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Why I Believe the Canon is Fallible . . . And am Fine with It!

I am looking on page 23 of my Bible and it has the list of books. The books all together number 66—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. This is often referred to as the “canon” of Scripture. “Canon” (Gk. kanon) means “rule” or “measuring rod.” The canon of Scripture is the collection or a “rule” of books that Christians believe belong in the Bible. There are some variations among Christian traditions concerning the number of books. The Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches all use different canons (as well, some eastern churches will vary still). The Catholic and Orthodox include a group of books in their Bibles referred to as the Deuterocanonical books (“second canon”) or, as Protestants would call it, the “Apocrypha” (although the Orthodox church is not quite as settled upon the status of the Apocrypha).

The question How do you know what books belong in the Bible? is a significant one indeed. The Catholics and Orthodox will normally refer to the establishment of these books as part of the canon by fourth century councils. Catholics would further refer to the teachings of the council of Trent (1545-1563) which dogmatically and infallibly declared the current Catholic canon (including the Apocrypha) as being authoritative.

I believe that the 66 books of the Protestant canon belong in the Bible, no more no less. I believe that all 66 books are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. Yet the list on page 23 of my Bible is not part of the canon. In other words, the list itself is not part of the inspired word of God. I am using the English Standard Version, but it is the same in any version of any language. The NET Bible does not have an inspired list, even in the footnotes! There is no early Greek or Hebrew manuscript that solves the problem either. Therefore I have a potential difficulty. Since do not believe in an infallible human authority that can determine what books belong in the Bible, how can I be certain what books belong in the Bible?

It was R.C. Sproul who first made the claim that Protestants have a fallible canon of infallible books. A fallible canon of infallible books? What good is that? Catholics often jest about the seemingly ironic situation in which advocates of sola Scriptura find themselves. The doctrine of sola Scripture was one of the two primary battle cries of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Essentially it means that the Scripture is the ultimate and only infallible authority for the body of Christ in matters of Christian faith and practice. Professing this doctrine does not mean that there are no other authorities, but that there are no other ultimate and infallible authorities. Catholics on the other hand will claim that they, due to their belief in a living infallible authority, have an infallible collection of infallible books.

Not only this, but what about interpretation? Not only do Protestants not believe in an infallible authority to dogmatize which books belong in the Bible, but they don’t believe in an infallible authority to interpret the Bible. Therefore, we can take this to the next level. Protestants have a fallible interpretation of an fallible canon of infallible books. Ouch! Sounds like it is time to convert to Catholicism, eh?

Not so fast. In the end, this is an issue of epistemology. Epistemology deals with the question “How do you know?” How do we know the canon is correct? How do we know we have the right interpretation? Assumed within these questions is the idea of certainty. How do you know with certainty? Not only this, but how do you know with absolute certainty?

The question that I would ask is this: Do we need absolute infallible certainty about something to 1) be justified in our belief about that something, 2) to be held responsible for a belief in that something. I would answer “no” for two primary reasons:

1. This supposed need for absolute certainty is primarily the product of the enlightenment and a Cartesian epistemology. To say that we have to be infallibly certain about something before it can be believed and acted upon is setting the standard so high that only God Himself could attain to it. Outside of mathematics and analytical statements (e.g. a triangle had three sides), there is no absolute certainty, only relative certainty. This does not, however, give anyone an excuse or alleviate responsibility for belief in something.

For example, I believe that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. I prepare each day with this belief in mind. Each night, I set my alarm clock and review my appointments for the following day, having a certain expectation that the next day will truly come. While I have certainty about the sun rising the next day, I don’t have infallible certainty that it will. There could be some astronomical anomaly that causes the earth to stop its rotation. There could be an asteroid that comes and destroys the earth. Christ could come in the middle of the night. In short, I don’t have absolute infallible certainty about the coming of the next day. This, however, does not give me an excuse before men or God for not believing that it will come. What if I missed an early appointment the next day and told the person “I am sorry, I did not set my alarm clock because I did not have infallible certainty that this day would come.” Would that be a valid excuse? It would neither be a valid excuse to the person who I was supposed to meet or to God.

We have a term that we use for people who require infallible certainty about everything: “mentally ill.” Remember What About Bob? He was mentally ill because he made decisions based on the improbability factor. Because it was a possibility that something bad could happen to him if he stepped outside his house, he assumed it would happen. There are degrees of probability. We act according to degrees of probability. Simply because it is a possibility that the sun will not rise tomorrow does not mean that it is a probability that it won’t.

The same can be said about the canon and interpretation of Scripture. Just because there is a possibility that we are wrong (being fallible), does not mean that it is a probability. Therefore, we look to the evidence for the degree of probability concerning Scripture.

2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium) disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility. No one would claim personal infallibility. Therefore it is possible for all of us to be wrong. We all have to start with personal fallible engagement in any issue. Therefore, any belief in an infallible living authority could be wrong. As Geisler and MacKenzie put it, “The supposed need for an infallible magisterium is an epistemically insufficient basis for rising above the level of probable knowledge. Catholic scholars admit, as they must, that they do not have infallible evidence that there is an infallible teaching magisterium. They have merely what even they believe to be only probable arguments. But if this is the case, then epistemically or apologetically there is no more than a probable basis for Catholics to believe that a supposedly infallible pronouncement [either about the canon or interpretation of the canon] of their church is true” (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, p. 216).

This means that we are all floating the same river, just different boats. Catholics have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; Protestants have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. Both authorities must be substantiated by the evidence and both authorities must be interpreted by fallible people.

This is the question that I have: In the end, what is the difference?

Do we have a fallible collection of infallible books? Yes, I believe we do. When all is said and done, all of our beliefs are fallible and therefore subject to error. I am comfortable with this. But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error. We have to appeal to the evidence to decide.

189 Responses to “Why I Believe the Canon is Fallible . . . And am Fine with It!”

  1. Michael,

    But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error.

    What exactly is that probability, and how did you calculate it?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. Having conceded no infallible canon, the question becomes then what you do claim. Do you then claim a canon that is probably right? Or do you claim a canon that is mostly right?

    It seems to me you defend the former by appealing to the insanity of requiring proof about improbabilities, and by claiming up front you believe in 66 books.

    However, having abandoned any claim to an infallible canon, you still pretty much have the exact same work to do to defend that your canon is probably right. Which I don’t think you can do, certainly you can’t do it toanywhere near the standard of comparing anyone who disagrees with you to the insanity of Bob.

    So this argument fails to satisfy, unless you want to reduce your claim even further to simply saying that your canon is probably fairly close to being the right one, perhaps plus or minus 20% or 30% of the books in it, allowing for various opinions about the deteros, or the catholic epistles, or the Syriac canon, or Revelation or whatever.

    But this is a bit of a problem for the Protestant hermeneutic. A Catholic or Orthodox could still say that say, the Letter to Clement, or Didache (sometimes listed as canon by the early church, and still listed by the Ethiopian church) is a part of the authentic tradition of the church. But the Protestant has no such shades of gray. It’s either infallible and to be followed strictly, or its to be ignored, if not shunned as the traditions of men. We don’t find Protestants fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as the Orthodox church does, because they might be wrong about the Didache being in the canon.

    The fallible list of infallible books theory just doesn’t work very well.

  3. CMP,

    You say, “Do we have a fallible collection of infallible books? Yes, I believe we do. When all is said and done, all of our beliefs are fallible and therefore subject to error. I am comfortable with this. But remember, the possibility of error does not necessitate the probability of error. We have to appeal to the evidence to decide.”

    Am I missing something here, or does not your assertion that all of our beliefs are subject to error also then call into question the very assertion that we have a collection of infallible books in our canon? And should we be comfortable with that?

    You may very well have addressed this elsewhere. But to me it is the logical question that this statement raises. Do we then just say that our belief in a collection of infallible books is “probably” correct?

  4. Provocative title. But what difference does it make to hold that the biblical books are infallible in the original mss, if we do not have the originals, and the cannon and its interpretation is fallible? Why not affirm what we believe about the writings we have?

    What we can say is that we take the canon as God’s Word, testified to by Christians through the ages. That they are uniquely inspired and authoritative. All Christian faith and practice can and must be measured by them. We believe that God has put his seal of approval on them in much the same way that he consecrated Solomon’s temple. They are where we go to meet God. They are the only writings given among men through which God promises to speak to us. They were written by inspired men, and are both fully human and fully divine. They are the logos of God that points us to the Logos.

  5. CMP-

    I believe your approach leaves out much of the work of the Holy Spirit in regards to this, especially how He worked in the early church.

    As Scot McKnight wrote:

    “…as Evangelicals we need to admit more readily the role of the Church in “deciding” what was canonical. I am fully aware that we are treading on dangerous identity turfs here, but the facts are simple: what we read as canonical is read as authoritative because its inherent authority is inspired and its recognition is ecclesial….either we embrace canon and creed as a singular moment when God was at work through his Spirit in the history of the Church, or we relativize both canon and creed and throw everything back on history or individual conscience.”

  6. Rick I agree.
    The role of the Church in the 4th century is critical here. I think that that historical choice, confirmed by Christians in the centuries following, is the true reason we hold to the cononicity of the NT books. This testimony is far more compelling than any philosophical arguments from epistemology.

  7. You’re PROBABLY wrong.

  8. And even if the books themselves are infallible, the questions still remain:

    WHICH TEXT(S) of those books is/are the infallible one(s)?

    Which manuscript(s) is/are the infallible one(s)?

    Which text/verse/word/wording of the Old Testament is the infallible one when there is an observable difference between the Hebrew text and the Greek translation? Which text/verse/word/wording of the New Testament is the infallible one when there is an observable difference between manuscripts? In these instances, which one merits a “the Scripture says” or a “thus says the Lord”?

    Sometimes the difference is inconsequential, as in “inalienable” vs. “unalienable.” At other times, though, the difference is like that between “all men are created equal and are endowed with certain rights” and “all males are created equal and are endowed with certain rights.”

  9. Oh boy. What about stuff like the Gospel of Thomas? This was an early work — if you listen to Elane Pagels — and was left out of the canon. If you decide to include any of the gnostic works, you get a very different sort of Jesus, don’t you?

    You say, “I believe that the 66 books of the Protestant canon belong in the Bible, no more no less. I believe that all 66 books are inspired, inerrant, and infallible.” That’s great, but the statement seems just as valid as the statement that there are only four books. Probably, there are significant differences between the beliefs of yours and the guy who accepts only four books.

    Nope. That dog won’t hunt.

    And maybe you would be irritated if the guy who accepts only four books kept insisting that you had to prove all your religious viewpoints based only on his four books.

  10. “Not only do Protestants not believe in an infallible authority to dogmatize which books belong in the Bible, but they don’t believe in an infallible authority to interpret the Bible.”

    I did not know that Protestants across the board do not accept the authority of the church to recognize the Canon. That is a new one for me. I have always seen that some do and some do not believe in the authority fo the church to do that.

    I for one have no problem with the church recognizing the Canon. It still is a little tricky but not as bad as you are describing. I reject the Gnostic gospels partly because of their rejection by the early church also. I think you are taking things way too far in this thread.

    Also I find no problem with tradition and the church being an authority to help one interpret scripture. They are not infallible but they can rule out heretic interpretations and give one a good basis for understnading scripture.

  11. You equivocate when you go from critcizing “absolute certainty” to expounding on probability.

    Probability demands a random sample of a feasible space to calculate it’s potential prediction.

    What random sample do you use when you state, “Therefore, we look to the evidence for the degree of probability concerning Scripture.” What evidence? What degree of probability? What is your alpha value in estimating the standard error.

    Probability is a fixed thing and a very useful tool in measuring what we can predictably say is real. I’d suggest you take an intro stats class if you wish to use it as a concept in estimating the reality of the bible.

  12. John, I believe the canon is right because the evidence (which is not the subject of this post) points to it being correct. In other words, I believe the canon is correct in the same way I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Not because I am infallible or that I have any infallible source to ask, but because there is sufficient reason to believe that it is correct.

    Words like “probably” are not helpful to describe this since they carry nuances of more serious doubt.

  13. EricW –

    You voice many questions I have as well.

  14. It is simply the probability of the argument being true based on the type of evidence we have to work with. Reference the criminal justice system to see the multiple types of evidence that can and is used to persuade a jury. The same type of thing comes into play in Biblical studies and, even, interpretation (i.e. which interpretation is most likely or which manuscript is most likely representative of the original based on internal and external evidence).

    BTW, I am assuming that most of you who are antagonistic to this are either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic (or even Liberal)? Traditional Protestants who believe in sola Scriptura normally follow this course.

  15. This is basically what you wrote here and here.

    Has something changed or been discovered? Or are you repeating old posts for the sake of new readers?

    Not complaining. Just curious re the first question.

  16. Sorry: couldn’t get the second link to work. Left out a “.
    here.

  17. I go to a Nazarene church, which is a traditional protestant denomination (so your assumption is wrong)…. My problem with your canon thesis is that it is essentially just dogmatic–yet you want to use words like certainty and probability as if you have a position that is somehow “provable”….
    It is impossible to “prove” that THIS book is the actual word-of-god but THAT book is not.

  18. CMP,

    You say, “Words like “probably” are not helpful to describe this since they carry nuances of more serious doubt.”

    But when you are saying these issues are based on “probability”, how can you get away from using words like “probably”?

  19. Michael,

    You continue to equivocate, this time in methodology.

    A court case is not an experimental hypothesis.

    You assert a supernatural hypothesis (biblical infallibility based on observed evidence) and equate that with the predictability of global rotation of solar activity structures.

    The latter can be probabalistically assumed via data capture and probability testing, can the latter?

    A court case is not hypothetical, it is argumentative so to equate evidence as equal between legal and empirical systems is fallacious.

    Now, what data set do you use to argue for infallibility and its dependent premise for Holy Spirit authorship?

    Thanks.

  20. Oops I wrote, “The latter can be probabalistically assumed via data capture and probability testing, can the latter?”

    I meant to write, ” “The latter can be probabalistically assumed via data capture and probability testing, can the former?”

    Sorry.

  21. “I am assuming that most of you who are antagonistic to this are either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic (or even Liberal)? Traditional Protestants who believe in sola Scriptura normally follow this course.”

    No, but perhaps, as Dan Wallace put it, I am 51% Protestant. I don’t believe sola Scriptura negates the work of the Holy Spirit’s work in the early church. Nor do I want to describe my trust in the Trinity’s work in terms of “probability”.

    Although it still does not do justice to the issue, perhaps the word “confidence/confident” is more appropriate, instead of “probability” or “certainty”.

    As Keith Drury has written, some things are written in pencil, some in ink, and some in blood. Those things I write in blood have to be based on more than probabilities.

  22. Sausages, laws, canons, creeds….

  23. CMP,

    For the record, I am probably about as Protestant as they come!

  24. “John, I believe the canon is right because the evidence (which is not the subject of this post) points to it being correct.”

    I believe I missed the evidence part. What possible evidence could there be to suggest your particular books are “correct.” The canon is merely that set of books agreed to be authoritative.

    Put it this way: what makes you so sure you are correct to leave the Didache or the Gospel of Thomas out of your bible? What makes you so sure Revelation and James belong in it?

  25. The infallible/indesputable fact of my own fallibility is the reason I must hold tightly to my convictions (built upon evidence that is, for me, the most convincing)–but also why relatively few of my beliefs are sewn into my skin. And this is why Truth is more important than being right, as evinced by the honest disagreements on this page (and by Armenians and Calvanists, etc.), because Truth simply IS and doesn’t bend to our beliefs. This is also why evidence, fallible as it may be in itself, is so important at arriving at Truth, or at least drawing as near to it as possible. It’s also, for example, why Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” is so dangerous: It attempts to conjure the infallibility of belief.
    Just a few thoughts you guys stirred up. Thanks a lot :)

  26. What was the canon by which the canon was determined? I.e., what were the “rules” by which a book was admitted or rejected?

    E.g., one popular “apologetic” argument for the Bible’s inspiration is that despite the fact that it’s a collection of 66 books by many, many different authors who lived (some of them) more than a thousand years apart from each other, as well as in different countries and cultures, it remarkably exhibits remarkable uniformity of belief and experience re: the same God, same Jesus, etc. I.e., all the books in the Bible testify to the same God, hence this proves its divine inspiration.

    But isn’t that a bit like using the conclusion to prove the premise?

    I.e., if a book did NOT conform to the consensus of general belief about God, Jesus, etc., wouldn’t that fact(or) exclude it from making it into the canon?

    So, what are the KNOWN and provable (not simply supposed or deduced or generally understood) criteria by which a book was admitted into the canon? (I have books re: this at home – e.g., McDonald, Bruce, Beckwith, etc. – but I don’t recall what they said about the absolutely knowable criteria that were used, versus what church historians have deduced or concluded or surmised about the criteria used.)

  27. Bryan,

    You answered your own question in the quote you used to respond to. You’re looking for subject matter that wasn’t given because it isn’t relevant to the main point of this thread . . .

  28. I wrote: “But isn’t that a bit like using the conclusion to prove the premise?”

    Bad wording. But you know what I mean. I.e., it’s putting the cart before the horse. Or it’s like being amazed that there is only dirt and no rocks in your garden soil after you’ve first shaken it through a sieve and strained out all the rocks.

  29. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for this well written and thought-provoking article. I enjoyed reading it and thinking through the points that you have raised. I am headed into the Catholic Church for the reasons you touched on here, but always appreciate hearing (and thinking through) Protestant responses.

    You said:

    “This means that we are all floating the same river, just different boats. Catholics have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; Protestants have a fallible belief about an infallible authority.”

    And then: “This is the question that I have: In the end, what is the difference?”

    One difference is that the Protestant system is internally inconsistent when you admit that the canon is fallible, whereas the Catholic system is not internally inconsistent when the Catholic admits that the Catholic conclusion about the Magisterium’s ability to teach infallibly is itself fallible. Belief in the Bible as the sole infallible authority of matters of faith is the sine qua non of the Reformation. The same cannot be said on the Catholic side. Even if it is quite probable, or even very probably that the Protestant canon is correct, is it really probable enough to bind the consciences of all believers? If so, who makes that decision (for the Bible itself is silent on the matter)?

    That leaves you essentially reformulating the Reformation, or at least recognizing that Sproul did so (you say he was the “first” to recognize or admit the fallibility of the canon).

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  30. The “mentally ill” argument is quite strange. It is not mental illness to want something to have sound philosphical foundations. That is what we are talking about. Is the cannon of scripture an example of protestants relying on the authority of the Catholic church and not admitting it? Saying people who ask such questions are simply nuts is one way to respond.

    Appealing to evidence is quite problematic as well. The evidence for some books is not that clear cut. How do you deal with somebody who arrives at a different spot? Is this really an open question? Suppose a pastor says the book of Revelation is not part of the bible and refuses to preach on it. What should a church do? Say different strokes for different folks? Most protestants see this as an inherently closed question. But when did it become closed? What is the process that closed it? If you ask you are probably mentally ill.

  31. Quick reminder, especially for people approaching this from a non-Christian angle:

    An answer for “Do the Apocrypha belong?” or “Does Hebrews belong?” might not be adequate to justify belief in God & inspiration. But if those are already established, then the answer might be adequate to justify, “And this book belongs in the collection.”

    “Is Christianity true?” is an external question. “Which books belong as part of the collection of writings inspired by God?” is an internal question for Christians.

    The internal question might be important in some arguments about the truth of Christianity, but not necessarily.

  32. I agree with many comments listed here that most Protestants have trouble accepting a fallible canon as much as any EO and RCC might. I say that because at a Bible church I taught on the NT Canon and there was a lot of concern about this same claim.

    No, but perhaps, as Dan Wallace put it, I am 51% Protestant. I don’t believe sola Scriptura negates the work of the Holy Spirit’s work in the early church. Nor do I want to describe my trust in the Trinity’s work in terms of “probability”.

    This seems to relate to another CMP post on trusting God. In that post the challenge was do we trust God for more than He promises?

    I think on the canon process we can have faith that God used the HS to guide the church in identifying the Scriptures, however we have no actual claim by a prophet or apostle that God did. So we are putting our faith in something God did not explicitly promise.

    Also if we are going to accept the HS guiding the early church in collecting the canon we are going to have to re-evaluate the Apocrypha which was accepted as part of the canon by the same councils/synods that put together the list of NT books @ the 27 we accept today.


  33. Put it this way: what makes you so sure you are correct to leave the Didache or the Gospel of Thomas out of your bible? What makes you so sure Revelation and James belong in it?

    Because there is no historical evidence that the church ever accepted or debated including the Gospel of Thomas.

    Now the Didache is a different question… that was debated.

  34. Mike B.,

    I agree with you. And, yes, it does mean that my separated brethren will have to re-examine the inclusion of the deutero-canon. Trent is about a thousand years too late for this conversation, I think.

    So let’s tighten this up a bit.

    1) If we find evidence that the early church considered the deutero-canon to be scripture the way they considered Revelation or Hebrews, say, to be scripture, what does that mean for the Protestant evaluation of those OT books?

    2) If the answer to 1) is “not a thing,” doesn’t that mean Luther was within his rights to make edits in the NT canon, according to his theology? Moreover, wouldn’t any of us be within his rights to make our own edits?

  35. I have mixed feelings on the Didache. But what about Kabbalah? Nobody’s emphatically denied Jewish mysticism yet!

  36. “I believe the canon is correct in the same way I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. Not because I am infallible or that I have any infallible source to ask, but because there is sufficient reason to believe that it is correct.”

    But by using such analogies as the sun rising and the insanity of Bob, you seriously overstate your case, given the long traditions of recognising different canons. The Syriac church never recognized parts of the NT you do. The Ethiopian church always recognised bits you don’t. And everybody but Protestants recognises bits of the OT you don’t.

    If you feel certain you are right and they are all wrong, so be it, but to say it is like the sun rising tomorrow looks like foolish to me. You haven’t stated why you are so certain, so not much more can be said.

  37. MikeB,

    Moreover, there’s the issue of dating & content. If the Gospel of Thomas appears on the scene presenting a different picture of Jesus than what’s been publicly & widely proclaimed in the now-canonical gospels… Why would there be any question?

    It’s not just that it wasn’t accepted or seriously considered–it’s also that we have an understanding of why not.

  38. John,

    I agree that the sun-rising illustration overstates the case.

    But minor point–it was just as overstated when you said, “And everybody but Protestants recognises bits of the OT you don’t.”

    Up until the Council of Trent reacted to the Reformation, the status of the Apocrypha wasn’t settled within Catholicism, other than as being “useful”.

  39. MikeB-

    Good thoughts, and I agree that God makes few promises. However, one He (Jesus) made was that the Holy Spirit would guide (at least the apostles) in truth. We must also consider the high regard of Scripture in the OT and NT, and the assumed appreciation of it.

  40. Hi CMP,

    Where did Dr. Sproul write this? I’d like to read that book/article.

    Thanks,
    Pete

  41. @Bryan

    1) If we find evidence that the early church considered the deutero-canon to be scripture the way they considered Revelation or Hebrews, say, to be scripture, what does that mean for the Protestant evaluation of those OT books?

    Two factors (at least for me):
    1. The OT Canon is primarily preserved for us by Israel and they rejected the Apocrypha. Jesus affirms the OT as Scripture and never quote from any of these books (I know argument from silence) and the historian Josephus (first century) notes Apocrypha are not part of the canon (Against Apion I.8).

    2. We have a fallible collection of infallible books. However in this case very few books are really in consideration based on the history of canonization.

    Some that were debated and not included: 1 Clement, Hermas, Barnabus, Didache

    Some that were debated and included: 2 Peter, 2/3 John, James, Jude, Revelation.

    @Jugulum

    It’s not just that [Gospel Thomas] wasn’t accepted or seriously considered–it’s also that we have an understanding of why not.

    I am not aware of any early patristic sources recording anything about the GoT, which means we will not have much regarding why it was not even considered. What we do know is that of all the various canon lists in the early church it is not ever mentioned. That could mean any number of things including complete rejection and ignored to a late composition and so was unknown. Using the criteria Augustine set out in “On Christian Doctrine” GoT was obviously not accepted by the vast majority of churches at that time (late 4th century).

    @Rick
    I agree that God’s Word is an incredible gift, highly valued, and contains the special revelation by which we know God and can test the spirits. However there is not much I found in the history of NT canonization that indicated that HS oversaw the process. However, I don’t deny/rule out the possibility.

  42. “The OT Canon is primarily preserved for us by Israel and they rejected the Apocrypha.”

    Reference please.

    “Jesus affirms the OT as Scripture and never quote from any of these books”

    The problem I have is the presupposition that there are two groups, the proto-canon and the deutero-canon, and if Jesus quotes the proto canon, its in and if doesn’t quote the deutero they’re out. But these groupings are designations added much much later. We could easily exclude many proto canon books by the same criteria.

    “the historian Josephus (first century) notes Apocrypha are not part of the canon”

    Josephus is one man in one location in one time period. And most scholars don’t think his canon is identical to the later Hebrew canon anyway. So how much stock do you put in him? Are you willing to cut out Esther and Ecclesiasties if the evidence points that way? (which it does) If not, why should this data point matter much?

    “Some that were debated and included: 2 Peter, 2/3 John, James, Jude, Revelation.”

    You mean they were included in the traditon you inherit. They are not included by Syriac church, the Peshitta, Chrysostom, and those churches that descend from that Antioch tradition.

  43. So basically you are saying that God really didn’t leave any absolutes for us to fall back on in order to believe. There is possible, but debatable historical evidence. There are copies of possible misinterpreted historical documents and there is our 5 senses. God places us in a specific time and place and expects us to sense His presence and know exactly what He wants us to do?

    Or did He plan the whole thing out from beginning to end and we really don’t have a choice?

    I went from Atheist to “believer” in one single month of a college semester at age 19. I am now 42 and just last year actually read the whole Bible from cover to cover. I have been studying and loving it ever since.

    But honestly, at this point in my life it wouldn’t matter to me if it were proven to me that the number of books in the Bible were wrong. I don’t believe any more than when I first did. In fact, when talking to people who believe in other faiths you can pretty much start sharing the gospel from their own books. Eventually the conversation will lead to the truth (intangible) which shows up the clearest in the Books of the Bible. The H.S. can make people see truth with what ever and when ever He wants to.

    I am like a monkey when it comes to “Proving” anything about God. I won’t hang on one tree for very long. The H.S. is in constant motion and I need to be moving along with Him. It is scary but I keep going back for more.

  44. MikeB-

    “However there is not much I found in the history of NT canonization that indicated that HS oversaw the process.”

    Not sure what you expect that to look like. Using Scripture as a guide, He certainly likes to use messy people in messy situations. As history tells us, the early church was no different. Which brings us back to the role of the church in the canonization.

    Again, I quote Scot McKnight:

    “…sola Scriptura is always set in the context of communio sanctorum, the communion of the saints. The question thus becomes not if we will embrace the confessional tradition, but which tradition will we embrace, or better yet, which tradition will embrace us….
    …as Evangelicals we need to admit more readily the role of the Church in “deciding” what was canonical….the facts are simple: what we read as canonical is read as authoritative because its inherent authority is inspired and its recognition is ecclesial.”

  45. @Rick

    I have studied the history of this process and the debate over these texts and I completely agree that the church had a role in the identification of the 27 NT texts. In fact it was the books that were accepted in the various churches that was a major factor in determining the canon. (see Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)


    either we embrace canon and creed as a singular moment when God was at work through his Spirit in the history of the Church, or we relativize both canon and creed and throw everything back on history

    the problem with this quote as presented (I have not read anything other than the two quotes you provided) is the “singular” moment. The creation of the canon where God inspired its writing during the Apostolic era may be described that way. However the resulting process of identifying and collecting could hardly be called a singular moment.

    Can you describe your view regarding the work of the HS in this process?

  46. @John

    I’ll do my best to address your questions, though I imagine we will not quite see the same regarding this issue. :)


    “The OT Canon is primarily preserved for us by Israel and they rejected the Apocrypha.”

    probably the best references would be Romans 3:1-2; Rom 9:4.

    As for the affirmation of the OT in the NT, I also agree that using this criteria alone we would not have support for all of the OT (proto canon). However I would think that a good majority of them would be represented in terms of quotations or referring to events in them especially if one considers the 12 minor prophets a single book as is often done in OT canon listings.


    “the historian Josephus (first century) notes Apocrypha are not part of the canon”

    Josephus is one man in one location in one time period. And most scholars don’t think his canon is identical to the later Hebrew canon anyway. So how much stock do you put in him? Are you willing to cut out Esther and Ecclesiasties if the evidence points that way? (which it does) If not, why should this data point matter much?

    Josephus is one of the earliest attestations to a Jewish canon. He also lived in Palestine during the first century and can provide historical information regarding the Jewish canon at the time of Jesus and the apostles.

    Origen’s Letter to Africanus demonstrates that the Jews and Christians had different views on the Jewish canon. Eusebius Ecc His 4.26 also shows that an OT canon that does not include the Apocrypha (nor all of the 39 books we have today) existed.

    I understand that versions of the LXX had the Apocrypha so the data regarding this can be difficult. However I view the evidence as pointing to the higher probability that the Apocrypha is not part of the Jewish canon. I also acknowledge that like the NT, there are some books that were more debated than others – particularly Esther.

  47. MikeB-

    I think Dr. McKnight would consider “singular” as the early church era.

    In regards to the work of the Holy Spirit’s work in the process, I think we would need to start with His work in the inspiration of Scripture.

    As Ben Witherington states, the early church had to consider what was considered a “sacred” text.
    So that, “the canon was closed of necessity by the end of the NT era, because no apostles or eyewitnesses survived beyond that period of time…What happened in the 4th Century was the recognition of the books which had already and indeed always been considered apostolic with very little debate…”

    So then, John Frame writes,

    “…the Spirit has certainly played an important role in the history of the canon. By illumining and persuading the church concerning the true canonical books, He has helped the church to distinguish between false and true. He has motivated the church to seek out reasons for what He was teaching them in their hearts.”

  48. The lede has “1. . . . We have a term that we use for people who require infallible certainty about everything: “mentally ill.” . . . 2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium)”

    So, why can’t one make the same argument about inerrancy? Isn’t being mentally ill to demand that we have absolute certainty about the text and history? Isn’t inerrancy also just a smoke screen? Why can’t we also have a fallible text about infallible doctrine? or about an infallible revelation? Isn’t that just moving back one step further than CMP has gone? Why just stop at fallible magisterium? or fallible canon? or fallible text? or fallible revelation?

    What is there, if anything, that distinguishes fallible canon from fallible text? The Bible doesn’t explicitly claim that the text of whatever canon we choose is inerrant.

    If we accept the reasoning in the lede post, then I don’t see any reason to stop at fallible canon.

    regards,
    #John

  49. CMP –

    You stated: BTW, I am assuming that most of you who are antagonistic to this are either Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic (or even Liberal)? Traditional Protestants who believe in sola Scriptura normally follow this course.

    I am an evangelical, but am wondering the questions voiced in comment 8 because I am trying to work through the evangelical sola Scriptura view and if it is as viable as we might think. I don’t lean towards emerging either, wanting to question everything.

    I just really think that the typical evangelical views on the canon might be a little too boxed – inerrancy, how the canon came about, why we claim inerrancy for the original OT Hebrew but why the NT writers generally quoted from the Septuagint (supposedly not fully inerrant within our definition of inerrancy), etc. I don’t lean towards an RC or EO view either, but I’m not sure I fully concur with the typical evangelical view on how we have the canon and how we define these things.

  50. ScottL:

    You might want to buy and read:

    Lee Martin McDonald THE BIBLICAL CANON: ITS ORIGIN, TRANSMISSION AND AUTHORITY (2007) (Make sure that it’s the Third Printing, corrected; printings 1 and 2 have typos and other errors)

    Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders THE CANON DEBATE

    Martin Hengel THE SEPTUAGINT AS CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURE: ITS PREHISTORY AND THE PROBLEM OF ITS CANON

    And also possibly Moisés Silva & Karen Jobes INVITATION TO THE SEPTUAGINT (I heard from a friend that some corrections have been made to the original hardback edition, IIRC)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Two Book Reviews on Roman Catholicism « The Prodigal Thought - January 26, 2010

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  3. Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask « Josiah Concept Ministries - January 12, 2011

    […] As a philosopher, I’m perfectly comfortable with the notion that we may be wrong. I don’t personally think we’re wrong about which books the Bible should contain (e.g. everything that’s there should be there), but there’s a possibility we might be wrong about which books were excluded (e.g. that some non-canonical writings might be canonical). Another view on that from C. Michael Patton, here. […]

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