Friday, February 15, 2008

Whitaker on the Canon of Scripture

“In the first place, we do not deny that it appertains to the church to approve, acknowledge, receive, promulge, commend the scriptures to all its members; and we say that this testimony is true, and should be received by all. We do not,therefore, as the papists falsely say of us, refuse the testimony of the church, but embrace it. But we deny that we believe the scriptures solely on account of this commendation of them by the church. For we say that there is a more certain and illustrious testimony, whereby we are persuaded of the sacred character of these books, that is to say, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, without which the commendation of the church would have with us no weight or moment. The papists, therefore, are unjust to us, when they affirm that we reject and make no account of the authority of the church… But we deny that we believe the scriptures solely on account of this commendation of them by the church. The sum of our opinion is, that the scripture is ἀυτόπιστος [autopistos], that is, hath all its authority and credit from itself is to be acknowledged, is to be received, not only because the church hath so determined and commanded, but because it comes from God; and that we certainly know that it comes from God, not by the church, but by the Holy Ghost. Now by the church we understand not, as they do, the pastors, bishops, councils, pope; but the whole multitude of the faithful. For this whole multitude hath learned from the Holy Spirit that this scripture is sacred, that these books are divine. This persuasion the Holy Spirit hath sealed in the minds of all the faithful.

The state of the controversy, therefore, is this: whether we should believe that these scriptures which we now have are sacred and canonical merely on account of the church's testimony, or rather on account of the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit; which, as it makes the scripture canonical and authentic in itself, makes it also to appear such to us, and without which the testimony of the church is dumb and inefficacious.”

-Disputation on Holy Scripture, William Whitaker (1588)

7 comments:

------- Theo ------- said...

"The state of the controversy, therefore, is this: whether we should believe that these scriptures which we now have are sacred and canonical merely on account of the church's testimony, or rather on account of the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit..."

My dear brothers and sisters:
This is not an either / or proposition. By reason of Jesus' own gift of apostolic authority, the Church's testimony can be and is "It seemed good to the Holy spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28)

My friends in Christ, please seriously consider who is to say whether one person claiming the Holy Spirit's witness (as a rogue "Protestant" who claims only the Gospels are scripture might, for example) is not actually reporting the mere witness of his own personal preference?

This argument boils down to "I know I am right because I believe God told me." It renders all canon equal--and equally useless. Every person who makes a claim of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit then holds a canon of equal authority to any other--and none who use this "standard" are in a position to say otherwise. It is much closer to Gnosticism than Christianity.

Please recall that we all agree that historically, Jesus set up a Church and gave it authority. He never revoked that authority and he promised never to leave or forsake the Church. The argument that canon is set "merely on account of the church's testimony" is misleading to the point of deception for the believing Christian, because the Church's authority to do so is set on the testimony of Jesus Himself--and there is nothing "mere" about that.

What then should you make of me? I have both "the internal persuasion of the Holy Spirit" and the testimony of successors of those to whom Jesus promised eternal companionship as well for my basis to trust the canon. From my vantage point, if Mr. Whitaker's argument has any validity, then the Church's argument has that and much more. The stronger his case, the stronger the Church's.


Respectfully, I submit as your servant and brother in Christ,
--Theo

orthodox said...

Uhh, αντόπιστος is not even a word. Not even in the ballpark of being close.

BJ said...

Orthodox,

I thought the same thing. I think it is supposed to be αυτόπιστος with an upsilon, not a nu. However, that still doesn't transliterate as "theopneustos" as Carrie has it. It would be autopistos. It basically has the meaning of "self-authenticating," or "self-attesting," which is how it is defined in the post.

Carrie, if you can, I'd change that.

In Christ,

BJ
Stupid Scholar

Carrie said...

Uhh, αντόπιστος is not even a word. Not even in the ballpark of being close.

I copied it over from Google books - it is a text transfer problem. I'm not sure I even know how to fix it.

Carrie said...

However, that still doesn't transliterate as "theopneustos" as Carrie has it. It would be autopistos.

You're right, I had that wrong. This quote was sitting in a draft form for months and I didn't even realize I had added the "theopneustos" myself, which was incorrect. Thanks for the correction (although I still can't fix the greek).

shepherd boy said...

I can! If it's "autopistos," as you say, then it should be ἀυτόπιστος, if I have the accents right. You can just copy and paste, if Unicode works the way it's supposed to.

Carrie said...

Thanks S.B.!