.



  1. Heretical Sources as Well: Heretical sources were utilized in addition to the church fathers for determining the canonicity of a book. For example, Tatian, an apostate who converted to Gnosticism, in his Diatesseron, names only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the Four Gospels and no others. This is significant since, being a Gnostic, he would be inclined to include any existent Gnostic Gospels, such as the Gospel of Judas or Thomas, in addition to the canonical ones.



  1. Internal Evidence as Well: Internal evidence such as intertextuality (i.e. an already established canonical book naming another book as canonical) and historical allusions (i.e. things that would identify the author’s background and proximity to other canonical authors) which give evidence to a book’s canonicity have been used.



  1. The Skeptical Argument is Self-Destructive: Any skeptical argument calling into question the reliability of the transmission of a written text can be re-packaged and returned with ten-times the destructive power against an oral tradition. I noted several cases of this in “The Argument from Apostolic Tradition and Succession” post found here.



  1. The Hebrews Knew the OT Canon Without an Infallible Authority: (See the same argument in “The Infallible Knowledge Argument” post.)



  1. Early Church Knew the NT Canon Without an Infallible Authority: (See the same argument in “The Infallible Knowledge Argument” post.)



  1. Fathers and Others Who Looked to the Jews: There were a large number of church fathers and later scholars who, when they had become more learned on the subject of the canon, accepted the Hebrew Canon (which omitted the Apocrypha) instead of consulting “Church tradition”. These fathers and others include: Melito of Sardis, Julius Africanus, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzus, Amphilochius, Basil the Great, Rufinus, Jerome, Anastasius of Antioch, Primasius, Nicolas of Lyra, Pope Gregory the Great, John of Damascus, the Glossa Ordinaria (a commentary), Cardinal Cajetan, The Venerable Bede, Agobard of Lyons, Alcuin, Walafrid Strabo, Haymo of Halberstadt, Ambrose of Autpert, Radulphus Flavicencius, Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, Peter Cellensis, Rupert of Deutz, Honorius of Autun, Peter Comestor, Peter Mauritius, Adam Scotus, Hugh of St. Cher, Philip of Harvengt, Nicholas of Lyra, William of Ockham, Antoninus, Alonso Tostado, Dionysius the Carthusian, Thomas Walden, Jean Driedo, John Ferus, Jacobus Faber Stapulensis, Johannes Petreius, Cardinal Ximenes, and the Bible translation, Sanctes Pagnini.



  1. No Agreement Within Eastern Orthodoxy: Despite the claims of Eastern Orthodox apologists, there is actually no agreement as to the extent of the canon within Eastern Orthodox circles. This is especially so within the Russian Orthodox Church as well as the Greek Orthodox Church:


For the Greek Church, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 introduced Wisdom and other Deuterocanonical books to a place in Holy Scripture. ‘There appears to be no unanimity, however, on the subject of the canon in the Greek Orthodox Church today. Catechisms directly at variance with each other on this subject have received the Imprimatur of the Greek Ecclesiastical authorities and the Greek clergy may hold and teach what they please about it (Metzger: 195),”1


The Hebrew version of the Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the “Deutero-Canonical Books.” These were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be “Genuine parts of Scripture”; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.”2



  1. Analogy to Rabbinic Judaism: Assuming for the sake of argument that the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox is correct in their assertion, the Protestant can always make an analogy to Rabbinic Judaism. God used the Hebrew people to write and gather the Old Testament, and the Christian’s knowledge of the Old Testament canon is dependant upon their ‘tradition’. However, they rejected (on the basis of tradition) the most important aspect of the Old Testament Scriptures which they testify to, the Messiah, and so, God rejected that visible authority structure and built up a new congregation from the faithful remnant of the Hebrew people.

In the same way (for the sake of argument), God used the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church to write and gather the New Testament canon, and (for the sake of argument) the Protestant’s knowledge is dependant upon that Church’s ‘traditions’. However, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox reject (on the basis of ‘Tradition’) one of the most important aspects of the New Testament Scriptures which they testify to, justification by faith alone, and so, God rejected that visible authority structure and built up a new congregation, the Protestants, from the faithful remnant of the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Church. To put it in an outline form (and again, this is for the sake of argument):


God gives OT to the Hebrews ----> Using tradition, the Jews reject Christ ----> God dispenses with the old, visible authority structure and starts over using the faithful remnant.


God gives NT to the R.C.C./E.O.C. ----> Using tradition, the R.C./E.O. reject sola fide ----> God dispenses with the old, visible authority structure and starts over using the faithful remnant.


To quote John the Baptist:


“But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ ” (Matthew 3:8-10)


To make my analogy clear, I’ll change the words up a bit:


“But when Martin Luther saw many of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bishops coming to Mass, he said to them, ‘You false teachers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, “We have Christ and the apostles for our spiritual fathers”; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Christ and His apostles. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ ”



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


1 D. Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday 1979), p.67.

2 T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), p.200.

11 comments:

orthodox said...

"The Hebrews Knew the OT Canon Without an Infallible Authority".

Yet protestants treat the supposed witness of the Jews to the canon JUST AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY! So we get all these quotes from Josephus or discussions from Philo as if they are witnesses to some kind of infallible tradition.

"Early Church Knew the NT Canon Without an Infallible Authority"

But the Church *IS* the infallible authority. How are you going to show that the Church didn't have the Church?

"However, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox reject (on the basis of ‘Tradition’) one of the most important aspects of the New Testament Scriptures which they testify to, justification by faith alone"

So then, when did the EO church reject this? Can you give us some dates and places? Since the EO church claims to hold to the teaching of the fathers, is it your contention that the fathers didn't teach it? If they did teach it, when did EO reject the fathers?

Saint and Sinner said...

"Yet protestants treat the supposed witness of the Jews to the canon JUST AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY!"

We never treated them as infallible. We believe that the best witnesses to the extent of the Hebrew canon are the Hebrews themselves.

"But the Church *IS* the infallible authority. How are you going to show that the Church didn't have the Church?"

The early church never held an ecumenical council to determine the canon. Instead, the New Testament was determined on the basis of several other factors, factors I listed above.

"So then, when did the EO church reject this? Can you give us some dates and places? Since the EO church claims to hold to the teaching of the fathers, is it your contention that the fathers didn't teach it? If they did teach it, when did EO reject the fathers?"

Romanism rejects it, many EO's reject it, and all EO's at least deny covenantal justification by faith alone (i.e. 'extra nos') in favor of a completely intrinsic 'deification'.

orthodox said...

"We never treated them as infallible. We believe that the best witnesses to the extent of the Hebrew canon are the Hebrews themselves."

I never said you treat them as infallible. I said you treat them as a witness to an infallible authority. i.e. you treat what the Hebrews tradition supposedly was as an infallible authority.

"The early church never held an ecumenical council to determine the canon."

Lack of a council does not refute the orthodox position that it is the church which is the infallible authority.

"Instead, the New Testament was determined on the basis of several other factors, factors I listed above."

It's not an either/or proposition. The use of "factors" by the church does not mean that it isn't the church's role to evaluate these factors. Otherwise it would have been every man with his own canon.

"Romanism rejects it, many EO's reject it"

So let me get the argument straight. If I can find some protestants who reject it too, then I can argue that God has overthrown protestantism and started over with a new remnant? Open the floodgates to the next cult coming down the pike!

"all EO's at least deny covenantal justification by faith alone (i.e. 'extra nos') in favor of a completely intrinsic 'deification'."

Wow. Do a survey will you and find out what percentage of protestants believe in "extra nos". I'd even make it easy on you and let you explain extra nos.

But hang on, extra-nos assumes substitutionary atonement. And you just finished telling us that protestant divisions are fine because hey - look at the different perspectives on atonement in the early church, and yet they kept unity. So because they did that, this is ok for us. But now you seem to be repudiating that.

BTW, which is the verse which is supposed to set up a hard division between justification and sanctification? It's certainly not found in the biblical use of these terms. You did say that all the essential things in the bible are clear, right?

Saint and Sinner said...

"i.e. you treat what the Hebrews tradition supposedly was as an infallible authority."

I don't believe that I ever have. Nor do I believe that Steve or any T-blogger ever has.

"extra nos"

The forensic nature of justification.

"But hang on, extra-nos assumes substitutionary atonement. And you just finished telling us that protestant divisions are fine because hey - look at the different perspectives on atonement in the early church, and yet they kept unity. So because they did that, this is ok for us. But now you seem to be repudiating that."

I never said that not believing in substitutionary atonement is damnable (and thus, I don't believe that being Orthodox is necessarily damnable). However, I do believe that it is worth dividing denominations over.

"BTW, which is the verse which is supposed to set up a hard division between justification and sanctification?"

Try Romans 4:5-8. The justified man is the man whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.

"So let me get the argument straight. If I can find some protestants who reject it too, then I can argue that God has overthrown protestantism and started over with a new remnant?"

No, that would be grounds for excommunicating those who rejected it, but yes, I should have been clearer: I don't believe that one should start a new denom. over a few people.

"The use of "factors" by the church does not mean that it isn't the church's role to evaluate these factors. Otherwise it would have been every man with his own canon."

People come to consensus views based, not upon a committee decision, but simply because the data points in one direction. The fact that everyone came to conclude that the general consensus was right does not in itself necessitate the EO view.

orthodox said...

"I don't believe that I ever have. Nor do I believe that Steve or any T-blogger ever has."

If Philo or Josephus are not a witness to an infallible Hebrew tradition, when why keep quoting them?

"Try Romans 4:5-8. The justified man is the man whom God imputes righteousness apart from works."

That wouldn't prove the "hard division" I was asking for between protestant justification and sanctification.

At best it shows that righteousness apart from works is one sub-category of righteousness.

But that's not the only type of righteousness the bible talks about.

1John 3:7 the one who practices righteousness is righteous

"The fact that everyone came to conclude that the general consensus was right does not in itself necessitate the EO view."

Your original argument was that the NT process of canonisation argued against the EO view. Now you're saying it doesn't necessitate the EO view. That would at least be a welcome pull back from the previous statement.

"People come to consensus views based, not upon a committee decision, but simply because the data points in one direction."

But the data does not point in one direction. If it did there wouldn't be church fathers expressing doubts about certain books. There wouldn't be Martin Luther saying that Revelation is not apostolic and James is an epistle of straw. We wouldn't have the Syrians omitting the catholic epistles.

The evolution of particular lists is the group thought of the particular communions. Groups in different communions came to different conclusions.

"No, that would be grounds for excommunicating those who rejected it, but yes, I should have been clearer: I don't believe that one should start a new denom. over a few people."

Your original argument was that let's say there was authority in the church, but then the church overthrew justification by faith, so the authority evaporated. But now you say that "some" EO supposedly reject this, which is not enough reason to start another denomination. Therefore God wouldn't have overthrown the Church, and your original argument falls.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Did at least some of the Early Church Fathers teach salvation by faith alone?

See the following link:

http://www.gslc-gsls.com/SolaFide.html

Saint and Sinner said...

I don't have the time to go back and forth with you, orthodox.

You get the last word.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Saint & Sinner: "God gives NT to the R.C.C./E.O.C. ----> Using tradition, the R.C./E.O. reject sola fide ----> God dispenses with the old, visible authority structure and starts over using the faithful remnant."

(1) See my earlier comment linking an article that shows some of the Early Church Fathers affirming Salvation by Faith Alone.

(2) Here's an interesting argument posited by another Reform theologian:

In sum, the Roman Catholic Church is no church at all!

This may be seen from the following syllogism: Because the heart of the Gospel is Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ’s preceptive and penal work, the Protestant will argue his position as follows:

Major premise: Where there is no doctrine of justification by faith alone there is no church. (This premise is the defining soteric issue for Protestants; see Galatians 1:13 in which Paul contrasts “Judaism” where there was no doctrine of justification by faith alone with the “church of God.”)

Minor premise: There is no doctrine of justification by faith alone in the Roman Catholic Church. (See the dogmatic deliverances of the Council of Trent.)

Conclusion: Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church is no church.

Because the Roman Catholic Church officially and formally abandoned the one true Gospel of justification by faith alone at its counter-Reformation Council of Trent in the 1540s, it is, in two words, irreformably apostate.

From: Roman Catholicism’s Recent Claim
That It Is the True Church

Saint and Sinner said...

Thanks TUAD. I totally agree with you.

Of course, whether Paul taught sola fide is a point of dispute between Protestants and RC's. I believe that the case is overwhelmingly in favor of our side, and I plan on doing something on that topic in the future. (Of course, it will be a while since I'm doing some other stuff right now.)

MG said...

SS--

I hope I'm not intruding and that you guys haven't already totally moved on from this thread.

Do you think that the biblical cannon is beyond the possibility of being revised? Is it possible in principle for human judgment to overturn it? (even if there are really good arguments in favor of the Protestant canon, for instance--and thus a high probability of accuracy).

Lvka said...

Yes ... it took 1,500 yrs (from Moses to Jesus) for the Pharisees, with their "Oral Tardition", to corrupt the Jewish faith. And the same amount of time (1,500 yrs), from Jesus to Luther, for the Fathers, with their "Oral Tradition", to corrupt Christianity