Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sproul: "The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books"

I noticed Jason Engwer recently addressed R.C. Sproul's statement that the Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books. I  wrote about this a few years ago, beginning with the charge against Sproul's view:

"I've read second-hand that R.C. Sproul said Christians have "a fallible list of infallible books." Do you believe this? How does this factor into Protestant certainty?"


R.C. Sproul has made this point multiple times. I have at least three sources in which he makes this point. Probably though, the point wasn’t even Sproul’s to begin with. He was the pupil of John Gerstner, this statement might have been originally his.

Don Kistler points out:

Though Luther did not challenge the infallibility of Scripture he most emphatically challenged the infallibility of the church. He allowed for the possibility that the church could err, even when the church ruled on the question of what books properly belonged in the Canon. To see this issue more clearly we can refer to a distinction often made by Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner distinguishes between the Roman Catholic view of the Canon and the Protestant view of the Canon in this manner:
• ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books.

• PROTESTANT VIEW: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.
The distinction in view here refers to the Catholic Church’s conviction that the Canon of Scripture was declared infallibly by the church. On the other hand, the Protestant view is that the church’s decision regarding what books make up the Canon was a fallible decision. Being fallible means that it is possible that the church erred in its compilation of the books found in the present Canon of Scripture.
When Gerstner makes this distinction he is neither asserting nor implying that the church indeed did err in its judgment of what properly belongs to the Canon. His view is not designed to cast doubt on the Canon but simply to guard against the idea of an infallible church. It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err.
Gerstner’s formula has often been met with both consternation and sharp criticism in evangelical circles. It seems to indicate that he and those who agree with his assessment are undermining the authority of the Bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Luther and Calvin before him, Gerstner has been an ardent defender of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. His formula is merely designed to acknowledge that there was a historical selection process by which the church determined what books were really Scripture and what books were not Scripture. The point is that in this sifting or selection process the church sought to identify what books were actually to be regarded as Scripture.
[Source: “The Establishment of Scripture” Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible. (Don Kistler, ed. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), found in the electronic edition of Sproul’s Chapters in Symposium Volumes]
Do I agree with the statement, “The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books”? Yes, because the heart of the statement is only meant to point out that the church is not infallible.

Sproul points out:
Roman Catholics view the canon as an infallible collection of infallible books. Protestants view it as a fallible collection of infallible books. Rome believes the church was infallible when it determined which books belong in the New Testament. Protestants believe the church acted rightly and accurately in this process, but not infallibly.[Source: R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, 58].
For me to admit that the Bible is an “infallible collection” is really only a way of being cornered into admitting the Roman Catholic paradigm of an infallible extra-Biblical authority. Does that therefore mean that I believe the bible contains a book it shouldn’t? No.

I recognize the Christian Church received the Canon. It does not though, create the Canon, or stand above the Canon. In other words, I see no reason to grant the Church infallibility in order for the Church to receive the Canon. The Church was used by God to provide a widespread knowledge of the Canon. The Holy Spirit had worked among the early Christian Church in providing them with the books of the New Testament. This same process can be seen with the Old Testament and Old Testament believers. The Old Testament believer 50 years before Christ was born had a canon of Scripture, this despite the ruling from an infallible authority.

First century Christians had the Old Testament, and had “certainty” that it was the very word of almighty. Clement of Rome frequently quotes the Old Testament. He does so, with the understanding that the words of the Old Testament are the very words of God. He was certain of it, this despite the alleged infallible ruling of either Pope Damaus or Trent. His use of Old Testament passages show a certainty that the words were God’s words. Or, think of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy- Paul notes that from infancy Timothy “knew” the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim 3:15): “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” How was it Timothy could know the Scriptures were the words of God without an infallible Church council declaring which books were canonical?

Obviously, the notion that an infallible council can only provide Canon certainty cannot be accurate. To expand this, think of all the New Testament writers: they freely quote the Old Testament with the certainty that it was the Word of God. Yet, no infallible source defined the Canon for them. A “source” definitely received the Old Testament Canon, but that “source” was not infallible, nor do I recall Rome arguing that the Jewish Old Testament leadership was infallible. Hence, I see no reason why the entirety of the Bible needs an infallible body to declare the Canon. It wasn’t needed previous to Trent, Damasus, or the pre-Christ Jewish authority.

That being said, how was it that Timothy had “certainty” the Old Testament was the word of God? It is God’s sovereign power that reveals the canon to His church, for His purposes. The people of God are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It is they, who are given spiritual life and continually fed by its words. Jesus did this himself, as recorded in Luke 24:45, “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” As to how a Protestant can have certainty on the Canon, my certainty is in the providence and work of God. Only faith will read the Bible and hear the voice of God. God used means in giving us His Canon, but like the Old Testament believers, those means don’t need to be infallible for one to know they are reading and hearing God’s word.

15 comments:

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"I recognize the Christian Church received the Canon. It does not though, create the Canon, or stand above the Canon. In other words, I see no reason to grant the Church infallibility in order for the Church to receive the Canon. The Church was used by God to provide a widespread knowledge of the Canon."

Makes perfect sense to me.

PeaceByJesus said...

That the church is fallible does not mean it cannot make an statement that is absolutely true, that cannot be false. The two issues are Rome's formuliac assured infallibility, versus how truth is established, which relates to your statement, that, "it is God’s sovereign power that reveals the canon to His church, for His purposes." The question is how.

How did Abraham know God was speaking to Him, or Moses? How were the Israelites convinced (depending upon the situation) that Moses was speaking God's word, and by which authority, being written, further revelation was tested by (Is. 8:4) Or how were the claims and authority of Jesus and the apostles established?

The answer is by God providing not only basic innate truth and natural revelation, but God supernaturally establishing men and words of God as being Divine, and progressively as well, which became the standard and it attestation which further revelation had to be proven and established by. The apostles were convincing to seekers of truth because their faith, their holiness, teaching and power was Scriptural, which in turn further confirmed the Scriptures they preached, and to which they added.

As Sproul also said, "The Christianity of the Bible is a religion that is uncompromisingly supernatural. If we take away the supernatural, we take away Christianity." http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/supernatural-faith/

The problem is that this involves subjectivity, and atheists want to examine the holes in Jesus hand with a microscope and DNA samples, while Rome offers an assuredly infallible magisterium, which proceeds primarily from Tradition and secondarily from Scripture, but defines both, and defines itself as being assuredly infallible when speaking in accordance with its infallibly declared criteria. Which renders her teaching to be de facto infallible. Though to be sure we cannot be sure how many times she has surely spoken thusly, nor the extent (and perhaps the meaning) of Sacred Tradition. Among other things.

But while God could make Himself so powerfully manifest that no one could deny Him and claim any degree of credibility, and which He has at times (but which, as the Israelites showed, does not assure faith) He generally does not. But instead He provides enough evidence (from the bombardier beetle to conversion testimonies or other miracles of grace) for the seeker with a heart that obeys the degree of true light he has to find Him, which then results in further confirmation, while allowing enough "problems" for the lost to rationalize away his unbelief, faithfully disallowing reasonable explanations while convincing himself he is objective.

As for Rome, if she had the qualities and Divine attestation of the apostles and her claims could pass the test of noble Bereans as that of the apostles did, then we could affirm her apostolic claim, though they did not promise a perpetual formulaic magisterial infallibility by which as church

But as Rome does not, and it is the preaching of the evangelical gospel with its Biblical God and Christ and core truths that effects conversions, with its Biblical transformative effects, and by which the one true church has her members (and at the most essential level establishes authenticity), then it in the pasture of such that the sheep will feed, having tasted and seen that the Lord is good. To the glory of God.

Jay Rogers said...

To me the solution is that the Apostles infallibly established the canon and the catholic church RECEIVED the canon through the early bishops. This was the view of the church fathers. It is also the view of the Westminster Confession. Why would Protestants not accept that?

Unknown said...

Two significant problems I see here.

1) The Catholic Church (and you neglect mentioning the Orthodox ought to be included here also) has no broad statement of the church being infallible. The infallibility asserted has specific qualifications (such as dogmatic decrees of eccumenical councils, etc).
2) The Sproul / Gerstner / et al position opens wide the door of anyone choosing to reject the historic Christian canon (as Luther did early, and still doubted Revelation at the time of his death). Technically, this view allows anyone to analyze for themselves and accept into the canon books not now in it, or reject books currently in it...without being able to classify them as a heretic, or even aberrant (since there is no objective standard). With that authority in the hands of every individual, major Christian doctrines may be rejected due to the books teachings them being rejected. [Remembering also that the Church's decision on canon became foundational to substantiating existing christian doctrines, and reaching conclusions on further doctrinal developments extending thereupon. ---- Technically, Sproul, et al are stuck. If they are consistent, they can't declare someone a heretic who rejects the letters of Paul, accepts Gnostic gospels, and has doctrinal beliefs reflective of that.

PeaceByJesus said...

The Catholic Church (and you neglect mentioning the Orthodox ought to be included here also) has no broad statement of the church being infallible.

Which RCs attack you for (http://shamelesspopery.com/orthodox-and-protestant-infallibility-problem), while the very premise of ensured magisterial veracity/infallibility is novel, being unseen and unnecessary in Scripture.

Tell me what souls should do when faced with a bunch of disciples and itinerant preachers who are rejected by the authorative historical magisterium of God (such as Rome claims to be) but who manifestly establish their message upon the premise that some books - which were never infallibly declared to be of God by the historical magisterium - spoke of their leader of their sect? Could these souls and their message and sect be of God?

2) The Sproul / Gerstner / et al position opens wide the door of anyone choosing to reject the historic Christian canon (as Luther did early, and still doubted Revelation at the time of his death). Technically, this view allows anyone to analyze for themselves and accept into the canon books not now in it, or reject books currently in it...without being able to classify them as a heretic, or even aberrant (since there is no objective standard).

A fallible collection of infallible books is a contradiction, for if all the collection consists only of infallible books then it is a infallible canon, but not due to being infallibly declared by a church that infallibly declared it is infallible.

The question is, could souls truly know what was of God before an elitist church (pick one) imagined a infallible magisterial declaration by them was essential for souls to truly know this? And for Truth and Faith to be passed on and preserved? At the same time, does a magisterium have to possess ensured infallibility in order for it to be authoritative?

PeaceByJesus said...

[Remembering also that the Church's decision on canon became foundational to substantiating existing christian doctrines, and reaching conclusions on further doctrinal developments extending thereupon. -

Thus since there was no infallible decree on the entire canon until after the death of Luther, then substantiating existing christian doctrines, and reaching conclusions on further doctrinal developments had to rely on a deficient foundation until then.

As I understand your premise, an infallible decree (as per infallibly-defined criteria) is essential for certitude, and which means that you know that your church possess ensured magisterial infallibility because she has infallibly declared it.

Bill said...

It seems to me that a "fallible list of infallible books" refutes the concept of Sola Scriptura. How can I assert that the Bible is enough when I don't know whether I have all the scripture necessary for it to be sufficient?

PeaceByJesus said...

What sufficiency means (formal or formal and material senses combined) is an issue, but your objection would be the same just for Scriptura Prima, that as written, Scripture became the transcendent supreme standard for obedience and testing and establishing truth claims as the wholly Divinely inspired and assured, Word of God. As is abundantly evidenced .

And which testifies (Lk. 24:27,44; Acts 17:2,11; 18:28; 28:23, etc.) to writings of God being recognized and established as being so (essentially due to their unique and enduring heavenly qualities and attestation), and thus they materially provide for a canon of Scripture (as well as for reason, the church, etc.)

Thus the issue is what is your basis for your premise that the 60 book Pro. canon is not a complete canon (if Trent actually closed the canon is a matter of discussion among RCs). Is your position that an infallible magisterium is essential correctly knowing what is of God and for it to be authoritative?

For the unanswered question is, could souls truly know what was of God before an elitist church (pick one) imagined a infallible magisterial declaration by them was essential for souls to truly know this? And for Truth and Faith to be passed on and preserved? At the same time, does a magisterium have to possess ensured infallibility in order for it to be authoritative?

Answer me.

PeaceByJesus said...

Correction, brain said "66" book but somehow semiconsciously typed "60."

Highland Cathedral said...

"It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err."
So what is being said? Is the collection without error or not?
And how do we know whether it is an erroneous collection or not?
If the Church is not infallible then, as has been said, the list could contain books which are not infallible. And it might omit books which are infallible.
So, if the list COULD be erroneous then we cannot take the Canon established by the Church as definitively correct. There has to be some other method of establishing the full and correct canon. A method which cannot possibly be erroneous. What is this method? Do ALL Protestants apply this method when deciding the Canon or do they, in practice, accept a Canon decided by other people. ie. They just go into a shop and buy a ready-made Bible. So, in practice, Protestants accept the traditions of the men who, for them, decided the Canon. But Mr Sproul says it IS (not COULD BE) a fallible list. Oh dear. I'm glad I'm not a Protestant.

PeaceByJesus said...

Part 1:

If the Church is not infallible then, as has been said, the list could contain books which are not infallible. And it might omit books which are infallible.
So, if the list COULD be erroneous then we cannot take the Canon established by the Church as definitively correct. There has to be some other method of establishing the full and correct canon. A method which cannot possibly be erroneous.


Really? According to this premise then, that souls cannot assuredly know what writings - and for that matter, which men - are of God and thus authoritative unless an infallible authority tells then, 1st century souls could had no certainty beliefs in what was of God until Rome, who infallibly would come to say that she possessed the novel and unScriptural charism of ensured (conditional) perpetual magisterial infallibility.

However, 1st century souls rightly discern that John was a prophet indeed, and that Jesus was the Messiah, since an authoritative body of wholly inspired Scripture had been established by the time of Christ, as manifest by the frequent appeals to Scripture, including "He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:27)

And writings of which - included the principle of miraculous attestation - provided the prophetic and doctrinal epistemological foundation for the church.

Moreover it is even implicitly affirmed in Catholicism that btwn her canon and ours, we hold to the most ancient OT canon: “the protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants.” “...the Hebrew Bible, which became the Old Testament of Protestantism.” (The Catholic Encyclopedia>Canon of the Old Testament; htttp://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm) The Protestant canon of the Old Testament is the same as the Palestinian canon. (The Catholic Almanac, 1960, p. 217)

What is this method? Do ALL Protestants apply this method when deciding the Canon or do they, in practice, accept a Canon decided by other people. ie. They just go into a shop and buy a ready-made Bible. So, in practice, Protestants accept the traditions of the men who, for them, decided the Canon. But Mr Sproul says it IS (not COULD BE) a fallible list. Oh dear. I'm glad I'm not a Protestant.

Meaning for one, you are glad that you are not a RC during most of her history, since there simply was no "infallible" indisputable canon of Scripture until 1546. In reality, scholarly disagreements over the canonicity (proper) of certain books continued down through the centuries and right into Trent, until it provided the first "infallible," indisputable canon - after the death of Luther. And which is not all the same as even that of the EOs.

Which was after a vote of 24 yea, 15 nay, with 16 abstaining (44%, 27%, 29%) as to whether to affirm it as an article of faith with its anathemas on those who dissent from it, provided the first "infallible" RC canon.

Thus not only was a authoritative body of wholly-God-inspired writings established before there was a church that presume its infallible magisterium was essential for this, and instead the Lord and His church established Truth claims upon Scriptural substantiation in word and in power, but for most of her history Catholics did not have a infallible canon of Scripture.

PeaceByJesus said...


Pt. 2

If the Church is not infallible then, as has been said, the list could contain books which are not infallible. And it might omit books which are infallible.
So, if the list COULD be erroneous then we cannot take the Canon established by the Church as definitively correct. There has to be some other method of establishing the full and correct canon. A method which cannot possibly be erroneous.


Really? According to this premise then, that souls cannot assuredly know what writings - and for that matter, which men - are of God and thus authoritative unless an infallible authority tells then, 1st century souls could had no certainty beliefs in what was of God until Rome, who infallibly would come to say that she possessed the novel and unScriptural charism of ensured (conditional) perpetual magisterial infallibility.

However, 1st century souls rightly discern that John was a prophet indeed, and that Jesus was the Messiah, since an authoritative body of wholly inspired Scripture had been established by the time of Christ, as manifest by the frequent appeals to Scripture, including "He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:27)

And writings of which - included the principle of miraculous attestation - provided the prophetic and doctrinal epistemological foundation for the church.

Moreover it is even implicitly affirmed in Catholicism that btwn her canon and ours, we hold to the most ancient OT canon: “the protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants.” “...the Hebrew Bible, which became the Old Testament of Protestantism.” (The Catholic Encyclopedia>Canon of the Old Testament; htttp://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm) The Protestant canon of the Old Testament is the same as the Palestinian canon. (The Catholic Almanac, 1960, p. 217)

What is this method? Do ALL Protestants apply this method when deciding the Canon or do they, in practice, accept a Canon decided by other people. ie. They just go into a shop and buy a ready-made Bible. So, in practice, Protestants accept the traditions of the men who, for them, decided the Canon. But Mr Sproul says it IS (not COULD BE) a fallible list. Oh dear. I'm glad I'm not a Protestant.

Meaning for one, you are glad that you are not a RC during most of her history, since there simply was no "infallible" indisputable canon of Scripture until 1546. In reality, scholarly disagreements over the canonicity (proper) of certain books continued down through the centuries and right into Trent, until it provided the first "infallible," indisputable canon - after the death of Luther. And which is not all the same as even that of the EOs.

Which was after a vote of 24 yea, 15 nay, with 16 abstaining (44%, 27%, 29%) as to whether to affirm it as an article of faith with its anathemas on those who dissent from it, provided the first "infallible" RC canon.

Meanwhile, souls who are supposedly unable to discern which writings are of God apart from faith in Rome (thus "when we appeal to the Scriptures for proof of the Church's infallible authority we appeal to them merely as reliable historical sources, and abstract altogether from their inspiration." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm), are expected to be able to discern that Rome of God.

To be contd.

PeaceByJesus said...

Pt. 3.

Meanwhile, soul who are supposedly unable to discern which writings are of God apart from faith in Rome (thus "when we appeal to the Scriptures for proof of the Church's infallible authority we appeal to them merely as reliable historical sources, and abstract altogether from their inspiration." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm), are expected to be able to discern that Rome of God.

Yet even with a self-proclaimed infallible magisterium RCs can have a hard time knowing what all is infallible, and which part of a document are, and what magisterial level each teaching belongs under, and thus what manner of submission is required.

It must be clear that they are teaching it definitively as something which must be held. Therefore, one must ascertain 1) exactly what is being taught; 2) whether the Pope and bishops are all (i.e., by a moral unanimity) teaching it; and 3) what degree of certitude they are attaching to their teaching. All of this entails a somewhat exhaustive study and one in which it can be expected that the experts (i.e., the theologians) will not always come to a meeting of minds. — Fr. James T. O'Connor, The Gift of Infallibility (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1986), p. 106. http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=2697

Or else Catholics are to just implicitly submit to all public teachings of faith and morals (and can know what all falls under that: PF's social encyclical?), and which much papal teaching requires , but which the majority of those Rome considers to be members Catholics do not do.

A one poster wryly stated, The last time the church imposed its judgment in an authoritative manner on "areas of legitimate disagreement," the conservative Catholics became the Sedevacantists and the Society of St. Pius X, the moderate Catholics became the conservatives, the liberal Catholics became the moderates, and the folks who were excommunicated, silenced, refused Catholic burial, etc. became the liberals. The event that brought this shift was Vatican II; conservatives then couldn't handle having to actually obey the church on matters they were uncomfortable with, so they left. ” (Nathan, https://christopherblosser.wordpress.com/2005/05/16/fr-michael-orsi-on-different-levels-of-catholic-teaching (original http://www.ratzingerfanclub.com/blog/2005/05/fr-michael-orsi-on-different-levels-of.html)

Thus the very entity that is supposed to help ensure unity has worked to produce division, with Catholics essentially doing what they condemn "Bible Christians for doing, that is ascertaining the validity of church teaching based upon their judgment of what ancient church teaching is and says.

But which for us in Scripture. And distinctive Catholic teachings are not manifest in the only wholly inspired substantive authoritative record of what the NT church believed (which is Scripture, in particular Acts through Revelation, which best shows how the NT church understood the gospels).

Meanwhile it is those who most strongly esteem Scripture as the accurate and wholly inspired word of God testify to being far more unified in polled core beliefs and values than overall those whom Rome counts as members in life and in death.

PeaceByJesus said...

Well, that all needed some proof reading. Sorry, and I wish there was an edit feature.

James Swan said...

The only way to fix typos in Blogger is to delete your comments, then repost them. you should be able to delete them on your end.