Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roman Catholics get New Testament Canon issues precisely backwards

I’ve been continuing to follow the Green Baggins thread, From Natural Revelation to Special Revelation. For anyone interested in the differences in how Roman Catholics discuss the development of the canon of the New Testament, and how Protestants view it, check out the comments of Pastor D.T. King, Steve Hays, Ron D., and others in this thread.

In the comments, Bryan Cross has staked his life (seemingly) on the concept that the Protestant argument for the development of the canon of the New Testament is merely an “ad hoc” argument; we can’t know the canon infallibly, whereas, Rome has defined the canon “infallibly”.

I haven’t done a thorough study of this, but according to Wikipedia, the word “infallibility” wasn’t even a concept in the church until the 9th century, applied to the papacy by the megalomaniac Gregory VII (“the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err”) in the Dictus Papae. No doubt he said this with a straight face. [And we’ve certainly seen Bryan Cross’s straight face in his gravatar.]

So what genuinely seems “ad hoc” is the thought that this concept of infallibility was superimposed on the canon development process. There is no historical warrant for it.

I would suggest to you that a better principle in terms of this issue particularly is, "what did they know, and when did they know it?" That, after all, is the essence of what the study of history is all about.

In other places, I've traced some of the theological reasons for the development of the canon. The early church, once beholden to the preference for "oral tradition" (as Cullmann described, citing Papias in the early 2nd century), faced with questions such as those produced by Marcion, came to the conclusion that it needed its own "canon" -- the heretical ideas of those early Gnostic years were just becoming too pervasive; the development of the authoritative bishop, the notion of "succession" as a kind of proof of authority, and also a fixed canon all came into focus during those years.

Especially with regard to the fixing of the canon, I'd commend to you the works of David Trobisch. In his work Paul's Letter Collection (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), he studies manuscript evidence as well as the our understanding of the simple development of "the codex" as a form of communication. He makes the case that Paul himself began collecting his own letters into a collection. This is confirmed by Stanley Porter in his contribution to Exploring the Origins of the Bible, Craig A. Evans and Emanuel Tov, Editors (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger place the New Testament documents into the concept of "covenant documents." The earliest church was thinking in terms not only of "new covenant" ("new testament") but also "covenant documents." Kostenberger and Kruger trace this process through their The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010). One of the more striking images was that of the "beehive of activity" involved with the process of creating and distributing books and codexes of the Scriptures during the first half of the first century.

As Steve Hays noted, the Pentateuch was what it was, because of who Moses was. He did not require some sort of imprimatur to come along at a later date and certify those five works as Scripture. Moses's works were "covenant documents"; they were Scripture at the moment he wrote them. And Kostenberger and Kruger argue that the New Testament documents were also viewed as covenant documents, created and ratified by the Apostles, again, the unique eyewitnesses to Christ himself, the total revelation of God (Hebrews 1), and treated in a similar way.

Finally, Trobisch (again) traces both the need for and the development of "the canonical edition" or The First Edition of the New Testament, (Oxford: Oxford Unity Press 2000).

Trobisch notes this about "the Canonical Edition":
The atmosphere created by the conflict with the Marcionite movement and the Easter Controversy contains characteristic features of the implied readership of the Canonical Edition. The edition portrays Paul and the Jerusalem authorities in a harmonious unity, presuming that the readers are conscious of the worldwide unity of the church. The success of this publication did not depend on an authoritative decision of the church; rather, readers found their convictions better expressed in the Canonical Edition than in competing literary works. During hard times of persecution, this book was capable of defining or reinforcing the identity and the unity of its readers. At the end of the second century and in the beginning of the third, Irenaeus was reading this edition in Lyons; Tertullian read it in Carthage and Asia Minor; Clement had it in Alexandria, and Origen in Palestine. This particular edition, in other words, was read worldwide.
In the New Testament Scriptures were found the unity and truth of the early church. In truth, none of this is "ad hoc". It is a historical process, unfolded by the Providence of God, and New Testament scholars like Cullmann and Ridderbos and Trobisch and Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger are investigating the sources in a detailed manner, and the history of this process is coming more sharply into focus.

Really, it's the quest for "infallibility" that is an ad hoc concept, superimposed on the process, many centuries after the process occurred, and at best "infallibility" (as an ad hoc idea) was superimposed at Trent, when Rome really had no other response to the Reformation but to try to assert its own authority with a made-up, ad-hoc concept (infallibility).

For more, extremely thorough documentation of how the New Testament came together, see also this complete treatment by Jason Engwer at Triablogue.


Lvka said...
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John Bugay said...

No thanks Lvka.

Viisaus said...

Also, what use is the infallibly defined canon if one is anyways ready to deny the infallibility of the Holy Bible, as many magisterial RC writers have done in print - the current higher-critical pontiff himself included?

By giving the canon (for the sake of argument) but by denying the plenary inspiration Rome takes back with one hand what it supposedly gives with another.

There seems to me to be something quite demonic, "Faustian", about this deceitful way of taking the supposed gifts back with another hand.

To take another big example, Rome's peculiar "Doctrine of Intention" effectively takes away all the certainty in sacraments that the RCC otherwise loudly asserts - by strict RC rules, no Romish layman can ever be certain whether he or she is REALLY adoring the Body of Christ or a mere piece of bread.

louis said...

Bryan Cross' "schtick" is getting old. The best line on that thread was this one (from Andrew McCallum): "here again you give us Roman Catholic assumptions and try to couch them in terms of philosophic necessity." That sums it up perfectly.

John Bugay said...

Hi Viisaus. what use is the infallibly defined canon if one is anyways ready to deny the infallibility of the Holy Bible, as many magisterial RC writers have done in print - the current higher-critical pontiff himself included?

Turretinfan has also brought up the need for "an infallible list of the verses in the books".

John Bugay said...

Louis: Bryan Cross' "schtick" is getting old.

Yeah, but he keeps doing it, and worse, he keeps sucking people in, so we have to keep addressing it. What is striking to me, though, is the source of information that's been put forward in that thread by guys on our side.

The "canon issue" is really old; as Matthew Schultz has written about, it's one of those things that Whitaker addressed. I was struck by the fact that Oscar Cullmann noted that, of the responses to his on work "Peter," none of the Roman Catholics actually interacted with anything he brought up in that work; they focused on the Canon issue.

So here we have (thanks to the internet), all in one place (not yet collected adequately), all of the reasons why the "canon" issue is a non-issue.

Lvka said...

You're not in the least troubled by your double-standars?

John Bugay said...

It is not a "double standard" and you have been around here long enough to understand why we would say it is not.

louis said...

"he keeps sucking people in, so we have to keep addressing it"

I thank God for the brothers that are addressing it. They are doing quite well in that regard. I do sometimes wonder if maybe the gloves should come off a bit though. These people are wolves and apostates -- dogs returning to their vomit -- not "dialogue partners." They pose as if they are exploring the truth; in fact they have no intention of listening to the truth.

John Bugay said...

Louis, I look for small changes. For example, I've expressed some dissatisfaction in the past with how generous Andrew McCallum has seemed to be. Now he is fully on board with DTK and Ron and Turretinfan.

There are probably a lot of lurkers there, like MarkS for example. (This post originally began as a comment over there, but it seems to have gotten sucked into a spam filter over there). But the information we have for re-constructing the historical scenario by which the NT canon was recognized as such, is getting better all the time.

john said...

Roman Catholic apologists ALWAYS bring up the "Canon Issue" whenever they are losing the discussion/debate on Biblical and historical grounds REGARDLESS of the subject; Marian Dogmas, Purgatory, Indulgences, Justification by Faith, Ecclesiology, etc.

They know full well that if the Papacy and Papal Infallibility is shown to Historically and Biblically false and is just a Human development and fabrication then their whole Roman Catholic system collapses along with all those other Dogmas that are unique to Roman Catholicism. So is it any wonder that they bring up the "Canon issue" and try to discredit "Sola Scriptura", at times it seems that they are attacking the Bible just like atheists do. They know that if "Sola Scriptura is true (which it is BTW) them Roman Catholicism collapses.

John Bugay said...

John, have you had a chance to check out the discussions at the Green Baggins thread? It's already up to about 300 comments, but there's a lot of good stuff in there.

Ryan said...

My two cents. Certainly an interesting argument.

John Bugay said...

Ryan, I clicked on your link, expecting to scroll down about a half mile, and instead, I found three paragraphs summed up with this:

We could modify Owen's argument, then, to read: "if Protestant presuppositional epistemology, grounded on supernatural revelation, is unsound, how much more so is RC epistemology, grounded on natural revelation."

Very nice.

Viisaus said...

I just found a bit startling reminder (at least to me) of how low esteem modern RCs hold the Holy Bible in; even a Romanist of such generally conservative reputation as J.R.R. Tolkien was ready to co-operate with the 1966 Jerusalem Bible translation that openly cast doubt on the veracity of Scriptures:


"The translation itself uses a literal approach that has been admired for its literary qualities, perhaps in part due to its most famous contributor, J.R.R. Tolkien (his primary contribution was the translation of Jonah).[3] The introductions, footnotes, and even the translation itself reflect a modern scholarly approach and the conclusions of scholars who use historical-critical method. For example, the introduction and notes reject Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch."

If Tolkien had been a truly conservative Christian (as many of his modern fanboys, both RC and Protestant ones, claim), he would not have participated in such an infidel enterprise.

After this it comes hardly as a surprise that Tolkien did not insist on the literal truth of the tale of Jonah:


"A very interesting letter by Tolkien to his grandson Michael on 24 April 1957 said:

"Incidentally, if you look at Jonah you'll find that the 'whale' - it is not really said to be a whale, but a big fish - is quite unimportant. The real point is that God is much more merciful than 'prophets', is easily moved by penitence, and won't be dictated to even by high ecclesiastics whom he has himself appointed."

Viisaus said...

I repeat, what is the point of (supposedly) having an infallibly defined canon if you are then going to treat the contents of that canon this way?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

"It is notable as being the first English version to be done by Roman Catholics on the basis of the Greek and Hebrew texts rather than upon the Latin Vulgate. In 1943 Pope Pius XII had issued an encyclical letter on Biblical studies called Divino Afflante Spiritu in which he gave permission for this departure from Roman Catholic tradition.

The introductions to sections of the Bible (also from the French version) reflect modern critical scholarship. The introduction to the Pentateuch sets forth details of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis of composite authorship (JEDP sources). The introduction to the Prophets concludes that Daniel was not written by Daniel, but by a much later writer (167-164 B.C.) who wrote of things past as if they were yet in the fututre. Isaiah is said to be of composite authorship. The discussion of New Testament books is conservative by comparison. The theory of Markan priority and the existence of a "Q" source are rejected, and instead Matthew (in a hypothetical Aramaic original) is said to have been the earliest Gospel. The introduction to Paul's epistles asserts the Pauline authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, against the grain of most secular scholarship. 2 Peter is, however, said to be pseudonymous. These introductions will make the version unacceptable to conservatives.

The text of the Old Testament is treated with great freedom. Frequently the traditional Masoretic text is departed from, in favor of readings from the ancient versions, and many conjectural emendations are also adopted rather arbitrarily. One academic reviewer (Gleason Archer) has described the Jerusalem Bible's emendations of the Hebrew text as "undisciplined and capricious," and concludes that "the Hebrew text is completely at the mercy of these translators, who can alter it to mean whatever they choose it to mean, without following the scientific procedures worked out by competent textual critics.""

John Bugay said...

Viisaus, I want to thank you for your tremendous contributions here.

Viisaus said...

Many thanks, J.B., even though where I come from people think that overt praise only spoils a person. :)

John Bugay said...

Well, I would not want to do that. But you just have the ability to flesh out an issue with historical knowledge that is just hard to come by.