Monday, May 08, 2006

Luther's Canon: A Response To Catholic Dude (part Three)

This will part three in my response to a Roman Catholic named “Catholic Dude” who reviewed my paper *Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture*. The first response can be found here: Luther's Canon: A Response To "Catholic Dude" (Part one), the second here:
Luther's Canon: A Response to Catholic Dude (Part Two).

The focus of this response will be directed toward this link from the Catholic Answers discussion boards: “Re: Protestants: Here is what Luther did to some NT books you use...” . Catholic Dude’s words will be in Red. The words from my article will be in blue. My responses will be in black.

1. Luther on the Book of Jude
Luther questioned the apostolic nature of the book of Jude. If one reads through his comments, it fairly obvious no “agenda” is at work. His concerns are of a historical nature, as they were in the case of James. Catholic Dude asks, “So the question is how are the comments to Jude [by Luther] similar to James, when [James Swan] claims [Luther's] dislike for Jude is due primarily to history and apostolicity?”

This question deserves only minor attention, since the answer should be obvious to anyone reading what I wrote, or what Luther wrote. The evidence available to Luther, both internally and externally led him to conclude the book was written by someone who was not an apostolic witness. The Dude then asks, “Why he put this book at the bottom of the pile is a mystery to me.” Well, it shouldn’t be. Luther said:

Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter’s second epistle, so very like it are all the words. He also speaks of the apostles like a disciple who comes long after them [Jude 17] and cites sayings and incidents that are found nowhere else in the Scriptures [Jude 9, 14]. This moved the ancient fathers to exclude this epistle from the main body of the Scriptures.  Moreover the Apostle Jude did not go to Greek-speaking lands, but to Persia, as it is said, so that he did not write Greek. Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.”

This epistle is ascribed to the holy apostle St. Jude, the brother of the two apostles James the Less and Simon, the sons of the sister of the mother of Christ who is called Mary the wife of James or Cleophas, as we read in Mark 6:3. But this letter does not seem to have been written by the real apostle, for in it Jude refers to himself as a much later disciple of the apostles. Nor does it contain anything special beyond pointing to the Second Epistle of Saint Peter, from which it has borrowed nearly all the words.  It is nothing more than an epistle directed against our clerics—bishops, priests, and monks.”

2. The Catholic determining of the Canon: It’s Scripture Because We Say So
In my paper, I cited the Lutheran writer Mark Bartling saying, “[Luther’s] reason for reopening the question of canonicity was not at all subjective, or arbitrary, and certainly not at all like the modern historical-critical method. Luther, in his study of the question of canonicity, appealed not to subjective considerations or negative higher criticism, but objectively to the judgments of the early church and the writings of the fathers. Luther did not want to make the error of accepting the canon of Scripture because the institutional Church had declared it as such.”

Commenting on this, the Dude says, “Here SolaS shows its ugly head. The agenda is more and more clear.”

Faced with an accurate historical perspective put forth by Bartling, the Dude simply dismisses it rather than interact with it. Luther’s was not an arbitrary or subjective opinion. He had reasons for arriving at the conclusions he did- and these reasons were the result of his theological study.

On the other hand, one needs to “turn the tables” so to speak on the Dude. The question one needs to ask the Dude at this point is, how exactly does he himself understand what determines canonicity? He seems to be leaning toward the notion that the Catholic Church simply “declares” canon- as if by magic. This position would indeed be subjective and arbitrary. By the Dude’s disdain for Luther’s approach- that is, Luther’s evaluation of historical data and internal evidence, I can only conclude this method does not meet his particular “Catholic” standards. The other option would appear to be that the Catholic Church simply waves a magic wand, regardless of facts and evidence and declares “canon”.

3. A Criticism From Left Field- Huh?
In his last criticism, the Dude is simply silly. He quoted this line from the conclusion of my paper, “As has been demonstrated, Luther’s treatment of the canon is not the claim of authoritarian dogma. When one looks at the totality of Luther’s New Testament canon criticism, it is quite minute: four books. Of his opinion he allows for the possibility of his readers to disagree with his conclusions.”

The Dude comments: “Well the Gospels are quite minute I guess. The idea that picking and choosing being left up to the individual has been fully exposed.” I admit, the first time I read this comment, I simply said, “Huh? What in the world is this guy saying?”

Well, there are four gospels, and all of us would agree that they are of great significance. Had Luther denied the canonicity of the four Gospels, he would have been denying a large chunk of the New Testament. The dude is arguing that denying any four large New Testament books is equally as bad as denying four shorter books. This is obviously ridiculous. With the books Luther questioned, three were very small (James, Jude, and Hebrews), Revelation was much larger. In my paper, I went on to say: “Of the four books, it is possible that Luther’s opinion fluctuated on two (Hebrews and Revelation).” So now we’re down to James and Jude, which comprise a total of 6 chapters of Biblical text.

Catholic Dude again shows a complete rejection of history and fact when he says, “The idea that picking and choosing being left up to the individual has been fully exposed.” As I have pointed out previously, Luther had every right to debate and discuss the canon. In essence, when Luther is placed in a historical Roman Catholic context, Roman Catholics don’t even have the right to criticize Luther’s theological opinions on the canon. The canon wasn’t dogmatically closed for Roman Catholics until the Council of Trent. Luther, Erasmus, and Cajetan all argued their views previous to this declaration. Thus, they were within their rights to discuss the canon.

4. Why did Luther Quote and Preach From the Book of James?
The Dude wonders how Luther can deny the canonicity of James, but then read Luther positively use James in his writing and sermons. He says, “And in regards to post #1 where Luther claims that James has nothing to do with the Gospel, yet in appendix B of the article the author cites a sermon which uses James and in the sermon Luther talks about "Why Men Reject the Gospel" and "Christ's Resurrection". So is James worthy of teaching the Gospel or Not?”

I thought I made this point clear. Luther said, “Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.”

Luther found value in the book, and like the Old Testament apocrypha, it was useful and good to read. I pointed out: An interesting fact not usually mentioned is that even though Luther had doubts about James, these were not enough to deter him from preaching from the book. For instance, in 1536 Luther preached on James 1:16-21. Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, "Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle." It is apparent that Luther did find many good things in James worthy to be preached. Similarly, one can find Luther positively quoting from the book of James throughout his writings.

It is curious that in the sermon, Luther refers to James as “the apostle,” and it is also interesting that he does discuss the gospel and the Resurrection. It is possible that Luther was being inconsistent, and the sermon is a good example that Luther’s opinion of James wasn’t a dogmatic lifelong denial. Even in my paper I said, “Luther appears to have held lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James.” I used the word “appeared” because some of the evidence (like the sermon I utilized), would make one wonder if his opinion of James was that secure throughout his Reformation career.

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