Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Canon Quiz and a Presuppositional Response

How well do you know the differences between the Roman Catholic view of the Canon of Scripture versus the Protestant view of the Canon of Scripture? Below are 12 statements which are usually either Protestant or Roman Catholic. Figure out which is which. I assume that some of the statements can be both, depending on how fast or loose one plays with terms and authority structures.

Hint: 6 statements are Protestant, 6 are Catholic.

Extra Credit: place the 6 Catholic statements to contrast the 6 Protestant statements.


1. Church Determines Canon

2. Church is Witness of Canon

3. Church is Magistrate of Canon

4. Church is Mother of Canon

5. Church Regulates Canon

6. Church is Minister of Canon

7. Church Discovers Canon

8. Church is Child of Canon

9. Church Recognizes Canon

10. Church is Judge of Canon

11. Church is Servant of Canon

12. Church is Master of Canon


These 12 assertions come from Norman Geilser's General Introduction to The Bible and his Encyclopedia of Apologetics. He contrasts the Roman Catholic "incorrect" view with the Protestant "correct" view:

The Incorrect View
The Church is Determiner of Canon
The church is Mother of Canon
The Church is Magistrate of Canon
The Church is Regulator of Canon
The Church is Judge of Canon
The Church is Master of Canon

The Correct View
The Church is Discoverer of Canon
The Church is Child of Canon
The Church is Minister of Canon
The Church is Recognizer of Canon
The Church is Witness of Canon
The Church is Servant of Canon

In response to this, I was asked the Following question:

"James, I have, close at hand, 5 different Bibles: A Scofield Bible (KJV, but with the Apocrypha omitted) -- Fundamentalist Protestant; NIV - Protestant; NAB -- Roman Catholic; REB, with Apocrypha -- Ecumenical; NRSV, with Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books -- Ecumenical; JPS TaNaKh - pan-Jewish.Only the Scofield and the NIV have the same contents, in the same order. How can I determine which of these Bibles contains the "Canon" of Scripturre, in the correct order, without additions or omissions?"

My answer:

Excellent question. Here are some choices:

1. The Canon cannot be determined.

2. The Canon is infallibly declared by the Church

3. The Canon is discovered by hard work and study

All three of these views require faith. At some point in the 'determining' suggested in each view, faith is the building block by which the view is allowed to grow.

In the first, faith is placed in the belief that one cannot 'know'. In other words, one begins with the faith claim that God has not spoken via Scripture, or even if he has, it cannot be known with certainty what the contents are.

In the second, faith is placed in the Church. One begins by placing their faith in the notion that God's Spirit infallibly determines the Canon through the Church, which is God's Magistrate. The question then raised at this point is: how does one determine if God is really infallibly speaking through the Church? In other words, the 'certainty' claim of knowing the contents of the Canon in this view is really an empty claim. It still requires a leap of faith in accepting the 'fact' that God is infallibly speaking through a particular 'church'- be it the RCC, the Mormons, or the Watchtower, etc.

In the third, faith is placed in God. Since faith in Christ is God's gift (God takes the spiritually dead and raises them to spiritual life)- it follows that His sheep will be able to hear His voice. One has therefore begun with the assertion that God has spoken, and his sheep will be able to hear his voice. Because of sin, many try to obscure the voice of God- so in this view, the Canon is discovered by careful study.

Obviously in third view, there is faith in use as well- but all claims to 'certainty' begin with presuppositions. If God has spoken, no institution or person stands above Him to determine whether or not He has really spoken. As the evidence of Science points to a creator, so the evidence of Scripture points to Christ. I study Canon issues because like a Scientist, I'm uncovering the voice of God.

2 comments:

centuri0n said...

James --

I think the eminent Dr. Geisler made a mistake which you are cultivating here. In his "correct" view, he lists the church as "servant" of Canon. That's fine as far as it goes -- but superficially, Rome calls itself the "servant" of the canon.

It is interesting how they qualify this word "servant" (you can see it in CCC 85-87, here. However, let's be clear that the use the words " this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant". Let's be fair. The truth is bad enough.

James Swan said...

Point taken. I would expect Roman Catholics to balk at some of the statements- hence I said, "I assume that some of the statements can be both, depending on how fast or loose one plays with terms and authority structures."