Saturday, January 01, 2011

Desperately Seeking Certainty on the Canon of Scripture

A recent Called to Communion post states "we would not know, with the certainty of faith, which writings are sacred (in the relevant sense) apart from the supernatural testimony of the Church."

I certainly realize the thrust of CTC's post is not on canon certainty. However, I think it's interesting that whenever this issue is brought up, the entire Old Testament disappears, as if its existence doesn't matter. Here's a snippet I've posted before, but it brings the problem into focus:

Second Question from James White to Patrick Madrid:

White: Mr. Madrid, I've asked you this before. How did the Jewish man 50 years before Jesus Christ know that the books of 2 Chronicles and Isaiah were Scripture? Would you like me to repeat that?

Madrid: No, I think I got that. Thank you. The Jewish man of the 50 year period before Christ knew that that Scripture, 1 and 2 Chronicles, was inspired because the Old Testament church, the Old Testament people of God, regarded it as Scripture. It had the official pedigree of coming from a prophet and it had always been regarded that way. So he would draw not only on what his internal testimony was of what those books say, but he would also base what his position was on what the constant teaching of the Old Testament people was as well. As you remember, they regarded 1 and 2 Chronicles as Scripture. What I'd like to ask you, though, is, and whether we do it now or later, is your choice, later in the debate tonight—is you keep going back to this issue of how does he know, how does he know? Well, that's what I want to throw back at you. How do you know? Let's take it out of the Old Testament, Mr. White, and bring it back to the New Testament. And let's settle once and for all how you know that those 27 books belong in Scripture. How do you know that they are inspired? How do you know Matthew wrote Matthew? What is your authority to know that? If you reject the Catholic Church that's fine, that's your choice. I think you do so at your own peril. But if you reject the Catholic Church you have to furnish us with some other source upon which you base your testimony that those words in that Bible—in that 27 books of the Bible—are God's words.

Now, I don't want to give anyone the false impression as I think you were trying to do earlier that I believe that the Catholic Church rendered the Bible as inspired. You know that that is not the Catholic position. You know Mr. White that the Catholic Church does not claim to have made the Scriptures canonical simply because she chose those books. That is a red herring. It's false. The Catholic Church recognized the canon of Scripture. The Catholic Church received the word that was given to her by her husband, Jesus Christ, and as you well know, the Church hears and recognizes the voice of her husband. So it is the Church, Mr. White, I assert, who recognized [Moderator: "Time."] I have 24 seconds left...the Church recognizes her husband's voice and she preaches that to the world. You, if you reject the Church, have to fall back on something else. What'll it be? The Muratorian Fragment? The Church Fathers? This or that Greek scholar, perhaps? Your own personal interpretation? You have to tell us tonight what your authority is, Mr. White.

White: First of all, in sticking to the actual question that I asked, we are told that the Old Testament Church told the man that Isaiah and 2 Chronicles were Scripture. Now that's interesting, because, does that mean the Old Testament Church was infallible? That is the same Old Testament Church that taught the Korban rule, I think, yes, the same Old Testament Church. Oh, that's the same Old Testament Church that rejected the Apocryphal books and never believed they were Scripture but you say that they are Scripture and place someone under the anathema that doesn't believe those things. So I guess the Old Testament Church was fallible which means that you can have a fallible authority to tell you that something is Scripture, because it's very plain that the Lord Jesus held everyone responsible for reading Scripture. In fact, in Matthew chapter 22, he said to the Sadducees, "But about the resurrection of the dead, have you not read God said to you?" And Mr. Madrid keeps saying, "What's your authority?" Listen to what Jesus says. He says to these men, "Have you not read what God said to you?" If God speaks to you, you do not ask Him for His business card. God's Word is theopneustos, it's His speaking.

So since the ex-Reformers of CTC are working out their epistemological foundations, perhaps they could similarly answer this basic question: How did the Jewish man 50 years before Jesus Christ know that the books of 2 Chronicles and Isaiah were Scripture?''

Based on the entirety of the CTC blog entry, perhaps we can speculate an answer. The author appears to be arguing at one point that believing in Romanist infallibility is a basic faith claim:

We are commanded to believe the Gospel. For many converts to the Catholic Church, ecclesial infallibility came to be understood as indispensable to the faith we had while not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Accepting infallibility was not so much a matter of longing for certainty as finally recognizing the grounds for the certainty of faith by which we had already begun to know the truth revealed by God in Christ Jesus.

Later though he also states "the Church that Christ founded, of the Church that comes from Christ and is irrevocably united to him, lends a specific kind of objectivity to the task of identifying her."

I think the only possible solution for the CTC gang would be that the Jewish man 50 years before Jesus Christ knew that the books of 2 Chronicles and Isaiah were Scripture because of his faith relationship to God, but he had this while objectively not being able to identify the church of his day as infallible. If this was so for the Jewish man 50 years before Jesus Christ, why not today as well?


Ryan said...

That's a great cross-examination. Thanks and happy new year.

The 27th Comrade said...

Every time I say that the only answer to this canon question is fideism, I am laughed at by both Reformed and Catholic alike. There cannot be a proof of the axioms. Believe, like a child, and let the fools debate. (The alternative, of course, is finding another god to worship; one other than the One of whom it is said “In the beginning was the Word.”)

James Swan said...

The funny thing about that cross-examination is it's from a debate Patrick Madrid thinks he actually won.

James Swan said...

Every time I say that the only answer to this canon question is fideism, I am laughed at by both Reformed and Catholic alike.

There is an aspect of the canon issue in which it is simply the case that God has spoken, and there is no authority above Him by which to appeal to in order to verify that God has really spoken.

steelikat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steelikat said...

Dittos to James Swan and furthermore, it's certainly a reasonable option to accept the canon on the authority of the catholic church without strictly identifying the post-reformation RC denomination with the catholic church.

John said...

White's response assumes two things not in evidence, namely that the whole old testament church, or even a majority, taught the korban rule or that the so-called apocrypha is not scripture. Given that, we know a hecknof a lot of Jews used the LXX, and that a hecknof a lot of Jews were not under the authority of certain Pharasees teaching Korban, I see no reason to give White's claims much credence. Seems like he totally lost this exchange but tried to distract us with some shiny baubles.

PeaceByJesus said...

The way Divinely inspired writings became established as such is by the same means that a true man of God was/is.

Association with established authority can help, and "official lists of books are helpful, but that is not essentially the basis for authority.

What we see is God first revealing Himself to man and supernaturally attesting to His reality and truth, (like to Abraham) and of the faith and character of those who believed, obeyed it and testified of it (like Moses).

When adding new laws and codifying the, God raised up Moses, a holy man of God, like after Abraham the Friend of God, and whose authority God mightily attested to. And the law given by the hand of Moses (though Rome's scholars typically deny that it was) became the standard by which further revelation and men of God were tested and established by, which was a continuing principle. (Is. 8:20; Mt. 22:29-45; Lk. 24:27,44; Jn. 5:39,42; Acts 17:2,11; 18:28; 28:23; Heb. 1, etc.)

By the time of Jesus a distinct body of writing referred to as Scripture was already realized, as is evident by references to the Scriptures by which they substantiated claims, but without an assuredly infallible magisterium (which only Jesus was),

The authority of Jesus and the apostles (who like Moses, added new laws), and the faith they preached was also established by a holiness and doctrine which conformed to that which was written, (Mt. 22; Lk. 24:27,44; Acts 17:2,11; 28:23; 2Cor. 6:1-10) as well as by overall constant powerful supernatural attestation of a type which itself conformed to Scripture. And which in turn affirmed the veracity and Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.

One will notice that when Jesus authority was challenged, He referenced the baptism of John the Baptist, whose authority did not come from men, (Mk. 11:27-33) as well as His own works, (Jn. 5:31-36) and the Scriptures. (Mt. 22:41-46; Jn. 5:39;

What the apostles did not do was claim a formulaic (content and scope-based) assured infallibility, and when they had to discipline it was by spiritual means, not the sword of men.

The inspired words and faith of such would continue to be progressively established as from Heaven by its unique and enduring qualities, including the effects of believing which corresponded to its claims. The best church councils could so was affirm what had become manifest as bread from Heaven, but again, its enduring acceptance is due to its qualities and effects.

Now since Rome claims apostolic authority to effectively add new teachings to the canon, it must have the like testimony. No doubt it would have liked the ground to open up and swallow those pesky Protestants, rather than consider that the faith in the O.T. was not preserved by an infallibly magisterium, as it assuredly was not so, but while the Jewish magisterium was crucial, God raised up prophets and wise men and scribes to reprove them, and thus the faith was preserved among a remnant.

And that men like Huss, Tyndale, and Luther and others served as such, despite their faults, but Rome sought to use the sword of men against them, as per Gal. 4:29, did Jesus forewarned such would. (Jn. 16:2)

May we never do the like.

Northwest SD Lutheran said...

I would like to know why Mr. Madrid has a problem with the Old Testament Canon? Especially since Jesus quotes the Psalms,the Pentateuch, and he accepts the scroll of the prophet Isaiah as authoritative in relation to his divinity as Messiah of the world. My question would be how does the Pope know what the Word of God is if he does not trust it? It is no wonder that the Reformers have the position on the Papacy that they do. Well done on Mr. White's part.

PeaceByJesus said...

John, that the whole old testament "church" was not universally under the Pharisees or that many used the LXX doe not impugn the credence of White's polemic, as the issue is that of Rome's presumption that an assuredly infallible magisterium is needed to authorize what is lawful doctrine and books.

However, writings were established as Divine without such, and Madrid's own answer as to "how" they became accepted works against Rome, as it was not by a formal authority infallibly deciding them, but which White must assent to in order to know the rest of the books are canonical.

While Madrid has them being accept on the authority of a prophet, the issue is how did such have authority. It was not established by pedigree or necessarily by successive formal conference as the Levites was, and Rome much rests on its version (nor on fideism), but as with the Baptist, they were sovereignly chosen by God and had to be evidently established by Him, and prophesying falsely in His name was a capital offense.

And Rome, for its part, much owes its influenced to the use of forgeries and use of the sword of men, directly or indirectly.

In addition, unlike Rome, the Lord explicitly affirmed that "the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat" and enjoined conditional obedience to them, and it was they who made the korban rule, yet they were not infallible

PeaceByJesus said...

As for fideism, or "faithism" (yes, i had to look it up) if by that you mean that faith is unwarranted, then i disagree. Not that one may exercise faith without evidence, but Biblical faith is supported by it and results in it; Not that all its promises are realized in this life, but enough is to justify waiting until faith became sight.

In Rm.1 and Acts 14:15,16, faith in the one true God is expected due to the natural revelation, while even the greatest faith Jesus saw, (Lk. 7:1-9) was based on some evidence.

But i affirm that faith may seem contrary to reason, though God often appeals to the latter.

To tired to write more now.

John said...

I doubt Rome regards the Magisterium as absolutely necessary to have authority with regards to the canon. There is after all tradition, which served that purpose prior to any pronouncements from an infallible magisterium. So these arguments against Madrid don't really amount to much.

John said...

How does the pope know the what the word of God is if he does not trust it? As Augustine said, I would not have believed outside of the authority of the catholic church. And if Christianity was a dead religion and then someone dug up some papyrus, I doubt many would believe either. We don't see many modern day Essenes.

Brigitte said...

The fact that the RC church says that it is infallible in its dogma means nothing. It is an "ipse dixit" falacy. i.e. It is true because I said so. This is oppression and violates consciences.

The truth convinces because it is true, all by itself. Jesus said: "I am the truth."

When an eye witness speaks we listen. The apostles were eyewitnesses. They speak with authority and with unity.

The truth hits you between the eyes. It does not need to be imposed.

I am a sinner. I will be a sinner while in this body. I am beyond redeeming myself in any way shape or form. (Romans 7). Thankfully Jesus said on the cross: "It is finished". And God's righteousness is from "faith for faith". This is my only hope and my sure hope. This is the message of the Gospel. Christ given for me, too. A radical solution for a radical problem. I need it. God's way. He needs to do it or I am lost. And he did it.

This is the message, the kerygma. Where the scriptures teach this message, we know them instinctively to be true because they address the true problem: Jesus Christ given for my utter helplessness.

The RC church teaches a preparation for justification and works to support justification. This does not work. Justification is justification in total. Either I am right with God or not? I need to know.

RC teaching does not let me know. It's dogma is not infallible and not scriptural. Where the kerygma is taught right, we know we have inspired scripture, because natural man always wants to add something to his salvation usually by inventing commands that he CAN keep (don't eat fish on Friday) (this is not righteousness); but God's word is different and true and shows us our true need and help. It points us to God our Savior, Jesus Christ, sufficient even for me.

Where the church proclaims this gospel, it speaks with authority, it speaks the living word. Where the scripture proclaim this, prophesy this, foreshadow this, increase trust in God, etc., it is inspired, it is the truth.

boto said...

I appreciate this post from Dr. White's blog and the commentary. (This is my first comment on this blog.) Yesterday a RC attendee of our lunchtime men's prayer/scripture group (now reading John) at work added a reading from Sirach 15:11-20 on "free will". I intend to incorporate these thoughts on canonicity in my reply.

James Swan said...

You're welcome.