Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Canon: The Empty Arguments From the Defenders of Rome

A guy over on the CARM boards frequently posts things that I can only describe as the writing of a fanatic...Here’s a recent post from the CARM boards in which he hijacked a quote from a Catholic apologist and seeks to put some of the "glory" theology on display:

Canon of the New Testament

Protestants do, of course, accept the traditional Canon of the New Testament (albeit somewhat inconsistently and with partial reluctance - Luther questioned the full canonicity of James(it was always a pain to luther), Revelation and other books). By doing so, they necessarily acknowledged the authority of the Catholic Church. If they had not, it is likely that Protestantism would have gone the way of all the old heresies of the first millennium of the Church Age - degenerating into insignificant, bizarre cults and disappearing into the putrid backwaters of history” [Source: The New Testament Canon].

My response:

1. What Luther thought about the canon is interesting, but not relevant to determining the canon for Protestants.

2. Luther questioned the canonicity of particular books, as did others during his time- Cardinal Cajetan and Desiderius Erasmus. Because of the recovery of the Greek New Testament, theologians during the Reformation period looked afresh at Canon issues. Note that Cajetan and Erasmus were not "Reformers" but were Roman Catholic Theologians of great importance.

3. Of the four books Luther questioned, it is very possible that Luther’s opinion fluctuated on two (Hebrews and Revelation). James and Jude comprise a total of 6 chapters. Thus, one can conclude that Luther questioned the canonicity of 6 chapters of Scripture. To my knowledge, Luther did not question the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, which I do. Thus, according to Catholic reasoning, I must be as much of canon-destroyer as Luther.

4. The Roman Catholic apologist seems to be arguing that the Reformers settled the canon based on the infallible pronouncement of the Roman Catholic Church. This is historical error. A simple reading of Reformed and Lutheran confessions would prove such is not the case. Find me a valid Reformed or Lutheran confession that states the Reformers appealed to an infallible pronouncement of the church to settle the canon.

5. The testimony of church history is a valid approach to canon research. Church history though is not to be equated with an infallible pronouncement from the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is it the only test for canonicity.

6. To argue that the church must infallibly define the canon is to simply say something is proven because the church "says so". Catholics argue that the canon was settled by an infallible pronouncement from the Roman Catholic Church. When asked how the Roman Catholic Church can establish her authority, they answer that it is proved by the testimony of the Scriptures. Hence, the Romanist uses a circular argument: they prove the authority of the Scriptures by the Church, and the authority of the Church by the Scriptures.

7. This comment deserves attention: "If they had not, it is likely that Protestantism would have gone the way of all the old heresies of the first millennium of the Church Age - degenerating into insignificant, bizarre cults and disappearing into the putrid backwaters of history." Says who? How does he know what may or may not happen? Why is this "likely"? Rather, it would have been better to use the word, "possible". Perhaps though, this Catholic apologist has Ms. Cleo psychic abilities, and knows what would "likely" happen. Or, perhaps his argument is based on a false premise, and thus "likely" (but not necessarily) leads to a false conclusion.

8. Another CARM participant provided a well-constructed post on disagreements throughout Church history on the canon, found here. He finishes by quoting the New Catholic Encyclopedia:

According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.”

He notes: “This article (carrying both Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat), informs us that 'the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church', and that such a decision regarding the canon was not made by the RCC until the Tridentine Council, which appears, as the article so rightly says 'rather late in the history of the Church'.”

He argues his case well. However, there is one last nail to be put in the Catholic canon argument in regard to Luther. Luther, Erasmus, and Cajetan, all practiced Canon criticism, and were all trained as Catholic theologians. If the New Catholic Encyclopedia is correct, Erasmus, Cajetan, and Luther had every right within the Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the Canon- because they did so previous to Trent's declaration on the canon. Catholics frequently argue and appeal to the fact that biblical opinion and speculation is allowed previous to an infallible decree. Thus, Luther, Erasmus, Cajetan, and a host of others just did what was allowed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Theirs was not even a radical higher criticism. The books they questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. None were so extreme as to engage in Marcion-like canon-destruction. Both Erasmus and Luther translated the entirety of Bible, and published it. Thus, they did what they did as theologians, not as radical heretics.

1 comment:

Gojira said...

Hi James,

I didn't look, but I would wager that you are talking about a certain Fennyite in training whose screen name starts with a "j" and ends with a "9." Now of course I am joking about him being a Fennyite intraining, but I would never put it past our "love to hate Luther" guy.

Excellent post.