Calvin on ‘Self-Authentication’

Jun 8th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts, Featured Articles

If the Bible alone is our authority, shouldn’t we be able to prove this from the Bible?  If we can’t, and if we accept it nevertheless, doesn’t that mean that we’re de facto accepting an authority over and above the Bible?  And don’t we have to do this just to delineate which books are Scriptural?  And doesn’t all this business involve us in some sort of self-referential incoherence?

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I heard about this problem years ago as a young Reformed Christian and it struck me as one of those “Can God make a stone so big He can’t lift it” quibbles: an annoying question to which somebody or other had the answer but which certainly wasn’t going to consume my time and energy. But after a while I didn’t think it was just a quibble and I wanted to hear what the answer was supposed to be.

As it turned out, there were really just three: (i) Calvin’s misleadingly characterized “Scripture is self-authenticating” response; (ii) the popularly advanced “Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible documents” response; (iii) the “Look, we just need to have faith in the Bible and not bother about this” response – a response which on its most plausible reading just meant we had to have faith in the Church. Here I want to focus primarily on (i), which expresses a response I memorized and subsequently advanced, but which, I think, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Here is the locus classicus of the “Scripture-forms-itself-all-by-itself” position, as advanced in Calvin’s Institutes:

But a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! For they mock the Holy Spirit when they ask … Who can persuade us to receive one book in reverence but to exclude another, unless the church prescribe a sure rule for all these matters? What reverence is due Scripture and what books ought to be reckoned within its canon, they say, rests upon the determination of the church … Yet if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurance of eternal life if all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men?

It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church and that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial … As to their question – How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? – it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.

Let this point therefore stand: those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork!1

Putting to one side his characteristically passionate rhetoric, Calvin’s response is inadequate.

First, he clearly conflates two claims which are crucial to distinguish at the outset by speaking as though an infallible, Spirit-guided recognition of which books were inspired and which were not is equivalent to the Church’s somehow making those books inspired or investing them with a divine authority they didn’t previously possess.  This is a confusion. Whether a book is inspired or not depends solely upon whether the Holy Spirit “moved” its human author to write it or not. If He did, the thing’s inspired and authoritative and it ought, in accordance with God’s good pleasure, to go in the canon. If not, it shouldn’t; case closed. It’s a different question entirely to ask by what means we can tell which of the books in question actually have this inspired status. And if the Catholic claims that the Holy Spirit infallibly led the Church to recognize the right books and thus make the right decision, it by no means follows that which books actually possess this status – which books objectively, apart from anyone’s decision, really do contain the “eternal” and “inviolable truth of God” – somehow depends upon “the decisions of men,” or that the “promises of God” “depend upon their judgment” and must be “rendered authentic” by them. So whatever’s he’s refuting here it’s not the Catholic position.

Second, his own theory simply comes down to the idea that each individual can replace the Church’s activity in this regard – that although it’s demeaning to Scripture and indeed sacrilegious to say that the Spirit can tell the Church in Council which books are inspired and which are not, it’s God-honoring and perfectly pious to say that He does this with each particular person, as a kind of little church standing alone, one by one.

Now Calvin, I honestly believe, didn’t see himself as doing this. But this was because he clouded the issue by assuming (as have many following him) that when something seems clear and evident to him it’s got to be because the Spirit is speaking directly to him, giving him the unvarnished news, as it were, whereas anyone who doesn’t see precisely the same thing must not enjoy that unmediated spiritual insight he has but is instead being blinded by some or other interpretive “filter.” The misled might feel just as inwardly certain about their own beliefs as he does, of course, but if so they’re just deluding themselves, mistaking their own unfounded psychological certainty for the testimony of God Himself.

This is a fairly typical Enlightenment notion to which both philosophers and theologians in that era tended to fall prey, and it is what explains his otherwise perplexing claim that he’s somehow able to set his “reasoning” and “judgment” aside, allowing the Spirit to tell him “inwardly” what’s what in a way that evidently involves no intellectual or cognitive activity of his own. In effect, the idea underlying his thought was that you could eliminate the “middle man” by insisting that you had direct and untarnished access to the truth, while the folks who disagreed with you didn’t see that same truth either because they were not “inwardly taught” by the Spirit, or because they were looking at it indirectly, through an interpretive or traditional grid which blinded and led them astray – a condition from which you yourself couldn’t possibly suffer.

And this, in turn, is what explains how he can say that the Scriptures are “self-authenticating” when the only thing that can mean in this context is “infallibly recognized as authentic by me.” This is of course not to say Calvin consciously believed himself to be infallible, but rather that he believed the Spirit to be infallible, and believed that the Spirit infallibly testified to him personally about the canon, while ensuring that he would infallibly receive the testimony given. (In other words he was a kind of one-man magisterium, sans the obligation to uphold Tradition.)

Once this maneuver is seen for what it is the parallel between the Catholic and the Calvinist position should become obvious. This parallel is obscured by the confusion we noted above, which leads Calvin to lay out the false dichotomy upon which his argument relies: if one says that the Holy Spirit guided the Church by enabling her to infallibly recognize inspired texts for what they are, that is supposed to be equivalent to saying that these texts are “rendered” inspired by the Church and given an authenticity they do not intrinsically have. On the other hand, if one says that the Holy Spirit guides individual Christians by enabling them to infallibly recognize inspired texts for what they are, that’s only to say that the texts are “self-authenticating.”

But there is no principled reason for making this distinction. If Scripture is “self-authenticating” in the latter case it is equally “self-authenticating” in the former, but if it isn’t in the former it cannot be in the latter either. So either (a) in both cases Scripture possesses the marks of divine authorship in itself and the Spirit brings this fact to human attention, thereby testifying to Scripture’s divine source, or (b) in both cases we “vainly pretend that the power of judging Scripture” lies in humans, so that “its certainty depends” ultimately upon human assent. There is absolutely zero reason to think that substituting the individual for the Church could make any difference to this, and it is disingenuous in the extreme to suggest that Catholics, as opposed to Calvinists, just sort of leave the Holy Spirit out of the equation, or that “miserable consciences seeking firm assurance of eternal life” are any better off when they rely on their own “determination” of the canon as opposed to the “determination” of the Universal Church.

Which brings me to my final point. What makes Calvin’s proposal attractive is his rightful insistence that the Holy Spirit provides us with testimony and assurance as to the truth of the Word and its applicability to us, and that this truth “seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Yet it is a further step to say that any true Christian will therefore be able infallibly to determine what is inspired and what is not quite as easily as they perceive the difference “between white and black.” I don’t think I’m betraying my lack of communion with the Spirit one bit when I admit that my bosom burns just as brightly upon reading Wisdom as it does upon reading Proverbs, and that I frankly get a good deal fewer warm fuzzies from Ecclesiastes than I get from Ecclesiasticus. And I am certain I’m not deficient in this respect. For can anyone truly put their hand over their heart and pretend they see exactly why Esther should be in the canon, whereas Judith obviously shouldn’t? Or why St. Jude’s epistle made it in while St. Clement’s epistle, for instance, had to be left out? And does anyone really want to say that their own personal insight and receptiveness to the Spirit are so much superior to, say, those of St. Augustine, who insisted upon the inclusion of all those deuterocanonical books Protestants like Calvin reject? I, for one, simply cannot bring myself to adopt Calvin’s hypothesis if it means accepting the patently ridiculous inference that men like St. Augustine either are not real Christians or are just too blind to see black and white.

Suppose then we reject the idea that each individual Christian infallibly knows what counts as Scripture and what doesn’t, and suppose we likewise reject the Catholic proposal. This leaves us with the alternative that the decisions reached at Hippo and Carthage (e.g) were possibly, maybe even probably, correct – at least as far as the New Testament goes – but that these decisions weren’t infallibly made, so that neither we nor they can have strict certainty that the decisions reached there were right. This is more or less the solution of R.C. Sproul and others, which they express in the slogan that the Bible is “a fallible collection of infallible books.”2 It is a deeply unsatisfactory solution. One cannot claim that Christians may have complete certainty regarding the words and promises of Scripture while simultaneously denying them certainty about which of the words and promises are Scriptural. Nor can one suggest that the Protestant tradition’s view of the Bible is superior to the Catholic’s, if the Catholic can know with certainty what belongs to Scripture and the Protestant cannot. That’s all I guess I have to say about this.

The final solution is similar in some ways to Calvin’s in that it does not seek to determine the canon by “reasoning” or principled “marks” of genuineness, but it differs in a crucial way. It is represented by Robert Reymond just below:

To such questions [about the canon] no answers can be given that will fully satisfy the mind that desires to think autonomously, that is, independently from Scripture. For regardless of whether or not the Christian scholar thinks he possesses the one right criterion or the one right list of criteria for a given book’s canonicity, at some point – and if at no other point, at least, at the point of the established number, namely, twenty-seven New Testament books, not twenty-six or twenty-eight – the Christian must accept by faith that the church, under the providential guidance of God’s Spirit, got the number and the “list” right since God did not provide the church with a specific list of New Testament books. All that we know for certain about the history of the first four centuries of the church would suggest that God’s Spirit providentially led His church – imperceptively [sic] yet inexorably – when it asked its questions, whatever they were, to adopt the twenty-seven documents that the Godhead had determined would serve as the foundation of the church’s doctrinal teaching and thus bear infallible witness throughout the Christian era to the great objective central events of redemptive history, and that this “apostolic tradition” authenticated and established itself over time in the mind of the church as just this infallible foundation and witness.3

Now on one reading this statement contains a Protestant solution which provides false comfort, and on another reading it contains a comforting response which Protestants cannot comfortably adopt. On the first reading we’re told we should forget about the question and stop trying to think “autonomously,” that we should instead just think according to those books of the Bible whose list and number were decided upon by somebody else. This just pushes the question back a step. The Christians involved in those Councils certainly couldn’t ignore questions about “criteria” and simply “think according to” a list and specific number of documents when that list and number were the very things about which it was their job to decide. On the other hand, he clearly states that the decision they made was providentially and infallibly guided by the Spirit, which is definitely a solution into which I can sink my teeth. The only drawback of course is that it’s the Catholic’s solution. And the only problem with a Protestant proposing it is that Protestantism specifically repudiates the theological underpinning which gives us any reason to think it true. For how can we consistently “accept by faith” that God infallibly guided a Church Council just long enough to get our canon established, only to turn around and try to argue from the canon we’ve just been handed that God doesn’t do that sort of thing, since the canon itself is the only infallible authority we’ve got? And how could our belief in the exclusive infallible authority of the Bible be consistent, if our certainty about what makes up the Bible in the first place inevitably borrows from a piece of Catholic doctrine – even if only temporarily – which is flatly incompatible with that belief?

Does any of this amount to a knockdown argument? I’m not sure. In both theology and in philosophy, the sort of ‘knockdown’ arguments which wrestle you to the mat and compel you to accept some or other conclusion are extremely hard to come by – especially when they are evaluated in isolation from surrounding, salient facts. Still, this at least seems to me to be true. If we are to take a ‘presuppositional-style’ approach, an approach with which many Reformed folks are sympathetic, and ask which overall view (the Protestant or the Catholic) is, for example, most internally consistent and coherent, and which of the views seems to collapse under its own weight, then there is nothing problematic about the Catholic stance vis-à-vis Scripture and Tradition, whereas the Protestant approach appears to be beset with irremediable internal conflicts. On the one hand, we are told that since Scripture’s the only authority we cannot legitimately “go beyond” what it says; yet we have to “go beyond” what it says just to specify which texts are the Scriptures that we are not supposed to go beyond. And once we arrive at these Scriptures, however we ultimately do, we are supposed to hold fast to the thesis that nothing is to be accepted unless it’s Scripturally demonstrable, a thesis which cannot itself be Scripturally demonstrated. So, we again have to go beyond Scripture just to specify that we are not allowed to do that.

To be sure, these theses are indeed integral parts of a theological tradition with respect to which any Christian can justifiably be proud. But pride in the tradition is one thing, and Biblical support for (distinctive aspects of) that tradition is another. And that is precisely what, in the final analysis, the tradition in question most centrally needs. But whereas this tradition is quite right to insist that the Bible gives us the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth – still, it has to make room for the significant fact that Scripture itself must have something relevant in view when it identifies the Church as that Truth’s “Pillar and Support” (1 Tim 3:15).

  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.vii.1, 2, 5, John T. McNeill, ed., trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, pp. 75-76, 80. []
  2. R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House (1992), p. 22. []
  3. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Thomas Nelson (1998), p. 67. []
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342 comments
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  1. I loved this quote: “Second, his own theory simply comes down to the idea that each individual can replace the Church’s activity in this regard.” The way this was put is truly elegant. The ‘problem’ was not solved, merely shifted.

    Here is an old Sola Scriptura article that I stumbled across not too long ago which you might like:
    http://tinyurl.com/nezq83

  2. So does Calvin provide the philosophical foundation for relativism?

  3. “how can we consistently ‘accept by faith’ that God infallibly guided a Church Council just long enough to get our canon established, only to turn around and try to argue from the canon we’ve just been handed that God doesn’t do that sort of thing, since the canon itself is the only infallible authority we’ve got?”

    —good stuff. love the site.

    pax Christi,
    s

  4. Scott Clark just posted a related post titled “How Do We Know the Bible is True and Authoritative?“. I think it might be helpful to compare Neal’s post with Scott’s.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Dear Gil,

    Good question; I can see why you’d wonder about a connection. In fairness I think we need to be clear that neither Calvin nor contemporary Calvinists could be called relativists, if by that term we mean someone who doesn’t believe in anything like “objective truth” or who thinks that “truth” is simply a matter of opinion, so that something can be “true for me but not for you.” That sort of thing really makes Calvinists bristle, actually, and they’re to be commended for bristling at it.

    On the other hand, whereas Calvin/Calvinists certainly believe in an objective truth as a matter of metaphysics, you may be worried about the kind of epistemological orientation Calvin displays in these passages. One worries that a bosom-burning style approach in this instance may pave the way toward an eventual subjectivism, or perhaps a denigration of reason, for example. (Maybe this is what you’ve really got in mind.) Another grave concern is what Bouyer identified as subjective authoritarianism: Calvin presents himself as having direct access to the Truth of God — though he carefully couches it in innocuous sounding language that appears to be exalting Scripture and its Author, the Holy Spirit — so that any questioning of Calvin is made to sound as though one is questioning God Himself. This strategy is used (consciously or unconsciously) with distressing frequency, and it most often manifests itself in the assumption that if a person isn’t Reformed there is probably either an intellectual or a moral/spiritual deficiency at work.

    Peace,

    Neal

  6. Bryan,

    Thanks for linking the contrasting article. Clark’s defense is a pretty decent apologetic for the infallibility of scripture from the Reformed point of view – I’ve used a pretty similar argument in the past when arguing for the inspiration of scripture. I did find it funny that the rebuttal to your question was the “His sheep hear His voice” rebuttal. That’s the second time I’ve seen that response from a Reformed to an RC on the subject of scripture. Nice, tight little circle of reason there. I’m interested to hear your response to what, apparently for some Reformed types, is “the rebuttal to end all rebuttals.”

    Neil,

    You do a brilliant job of laying out Calvin’s argument in parallel with the RC view. This is crucial in order to demonstrate that when you reject the supposed “false authority” of the RC you have to replace it with something else. For Calvin, this appears to be the internal testimony of the Spirit, but its evident that the he would see this as an entirely different paradigm.

    Is it fair to say that Calvin was reacting against a misconception of the correct RC claim in his day?

    On that note, it would be great to see a discussion at some point of how we know when the RCC speaks infallibly and/or authoritatively, the differences between the two, and what bodies within the church can do so.

  7. Scott says that “There is evidence intrinsic to Scripture itself that it is what it says it is”. Such a claim needs to be unpacked. We all know that the Bible does not come with a divinely inspired table of contents. So the canon question logically precedes the possibility of appealing to “internal evidence”. Just because Christian bookstores sell a book called the Bible having 66 books within it, does not justify using this book (as opposed to any other) as one’s epistemic foundation or starting point. Do we appeal to Reformed confessions to establish the canon and its divine authority? What makes such confessions more authoritative than the Council of Trent? Anyone can get together a group of like-minded persons and call it a synod or assembly, and its results a ‘confession’.

    None of the books of the Bible claims to be “the Word of God”. We can infer from some of Christ’s words recorded in the gospels that certain books of the Old Testament are divinely inspired. But that is not the case with any of the New Testament books.

    So even though archaeology confirms (or at least is compatible with) many of the claims of the Bible, that does not show that the Bible is divinely inspired or has divine authority. Likewise, the relative abundance and agreement of early Greek manuscripts gives us, all other things being equal, reason to believe that the content of the autographs is quite similar, if not mostly identical to that found in these manuscripts. But it doesn’t show us that the autographs were divinely inspired or divinely authoritative. Likewise, the internal coherence of the Bible does not show that it is divinely inspired or divinely authoritative. Likewise, the fact that the promises recorded in the Bible were fulfilled shows that those promises were divinely inspired, but it does not show that the books in which those promises are located were divinely inspired.

    So, what exactly is doing all the work in Scott’s theology in showing the divine inspiration and divine authority of these books of the Bible, since none of this other evidence is sufficient to show the divine inspiration and divine authority of the Bible? For those who deny the authority of the Church, the only remaining evidence is the subjective “burning in the bosom”. And ultimately that’s exactly where Scott’s article ends up, because that’s what’s doing all the work for him with respect to establishing the divine inspiration and divine authority of Scripture. So while Mormonism and Islam do not stand up to the historical evaluation of their sacred texts, what is doing all the work in Mormonism viz-a-viz testifying to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon (i.e. the burning in the bosom) is ultimately exactly what is doing all the work in Scott’s theology in testifying to the divine authority of the Bible. So in that respect, Scott’s theology and Mormonism use the same method to verify the divine authority of their respective sacred texts.

    Neal’s post shows why, without recourse to the authority of the Church, we’re left with subjective burning of the bosom. Why doesn’t Scott appeal to the Church to establish divine inspiration and divine authority of Scripture? He writes:

    if we appeal to another authority outside of Scripture to validate it, then Scripture isn’t really what it claims to be: the final authority.

    And that claim ignores the distinction between the order of authority and the order of knowing. Below I’ve pasted my comment from Scott’s blog, explaining that distinction.

    The truth of this claim depends on what is going on with that word ‘validate’. When the Apostles testified to Jesus being the Christ, they didn’t take away from Christ’s authority. An authorized witness can give an authoritative testimony to an authority greater than himself, otherwise no one could have come to believe in the deity of Jesus through the authority of the Apostles’ testimony. The order of authority need not be conflated with the authority of knowing. In other words, just because a person comes to believe in Jesus through the authoritative testimony of the Apostles, it does not mean that the Apostles’ authority is therefore greater than Jesus’ authority. The Apostle’s authority was derived from Christ, and therefore subordinate to Christ. So in the order of authority, the Apostles’ authority is second to Christ’s, which is first. Yet for us, in the order of knowing, the Apostles’ testimony is first. We come to Christ through the testimony of the Apostles, even though the Apostles’ are subordinate in authority to Christ. The order of knowing and the order of authority need not be the same; they can be (and in this case are) the opposite. This is what lies behind that one word ‘validate’. If by ‘validate’ we mean “give authority”, then obviously the Apostles cannot give authority to Christ. But if it means “authoritatively reveal a higher authority,” then it is possible for something of lesser authority to “validate” Scripture, without undermining the authority of Scripture, just as it is possible for the Apostles to reveal authoritatively an Authority greater than themselves, without undermining His authority.

    John,

    The “His sheep hear His voice” reply is used by all these disagreeing sects. We all agree that “His sheep hear His voice”, but the verse is used to imply that if you don’t agree with me, then you aren’t hearing His voice. So it is used in a question-begging manner. The fact that all these sects disagree shows us clearly (and we should all agree on this) that many people who think they are hearing His voice, aren’t. And so it follows that many people who use this verse to support their own particular theology, are not hearing His voice. And that should give pause to anyone whose best defense of his position is “His sheep hear His voice.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Hello Neal,

    I hope you are doing well.

    Let me ask two questions of you concerning both Calvin and Clark. 1) Who do you think their audience is and 2) does it matter? From my standpoint, if asked to defend the veracity of Scripture, I would take a different tact depending on whether the questioner was RC or Prot or Jew or Muslim or atheist. So you are responding to Calvin as if he is speaking to you, correct? But maybe he isn’t.

    As we have discussed before, if I am speaking to the Roman Catholic, my answer concerning the subject above is to agree with my RC friend that Christianity is a historical religion and we must look to history. We both agree that the God used the Church that in turn recognized the various books of the Bible as the very Word of God. The question then becomes whether 1) God granted the Church the general gift of infallibility and the Church then judged what books were Scripture or 2) God worked through a fallible Church that then recognized the books in the canon but did so as an expression of the infallible God working through a fallible Church. The question at this point is what precludes option #2 (other than RCC teaching of course)? And then if #2 is a conceptual possibility then why posit option #1?

    I have not doubt that you will be succinct in your answer :)

    Cheers….

  9. Bryan,

    Thanks for this addition. I remember trying to get a good friend of mine to see the distinction between first in order of being/authority and first in order in knowing, and for the life of me I still can’t understand why he didn’t immediately “get it” and see through the presuppositionalist-style claim you’re attacking, rather than holding onto that claim and letting it push him into a series of increasingly indefensible positions.

    My suspicion is that some Reformed people fear a “slippery slope” in making any concessions whatsoever on this point, so they shy away even from basic and obvious distinctions like the one you’re explaining here. (I mean, it isn’t as though the distinction is hard to understand or apply. So there must be something else motivating the rejection of it.) The typical strategy, it seems to me, is to try to simply eliminate the human element altogether, or at any rate to play it down to the point of practical elimination, by obscuring it beneath rhetoric about how cool and clear and powerful the Bible is and so forth. That way, if you criticize or reject the view that the Bible pretty much does everything all by itself, or endorse the necessity of some authority in addition to it, it sounds as though you are denigrating the Bible rather than the Calvinist position on how it got formed or what have you. (Who wants to say the Bible isn’t “sweet” and “light?” Who wants to say it’s not “perspicuous” or that God doesn’t speak to our hearts through it powerfully? Who wants to say it isn’t “sufficient?” etc. But the flag-waving and rhetoric and so forth really don’t amount to a coherent answer to a real question, I’m afraid.)

    John,

    Thanks for your comment. It’s certainly possible that Calvin was responding sincerely to a mischaracterization, and perhaps it’s one that he didn’t make up out of whole cloth. I’m always inclined to extend charity about these things, so I”ve got no interest in trying to claim that Calvin was intentionally mischaracterizing the Catholic position. What is more important to me is that we identify the mischaracterization for what it is, and see why Calvin’s response to this problem and the epistemology behind it is defective.

    Peace,

    Neal

  10. Andrew,

    Ha! Succinct is something I ain’t good at. But I think I can try to be so this time.

    As to 2 vs. 1, I think we’d need to revert to our previous discussion, in which I offered a series of arguments against the plausibility/probability of 2. But as to your first, contextual question, yes, it’s quite clear that Calvin is “talking to me” qua Roman Catholic critic of his views on authority as they relate to matters such as the canon and sola scriptura. The context and the polemics in the relevant passages make clear his target and his intentions. But I think his arguments misfire on multiple levels, and that his position isn’t really defensible.

    Peace,

    Neal

  11. I remember back to when I was preparing for my ordination exam. One of the questions that I needed to prepare for was on the canon, specifically, why do we accept it. I said to my mentor, “I am going to answer, because the Church has spoken and the matter is settled.” His response was honest on two fronts, “Do not say that you will not get ordained even though it really is the truth.” If you do not accept the canon on the authority of the Church, then you are left with historical/critical methodology to determine what the canon is. Of course, I know that in no way do my brothers in the traditional Reformed world accept that statement, and I know that they are zealous defenders of the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word (thanks be to God), but it is fair to say that the Reformation opened the door to biblical criticism and removed the Scripture from the authority of the Church and placed them, unintentionally, into the hands of the “scholars” to do with them what they will.

  12. May I ask a question about the “fallible collection of fallible books” theory?

    What makes it less satisfying than the fallible decision we make in choosing to follow the Catholic Church?

    Let’s say, for example, there are two atheists that are looking into Christianity. The first comes to the conclusion that Jesus is divine based on the historical sources (gospels, etc.). Then he makes the fallible decision to trust the 66 book canon based on historical study (gospels, epistles, early church). He is now a Protestant.

    The second comes to the conclusion, based on the historical sources, that Jesus is divine. He then makes the fallible decision to trust the Catholic Church based on historical study (gospels, epistles, early church). He is now a Catholic.

    what separates these two paths? Both converts had to make fallible decisions in order to become Christian. The Catholic could ask, “Why do you accept the Bible as your rule of faith?” to the Protestant, who would have to reply with fallible historical or fallible logical reasons. But the Protestant could also ask, “Why do you accept the Catholic Church?” Wouldn’t the Catholics answer have to be fallible historical or fallible logical reasons?

    thanks for your time.

  13. Stephen,

    That question does make me think. What I think is that no one is claiming that the fallible collection of infallible books theory is less satisfying (qua the fallibility of the collector) than the decision to enter the Catholic Church (qua the fallibility of the decider). Our claim is that the fallible Catholic Christian has a more satisfying account of Sacred Scripture than does the fallible Protestant Christian. What makes the Catholic account more satisfying is the Catholic Church’s claim to extra-biblical infallibility, e.g., in recognizing which writings are, in fact, Sacred Scripture, and which writings are not.

  14. Andrew,

    I see what you mean. However, I think the objection still stands against the “canon argument”. Though the Catholic has a much better explanation for the canon, both sides still stand on similar ground regarding their rules of faith. Both fallibly recognize their own rule of faith.

    I think the implication being made when we use the “canon argument” is that our rule of faith is better grounded than the Protestants, so unless I’m wrong in that understanding, it seems that the fallible nature of the Catholic Christian’s choice of the Catholic Church must be addressed. Otherwise, one could charge the Catholic with simply pushing the question back a step.

  15. It seems, Andrew, that such a charge (that the Catholic has simply pushed the question back a step) is one that should be enthusiastically embraced by the Catholic christian. He’s brought the discussion right back to where it should be (Ephesians 3:10,11). The Scriptures themselves describe the Church of the Living God as the Pillar and Ground of Truth. The Scriptures share with us Christ’s commissioning of the Apostles. The Scriptures record Christ’s establishment of His Church.

    The Church was founded by Christ and is, thus, indefectible.

    Clearly, however, though the Scriptures do much to safeguard those outside of the Church from many errors, the mere possession of the Scriptures doesn’t begin to suggest the indefectibility promised to Christ’s Church.

    So, as I see it, this allows us to rejoice in your hypothetical atheist becoming a believer and attending a Protestant Church, while at the same time hoping and praying for his direction toward the rightful home for all Christians, the Catholic Church.

  16. So, Calvin unhinges infallible truth from an outside authority (namely the infallible Church that the God-Man founded for such purposes) and staples it to an inner authority found within the self (namely the bosom burning inner conviction of the Spirit). Ultimately, there is no other authority than the self for Calvin. As you so rightly point out two issues immediately accost the believer. First, the Christian student must have a hard wired connection with God for the purpose of authenticating truth. The result is that the Christian student must submit every teacher to the bosom burning test. He ceases to be a student and becomes an auditor.

    Second, the Christian student must then eject his own brain at this point because of the aforementioned hard wired connection with the ultimate authenticator. This approach destroys reason and puts everyone who claims to have the same hard wired connection on the same level. My Christian truth is no different than yours. Versions proliferate. This same self authenticating infallible authority presents itself in other religious systems such as Mormonism or Islam. It is also the basis for relativism.

    Perhaps I’m being too simplistic? Help me out here.

  17. But as to your first, contextual question, yes, it’s quite clear that Calvin is “talking to me” qua Roman Catholic critic of his views on authority as they relate to matters such as the canon and sola scriptura.

    Neal,

    I’m assuming that Calvin is talking to me rather than you. He begins the chapter talking about wanting to “prepare our hearts…” He is encouraging those who he is in communion with rather than trying to take on the direct attack of the RC apologist. So I’m fine with the way Calvin does this here but if it were me I would have a very different answer for an RC questioner. It’s just like if I was to be asked by someone in my Church about atheistic attacks on their faith, my encouragement to them (in which I would dismiss the argument of the atheist at some point) would likely sound quite different than what I would say if I was confronted by the atheist directly.

    I do remember your arguments that brought into question the plausibility of my #2 above, but I was first trying to answer the very first question in your post above concerning whether if we relied on Scripture only, how could we determine what was in Scripture? And I was pointing out that we can appeal to the history of the matter and appeal without positing an infallible Church (and I would also add here, without bringing in another authority that competes with Scripture). The rejection of an infallible Church does necessarily result in a fallible canon and to me it would only do so if an infallible God were not present in the process of canonization.

  18. Andrew,

    The question then becomes whether 1) God granted the Church the general gift of infallibility and the Church then judged what books were Scripture or 2) God worked through a fallible Church that then recognized the books in the canon but did so as an expression of the infallible God working through a fallible Church. The question at this point is what precludes option #2 (other than RCC teaching of course)? And then if #2 is a conceptual possibility then why posit option #1?

    I addressed that here. The problem for the position you are proposing is that it has no ground or justification for positing that in recognizing the canon, God providentially protected the Church from error, while in everything else the Church did, God did not providentially protect the Church from error. In other words, that position is fundamentally ad hoc; it picks and chooses willy-nilly which processes are providentially protected from error and which are not.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. The former Cardinal Ratzinger, in his homily to the College of Cardinals
    ust prior to his election to the Petrine Ministry, said,
    “How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

    The soon to become Pope was not talking primarily about moral relativism (though it is included) but theological relativism, which he addressed in visit to the United States.

  20. Stephen,

    The fallibility of individual human beings in the deliberative processes by which they become Catholic or Protestant is not in question. That’s a given. The point in question here is how we know that Scripture is divinely inspired. One answer is that Scripture is self-authenticating. Another answer is that the Church authoritatively determines which books are divinely inspired. The “fallible collection of infallible books” answer amounts to the claim that each book of the Bible is self-authenticating, but that the Bible’s table of contents is not self-authenticating. In his post, Neal has pointed out some problems for the “self-authenticating” position, of which the “fallible collection of infallible books” is a species.

    Just because individual human persons are fallible in the deliberative processes by which they become Catholic or Protestant (or answer the point in question), it does not follow that all theological positions (or all answers to the point in question) are equally grounded or equally coherent. So I think the fallibility of the inquirer is a red herring with respect to the particular point in question.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. Gil wrote:
    “Ultimately, there is no other authority than the self for Calvin. As you so rightly point out two issues immediately accost the believer. First, the Christian student must have a hard wired connection with God for the purpose of authenticating truth. The result is that the Christian student must submit every teacher to the bosom burning test. He ceases to be a student and becomes an auditor.”

    I’d like to springboard a bit off of Gil’s comment here with a related idea.

    In practice, does any Christian really follow the “inner authentication of the Spirit” to its logical conclusion when discerning the canon? I would argue that, if what Calvin says is true, any Christian, because the Holy Spirit is within them, should be able to collect together all of the letters circulating during Apostolic times which we still have copies of (including those letters ultimately accepted as canonical and also those rejected as canonical), and pray before reading each one, and then listen to the Spirit within them tell them whether this particular letter was inspired by God or not.

    In practice though, I know of no Christian who does this. (Why is that?)

    Instead, it seems to me that the way it really happens is that a Christian receives a Bible during his childhood or later and implicitly accepts it from whomever gave it to him, trusting that the books contained in the Bible given to him are the complete set of canonical writings. He finds great truth in them and by God’s grace he grows in his faith, and so he greatly prizes the Bible given to him. Later, when he must figure out why exactly he accepts these particular books as inspired, he searches for an answer which coincides with the beliefs he has already accepted.

    If Protestant, because he believes in sola Scriptura, he cannot admit inspiration outside of the Bible, and so he has to conclude that a Christian with the Holy Spirit can “just tell” that the 66 books are the inspired Word of God because he derived great benefit from them as he learned divine truth by reading them. There are plenty of Bible verses which lend some credence, interpreted in a certain way, that the Holy Spirit of truth will lead him into all truth, which must include which books are inspired.

    So even though he never read, say, the 7 deuterocanonical books that Catholics believe are inspired or perhaps any other letters from the Apostolic time, he rejects them as inspired because “they were not in the Bible he received which he learned God’s truth from”.

    I hope that this comment does not come across as polemical.

  22. Hello all. Nice discussion. (Actually, great discussion. It’s a nice thing to take the night off and play with the kids only to return to CTC in the morning and find that you’re not really needed!)

    So, Stephen:

    This is a really good question. A number of folks here have responded to you by drawing the distinctions I’d want to draw and focusing the issue properly, so I won’t rehash that stuff. Just two brief comments. First, I couldn’t help being impressed by our imaginary atheists — talk about conscientiousness and all around intellectual studliness! But supposing there were two people in existence who actually had the resources to go through a process like this, I think what I’d like to do is redescribe the outcome slightly. Specifically, you suggest that the newly minted Protestant decides to “trust” the 66 books in the Protestant canon, whereas the newly minted Catholic decides to “trust” the Church. There is perhaps something in this description, as long as it isn’t taken to imply that the Catholic, in trusting the Church, fails thereby to trust his Bible — given, as the Pope likes to say, that the Bible is “the trustworthy ground of our existence” for the Catholic as much as it is for the Protestant. But I think that it’s nearer the truth to say that these folks simply disagree about which people or group of people to trust regarding the canon, etc. Notice first that even if both of them went through all of the studies you describe, they’re already relying on an external authority to tell them which of the two collections they’re supposed to adjudicate between, right? The NT books are already just handed to him and he accepts them as given, and what remains is just a handful of other texts to consider. But this grouping of disputed texts is likewise just handed to him by somebody else — the alternatives are already circumscribed by an external authority, even if which of the alternatives he adopts isn’t (by hypothesis) already decided. (In other words, he isn’t bothering his head about Clement or Ignatius or Jubilee or what have you. Why not?) So I think that there is already much less of the rugged epistemic individualism going on here than your description of the case may suggest. Both of these men are confronted with an external authority, and both of them are trying as best they can to decide which of the authorities in question is deserving of his credible trust.

    Having said that, though, I think you’ve put your finger on a larger and comparatively more pressing issue. Catholics will sometimes accuse Protestants of exercising “private judgment” to the detriment of Church unity and to the overthrow of rightful magisterial authority. But the Protestant can well ask, here, whether the Catholic isn’t himself using his private judgment to the same degree when he arrives at the conclusion that he ought to be Catholic instead of Presbyterian, e.g. This I think is a fair and important retort, but, as some of the guys here have noted, it does carry us farther afield and into a different and more general series of questions. I think this topic is important enough that it should have its own post and its own thread. (So this is sort of a promissory note: we’ll get back to this.)

    (Reformed) Andrew: I hear what you’re saying and agree that we need to be sensitive to context. But I don’t think that we can in this manner insulate Calvin from criticism. He’s talking to you, not me. Okay, suppose it so. What is he telling you, exactly? He’s explaining to you why the Catholic, who rejects Calvin’s “self-authentication” hypothesis and looks to the Church, is involved in all manner of sacrilege and blasphemy. He provides you with a series of arguments or considerations meant to demonstrate this point to you. Presumably, he thinks the arguments work and that the conclusions he wants to reach are adequately supported by them. Presumably, he thinks that you can use these arguments to refute Catholics like me. (It’s hard to believe, for example, that because Calvin is “talking to you,” his entire discussion should be qualified by the proviso: “These arguments only have force for people who already accept everything I’m saying anyway.” Why bother with arguments in this case?) At the very least, he presumably thinks that they can buttress your confidence in your own Reformed position by giving you a sturdy ground to stand on and by helping you to see exactly where and why the Catholic has gone wrong.

    So, no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to let Calvin off the hook like this. Indeed, I think it does him the dishonor of not taking him seriously, and I do take him seriously. Maybe Calvin’s talking to you and just giving me the cold shoulder; but I’d like to think that Calvin’s arguments and hypotheses are suitable for Catholic consumption and consideration pretty much as they are. If I’m being naive about this, then maybe we could ask someone to reformulate and present these arguments in a way that Catholics can understand. But I don’t think I’m being naive about this, really.

    Best,

    Neal

  23. The problem for the position you are proposing is that it has no ground or justification for positing that in recognizing the canon, God providentially protected the Church from error, while in everything else the Church did, God did not providentially protect the Church from error. In other words, that position is fundamentally ad hoc; it picks and chooses willy-nilly which processes are providentially protected from error and which are not.

    Bryan,

    This is hardly fair. We do not pick and choose. I have identified something that certainly is infallible in the various books of the Scripture. We know that they are infallible because God says He breathed them out so they are His Words not just mans (and with a some additional work we can draw the connection between the individual books and the collection of books we know as the canon). We thus can make a case for infallibility here. So now when RC’s say that something else in their system is infallible we ask them to prove this in the same we might prove the infallibility of a given book of Scripture. If they have no proof then we reject their claim. Now how can you call this “ad hoc?” Either a given claim of the RCC can be substantiated or it cannot. If it cannot and we thus reject it, why are we then accused of picking and choosing?

    It seems to us in the RC way of thinking that there is a great degree of slidshod argumentation when trying to establish infallibility for the pronoucements of certain decrees that the RCC has made. We are just asking the RC apologists to tighten up their argument. All the time we get statements saying things like the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth and therefore she is infallible in her de fide pronouncements. There are HUGE unproven assumptions in the logic here and we are just challening this.

  24. What is he telling you, exactly? He’s explaining to you why the Catholic, who rejects Calvin’s “self-authentication” hypothesis and looks to the Church, is involved in all manner of sacrilege and blasphemy. He provides you with a series of arguments or considerations meant to demonstrate this point to you.

    I think he is providing me with reasons to encourage me and to give me confidence in my faith in the Scriptures. It’s just like my atheist example where encourage a brother that the Bible is faithful when he is attacked by an atheist. There are things that I can appeal to that my friend knows to be true. But if I write this down I would hope that the atheist would not pick it up and try to answer me as if I were directing my writing to him. I cannot appeal to the atheist like I can appeal to my brother in Christ. I almost certainly will have to answer them in different ways. The atheist is not going to be swayed in the same way that a Christian friend will be. Suppose that I remind my Christian friend of God’s faithfulness to him. The atheist picks up on this and begins to ridicule and I have to remind the atheist that this argument was not for him.

    So you are now listening to Calvin and Clark teach someone in their own communion and are trying to respond to them as if they are addressing the RC apologist. I think it would be better to find an interchange between Calvin and one of his Catholic contemporaries.

  25. I have identified something that certainly is infallible in the various books of the Scripture. We know that they are infallible because God says He breathed them out so they are His Words not just mans (and with a some additional work we can draw the connection between the individual books and the collection of books we know as the canon). We thus can make a case for infallibility here.

    Andrew, I think that your statement engages in a bit of question-begging. You’ve loaded the little phrase “with some additional work” with more weight that it can bear. What is this “additional work” that will definitively stamp Philemon and Jude with God’s imprimatur? Will this same process reveal that Wisdom and Sirach are not God-breathed? If there exists a process that can be applied to a document to determine whether it is, in fact, God’s word, I think that might obviate the controversy at hand.

    God Bless,

    Zach

  26. “We know that they are infallible because God says He breathed them out so they are His Words not just mans…”

    And just how exactly do you know that?

    Did God actually tell which books specifically were those that He breathed on?

    The Canon of Scripture (i.e., the list of what books actually belong in the Bible) can’t be found in the individuals books themselves that ultimately comprise our bible. You can’t go to each of the individual books of the bible to determine if they are actually authentically inspired and can thus be deemed as genuinely Scripture.

    There were so many other books in addition to those that actually became part of the Bible that the Church had to decide amongst so many of these which exactly was considered Scripture.

    Do you trust the books that the Catholic Church declared in its early history (whether at the Councils of Rome, Hippo or Carthage) then are genuinely Scripture and, therefore, the God-breathed books of The New Testament?

    How do you know they might have made a mistake and that many of the books they actually rejected may have very well been Scripture while some of the books accepted as part of the New Testament may be wrong or even forged?

    The MAIN QUESTION I’d like you to answer:
    What would, then, be your final criteria for deciding if whether a particular book is Scripture or not?

    Is it because it’s written by an Apostle?

    Many bible scholars would beg to differ since many books in the Bible are not.

    For example, do you actually consider Hebrews as part of the Scripture? Do you know that to this day, nobody actually knows who wrote it?

    Even Protestant bible scholars I happen to be acquainted with know that as well as several of their seminary professors!

    But, if you should actually accept Hebrews as part of Scripture, then why???? What makes it so special??? What makes it authentic??? What makes you actually think it’s God-breathed???

  27. Wow folks, I find this to be one of the most deeply moving and thought provoking discussions on the topic of Sola Scriptura validated by self-authentication ever. I remember some years ago while in Sunday school, the topic came into our discussion of trusting the Bible as the Word of God. Questions were asked such as, “How could we be certain that the Bible is the Word of God?” I remember having a gnawing, troubled feeling because it seemed the answer really boiled down to, “We know the Bible is true because WE KNOW the Bible is true.”

    The veracity of Scripture would come up in conversations with unbelievers while I was street witnessing. They would say things such as, “The Bible is just a book written by men.” or “There are so many versions, how do you know which one is the right one?” or “If the Bible is true, then why do so many people disagree about what it says?” I came to the conclusion that if I met someone who didn’t believe that the Bible was the infallible, inspired Word of God, I couldn’t convince him from the Scriptures of its authenticity until I laid a foundation as to its authenticity. Most evangelicals I encountered didn’t seem to understand my reasoning. They thought that if you just preached from the Scriptures, His Word would “not return empty” but accomplish God’s purposes. Isaiah 55:11 I think this is true in its proper context, in this case, Isaiah was preaching to his people who had already been given the laws and statutes of God. IOW, the groundwork, the foundation was laid. In our current culture, where existentialism, atheism, agnosticism, relativism, modernism, all those “isms” are having an overwhelming effect upon the thinking processes of the general population, I don’t think the same paradigm can be applied.

    Now I do realize that the grace of God makes up for all of man’s deficiencies and our Lord has been compared to the Hound of Heaven. So the Calvinist would say that God indeed brings all of those who are His to salvation, in spite of the failings and short-comings of man. So then, according to this thought process and this system of belief, those who hear the Word of God, who have been predestined to salvation, who are unconditionally elected, and who are unable to resist His grace, will believe that the Scriptures are the infallible and inerrant Word of God. Those who do not, well….they were predestined to be damned long before they ever had a say anyway.

    Where am I going with all of this? I guess I see the Calvinist, (and evangelical non-Calvinist argument for that matter), as circular. What objective source is there to determine and verify that the Holy Scriptures are INDEED the infallible Word of the Lord? Did the Holy Fathers and Patriarchs of the faith at the Councils of Hippo and Carthage all take a vote as to who had that “self-authenticating, burning-in-the-bosom” experience when reading various writings, and who didn’t? And did the method boil down to: the writings which received the majority of self-authenticating witness among those at said councils were proclaimed to be the infallible, inerrant Holy Scriptures? What criteria did these holy men of God use to determine what was the canon of Scripture and what was not?

    Does the proposition that “there is no absolute truth” come into play here? IOW, even using the ecclesial church model which authenticates Scripture, removing it one step away from each individual man/woman having (or not) that self-authenticating experience, has a certain subjectivity to it. That is, the subjectivity is within the context of the Church councils composed of fallible men who are liable to short-comings and preconceptions, bias, and predjudice. However, in this case, we have a greater consensus that our “personal” self-authentication. So, while absolute truth is difficult to proove, (I gotta watch that I don’t speak in “absolutes” here :0) the best model to embrace is that one which reveals the truth in its greatest capacity. Does any of this make sense to anyone here or am I in left field?

    One thing that I did come to realize as a Protestant in all of this mix, was that these councils could not be ignored or discarded when judging and determining the authenticity of Holy Scripture. To exclude or ignore the roll of the Holy Fathers and Patriarchs from the equation reduces Sacred Scripture to abuse and misuse.

    I know…I’m rambling. Truth be known, now that I am no longer Protestant, and on the road to Orthodoxy (having taken a route through Catholicism), I have more faith in the Scriptures being the infallible, inerrant Word of God than I ever did before.

    Blessings to All,

    Darlene

  28. Whoops….I made a typo. I meant to say, “However, in this case, we have a greater consensus THAN our “personal” self-authentication.” :)

  29. Dear Andrew:

    I have identified something that certainly is infallible in the various books of the Scripture. We know that they are infallible because God says He breathed them out so they are His Words not just mans (and with a some additional work we can draw the connection between the individual books and the collection of books we know as the canon). We thus can make a case for infallibility here. So now when RC’s say that something else in their system is infallible we ask them to prove this in the same we might prove the infallibility of a given book of Scripture. If they have no proof then we reject their claim. Now how can you call this “ad hoc?” Either a given claim of the RCC can be substantiated or it cannot. If it cannot and we thus reject it, why are we then accused of picking and choosing?

    I guess I don’t know what you’re talking about. St. Paul is uncontroversially talking about the OT when he makes this remark to St. Timothy, and the mere a priori/Scriptural correlation between inspiration and “Scripture” gives us zero means or principles by which we are supposed to discern which of the candidate inspired/Scriptural writings really are inspired/Scriptural. The “some additional work” to which you allude is precisely the epistemological/authority point at issue. Calvin attempts to address this via self-authentication. I have argued that Calvin’s attempt fails. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll just say that my “proof” for the infallibility of conciliar decrees is that they authenticate themselves to me, and in this way I’ll succeed in “proving” the infallibility of the Magisterium “in the same way” Calvin “proves” that all and only the texts he admits as Scripture are inspired. As to the ad-hociness of the position that allows for infallible Church guidance only in the case where the Reformed (or some Reformed, like you and Reymond e.g.) want or feel they need it, I guess I’d say this practically defines what it means for something to be ad hoc. Sorry to sound harsh here; but I mean, if I were teaching a class on informal logic/critical reasoning I think I’d use this as “Exhibit A” when illustrating what it means to be ad hoc.

    It seems to us in the RC way of thinking that there is a great degree of slidshod argumentation when trying to establish infallibility for the pronoucements of certain decrees that the RCC has made. We are just asking the RC apologists to tighten up their argument. All the time we get statements saying things like the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth and therefore she is infallible in her de fide pronouncements. There are HUGE unproven assumptions in the logic here and we are just challening this.

    I have to admit that I see a lot more slipshod argumentation in Calvin than in anything I or the other guys here have said. I’ve laid out some problems for Calvin’s position, and for the Reymond style position as well. It is certainly possible that there are features of my criticisms which require some tightening up. So maybe we can talk about those. But from where I’m sitting, the Catholic position is both internally consistent, non-ad hoc, and satisfying, whereas the Calvinist position I was discussing does not seem to display these laudible features. I think if we’re going to talk the presuppositionalist talk, we should walk it too. Calvin’s position is, I think, a little embarrassing to thoughtful Reformed folks like yourself. Reymond’s position is as well, albeit for different reasons. I don’t think these recognitions require us to accept the existence of “common ground” between Catholics and Reformed Christians — even though I do believe that there is such common ground — nor do I think we can sweep the problems under the rug by saying that Calvin’s just talking to Calvinists and would say something perhaps more plausible or forceful if talking to Catholics. Nor do I think that we can honestly pretend that Catholics have all of these unproven assumptions they’re burdened with, whereas Reformed Christians don’t. The question is really about the internal coherence and plausibility of the position, and all that requires is a little honest critique from within. You’ve rightly asked me to step into your shoes at various times, Andrew. And let me remind you that it’s easy for me to do that, inasmuch as you and I wore the very same shoes for a very long time. But now I’ll ask you to return the favor — doesn’t it seem to you, in honesty, that the position you’re advocating is ad hoc and unsatisfying vis-a-vis the Catholic position? I’m not asking if you think the Catholic position is right; I’m just asking whether you think it would lessen some of the headaches if you were to adopt it.

    I think he is providing me with reasons to encourage me and to give me confidence in my faith in the Scriptures.

    Well, how’s it working for you? Do you find that what Calvin says here is helpful to all Christians, or specifically to Calvinists only? If the latter, it must be that he says something which shows you why you’ve got a superior means of acquiring confidence and faith qua Calvinist. Does this means have something to do with the self-authentication of Scripture, specifically as it relates to the actual question (concerning the canon etc.) that Calvin is addressing, or does it merely concern the “internal instigation” of the Spirit, of which Aquinas speaks, and to which any Christian can lay claim?

    It’s just like my atheist example where encourage a brother that the Bible is faithful when he is attacked by an atheist. There are things that I can appeal to that my friend knows to be true. But if I write this down I would hope that the atheist would not pick it up and try to answer me as if I were directing my writing to him. I cannot appeal to the atheist like I can appeal to my brother in Christ. I almost certainly will have to answer them in different ways. The atheist is not going to be swayed in the same way that a Christian friend will be. Suppose that I remind my Christian friend of God’s faithfulness to him. The atheist picks up on this and begins to ridicule and I have to remind the atheist that this argument was not for him.

    So you are now listening to Calvin and Clark teach someone in their own communion and are trying to respond to them as if they are addressing the RC apologist. I think it would be better to find an interchange between Calvin and one of his Catholic contemporaries.

    (1) Is the Christian/Atheist situation functionally equivalent to the Protestant/Catholic situation? Why or why not?

    (2) How should the Calvinist/Clarkean respond to the Catholic?

    Grace and Peace,

    Neal

  30. This topic really has my mind working over-time! Question for Bryan. You said, “None of the books of the Bible claim to be the Word of God.” Could you clarify what you mean here? Rather than quote goobobs (my word there) of verses from Scripture which I think challenge that statement, I’d like to understand the premise from which you speak. After all, I don’t doubt that you could out-quote Scripture and do a much better job of it than me. Still, this statement doesn’t sit well with me somehow.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Darlene

  31. Gil said, “The result is that the Christian student must submit every teacher to the bosom burning test. He ceases to be a student and becomes an auditor.”

    Actually, this sort of process is encouraged in quite a few evangelical circles. The pastor will teach and preach from Scripture, but then he will challenge his congregation to read their Bibles on their own to determine whether or not he is preaching the truth from God’s Word. The defense for this reasoning is taken from the Scripture which says, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11 So how does one put this verse into its proper context so that it doesn’t become a self-authenticating model to determine truth from error? This verse has been the battle cry of many within Protestantism who say we are each responsible to become like the “noble” Bereans.

    Reformed Calvinist apologists (James White, James Swan, et al) are known for saying that the Catholic system boils down to “Sola Ecclesia” as opposed to “Sola Scriptura.” They believe that Scripture is far more trustworthy than the Church. The reasoning behind this points to times in history when the Roman Catholic Church was way off the mark, ie. abuse in regards to indulgences, calling men to the Crusades to kill muslims, jews, heretics, schismatics, in which the pope would honor their efforts, just to mention a few. They will say, how can we trust the infallibility of a Church that would do such things? If one places their trust in such a system, they are bound to be led astray and many were, such as the average peasant who heeded Tetzel’s call, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” And Tetzel had the blessing and support of the pope and Catholic hierarchy behind him. Thus it was that the money taken from gullible, unsuspecting peasants was used to build the Vatican. So how does “Sola Ecclesia” have an advantage over “Sola Scriptura” in a case such as this?

    No matter how one slices it, the Reformed position believes that their stance is far more reliable in assuring a person of their salvation when taking a stand on “Sola Scriptura” as opposed to the other option which is wrought with inconstancy due to the depraved nature of sinful man.

  32. Oh no… you didn’t bring up Tetzel, did you?

    *sigh*

    Darlene, what you know about Tetzel—where does it come from? What sources are you working with?

    Cheers,
    s

  33. They will say, how can we trust the infallibility of a Church that would do such things

    Only someone with no knowledge of what the Church means when she calls herself infallible would say that.

  34. Hey Wilkins,

    I took a course on the Middle Ages in college, which was necessary to obtain my teaching degree in history. It was taught, oddly enough, by a Catholic professor who would say The Lord’s Prayer in Latin before each test. Anyhow, some years later I dusted off those textbooks and set to reading them, the purpose of which was to discover the truth about the Roman Catholic Church. Off the top of my head, I can tell you that Brian Tierney was the author of some of those historical accounts. Nope, he was not Roman Catholic……sigh. :)

    Blessings in Christ to you,

    Darlene

  35. Ok, Wilkins and Tim. Now that I’ve come clean that I’m not Catholic {wait a minute, didn’t I do that elsewhere on this blog :)}, can you or someone else deal with my actual comments?

    Remember that hair color commercial a few years back? It went something like this: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Well, I implore my Catholic brethren here….Don’t hate me because I’m not Roman Catholic. Really, I’m not that difficult to get along with. Really.

    Blessings, y’all

    Darlene

  36. Thanks, Darlene. I won’t belabor the point because it is a distraction from the actual (and very good, very honest) dialogue going on here, but I suspect you’ll find the truth of the Catholic Church by seeking out what the Catholic Church herself says. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Tetzel (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14539a.htm) will explain the sigh—your take on Tetzel is pretty seriously anti-Catholic and doesn’t give me a great deal of hope that your search is genuine. Honestly, tho, I wish you all the very best regardless.
    Pax Christi

  37. Hi Darlene,

    Firstly, I have appreciated your comments on this site (on this post and others I have read), so I am glad you are here commenting.

    Darlene wrote:
    “That is, the subjectivity is within the context of the Church councils composed of fallible men who are liable to short-comings and preconceptions, bias, and predjudice. However, in this case, we have a greater consensus that our “personal” self-authentication. So, while absolute truth is difficult to proove, (I gotta watch that I don’t speak in “absolutes” here :0) the best model to embrace is that one which reveals the truth in its greatest capacity. Does any of this make sense to anyone here or am I in left field?”

    It makes sense to me, and I think that–even if ecumenical councils’ teachings on faith and morals were not infallible for example–if I had to choose between one man’s decision about the canon versus, say, the bishops of the Church in some council, I would choose the bishops. How could one man make such a decision unilaterally without a special private revelation from God?

    But since, as you said, “Church councils [are] composed of fallible men who are liable to short-comings and preconceptions, bias, and predjudice”, if I didn’t believe in infallibility of councils, I would say in my best Flannery O’Connor voice: “To Hell with what they decided” simply because these men are fallible, prejudiced, sinners, and so on. A bunch of fallible men getting together to decide something doesn’t somehow magically make their decision infallible; if anything, there decision might be a bunch of compromises that would reflect their different prejudices rather than what was actually true.

    Without a sacred Tradition handed down by the Apostles by which their successors could discern the status (inspired or not inspired) of the different writings, and without their discernment being infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit, the whole thing doesn’t work, and we have that “fallible collection of infallible books” that Sproul memorably described.

    It seems to me that Calvin and Protestants in general have a dilemma because they have to both deny that they rely on sacred Tradition but at the same time have to rely on it (it’s that “with a some additional work” that Andrew mentioned above and which, for example, Patrick Madrid caught James White on during their debate on sola Scriptura: http://vintage.aomin.org/SANTRAN.html (search for the word “filching” to jump to the specific part of the debate)).

  38. Dear Wilkins,

    You said, “Your take on Tetzel is pretty seriously anti-Catholic and doesn’t give me a great deal of hope that your search is genuine.”

    First of all, it isn’t “my take.” It is other historians’ “take” and I read what they had to say. Secondly, you may be suspect as to the genuineness of my search, but you cannot peer into the depths of my soul. Surely you don’t know of the intense inner struggles, the restless nights of crying out in prayer, the longing in my studies over the course of several years to know the truth and the desire to follow that truth. Be careful not to assume you are privy to the intentions or motivations of another ones heart too quickly.

    And now, I apologize for taking this thead off of the main topic. I do look forward to anyone who would like to address some of my concerns in posts 27, 30, & 31. And btw, I want to reiterate what I originally said. I think this is one of the best pieces I have read against the self-authenticating motif which is the underpinning principle to Sola Scriptura.

    Blessings in Christ’s Name,

    Darlene

  39. Andrew, I think that your statement engages in a bit of question-begging. You’ve loaded the little phrase “with some additional work” with more weight that it can bear. What is this “additional work” that will definitively stamp Philemon and Jude with God’s imprimatur?

    Zach,

    On this loop and another Neal and Bryan and I have discussed this “additional work” in excruciating detail which I thought I might not have to repeat, but I can:

    When we look at the individual books we know they are infallible because God tells us that He inspired them. So they must be infallible because God is infallible. Since we know that the same God who inspired the writing of the individual books also oversaw their collection into the canon, we can be assured that this collection is infallible. Just as in the case of the inspiration of individual books, when we say that the canon is infallible we can be assured of this whether or not the Church is infallible because God who is infallible is working through His Church. I’m not trying to disprove ecclesiastical infallibility here, but just point out that we do not need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon. We do of course need to have an infallible God involved in the process and that is something we both affirm. I’m always a little puzzled as to why EO’s/RC’s think we require an infallible Church to have an infallible canon. If God is infallible and works through the process of inscripturation and canonization, then why do we need to ascribe infallibility to the Church in this process? Infallibility is guaranteed by the very character of God. What else is needed to assure us that the individual books or the collection of these books are infallible? Does the Church’s proposed infallibility add to God’s infallibility to make the canon even more infallible?

    So to Neal’s very first question in this post, we are not trying to appeal to Scripture to prove the canon. As has been correctly pointed out, we have to appeal to the Church who God worked through to recognize the canon. The RC apologist at this point would like to say that the Church was granted infallibility and thus defined the books which are in the canon. But why is this necessary? Suppose for the sake of argument that the Church is not infallible. Are we going to be left with a fallible canon if our infallible God works through the fallible Church? Why do you want to posit an infallible Church if this is not necessary to have an infallible canon?

    So now in summary, your Protestant friends hold to an infallible canon that has been declared so by the Church through the oversight of a God who is perfect. So both the books must be perfect as well as the collection of books given Protestant assumptions. Unless someone wants to argue for a fallible God I can see no other conclusion.

  40. I guess I don’t know what you’re talking about. St. Paul is uncontroversially talking about the OT when he makes this remark to St. Timothy, and the mere a priori/Scriptural correlation between inspiration and “Scripture” gives us zero means or principles by which we are supposed to discern which of the candidate inspired/Scriptural writings really are inspired/Scriptural.

    Neal,

    I’m a little surprised at this question given previous discussions of ours. As I said to Zach above, I don’t want to appeal to the individual books themselves to prove the canon.

    Is the Christian/Atheist situation functionally equivalent to the Protestant/Catholic situation? Why or why not?

    I’m trying to create an analogy for you here. There is a host of assumptions that the one Christian shares with another that the atheist does not. When one Christian speaks to another he can assume various matters without having to prove them. Now the atheist peering into this conversation does not accept these assumptions and we need a different set of discussions with the atheist. I have to prove in some sense much of what I hold presuppositionally with my brother in Christ.

    So Calvin speaks to others in his communion, and it sounds like you are listening to his conversation and asking him to prove what he is assuming when he speaks to his fellow Protestants. It’s not that you are asking bad questions by demanding that he prove any given assumption, but it is worthwhile to note that a systematic text written for Protestants is going to assume various elements of the Protestant understanding of the Christian faith rather than trying to prove all of these matters de novo.

  41. Andrew,

    I am not sure whether or not we need an infallible Church to have an infallible canon. I do know that if you posit an infallible canon, however that comes about, then you cannot consistently maintain that Scripture alone is our infallible rule of faith. The [Protestant?] canon is, per your hypothesis, also an infallible rule of faith; to wit: it infallibly informs us which writings are Sacred Scripture, something that Scripture itself does not do.

    I am in interested in your apparent repudiation of sola scriptura. First of all, congratulations. Secondly, I wonder if you think that there are, or could be, other instances in which our infallible God used his fallible Church to deliver something extra-biblical and infallible?

  42. Andrew,

    I’m sorry for having missed the earlier discussions to which you refer (perhaps you can link to them), but your argument still seems to beg the question: we have an infallible canon because it contains infallible documents inspired by an infallible God who works infallibly through His Church. This is your position, no? Do you think, then, that God was not working infallibly through His Church when it proclaimed the Deuterocanonical books to be Scripture?

    You’re right that we all agree on God’s infallibility. The question is how we can be certain that, when the Church militant decreed certain documents to be Scripture, that was one of those occasions when God was working infallibly through it. Most Protestants think the Church got it wrong on the Deuterocanon–why couldn’t the Church have gotten it wrong on other books, too? Isn’t it even a i>little bit possible?

    God Bless,

    Z

  43. Andrew,

    When you write, “When we look at the individual books we know they are infallible because God tells us that He inspired them”, you have to be making that statement based not on the text but on a prior assumption. I cannot really think of any book of the Bible (save a small handful that suggest God’s telling us this is inspired e.g. Revelation) where God tells us this book is inspired and therefore His word.

    If I am misunderstanding you, I apologize.

  44. Andrew [McCallum],

    In #23, you wrote:

    We do not pick and choose.

    You choose to believe that the process by which the Church selected the canon was providentially guided such that the [Protestant] canon is infallible, and that every other ecclesial process was not providentially guided so as to protect the Church from error. That’s why (presumably) you think that the Ecumenical Councils are all fallible. So you arbitrarily pick and choose from among the Church’s activities, arbitrarily positing one to be infallible (i.e. the canon selection process) and the rest to be fallible. Are there any other Church activities you believe to be providentially protected from error besides the selection of the canon?

    (and with a some additional work we can draw the connection between the individual books and the collection of books we know as the canon).

    Please provide that “additional work”. You’re hand-waving over precisely the point in question. If you ‘hand-wave’ around a philosopher, he’ll call you on it every time. :-)

    We thus can make a case for infallibility here.

    That conclusion does not follow, given what you have said (actually haven’t said) above. Please provide that “case”.

    So now when RC’s say that something else in their system is infallible we ask them to prove this in the same [way] we might prove the infallibility of a given book of Scripture.

    Notice that you’ve shifted from the infallibility of the canon to the infallibility of “a given book.” The point above is the infallibility of the canon. And you have not shown that the canon is infallible, while avoiding the arbitrariness I referred to in #18.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  45. Darlene,

    From #30:, by “None of the books of the Bible claim to be the Word of God” I meant that no book of the Bible says, for example, “This book, written by the prophet Malachi, is part of the divinely inspired Word of God.” No book says, “Every word of this book is divinely inspired and is the very Word of God.”

    (Sorry you all, I’m getting into this conversation late. I didn’t realize Neal had already responded to Andrew. I was seven hours at Archbishop Carlson’s installation today. But I had an excellent seat — that’s me in the green circle. The original photo, along with the rest of the photos of the installation, can be seen here.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  46. Darlene,

    You raise 2 very interesting points. 1st you admit that Christian students are encouraged to cease being students and become auditors, testing each teacher to in order to prove the teacher right.

    This presents an immediate problem. What if my 4th grade daughter took the same approach with her teachers? She would never get out of elementary school. Proving 1+1=2 would take her many, many… years. Being a student implies trusting the teacher. It would be absurd to think that every new Christian believer would have to get a PhD in theology to first decide which teacher was trustworthy enough to deserve discipleship. Yet, that is what appears to be your argument. Please tell me I am wrong here.

    Your 2nd point argues that Acts 17:11 establishes a template for the Christian student to be an auditor set on testing the veracity of the teacher. This argument presents another immediate problem.

    The Bereans in Acts 17 weren’t Christian students. They were Jews in a Jewish Synagogue. These non-believers were using the Hebrew Scriptures to see if what Paul and Silas were proposing about Jesus the Messiah was true. The Bereans were fact checking Paul and Silas.

    I would argue that the Bereans, as non-believing Jews were checking to see if Paul and Silas were trustworthy. As they should. Reason demands it. They were, of course. Many of them became believers as a result of the trust they placed in Paul and Silas. Christian believers, however, are admonished to trust the teaching of the Church in Scripture. Indeed the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1Tim3:15).

    Perhaps there is another place in Scripture that better demonstrates your point? Perhaps I have misconstrued your point altogether?

  47. Andrew [McCallum],

    In #39, you wrote:

    When we look at the individual books we know they are infallible because God tells us that He inspired them. So they must be infallible because God is infallible.

    Where does God tell us that He inspired “them”? St. Paul tell us that all Scripture is God-breathed. But of course St. Paul is not God. Or when you say “God tells us” are you appealing to an internal witness in your soul? Otherwise, if you are assuming that when St. Paul tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed, God is telling us that all Scripture is God-breathed, then you are begging the question, i.e. assuming precisely what is in question, namely, that 2 Timothy is divinely inspired.

    Since we know that the same God who inspired the writing of the individual books also oversaw their collection into the canon, we can be assured that this collection is infallible.

    That is a non sequitur, meaning, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The same God who inspired the writing of the individual books also oversaw (according to Protestants) the fall of the Church into apostasy in the middle ages, such that leaving the Church was necessary for Protestants in the 16th century. So, again, this is entirely ad hoc. Either God only oversees certain things and not others (and that would be the error of deism), or God oversees everything. But if God oversees everything, and yet not everything that God oversees is protected from error, then it does not follow from the fact that God oversees x that x is error-free. Therefore it does not follow that since God oversaw the canon formation process, that therefore the “collection is infallible”.

    Just as in the case of the inspiration of individual books, when we say that the canon is infallible we can be assured of this whether or not the Church is infallible because God who is infallible is working through His Church.

    Well, then, you’ve just proved that everything the Church has ever done is infallible, or you are arbitrarily selecting only certain things the Church has done as having been done by God working through the Church. The former proves too much; the latter is ad hoc. So your argument is flawed.

    I’m not trying to disprove ecclesiastical infallibility here, but just point out that we do not need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon. We do of course need to have an infallible God involved in the process and that is something we both affirm.

    You keep conflating the infallibility of the canon, and knowing that the canon is infallible. God, being omnipotent, can prevent errors in the canon-selection process. The Church does not need to be infallible in order for God to do that. But the question is how we know that the canon is infallible. Do we know it from Scripture? No. We know it because the Church tells us. And the Catholic magisterium teaches that the Church is divinely protected from error when the Pope or all the bishops in communion with the Pope, teach something regarding faith or morals, as definitively taught to be held by all the faithful. If the Church were not protected from error when teaching in this way, then the faithful wouldn’t know whether the canon is infallible, or for that matter, whether any other point of doctrine is true.

    So to Neal’s very first question in this post, we are not trying to appeal to Scripture to prove the canon. As has been correctly pointed out, we have to appeal to the Church who God worked through to recognize the canon.

    The Church “who God worked through to recognize the canon” is the same Church that believed in baptismal regeneration, prayers for the dead, communion of the saints, that the power to ordain is limited to bishops (not mere presbyters), transformation of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, veneration of relics, the sacrament of confirmation, the sacrament of penance, fasting on Fridays and during Lent, all things that the Church held and believed everywhere. This is the same Church that Luther and Calvin rejected. So if appealing to the Church that God worked through entails that the canon is infallible, then it would be entirely ad hoc to treat as fallible everything else that the Church did and has done. Thus if appealing to the Church that God worked through entails that the canon is infallible, then it also implies that the Ecumenical Councils were infallible, and therefore that Luther and Calvin were wrong to leave the Church. So you can’t have it both ways, without being ad hoc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  48. Darlene, I wasn’t trying to “peer into your soul” — was merely trying to say that the view of Tetzel that you provided, as if it were accurate and thus relevant to what you were saying, is wrong. I’m here to learn, not attack you personally, so forgive me for wording my response in such a way that you felt personally attacked. Tierney and White aren’t adequate sources for Catholic truth — truth that you and me are both seeking. I hope you’ll continue to seek with me and not in spite of me. Tetzel is much maligned and much of it’s unjust. Hence the link to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry. Bless you, and may the peace of Christ fill us all on this journey.
    W

  49. Hey Bryan/Andrew,

    Great discussion. Neal, great article too. I think it is interesting in light of the current discussion, and maybe somebody mentioned this already, that some of the most respected Reformed Apologist (R.C. Sproul, B.B. Warfield) teach and have taught that the list of cannonical books is fallible. To me, I don’t see how the list could be fallible, but the books themselves infallible. If the list is fallible, then the list might have included heretical books instead of just leaving out cannonical books. I think Sproul is simply being consistent with Calvin’s principle though, because ultimately, to confess faith in the infallibility of the list itself, is to ascribe authority outside of Scripture. Catholics rightly recognize, however, that this is exactly what scripture itself does.

  50. Andrew,

    I was also a little surprised at your statement, to be honest, both because of our previous discussion and also because what you say really is riddled with a lot of problems. Some of these Bryan has pointed out above. I have to admit I was a little surprised to hear you say those things, which is probably why I sounded a little punchy (“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” etc.). I hope I didn’t come off mean; at the same time, I would urge you to maybe glance through Bryan’s and my previous responses and try to slow down and think through this a little bit more. You’re smart; I am confident that if you look back through the paragraphs in which you accuse us of huge unproven assumptions and slipshod reasoning and so forth, you will be able to discern some of the problems inherent in your arguments/assertions.

    Last, we may just have to disagree about whether it is possible to read and think through what Calvin (or Clark) says without antecedently deciding that you will agree with everything they say no matter what. I do appreciate your desire to be sensitive to context and to be aware of an author’s intentions. This is a healthy instinct, and I think it’s a very important skill to pick up — just ask any of the history of philosophy students I preach about this to. But Andrew, I do believe you are being somewhat anachronistic here and are unfairly insulating Calvin et al. from any possible critique. It would be a weak response for me to tell you that you are simply mistaken when you think you see “HUGE UNPROVEN ASSUMPTIONS” in Catholic thought, because, after all, you’re not Catholic, so you can’t really understand or be in a position to critique anything we say. I simply do not think you can let Calvin argue against Catholicism, lay out all of those polemics, and then rush to his defense whenever someone like me perceives a problem in what he says by insisting that we aren’t allowed to criticize him because we don’t already agree with him about everything.

    It would be different if I were being uncharitable to him or presenting his remarks inaccurately, but I do not believe I have done that. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) But in any case, may I ask you to extend me a little bit of credit, if possible? I’m no genius, but I’m not an absolute idiot either. I can read things; I can be sensitive to context; I can adopt another’s orientation for the purpose of reflection, and it’s especially easy when it’s an orientation I used to adopt “for reals.” I became Catholic, sure. But that doesn’t mean that I all the sudden turned into a Martian who just can’t understand a word of Reformedese and who has no earthly clue how Reformed people think or what folks like Calvin are trying to say. It also doesn’t mean that I sort of became too dense to recognize considerations of context and so forth. If any of my particular remarks or engagements with Calvin seem to you problematic, maybe we can focus on them. But I do think it’s bad form, and beneath you, too, to insulate Calvin and these guys from critique by insisting that they aren’t talking to me, that I’m not paying sufficient attention to their intentions, and that, at the end of the day, I just can’t really understand them.

    Best,

    Neal

  51. <I am in interested in your apparent repudiation of sola scriptura. First of all, congratulations. Secondly, I wonder if you think that there are, or could be, other instances in which our infallible God used his fallible Church to deliver something extra-biblical and infallible?

    Andrew P.,

    What I am repudiating in one of a number of Catholic misrepresentation of sola scriptura. We don’t try to establish the canon through the individual books. Sola Scriptura speaks to the authority of the Word of God when utilized by the Church rather than the establishment of extent of the Word. I think this underscores the importance of not learning about Protestant theology solely from Catholic sources. It would be no doubt good for you to go to a source that holds to historic Protestant thinking rather than a place (like this blog) where the perspective is from the outside looking in.

    Concerning your second question, yes, I would consider it and in fact I have encouraged Catholics to try to prove that statements on various aspects of dogmatic theology are actually infallible rather than just assuming this because the Church tells them they are infallible.

  52. but your argument still seems to beg the question: we have an infallible canon because it contains infallible documents inspired by an infallible God who works infallibly through His Church. This is your position, no? Do you think, then, that God was not working infallibly through His Church when it proclaimed the Deuterocanonical books to be Scripture?

    Zach,

    I’m going to assume that you are not accusing me of committing the logical fallacy of begging the question, but are just pointing out that my argument raises the question of the Deuterocanonicals. And yes, my argument does definitely raise this issue. And we would argue that the Church did rule on this issue and ruled against the Apocrypha/Deuteros being part of the canon. When Athanasius enumerated the books of the Bible he did not leave the question of the Deuteros open. He specifically stated that the churches did not consider them canonical (and I would add that nobody in Christendom was in a better position to determine what the practice of the churches were at that time). Jerome of course makes the same sorts of statements but from a more rigorously textual standpoint.

    Now into this debate walks Augustine who was the champion in North Africa for the Deuteros I think because of the importance that they played in the life of the churches and intellectual centers (mainly Alexandria) in North Africa. Augustine wins the day eventually but there is never any ecumenical council that weighs in on the matter until Trent. There were of course local councils (i.e. Hippo) that affirm their acceptance as Scripture but the matter is still not dogmatically determined. There is very little utilization of Greek and Hebrew between Jerome the Renaissance so virtually nobody before the Renaissance has the linguistic tools to challenge Jerome. And there is also very little systematic study of the Scriptures that goes on in the Middle Ages until the universities of take up the systematic study of the Bible many centuries after Jerome and Augustine. And when this does happen it is interesting to note that some of the university scholars side with Jerome. A good example of this is Hugh of St. Victor (Paris – 12th century) who takes Jerome’s position. The important thing to note here is that Hugh was not being a renegage by rejecting the Deuteros as Jerome had. The Medieval university scholars often pushed the envelope to the extreme but except for a few examples (i.e. Wycliffe) they stayed within the bounds of orthodoxy. And Hugh was in the in bounds of orthodoxy by affirming Jerome and rejecting Augustine. And I think Hugh was correct – there is good reason to reject Augustine on this matter. Augustine was a great systematizer and philosopher, but on textual matters who was superior? Was it Jerome or Augustine?

    Now another question that my argument raises is that of the EO conception of Scripture which I am not ignoring but not dealing with. But I could do so if you liked….

  53. That is a non sequitur, meaning, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The same God who inspired the writing of the individual books also oversaw (according to Protestants) the fall of the Church into apostasy in the middle ages, such that leaving the Church was necessary for Protestants in the 16th century. So, again, this is entirely ad hoc. Either God only oversees certain things and not others (and that would be the error of deism), or God oversees everything.

    Bryan, you are missing my argument. Could I suggest that it would be better of for others on this blog to try to deal with this? I just don’t have the energy to try to have another dragged out debate with you. You and I type reams of pages in these discussions but never seem to get anywhere, do we?

  54. Andrew:

    This:

    What I am repudiating in one of a number of Catholic misrepresentation of sola scriptura. We don’t try to establish the canon through the individual books. Sola Scriptura speaks to the authority of the Word of God when utilized by the Church rather than the establishment of extent of the Word. I think this underscores the importance of not learning about Protestant theology solely from Catholic sources. It would be no doubt good for you to go to a source that holds to historic Protestant thinking rather than a place (like this blog) where the perspective is from the outside looking in.

    is wearing a little thin.

    We were all Reformed. We all read the people you read. Some of us have seminary training. All of us have spent a much larger portion of our lives being Reformed than being Catholic. Please do not assume that because we are “outsiders” we don’t get Reformed theology and must always and everywhere be mischaracterizing it; please do not assume that because we became Catholic we must never really have “got” Reformed theology in the first place; please remember that “Reformed theology” is hardly monolithic, and if someone here relies on Gerstner or Sproul or Calvin or Hodge or Matthison, then, in the event that you happen to disagree with Gerstner or Sproul ( … ) it isn’t fair to accuse people of not understanding or ‘mischaracterizing’ Reformed theology.

    The over-easy “they’re not writing to you”/”you don’t-can’t understand ‘Reformed theology'” wand needs to be more sparingly waved, I think.

    Thanks,

    Neal

  55. Andrew,

    As I’m reading back through your entries I certainly understand where you’re coming from. The 2nd question on the WCF shorter catechism asks;

    Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
    A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

    The problem with the answer here is the proof text. To back this response the Westminster Assembly cited, Deuteronomy 4:2., Psalm 19:7-11, Isaiah 8:20m, John 15:11, John 20:30-31, Acts 17:11. 2nd Timothy 3:15-17, and 1st John 1:4. I have read through all of these texts and none of them teach that the “The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the ONLY rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.” None of these texts teach what composes the Old or New Testaments nor do they teach that the contents of those books, and nothing else, “is the Only rule to direct us…”

    What do you see in the texts cited by Westminster that actually supports this catechism question?

    In Christ, Jeremy Tate

  56. Andrew,

    I am a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and a member of the PCA and under care of the NY Presbytery. How could I have the perspective of “somebody on the outside looking in?”

    We have major issues brother that we need to be bold enough to face. Peace, Jeremy

  57. Andrew,

    I am indeed characterizing your reasoning in this thread as question-begging, and I’m not the only commenter to have done so. However, it gives me no pleasure to do so, and I’m open to correction. Now, though, you seem to be going even further afield by suggesting that God worked infallibly through SS. Athanasius and Jerome individually (neither of whose hesitations regarding the Deuterocanon were as unambiguous as you imply), took a nice 800-year-long break during which He allowed the Church to erroneously insert the Deuterocanon into the official canon, and then — when Christians starting getting smarter in the 12th century — resumed working infallibly through certain scholars who liked to push the envelope. Is that an accurate summary?

    God Bless,

    Zach

  58. Andrew,

    Regarding #53, we welcome your comments here, but you can’t stipulate that you only want to interact with some of us, or only with our readers. If you want to comment here, you should be prepared to interact with any of us, including myself. I don’t think I have “missed” your argument. I think I have refuted your argument. The reason you and I don’t “get anywhere” is because when I refute your arguments, you do not recognize that your argument has been refuted, and you assume that I must not be understanding your argument, you state that I have “missed your argument”, you drop the discussion, come back a month later and present your argument as if it had not been previously refuted.

    So, if we are to “get somewhere”, we need to break that cycle. That means that instead of responding to my refutation by asserting that I am missing your argument, you need to specify what exactly I am missing, and how your argument withstands my refutation.

    And we would argue that the Church did rule on this issue and ruled against the Apocrypha/Deuteros being part of the canon. When Athanasius enumerated the books of the Bible he did not leave the question of the Deuteros open. He specifically stated that the churches did not consider them canonical (and I would add that nobody in Christendom was in a better position to determine what the practice of the churches were at that time).

    How, without being ad hoc do you determine that Athanasius spoke definitively for the Church regarding the canon, and Pope Damasus at the Council of Rome in 382, did not, given that the same canon declared by Pope Damasus was affirmed again by the Council of Hippo in 393, and by the Third Council of Carthage in 397, and by the Fourth Council of Carthage in 419, again at the Council of Florence in 1442, and again at the Council of Trent?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  59. Andrew M.,

    Man, you are in lion’s den! Six or seven raving Catholics trying to devour you. Alas, I cannot pray that God will shut our mouths! Else, how would I pray? And we are not trying to devour you, nor you us, as I am morally certain.

    I want to partially address:

    (1) your concerns about my critique of your position vis-a-vis Sola Scriptura

    (2) your request that Catholics provide proof that a given teaching is, in fact, infallible

    1. An Infallible Canon and Sola Scriptura?

    In order to give you a sense of my admittedly rough and ready understanding of Sola Scriptura, allow me lift this bit from Jeremy’s comment:

    Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
    A. The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

    (WCF Shorter Catechism)

    This, together the stipulation that the canon of Scripture is distinct from Scripture, leads me to think that an infallible canon is inconsistent with the Answer provided to this Question. I am sure that the principle of sola scriptura involves more than is stated in this little bit from the WCF (as you indicate in your response to my comment), but surely it involves no less?

    The principle is, after all, sola as well as scriptura. But if we have another infallible source of doctrine, as your position on the canon implies, then how dare we limit the rule of faith to Scripture alone?

    So, while I appreciate this observation: Sola Scriptura speaks to the authority of the Word of God when utilized by the Church rather than the establishment of extent of the Word …, it doesn’t seem to obviate my concern about the compatibility of your position with Sola Scriptura.

    Again, I am interested in your position on the canon and openness to still other extra-biblical, infallible teaching, especially in how you go about recognizing an extra-biblical teaching as infallible. I still cannot see what are your principles for recognizing an infallible teaching as such.

    2. Catholic Proofs for Infallible Teachings?

    Catholics, of course, have fairly well-defined principles by which to recognize when an infallible teaching, such as the Canon of Scripture, is given.

    This speaks to your appeal to Catholics

    …to try to prove that statements on various aspects of dogmatic theology are actually infallible rather than just assuming this because the Church tells them they are infallible.

    Most divinely-given, infallible truths are of such a nature that they cannot first be proven to be infallible before one receives them as such. However, if “statements on various aspects of dogmatic theology” come from a trustworthy source, then it is not unreasonable to receive those statements, by way of opinion at least, sans independent proof.

    If the statements come from an infallible (supremely trustworthy!) source, then one is, of course, obligated to accept them with the full assent of faith, which is an entirely reasonable thing to do, no matter how hard the statements are to understand.

    It is difficult for me to believe that fundamental matters pertaining to the Godhead, the Blessed Virgin, the Eucharist, the Canon, etc., are meant to be received (or rejected) merely as pious opinions; ergo, an infallible Church to teach us and to call us to the full assent of faith.

    (I speak, in part, as an ex-Anglican. We were full of [mutually conflicting] pious opinions, much less so of Faith.)

    Andrew, I imagine that you sympathize with some of this longing for certainty (the certainty of faith); thus your position on the canon and openness to other infallible teachings. It seems to me that Reformed Confessionalism can deliver no more, though perhaps no less, in this regard than can traditional Anglicanism. Unless you have grounds for believing the Reformed Confessions to be infallible?

    Since Catholics believe, for various reasons, that the Church, qua Church, is supremely trustworthy in these matters, then we think that when the Church tells us that something has been infallibly taught, we already have a kind of “proof” that the teaching in question is infallible; namely, the testimony of the Church, speaking in this solemn and binding way.

    Now, reliance upon the trustworthiness of the Church in matters of faith, such that we believe, with the full assent of faith, what the Church proposes to us as infallibly taught, is perfectly consistent with both the attempt to (a) ascertain whether the Church is, in fact, authoritative and (b) provide arguments to the effect that what the Church infallibly teaches in one place is consistent with what she infallibly teaches in another place.

    I think that the latter is what most non-Catholics demand of us; e.g., is the dogma of the Immaculate Conception consistent with the infallible teaching delivered by the Church in St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:47)?

    What I find interesting, though, is that the one who asks this kind of question is already assuming that Luke 1:47 is infallible teaching. How do you know that? Well, Luke’s Gospel is inspired by God. How do you know that? Well, it is part of Sacred Scripture. How do you know that? And back to the top of this page.

    The appeal to Scripture against the Church is self-stultifying.

    We find the doctrine of the Church’s infallibility satisfying because (and this is a very partial explanation) it vastly reduces the amount of material one has to “prove” before getting off the ground theologically (and otherwise). And this is desirable precisely because most of stuff that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church teaches, whether by letter or spoken word, is not the type of stuff that can be independently verified.

    Not that we are entirely without our reasons. Its just that reasoning to the Catholic position (e.g., the Church, in union with the See of Rome, when solemnly defining a matter of faith or morals, intended as binding upon all the faithful, cannot teach error) leaves us fewer fundamental matters to solemnly [and infallibly?] define for ourselves. And that, I think, is a good thing.

    Of course, the more fundamental reasons for supposing the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to be infallible has to do with (1) her identity as the Body of Christ (e.g. “we have the mind of Christ”), and (2) the promises which she has received (e.g. Matthew 16:16-18).

  60. In the first part of my comment, I am supposing the Shorter Catechism Q.2, which may be taken as establishing a regulative principle of worship for Presbyterians, includes doctrinal definitions under its auspices (e.g., since we also glorify God by proclaiming the truth about his words and works among us). I am not sure about this, though.

  61. Andrew M,

    I would love to hear the evidence for the claim, “When we look at the individual books we know they are infallible because God tells us that He inspired them.” I ask, not to be disrespectful, or to put you on the spot, but because I cannot think of any individual book of the bible that informs us that God says this of a particular book. That is a strong claim and it requires some serious evidence.

  62. Bryan,

    Darlene: From #30:, by “None of the books of the Bible claim to be the Word of God” I meant that no book of the Bible says, for example, “This book, written by the prophet Malachi, is part of the divinely inspired Word of God.” No book says, “Every word of this book is divinely inspired and is the very Word of God.”

    Even if a book did specifically state this, how could (and, better yet, why would) you trust it? Moreover, how would you know that it wasn’t actually a forgery or authored by some charlatan?

    It’s strikingly bewildering how folks keep on insisting that the books that the Catholic Church itself declared as The New Testament in the early councils could be identified (apart from the Church) as being genuine Scripture and, therefore, God-breathed & inspired.

    I would challenge anybody here to go through the comprehensive list of books that the Church had to wade through that ultimately got dwindled down to the 27 we have as our New Testament.

    If anybody here truly believes that these 27 books can be authenticated as genuine Scripture simply on the basis of a book alone, let them provide convincing proof for their claim.

    In addition, should they deny the authority of the Church, then they must provide substantive support as to why the other books (previously rejected by the Church) cannot actually be considered as part of the New Testament.

  63. Gil,

    Thanks for your response per my question regarding the Bereans. By the way, I was not advocating for the Protestant position on this. I am NO LONGER PROTESTANT! Thought I would emphasize that. :)

    Yes, I agree that when one attends church on the Lord’s Day and they anticipate being taught, how do they switch from the mode of student to the mode of an auditor, or judge of that which is being taught. Nonetheless, I do think that when a Catholic is attending Mass, they should be able to discern if the priest is performing an illicit mass, or teaching something that is unorthodox according to Catholic dogma in his homily. Agree?

    The problem within Protestantism is that there are so many traditions, with varied nuances on a given number of doctrines, that the preacher’s sermon may be subject to intense scrutiny. For example, there may be at any given time, folks in the pews who have been influenced by Methodist belief, Reformed Baptist belief, Presbyterian belief, Lutheran belief, Assembly of God belief, Church of Christ belief, etc. Now, imagine if the sermon topic addresses baptism, or eschatology, or the Lord’s Supper, or church government, or OSAS. If each of these folks has been influenced by their faith tradition, and let’s say for sake of argument they are, then they will each be critiquing the contents of the sermon from their own particular tradition from whence they came.

    Darlene

  64. Dear Devin,

    I just read your response to me. Somehow I missed it before. I was beginning to think that women aren’t really welcome here. (smile) Somehow, I find the only blogs that answer my questions consist of males communicating with one another. It is rather annoying to me that few women care to plunge the depths of theology, or philosophy, or history. It’s as if there is this bias in the female brain against all things cerebral or the use of logic as a means to understand a particular matter. So it is that women’s Bible studies become redundant, exploring Esther and Ruth to the ‘nt degree! I was outnumbered by males in college as a history major, and found it phenomenal that I was even able to get hired. I think that’s because I had an English degree as well, and women were involved in the hiring process. Ah, but I digress. Enough venting for now.

    I couldn’t agree more. Btw, the Orthodox believe in Apostolic Succession as well. But you probably know this.

    As far as James White goes, I used to listen to his Dividing Line frequently. But then I increasingly became aware of his caustic delivery toward those who disagree with Reformed theology. I think, as is notably present here, that people can disagree without bordering on being obnoxious. Btw, I’m referring to his delivery on the DL, not in his debates. He was very respectful toward Father Pacwa.
    Still, it does seem that many Reformed blogs come off as patronizing, and in the process they use more force in attempting to proove their position than is necessary. Sometimes love in simplicity is more convincing that knowledge delivered with condescension.

    Christ’s blessings to you,

    Darlene

  65. Whoops, your quote was not in my post. So, how does one use those italics anyhow. I responded to your quote that said:

    “Without a sacred Tradition handed down by the Apostles by which theeir successors could discern the status (inspired and uninspired) of the different writings, and without their discernment being infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit, the whole thing doesn’t work, and we have that “fallible collection of infallible books” that Sproul described.”

    I agree whole heartedly. And so do the Orthodox.

    Darlene

  66. Hi Darlene,

    I don’t know how to get the cool white quote boxes which some people can do. I can make italics of words by surrounding them with the word (I’m not sure it that will show you what I am doing of just make it italics (less than sign, the letter i, greater than sign before the word you want in italics then less than sign, forward slash, the letter i, and then the greater than sign after the word.)

    About women avoiding these discussions, I understand it well. My wife has a Theology degree from Notre Dame and loves theology but can’t stand debating and arguing. She has been horrified how me and my Evangelical friend go at each other’s arguments (and sometimes at each other) and told me she would be afraid if she ever did that because she wouldn’t want to lose her friend in the process! I think men are made more combative.

    Anyways, yes the Orthodox and we Catholics are so close that much of these discussions are obviated (though other topics must be discussed). Both of us accept apostolic succession (as you pointed out) and sacred Tradition, which goes a long way!

    Christ bless you,
    Devin

  67. Devin, so if I want the quote in italics I will:

    Let’s see if that works!

  68. Hooray, thanks Devin. I forgot to use the lower case i before. For someone who has done PowerPoint, I feel a bit, well…blog challenged.

    Peace in Christ

  69. Darlene and Devin,

    I’ve noticed and wondered about the same thing concerning the paucity of women participants. It bugs me, actually; I mean, it’s not as though there is a corresponding paucity of interested and fully capable women, so it does seem plausible that there’s something about the way these discussions go that makes some women feel unwelcome or just put off.

    This is something that my colleagues and I have been discussing, too, in the phil department. I think we have a pretty good ratio of female to male professors in our department, considering the statistics. But the statistics are pretty bothersome too, frankly. Some of the finest and most stellar philosophers I personally know are women, so again, there’s something other than talent and interest at work here. (Like that point even needs saying.) I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts and/or suggestions about this.

    Thanks for the contributions, guys.

    Neal

  70. Neal,

    That paucity of women participants on this blog isn’t actually representative of other Catholic or even ecumenical blogs which actually virtually enjoys a fairly proportional number of male:female participants. Just thought you should know that you are unnecessarily taking this small sample as somehow being representative of a typical blog such as this.

  71. Thanks, Roma. Actually, I was talking about this blog, though I have noticed the something similar on blogs like this one as well.

    Best,

    Neal

  72. Neal, Roma,

    I think that women in general aren’t that much interested in certain disciplines, such as philosophy, rhetoric, apologetics, etc. What am I getting at here? Well, first, I can speak from my own experiences {like, don’t we all? :)}

    First, secular experiences. The majority of history ed. majors in college were men. The members in the history club were all male except me, and a couple other females. The history professors were all men, except one woman. However, as an English major in college, the majority of the students were women. And, at my job, all English teachers are women, with one man. The history teachers, all men with one woman, me.

    Second, religious experiences. In all the evangelical churches I attended, men held the teaching positions except with the little children. Btw, I was not nor am I now in favor of women pastors/priests. The womens’ Bible studies were usually of a superficial nature, and I never experienced one that dealt with a serious defense of the Christian faith from a historical/biblical perspective. Oh, but there were all sorts of Bible studies on Ruth, Esther, women in the Bible, blah, blah, blah. Booorrring!

    Recently, I happened to be looking over a Baptist Church’s website. The page with books suggested for summer reading was prefaced with a comment to the effect that the material was geared toward men. One of the books was on the D-Day war campaign, another on the defense of the Christian faith, one on the Civil War, one on the Loeb an Leopold murder trial, and I forget the others. But the point is, they just assumed women wouldn’t be intested in these topics. I guess their women’s book list has “how-to” books on decorating your home with eye-pleasing color coordinations, adding to your stuffed bear collection, and getting the best bargains on the hottest shoe fashions.

    Now what I’ve noticed on all the blogs I’ve perused is that men dominate most of them. The Reformed blogs, forget about it. Women don’t seem to have an inclination towards debating theology of the Reformed type in particular, or of any other type in general. As far as Catholic blogs are concerned, yes, women do participate, but again I don’t think its in regard to the above disciplines. I can say that from having participated on a number of Catholica forums/blogs. For example, if I would begin a discussion on Sola Scriptura, the material sufficiency of Scripture, imputed righteousness vesus infused grace, hermeneutics, the canonization of Scripture, anything that involved digging a bit deeper and debating various pesuasions on these matters, mainly men showed interest.

    Now, let me go bake some cookies and straighten up my shoe closet. :)

  73. Darlene,

    The point at argument is whether a Christian disciple should seek to verify the truth of proposed teachings apart from the teaching authority of the Church.

    It has been pointed out that Calvin, among many others argued that the Church has no teaching authority as such. So where then should the Christian seek authentic teaching? The Holy Scriptures, of course, says Calvin. Which Holy Scriptures and how does the Christian interpret them authentically? Inner conviction of the Spirit, says Calvin. Fine. What happens when Sally Christian has inner conviction A and Betsy Christian has inner conviction B? They are both right or its really not that important, let’s all just try to get along, Calvin would say.

    This seems to be the hermeneutic of relativism. Perhaps I am making inept leaps?

    All of this supposes that the Church does in fact teach with authority. Not just in the past but today. The teaching authority of the Church must extend itself into the present or the hermeneutic of relativism is activated.

  74. Hello, Gil:

    You say:

    What happens when Sally Christian has inner conviction A and Betsy Christian has inner conviction B? They are both right or its really not that important, let’s all just try to get along, Calvin would say.

    I think it’s important to be clear that Calvin would emphatically not say this.

    I do understand your worries about a slippery slide into something like subjectivism. But we absolutely need to be clear about the distinction between the metaphysics and the epistemology. Calvin would not be happy with what we now call relativism or subjectivism, and he wouldn’t recognize this as an accurate rendering of his own considered position.

    You may well ask: “Well, if it’s all about the internal authentication allegedly given by the Spirit in each case, how are we supposed to decide whether Sally or Betsy really have things right — given that they both appear to rely upon identical subjective criteria?” This is a fair question, but Calvin doesn’t leave it there. I mean, he does engage in exegesis, and he does think that there are non-subjective means by which the disagreement between Sally and Betsy can be adjudicated. He might leave us wanting here in some respects, but I think in fairness we have to consider and reflect upon his actual outlook. Does that make sense?

    In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge tries to apply Calvin’s position to your worries about disagreement. It might be instructive to review what he has to say. I’m not going to say that he’s got a satisfactory reply: in effect, he says that every “true Christian” will inevitably end up believing the same things about “the essentials” when they exercise their “private judgment” in reading the Bible, because all of them (the true Christians who constitute the true Church) are taught by the same Holy Spirit. This is problematic for lots of reasons. But what I want to point out here is that neither Calvin nor folks like Hodge following him are going to take the “relativist” solution to the problem of religious disagreement. Indeed, a “relativist hermeneutic” doesn’t find any place in the Calvinist/Reformed tradition. If it did, conservative Reformed Christian denominations would likely look a lot more like the ECUSA than they do.

    I also think that Calvin would take issue with the claim that “the Church” has no teaching authority as such. He wouldn’t identify the Church with the Catholic Church, of course; but at the same time, he was not an Anabaptist/radical reformer.

    I do think you’re putting your finger on an important ambiguity and worry here; I just think we need to give Calvin his due and forthrightly recognize that he had some more subtle things to say concerning these issues.

    Grace and Peace,

    Neal

  75. We were all Reformed. We all read the people you read. Some of us have seminary training. All of us have spent a much larger portion of our lives being Reformed than being Catholic. Please do not assume that because we are “outsiders” we don’t get Reformed theology and must always and everywhere be mischaracterizing it;…

    Neal,

    I don’t think I’m saying anything too radical by suggesting that people look to Protestant sources rather than Catholic ones for their information on what constitutes Protestant thought. There is lots of ex-Catholic stuff on the web. The people who run these sites are 100% sure they know Catholicism. So do you think that it’s a good idea for Protestants to get their information from these sites or is it good advice to go to distinctly Catholic sources. I have often advised Protestants to start with the CCC or the Catholic Encyclopedia if they want to know what Catholicism teaches. So now we have this site with ex-Protestants who are 100% sure they know what Reformed theology teaches but I can’t say I agree, and I think it would be best if they started with something distinctly Reformed. Sound reasonable?

    ….what you say really is riddled with a lot of problems.

    Ouch, that’s a little harsh, Neal. Maybe I should summarize a few things. I started off addressing the very first point which was that we don’t try to use the texts of the Bible to establish the canon. We appeal to the Church like you do. I remembering telling you last time that the typical way of stating this is that the same God of oversaw the writing of the individual texts also oversaw the collection of these texts. If God was overseeing these events then we are going to get infallible books and an infallible collection of books. Is anything so far that controversial? The question that I think divides us is over whether God granted the Church a charism of infallibility that she then used it in defining the canon. But whether or not there was such a gift to the Church, we would hold that the individual books are infallible and the collection of these books is infallible if God who is infallible oversaw the process. Now whether or not God did or did not grant the Church some sort of infallibility is not what I’m addressing immediately. I’m only showing that this gift of infallibility did not need to be present in order to have an infallible canon. Or another way of putting this is that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon if He so chose. I think there are some interesting things to discuss beyond this, but Protestants generally don’t get beyond this point with Catholics. There is something in the Catholic mindset which seems to presuppose the infallibility of the Church in the defining of the canon as a necessary philosophical principle. And it’s that foundational belief which I’m probing at.

  76. What do you see in the texts cited by Westminster that actually supports this catechism question?

    Jeremy,

    What we see in the proofs show that there is a distinct Word of God and we are not to add to it (that’s certainly what the first proof says). We see in the OT that various traditions of men get added to the Word and Jesus takes the Pharisees to task for this. There is of course nothing wrong with tradition, we all have traditions. But these traditions should not take the place of the Word.

    Actually I’m not sure what is troubling you here. Are you focusing on “only rule?” I think this is just speaking of rule in the sense of foundational principle. When the Church comes to judge a matter, what standards does she use? Can we place the traditions of men on par with Scripture or is it just the standards of Scripture that provide this standard?

    How could I have the perspective of “somebody on the outside looking in?”

    You don’t but then you are not Catholic. I’m just encouraging the Catholics to look to a Reformed source first to get their understanding of Protestantism.

  77. I am indeed characterizing your reasoning in this thread as question-begging, and I’m not the only commenter to have done so. However, it gives me no pleasure to do so, and I’m open to correction.

    Zach,

    Usually when we talk about question begging we mean that someone is building a conclusion explicitly or implicitly into a premise. So I’m not sure you would say this of my not discussing the issue of the Deuteros (which actually I had previously).

    Athanasius and Jerome individually (neither of whose hesitations regarding the Deuterocanon were as unambiguous as you imply), took a nice 800-year-long break during which He allowed the Church to erroneously insert the Deuterocanon into the official canon, and then — when Christians starting getting smarter in the 12th century — resumed working infallibly through certain scholars who liked to push the envelope. Is that an accurate summary?

    What I said in essence was the Athansius and Jerome do not affirm what they called apocryphal (some qualification is needed here since they don’t mean exactly the same thing but neither accepted what Augustine did). Bryan points out a few local North African councils which just underscores my point that there was no ecumenical guidance at this point in the Church. There are certainly others besides Athanasius and Jerome who do not accept the Deuteros/Apocrypha and there are others, most notably Augustine at this time who do. And yes the Medieval Church after Augustine largely accepts the position of Augustine but there is little critical scholarship before the rise of universities many years later. In other words nobody really takes up the debate between the time of Augustine and the rise of the Medieval universities. The reason why some the university scholars accept Jerome against Augustine (i.e. Hugh) is again because there was no ecumenical consensus. So again, as we look at Augustine vs. Jerome who was the better textual scholar?

    It’s not about anyone getting smarter. There was just quite a period of time in the Medieval era when there was little critical scholarship on the Scriptures. This is particularly true concerning analysis of the original texts because almost nobody learned Greek and Hebrew during this time. Jerome was the last of the great Greek and Hebrew scholars really until the Renaissance.

  78. Man, you are in lion’s den! Six or seven raving Catholics trying to devour you.

    Andrew P,

    Ha! Well, I don’t feel like I’m in any lion’s den and I did know what I might get into so maybe it’s just my own dumb fault if I get chewed on a little! Actually, my only concern when I get too many comments back is that I either have to answer without much thought or I have to unplug altogether to avoid really bad answers.

    The principle is, after all, sola as well as scriptura. But if we have another infallible source of doctrine, as your position on the canon implies, then how dare we limit the rule of faith to Scripture alone?

    And I’m running out of steam now, so I may be misunderstanding your point. We believe that Scripture should be the final arbiter on debates that the Church weighs in on. The Scriptures are foundational and tradition that follows does not rise to the level of Scripture. It was Augustine who said that the Scriptures are superior to any writings of the bishops. This is essentially what we mean by sola scriptura. But we are not trying to define the extent of the canon by using the individual books of the canon. This was a historical process mediated by the Church just as the writings of individual texts were. We are sure of the extent of the canon because we are convinced that God guided the process.

    I am interested in your position on the canon and openness to still other extra-biblical, infallible teaching, especially in how you go about recognizing an extra-biblical teaching as infallible.

    I don’t recognize extra-biblical teachings as infallible, but when I was talking to my Catholics friends here I said that if they wanted to prove a given teaching of the RCC infallible then they ought to have a way for assessing the infallibility of this text, and if they could not find such proof then there was no reason to continue to hold to the infallibility of that teaching.

    That’s all, good night…..

  79. I’d like a critique from some of you on the following passage taken from James White’s blog, but written by Turretinfan, both Reformed apologists. You can find the same passage on Turretinfan’s blog; the title of the writing is “Irenaeus and the Reliability of “Early” Oral Tradition.” In his article, the writer points to two mistakes that Irenaeus made as proof that oral tradition cannot be trusted. The mistakes pointed to are: 1. He said Jesus had lived to the age of 50. 2. He said that the Church of Rome was founded by Peter and Paul. The following is the conclusion to the article.

    “That’s why we need Scripture to be our rule of faith: not oral tradition ( even if it was written down in the second century). Oral tradition is prone to error and Irenaeus is a prominent example of that problem. Scripture, on the other hand, is the inspired Word of God and has been providentially preserved for us down through the centuries so that we may read and believe it. Don’t let the telephoto lens of phrases like “the early church” lead you to erroneous conclusions regarding their historical reliability.

    Place your confidence without reservation in one worthy of your whole trust, in God the author of Scripture, not in Irenaeus the mistaken author of or in your church which likewise can err – either sincerely or in a self-serving way. The wise man built his house upon a rock, and you will do well to emulate his example.”

    Off hand, I see a few problems with this approach. He is pitting the Scriptures against the Church (oral Tradition in this case) and trusting the Church versus trusting God. He trusts that Scripture has been “providentially preserved” but relegates the Church (at least the teaching authority of the Church) into the ash heap. It seems he follows the same paridigm I was speaking about in post #31, and which Devin responds to in post#37, and Gil responds to in post#36. That is, everyone who is sitting in the pew is given permission (from whom I’d like to know) to be auditor and judge of the preacher/teacher.

    Now here’s something else that just occured to me and I’m not sure if I’m on to something or not. Turretinfan is telling his audience that they cannot trust the early church fathers, they cannot trust their church, but we should trust what HE is saying. So, by placing himself in this position, is he not thereby dubbing himself with an authority that is in essence a type of “oral tradition?” I find it rather odd that he wants to “diss” (I know, a crass word) the early fathers and oral tradition, and yet he deems himself worthy of such recognition as to be heeded. Am I off here? Also, when looking at his blog, he points to early Reformed confessions and Reformed writers, quoting with assent to their teachings. Couldn’t that be considered relying on “Reformed Oral Tradition?” Ok, they may not use the word “oral” but they would have to submit to the evidence that they follow the tradition of these Reformed theologians. Why does one need Calvin’s Institutes, or the Westminster Confession or the 1689 Baptist Confession, if having confidence in Scripture alone will suffice? Christians should only have Bibles and nothing else to instruct them in the faith in this case. Furthermore, if the church can err, and if Irenaeus and the early fathers erred regarding the faith, who is to say that the Reformers didn’t err or that Turretfan isn’t erring in his article?

    Also, how does one discern when the fathers are erring and when the Church is erring? If we use this model, it can lead to some real problems. First, he is saying that we should basically ignore the early fathers. Ok, fine. Then I suppose it would be fair to say according to that standard that we should ignore the Reformers as well. Ok, fine. That leaves each individual Christian placed in a predicament. He becomes the sole arbiter of what is true and/or false teaching according to his understanding of Scripture. When he attends church and listens to the sermon, he must always be leery and suspect of what is being taught, since he cannot have confidence in his church, which boils down to not being able to have confidence in his pastor.

    Honestly, I think some current Reformed apologists have even strayed from Luther and Calvin’s understanding of the purpose of the Church. I could be wrong but it seems like what this Reformed fellow’s proposition results in, if put into practice, is Sally Christian and Betsy Christian deciding for themselves what is sound preaching/teaching, and what is not. And this finally seems to be, when you boil it down to the bare bones, what Calvin’s “self-authentication” paradigm become in practice.

    I really look forward to everyones’ comments and critique on both Turretfan’s position and my assessment of it.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Darlene

  80. I meant to say “not Irenaeus, the mistaken author of “Against Heresies.”

  81. Andrew,

    To answer your question, my conern with the 2nd question and answer of the WCF shorter catechism is that it clearly communicates the idea that the Bible is the only authority for Christians, whereas the Bible itself clearly teaches that God’s Word and The Church (1st Tim 3:15, Matt 16:18, Matt 18:17, John 20:23) are to be the authority for Christians. I am trying to find Reformed Christians that are interested in honest exegesis of these texts rather than just explaining them away.

    What kind of authority do you see Christ delegating to the Church? Is it an authority that is only valid so long as everybody agrees with her? I sat down with a Pastor from my Church the other day and told him that I think Rome might be right as our family is about to begin attending Mass. He immediately said, “What about Luther? How can you stomach the Catholic Church calling Luther a heretic?” The irony here is that Martin Luther himself, could never get ordained in the PCA. We believe he is a heretic too! PCA people don’t know what to think of his doctrine of the Eucharist, views on baptism, ect. My point is that the only authority for us as Protestants is consensus. We get our little tribes (demoninations) that agree and we call it a Church. I do not see where Scripture ever establishes consensus as a form of authority? But, what other choice do we have as Protestants?

    For over a year I have been searching for viable alternative explanations to these clear and basic texts and none of my PCA friends, Pastors, or Professors are providing anything that does justice to the text itself. I am all ears if you have something new that I’ve missed in my understanding of Reformed Theology.

  82. Darlene,

    I think that your critique is pretty solid. Its like, “You cannot trust the church fathers but you can trust the reformed confessions.” I would point to errors in the Reformed confessions and ask if it means that you cannot trust the Reformed confessions at all. There are errors in the WCOF that have since been removed, such as, that the Pope is the anti-Christ.

    Also, hidden behind James White’s argument is an unwillingness to follow the definition of sacred tradition that the Church has always held. Jesus living to 50 was never church dogma defined by the councils. Therefore its not ‘oral Tradition’ in the proper sense.

    Further, ‘sola scripture’ itself tells the church to obey tradition whether received by letter or word of mouth. What to do with that?

  83. Dear Andrew,

    Thanks for responding. So let’s see:

    I don’t think I’m saying anything too radical by suggesting that people look to Protestant sources rather than Catholic ones for their information on what constitutes Protestant thought.

    Oh, no, I don’t think this is radical at all. But this isn’t only what you were saying. You were also saying that I was an outsider and that as such cannot (or at least do not) understand what Calvin means when he writes things in books; also that we are mischaracterizing ‘the’ Reformed position, by which you mean (I think) your own particular position.

    That was why I reminded you that “Reformed theology” isn’t monolithic, and that what Calvin or Sproul says stands an equally good chance of being considered “Reformed” as what you say. So I think we need to tread carefully when we make accusations about mischaracterization. As always, it would probably help the discussion along if you could identify some particular thing I said, either in relaying Calvin’s position or in criticizing it, which betrays the outsider-misunderstandings which have crept in over the past year of my being Catholic, or which shows exactly how I am mischaracterizing him.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that I included a discussion of Reymond’s (also Reformed-but-different-from Calvin’s) remarks on the point, which are I think closer to what you yourself hold. In other words I covered a few Reformed options, however lightly, and I took them from Reformed sources.

    You say, rightly, that we should go to Reformed sources to discover what “the historic Protestant” position about X is. I go to Calvin’s Institutes (for the bizzilionth time), carefully read and consider what he says about self-authentication, read some secondary Reformed literature, ponder a little more, and write out my considered judgment. None of my actual criticisms are so much as mentioned by you; instead, you make (and then repeat) vague remarks about my outsider status, my failure to discern salient contextual considerations, my overall Cathol-ickyness, my failure to discuss what “the” Reformed position “really is,” and hope that people will draw the inference that I’m not familiar with “Reformed theology,” am not very good at reading things or following arguments, and that I don’t really know what I’m talking about — all, I remind you, without actually engaging any actual thing I actually said! (This doesn’t make me mad, really, but I guess it did make me a little annoyed. This isn’t the way you’ve done things in the past.)

    So now we have this site with ex-Protestants who are 100% sure they know what Reformed theology teaches but I can’t say I agree, and I think it would be best if they started with something distinctly Reformed. Sound reasonable?

    I never said I was 100 per cent sure about anything, and I think most of us here are willing to receive correction when we’re shown to be in the wrong. You “can’t say that you agree” that I understand Reformed theology. Chris Donato emails me and thanks me for consistently representing the best of the Reformed tradition in a fair way on this site and in my comments elsewhere. What gives? Is Chris Donato an inferior judge of these things? If I may say, Andrew, it sometimes seems as though you are pulling out the “I know Reformed theology better than you” card a lot, but without really backing it up by showing up our repeated “mischaracterizations” for what they are. I think it would move things along considerably if we focused on specifics.

    So for example. I look at Calvin’s Institutes for the bizzilionth time; I am now an “outsider,” but it seems to me to read pretty much the same way it had for the preceding decade, when I devoured it as a Calvin-devotee. In any event, it looks like Calvin is saying this (a) It is an afront to God to pretend that we need to rely upon the judgment of the Church when it comes to the canon; since Catholics say this, they are mocking the Holy Spirit. (b) If we submit this question to the judgment of the Church, it follows that we’re putting the Church on a higher level of authority than the word of God. (c) We can avoid all this by simply noting that the Scriptures authenticate themselves to all true believers by the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit; indeed, we don’t even need to worry about “marks” or “criteria,” and we don’t need to rely on “reasoning” or “judgment.” We just behold Scripture and let the Spirit tell us exactly what’s what.

    That’s sort of what it reads like. Andrew M. then tells me that because I’m not reading Calvin with the secret decoder ring that all the insiders get issued (:-)), I am misreading and mischaracterizing either (i) Calvin or (ii) “the” Reformed position or (iii) both. If I looked at it more carefully, or paid more attention to context, I would understand that what Calvin is really saying is this: (a) Catholics are quite right to look to the Church on this matter and to insist that the Church was infallibly led by the Holy Spirit in this process; (b) we Reformed people think precisely the same thing; we just make a distinction between God’s giving the Church a general gift of infallibility and God’s leading the Church infallibly in this one particular instance, which doesn’t require a promise of indefectability; (c) the reason we can tell the Church was infallibly led here, even if not elsewhere, is because we subject the question to our reasoning, to our judgment, and to our wit, as to a thing far beyond “any guesswork,” and we find that we have some very good arguments here.

    This is what is supposed to constitute “the historic Protestant position,” and since I’m not seeing this in Calvin I’m either not looking at actual historic Protestant sources or am just reading them all funny ’cause of my Cathol-ickyness. That’s hard for me to buy.

    Perhaps we can again distinguish between (a) what Calvin says, and (b) what Andrew M. says. Andrew M says some very interesting things that come very close to the kind of position I held for a long time. And we’ve discussed Andrew M’s position at length. Because I think the position is on balance dissatisfying, I think you’re assuming that I don’t “understand” it, and are then using that as more evidence that I don’t understand Reformed theology generally. (“If Neal doesn’t accept everything I believe, there must be something wrong with him: he doesn’t get it, or he’s got a moral issue or something.” I can’t help pointing out here that this widespread assumption, with which I’m constantly confronted, is simply a consequence of imbibing Calvin’s view expressed here, even if the imbibers don’t realize they’ve imbibed it. But if you don’t have a batphone to the office of the Holy Spirit and you know this about yourself, take it one step further and try to extend me a little credit. Maybe we just disagree, maybe I just don’t find your arguments convincing, without it’s being the case that I’m making all these mistakes and have never understood Reformed theology.)

    But your position isn’t hard to understand, as far as I can see. The distinctions you draw are pretty obvious and clear, and your guarded conclusion (“It’s at least possible that….”) is a conclusion I would have granted you anyway. (I mean, of course it’s possible that God guided the Church in this case without its being the case that Catholic ecclesiology is correct!) It’s just hard to be satisfied with, that’s all. And if I look to something other Reformed people (like Calvin) say, that doesn’t mean I’m either not considering or not “getting” “the historic really real Protestant position.” It’s just a function of the obvious fact that Reformed theology is not monolithic, and whereas it’s useful to consider what Andrew has to say, it is also worthwhile to look at Calvin.

    I should say, too, that I never owned any Catholic books (except for Chesterton and that kind of stuff) for a really long time. I cut my teeth on Reformed theology and I drank it in. (I still have a lot more Calvin on my shelf than any other author.) So my formation did not involve going to Catholic sources to be told what Reformed people thought. (Why on earth would I do that?)

    Last:

    Ouch, that’s a little harsh, Neal. Maybe I should summarize a few things. I started off addressing the very first point which was that we don’t try to use the texts of the Bible to establish the canon. We appeal to the Church like you do. I remembering telling you last time that the typical way of stating this is that the same God of oversaw the writing of the individual texts also oversaw the collection of these texts. If God was overseeing these events then we are going to get infallible books and an infallible collection of books. Is anything so far that controversial? The question that I think divides us is over whether God granted the Church a charism of infallibility that she then used it in defining the canon. But whether or not there was such a gift to the Church, we would hold that the individual books are infallible and the collection of these books is infallible if God who is infallible oversaw the process. Now whether or not God did or did not grant the Church some sort of infallibility is not what I’m addressing immediately. I’m only showing that this gift of infallibility did not need to be present in order to have an infallible canon. Or another way of putting this is that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon if He so chose. I think there are some interesting things to discuss beyond this, but Protestants generally don’t get beyond this point with Catholics. There is something in the Catholic mindset which seems to presuppose the infallibility of the Church in the defining of the canon as a necessary philosophical principle. And it’s that foundational belief which I’m probing at.

    Andrew, I know your position. I thought I’d been clear that I was prepared to grant this position as a possible, internally coherent position. In fact I know I’ve been clear about that! And you really don’t need to summarize it for me again. Remember when I myself summarized it, along with our back-and-forth discussion, last time? You told me that I appeared to be “extremely adept” at this sort of thing (summation and keeping track of arguments). Remember? (Thanks for the compliment, by the way.) So please believe me when I say I’m not confused about your position, I do understand it, and I also see and understand all of the considerations you adduce in its support.

    (And again I’ll say it: I don’t think you even need to make any arguments for your very modest conclusion, at least not with me: Yes, it is possible in the broad logical sense that God led the Church in this case, and this does not entail that the Church must have been given a general gift of infallibility/indefectability. That’s for the record. Again, that just seems obvious to me. I understand all of the distinctions and fully understand the scope and force of the modal operator ranging over your conclusion. That’s technical talk for “I totally get it.” I just don’t think the position is on balance plausible.)

    I do apologize, sincerely, if I sounded harsh. But I stand by what I said. Your statements and inferences were indeed problem-riddled. That’s not in indictment of you, just of these particular remarks of yours.

    Whew!

    My AC’s out and now I’m just sweating all over. Blah.

  84. Andrew M,

    Concerning what you said in #75:

    Maybe I should summarize a few things. I started off addressing the very first point which was that we don’t try to use the texts of the Bible to establish the canon. We appeal to the Church like you do. I remembering telling you last time that the typical way of stating this is that the same God of oversaw the writing of the individual texts also oversaw the collection of these texts. If God was overseeing these events then we are going to get infallible books and an infallible collection of books. Is anything so far that controversial?

    The question is not whether what you are saying is controversial. The relevant question is whether the argument you have given is sound. It turns out that your argument is not sound. Here’s your argument.

    (1) The same God who oversaw the writing of the individual texts also oversaw the collection of these texts.

    (2) If God was overseeing these events then we are going to get infallible books and an infallible collection of books.

    Therefore,

    (3) We have an infallible collection of books.

    Is premise (1) true? Yes. The problem with the argument lies in premise (2). Just because God oversees something, it does not follow that the result has no errors. That can be shown by the fact that God oversees everything (since deism is false), and yet there are errors in many books and collections of books. Therefore, just because God oversees something, that does not mean that the result is infallible. Otherwise no human would ever make any error. And therefore there is no reason to believe premise (2) is true. If you simply stipulate that premise (2) is true, then your position is ad hoc, because you arbitrarily pick out from among the processes God oversees one process, and then say that this one process (i.e. the determination of the canon), because it was divinely overseen, is infallible, while granting that all the other processes God oversees, are fallible.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  85. Hello again, folks. I couldn’t sleep last night. This on-line conversation kept going through my head. Anyway, I have a few more comments.

    Turretinfan says, [i”Don’t let the telephoto lens of phrases like “the early church” lead you to erroneous conclusions regarding their historical reliability. Place your confidence without reservation in one worthy of your whole trust, in God the author of Scripture, not in Irenaeus the mistaken author of Against Heresies or in your church which likewise can err – either sincerely or in a self-serving way.”i]

    Couldn’t I just rephrase this, “Place your confidence without reservation in one worthy of your whole trust, in God the author of Scripture, not in TURRETINFAN the mistaken author of his blog, or in JAMES WHITE, the mistaken author of the blog Alpha and Omega, who both can likewise err – either sincerely or in a self-serving way.

  86. Andrew M,

    Regarding what you said in #77, what does being a better “textual scholar” have to do with determining canonicity?

    Then, in #78, you wrote:

    I don’t recognize extra-biblical teachings as infallible, but when I was talking to my Catholics friends here I said that if they wanted to prove a given teaching of the RCC infallible then they ought to have a way for assessing the infallibility of this text, and if they could not find such proof then there was no reason to continue to hold to the infallibility of that teaching.

    Given that statement, and what I said in #84, it follows that you yourself have no reason to continue to hold to the infallibility of the canon.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  87. Finally, doesn’t all this talk about self-authentication, the primary test to verify whether one truly is understanding the Scriptures, and finally their understanding of what the Scriptures say about salvation, leave us with picking and choosing who we want to listen to out in Christendom?

    I think the only way to solve the dilemma of many Christians saying many things which oppose each other comes down to the following. When we assemble on the Lord’s Day, the pastor should read directly from the Scriptures, and give no exegesis on what he read.” Those who have the self-authenticating process at work within them will know what the Scriptures meant for they have no need that anyone should teach them.

    Btw, this sort of thing used to happen frequently in the Wesleyan-Methodist Church I used to attend way back when. At the beginning of the service, the pastor would read a whole passage of Scripture and end by saying, “May God bless the reading of His Word.” My husband would ask me, isn’t he going to explain what it means?

    Of course, this isn’t how the rest of the service continued. But to be fair, this is the best way to operate under the self-authenticating principle. What say y’all?

  88. Andrew,

    It’s not so much your statements regarding the Deuterocanonicals that beg the question as your contention that we know that the canon is infallible because it contains infallible documents inspired by an infallible God. Your premise assumes your conclusion.

    Your later description (in which you break out of the circular logic) of how we can know that the books of the canon are individually infallible — and from there know that the canon of Scripture itself is infallible — entails a great deal of research, private judgement, and, frankly, guesswork. Yet you seem to hold that the Christian can emerge on the other side knowing, with an almost aprioristic certainty, that his Bible reflects an infallible canon.

    That was not the case for me as a Reformed Christian. The deeper I delved into textual criticism, the more foggy and improbable I found the case for an infallible canon to be. I saw very little evidence that the books of Scripture claimed or contemplated their own canonicity or infallibility, and I had no reason to trust the decree of a gang of faceless old men who — I believed — had gotten it dead wrong on many other issues. I believed that the Scriptures were honest and (mostly) accurate, but I could not hold them to be infallible. So, like Augustine, I would not believe in the gospel were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church.

  89. Dear Darlene,

    I think what you’re getting at here is really very important. You say:

    Couldn’t I just rephrase this, “Place your confidence without reservation in one worthy of your whole trust, in God the author of Scripture, not in TURRETINFAN the mistaken author of his blog, or in JAMES WHITE, the mistaken author of the blog Alpha and Omega, who both can likewise err – either sincerely or in a self-serving way.

    The first thing to point out is that both White and Turretinfan would say, “Yes, absolutely, don’t take my word or my authority for it; look to the Scritpures. They’re perspicuous,” and so forth. And then of course the question will be, Alright, how should I understand the Scriptures, especially when it comes to disputed points of dogma? That’s where the rubber meets the road. But let’s be clear: there is a good sense in which Scripture is perspicuous; as the Holy Father has said:

    Sometimes it seems so complicated to believe [in Christianity] that only scholars can keep everything straight. Exegesis has given us very many positive things, but it has also given rise to the impression that an ordinary person can’t read the Bible because it is all so complicated. We must relearn that it says something to everyone and that it is given precisely to the simple. On this point I agree with a movement that arose within liberation theology. This movement speaks of interpretación popular. According to this view, the Bible really belongs to the people, and so they are the real interpreters. The core of this is correct; the Bible is given precisely to the simple. They don’t need to know all the critical nuances; they can understand the heart of the matter. Theology with its great discoveries will not become superfluous; indeed, in the global dialogue among the cultures it will become even more necessary. But it must not obscure the ultimate simplicity of the faith, which puts us simply before God and before a God who has come close to me by becoming man. (Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, pp. 267-268. See also his God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, and Office.)

    But let’s also admit that interpretation is tricky (indeed, schism producing) at some points, and that we need some guidance. White and Turretinfan will give you guidance, of course, but sometimes they’ll do it in such a way as to “eliminate the middle-man,” as I put it, by insisting on the perspicuity of Scripture (and the inward leading of the Spirit), so that it’s made to sound as if they aren’t really inserting their own interpretive opinions into the process at all.

    The case is slightly different when we consider (nonbaptistic) Reformed theologians, for, at least in the higher ranks, these guys do recognize the essential function of the interpreter, and they are alive to the questions this fact raises. A good point of reference here is Keith Matthison’s book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura. I do not think Matthison’s treatment of the early Fathers is entirely accurate, but he clearly distinguishes his position — which in effect requires that the interpreter interpret along with the regula fidei, or the early Councils and later Confessions he accepts as a Protestant — from what we can term “solo Scriptura,” which downplays tradition entirely and truly amounts to a just-me-and-my-Bible position. Folks like Matthison (and our very own Andrew M.) do not accept this kind of fideistic/anti-historical/anti-traditional perspective, which derives much more from the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation than it does from the Lutheran/Anglican/Reformed.

    I know this will lengthen my response to you excessively, but it’s interesting to track the development of sola scriptura in the early days of the Reformation. In his Reformation Thought, Alister McGrath — an historical theologian I much admire — gives us a kind of play-by-play as relates to perspicuity, sola scriptura, etc:

    The exegetical optimism of the late 1510s and early 1520s was also evident in the suggestion that the ordinary Christian could understand Scripture – but by the 1530s, it was considered that ordinary Christians could be relied upon to understand Scripture only if they were fluent in Hebrew, Greek and Latin and were familiar with the complexities of linguistic theories.

    Sounds tongue-in-cheek, no? It isn’t. What had happened was that the ‘radical reformers’ (a.k.a. the Anabaptists), who really did accept the principle of sola scriptura as outlined above, had pretty well gone off their rockers and splintered into numerous heretical sects in next to no time at all. The practice of infant baptism, the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, none of these things was explicitly or implicitly taught in “Scripture alone.” All of them were extra-biblical additions foisted on the Church after Constantine had legalized Christianity in the 300s, and when that happened apostolic Christianity disappeared from the earth. The new day of Christian truth was dawning, based on the Bible alone, and it was going to look a heck of a lot different than it ever had heretofore.

    Long story short, the nonradical Reformers sort of recapitulated the Catholic model, in the sense that they substituted for ‘tradition’ the early fathers whom they thought agreed with them (discounting the rest), and substituted for ‘magisterium’ their own writings, confessions, catechisms, and so forth. McGrath explains:

    For the catholic, Scripture was difficult to interpret – and God had providentially supplied a reliable and authoritative interpreter in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. The radical reformers rejected this totally …: every individual believer had the right and the ability to interpret Scripture as seemed right to him. The magisterial reformers found themselves in something of a quandary at this point … How could an authoritative communal Protestant interpretation of Scripture be given?

    There were two general options to take here, designated by McGrath the ‘catechetical’ solution and the ‘political hermeneutic’ solution:

    The first might be described as the ‘catechetical’ approach. Protestant readers of Scripture were provided with a filter, by means of which they might interpret Scripture. One example of such a ‘filter’ is Luther’s Lesser Catechism (1529), which provided its readers with a framework by which they could make sense of Scripture. The most famous guide to Scripture, however, was Calvin’s Institutes … In the preface to the French edition of 1541, he states that the Institutes ‘could be like a key and an entrance to give access to all the children of God, in order that they might really understand Holy Scripture’. In other words, the reader is expected to use Calvin’s Institutes as a means to interpret Scripture …

    The second means of dealing with the problem of interpretation of Scripture might be designated ‘the political hermeneutic’, and was specifically associated with Zwingli’s Reformation at Zurich … At some point in 1520, the Zurich city council required all clergy in the city to preach according to Scripture, avoiding ‘human innovations and explanations’. In effect, the decree committed Zurich to the sola scriptura principle. By 1522, however, it had become clear that this decree had little meaning: for how was Scripture to be interpreted?

    What followed this decree was a period of general confusion and relatively minor crises concerning faith and practice, which resulted in the recognition that some means of resolving ambiguities and disagreements was necessary.

    For Zwingli, the city and the church at Zurich were effectively one and the same body … The city council, therefore, had a right to be involved in theological and religious matters. No longer was the Zurich Reformation to be detained by questions concerning the proper interpretation of Scripture. The city council effectively declared that it – not the pope or an ecumenical council – had the right to interpret Scripture for the citizens of Zurich, and gave notice that it intended to exercise that right. Scripture might be ambiguous, but the political success of the Reformation at Zurich was virtually guaranteed by the unilateral decision of the city council to act as its interpreter. Similar decisions reached at Basle and Berne … consolidated the Reformation in Switzerland, and, by allowing Geneva political stability in the mid-1530s, indirectly led to the success of Calvin’s Reformation.

    Thus the historical progression of sola scriptura, filled out a little, looks something like this:

    The magisterial Reformation initially seems to have allowed that every individual had the right to interpret Scripture; but subsequently it became anxious concerning the social and political consequences of this idea. The Peasant’s Revolt of 1525 appears to have convinced some, such as Luther, that individual believers (especially German peasants) were simply not capable of interpreting Scripture. It is one of the ironies of the Lutheran Reformation that a movement which laid such stress upon the importance of Scripture should subsequently deny its less educated members direct access to that same Scripture, for fear that they might misinterpret it (in other words, reach a different interpretation from that of the magisterial reformers). For example, the school regulations of the duchy of Württemberg laid down that only the most able schoolchildren were to be allowed to study the New Testament in their final years – and even then, only if they studied in Greek or Latin. The remainder – presumably the vast bulk – were required to read Luther’s Lesser Catechism instead. The direct interpretation of Scripture was thus effectively reserved for a small, privileged group of people. To put it crudely, it became a question of whether you looked to the pope, to Luther or to Calvin as an interpreter of Scripture. The principle of the ‘clarity of Scripture’ appears to have been quietly marginalized, in the light of the use made of the Bible by the more radical elements of the Reformation. Similarly, the idea that everyone had the right and the ability to interpret Scripture faithfully became the sole possession of the radicals.

    Another point important to recognize is one made by A.N.S. Lane, another Protestant historian. He points out that the idea of ‘perspicuity’ of Scripture was originally intended to convey the idea that Church unity could be achieved by reference to Scripture alone, so long as it was interpreted with the aid of some basic interpretive/hermeneutical principles. He writes:

    The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgment. The Reformers feared private judgment almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgment but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ [Scripture was its own interpreter] and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding.

    He continues:

    It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schewenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent.

    And then traces it to the present day:

    The Interregnum in England and other experience showed where private judgment could lead. Years of religious controversy and strife led to the Latitudinarian approach which considerably extended the area of non-essentials. This attitude was reinforced by pietism with its reaction against the deadness of orthodoxy. In the next century birth was given to a movement of evangelicalism which was fervently orthodox but which extended the field of non-essentials wider than the Reformers. This tendency has continued to the present day when the various evangelical confessions of faith are all noteworthy for their extreme brevity. Evangelicalism has retained a belief in the perspicuity of Scripture but confined it to a fairly narrow area of basic doctrine.

    You can find his whole article, well worth the read, here. The important thing to take away from this, I think, is that the nonradical Reformers and those following them were at least initially quite aware of the importance of ecclesial unity, and that they attempted to uphold it on the basis of sola scriptura understood in a somewhat different way than the way in which the Anabaptists understood it. Good contemporary Reformed scholars are aware of this, and are not satisfied with an anabaptistic rendering of sola scriptura with its inherent individualism, which is partly why many of them shy away from Calvin’s remarks in theory, even if, it seems, a good many are influenced by them in practice.

    In any event, the issue of Scripture and Tradition is and I think always has been primarily about the question of interpretation.

    I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ … For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
    – St. Jerome

    With great zeal and closest attention, therefore, I frequently inquired of many men, eminent for their holiness and doctrine, how I might, in a concise and, so to speak, general and ordinary way, distinguish the truth of the Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity. I received almost always the same answer from all of them – that if I or anyone else wanted to expose the frauds and escape the snares of the heretics who rise up, and to remain intact and in sound faith, it would be necessary, with the help of the Lord, to fortify that faith in a twofold manner: first, of course, by the authority of the divine law, and then by the tradition of the Catholic Church. Here, perhaps, someone may ask, “If the canon of the Scriptures be perfect and in itself more than suffices for everything, why is it necessary that the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation be joined to it?” Because, quite plainly, sacred Scripture, by reason of its own depth, is not accepted by everyone as having one and the same meaning … Thus, because of so many distortions of such various errors, it is highly necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be directed in accord with the norm of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning.
    – St. Vincent of Lerins

    Dogma is simply the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.
    – Pope Benedict XVI

    See also (again) Ratzinger’s God’s Word, and also Congar’s The Meaning of Tradition for further discussion.

    Blessings,

    Neal

  90. Neal,

    I generally don’t appreciate subtleties unless they smack me in the mouth and throw my hat in the creek.

    I appreciate your appeal to Hodge and his claim that all true Christians will agree on essentials and perhaps not on non-essentials. This is precisely what I meant when I said that Calvin would say (hypothetically, of course) that if Sally and Betsy didn’t agree on a matter of inner conviction (and each was a true Christian member of the elect) it meant that the matter wasn’t important (i.e., non-essential) and they should just try and get along. Or perhaps Calvin was more subtle than that?

    Over time this method has pushed just about every Christian doctrine into the non-essential (“oh it doesn’t matter”) category and has produced reactionary (“oh yes it is essential!”) counter movements each using the very same method of inner conviction that produced the mess in the first place. Ultimately, Christians using his hermeneutic are doomed to further splinter because each has a competing self-authenticating divine stamp of approval with which to divide, split and sunder. Christianity under this method is doomed to the ash heap of meaninglessness and fundamentalism (in my ever so humble opinion).

    It is also why, I would suggest, that Christianity under this form is impotent to change the modern world. The hermeneutic of self-authentication that is destroying the modern world has laid waste to Christianity. Why would a modern man cease being a secular self-authenticator (that sounds really wrong) and become a Christian self-authenticator? He would merely be exchanging one set of self-authenticating clothes for another, much less comfortable and much, much less fashionable set.

    Move this method into morality and ethics and, viola!, you have relativism (I’m Ok, you’re OK). I’m just saying. Am I WAY off the farm on this one? Please tell me I am.

  91. Just because God oversees something, it does not follow that the result has no errors.

    Bryan,

    I am using term “oversees” here as I was before. I’m not talking about God’s general providence, but rather this particular providence in the writing of the Scriptures. I am of course not driving a wedge between the actual writings and the collectiong of these writings into the canon. When God gave us the God-breathed Scriptures He gave it to us. He did not dump a bunch of texts onto the Church and say “you deal with this.” It was God who breathed out the Scriptures which includes the writing and collecting. If you want to try to drive a wedge between writing and collecting then maybe you should explain why.

  92. The deeper I delved into textual criticism, the more foggy and improbable I found the case for an infallible canon to be.

    Zach,

    I too see that this fogginess. Church history is a very messy thing. And this is exactly why I place the trust in the God who wrote the Bible rather than in the Church who gave us all this fogginess.

  93. To answer your question, my conern with the 2nd question and answer of the WCF shorter catechism is that it clearly communicates the idea that the Bible is the only authority for Christians, whereas the Bible itself clearly teaches that God’s Word and The Church (1st Tim 3:15, Matt 16:18, Matt 18:17, John 20:23) are to be the authority for Christians. I am trying to find Reformed Christians that are interested in honest exegesis of these texts rather than just explaining them away.

    Jeremy – OK, I think I see now where you are coming from. On the Church, no doubt you are familiar with WCF 25:3 that speaks of some of what the Church is supposed to do. And possibly you have been involved with ecclesiastical proceedings in your congregation or presbytery. Assuming you have you will know that the Church is most immediately guided by her creeds and confessions. The Church established creeds and traditions and so on to guide the flock. This is true now and it was true when the WCF was written. So the “one rule” of the WCF you referred to is speaking of the foundational principles that guide her which were meant to be only the Scripture. Just as in the United States the Constitution is the final bar of authority for our country, so so the Scriptures are the final rule of authority for the Church. The Scripture is superior to the words of any bishops as Augustine put it.

    Protestants certainly believe in the authority of the Church and believe that it has the obligation to exercise that authority. You can find some of those mandates in the WCF but more fundamentally in the Bible (such as in Paul’s pastoral epistles). But there is obviously a big disagreement over the extent and scope of that authority. The RCC wants to say that the Church is infallible in her dogmatic statements as expressed in both the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium. Do you agree with that and if so, can you see such a belief in the theology of the Church in the centuries immediately after the Apostles? For me I compare the statements of the bishops of the early Bishops of Rome with later ones and I cannot see that they are compatible. But of course you have to determine that kind of thing for yourself. Does the Church that we see at the time of the late Medieval era and Reformation share the basic characteristics of the apostolic and Subapostolic Church? To take a few examples, if I read the epistle to the Corinthians from Clement of Rome I hear a simple admonition from a one pastor to another congregation. He does not even write in his own name but addresses his letter from his congregation. Now we compare this with the letter (bull) from Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam. By this time in history the papacy has mushroomed in a massive ecclesiastical system run by a powerful bureaucracy that is fighting wars and claiming authority over “every human creature” as Boniface puts it. The difference in claims between these respective bishops of Rome is something quite staggering. I cannot see that the claims of Clement (if we can say that Clement makes any claim at all) and that of Boniface are compatible? What do you think? For the committed Catholic the two must be compatible, but for those on the outside looking at the claims of Rome it would seem reasonable that we ought to test such claims.

    The irony here is that Martin Luther himself, could never get ordained in the PCA. We believe he is a heretic too! PCA people don’t know what to think of his doctrine of the Eucharist, views on baptism, ect. My point is that the only authority for us as Protestants is consensus. We get our little tribes (demoninations) that agree and we call it a Church. I do not see where Scripture ever establishes consensus as a form of authority? But, what other choice do we have as Protestants?

    Now why do you think we should call Luther a heretic? Do you think that your Reformed friends would agree with you that there is that much disagreement between the Reformed churches? The Church historian Philipp Schaff referred to the “family of Reformed churches” which I think captures the situation very well. You are trying to posit more division than I think is there. Just how much division is there between the various Reformed confessions? Yes, there are lots of denominations but why is this a problem? And if we go the Catholic route what problem have we solved? There are still the same divisions in Catholicism as in Protestantism. Both have their hard core conservatives and their hard core liberals and everyone else in between. In the polls that are done on what Catholics actually believe vs. what Protestants actually believe there is in not too much difference. Both are just a mushy mess of all sorts of systems of faith and practice. But the difference is that in Catholicism everyone gets called “Catholic” whether they affirm Christ or deny Him. The Catholic liberals (those who deny Christ) are still Catholics. Do you think this is good situation? In faithful Protestant communions we get rid of the liberals or they leave. The Catholics situation seems to me to be fundamentally incompatible with the Early Church. Do you think that any of the Fathers of the Church would have allowed Manicheans, Montanists, Gnostics, etc (those who denied Christ) to coexist with orthodox believers and then called everyone “catholic?” But this is the situation in Catholicism today. I have a very conservative Catholic friend who attends the local RC congregation nearby. He bemoans the fact that there are so few people in this church he knows that really take their faith seriously (and we are in a conservative area of the country here in the South). So if I converted to Catholicism for the sake of unity I would ironically be going to a church where there is not the fraction of Christian unity as in my Reformed church. So what kind of unity are you looking for? Is it just a matter of formal principle?

  94. You were also saying that I was an outsider and that as such cannot (or at least do not) understand ….

    Neal,

    I made my little suggestion about starting with Reformed sources to Andrew P in #51 where I think he really had expressesd a common misconception. I was adressing him specifically but it’s certainly not bad advice in general. But I don’t want to say that everyone does this.

    As for you, I agree with Chris Donato. You really try to be fair. Now I don’t think that means that I always think you get the Reformed position right, but as you point out the Reformed position is not monolithic and as in the previously discussed case with RC Sproul there are sometimes very different ways of approaching an apologetic.

    On Calvin, I think it’s natural that you would want to refute Calvin when he is dismissive of Catholic thought, but then I wouldn’t like for someone to read that and dismiss Calvin’s arguments in general when he really was not attempting a reasoned argument against a Catholic questioner. Or even worse I would hate to think of someone dismissing all of Reformed apologetics on the matter based on Calvin’s statement. This period of time was not the golden age of Protestant/Catholic interchanges. Calvin spent quite a bit of time writing letters to or in favor of his friends who were being held by the Inquisition for execution. Rome was at war with Geneva in much more than a spiritual sense and so you can imagine that it was difficult to have the sort of interchanges that we are having now. And as much as I don’t sometimes agree with James White’s reasoning or appreciate the way that he deals with his opponents, I do think it’s better to use him than Calvin for a specific apologetic. He is coming from a Reformed standpoint and he is specifically addressing questions from RC questioners.

    Andrew, I know your position. I thought I’d been clear that I was prepared to grant this position as a possible, internally coherent position

    I do remember you granting this but I wonder how many others here would. I was addressing your “riddled…” comment but also addressing some of the other comments from Bryan and so on. My feeling is that most folks here would agree that either you affirm the Church is infallible or you end up in relativism. Maybe I worry to much about trying to address these theoretical philosophical arguments and should rather focus on the plain fact that the Reformed (and actually all Evangelical) denominations have no questions about the extent of the canon. My theory actually does work itself out in reality. I would think that;s enough but we still get accused of all this relativism stuff.

  95. Once more with better formating (BTW, how do you do the whte boxes for quotes?):

    You were also saying that I was an outsider and that as such cannot (or at least do not) understand ….

    Neal,

    I made my little suggestion about starting with Reformed sources to Andrew P in #51 where I think he really had expressesd a common misconception. I was adressing him specifically but it’s certainly not bad advice in general. But I don’t want to say that everyone does this.

    As for you, I agree with Chris Donato. You really try to be fair. Now I don’t think that mean that I always think you get the Reformed position right, but as you point out the Reformed position is not monolithic and as in the previously discussed case with RC Sproul there are sometimes very different ways of approaching an apologetic.

    On Calvin, I think it’s natural that you would want to defend Calvin when he is dismissive of Catholic thought, but then I wouldn’t like for someone to read that and dismiss Calvin’s arguments in general when he really was not attempting a reasoned argument against a Catholic questioner. Or even worse I would hate to think of someone dismissing all of Reformed apologetics on the matter based on Calvin’s statement. This period of time was not the golden age of Protestant/Catholic interchanges. Calvin spent quite a bit of time writing letters to or in favor of his friends who were being held by the Inquisition for execution. Rome was at was with Geneva in much more than a spiritual sense and so you can imagine that it was difficult to have the sort of interchanges that we are having now. And as much as I don’t sometimes agree with James White’s reasoning or appreciate the way that he deals with his opponents, I do think it’s better to use him than Calvin for a specific apologetic. He is coming from a Reformed standpoint and he is specifically addressing questions from RC questioners.

    Andrew, I know your position. I thought I’d been clear that I was prepared to grant this position as a possible, internally coherent position

    I do remember you granting this but I wonder how many others here would. I was addressing your “riddled…” comment but also addressing some of the other comments from Bryan and so on. My feeling is that most folks here would agree that either you affirm the Church as infallible or you end up in relativism. Maybe I worry to much about trying to address these theoretical philosophical arguments and should rather focus on the plain fact that the Reformed and actually all Evangelical denominations have no questions about the extent of the canon. My theory actually does work itself out in reality. I would think that;s enough but we still get accused of all this relativism stuff.

  96. Dear Andrew,

    Interesting discussion, thanks. I just have an observation about an analogy you used, and look forward to some of the others interacting with your historical points.

    “So the “one rule” of the WCF you referred to is speaking of the foundational principles that guide her which were meant to be only the Scripture. Just as in the United States the Constitution is the final bar of authority for our country, so so the Scriptures are the final rule of authority for the Church.”

    I like this analogy because it is apt, familiar, and comes up fairly regularly. In the United States, the
    “final bar of authority” is the People — Americans being the sovereign in the true (political) sense — who have plenary power to amend or completely do away with the Constitution. So the correct Church — State analogy would be the Bible as compared to the People. That is, you should be comparing a living, breathing final authority to a textual final authority.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  97. Andrew M,

    The question that we are asking in this discussion is how a Protestant can know that the canon is infallible (i.e. inerrant). And your answer, given in #75 was:

    the same God [who] oversaw the writing of the individual texts also oversaw the collection of these texts. If God was overseeing these events then we are going to get infallible books and an infallible collection of books.

    I pointed out a problem with that in #84. So, in #91 you added this qualifier:

    I am using term “oversees” here as I was before. I’m not talking about God’s general providence, but rather this particular providence in the writing of the Scriptures. I am of course not driving a wedge between the actual writings and the collecting of these writings into the canon. When God gave us the God-breathed Scriptures He gave it to us. He did not dump a bunch of texts onto the Church and say “you deal with this.” It was God who breathed out the Scriptures which includes the writing and collecting. If you want to try to drive a wedge between writing and collecting then maybe you should explain why.

    So now your argument is this.

    1. We know God inspired (i.e. breathed out) individual books.

    2. But breathing out the individual books includes both the writing and the collecting; anyone who claims otherwise is driving a wedge between inspiration and canonization.

    Therefore,

    3. Not only the individual books but the collection is also infallible.

    This argument only pushes back the question, because premise 2 is not self-evident. Instead of “How can a Protestant know that the canon is infallible?”, the question is pushed back to “How can a Protestant know that breathing out the individual books includes both the writing and the collecting?”

    What that second premise (in your argument) does is simply define collection into inspiration, and then accuse anyone who disagrees, of driving a wedge between inspiration and canonization. But I already addressed this on May 3, when I wrote:

    Why drive a wedge between [inspiration and canonization] on the one hand, and the Church’s official interpretation on the other? Would God give us an inerrant Bible with an inerrant canon, and then leave us perpetually floundering and groping in the dark without an inerrant interpretation? Catholics aren’t driving any wedges between inspiration and canon-formation. We believe that both processes are infallible. Protestants are the ones who are driving the wedge, to use your language, between Scripture and its interpretation, by claiming that the former is divinely protected from error, but not the latter.

    In other words, it is ad hoc to define collection into inspiration while excluding interpretation from the definition of inspiration. If the person who distinguishes canonization from inspiration is “driving a wedge” between the two, then so is the person who distinguishes between inspiration and interpretation.

    So, there are two problems with your latest presentation of your position. First, it simply pushes back the question to a different question (i.e. How can a Protestant know that breathing out the individual books includes both the writing and the collecting?). And second, this definition is ad hoc in arbitrarily including canonization within the definition of inspiration while excluding interpretation from the definition of inspiration.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  98. Andrew,

    I’m not sure how to do the boxes in html. When I’m not being lazy, I just log in as an author and then use the nifty wordpress buttons, which allow me to do the box thingies. When I’m being lazy, I don’t log in at all (that’s why I’ve appeared sometimes as “Neal” and sometimes as “Neal Judisch”), in which case I just use my limited html knowhow to do italics. Now:

    You really try to be fair. Now I don’t think that mean that I always think you get the Reformed position right, but as you point out the Reformed position is not monolithic and as in the previously discussed case with RC Sproul there are sometimes very different ways of approaching an apologetic.

    (Note the italics? That means I’m being lazy, even though I now sneakily register my full name.)

    Okay, thanks for this. It means a lot to me to hear you say this, because I do respect you and it matters to me what you think. I’d only point out that, given the fact that the Reformed tradition is not monolithic, but that, like any substantive and serious tradition, admits of a plurality of theoretical approaches under its general auspicies, it’s not any longer clear to me what you mean when you say that I don’t get “Reformed theology” “right.” I mean, given that there’s a plurality of competing Reformed views, can’t you let me take each one of these disparate views one at a time, instead of inferring that if I’m discussing “Reformed view A” I must not know that there’s such a thing as “Reformed view B (or C, or…)?” Nobody can say everything all at once, you know.

    On Calvin, I think it’s natural that you would want to defend Calvin when he is dismissive of Catholic thought, but then I wouldn’t like for someone to read that and dismiss Calvin’s arguments in general when he really was not attempting a reasoned argument against a Catholic questioner. Or even worse I would hate to think of someone dismissing all of Reformed apologetics on the matter based on Calvin’s statement.

    I think you mean it’s natural that I’d want to dismiss Calvin when he’s dismissive of Catholic thought. Well, I guess. But will you let me remind you again that I haven’t always been a Catholic, and that there really is such a thing as honest “critique from within?” I thought that there were problems with what Calvin said here back when I was a Calvinist, but it wasn’t because I thought he was being dismissive of Catholicism. Frankly, back then, it wasn’t obvious to me why Catholicism was worth worrying about, let alone taking the time to dismiss. But again: let’s be fair. Whether I’m Catholic or Protestant or whatever, let’s just lock arm in arm and think about this stuff together. I never said: “Because Calvin’s view here has problems, therefore the entire edifice of Protestantism inevitably crumbles.” I never said that because that would just be hogwash. (I’ve said again and again that Protestantism isn’t monolithic; having insisted upon this, why think I would turn around and say that if Calvin’s arguments/views are problematic that must mean that every single Protestant in the universe is in trouble?)

    Or even worse I would hate to think of someone dismissing all of Reformed apologetics on the matter based on Calvin’s statement. This period of time was not the golden age of Protestant/Catholic interchanges.

    Amen to that. You’ll never ever get an argument from me contraverting what you just said.

    My feeling is that most folks here would agree that either you affirm the Church as infallible or you end up in relativism. Maybe I worry to much about trying to address these theoretical philosophical arguments and should rather focus on the plain fact that the Reformed and actually all Evangelical denominations have no questions about the extent of the canon. My theory actually does work itself out in reality. I would think that;s enough but we still get accused of all this relativism stuff.

    I’m not so sure about how the authors here would view the plausibility of this rigid disjunction. Maybe we should put it to a vote.

    In any event, yes, thankfully, by the grace of God, evangelicals tend to just receive with submission and humility the Bible they’ve been handed. This doesn’t by itself help to resolve any of the question about the deuts, of course, but I am thankful for it, and also thankful that I recieved my formation and upbringing amongst such fine, God-fearing/Jesus-loving/Bible-believing evangelicals.

    And for the record: the day I accuse you and your ilk of relativism will be the day I hang up my hat and quit pretending that I understand how conservative Protestants think.

    Much love and whatnot,

    Neal

  99. Hi, Gil:

    Sorry for the delay getting back to you; must’ve glanced past your comment earlier.

    Okay, I’ve got a better idea what you’re saying. Unfortunately I can’t say I think you’re way off about this. Calvin’s epistemological orientation here and elsewhere is definitely stamped in a modernist mold, and for that reason it looks a little naive to us at points now. It also, as you point out, appears to take us further down the path towards subjectivism/subjective authoritarianism.

    Most unfortunately, perhaps, it continues to exert its influence in an unseen and unnoticed way by people who’ve drunk it in. One case in point is Andrew M.’s recent comment to Zach, in #92 just above:

    I too see that this fogginess. Church history is a very messy thing. And this is exactly why I place the trust in the God who wrote the Bible rather than in the Church who gave us all this fogginess.

    Yikes.

    Put aside the fact that “the Church” isn’t responsible for the difficulties inherent in textual criticism, and focus first on the illicit exclusive disjunction whereby Andrew tries to force a choice between trusting “God” and trusting “the Church.” One might point out, of course, that there isn’t any conflict in trusting God and the Church all at the very same time; that, indeed, sometimes trusting God is going to manifest itself precisely in trusting His Church. But forget about that. What’s most interesting to me is that Andrew thinks he can (a) trust God without trusting something/anything else, and (b) that when he refuses to trust Churches (or foggy text-critical processes) he can just get all his answers directly from God and forget about the very human messiness he just bemoaned.

    How can he do this? Because, he’s a Calvinist who gets inwardly taught directly by the Holy Spirit Himself, which means that he doesn’t need to worry about “marks” of genuineness and does not need to subject any of these questions to “reasoning” or “judgment.” He just gazes on the very majesty of God Himself, in an entirely unmediated way, so as to transcend not only the mediation of Church and history but also even his very own reasoning, his very own interpretive outlook, his very own X.

    Andrew will tell you that he doesn’t think any of this stuff, that it isn’t “the” historic Protestant position, etc. But then when he says high-sounding things like “I trust God and not the Church” (sigh), he doesn’t realize that he’s just parroting what Calvin told him to say, and he doesn’t realize that he’s just illicitly eliminated the middle-man again. For what’s really going on is that Andrew is trusting God-and-himself — his own capacity to receive aright whatever the Holy Spirit whispers in his ear through that funnel that Calvin was talking about — rather than trusting God-and-nothing-else, such as a mere human/churchly agency.

    And how can you respond to this? (“Oh, I see. I guess I just don’t trust God; gonna trust the foggy and fog-inducing Church instead of God — unless I can borrow your batphone from time to time?”) It’s hard to make much headway when your partner falls back on the line that they have direct unmediated access to the truth (when they eliminate the middle-man), while covering it over with pious sounding rhetoric (“I just trust God”) that nobody would want to deny.

    This is I think precisely where the worries about subjectivism you were bringing up start to creep in. It is a very seductive kind of view, because it really does appear to be exalting God above all things, whereas really what it’s doing is exalting the individual subject who thinks God’s whispering stuff to him above any other individual subject (or group), even if the latter thinks he’s attuned to the Holy Spirit’s testimony in precisely the same way. How can you adjudicate between them? Neither one of them’s going to listen to the other; both will assume that the other is not being inwardly taught by the Spirit (or is suppressing the Spirit’s teaching in unrighteousness), and both will draw the conclusion that the other guy’s just in bad shape. All that’s happened here is that these two individuals have become ultimate authorities for themselves, but they hide it from themselves and from others by eliminating themselves from the equation entirely and just talking about God’s greatness and trustworthiness (or the perspicuity of Scripture, e.g.) instead. That way they are completely insulated from critique, at least rhetorically; but they haven’t really eliminated all other middle-men, all other authorities, etc. There’s no such thing as a vacuum here. And there’s nothing left to fill the vacuum but themselves. So they fill it, all the while trying to make themselves believe that they haven’t done this.

    Best,

    Neal

  100. Ok, what do you say to the Christian who uses St. John 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

    They will use this to say that Scripture is enough for me to be assured of my salvation. Nothing here about a “Church” or middle man. Just me and my Bible. And this verse is about as perspicuous as you can get.

    Darlene

  101. I’m a bit confused. I’m not entirely sure that you are interacting with Calvin’s argument fairly… The way I see it, Calvin is not saying that the church has no authority at all… and he certainly is not saying that he is not in agreement with the church council’s “recognition” of cannon… and he is not even saying that the Holy Spirit was not guiding the council. His issue is not with the canon, but the exaulted language which Rome uses to describe its suthority. For example, when did church councils suddenly become “infalliable” to the same or a higher degree than we speak of the infalliability of the Word of God?
    Certainly the church has “authority,” but all of the authority which it posesses is given to it by God Himself. Cutting it all down to basics, ontology precedes epistemology but you have reversed this and turned it sideways and upside-down. The church’s authority is a derived authority just as it, as an entity, is a fully contingent entity. Who in the church is saved apart from the Word? Certainly none! How then can we say that men who were called BY the Word of God somehow comming together have the authority to “preside over” that same Word? Rather, should we not simply say that the church does not establish the canon, but simply recognizes it for what it is without their “assistence?”
    Maybe I am just over-simplifying the issue… but an entity which exists BECAUSE of the effectuating ministry of the Word of God should not be considered to have equal authority with it or over it. That to me smacks of a child telling his parents that they are only his parents because of his authority to recognize them as such.
    Please help me to better understand the Catholic position here. Due to the fact that I see it as such a “no brainer,” I think that I am not understanding the position rightly… else why would so many Catholics hold to it?

    In Him,
    Keith

  102. Dear Darlene,

    I would absolutely affirm what St. John says about the purpose for which he wrote. I’d also affirm unblinkingly that the exodus narratives were written for our instruction (upon whom the ends of the ages have come), as St. Paul says to the Corinthians, and that the OT generally is profitable for all sorts of things, as he tells St. Timothy. I’d just point out that if these are being used as prooftexts for a Just-me-and-my-Bible-sola-scriptura thesis then (a) the prooftexters are packing in more meaning to these statements than the texts themselves can bear, (b) that God’s interested both in the individual’s salvation as well as the health, unity, and maturity of the Body (Eph 4), and, relatedly, that (c) it can both be the case that a Church isn’t mentioned here but that it’s mentioned a bunch elsewhere, and we need to take those ‘prooftexts’ into account just as much as this particular prooftext to arrive at a more comprehensive outlook.

    Hey, Gil. It’s weird. Right after I finished writing #99 to you, my wife and I sat down with some visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses for about an hour and a half. Toward the end, the spirit of Gil manifested himself. One of them said something about how St. Paul decries division, and proudly pointed out that there are no divisions within the 7 million member church with which she is affiliated. I can’t remember how this came up, but it gave me a nice opportunity to look at St. Paul a little more closely and press her a bit on the status of “other Christian denominations” aside from the JW’s. Are they Christian churches too, or not?

    There was a little dancing, but it sort of went like this. First, she returned to one of her main themes throughout, which was that it was absolutely essential to study the Bible real hard to figure out what it really said. (That was the title of the tract they’d given me: “What does the Bible REALLY say?”) That way, you can then look at all the church-options and denominations, compare what they taught against what you’d just discovered the Bible “really” says, and decide which one(s) are real Christian churches that way. Then, of course, I asked her what she does when she recognizes her own limitations, and also recognizes that there are lots of really smart and conscientious people who study the Bible just as hard or harder and come up with a different series of conclusions about what the Bible “really” says. And so she said, “Oh, well it isn’t just studying the Bible intellectually. You’ve also got to do it sincerely and pray that God’s Spirit will guide you, because the Spirit will illuminate your reading and help you to see the truth.” So of course, it was then, “Well, what about all the really smart people who study diligently and also appear to be very sincere and prayerful, and who also believe they are being inwardly illuminated by God’s Spirit, but then who still end up taking a different path and rejecting JWs?” And here she departed from the script/party-line, I think, by saying “Oh, well the most important thing is that we’re sincere and we keep trying and we just try to live and be like Jesus. That’s why we go door to door talking with people, because Jesus also went door to door talking with people. But there are lots of people who really try to follow Jesus, too, and that’s the most important thing.”

    So there we have Gil’s worry in a nutshell. “Study hard, and the Holy Spirit will guide you. If He looks to be guiding lots of different sincere/smart/godly folks in lots of incompatible directions, well, you know, the important thing is that we all try to love Jesus and be like Him.”

    This doesn’t really represent how the discussion would go with the Reformed; but perhaps you’re right that there is some intuitive pull to the quasi-relativist conclusion once you head down this path.

    Neal

  103. Dear Keith,

    Good questions. Actually I think you’re closer to a Catholic outlook than you may think. But one thing at a time:

    The way I see it, Calvin is not saying that the church has no authority at all

    I agree. See my remark to Gil in #74 above: “I also think that Calvin would take issue with the claim that “the Church” has no teaching authority as such. He wouldn’t identify the Church with the Catholic Church, of course; but at the same time, he was not an Anabaptist/radical reformer.”

    and he certainly is not saying that he is not in agreement with the church council’s “recognition” of cannon

    Actually, he does reject some books in the Catholic canon, so there isn’t complete agreement. But I basically agree.

    His issue is not with the canon, but the exaulted language which Rome uses to describe its suthority.

    Well, I would say that he also takes issue with Catholic ecclesiology, and not just with overly exalted language. Maybe this is what you mean. But I do think you’ve hit upon something true. Calvin’s instinct is always to give God His due, and so if he thinks that people are detracting from God’s glory or exalting themselves at his expense then he reacts violently. I think this partly helps to explain aspects of Calvin’s rhetoric running through these passages.

    …the same or a higher degree than we speak of the infalliability of the Word of God?

    I’m not sure what you mean. The Catholic Church doesn’t claim to have a greater degree of infallibility or authority than Sacred Scripture. Perhaps you’re worried that, even if the Church disclaims such authority, they really believe they have it in practice because they think that the Magisterium has been entrusted with the task of preserving, guarding, and interpreting it as a kind of official magisterial organ. But however that may be (and I can see why it might look that way from some perspectives), the language in which the role of the Magisterium is described doesn’t suggest this; it’s always about the Church having a duty to submit to and preserve what it’s received.

    Certainly the church has “authority,” but all of the authority which it posesses is given to it by God Himself … The church’s authority is a derived authority just as it, as an entity, is a fully contingent entity. Who in the church is saved apart from the Word? Certainly none!

    This is the part where I think you sound Catholic. All authority belongs to God; whatever authority (Apostolic, ecclesial, magisterial, etc.) anyone else can claim to possess must derive solely from Him. That is one of the reasons we believe in apostolic succession: you gotta get the authority from somewhere, pastors and teachers can’t just claim to get such authority in a sui generis fashion, so the authority has to trace its way back to God, ultimately. Somewhat paradoxically, Catholics believe that it is precisely because mere men can claim no genuine authority for themselves that the successors of the Apostles can claim it.

    Cutting it all down to basics, ontology precedes epistemology but you have reversed this and turned it sideways and upside-down.

    Hey man, you’re speaking to my heart. That’s why I focus on metaphysics more than epistemology!

    But I don’t think I’m failing to distinguish ontic and epistemic categories here. For one thing, I (and the Catholic Church) agree with you about the derivative nature of ecclesial authority. But for another thing, I think you might actually be coming closer to making an epistemology/metaphysics conflation. To say that the Church has authority to interpret Scripture isn’t to say that the Church is more authoritative than Scripture or that its authority is sui generis instead of derivative. The latter claims are metaphysical, and they don’t follow from the thesis that there is an authoritative interpreter of Sacred Scripture.

    (This would sort of be like saying that because we come to know and believe that God exists by reading the Bible or “by the light of nature,” e.g., then it must be the case that the Bible and the “light of nature” are of greater authority than God, or that God’s authority is derivative from the Bible/reason. The mere fact that one of these things [Bible/perhaps reason] is first-in-the-order of knowledge [epistemology] doesn’t mean that they are first in the order of reality or authority [metaphysics]. Does that help?)

    So I don’t think I’m reversing the relation between ontology and epistemology here; we just need to keep the distinctions between first in order of knowledge and first in order of reality straight. If those phrases bug you, that’s okay, we can substitute something else for them, as long as we’re clear about the concept being expressed by them. Last:

    How then can we say that men who were called BY the Word of God somehow comming together have the authority to “preside over” that same Word?

    If by “preside over” you mean to indicate that the Church’s authority is sui generis or greater than the authority of Sacred Scripture, then men coming together can’t have authority to “preside” over God’s Word. If, on the other hand, you mean by “preside over” that these men are in the business of interpreting the Bible, for themselves and also for others, well, then we can’t escape “presiding over” the Bible in any case. The individual Christian will do this just by reading the Bible and trying to understand it; groups of Christians will do it by laying out normative confessions and creeds, etc.

    To be sure, not all of these groups or people will claim to have any special authority to preside over Scripture. But that doesn’t stop them from presiding over it anyway. Relatedly:

    Rather, should we not simply say that the church does not establish the canon, but simply recognizes it for what it is without their “assistence?” Maybe I am just over-simplifying the issue…

    Well, there may be a little bit of oversimplification going on. Should I take you literally when you say that, when the Church recognizes the canon, this happens all without their assistance? Do you have in mind what Calvin did, when he indicated that we don’t have to use our own reason or judgment or wit or anything, but can just let the Holy Spirit do it all in a way that bypasses any of our activity? If so, I do think that this is an oversimplification. Paul calls himself a co-worker of God, not because He thinks God’s hands are tied without him, but because he’s co-working with God by preaching and teaching and calling folks to reconciliation and so forth. I do not think Paul perceives a tension between this and between the claim that God’s the one running the show and that the glory for it all goes to him.

    Please help me to better understand the Catholic position here. Due to the fact that I see it as such a “no brainer,” I think that I am not understanding the position rightly.

    I appreciate your willingness to consider the possibility that Catholic teaching might be a little different from what you think. I do believe that you have some real disagreements with Catholic teaching, and that not all of it can be chalked up to misunderstanding. At the same time, I also think that some of the “no brainer” stuff you’ve laid out — about the derivative nature of ecclesial authority, about the Church/men not having greater authority or infallibility than Scripture, about ontology preceding epistemology — is quite true, and is by no means incompatible with Catholicism.

    Grace and Peace,

    Neal

  104. Keith,

    I’ll just piggy-back on what Neal said in #103, regarding this part of your comment:

    but an entity which exists BECAUSE of the effectuating ministry of the Word of God should not be considered to have equal authority with it or over it.

    I have often encountered in various forms of Protestantism (especially fundamentalism) a kind of conflation of the term “Word of God” (used to refer to the Second Person of the Trinity), and the term “Word of God” (used to refer to the Sacred Scriptures). This video shows an example of the mistake we want to avoid:

    But the Bible is not God. Jesus is God, and Jesus is not the Bible. So when we use the term “Word of God”, we have to make sure that we remember that we are using it in two distinct senses when we use the term to refer to the Second Person of the Trinity, and when we use it to refer to Sacred Scripture.

    Once we have that distinction clear, then we can respond to your objection. The magisterium of the Church was not produced by Scripture or given its authority by Scripture. It was given its authority by the Second Person of the Trinity. So, it is no contradiction for the magisterium to have interpretive authority with respect to Sacred Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  105. Darlene,

    Re: #100,

    Ok, what do you say to the Christian who uses St. John 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

    They will use this to say that Scripture is enough for me to be assured of my salvation. Nothing here about a “Church” or middle man. Just me and my Bible. And this verse is about as perspicuous as you can get.

    A little training in logic, and a careful analysis of the verse, shows that it does not imply that “Scripture is enough for me to be assured of my salvation”. In that verse John says that the things he has written are written for a reason, namely, that his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that through faith in Jesus they may have life in His name. That something is a cause does not imply or entail that it is a sufficient cause. To assume otherwise would be to fall into a form of monocausalism. (And monocausalism of various forms is a common philosophical assumption in contemporary Reformed circles.) Therefore, stating that the gospel of John was written to be an [instrumental] cause in bringing people to faith in Christ does not imply or entail that the gospel of John (let alone all of Scripture) is enough for a person to be assured of his salvation, or that John is saying that his gospel (or all of Scripture) is enough for a person to be assured of his salvation. The verse isn’t saying anything at all about assurance. It is talking about faith and [true, i.e. divine, eternal] life. That Scripture helps bring persons to faith in Christ does not imply or entail that Scripture is all we need for salvation, or that Scripture is sufficient for assurance or that we do not need the Church or the sacraments. Many other places in Scripture show that Christ left us with the Church and the sacraments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  106. Whether the Bible is God?

    Obj.1. It would seem that the Bible cannot be God. For the Gospel says that no one has seen God, and that the Pharisees searched the Scriptures. Now the Scriptures are contained within the Bible. Therefore, if the Pharisees searched the Bible, and, in searching, saw, they would have seen God. But this is a contradiction. Therefore, the Bible is not God.

    Obj.2. Furthermore, the Bible is said to be breathed out by God. But a thing cannot breathe itself out. Therefore the Bible cannot be God.

    Obj.3. God is in heaven, as it is written: “The Lord in heaven laughs.” But the Bible is on earth. Now if a thing is on earth it is not in heaven. Therefore, the Bible is not God.

    Obj.4. God is a cause of the Bible. But the Philosopher says that nothing is an existential cause of itself, and nothing exists prior to its own generation. Therefore, etc.

    I respond: To the contrary, the Bible is living and active, as the Apostle says. By this he means the Bible is primum principium vitae, which is Anima, and actus purus. But God alone is both Spirit and pure act. Therefore, the Bible is God.

    Reply Obj.1. There are two ways in which a thing may be searched: with the eyes or with the hands. The Jews could not search the Scriptures without using their hands, for their scrolls were cumbersome; but they did not search with their eyes, for, in seeing, they did not see, and in hearing, they did not hear, as the Lord says. Therefore, in searching the Scriptures, they did not see God.

    Reply Obj.2. The breath of God is God’s Spirit. Now all of Scripture is inspired by God, as the Apostle says. By this he means that the Bible proceeds by spiration. But the Spirit proceeds by spiration, for the Lord breathed on the disciples, giving them His Spirit, and the Spirit is God. Therefore, the Bible is God.

    Reply Obj.3. To the contrary, the word of God is not far from us, but is on our lips and in our hearts, as the Apostle says. Now Jesus is on our lips, when we talk about Him, and in our hearts, when we ask Him to become our Personal Lord and Savior, as Augustine says: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity? Ask Jesus into your heart, and you will go to heaven if you die tonight.” But Jesus is God, and the Bible is the word of God. Therefore, etc.

    Reply Obj.4. The Philosopher wore a greek skirt.

  107. it’s not any longer clear to me what you mean when you say that I don’t get “Reformed theology” “right.” I mean, given that there’s a plurality of competing Reformed views

    Neal,

    Again my comment went back to comment #51 above when I pointed out the Andrew P that he had misunderstood what Reformed theology was saying here (by appealing to the Church we are not underminingsola scriptura). There are some differing shades of interpretation withing Reformed theology as well as differing ways to defend Protestantism and given this, it can be difficult sometimes for the Catholic who is trying to understand where a given Protestant is coming from (just as it is sometimes difficult when we look at Catholic theology and the way it is defended by one particular apologist). But there are clearly times when Catholic get misconceptions in their minds and when this happens it is often very difficult to set things right. And this can be true of someone who was in a Reformed communion and is quite sure of their position. We Protestants spend considerable time trying to establish what we believe.

    I think you mean it’s natural that I’d want to dismiss Calvin when he’s dismissive of Catholic thought.

    Yes, sorry about that misprint.

    I never said: “Because Calvin’s view here has problems, therefore the entire edifice of Protestantism inevitably crumbles.” I never said that because that would just be hogwash.

    Yes, and I think that you also defended Calvin later on when someone asked you to clarify something. I don’t want to go back and find it but anyway you obviously wanted to make sure that someone was not misunderstanding Calvin. I guess in general my point is that when someone raises an issue you hope that your side is defended well. If I had been picking scholars and quotes that really hit on the topic of the Protestant defense of Scripture in the context of Catholic questions concerning it, I wouldn’t have picked these passages from Calvin. Now I do think that Calvin on self-authentication is interesting stuff and certainly relevant in come context, but again I would not have picked it for this debate.

    And for the record: the day I accuse you and your ilk of relativism will be the day I hang up my hat and quit pretending that I understand how conservative Protestants think.

    Well, thank you for those comments!

    Cheers for now…..

  108. If the person who distinguishes canonization from inspiration is “driving a wedge” between the two, then so is the person who distinguishes between inspiration and interpretation.

    But Bryan, God does not breathe out an interpretation, he breathes out His Word. We have His Word in the Scriptures, we don’t have the interpretation. I still would be interested to know why you would like to drive the wedge between inspiration and canonization. When God speaks of inspiring His Word, isn’t He speaking of His completed Word, not just individual texts dumped onto Christendom?

  109. Thanks for the clarifications, Andrew. I do understand where you’re coming from, and agree with you that it would be bad to present your “opponents” in the worst light possible. Calvin is of course very influential, and he says a lot of stuff that’s really worth thinking hard about. I tend to think he falls short here, for the reasons explained; at the same time, I’ve pointed out where he’s done a good and philosophically precise job in other places as well. There’s no question in my mind that Calvin was a stud and is well worth the read. That’s the only reason I take him seriously enough to read what he says and think through it.

    By the way, I want to publicly apologize to you for some of the things I said in my latest response to Gil. I do think there are some difficulties here that need to be brought out and discussed, but I also think I sounded a lot more snarky and sarcastic than I should’ve sounded at points. You’re a good friend and sparring partner, and I appreciate your participation here and elsewhere. Definitely don’t want to drive you off by being an ass.

    Best,

    Neal

    (PS: Don’t you think I sounded like Aquinas in a hilariously authentic way just above? I mean, sorry to pat myself on the back, but I just got all giggly when I was writing that stuff.)

  110. Andrew,

    Apologies for entering the debate so late in the game.

    It seems to me your conflict with both Neal and Bryan boils down to this: Why is it necessary, logically or otherwise, that if God inspired men to write certain books, that He must also collect them into a canon?

    Is it conceivable that God could inspire certain books to be written and not collect them into a canon? If it is conceivable, and it seems that it is, let’s apply your argument from earlier.

    You argued that if it’s conceivable that God used a fallible Church to collect an infallible canon, we ought not go inferring the infallibility of the Church from the existence of an infallible canon.

    In like manner, if it’s conceivable that God could inspire writings and not put them into an infallible collection, why should we go inferring the infallibility of the canon from the existence of infallible books?

  111. Neal,

    At first I thought I was reading Aquinas, but then I realized that Aquinas would never write something this silly, so I was really impressed with your Aquinas-esque syllogisms. :)

  112. Keith,

    Above you said:

    For example, when did church councils suddenly become “infalliable” to the same or a higher degree than we speak of the infalliability of the Word of God?

    I’m often shocked at how little this comes up because it strikes me as one of the clearest proofs of the Catholic Church’s claims to authority. The Church has always worked this way going all the way back to the Council of Jerusalem.

    The Apostles and the Bishops they had appointed came together in Jerusalem to decide about whether gentiles needed to be circumcised. They debated, they prayed, they asked the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the issued and infallible decree binding on all Christians.

    Note that it was not just the Apostles present at this council, so we can’t chalk the infallible decree up to, “Oh, that was the Apostles, they could speak infallibly.” It was the hierarchy of the Church coming together to do what the hierarchy of the Church does from the Council of Jerusalem all the way down to Vatican II, that is, debate, pray, ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance and issue decrees that are binding on all Christians.

    This method of producing decrees that bind, not just the Christians of our local Church or our denomination, but all Christians has its roots in the Acts of the Apostles, in the very words of Sacred Scripture. It can hardly be described as the hubris of some later power-hungry bishops.

  113. Bryan,

    Nice video, very entertaining. ;) But please try to resist the temptation to associate me (and any “Reformed” Christian) with this funny Fundy.
    You wrote:
    ~But the Bible is not God. Jesus is God, and Jesus is not the Bible. So when we use the term “Word of God”, we have to make sure that we remember that we are using it in two distinct senses when we use the term to refer to the Second Person of the Trinity, and when we use it to refer to Sacred Scripture.~

    I’m not sure what made you think that I was saying that the Bible is “God,” but I deny this concept. There is much that could be said concerning John’s use of the word “Word” in reference to Christ and the relationship of Christ and the written Word, but that would be a big ol’ bunny trail that I don’t want to spend the time on. Suffice it to say that I agree with you that Christ and the written Word of God are not identical in nature.

    You go on:
    ~Once we have that distinction clear, then we can respond to your objection. The magisterium of the Church was not produced by Scripture or given its authority by Scripture. It was given its authority by the Second Person of the Trinity. So, it is no contradiction for the magisterium to have interpretive authority with respect to Sacred Scripture. ~

    Perhaps I should have been more clear. When I said, “How then can we say that men who were called BY the Word of God somehow coming (sic.) {am I supposed to “sic.” My own spelling errors when I quote myself? Lol} together have the authority to “preside over” that same Word?” …when I said that, I did not mean by “preside over” to include interpretive authority. There most certainly is a place for ecclesiastical authority when it comes to interpretation… why else would Eph 4:11-12 be necessary?

    Ephesians 4:11-12 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ

    Rather, when I said, “preside over,” I was referring to the canonization process. I meant that the church does not have the authority to “decide” which writings are God breathed and which are not… Sure, the church has the authority and responsibility to “discover and declare” which writings are God breathed, but this is a whole different idea. Does Rome hold to a similar distinction? I used to think that even Rome held to this distinction, but a number of Catholic buddies of mine deny it… so I am left wondering.

    What I am saying is that the church is subject to the Word of God in the same way that congress is subject to the Constitution… Granted, some differences:
    1. – a “congress”-ional deligation wrote the Constitution, whereas the church did not “write” (as in “author”) Scripture.
    2. – the church does not have the authority to add amendments.
    But when I hear Catholics discussing the role of the church and the level of authority claimed by Rome when it comes to the ecumenical councils, it sounds a lot to me like they are claiming that Rome has the power to amend God’s Word… And this makes me extremely uncomfortable.

    My assumption is that many of the Catholics I have spoken with about the issue of church authority have been misrepresenting what Rome herself asserts. It seems to me that there must be a distinction made between the authority of the church and the authority of the God-breathed and God-inspired Word. So, let me ask you a few questions:
    1. What is the difference between the authority of Scripture itself and the authority of the church?
    2. Is one subservient to the other? Is one more authoritative? {The reason I ask this is because I hear similar language used to describe the ecumenical councils and the inspired Word of God (i.e. “infallible”), and in my protestant upbringing and education, “infallibility” is a word reserved for God & what He alone declares.}

    Thank you for your patience.

    In Him,
    Keith

  114. […] on Self-Authentication Filed under: Booklist, Church — Thomas @ 8:26 am From Called to Communion blog: . . . Putting to one side his characteristically passionate rhetoric, Calvin’s response is […]

  115. Keith,

    Excellent questions. I’ll have a go at one. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the servant — not the master — of Scripture. During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ founded the Church and charged it with leading all men into the fullness of truth. Two of its primary duties in that regard are the canonization and interpretation of Scripture. For the Scriptures would be of little profit to man were they not a) clearly identified as Scripture — distinct from other, non-Scriptural documents — and b) accurately interpreted, their meaning being far from obvious in many places.

    Our Lord, realizing that a Church that could err in its official teaching of the faith would be incapable of leading mankind into all truth, blessed it with infallibility in that regard with His words to the twelve, “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven. ” (Mt 18:18) And again to the 72 disciples, “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” (Lk 10:16)

    So, by setting the Canon, the Church is not claiming to thereby create Scripture, but rather to discern, recognize, and proclaim — for the benefit of all mankind and the glory of God — which Christian documents are truly God-breathed. It is simultaneously a very humble and awesome undertaking and one which, were it not graced with the infallibility guaranteed to the Church by Our Lord, would have been an exercise in utter vanity. The First Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (1870), writes:

    These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterward approved by her authority; . . . but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.

    Dovetailing with what Matt wrote in #110 above, yes, it’s possible that God could have inspired the writing of infallible documents yet not willed that they be collected into an infallible canon. Such a scenario is possible, I suppose, but it would be completely futile and nonsensical if we assume that God inspired the Scriptures for the benefit of mankind. After all, in the context of Scripture, a canon is not a thing unto itself. Rather, it is nothing more than a recognition of which books are indeed the infallible word of God (and which, by their exclusion therefrom, are not). If God inspired the composition of infallible books, but provided no infallible means by which we could identify those infallible books, their value to us would be inestimably diminished.

  116. Perhaps a simpler way to put it is that the Catholic Church does not claim, by its proclamation of the canon, to give certain documents an infallibility that they would otherwise lack — but rather to publicly and infallibly certify their inherent infallibility in a way that could not otherwise be done.

  117. Andrew M,

    In #108, you wrote:

    But Bryan, God does not breathe out an interpretation, he breathes out His Word. We have His Word in the Scriptures, we don’t have the interpretation. I still would be interested to know why you would like to drive the wedge between inspiration and canonization. When God speaks of inspiring His Word, isn’t He speaking of His completed Word, not just individual texts dumped onto Christendom?

    The point in question here is how a Protestant knows that the [Protestant] canon is infallible. Your answer to that question, as far as I can tell, is this:

    (1) God breathes out “His Word”,

    (2) “His Word” includes all and only the books of the Bible,

    Therefore

    (3) This divine exhalation includes canonization.

    First, notice that even if you did know (3) to be true, you wouldn’t know that it was the Protestant canon that was infallible. So the point in question would remain unanswered. To avoid that problem you could modify the argument by modifying premise (2):

    (2) “His Word” includes all and only the books of the Protestant Bible.

    But this modification would only push back the question once again: How does a Protestant know that “His Word” includes all and only the books of the Protestant Bible?

    Second, this argument is not a valid argument, because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. It needs an additional premise, namely, that God does not have the power to inspire two or more books without collecting them into a canon, or with the intention of not collecting them into a canon. Since presumably God does have that power, therefore, just because God inspires two or more books it does not follow that the inspiration itself ipso facto includes collecting them into a canon.

    Third, merely stipulating that interpretation is not included within inspiration while canonization is necessarily included in inspiration, does not avoid the ad hoc problem I mentioned in #97. That’s why it is ad hoc, because it is a mere stipulation. What is needed is some principled reason (not a mere stipulation) why canonization is necessarily part of the very essence of inspiration, while interpretation is not.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  118. Again my comment went back to comment #51 above when I pointed out the Andrew P that he had misunderstood what Reformed theology was saying here….

    Oh, man.

    That was my comment #41.

  119. […] Cross linked to the video in this comment in this really long thread about picking and choosing your sacred scrolls. Neal Judisch quickly […]

  120. Keith,

    Regarding #113, just to be clear, I didn’t associate you (or intend to imply that I was doing so) with the man in the video. I was using the video as an example of a mistake we want to avoid, which is to claim that the magisterium of the Church cannot have any sort of authority over Scripture (even interpretive authority or custodial authority), because the magisterium of the Church derives its authority from the Word of God (meaning Christ).

    But when I hear Catholics discussing the role of the church and the level of authority claimed by Rome when it comes to the ecumenical councils, it sounds a lot to me like they are claiming that Rome has the power to amend God’s Word… And this makes me extremely uncomfortable.

    It would make me uncomfortable too. Fortunately, the Catholic Church claims no authority or power to “amend” God’s Word. It explicitly claims not to have such power or authority.

    Rather, when I said, “preside over,” I was referring to the canonization process. I meant that the church does not have the authority to “decide” which writings are God breathed and which are not… Sure, the church has the authority and responsibility to “discover and declare” which writings are God breathed, but this is a whole different idea.

    The Catholic Church does not treat “authority to discover and declare which writings are God-breathed and which are not” as incompatible with “authority to decide which writings are God-breathed and which are not.” The process of discovering and declaring necessarily involves decisions. Zach’s comment in #116 is exactly right, and that might help allay your concern about what it means to have the authority to determine whether or not a particular book is divinely inspired. The magisterium of the Church Christ founded has the authority to give the definitive ruling concerning which books belong to the canon and which books do not belong to the canon. No individual person (such as you are or me) has that authority. But that does not mean that the magisterium of the Church has the power to turn a non-inspired text into a divinely inspired text, or to turn a divinely-inspired text into a non-inspired text.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  121. Bryan,

    As has happened ofttimes, we seem to be talking past each other and not explaining our respective positions and I’m not sure we are going to get too much further by kicking this old horse around the yard any more. But maybe to simplify things somewhat, could ask you whether you think it is possible that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon? Do you think that all of the infallible pronouncements in the OT could be said to be infallible because the person or group of people is infallible? Is infallibility always a characteristic or charism of the creature. or can God work through the creature that is fallible to produce an infallible statement? If God can work through the creature to produce something perfect cannot He also do the same thing with the Church?

  122. You argued that if it’s conceivable that God used a fallible Church to collect an infallible canon, we ought not go inferring the infallibility of the Church from the existence of an infallible canon.

    Matt,

    Yes, I think that this is correct, although my first concern was people who become disturbed that they cannot speak of an infallible canon given Protestant assumptions, and they can only resolve the problem if they affirm an infallible Church. So I’m trying to make the case that such a person ought not to be concerned if God is the author of the process.

  123. Andrew M,

    We are not “talking past each other”. I am asking you a question, “How can a Protestant know that the [Protestant] canon is infallible?”, and so far, you have not been able to answer that question. Your attempts to answer the question simply push back the question.

    As for your question about whether it is possible that God could work through a fallible Church to produce an infallible canon, I already answered that question on May 3 in comment 187 in the “Time Magazine and the new Calvinism” thread, and then explained the problem with that position in comment 194 of that same thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  124. Do you think that all of the infallible pronouncements in the OT could be said to be infallible because the person or group of people is infallible? Is infallibility always a characteristic or charism of the creature. or can God work through the creature that is fallible to produce an infallible statement? If God can work through the creature to produce something perfect cannot He also do the same thing with the Church?

    Andrew,

    You’ve mentioned a few times that you’ve already been through this with us and have suggested we’re just not listening or not getting it. But I’m starting to think it’s going in the reverse direction here. Both Bryan and I granted a long time ago that your position is a “possible” one, in the logical sense, because it isn’t internally inconsistent, etc. That has never been the point of dispute. So you really don’t need to “explain” what your position is in hopes that we’ll finally “understand” it.

    But here’s something else I remember discussing with you last time, and from these remarks I wonder now if you’ve forgotten or just didn’t grasp the distinctions perhaps. Catholic theology doesn’t say that if God is going to use a person or a group of people so as to bring about an infallible product (a Scriptural epistle, a canon, a dogmatic definition), that He first must find somebody who is not inherently fallible, or must zap them with an infallibility ray so as to change their natures from being inherently fallible to being inherently infallible.

    Of course God works through inherently fallible individuals; else He’d never work through any individuals. Of course the group of men and women and children constituting the Body of Christ on earth are one and all inherently fallible; that goes for each of the men making up the Magisterium, and whoever holds the papal chair too.

    The disagreement isn’t about whether there are some people God has zapped with an infallibility ray, or who are by nature inherently infallible, and whom God selects (on this basis) to use for His appointed ends. It is simply about whether God has covenanted Himself to the Church or not.

    We Catholics affirm that God has promised never to leave nor forsake the Body of Christ. We affirm that He has promised to remain with us, so as to ensure that we won’t run off the rails. We deny that if all we’ve got is the Bible and our smarts we are going to be sufficient for the task. We also do not see any real force in the suggestion that God has not covenanted Himself to the Church in a general way — in a way that would actually underwrite our confidence in various decisions the Church ends up making from time to time — but that He has infallibly led the Church in order to get the canon established, so that, after this, we can all go by the Bible alone.

    It’s not that we think the Bible isn’t cool. It’s stinkin’ awesome.

    What it really comes down to is something that Zach said above, I think. This will require a paradigm inversion of sorts. But the fact of the matter is that every bit of the “exalted” language attributed to the Church or Magisterium or papal office or whatever, ultimately derives from a kind of abject humility before God.

    It isn’t that Catholics are misanthropes, or that the noetic effects of sin have rendered us all just absolute idiots. But we do have a lot of suspicion about the human’s inherent capacities to get things right, to understand everything aright, etc. The reason we think the pope had better be infallible is precisely because we recognize that no human being is anywhere close to being anything like infallible. The reason we trust the magisterial authority of the Magisterium is precisely because a big gaggle of mere men can’t expect anyone to care very much about what they think.

    All the talk about “infallibility” and “indefectability” and blah blah blah simply comes down to our insistence that God has promised to remain with His Church, and that, if He hadn’t covenanted Himself to us, or had left us with the-Bible+our-smarts alone, we will inevitably, en mass, and with the very best of intentions, run off the rails in next to no time at all. We do not believe that mere human beings have the capacity to perform as a group what the Church of Christ is called to; we do not believe that mere human beings can manage the unity-in-truth to which we are called and commanded by Christ. So yes, we Catholics look to the Church and “exalt.” But it’s only because the Body of Christ casts the Shadow of God. In other words, we look to the Church because we look to the Lord, and we look to the Lord precisely because, when we look to ourselves, either individually or as one big group, we simply aren’t all that impressed.

    This is why it makes us nervous to be told that what we’ve got is the Bible+some-scholarship+some-individuals-claiming-to-be-inwardly-taught-by-the-Spirit-while-simultaneously-disclaiming-any-infallibility-or-special-prerogatives. From our perspective, Protestantism puts too much stock in human judgment and human tradition.

    Peace,

    Neal

  125. Matt,

    Thank you for your reply. Yo uwrote:
    ~The Apostles and the Bishops they had appointed came together in Jerusalem to decide about whether gentiles needed to be circumcised. They debated, they prayed, they asked the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the issued and infallible decree binding on all Christians.~
    (How do you guys do the cool little “quote boxes” or itallicize? Do tell!)

    Where do you get the idea that the the council in Jerusalem issued an “infalliable decree binding on all Christians?” I reread the passage in Acts 15 and couldn’t find anything indicating such thing.

    Secondly, the council in Jerusalem was conveined in order to cocrrect a problem. There were men who were FROM the church in Jerusalem, claiming to have been sent BY that church, and they were teaching false doctrine. Paul & Barnabus went to Jerusalem to see why the Jerusalem church sent men who were teaching such things, and the council in Jerusalem sent letters far and wide claiming that they had never taught that Gentiles needed to be circumcized. This council did not determine a new doctrine which was then binding on all churches, rather, they were publically afirming what they had been teaching for some time. They were also publically stating that those men who claimed to have been sent by that church in Jerusalem were bearing false testimony and were not sent by them, nor did they teach such things. (note vs. 24 — Acts 15:24 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” — to whom we gave no such commandment -)

    Where in Scripture do you get the idea that one local congregation has infalliable authority over another?

    Honestly confused,
    Keith

  126. Bryan,
    Regarding post 120. ;) When I asked you not to associate me with the guy in the video, it was tongue in cheek. But thanks for your clarification anyway. ;)

    Also, thank you for clarifying what Rome believes concerning “diciding” canon, vs. “discovering & declaring” canon. I am glad that Rome does not officially endorse the concept that the canon only exists because of the eccumenical council’s affirmation of it. Unfortuantely, there are many Catholics who need to be informed of this because I have heard it repeated on multiple occations.

    In Him,
    Keith

  127. Zach,

    You wrote (post # ): Perhaps a simpler way to put it is that the Catholic Church does not claim, by its proclamation of the canon, to give certain documents an infallibility that they would otherwise lack — but rather to publicly and infallibly certify their inherent infallibility in a way that could not otherwise be done.

    Well said… other than the “infallible” part… I’m still getting hung up on the use of that word when it is applied to church councils. Where does God promise to grant “infaliable” decision making abilities to church councils? Maybe it is a semantic thing… I just don’t like calling any statement or decision made by a sinful man or men “infaliable” unless they are quoting God’s Word… How do you know that eccumenical councils are infaliable? If they are infaliable, why do they occationally need amending? If they are infaliable, why are they not themselves canonized? Me thinks there is a semantic issue driving this…

    When you say the councils are “infallible,” does that mean that they CANNOT be wrong even to the slightest degree? Does it mean that they are “inspired” by the HOly Spirit in a similar way to the Scriptures?

    Honestly Confused,
    Keith

  128. We are not “talking past each other”. I am asking you a question, “How can a Protestant know that the [Protestant] canon is infallible?”, and so far, you have not been able to answer that question. Your attempts to answer the question simply push back the question.

    Bryan,

    But I do continue to answer your question but you keep on acting as if I have not. Again, we both appeal to the God’s use of the Church. The question then becomes whether or not it is an infallible Church or a fallible Church. You are acting as if God is unable to produce an infallible canon without an infallible Church. And you have yet to explain why you would think this. If you cannot come up with a good reason then the only reasonable conclusion is that there is none and that God could produce such an infallible canon from a fallible Church. And if God could produce such a thing then the Protestant supposition of a fallible Church (fully compatible with the early centuries of Christianity) does not mean a fallible collection of books. Of course we must have an infallible God who inspires His Word through His Church and yes, we have that. And then unless we want to artificially divide the writing of the texts from the collection of them then we must have an infallible collection. If you think they must be divided in the mind of God then you need to explain this as well.

    It’s also interesting to test the theories with reality here. If what you seem to be proposing is correct then we would expect at least some Evangelical denominations to doubt the canon. So exactly how much division is there over the canon in Evangelical circles today? And interestingly for those who come to Rome, the is no shortage of liberals there just as in Protestantism, but of course in Catholicism liberals are not removed from the RCC so there is plenty of actual division within Catholic circles on basic issues of Scripture unlike Reformed communions of even more generally in Evangelicalism. If we are interested in fidelity of the doctrines of Scripture why would we want to come to Rome?

    I cannot begin to see how your referenced comments from the other thread begin to answer what I have said.

  129. Keith,

    Your last question deserves a really good answer. I hope that you will settle for a really short answer just now: No. The Ecumenical Councils are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Rather, the Spirit guides the bishops, in union with the Bishop of Rome, who are assembled in an Ecumenical Council so that when they define a matter of faith (doctrine) or morals, they are preserved from making an error in that matter of faith or morals.

    Also, not every statement made and/or recorded in the proceedings of a Council is infallible. Only those solemnly defined teachings on faith and morals which are specifically intended to be universally binding and irreformable are infallible. (If I had time right now I would give some examples; this would help clarify what I mean here.)

    This is all that “infallible” means: incapable of making an error. Sacred Scripture is, of course, infallible. It is also inspired (God-breathed; the Word of God). The dogmatic definitions of an Ecumenical Council are infallible (they cannot be wrong), but they are not inspired.

    In other words, Sacred Scripture is Revelation, God’s own unique self-disclosure. The infallible teachings of the Magisterium are not Revelation, they are a “means whereby God preserves his Church in the truth of the gospel.” (Avery Dulles, Magisterium, p.65.)

  130. Neal,

    You make some very good points above and and I do remember talking about them last time. I think we never really delved into this because we ended up debating so much of the stuff that Bryan raises in the question above you. He seems to be supposing that the canon cannot be known by the Protestant to be infallible (actual evidence to the contrary) and so we go around and around saying the same things which is why I just sometimes drop the debate with Bryan.

    It isn’t that Catholics are misanthropes, or that the noetic effects of sin have rendered us all just absolute idiots. But we do have a lot of suspicion about the human’s inherent capacities to get things right, to understand everything aright, etc. The reason we think the pope had better be infallible is precisely because we recognize that no human being is anywhere close to being anything like infallible.

    So again these are some interesting comments that naturally follow from the debate over whether we can be certain of the texts God has given us if we assume a fallible or infallible Church. So my first question to you here is whether you think that historically Protestants or Catholics have a higher view of the intellect? Don’t you think that the Protestant doctrine of total depravity would give us the lead in limiting the scope and utility of the intellect? And then second, when you talk about “suspicion,” you are suspicious of the intellect that is trying to work out the infallible Scriptures, but you are OK with trusting the intellect trying to work out the infallible Church who works out the infallible Scriptures. Am I stating this correctly and if not, how would you restate this? It seems at this point to me that you have placed the Church between the intellect and the Scriptures but I’m not sure what this gets you.

  131. Here is one way to look at the gift of infallibility:

    Inspired teachings of divine revelation are like diamonds. The teachings of an Ecumenical Council are like the appraisals of a jeweler, whose job it is to distinguish diamonds from not-diamonds.

    Of course, diamonds are much more beautiful and valuable and in every way more desirable than appraisals, but in some cases we need an expert opinion in order to tell the real gem from the counterfeit.

    Revelation is much more precious than diamonds. Therefore, Jesus Christ did not leave his Church in care of theological or exegetical or philosophical experts.

    Our Lord left his Church in the care of his shepherds, the Apostles and the men whom they, in turn, ordained to shepherd the Church. And, in order that these men would not mistake mere rocks for the treasure of divine revelation, he gave them the gift of infallibility.

  132. Bryan,

    It occurred to me that in your post above you might just be asking how we know that the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha are not part of the Scriptures. Is that all you are asking when you ask how we can be sure the [Protestant] canon is infallible? I thought we already went through this but anyway I thought I would ask….

  133. Andrew M.,

    You might try looking at the gift of infallibility this way: God made sure that his Church would not get certain things wrong (e.g., the Canon). This divine “making sure” is what we mean by infallibility. The thing is, God’s making sure that the Church gets certain things right has a history. It is a history of men, and it is all mixed up with our mistakes and limitations and sometimes absurdity. Anything that sallies forth in history gets mixed up in the soup.

    But right there in all of that is the Holy Trinity, making sure that the Jerusalem Council, and Nicene Council and so forth, right on through the absurd ages, did not trade our birthright for a mess of stew. It doesn’t look like much, these bishops and the politics and everything. But there you have it, right there in all that, God making sure that the Church would not solemnly define error as truth.

  134. Dear Andrew,

    To the first question, Yes, I would say that the Catholic tradition maintains a higher view of human reason than much of the Reformed tradition. We believe that sin can and does darken minds and distort reason by degrees, etc. But we typically don’t go as far down the path of denigrating reason, nor do we accept the idea that rampant skepticism is all we’re left with unless we go Van Til’s route or some such. (This is, obviously, a larger discussion for a different day).

    At the same time, I would definitely say that the Reformed tradition’s “lower” view of reason/intellect is not upheld in practice, that there is a kind of practical contradiction or tension between the theory and the kind of ecclesial edifice in this tradition. If Reformed folks applied theory, here, I think they’d be casting about for authoritative interpretive help a bit more. As it is, as you know, there is a ton of very rigid reliance on various confessions, but from the Reformed perspective the confessions are just written by men who did a very good job understanding the Bible by themselves — which we know by comparing what the confession says with our own understanding of Scripture.

    So I think there is without question much more reliance on non-Spirit-guided reason/tradition in Protestantism than there is in Catholicism, and that this is in interesting tension with the Reformed tradition’s theoretical outlook which wants to have a “lower” view of reason/intellect than Catholicism (as a function of its doctrine of total depravity etc.) but which wants to say that we do not really need any authoritative help or oversight as we read the Bible for ourselves. I believe this is fundamentally why the rhetoric and (what I annoyingly call) the elimination of the middle-man comes in. You say, above, that you trust God but not the Church, because the Church creates fogginess. You also say that you yourself (theoretically) are somewhat foggy-headed, since you’re a mere sinful man, as Keith says above as well. It seems then, by parity of reasoning, that you would say that you trust God but not Andrew; but you don’t and can’t say that, ’cause you’re stuck with Andrew and you know it. So this, finally, is where “self-authentication” etc. comes in: just make it sound like God is doing absolutely all the work and all the thinking for you, and that He inwardly seals things on your heart whilst completely bypassing your “reasoning” and “judgment” and “wit,” as Calvin says. That way you can theoretically denigrate “reason” and “human tradition,” while at the same time actually and practically exalt your own reasoning skills and your own human tradition above what Catholics are comfortable with.

    I really do think all this hangs together in a package. I know I’m a little bleary eyed right now; I hope it at least makes sense. As to this:

    you are suspicious of the intellect that is trying to work out the infallible Scriptures, but you are OK with trusting the intellect trying to work out the infallible Church who works out the infallible Scriptures.

    This may likewise be a function of my current bleary eyed state, but I’m not clear on what you’re asking. I do think that we need an objective interpretive touchstone by means of which we as a Church can preserve and feed upon the deposit of faith in a way that keeps us together in unity and truth. I think it sounds funny to say that this is putting the Church between the intellect and the Scriptures, but that might be just because of the funny mental images I get when I consider that.

    Logging out for tonight,

    Neal

  135. Andrew M,

    I may be missing something here, but suppose God ,being infallable, can guide a fallable Church into infallable decisions, which is your point, I think (and this is certainly possible). If this is the case, then how does this help the Protestant position? It seems to me, in the case of canonization, this places no difficulty for the Catholic canon, and in fact it remains infallable. Am I missing something here in the conversation between you and Bryan?

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  136. Andrew M,

    Regarding your comment #128, you wrote:

    But I do continue to answer your question but you keep on acting as if I have not.

    A reply is not necessarily an answer. Your replies to my question do not answer the question; they only push back the question, as I explained in #117. You are basically in the same position that R.C. Sproul is in, except he knows that he has no basis for positing an infallible canon, and you don’t know that you have no such basis.

    Again, we both appeal to the God’s use of the Church.

    My appeal is principled (i.e. the Church has met the conditions of infallibility when she defined the canon), but your appeal is ad hoc, as I explained in #84.

    You are acting as if God is unable to produce an infallible canon without an infallible Church. And you have yet to explain why you would think this. If you cannot come up with a good reason then the only reasonable conclusion is that there is none and that God could produce such an infallible canon from a fallible Church.

    As I pointed out above in #123, back on May 3 I already agreed that God is able to produce an infallible canon without an infallible Church. (Go by what I state, not by what you think I am “acting as if”.)

    And if God could produce such a thing then the Protestant supposition of a fallible Church (fully compatible with the early centuries of Christianity) does not mean a fallible collection of books.

    If by ‘mean’ you mean ‘entail’, then I agree. But just because x does not entail ~y, it does not follow that x entails y.

    You wrote:

    Of course we must have an infallible God who inspires His Word through His Church and yes, we have that. And then unless we want to artificially divide the writing of the texts from the collection of them then we must have an infallible collection.

    Let’s examine your argument carefully:

    (1) We have an infallible God who inspires His Word through His Church

    (2) Collection cannot be separated from writing.

    Therefore

    (3) We have an infallible collection.

    I’ve already pointed out in #117 the problems with this argument. Premise (1) uses an ambiguous term (i.e. “His Word”) that when disambiguated only pushes back the question. Likewise, premise (2) just pushes back the question. You have no way of knowing that premise (1) is true or that premise (2) is true, nor do you have any way of knowing that interpretation is not part of inspiration while canonization is part of inspiration. Nor do you have any way of knowing that it is the Protestant canon that is infallible, and not the Catholic canon.

    It’s also interesting to test the theories with reality here. If what you seem to be proposing is correct then we would expect at least some Evangelical denominations to doubt the canon.

    Or become Catholic.

    but of course in Catholicism liberals are not removed from the RCC so there is plenty of actual division within Catholic circles on basic issues of Scripture

    Liberal Catholics who knowingly and obstinately reject some Catholic dogma, are heretics, and are automatically excommunicated, as I explained here. So Protestants cannot point to liberal Catholics as an excuse to remain in schism from the Church that Christ founded.

    If we are interested in fidelity of the doctrines of Scripture why would we want to come to Rome?

    Because only the Catholic Church teaches the authentic and orthodox interpretation of Scripture. What defines fidelity and orthodoxy with respect to the canon of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture, is found in the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  137. Hi, Andrew.

    I’ve been trying to stay out of the discussion you’ve been having with Bryan and others concerning your position on inscripturation, canonization, infallibility, and knowledge. However, you did address some things to me about the epistemological issue of whether you (qua Protestant) can know that “the canon” (i.e. the Protestant canon) is infallible.

    I admit that I still see the same problems with the moves you’re making that I pointed out a while ago, but I’m wondering now if I haven’t appropriately communicated them to you. Let me try (and hope I don’t regret this!).

    First, you point out that it is at least possible that the canon is an infallible collection of infallible books, without its being the case that the Church which collected the canon has been given a “general gift” of infallibility. This is so because God can see to it that infallible decisions are reached (e.g.) via a fallible medium — by which you mean a medium that isn’t just inherently fallible, but also a medium that God has not made any special promises to concerning future guidance and the like.

    I then accept this as a possibility, since it’s a non-contradictory position. It’s a possibility in logical space; a person doesn’t contradict themselves when they utter or affirm it.

    You then move to stage 2, arguing that there is an inherent connection between inspiration and canonicity. By this you mean that the process of inscripturation includes the process of recognizing, collecting up, and ‘canonizing’ Scriptural texts.

    You then note that because Scriptural texts are inspired by God, they are infallible. And then you argue that because ‘inscripturation’ includes ‘canonization’ as well as the actual ‘inspired writings’ of the particular texts to be canonized, it follows that the process of ‘canonization’ is likewise infallible, since canonization is overseen by the same infallible God who inspired the Scriptures which were subsequently to be collected up and canonized as part of one dynamic process inherently linked together in God’s mind.

    In other words, you argue that because of the a priori connection between ‘inspiration’ and ‘canonization’, and because ‘inscripturation’ includes both inspiration and canonization, and because God is infallible, therefore “the canon” is infallible.

    You then conclude that you may know with certainty that the Protestant canon you hold in your hands is infallible, because of your trust in God’s infallibility and the moves made above, and not because you trust the Church or consider the Church to be infallible.

    I have pointed out many, many problems with these series of moves in the notorious Time Magazine thread.

    Let me just isolate one of them that directly speaks to your remark:

    He seems to be supposing that the canon cannot be known by the Protestant to be infallible (actual evidence to the contrary) and so we go around and around saying the same things which is why I just sometimes drop the debate with Bryan.

    Bryan can speak for himself, but I think, if I’m understanding him correctly, he is putting his finger on one of the basic problems in your line of thought, one that I pointed out as well, and I do not remember seeing you address it.

    Here is the sense in which “the Protestant” can know that “the canon” is “infallible,” if the initial stages of your reasoning is right: there’s an a priori connection between “inspired writings” and “canon,” such that anything inspired should go in the canon, and nothing uninspired should go in there.

    Protestants believe/know that. So do Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons. Their disagreement is not on the a priori connections between concepts like “inspiration,” “infallibility,” “canonization,” and the like. Their disagreement is just about which of the texts really are inspired and, therefore, which by rights belong in “the canon.”

    You want to rely upon an a priori connection between inspiration and canonization, together with the infallibility of God, so as to arrive at the conclusion that the Protestant canon is the right one, that it was infallibly put together, and that you, qua Protestant, know this.

    But nothing you say gives us any reason to suppose that the Protestant canon is the infallible one rather than the Catholic one, nor any reason to believe that Protestants somehow “know” this.

    When I tried to get you to see that last time, you went back to step 1 and asked me whether it was “possible” to get an infallible canon without an infallible Church. I said, sure, like I said. And then you repeated Stage 2 and we went through it all again, and I guess you ended up dropping it because you did not think that Bryan or I understood what you were saying. But it is so very clear what you are saying!

    (I remember being in a political philosophy seminar with David Braybrook, and I made this presentation where I had to put some theorems in set theoretic language and analyze this argument. I made some errors, but Braybrook congratulated me: “It is better to be lucidly wrong than vaguely right.” This is like what’s going on here. You are being lucid, and that is what makes it easy for us to spot some of the lapses in reasoning. It’s not a Catholic vs. Protestant thing. It’s just a matter of logic.)

    Best,

    Neal

  138. >Examine your argument carefully:

    Bryan,

    You have this penchant for jamming together other people’s statements into “arguments” and then trying to refute these arguments. But I’m not attempting a complete argument or proof or anything of the sort. When I write down something like I did in #138 I don’t mean that as a comprehensive proof. It’s not the conclusion of the discussion, it’s the beginning. I fully expect that any of the statements could be deconstructed and analyzed by a RC questioner. Very likely if a disinterested bystander (that is, disinterested in the outcome – not Prot or Cath) were to look at your refutation of the “argument” you have created out of my statements that he would ask how on earth you and I could make any sort of conclusions on the matter without discussing matters such as Neal and I are right now. Neal makes some good points that (in my remembrance) we have not discussed before. But these kinds of issues impact the outcome of what we can or cannot say about the authority in general or the canon specifically. So how can one of us attempt a comprehensive proof concerning the canon without talking about (among many other things) the points that Neal raises?

    Take a look at Neal’s post above. He could attempt what you like to do which is to squash my words into some sort of makeshift “argument” and then try to disprove it. He does not do that but rather tries to focus on one or two facets of a much larger argument. I can get my hands around this and interact with him. But I can never seem to get my hands around what you are saying and never seem to answer you in a way that makes sense to you. My advice to you is to present your thoughts as best as you can and then let the listener make their own conclusions. The constant talk of proofs and refuted arguments gets old after a while. At least I get tired of it. It’s the same reason I get weary of the White/Sungenis kinds of debates when both sides claim that their opponent has failed to defend their argument.

    I don’t want to be unkind about this, but unlike others on this blog, I just can’t seem to interact with the points you are trying to make. I don’t think this relates so much to the content of what you say but rather more to how you are saying it. Maybe it’s just me….

  139. I’ll probably regret jumping in here and it might not be helpful to throw this wrench in the mix but the phrase “infallible canon” (used on both sides) keeps bothering me. Infallible means not having the ability to be in error or to make an error. Inerrant seems better to describe the canon than infallible.

    When we speak of the canon as a canon (list) then it doesn’t make sense to call it infallible. If we speak of the canon as inclusive of the selection process (the action of the Catholic Church) then it makes sense to call it infallible; but what we are really referring to is the process not the product. Likewise, we call an ex cathedra statement infallible by virtue of the process behind it being incapable of error. The statement itself is properly referred to as inerrant.

    If the process of canonization was infallible then, as Bryan, Neal and others have stressed, we need a principled reason to know why the Church acted infallibly in this instance only. It’s difficult for me to understand why this isn’t obvious.

  140. may be missing something here, but suppose God ,being infallable, can guide a fallable Church into infallable decisions, which is your point, I think (and this is certainly possible). If this is the case, then how does this help the Protestant position? It seems to me, in the case of canonization, this places no difficulty for the Catholic canon, and in fact it remains infallable. Am I missing something here in the conversation between you and Bryan?

    Jared – Yes, you are right, the Catholic position would still be infallible. Somewhere up above I said that I was not trying to disprove the RC position on ecclesiastic infallibility, but for now just try to show that we don’t need to posit an infallible Church in order to have an infallible canon. Catholics often make arguments concerning what they perceive as the necessary problems coming from not having an infallible Magesterium but to me these are overstated and I’m trying to suggest that a Church which can err does not result in the general chaos that is often assumed.

  141. Andrew,

    {In response to your 129} Thank you. That actually clarifies a lot for me. That the RCC does not hold that the Eccumenical Councils are “God breathed” or “inspired of the Holy Spirit” is good to hear.
    However, this only speaks of the “mode” of revelation. It seems that the councils still claim to have the ability to come to certain “infalliable” conclusions under the conditions which you mentioned. I am all in favor of councils making authoritative and binding interpretation… but I am still extremely uncomfortable with using the word “infalable.” Councils of men, are still acts of men. I am not denying by any means that God promises to work through the officers of the church, but I don’t see where He promises to work through them “infalibly.”
    Am I just on a semantic slip and slide here? ;)

    In Him,
    Keith

  142. At the same time, I would definitely say that the Reformed tradition’s “lower” view of reason/intellect is not upheld in practice, that there is a kind of practical contradiction or tension between the theory and the kind of ecclesial edifice in this tradition. If Reformed folks applied theory, here, I think they’d be casting about for authoritative interpretive help a bit more.

    Neal,

    Both Protestant and Catholic communions have to figure out how to interpret their tradition. For the Catholics they have to use their intellect to figure out their tradition and Church and how the basic data of their faith structures their Church. Now what I’m trying to determine is why you think it helps if the Magisterium is infallible. You have this thing called the Magisterium that is infallible, but the RCC still needs to interpret it. The RCC is interpreting this body of infallible tradition and coming up with applications for worship, practice, etc. You interpret the infallible Scriptures with a set of infallible magisterial teachings. OK, so you have pushed things back one step and now you have to interpret the infallible Magisterium. The Magisterium does not interpret itself, does it? The theologians of the RCC use their intellect to interpret the Magisterium. So how are you granting less of a place for reason and logic than Protestantism does?

    I see you have just written another post to delve into what Bryan wrote. I don’t have time to address this but maybe I can tonight. But I do think you should jump in because I’m never going to get anywhere with Bryan on this.

  143. Tim,

    Thank you for pointing out that distinction. Avery Dulles makes a similar point:

    Strictly speaking, infallibility is a property of the Magisterium in its activity of teaching, not a property of magisterial statements. The statements protected by infallibility are said to be “irreformable” (DS 3074).

    He also notes that

    Since Vatican Council II, papal documents often use the term “definitive” in the place, where, earlier, one would have expected the term “irreformable.”

    (Magisterium, 66)

    I do not know whether or not it is customary to refer to “the statements protected by infallibility” as “inerrant.” It certainly seems logical to do so.

  144. Andrew M,

    I’m analyzing your reasoning, by putting it in the form of formal arguments. Heresy and error hide behind loose reasoning. When we lay out some bit of reasoning premise by premise, then we can see it for what it really is. If you don’t want to argue for your position, then your only other option is simply to assert your position. And for the person who wishes only to assert his position, there is no point even dialoguing with those who hold positions other than his own. See for example, what it looks like when ‘argument’ is treated as mere exchange of assertions {comedic interlude}:

    {/comedic interlude} So, if you wish to dialogue, then you must make use of arguments. And if you make use of arguments, then expect your interlocutor to evaluate those arguments. If my analysis of your arguments has been incorrect, then please show where. Or, if anything I have said is false, then please point out where and why. Or if I have misunderstood anything you have said, then please correct me.

    Up to this point, you have not provided any ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is without error. If you don’t agree, then please provide the ground by which someone can know that the Protestant canon is without error.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  145. Here’s a monkey-wrench to throw into the mix… I was rereading Acts 15, and noticed that in Acts 15:22 22 “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men”… What strikes me about this is that the chain of authority present here begins with apostles, then elders, AND THEN “the whole church…” So… does this mean that the church at large then has an important role to play in adopting church rulings? What if, for example, the whole church at that council did NOT accept the conclusions there? Should an eccumenical council (which, from my understanding rests primarily upon Acts 15 for its basis) also include a vote of church members before a binding conclusion can be conctretely adopted?

    Always learning,
    Keith

  146. Keith,

    It is certainly easy to get tripped up on semantics. I do not know if that is what you are struggling with. Tim’s comment (#139) might help us all to get our semantic ducks in a row.

    Keep in mind that these things do not magically, or even non-magically, become easy for Catholics. I struggle to understand these concepts (revelation, inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy) and how they related one to another. What I have to say, though I am trying to be faithful to the Catholic Church, might not always reflect exactly what the Church teaches. (This would be due to ignorance, not intent.) I will do my best, though.

    You seem to have a true and proper sense of the uniqueness and unequaled value of divine revelation. I tried to illustrate this sense with my comment about diamonds.

    I think that one important distinction to bear in mind is this:

    All divine revelation is infallible. But not every statement protected by the gift of Church infallibility is divine revelation.

    For example: We believe that the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been divinely revealed. We also believe that the Church acted infallibly in defining the full divinity of the Son (Nicea I) and the Holy Spirit (Constantinople I).

    But these later definitions are not inspired, they are not prophecies or Sacred Scripture. They are not a “mode of revelation” at all.

    But these statements are free from error in the sense that they are definitive statements of the Church acting infallibly.

    God has given his Church the gift of infallibility (as distinct from the gift of divine revelation) in order that she may act definitively (under certain conditions, as you noted) in distinguishing the truth of divine revelation from misapprehensions of divine revelation.

    Church infallibility does not subject revelation to higher standard; rather, it serves to protect revelation from the relatively low standard of private interpretation.

    Finally, where does God promise to give the Church the gift of infallibility?

    Consider two things:

    (1) The promises Our Lord made to the Church (e.g., Matthew 16, John 14–17)
    (2) The way that St. Paul speaks about the Church itself (e.g., Ephesians 1:22-23, 1 Timothy 3:15)

    St Paul says, speaking of “spiritual” men: But we have the mind of Christ. This “we” does not seem to refer to a mere collection of individuals, each of whom could, in principle, have the mind of Christ all by himself. Rather, Paul seems to be referring to the one, mystical Body of Christ, which is animated by the Spirit. This Body, when it speaks its mind with full authority as the one Body, must be infallible, else how could we have the mind of Christ? Does Christ, the head of the Body, make errors?

    But now we are heading off into deep waters, and I am already out of my depth. Hopefully this helps a little bit with some of your questions.

  147. Keith – Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom not to the democracy. The authority of a kingdom is top down whereas the authority of a democracy is from the ground up.

    The authority of the Church and of Church councils is not her own but the authority of Christ. In no way does the Church’s authority belong to or borrow from the consent of the governed.

    There is something to be said of the Church acting together as a sign of Christ’s authority demonstrated through the Church I think. We know it is not safe to question a doctrine which is universally held among the members of the Church. But the authority comes from Christ as does the protection of infallibility.

  148. Keith,

    Great questions in your last comment. Ecumenical Councils do feature debate and dialogue, votes and re-votes (maybe even recounting the ballots). Reception of a proposed definition by the whole Church, as represented by the bishops at the Council and then the whole community of the baptized, does not come easy. (Acts 15 and following is a great illustration!) Some theologians reckon that “reception,” whether by popular vote or some less formal means, is a sine qua non of infallibility.

    However, Our Lord entrusted the task of guarding and teaching the deposit of Faith to the Apostles, Peter in particular, and they to their successors, in a special way. Notice that the letter dictated by James reads, For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things (Acts 15:28). Now, what would have happened if the church in Antioch, whether the elders or the laypersons, or both, had voted not to accept the decision of the Jerusalem Council? Would the Holy Spirit have to change his mind?

    Like I said, you raised a good question, and this is a complicated matter. But I do not think that the Holy Spirit would have changed his mind out of respect for the democratic process.

  149. If you don’t want to argue for your position, then your only other option is simply to assert your position. And for the person who wishes only to assert his position, there is no point even dialoguing with those who hold positions other than his own. See for example, what it looks like when ‘argument’ is treated as mere exchange of assertions {comedic interlude}So, if you wish to dialogue, then you must make use of arguments.

    Bryan, thank you for your insights here. Yes, obviously I have no idea how to present an argument and it’s not worth wasting wasting your valuable time interacting with me. Such a pity that Neal hasn’t figured this out, isn’t it?

  150. Andrew M,

    If you read #137 you’ll see that Neal has pointed out the same problems with your arguments that I have. As philosophers, we are trained to evaluate arguments, and we train others to do so as well. There is no more need to shoot the messengers here than there is to be angry with your doctor when he says that your cholesterol is too high. Your three options are either to refute the refutations, or accept them and modify your position, or ignore them and shoot the messengers. You’ll be better off abandoning or revising bad arguments. So, it is in your own best interest to take seriously the problems we are pointing out with your arguments.

    I think you recognize the importance of knowing that the canon is inerrant. But our conversation here shows why Protestantism does not provide the ground for that knowledge. A Protestant must either assume the inerrancy of the canon, or live with the possibility that the canon is incorrect (that’s Sproul’s route). But Catholicism does ground the knowledge of the inerrancy of the canon. The basis for knowing that the cannon is inerrant, is found only in the Church, not separated from the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  151. Andrew M.,

    If this question seems superfluous, I apologize, but I’m still failing to understand your reasoning — and I really want to.

    How do you know that the Epistle of James is God-breathed?

    God Bless,

    Zach

  152. When I tried to get you to see that last time, you went back to step 1 and asked me whether it was “possible” to get an infallible canon without an infallible Church. I said, sure, like I said. And then you repeated Stage 2 and we went through it all again, and I guess you ended up dropping it because you did not think that Bryan or I understood what you were saying. But it is so very clear what you are saying!

    Neal,

    I remember going back a few times and starting over when I thought we were getting off track. You do write some very long exchanges at times and I thought you were getting bogged down in some details that were not relevant (no doubt I was doing the same thing) so I tried to go back to the beginning and retrace our footsteps. And there have been a number of other folks who have come into the middle of the debate and asked questions that took me back to the beginning so as to speak. I see Zach has just asked something which will take me back again. This is fine and no problem, but I am going to back once again and state something that I have already stated. I hope that’s OK and this is fair. I’m really not trying to ignore anything.

    Now when we started this discussion, did you use the term Protestant canon? I’ve had this conversation with a number of folks recently and I just don’t remember if you used the term when you began talking to me about this issue. I thought you were asking me generally about the canon, not specifically about the books that are specific to the Catholic canon. It seems to me that there are two issues that are of course related but still need to be handled distinctly (perhaps we are getting bogged down because we are trying to deal with both of them at the same time?). The first is over the surety that God has handed down a distinct set of books that we can call Scripture. There is a common set of books which we can talk about between Catholic, Protestant, and EO. Then the second question is over books like Judith, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. So there are certainly disagreements over how we know the canon in general but if we can indeed establish that we have confidence that we know these Protocanonicals then we have to talk about some of the other texts (Judith, Ps 151, etc) to determine if they can said to have some sort of Deuterocanonical status. So when you ask me how we know the Protestant canon it seems that you are asking me two questions. Is this right? Or maybe are you just asking me about the specific books that are debated between us? And I thought we should bring in the EO books in question as well. Actually I would think that you would be more interested in talking about them than me given that the EO are in communion with you.

    But nothing you say gives us any reason to suppose that the Protestant canon is the infallible one rather than the Catholic one, nor any reason to believe that Protestants somehow “know” this.

    So if we are focusing on the disputed books, am I right in assuming that you believe that Catholics can know that the Catholic canon is true but that the Protestants and the Orthodox cannot know their respective canons are true? Just trying to clarify what you are thinking at this point….

  153. How do you know that the Epistle of James is God-breathed?

    Zach,

    We know that the Scripture is God-breathed and that God used His Church to receive the canon and they recognized the Apostolic authority of the book of James. Thus far I think there is no difference between Catholic and Protestant except that Catholic might want to use “defined” rather than “received.” OK so far? The difference then comes over our understanding of the status of the Church in this process. Did God grant a general charism of authority to the Church that then defined the canon or did God work though a fallible Church to define an infallible canon? Either way the canon is infallible as I see it. And either way we can know it because God worked through the process of inspiration. Of course there an understanding of “God-breathed” in the Protestant mindset that sees “Scripture” as what we know as Scripture today (Deutero’s aside for the moment). When we say “Scripture” we can pick up the Bible and say this is Scripture so we see no reason to divide the writing of the individual texts from the collection of these texts into the Bible. They are both part of the process that produced the Scriptures which again are “God-breathed.” But as you can see from some of the other posts there is some question over this matter.

    In the Catholic mindset the charism of infallibility is a necessary characteristic of the Church so this assumption colors the debate right from the beginning. And from the Protestant mindset there is no reason to ascribe infallibility to the Church and of course this colors the debate as well. And part of the what the Protestant questions is whether there is good historical reason to grant infallibility to the Church. For the Catholic this is what they hold that the Church has always taught. We would ask here if the Church infallibly declared her own infallibility or if her infallibility is derived from some other authority (the Bible maybe), but this question does complicate the debate perhaps more than we should right now. But the question of the Church’s infallibility or lack thereof is a matter that has to be discussed as part of the question of the Church’s role in canonization.

    So does that answer your question? Given recent posts I think that I should add that this post could not possibly answer every question that anyone might have about the Protestant understanding of the canon.

  154. As philosophers, we are trained to evaluate arguments, and we train others to do so as well. There is no more need to shoot the messengers here than there is to be angry with your doctor when he says that your cholesterol is too high.

    Ah yes, you are a trained philosopher. How silly of me to think I could possibly keep up with you! I’m just full of bad arguments, Bryan. So I will relieve you of having to interact with me. I’m sure you will appreciate not having to deal with someone who just cannot recognize a good argument from a bad one. What a waste of time for a trained philosopher like you! So thanks for your interaction and cheers….

  155. Andrew M,

    In #153, you wrote:

    We know that the Scripture is God-breathed and that God used His Church to receive the canon

    From which Apostle did the Church “receive the canon”? Or did all the Twelve know all the books that each would write, even before St. James the Greater was martyred? Or, if the canon wasn’t received from an Apostle, then was the canon “post-Apostolic revelation”?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  156. It seems to me that the whole point of difference in this thread ultimately comes down to the issue of Apostolic succession, and how we define “church.” If Rome’s view of succession is valid, and Scripture refers to “church” and the Roman Catholic church and no other, then Rome’s authority would seem to be more validated.
    If, however, Rome’s exegesis of just one or two key passages (keys of the kingdom being given to Peter the person and not his confession of faith in Christ, and Acts 15 being an example of an “eccumenical council” – I am still wondering why the J. council is considered “eccumenical”… the only people I see present are the leaders of that local church and Paul and Barnabus who were already there to discuss the issue) is actually wrong… the wall comes crumbling down.
    Perhaps another thread should be started discussing successionalism and the definition of “church” in pertinent NT passages?

    Trying to get to the bottom,
    Keith

  157. We know that the Scripture is God-breathed and that God used His Church to receive the canon and they recognized the Apostolic authority of the book of James.

    Thanks, Andrew M. I have two follow-up questions:

    1. When you write that “His Church” recognized the book of James, to whom, specifically, are you referring?

    2. Who told you that God used His Church to receive the canon?

    God Bless,

    Zach

  158. When you write that “His Church” recognized the book of James, to whom, specifically, are you referring?

    Zach,

    The collection of congregations of the Christian Churches throughout the Christian world at that time. Athanasius speaks of “us” in his festal letter (http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/festal.stm) and by “us” I take this to mean those who he is writing to which was the churches of Egypt. But Athanasius was very well connected in the East and West and well travelled too so he was aware of what was “received” outside of Egypt as well. Am I getting at what you are asking?

    Who told you that God used His Church to receive the canon?

    I’m not sure I understand your question here, but I’m just describing the historical situation as I see it. Again I would use Athanasius as a represetative of what was going on. Is that fair?

  159. Andrew, what everyone is asking you, and what you’re not answering, is how do you know Athanasius was right to accept James but wrong to accept Baruch?

  160. Keith,

    In #156 you wrote:

    If, however, Rome’s exegesis of just one or two key passages […] is actually wrong… the wall comes crumbling down.

    Behind that conditional statement is the assumption that Scripture existed first, and then some Christians interpreted it a certain way and formed the Catholic Church, or at least took the Church in the wrong direction for 2000 years based on sketchy exegesis. But that assumption is a ‘sola scriptura’ assumption; it evaluates the Catholic Church through a non-Catholic conceptual framework. The Church already existed on the day of Pentecost, before any New Testament book had been written. The New Testament was written in the Church by the magisterium of the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Church believed and taught that apostolic succession required ordination either by the Apostles or by those having received it from the Apostles. Three years ago I pulled together some statements of this idea from St. Irenaeus and Tertullian; see here. This conception of apostolic succession was universal, i.e. believed and practiced throughout the whole Church, east and west. It is not as though part of the Church had a different notion of apostolic succession, and then was persuaded to adopt the Catholic idea of apostolic succession. The Catholic conception of apostolic succession was what was already accepted everywhere the Church was. There was no debate within the Church about apostolic succession. That shows that it was part of the apostolic deposit. And that means that it was not something derived from Scripture, but part of the Apostolic Tradition through which and in which the Church received and understood Scripture. And that means that we too should read Scripture through (i.e. in light of) that Tradition. As for the early Church’s understanding of the role of the Petrine office, I recommend reading Stephen Ray’s book Upon This Rock.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  161. Andrew, what everyone is asking you, and what you’re not answering, is how do you know Athanasius was right to accept James but wrong to accept Baruch?

    Tim,

    Everyone is asking me about Baruch? When did they ask that? Or do you mean that everyone is asking about the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha which I at least partially answered in #52.

    But specifically on Baruch, Athansius was listing what he knows the churches to have received at this time. He lists Jeremiah/Lamentations/Baruch to be one book. But textually this is incorrect, isn’t it? Jerome points this out. What do you think of Jerome’s argument?

  162. Andrew M.,

    I would use Athanasius as a representative of what was going on. Is that fair?

    I don’t know whether it’s fair, but it certainly seems to be an arbitrary and tenuous foundation upon which to decide that James is God-breathed. After all, Athanasius, in the selfsame canon that gives you confidence regarding the inspiration of James, gets it dead wrong on Esther and (you would say) Baruch. Additionally, James was widely disputed (especially in the West) well into the 4th century — and even beyond by such luminaries as Luther.

    So how can we know — given that James has been disputed by many Christian giants throughout history and that the canon to which you point as the primary evidence of its inspiration was clearly erroneous in parts — that the Athanasian canon didn’t misidentify James as God-breathed?

    Who told you that God used His Church to receive the canon? I’m not sure I understand your question here, but I’m just describing the historical situation as I see it.

    I’m asking how you know that God wanted the Church to establish a canon of Christian Scriptures. It seems to be axiomatic to you (i.e., I’m holding a leather-bound Bible, so God must have wanted wanted the Church to establish a canon), but why would that necessarily be so? Could it be that God did not want the Church to establish a canon, yet it did so in contravention of His will? Is it not at least possible?

  163. Andrew – your sarcasm isn’t helpful here or in response to Bryan. (I assume you know that I wasn’t specifically asking about Baruch per se…) #52 didn’t answer the question which is why you keep getting asked it. We all know why keep refusing to answer it – because Protestantism cannot provide an answer. Forgive me if I come across blunt here, but you have consistently avoided facing the real issues here.

    That Athanasius included Baruch “together with” Jeremiah does not help your case because the end result is the same: Athanasius thought Baruch was canonical and you don’t. Jerome’s argument is irrelevant since the Church has authoritatively spoken on the subject. Jerome’s initial opinion on the DC books is no more authoritative than Luther’s opinion on it. God’s word is not known by the ordinary human process of historical critical methodology – it is known by the infallible voice of the Church.

    Andrew – I can appreciate that you are frustrated with this conversation and it’s understandable. I applaud you for sticking in there mostly on your own against a number of contrary opinions. But no one has been sarcastic towards you; we would appreciate the same in return. Also, you may not want to engage Bryan (or me) – that’s fine. But if you’re commenting here, you can expect your claims to be held to the fire. We are about dialogue here, and that means more than stating claims.

  164. Dear Andrew,

    Sorry for the delayed response; I was out of pocket most of yesterday.

    I think you are right to identify some of the questions we just started discussing as being in some sense the more fundamental ones, and I think they are harder to work through and answer, too.

    I’ve got a reading group in a couple of hours and (naturally) haven’t yet done the reading for it, so this’ll have to be brief. But let me just make a couple of remarks in response to what you say in #142.

    I did not mean to imply that there is less of a place for reason and logic in Catholicism than there is in Protestantism, not at all. I think I did use the phrase “non-Spirit-guided reason and tradition” above, so I can see how you took it that way. But remember, we do not hold a view which says that the more an individual person does, the less God does; the more a human contributes, the less God contributes. So we wouldn’t want to say that to the extent God contributes to or “leads” or “guides” a person’s reasoning (or a large group effort or process), to that extent the individual or group contributes less in the way of reasoning. In other words, God doesn’t “bypass” nature or natural capacities, but rather works through them to achieve His purposes, in a way that truly doesn’t circumvent or override them.

    This is of course quite mysterious; but we believe it to be so, and I do think you believe something similar, when it comes to how the inspired writers wrote things, for instance.

    So this is kind of a fine distinction, but I really do think it’s an important one in this context. I have said that Protestantism (from our perspective) looks to put too much stock in human judgment and reasoning, not because Protestants think reasoning needs to be used, but rather because Protestants disclaim the idea that the continuing interpretation of Scripture/the deposit of faith needs to be “Spirit-led” in the way in which Catholics believe that it is. (Some Protestants, such as yourself, make an allowance for “infallible guidance” of the Church when it comes to things like the canon; but not all do, and certainly Reformed Protestants do not accept that this kind of thing continues to happen, paradigmatically in councils, but also through the “ordinary Magisterium.”)

    For example, I look at what Keith Thompson says in #141, just above your comment, and I find myself to be very sympathetic to his outlook. He says he is all in favor of Councils giving “authoritative and binding interpretations” of Scripture, and he does not wish to deny that “God promises to work through the officers of the Church.” What makes him uncomfortable is our claim that the Church is infallibly led by God in such circumstances, because “Councils of men, are still acts of men.”

    Here is the tension I perceive. We agree that Councils of men are acts of men – just as we agree that when men wrote inspired texts, those were acts of men as well. We do not see a conflict between a man doing something, and God doing something in or through or with this man at the same time, so as to achieve a perfect (inerrant) result. And it would seem that you and Keith do not really believe in a conflict here either, since Keith thinks that some (inspired) men wrote things infallibly, even though they were just men, and you also believe that the Church recognized the right texts infallibly, even though they were just men.

    But let’s focus on the concession Keith makes, that councils of men provide “authoritative and binding” interpretations of Sacred Scripture. What makes them authoritative and binding? Whence our confidence in these men? If they’re just men, then their interpretations could well be in error; so whence their authority to “bind” the consciences of Christians, telling them what they can and cannot believe?

    Our response is that, in themselves, considered as men, they have no authority to do this. But relationally, as persons who are recipients of a promise made by God, they do indeed have the right and ability to promulgate authoritative and binding judgments of this kind. Keith comes close to allowing this, when he says that God promises to work through His officers. With this we agree. But he is (understandably) hesitant to call any of these “acts of men” “infallible.” Yet what is the alternative? If we say that God somehow or in some sense “promised” to work through them, but we deny that this means God has promised to infallibly lead the Church through them, then why should we think their judgments are “binding” or “authoritative?” To put it another way, if God leaves the door open for error in these cases – and this is what it means to say they aren’t led “infallibly” – then how much confidence should we place in these men and their decisions, really?

    If Protestants deny that God has promised to lead the Church in this manner – or, alternatively, if they allow that God leads not in an infallible way, but in a way that leaves things open to error and falsehood being officially promulgated as dogma – then this makes Catholics nervous: not because we want to exalt mere men at the expense of God (calling them “infallible” and “authoritative” etc.), but because mere men without divine authority and guidance behind them simply cannot authoritatively command the binding assent of the faithful. Does that make more sense of my paradoxical statements?

    As to your other remarks, I will be the last one on earth to deny that there is still interpretive work to do, not only of Scripture, but also of Councils, and that Catholicism is both diachronically and synchronically diverse. But let’s slow down. You ask: “The Magisterium cannot interpret itself, can it?” But the answer here is “Yes,” and that’s what makes the Magisterium different from the Westminster divines. (It’s one of the things!): the Magisterium is alive and active, whereas the Westminster divines are dead and done. Remember, though, we do not have a God-of-the-gaps kind of view, where everything is reduced to ecumenical councils held some years apart. Those are paradigm cases of magisterial authority, of course. But the Magisterium can (and does) “talk back” and explain, not only about how Scripture may be understood, but also about past teaching. (These are connected, of course.)

    You (rightly) point to a diversity of opinions within the Catholic Church. But this is not necessarily a function of people being unable to interpret councils or Church teachings. Remember, many dogmatic definitions (I’d say most) are written in such a way as to exclude doctrines judged to be in error, and this can and often is done in such a way as to leave room for a plurality of theoretical/theological approaches which are not judged to conflict with the deposit of faith. (This is why, when you see the ‘imprimatur’ in a Catholic book, it does not mean “Everything the author says here is declared to be true by the Catholic Church,” but rather, “The author of this book doesn’t say anything the Church has dogmatically judged to be false.”

    I fear I have just written another long and rambly response instead of a brief one. Sorry for that!

    I’ll check back in later. In the meantime, please read this as an attempt at explaining (in a surface way) how things look from this perspective, and not necessarily as an attempt to lay out a precise argument.

    Peace,

    Neal

  165. Andrew – your sarcasm isn’t helpful here or in response to Bryan. (I assume you know that I wasn’t specifically asking about Baruch per se…) #52 didn’t answer the question which is why you keep getting asked it. We all know why keep refusing to answer it – because Protestantism cannot provide an answer. Forgive me if I come across blunt here, but you have consistently avoided facing the real issues here.

    Tim,

    I honestly and genuinely was not being sarcastic to you. I really was trying to draw out what it is you were asking me and actually I’m still not entirely sure. In a post last night I asked Neal to further define what specifically he was asking because we have been talking about two general sorts of questions and I wanted to clarify.

    You listed James and Baruch specifically and I have answered those specific cases as far as the kinds of questions that the Church generally considered. You did not answer my question, but I think you may be generally asking about the Deuterocanonicals. Is that right? And if that is right, can we consider the EO texts under dispute at the same time? We all agree on the Protocanonicals, correct? Or is there some issue that you have with how surely the Protestant can know that these texts are canonical?

    Jerome’s argument is irrelevant since the Church has authoritatively spoken on the subject.

    You are stating this as a matter of fact but this is certainly one thing that is under dispute between Protestant and Catholic. These Deutero’s were only considered canonical after Athanasius’ time and the only councils that considered these were local (N African). Nobody studied the matter in the intervening time between Augustine and the rise of the cathedral schools/universities in the Medieval Ages (do you have any thoughts here – was there any sort of consideration of these matters in the early Middle Ages on this matter?) . And, when there was once again a place and the resources to devote to such questions the scholars were not bound to the decisions of the African councils, were they? Hugh of St. Victor, one the most able biblical scholars of his time, sides with Jerome, not Augustine and the North Africans of Augustine’s time. Hugh was not bound to the decisions of Hippo and so on because these were not dogmatic decisions and as was evident to those studying the matter Jerome was right and Augustine wrong. I realize I’m repeating some of #52 here. Are you saying that none of this is relevant in a Protestant-Catholic dialogue? I understand that it is not relevant to the Catholic who has submitted to the Magisterium, but then I’m not Catholic. So do you think I should just accept the Deuteros because the Church after Augustine decided to follow Augustine even if they had no good reason to do so and there was no dogmatic guidance outside of North Africa on the matter?

    I’m not frustrated with the conversation. I was certainly frustrated by Bryan and was definitely being sarcastic with him after his little insult with the Monty Python sketch. Everyone is just great on this loop and compared with so many of the hot-headed apologists out there, the folks here are easy to talk with. That is, except for Bryan. It’s just a waste of time trying to interact with him and every time I try I can never get him to interact in any kind of meaningful way. I said the same thing to a guy named Art Sippo recently. No doubt Mr. Sippo is being sincere in trying to be a good apologist, but nothing I said seemed to penetrate so I told him I was backing out of trying to interact with him. So I’ve said the same thing to Bryan. I really don’t have the energy to try to get him to understand my position when we just go through things over and over with zero progress.

  166. Andrew M,

    I had no intention of insulting you by embedding the Monty Python sketch. If it came across that way, I apologize. I was attempting to show that we have only two alternatives: exchange contradictory assertions, or exchange and evaluate arguments. But it is futile to exchange contradictory assertions, as the video was intended to humorously reveal. Therefore, if we wish to dialogue, we must exchange and evaluate arguments. But, given what you said in #138, you seemed not to want to offer arguments for your positions, or to have your arguments evaluated. You seem to want to “interact” without actually evaluating your own arguments, or have your arguments evaluated, or deal with the evaluation of your arguments. When I have refuted your arguments in this thread, you have neither defended your arguments (by showing how my refutations fail), or changed your position; you have responded by saying that we are “talking past each other”, that I am “missing your argument”, that you never “get anywhere with me”, that it is a “waste of time” to talk with me, and that you “don’t have the energy to get me to understand your position”, or lately with sarcastic mockery. But you have not explained how or in what way I am misunderstanding you, or how and in what way I am missing your argument, how or in what way my refutations have not refuted your arguments. This seems to me to be your way of avoiding facing the problems I have just pointed out in your arguments. That’s because if I were perfectly understanding you, and you were actually avoiding facing the problems I have rightly pointed out with your arguments, the exchange between you and me in this thread would look no different. What I said in #58 about precisely why we don’t “get anywhere” has been confirmed in this thread. If you want to “get somewhere”, you have to be willing to evaluate your own arguments, and thus either refute my refutations of your arguments, or accept my refutations of your arguments and acknowledge that your arguments are not good arguments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  167. Dear Keith,

    I was thinking about some of your remarks and concerns about the exalted language used to describe the Church, the papal office, etc., and was reminded of this really nice passage that Ratzinger wrote in his book, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. He wrote this before becoming pope himself, and I think it really sums up the way both Catholics and Protestants should understand the position of the pope, and, by extension, the Church and its teaching organ as well.

    I know it is long, but take a moment to read through it. I’ll higlight a few things I especially like:

    In order to understand the way in which Peter is a rock, a quality he does not have of himself, it is useful to keep in mind how Matthew continues the narrative. It was not by “flesh and blood” but by the revelation of the Father that he had confessed Christ in the name of the Twelve. When Jesus subsequently explains the figure and the destiny of the Christ in this world, prophesying death and resurrection, it is flesh and blood that respond: Peter “scolds the Lord”: “By no means shall this ever be” (16:22). To which Jesus replies: “Be gone, behind me, Satan; you are a stumbling block (skandalon) for me” (16:23). Left to his own resources, the one who by God’s grace is permitted to be the bedrock is a stone on the path that makes the foot stumble.

    The tension between the gift coming from the Lord and man’s own capacity is rousingly portrayed in this scene, which in some sense anticipates the entire drama of papal history. In this history we repeatedly encounter two situations. On the one hand, the papacy remains the foundation of the Church in virtue of a power that does not derive from herself. At the same time, individual popes have again and again become a scandal because of what they themselves are as men, because they want to precede, not to follow, Christ, because they believe that they must determine by their own logic the path that only Christ himself can decide: “You do not think God’s thoughts, but man’s” (Mt 16:23).

    We find a parallel to the promise that the power of death will not be able to prevail against the rock (or the Church?) in the vocation of the prophet Jeremiah, to whom it is said at the beginning of his mission: “And behold – I am making you today a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you and yet not vanquish you, for I am with you to rescue you” (1:18f).

    What A. Weiser writes a propos of this word of the Old Testament can also serve perfectly well as an exegesis of the promise of Jesus concerning Peter: “God demands the entire courage of an unreserved trust in his prodigious power when he promises the seemingly impossible: that he will make this soft man into a ‘fortified city’, an ‘iron pillar’ and a ‘bronze wall’, that Jeremiah will stand alone like a living wall of God against the whole land and those who wield power in it … It is not the inviolability of the ‘consecrated’ man of God that will protect him against harm … but only the proximity of God, who ‘rescues’ him, so that his foes will not be able to prevail against him (cf. Mt 16:18).” However, the promise to Peter is more sweeping that that which was given to the prophet of the Old Testament. Whereas mere powers of flesh and blood were pitted against the prophet, the gates of hell, the destructive powers of the abyss, are ranged against Peter. Jeremiah receives only a personal promise for his service as a prophet; Peter receives a promise for the time-transcendent gathering of the new people – a gathering that stretches beyond his own lifetime. This is why Harnack believed that the Lord’s promise is a prophecy of Peter’s immortality, and in a certain sense this is correct: the rock will not be overcome, because God does not abandon his ecclesia to the powers of destruction.

    The power of the keys recalls the word of God to Eliakim recorded in Isaiah 22:22. Along with the keys, Eliakim receives in trust “dominion and control over the dynasty of the descendants of David”. But the word that the Lord addresses to the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, whom he reproaches for shutting the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven to men (Mt 23:13), also helps us to comprehend the content of this commission logion. As the faithful steward of Jesus’ message, Peter opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven; his is the function of doorkeeper, who has to judge concerning admission and rejection (cf. Rev 3:7). In this sense, the significance of the reference to the keys clearly approximates the meaning of binding and loosing. This latter expression is taken from rabbinic language, where it stands primarily for the authority to make doctrinal decisions and, on the other hand, denotes a further disciplinary power, that is, the right to impose or to lift the ban. The parallelism “on earth and in heaven” implies that Peter’s decisions for the Church also have validity before God – an idea that also occurs in an analogous sense in Talmudic literature. If we bear in mind the parallel to the word of the risen Jesus transmitted in John 22:23, it becomes apparent that in its core the power to bind and to loose means the authority to forgive sins, an authority that in Peter is committed to the Church (cf. Mt 18:15-18).

    This seems to me to be a cardinal point: at the inmost core of the new commission, which robs the forces of destruction their power, is the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. Behind the talk of authority, God’s power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church; in the background we hear the word of the Lord: “It is not the healthy who have need of the physician, but those who are ill; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17).

    The Church can come into being only where man finds his way to the truth about himself, and the truth is that he needs grace. Wherever pride closes him to this insight, man cannot find the way to Jesus. The keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are the words of forgiveness, which man cannot speak of himself but are granted by God’s power alone. We also understand now why this pericope passes directly over into an announcement of the Passion: by his death Jesus has rolled the stone over the mouth of death, which is the power of hell, so that from his death the power of forgiveness flows without cease …

    But the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure. It does not merely furnish proof texts, it is a permanent criterion and task. It depicts the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man’s capacity and God’s sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present. If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite. The men in question are so glaringly, so blatantly unequal to this function that the very empowerment of man to be the rock makes evident how little it is they who sustain the Church but God alone who does so, who does so more in spite of men than through them. The mystery of the Cross is perhaps nowhere so palpably present as in the primacy as a reality of Church history. That its center is forgiveness is both its intrinsic condition and the sign of the distinctive character of God’s power. Every single biblical logion about the primacy thus remains from generation to generation a signpost and norm, to which we must ceaselessly resubmit ourselves.

    When the Church adheres to these words in faith, she is not being triumphalistic but humbly recognizing in wonder and thanksgiving the victory of God over and through human weakness. Whoever deprives these words of their force for fear of triumphalism or of human usurpation of authority does not proclaim that God is greater but diminishes him, since God demonstrates the power of his love, and thus remains faithful to the law of the history of salvation, precisely in the paradox of human impotence. For with the same realism with which we declare today the sins of the popes and their disproportion to the magnitude of their commission, we must also acknowledge that Peter has repeatedly stood as the rock against ideologies, against the dissolution of the word into the plausibilities of a given time, against subjection to the powers of this world.

    When we see this in the facts of history, we are not celebrating men but praising the Lord, who does not abandon the Church and who desired to manifest that he is the rock through Peter, the little stumbling stone: “flesh and blood” do not save, but the Lord saves through those who are of flesh and blood. To deny this truth is not a plus of faith, not a plus of humility, but is to shrink from the humility that recognizes God as he is. Therefore the Petrine promise and its historical embodiment in Rome remain at the deepest level an ever-renewed motive for joy: the powers of hell will not prevail against it …

    I think if you read through some of Ratzinger’s material, you would find his Augustinian perspective much to your liking, and may even find some helpful exegesis and devotional material as well.

    Peace,

    Neal

  168. Andrew – I’m sorry for misjudging your reply. I misread it for sarcasm. I’m not sure what you’re referring to re: Monty Python but I haven’t been following this thread closely until the last few comments. I haven’t seen anywhere that Bryan insulted you but I’ll leave that to you and him.

    Let me clarify re: the DC books & Baruch and all that jazz. My original comment comparing Baruch and James is not an attempt to examine these two per se, but to draw out the principle of distinction. How can we be certain James is canonical but not Baruch (substitute any two books of the bible here).

    You asked about including the EO books – that is relevant but it will only distract at this point. It’s a question that needs to be answered but we can’t go through book by book and judge whether each one is canonical or not. That assumes Protestant ecclesiology on the matter. Likewise, as you pointed out, I can’t just say “the Church says so” and end the argument because it assumes Catholic ecclesiology.

    We need a principle to know which books belong in the canon and which ones don’t. That is the point I’m trying to make. Neal, Zach and Bryan have also brought up the same thing.

    These Deutero’s were only considered canonical after Athanasius’ time

    I take issue with this statement because it assume 1) that there was a strict expectation of ‘canonicity’ in the early Church (in the same way that we have now). This seems an unreasonable assumption since it took so long for the Church to speak dogmatically on the issue and when she did, she felt only the need to clarify the New Testament books. 2) It also assumes a certain exhaustion in our written evidence; moreover that the first appearance of a thing in writing can be understood as its first or nearly its first appearance in common belief.

    I realize that we have no council or even canonical list including all of the DC books before this time but that doesn’t prove much. The thing to keep in mind is that every early canon would be rejected by every Christian today. I cannot stress that point enough. So we don’t have a clear record of canonical orthodoxy as if the 66 books of the Protestant canon were accepted up until a certain point when the DC books were added.

    Hugh was not bound to the decisions of Hippo and so on because these were not dogmatic decisions and as was evident to those studying the matter Jerome was right and Augustine wrong.

    I don’t think it was evident because the Magisterium sided with Augustine. It is not a clear cut debate as far as historical critical arguments go and even if it seemed to be, that wouldn’t disprove the canonicity of the DC books.

    So do you think I should just accept the Deuteros because the Church after Augustine decided to follow Augustine even if they had no good reason to do so and there was no dogmatic guidance outside of North Africa on the matter?

    I just want a principled reason why you accept the NT and not the DC books. Here you appear to be appealing to the authority of the Church as if had the Church, at an ecumenical council, affirmed the DC books before the Reformation, you would accept them. This seems ad hoc to me because I don’t see any reason that the Reformation could cancel the authority of an ecumenical council if they ever had such authority to begin with.

    Glad you’re not getting frustrated with the conversation.

  169. If anyone is interested in a tremendous treatment on the DC books you would do well to read Gary Michuta’s Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger. He goes through all the various ways the Fathers spoke, including, “as Scripture says…” and the Scripture quoted is from Tobit or Sirach etc… Anyway, if you want to understand the Catholic position that would be a great read.

  170. Bryan,

    I wanted to apologize to you for the heavy sarcasm of a couple of posts. This was a way over-reaction to your humorous attempts to say that I was not presenting an argument. So I’m about my reaction.

    But you have not explained how or in what way I am misunderstanding you

    I really do think I’ve tried. I think that you are hoping to put my thoughts and evidence in a form that makes sense to you and then refute it, but I often don’t want to present things that way. I’m trying to makes some general statements and present some evidence and then let folks draw their own conclusions. So what I will post to Tim in just a little won’t be something that we can call a proof in a formal sense but I think it will be relevant to the discussion at hand. I’ve spent much of my career doing R&D sort of work where I listen to or make formal arguments trying to make a case for something or other. Sometimes this kind of reasoning is necessary but certainly not always. There are topics and audiences where such an approach really does not work. At least I don’t think it does. In the world of Christian theology I imagine that our EO friends would be quite likely to agree with me here which is one of the reasons I like their perspective. They have no interest in creating formal systematic theologies like the Summa or The Institutes. Now I love these sort of treatments of Western theology but they have their limitations.

  171. I just want a principled reason why you accept the NT and not the DC books.

    Tim,

    I found this in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavourable to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity.

    I brought up the EO partly because they, like Protestant and Catholic, would hold wholeheartedly with the canonicity of the Protocanonicals. But when we come to the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha we find statements (look at particularly the last sentence) such as the above from the most ardent defenders of the Deuteros. I’m not sure if Cardinal Cajetan’s comments on the Deuteros are discussed in the CE article, but he firmly sided with Jerome on the matter which is particularly interesting to me because he wrote after Florence but before Trent. How about that? A man of Cajetan’s credentials would certainly have been aware of what the official RCC position was on the canon but yet Florence lists the Deuteros as canonical. My take on this without delving into it is that whatever Florence said on the canon was not considered authoritative. The Council certainly had its problems. Anyway, I’ve always told folks that there was no ecumenical council until Trent that dogmatically defined these disputed books as canonical and I will go with this for now.

    So while there was absolute certainty among the three branches of Christianity from Athanasius to the present on the Protocanonicals, there was no such consensus for the Deuteros. You could just say that Trent decided it but from the Protestant side of things that just assumes that Trent did the right thing. Of course you are Catholic so you Trent’s rectitude is assumed, but when you are presenting an apologetic to us then it’s not going to work well to assume this.

    On a different but related note, did you know that all of the Protestant Bibles had the Apocrypha in them until Trent? In fact out of the six translation committees that undertook the work of producing the King James Bible, one of them was tasked just with translating the Apocrypha. After Trent’s very clear statement on the matter many of the Puritans became uncomfortable with having these books under the same cover so they were removed and sold separately (there were actually some commercial reasons for taking out the Apocrypha as well). My version of the Apocrypha is a stand alone KJV version. Anyway, it used to be that Protestants read the Apocrypha. RC Sproul has some interesting tapes on the Apocrypha where he talks about how important these books were to the Reformers. Sproul says that he has actually preached using a text from Maccabees (going a little too far for me!).

  172. Andrew M,

    Thanks for being gracious. I’m not hoping to refute you; I’m hoping to come to the unity of agreement with you regarding the truth. In order for that to happen, we each have to be willing to have our argumentation evaluated, and to adjust our position if it is shown to be flawed. In this thread, I have shown that the arguments you have given in support of the claim that Protestants have a ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is inerrant, are flawed. Your response to that, both in #138 and in #170, is to say:

    But I’m not attempting a complete argument or proof or anything of the sort. When I write down something like I did in #138 I don’t mean that as a comprehensive proof. It’s not the conclusion of the discussion, it’s the beginning. I fully expect that any of the statements could be deconstructed and analyzed by a RC questioner. (#138)

    and

    I’m trying to makes some general statements and present some evidence and then let folks draw their own conclusions. … There are topics and audiences where such an approach really does not work. (#170)

    I suppose you are aware of the difference between philosophy and sophistry. I referred to it a little in my post last year titled “Imitations and the Gospel“. You can see it clearly in Plato’s Gorgias. The sophist seeks to persuade others, and he will use whatever means he can to do so. He isn’t interested in the truth, knowing the truth or getting others to know the truth. His goal in the conversation is to persuade his listeners. He is often quite effective in persuading people. There are topics and audiences where his methods work to persuade others, especially the onlookers. The philosopher, by contrast, also seeks to persuade his listeners, but only to believe the truth. In order to do this, he must seek out the truth himself, and then once he discovers it, show his listeners that what he is saying is true, and refute objections to the truth.

    When the sophist and the philosopher enter into dialogue with each other, the sophist’s methods (that work with the ‘unsophisticated’) no longer work. That is because the philosopher will only believe something if it is shown to be true, and showing something to be true is precisely what the sophist does not do. Likewise, the philosopher has difficulty persuading the sophist, because the sophist isn’t interested in truth. So these discussions don’t get anywhere. (In Plato’s dialogues, the sophists usually end up walking away from Socrates.)

    Your approach (as described in #138 and #170) is not to try to provide sound argumentation showing your position to be true, but to “make some general statements and present some evidence, and then let folks draw their own conclusions.” When I refute your arguments, your response is to try to get me to stop interacting with you (#53, #154), so that you can go on making general statements and presenting some evidence and letting folks draw their own conclusions. A sophist would respond quite the same way. The truth-seeker responds differently. If the truth-seeker’s arguments are refuted, he either refutes the refutations, or revises his arguments, or abandons them. That is because he loves truth, and hates falsehood. He loves truth more than he loves whatever position he happens to be holding at the present.

    Only when both disagreeing parties are truth-seekers, can they reach agreement regarding the truth in a dialogue. That is because only in that case do both sides take seriously the criticisms of and objections to their own position, being willing to let go of their own position if it is shown to be false, unjustified or deeply flawed in comparison to the interlocutor’s position.

    So, only if you are willing to take seriously the objections to your arguments and your position, and only if you are willing to let go of your position if it is shown to be false, untenable or otherwise flawed, is it feasible that through dialogue we can reach agreement concerning the truth, and thus attain full communion in the “one bread” by which we are “one body.” The sophistical attitude that seeks not to find the truth, show the truth, or defend the truth of its position, but only to persuade some passers-by, will not lead to agreement and full communion. Sophistry is a form of skepticism, an intellectual vice in which the intellect has despaired over the possibility of truth and settled for something less than truth.

    But true unity comes only by finding the truth. As Peter Kreeft says,

    So how do we get reunion? By finding the truth. Truth is the only possible basis for reunion.

    So, in order to get reunion, we have to eschew sophistry, and pursue truth, even when it hurts, even when it cuts us open, even when it takes away all our pseudo-security and leaves us in a fog. Our heart must cry out: truth or die. We all know the Bonhoeffer line: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” But Christ is the Truth. And when Truth calls a man, he bids him come and die. Sophistry and truth-loving cannot go together; to choose one is to reject the other. If you wish to join us, you have to set aside sophistry, come and die with us, pursuing truth. Those who pursue truth also pursue charity and the unity to which charity is directed. Those who do not pursue truth, do not pursue charity and the unity to which charity is directed. For that reason, sophistry is incompatible with the mission of Called to Communion. Only truth-seekers (who are the genuine unity-seekers) may truly participate here; sophists couldn’t participate in our activity, even if they tried. It might look similar, but it would be a completely different activity, and that would start to become clear as the sophists refused to refute objections to their arguments, or modify their position when it was shown to be false. To participate, they would need to turn away from sophistry and take up the cross of the truth-seeker.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  173. Andrew – I haven’t studied the history of the DC books through the middle ages so most of that is news to me. But I want to point out that you still haven’t given a principled reason on how you know which books are canonical and which aren’t.

    If I read between the lines and make my own conclusions from what you’re saying, I assume you’d say something like – ‘whichever books have been widely accepted from about the 4th century until Trent are inspired.” That’s what you seem to be saying. Is that about right?

  174. When I refute your arguments, your response is to try to get me to stop interacting with you (#53, #154),

    Bryan – Do you understand that I suggested that we stop interacting because you were trying to put my statements into a form of argument that were not my intention? I did try to point this out to you but you seemed not to listen. There are times (like my aforementioned discussion with Mr. Sippo) where it is best to step away because the listener does not seem to understand what you are saying and continues to try to take your argument down a path you did not intend.

    The sophistical attitude that seeks not to find the truth, show the truth, or defend the truth of its position, but only to persuade some passers-by, will not lead to agreement and full communion.

    So Bryan, you are saying that my posture is one of sophistry, correct? I am entirely appreciative of the syllogistic logic that you speak of. You mentioned Kreeft and I resonate with the way he writes on many issues. I have recommended his book The Unaborted Socrates as a great way to teach folks how to respond to the specious arguments in favor of abortion. I read a review of this book recently where a feminist was arguing against the book partly because abortion is an issue that focuses on women and all of the characters in Kreeft’s book were men! This is classic sophistry and ironic given how Kreeft uses Socrates’ character to respond to just this kind of nonsense. My initial point to you is that this kind of argumentation works because such fallacies are shown to be such using syllogistic argumentation. You say above that my argument “is not to try to provide sound argumentation…” But the second thing I am pointing out is that “sound” is a characteristic of a syllogism and I am not using a syllogistic form. There is more than one way to provide evidence to make a case. You have tried very hard to squeeze what I’m saying into a syllogistic form but that is not the form I am adopting. This does not mean that I reject syllogisms as form of argumentation, only that I am not necessarily utilizing them. I fully understand that when it comes to teaching students about Platonic dialogues that you are going to use the syllogistic form and this certainly makes sense in this context. But it sounds like you have trouble dealing with arguments and evidence where such forms are not used.

    As mentioned before, I have spent quite a bit of time in a scientific environment doing R&D. I have and listened to countless hundreds of arguments from scientists trying to persuade their audience that certain propositions or sets of propositions are correct. In many cases the person presenting the case does not succeed at that point in making his case but he does share quite a bit of information that is relevant to the issue at hand. He hopes that his listeners will take this data and process it so that next time he appears before them he can continue to create his case. Now there are times when the presenter will be able to make a case by establishing a few propositions, testing them to determine their correlation to reality, and then making the obvious conclusions that flow out of them. But in more cases than not, the argument that the presenter makes is made in a synthetic and inductive manner rather than a deductive manner. Science uses deduction and induction and if you confuse the two you are never going to understand the case that the presenter is putting before you. Researchers in softer sciences utilize both forms of argumentation to make their cases as well. There are obviously types of evidence in the hard sciences that are not relevant to studies like sociology, psychology, or theology, but utilizing inductive studies is not limited to the hard sciences.

    So what are we to make of theology in this light? Although our Orthodox friends would shiver at the thought, theology is a science in the Thomistic sense of the term. Given this then can arguments only be made using only deductive forms? I am making the case that theology like so many other fields of study is susceptible to inductive and synthetic as well as deductive arguments. So when you start talking about whether an argument is “sound” and I answer that my points are not part of a deductive argument, my hope is that you will not continue to force my reasoning into syllogisms. And if you continue to do so I have to throw up my hands and walk away.

    OK, so now in my post above to Tim I talk about the relevance of a position of various Medieval theologians on the Deuteros/Apocrypha to the question of the status of the canon before Trent. Now one thing I will sometimes ask someone I am speaking with is what it would take to demonstrate that their position is incorrect. I could have done this here but the question of canon is extremely complicated as the CE points out and I am quite sure that I will get different answers from different Catholics. If I was able to show that 50% of the Medieval scholars disagreed with the North African councils would this be “proof” that the North African ruling on the canon was incorrect? How about 75%? How about 100%? How about if I was able to show that the preponderance of Medieval scholars did not align with the North African councils and that Trent had erred in her understanding of some of the arguments that Cajetan and other later Medieval scholars put forth against the canon? At what point have I made my case? Perhaps even in this last case we could still hold that the RCC was correct even though we had marshaled most of the Medieval scholars against the RCC position and shown that Trent was in error in her understanding of some of the evidence. So how should I talk about the evidence in this case? Is it possible to construct the case in terms of a deductive argument? I hardly think so. I think that the best I can do is discuss the evidence and let folks come to their own conclusions. I don’t want to try to force an issue in the mind of a person when the case is such that there is a great deal of confusing evidence in both directions (as the CE points out is the case with this matter). People have to consider the evidence and come to their own conclusions. I’m not trying to avoid the truth here as you seem to imply, but rather to bring relevant data to the debate floor in a form that helps them understand and process it. I’m obviously trying to suggest that the data when considered as a whole makes more sense when interpreted within a Protestant paradigm rather than a RCC one, but I have to realize that in these cases with massive amounts of conflicting data that people need time to process the evidence in their minds and make connections.

  175. Andrew M,

    Grace builds on nature, and here the theological disagreement is rooted in an error at the level of nature, in this case, basic logic. Besides sophistry, the only two alternatives are syllogisms and exchanging assertions (i.e. as exemplified in the Python sketch). You seem to think there is some other way of reasoning that doesn’t make use of syllogisms. There isn’t. All arguments are syllogisms; that’s the very origin of the term ‘syllogism’. They may be deductive, inductive, or abductive, but they are all syllogisms. If you aren’t offering a syllogism, then you aren’t offering an argument. That is why the only way to ensure that your arguments are not subjected to logical analysis, is not to give arguments at all, but only to engage in table-pounding of the sort shown in the Python sketch. Even when comparing two claims, arguments are necessary to show that the evidence supports one claim more than another, and that what is being treated as evidence is actually evidence. The problem here is not that you are using inductive arguments, and I’m evaluating them as if they are deductive arguments. If that were the problem, you could respond to each of my refutations by showing how it doesn’t actually refute your argument. The problem is that you don’t realize that you are making use of syllogisms, and that they are subject to logical analysis. Unless we want to engage in futile table-pounding, we must make use of syllogisms (whether laid out formally, or in ordinary prose). And since syllogisms can be logically analyzed and evaluated, the only way I couldn’t logically analyze your writing would be if you engaged only in table-pounding.

    You claimed above that you (as a Protestant) know that the Protestant canon is “infallible”/inerrant. You distanced yourself from Sproul’s “we have a fallible list of infallible books”. So if you know that the Protestant canon is inerrant, then you must know that the deuterocanonicals don’t belong in the canon. You have not yet provided the ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is inerrant, or that the deuterocanonicals don’t belong in the canon. If you were only 95% certain that the Protestant canon is inerrant, you would have to be on Sproul’s side. Therefore, since abductive and inductive arguments do not necessitate their conclusions, those types of arguments cannot ground the claim that you are making. You need a deductive argument. So, you need either to provide that argument, or admit that you take your position by a [fideistic] leap of faith, or retract your claim and join Sproul, (or become Catholic :-).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  176. Andrew,

    You’re free to do what you like here – toss out skepticisms on the Church’s positions, raise questions, point out information that you believe hurts the Church’s reputation or calls her in to question – (which is apparently what, by your own admission, you’re doing) – but when you make false statements and use false reasoning, expect to be challenged. Bryan and Neal both did that.

    I’ve asked you simply to state your principle for recognition of canonical books. You have refused to do that at least three times (and others asked you before). So it is abundantly clear that you have no interest in seeking truth. You see something you’ve already decided is false (Catholicism) and you toss out skeptic ideas against her and avoid laying your arguments on the table for evaluation. This is what the atheist does against Christianity. They have no interest is seeking truth so they look at something they’ve already decided is false (Christianity) and toss out skeptic ideas. They won’t allow their arguments to be evaluated by the light of reason because reason will demonstrate their falsehood.

    Reason will also demonstrate the falsehood of your arguments which I can only assume is why you refuse to state them openly. Like Bryan said, this is sophistry. It’s not what we mean to do here at CTC.

  177. Hi everyone. I’m a latecomer to the conversation and I only had time to skim the comments. I have a couple questions and points of information:

    Andrew M has mentioned Jerome’s textual prowess. In what way is this relevant to the question of canonicity? If I remember correctly, Jerome thought that only books composed in Hebrew could be included in the OT (I believe Calvin said this as well), but it’s not clear to me why this is a valid criterion. Moreover, modern scholarship (esp. the discovery of the DSS) has shown that some of the deutercanonical books, such as Sirach, were in fact written in Hebrew. But again, why is this relevant?

    Second, much has been made of Athanasius’ festal letter. This strikes me as odd. As has already been pointed out, Athanasius’ canon doesn’t agree with the Protestant canon anyway, but, more importantly, it is only one of the many extant bits of evidence pertaining to the developing canon. Why not base one’s argument on the Muratorian canon list (c. 200) which includes Wisdom but not James? The evidence from antiquity is more complex than has been implied by the discussion here (based on my skimming, of course :) ). Neither Catholics nor Protestants possess THE canon of the early Church. Both sides must deal with the fact that the canon developed over a very long period of time with surprising variations in different times and parts of the world. In my opinion Catholics are able to account for this fact better than Protestants, but I’ll let you all hash that out…

    Finally, I’m not sure why the Catholic encyclopedia says Thomas Aquinas was ambivalent on the deutercanonical books. He addresses the question directly in his Hic est Liber, which has not been translated as far as I know. Here’s the Latin and a rough translation (corrections to this hasty translation are most welcome!):
    Ponit tamen Hieronymus quartum librorum ordinem, scilicet, apocryphos: et dicuntur apocryphi ab apo, quod est valde et cryphon, quod est obscurum, quia de eorum sententiis vel auctoribus dubitatur. Ecclesia vero Catholica quosdam libros recepit in numero sanctarum Scripturarum, de quorum sententiis non dubitatur, sed de auctoribus. Non quod nesciatur qui fuerint illorum librorum auctores, sed quia homines illi non fuerunt notae auctoritatis. Unde ex auctoritate auctorum robur non habent, sed magis ex Ecclesiae receptione.
    Here’s a rough translation:
    Jerome proposed a fourth order of books, scil., the apocrypha: and they are called apocrypha from “apo” which is “very” and “cryphon”, which is “obscure” because their thoughts, or, rather, their authors are doubted. But in fact the Catholic Church received certain of these books among the number of the holy Scriptures, and their thoughts are not doubted, but the [identity of] authors are. Not that it was not known who the authors of these books are, but because humans were not the signs of authority for them. Whence these books do not derive their power from the authority of their authors, but rather from their reception in the Church.

    This is not suprising given how often he quotes Wisdom.
    Gotta run…

  178. Nathan, good points. St. Jerome & Calvin’s argument against the DC books on the basis of lack of Hebrew origin is simply a bad argument. Jerome rectified his position on the authority of the Church in contrast to Calvin of course. Origen had already refuted this argument from Africanus a couple hundred years before Jerome anyway regarding the story of Susannah.

  179. “I think the best I can do is discuss the evidence and let folks come to their own conclusions.”
    “People have to consider the evidence and come to their own conclusions”

    As Catholics, the philosophical subjectivism revealed in these two lines is exactly what we’re working to avoid for the sake of Christian unity. How can we heed the Apostolic charge to allow no divisions to remain among us when we remain eternally mired in pre-medieval disagreements? Indeed, Catholics are totally comfortable acknowledging the diversity of opinion held over the centuries prior to Trent (concerning the Canon) as we understand that what was once up for debate has now been conclusively settled within Church. The reality of the Holy Trinity itself was once a topic completely open to debate. Now, however, the case is closed.

    This has been a great conversation and I am honored to have the opportunity to sit in and follow along. But I must say this: Andrew, just for the fun of it, why don’t you speak in Bryan’s language (I think that’s Vulcan, right?) for a moment and see what happens. If he lays out a flawed syllogism, point out its flaw. If he’s stated something in overly simplified terms, why don’t you just point out his misunderstanding? I understand that you’re not interested in expressing yourself in such terms- but when he goes through the effort to synthesize your thoughts and express them in simple logical terms, it seems the least you could do is point out where he’s missed the mark. It shouldn’t be too hard considering the fact that he usually boils things down to the most simple, elemental terms.

    thanks.

    herbert

  180. You seem to think there is some other way of reasoning that doesn’t make use of syllogisms. There isn’t. All arguments are syllogisms; that’s the very origin of the term ’syllogism’. They may be deductive, inductive, or abductive, but they are all syllogisms. If you aren’t offering a syllogism, then you aren’t offering an argument.

    Bryan,

    Yes, there is no way to evaluate a formal deductive argument than by use of a syllogism. But it does not follow that the syllogism is the only way to prove a given proposition. Every day in the real world people prove propositions via distinctly inductive means. This does not mean that they are denying the utility of syllogisms; it only means that this is not the only way to prove propositions.

    In the case of my discussion with Tim, I have in effect asserted a proposition and I am now testing it by assembling some of the voluminous amounts of data from various parts of the history of the Church. If for, instance, the synthesis of this data overwhelming showed that the scholars of the early Church backed up my proposition and those of the the Medieval Church backed up my proposition and that Trent had factually erred in her assessment of the work of the scholars of the earlier ages of the Church, then I think we could say with a great deal of certainty that my original hypothesis was supported. Now I suppose at the end here I could do what Herbert suggested and say something like 1) If the majority of scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical then we should not accept them as canonical, 2) The scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical, and therefore, 3) We should not accept them as canonical. I’m happy to work in that framework but I’m sure any Catholic scholar is going to jump all over my major and minor premise and there is where the real work begins. It is the establishment of the major and minor premise here that is the difficult part and I can’t use syllogistic logic to do that. It is here where we have to use inductive sorts of evidence that synthesizes the various facts into a hypothesis and then tests the hypothesis. If you can’t figure out how to work within an inductive as well as a deductive framework then we are going to get stuck when I am making an inductive argument and you can’t get your mind around it. Again, I’m perfectly happy to structure things within a deductive context. But note that there were times when I was trying to do this and you tried to jump right into a deductive mode.

  181. I’ve asked you simply to state your principle for recognition of canonical books. You have refused to do that at least three times (and others asked you before). So it is abundantly clear that you have no interest in seeking truth.

    Goodness gracious, Tim. You wrote me this morning once already. Can’t you give me more than two hours or so to respond? What is “abundently clear” is that I only have so much time to write these posts.

    OK, at 7:52 AM this morning you wrote:
    If I read between the lines and make my own conclusions from what you’re saying, I assume you’d say something like – ‘whichever books have been widely accepted from about the 4th century until Trent are inspired.” That’s what you seem to be saying. Is that about right?

    What I said was that the Protocanonicals had universal acceptance from the time of the 4th century so that there should be no debate here. With me so far? OK then, the next question is over the Deuterocanonicals in which we have to ask the question as to whether there was universal acceptance and obviously the answer was no. And as they are tested through the Middle Ages by those who understood the principles by which these books were evaluated (Basil, Gregory, Hugh of St. Victor, Cajetan, etc, etc) they continue to fail the test of canonicity as is admitted by the CE which states that their canonicsty is attested to by “few” in the Middle Ages. So at the time leading up to Trent we have lots of evidence that the Church had not approved these works and precious little evidence that it had. So the preponderance of evidence still says no to the Deuteros/Apocrypha. Is this principled enough for you thus far?

    So now along comes Trent and says these disputed books are canonical. So by what evidence did they conclude this and reverse the situation leading up to Trent? Well, we have not talked about this yet, but perhaps I will let you tell me. What was the evidence that Trent brought to the table and was it sufficient to reverse previous determinations? If no, then we continue to reject these books as canonical although we could (and should I think) affirm them as edifying. Again, is this principled enough for you?

    I would also add that concerning Trent, this is a council that bases its authority on different principles than that of the authority of the councils of the Early Church which were counciliar. The conciliarists show up to Trent but they are squashed like little bugs on the road. Conciliarism doesn’t actually die until Vatican I but it’s all but dead at Trent. To me there is a necessary discussion about conciliarism vs. paplism that ought to precede a discussion of judgments that Trent rendered. And I would be happy to have that discussion but if you respond back to me, please give me more than 2 or 3 hours to reply. I probably won’t look at this again until later tonight.

  182. Andrew –

    Forgive my impatience. But for the record, the first time I asked was 2 days ago and by then you had already been asked by others. I asked in post 139, again in post 159 in a round about way and then clarified it in 163. I then asked again in 168. No response. This morning I asked again in 173.

    I think we need to back up because we’re talking too much about the DC books which is not really what’s in question – they’re just a good example of the problem. The question is how do you know which books are canonical and which arent.

    If we look at the syllogism you gave Bryan (and I’ll assume you’re right about the majority of medieval scholars rejecting the DC books for the sake of the argument); you said:

    1) If the majority of scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical then we should not accept them as canonical

    Remember that our original problem was how to arrive at certainty of an ‘infallible’ canon. The syllogism you give does not provide the means for an infallible canon even if your premise is true.

    Do you accept that this method does not give us an infallible canon? If not, how can the consensus of ordinary men, by means of scientific investigation, arrive at infallible certainty regarding divine revelation?

  183. It’s true that the DC books are just an example, not the main issue, so forgive me for adding in response to Andrew’s last post that it’s not true that the protocanonical books had universal acceptance from the 4th century (“widespread” would be better), and it certainly isn’t true that their canonicity is attested to by “few” in the middle ages. I realize that I am only making assertions here, but I would be happy to dig up references to demonstrate the point if it is necessary for the conversation.

  184. Nathan – no harm done. We could certainly get into this specific discussion and I think it’s worth doing. No doubt we will at some point.

  185. Andrew,

    In #175, I pointed out that an inductive argument is a syllogism. If you have a syllogism (inductive or otherwise) showing that the Protestant canon cannot possibly be in error, then I would like to see it, and so would many other Protestants, including R.C. Sproul. If you don’t have one, then your position on the canon reduces to Sproul’s, unless you appeal to infallible bosom-burning of some sort.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  186. What Nathan & Tim write about the protos’ not garnering universal post-4th century acceptance is quite true — and especially with respect to James, which was famously disparaged and disputed by Luther. So that returns me to my previous question, which I think slipped through the cracks amidst the delightful conversation, but which I hope will elicit an elucidative answer from Andrew M.:

    Andrew, how can we know — given that James has been disputed by many Christian giants throughout history and that the canon to which you point as the primary evidence of its inspiration was clearly erroneous in parts — that the Athanasian canon didn’t misidentify James as God-breathed? Isn’t that at least possible?

  187. Not to dogpile Andrew M. here (by the way, greetings Andrew; I’m Devin.), but I would like to respond to comment #174, specifically:


    “OK, so now in my post above to Tim I talk about the relevance of a position of various Medieval theologians on the Deuteros/Apocrypha to the question of the status of the canon before Trent. Now one thing I will sometimes ask someone I am speaking with is what it would take to demonstrate that their position is incorrect. I could have done this here but the question of canon is extremely complicated as the CE points out and I am quite sure that I will get different answers from different Catholics. If I was able to show that 50% of the Medieval scholars disagreed with the North African councils would this be “proof” that the North African ruling on the canon was incorrect?”

    Putting my Evangelical Protestant hat on:

    Why believe Catholic bishops’ decisions or Medieval theologians at all? Why believe that any council that the Catholic Church called from Nicaea through Vatican II taught truth and not error, much less had “infallible” protection against teaching error?

    Much less why accept Nicaea and all the others leading up to Trent but then reject Trent? How is it not an ad hoc decision to believe one set of Councils taught the truth but then others taught error?

    (I don’t expect you to answer all these questions because you are working overtime answering the other guys, though I would certainly be interested in any you want to answer.)

    Once you go down the road of accepting these “Roman” bishops’ decisions (codified as the “Church’s” decisions), how do you avoid accepting baptismal regeneration, the Mass, transubstantiation, Purgatory, and so on? It seems to me that you are “in for a penny, in for a pound” with the Catholic Church once you start accepting these early Councils’ decisions as truth.

    If the Catholic Church got so much wrong and became corrupted in her teachings at some point, then why believe anything she has to say about the canon of Scripture? She could have and probably did get that wrong, too, and not just the Deuteros but James, Hebrews, Revelation, and who knows what else.

    I am playing what I would say is the “Evangelical Protestant’s Advocate” here. I assume you consider yourself Reformed Protestant and not Evangelical Protestant, but the Evangelical’s objection to your stance on accepting some parts of Catholic Tradition but not others (which is part-way between Evangelicalism and Rome) seems like a good challenge to your line of thinking.

    Peace in Christ,
    Devin

  188. Tim/Bryan,

    It’s dawning on me what you might be asking for. OK, let me simplify the question a little by answering the question as to whether the Reformers were correct in rejecting the Deuteros/Aprocrypha. In other words let’s focus on the time between the 4th and the 15th centuries at which point in time the Reformers came on the scene. OK, so let’s state matters with two different arguments, one focusing on the Protocanonicals (P) and one focusing on the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha (D/A):

    1) If the P were universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries, the Reformers were correct in accepting the P as canonical.
    2) The P were universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries.
    3) Therefore, the Reformers were correct in accepting the P as canonical.

    And then:

    1) If the D/A were not universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries, the Reformers were correct in rejecting the D/A as canonical.
    2) The D/A were not universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries.
    3) Therefore, the Reformers were correct in rejecting the D/A as canonical.

    This of course does not cover the extra EO books but those are not in dispute between us. So I think that covers everything that might be in dispute up until we get to Trent.

    So are my syllogisms above valid? I think you will say yes. But, are they sound? I think you will say yes to the first and no to the second. The question really rests on the truth of the major and minor premises of my second argument. And this is indeed a difficult question. The difficulty partly rests on the magnitude of the data set, partly on the murkiness of the data set, and partly on the fact that both sides have very big axes to grind.

    So how do we establish the truth of a proposition? If you reject one or both the major and minor premises in the second argument, what do you replace them with? It is these issues that I have been focusing on in this thread. Of course we have to make sure that we are not breaking any rules of formal logic as we make our case, but it makes no sense to talk about the validity of a given syllogism if we cannot first establish the premises that will go into that syllogism.

    As I listen to Catholics and Protestants debate the kinds of premises that might go into the second argument what I hear is inductive types of arguments. And I don’t know how you could possibly establish the truth of such propositions or set of propositions without inductive reasoning. And the subject matter that this inductive reasoning focuses on is just the sort of data that I have tried to bring to bear in this debate.

  189. This may help move the discussion along, instead of continually pounding on opposite sides of the wall and not getting anywhere:

    Here is the problem as stated by Tim (and agreed with by Bryan, Im assuming):

    I think we need to back up because we’re talking too much about the DC books which is not really what’s in question – they’re just a good example of the problem. The question is how do you know which books are canonical and which arent.

    Ok, As RC’s, we are suggesting that we have a better and more sure way, albeit infallable, of knowing what the canon is, because, according the doctrine originally expressed by Neal in his post, the canon has been defined authoritatively by the magisterium, and there is no other way we can have this confidence in the canon, especially if this other way is private judgement.

    Since, therefore, we know the canon via the magisterium of the church, and not via private judgement, we are asking Andrew to explain how he can be sure the Potestant canon is the correct one over against a more sure judgement of the magisterium.

    We keep insisting that Andrew provide us with his better epistemology, but for Andrew this is too far into the question. Andrew is asking on what grounds do we accept the RC canon as if Trent never happened. For him, on what grounds were the DC’s accepted, and how is this ground’s better than the Protestant grounds for rejecting them. In other words, Andrew is trying to bring the question back to the “bosom burning” of the Church, and asks if this bosom burning was more rational, or burns brighter, than the Protestant bosom burning. So, to keep asking him to explain how he knows the Protestant canon is the right one is not meeting his argument on its own terms.

    Andrew states:

  190. “If the D/A were not universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries, the Reformers were correct in rejecting the D/A as canonical.”

    Certainly there have been points of Catholic teaching which, though they had been anything but universally accepted in the Church, were ultimately articulated dogmatically (St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception, for example, was outrightly rejected by various prominent Catholic figures). However, as Tim pointed out in #147, St. Peter was given the Keys to the Kingdom. And the Kingdom is not a democracy. Consequently, this talk of support or lack of popular support for P or D/A seems impertinent to the issue.
    thanks!
    h

  191. This may help move the discussion along, instead of continually pounding on opposite sides of the wall and getting nowhere:

    Here is the problem as stated by Tim (and agreed with by Bryan, Im assuming):

    I think we need to back up because we’re talking too much about the DC books which is not really what’s in question – they’re just a good example of the problem. The question is how do you know which books are canonical and which arent.

    Ok, As RC’s, we are suggesting that we have a better and more sure way, albeit infallable, of knowing what the canon is, because, according the doctrine originally expressed by Neal in his post, the canon has been defined authoritatively by the magisterium, and there is no other way we can have this confidence in the canon, especially if this other way is private judgement. Moreover, the promise that the Spirit will guide the Church in all truth cannot be apprehended or fulfilled in any other way than the Catholic way.

    Since, therefore, we know the canon via the magisterium of the church, and not via private judgement, we are asking Andrew to explain how he can be sure the Potestant canon is the correct one over against a more sure judgement of the magisterium.

    We keep insisting that Andrew provide us with his better epistemology, but for Andrew this is too far into the question. Andrew is asking on what ground do we accept the RC canon as if Trent never happened. For him, on what grounds were the DC’s accepted, and how is this ground better than the Protestant ground for rejecting them. In other words, Andrew is trying to bring the question back to the “bosom burning” of the Church, and asks if this bosom burning was more rational, or burns brighter, than the Protestant bosom burning. So, to keep asking him to explain how he knows the Protestant canon is the right one is not meeting his argument on its own terms. Im pretty sure this is what andrew is concerned about because he writes:

    So now along comes Trent and says these disputed books are canonical. So by what evidence did they conclude this and reverse the situation leading up to Trent? Well, we have not talked about this yet, but perhaps I will let you tell me. What was the evidence that Trent brought to the table and was it sufficient to reverse previous determinations? If no, then we continue to reject these books as canonical although we could (and should I think) affirm them as edifying. Again, is this principled enough for you?

    I digress.

    Andrew states:

    1) If the majority of scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical then we should not accept them as canonical

    This is not a sound argument, neither is it cogent if intended inductively, but perhaps it should be worded like this:
    “1) If the majority of scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical then why should we accept/support them? ( as if this com.box was the debate at Trent)
    Andrew, please state if this revision is preferable.

    Of course, a good case would need a few more premises, but in itself this question is worthy of an answer.

    I personally don’t think Andrew is asking too much, if we can only get around, or expediently ignore , that we accept the RC canon because it was ecumenically defined, and rather look at the issue in pre-Trent terms. In other words, we should explain, as if we were the debators at trent, why we should accept the RC canon with the DC’s over the prevailing consensus of the Middle Ages(and other reasons Andrew may present).

    As a further clarification, the only reason I suggest we look at Andrew’s inquiry this way is that if we cannot give a enlightening or illuminating reason for the definitions of a council over against other opinions, then how are we really doing our jobs as Catholic apologists, whether professional or lay? Furthermore, as one who is highly sympathetic with the East, we should consider the possibility that Trent really, as a matter of fact, does not meet the status of an ecumenical council, and since canonicity is something that can only be defined and binding ecumenically, and if Trent has no greater status than a general council, then their dogmatic definitions for the canon are superfluous and irrelevant. I don’t think Andrew objects to the idea that God works through councils infallably, but he is questioning whether or not God did so at Trent. Therefore, besides the redirected approach which I suggested above, another more important and relevant question is this: “Does Trent constitute an Ecumenical Council? This, of course, may be a question more appropriate and suited for a blog site dedicated to the East/West divisions (so lets consider this “as if”)

    I don’t plan on entering this discussion or dialoguing concerning the ecumenical status of Trent, I am simply giving a suggestion to redirect and help move things along charitably, so that Andrew’s questions may be recognized and considered on their own terms.

    I hope this helps, guys/gals(?)

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  192. Sorry for the break in the comment, Yikes!

  193. Andrew,

    I’m glad to see you laying out these two arguments, because it clarifies your reasoning, and lays it open to evaluation.

    Regarding your first argument, the episcopal form of church government and baptismal regeneration (to name a few) were universally accepted from the 4rth to 15th centuries. But presbyterians reject these. So that makes the first premise in your first argument ad hoc.

    Regarding your second argument, some of the books in the Protestant canon weren’t universally accepted between the 1st and 4th centuries. So it is ad hoc to accept as canonical, books that weren’t universally accepted between the 1st to 4rth centuries, but reject any book that wasn’t universally accepted [which should not be confused with “universally rejected”] between the 4rth and 15th centuries. Likewise, because the Protestant conception of justification by faith alone was not only not universally accepted, but simply unheard of between the 4rth and 15th centuries, as McGrath points out, this too makes the first premise of your second argument ad hoc.

    For these reasons, these two arguments do not provide the ground by which a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is without error.

    Jared,

    So, to keep asking him to explain how he knows the Protestant canon is the right one is not meeting his argument on its own terms.

    Questions are not arguments. If Andrew has a question about how Catholics know the DCs to be canonical, that is not an argument; it is a question. Two persons may, without contradiction, ask each other a question, at the same time. So my asking Andrew how a Protestant knows the Protestant canon to be inerrant, is fully compatible with his asking me a question about the DCs.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  194. But I don’t think Andrew is is trying to prove, at this point, anything concerning the Protestant canon without bringing it back a step to a pre-Trent status, as it were. I don’t think he cares to prove anything of the Protestant canon per se. Of course, I may be totally off base here.

  195. I’m glad to see you laying out these two arguments, because it clarifies your reasoning, and lays it open to evaluation.

    I suppose to the teacher of Greek philosophy all the world’s a syllogism. Well Bryan, if it helps you understand I’m happy to talk in syllogisms. This is the first place I can remember a Catholic suggesting it, but again it’s no problem. I do think that there is a problem in your attempting to analyze syllogisms before we had established the premises that go into these syllogisms. This is some of what I was trying to explain to you before. You were trying to press my thoughts into syllogisms but we had not agreed upon any premises. It is these premises that I was trying to establish. And the premises are established in the inductive way that I spoke of. So in my second syllogism in my last post the minor premise has not been established. We don’t yet have a syllogism to analyze.

    So how do we establish what the premise is here? Some of the other RC’s have suggested that the teaching of the Church up until Trent was that the Catholic canon was established. But even the CE demonstrates that there is significant doubt here. So how do we establish what the Church did teach on the matter? Well, we go through what I was trying to do which was to synthesize the arguments of Gregory, Hugh, etc, etc until we have established what the Church did teach. Until we have established a premise to place into the syllogism above there is not point in talking about logical consistency of the syllogism. If people don’t want to talk about the kinds of things that I raised about the arguments of Cajetan after Florence, the anti-conciliarism of Trent, etc, then we are never going to establish working premises. Of course you could just say that the Magisterium said it, end of story, but this is just assuming what we have asked you to prove.

    Regarding your first argument, the episcopal form of church government and baptismal regeneration (to name a few) were universally accepted from the 4rth to 15th centuries. But presbyterians reject these.

    I thought we had already talked about the uniqueness of Scriptures. God said that he breathed out the Scriptures. He did not say that he breathed out a doctrine of the episcopacy. But on the episcopacy, I would be happy to talk about it. We find a developing episcopacy in Ignatius that we do not find in earlier theologians. So what were Ignatius’ reasons for promoting this primitive Episcopal form of government? I think I know, do you? Let’s talk about it. Maybe there is a very good reason for rejecting the episcopacy while accepting other doctrines promulgated about that time. Maybe it’s not so ad hoc as you think. But then you have not asked me, so you don’t know the reasoning. And sure, let’s talk about baptismal regeneration. What were Tertullian’s, etc reasons for holding to baptismal regeneration? Were they valid? Were they sound? But note that the foundational rule (Scriptures) which God said He had breathed out is a different category than the understanding of that rule by a given theologian or group of theologians.

    Regarding your second argument, some of the books in the Protestant canon weren’t universally accepted between the 1st and 4th centuries

    Typically you don’t raise an issue with your opponent that is not a point of contention. If you want to say that there is a point of contention between our understanding of the development in the canon in the 1st-4th centuries then go ahead and raise it and I will address it.

    ….Protestant conception of justification by faith alone was not only not universally accepted, but simply unheard of between the 4rth and 15th centuries, as McGrath points out,….

    There was no consensus on the balance between works/faith or grace/free will even through the late Middles Ages. McGrath demonstrates this exhaustively. There were theologians in the late Middles Ages who were pushing the envelope to an extreme anti-Pelagian theology because there was no guidance after Carthage (and of course even this was not dogmatic). And as McGrath well point out, when Luther comes on the scene he adopts a theology on faith/works and grace/free will that is one of the conceptual options that was open to him within the scope of teaching on the matter at that point in time (of course he dies before Trent). When you speak of McGrath, are you thinking about his “genuine theological novum” comment in relation to Luther’s theology of justification? I can try to explain this if you like.

  196. But I don’t think Andrew is is trying to prove, at this point, anything concerning the Protestant canon without bringing it back a step to a pre-Trent status, as it were. I don’t think he cares to prove anything of the Protestant canon per se. Of course, I may be totally off base here.

    The point of contention is of course the the Deutros and so we have to talk about what the Church did believe in the 4th century, in the intervening years until Trent, and then at Trent concerning them. Catholics hold that Trent ruled on it so there you have it. But we are pulling apart all of the assumptions that go into this assessment. Perhaps, we would argue, Trent was incorrect in her assessment. And there is all sorts of things that have to be addressed in making the assessment as to whether Trent was correct or not. From my standpoint one the most interesting studies here looks at the character of the office of Bishop of Rome in the earliest Christian centuries and then compares that with character of the office of the Bishop of Rome in the Middle Ages. To the Catholic of course they must be the same in essence, but from our reading that’s a very difficult case to make.

  197. Andrew & everyone else,

    Let’s remember the discussion is not and should not be moved into “did the Church make a good decision by canonizing the DC books”. That is another discussion altogether. The question is how can a Protestant have infallible certainty regarding the canon.

    Andrew, you have not shown that you have this whatsoever. In fact, your arguments for how you think we can arrive at the canon, besides being ad hoc as Bryan pointed out, demonstrate that you do not have a basis for an infallible canon.

    I do think that there is a problem in your attempting to analyze syllogisms before we had established the premises that go into these syllogisms.

    You mean your presuppositions? Your first line is your premise. Your syllogisms, as they stand, are wrong. We can talk about the presuppositions that go into those that make them wrong, but they cannot be right no matter what presuppositions we take into them.

    Let’s examine:

    1) If the P were universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries, the Reformers were correct in accepting the P as canonical.
    2) The P were universally accepted by the Church between the 4th and 15th centuries.
    3) Therefore, the Reformers were correct in accepting the P as canonical.

    This argument fails at its premise (1). It is obviously arbitrary. Why between the 4th & 15th? Why not between 2nd & 13th or the 1st & 5th for that matter? Where ever we put the dates will be arbitrary and more importantly it will not allow for infallible certainty. The best we could have is guess work.

    To repeat my question:

    Do you accept that this method does not give us an infallible canon? If not, how can the consensus of ordinary men, by means of scientific investigation, arrive at infallible certainty regarding divine revelation?

  198. Andrew,

    I do think that there is a problem in your attempting to analyze syllogisms before we had established the premises that go into these syllogisms.

    When you present syllogisms, and the syllogisms are shown to be flawed, don’t say that they weren’t yet ready to be evaluated. Either don’t present them until they are ready, or when you present them and they are shown to be flawed, simply admit that they are flawed.

    It is becoming clearer that you don’t have a good argument showing that Protestants can know that the Protestant canon is without error. If you had such an argument, you would have presented it by now (200 comments into this thread). So, that implies that you simply assume that the Protestant canon is inerrant. And that implies that given Protestant ecclesiology, any book in the Protestant Bible might not belong in the canon, and that other books (not present in the Protestant Bible) might belong to the canon. In other words, Sproul rightly describes the Protestant condition viz-a-viz the canon, although individual Protestants can ‘protect’ themselves from the implications of this condition either by fideistically assuming that the Protestant canon is without error or by appealing to a bosom-burning indicating that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  199. I don’t know if this is helpful but at least for myself I believe I’ve identified the source of the problem, as I see it, in Andrew’s argument.

    When Bryan pointed out that Andrew’s reliance on a chosen period of church history to determine the correctness of the canon was ad hoc because Andrew does not rely on the same criteria (4th – 15th church history and Tradition) in determining the truth in other matters Andrew replied with:

    I thought we had already talked about the uniqueness of Scriptures. God said that he breathed out the Scriptures. He did not say that he breathed out a doctrine of the episcopacy.

    Scriptures are God breathed but it pushes back the question as to how we know what constitutes the scripture. At issue is not whether or not scripture is God breathed.

    Furthermore, we do believe that God breathed the Church, “I will build my Church.” (Matt 16)

    Is the development of the episcopacy a matter of fact? Yes it is. But so is the development of the canon.

    The other night I had some beers with some friends. One of whom works at a PCA Church in Houston. He kept on saying that scriptural doctrine needed to be considered in light of the early church fathers. When the topic turned to baptismal regeneration or the ever virginity of Mary he basically said, “I don’t see that in scripture.” Well, what happened to the need to examine church fathers?

    Arbitrarily pointing to Tradition to determine truth and at the same time arbitrarily rejecting Tradition because it does not fit your paradigm is problematic.

  200. Sean wrote: “Arbitrarily pointing to Tradition to determine truth and at the same time arbitrarily rejecting Tradition because it does not fit your paradigm is problematic.”

    This is exactly the problem I was seeking to ask Andrew to resolve in his position (he has not responded but as I already allowed, he is overworked so I don’t blame him!)

    In my conversation with my Baptist friend who rejects baptismal regeneration, he said that he read somewhere that some Christian in the early centuries denied baptismal regeneration but that the Church condemned him for heresy. My friend said, “See, there were people who followed the Scriptures and believed in symbolic-only baptism even back then, and I agree with them and not with the untrustworthy ‘official Church’ which got this and other doctrines wrong”.

    If we want to use the “majority of clergy/theologians” rule for baptismal regeneration vs. symbolic-only, regeneration will win hands down from the 2nd century through the 16th, but does this fact give us complete confidence that baptismal regeneration is true and the doctrine of symbolic-only baptism is false? Why should it? These are, after all, just a bunch of Christian men deciding something without any divine protection against teaching heresy as truth. The Church either is protected by God from teaching error or she is not.

    The fact that one of your beliefs agrees with that of certain Christians at some points in time doesn’t help anyone actually know what the truth is. The early Fathers did not all agree on interpretation of Tradition (several examples have been given even in this series of comments), but Christ’s Church, of which those Fathers were members, did make decisions on which beliefs were true and which were false, and either the Church’s decisions were (and are) always right or they are not, that is, they have made errors, and if they are not always right, as Andrew claims Trent was not (and probably others prior to Trent if we pressed him on specific doctrines), then on what basis does a Christian today decide what is true and false on any given issue?

    As Andrew is trying to do, one basis is to read what history you can find and tally up how many clergy or theologians that believed X vs. Y on some given doctrine and then go with the majority. That doesn’t assure us of an infallible decision by anyone’s reckoning, I shouldn’t think. Pope Benedict said (paraphrased) “Truth is not determined by an individual preference or a majority vote”.

    Picking and choosing specific historical Christian persons to believe over others about specific doctrines can be done to support one’s beliefs, but doing so provides no assurance that one’s beliefs are correct.

    I offer this is a side commentary on the main discussion between Andrew and Bryan/Tim about how Andrew can show the (Protestant) canon is infallible. I hope it does not distract but aids the main discussion.

  201. Bryan, Tim, Everyone else,

    In order to clarify, I understand that an argument is different from a question, and you pointed that out (Bryan). But what I was trying to do in my comment is redirect the arguments to surround this question(not as if it were itself an argument):

    1) If the majority of scholars of the Medieval era did not support the acceptance of the Deuteros/Apocrypha as canonical then why should we accept/support them? ( as if this com.box was the debate at Trent)

    instead of this question, as Tim insists:

    Let’s remember the discussion is not and should not be moved into “did the Church make a good decision by canonizing the DC books”. That is another discussion altogether. The question is how can a Protestant have infallible certainty regarding the canon.

    That third sentence Tim writes is not what Andrew is concerned with, not even from the start (this is why he has not answered this question). The very discussion that Tim says we should not be moved into is the very discussion Andrew is concerned with, and until everyone else meets him there, the discussion will have a hard time moving on.

    Andrew does not disagree that God can and does infallably work in a Church council, but what he is questioning is if he did so in Trent. So I suggested to forget Trent was ever completed so we can discuss these things as if the definitions of Trent do not exist, and how do we know anything concerning the canon without Trent. (Considering “as if”, in the possibility that Trent is not ecumenical and holds no stock in the matter) For(here is the question), how would Trent have known such and such books are inspired? Trent had bosom burning, too.

    It should be noted, though, that the question Andrew is concerned with is not suited for the original post by Neal, and this is why the discussion is having a hard time moving along. This is why Andrew keeps side-stepping the question of how he knows the Protestant canon is infallable. This is also why Tim stated what I quoted above.

    Im not saying I agree with Andrew, but only that we should stop asking him the question we keep asking him because it is irrelevant to what he is concerned with, whether he believes it to be infallable or not.

    Andrew,

    If this analysis is correct or not, please say so. Otherwise, Im confused.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  202. Jared,

    This entire post and thread is precisely about how to know which books are inspired not about arguing specifics regarding the DC books (or any books for that matter).

    Notice the opening lines:

    If the Bible alone is our authority, shouldn’t we be able to prove this from the Bible? If we can’t, and if we accept it nevertheless, doesn’t that mean that we’re de facto accepting an authority over and above the Bible? And don’t we have to do this just to delineate which books are Scriptural? And doesn’t all this business involve us in some sort of self-referential incoherence?

    If Andrew isn’t concerned with how to prove that the Protestants may have an ‘infallible canon’, that’s perfectly fine. But on this thread, that is exactly what we are concerned with.

    So we can’t let the conversation be shifted away like that. Because we asked the question, ‘how can you know which books belong in the canon?’ and then instead of an answer, we have had the thread shifted into a particular and unhelpful example of controversy. We’re not asking about controversial books – we’re asking about any books.

    We could engage the debate re: the DC books, and the Catholic position would be shown to be stronger as Nathan briefly argued earlier, but it distracts from the meat of the issue. As for me, Ive already said I’m willing to grant his assumption that the majority of medieval scholars rejected the DC books for the sake of the argument – even though I’m sure that’s wrong.

    In a previous thread Andrew stated that Protestants too can believe in an infallible canon. But when pressed for how they arrive at an infallible canon without an infallible Church, he has admitted that his process is reducible to scholarly consensus (which is in no way infallible).

  203. Jared,

    … but only that we should stop asking him the question we keep asking him because it is irrelevant to what he is concerned with

    It is as if you have forgotten that other persons besides Andrew are participating in this conversation. We on CTC are concerned with the question we are asking Andrew; it is relevant to what we’re concerned with. That is altogether sufficient justification for us to ask Andrew this question, especially on our own website.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  204. Tim,
    I have already expressed what you are saying to me when I explicitly said this:

    It should be noted, though, that the question Andrew is concerned with is not suited for the original post by Neal, and this is why the discussion is having a hard time moving along. This is why Andrew keeps side-stepping the question of how he knows the Protestant canon is infallable. This is also why Tim stated what I quoted above.

    This is exactly why the discussion is not going to get anywhere if this question is being asked, because Andrew is concerned with a whole different question all together. Someone has to give. I believe this is the case, but I could be wrong.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  205. Jared – sorry I missed that line.

    Well here’s where I stand – I’ve been in enough of these conversations to know that its unwise to let the conversation move from the original topic if one party won’t engage.

    Here’s what will happen (some of it already has):

    Party 1: “Protestants have a fallible collection of infallible books”

    Party 2: “No, we believe our collection is infallible”

    P1: “How can you have an infallible collection without an infallible collection process?”

    P2: “DC books were not universally accepted through the middle ages.”

    OK, now do you notice what’s just happened? This is an accurate, though painfully brief, summary of precisely what’s gone on so far.. Let’s peer into my crystal ball:

    P1: “That’s not what we’re talking about. Just answer the question.”

    P2: “I’m just giving data to make people doubt your position and believe mine. I don’t want to answer your question on your terms.”

    Party 3: “He doesnt want to answer your question, just talk to him about his question.”

    Hypothetical:

    P1: {offers proof DC books were widely accepted} “Do you now agree that there was sufficient acceptance of these books?”

    P2: “Pope Honorius was a heretic.”

    P1: “Thats not the question. We’re talking about the DC books.”

    P2: “The Assumption does not exist in the earliest Christian documents we have available.”

    Party 4: “I think party two wants to talk about Honorius and the Assumption. You should do what he wants.”

    Now, none of that is intended to be offensive to anyone and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. But this is precisely what happens time and time again. I’m in another discussion right now on my personal blog with a Reformed baptist. Same thing. He’ll make false claims – I show them to be false, he moves on to something else without admitting that he was wrong or refuting my original arguments.

    If we’re serious about seeking truth, then we cannot keep shifting the arguments and side stepping the real issues. It is imperative to face the issues head on and without any fear. There can be no fear of truth for Christians. Investigating the claims of the Catholic Church openly and honestly is a dreadfully scary thing as all converts know. There is the terrible possibility that she might be right.

    So, I don’t think I’m being stubborn by sticking to my guns and forcing the original issue. I’m forcing us to have real dialogue or no dialogue at all.

  206. Tim,

    I don’t think you are being stubborn at all. You have just presented things in good perspective, and I agree with you. But I don’t think Andrew is going to give, and to entertain the arguments he is presenting (which are not suited for the blog-post at hand) may not be helpful at all. I don’t know. Its just my observation. I am iterested in both questions, actually. I am interested in how Andrew answers your (and Bryan’s) question, but I am also interested in understanding the apologetic for the RC canon. But, if we are to discuss the later, then we must meet Andrew on his own terms, I think.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  207. Jared,

    I am interested in that question also. We are scheduled to release a featured article on the canon around the end of August. We’ll definitely be discussing the specifics of the DC books there.

  208. This is why Andrew keeps side-stepping the question of how he knows the Protestant canon is infallable.

    Jared,

    I hope I’m not side-stepping anything, but rather I’m just not agreeing that Bryan has made the case that there is a problem. You are right that I don’t think Trent decided the problem although we never really talked about Trent why exactly Trent did reverse the work of previous RC theologians. And Protestants do hold that God worked through the Church. It was at this point where we disagree. The Protestant’s assurance comes through the conviction that God is infallible rather than than just the Church although of course I am not trying to say that the RC believes that God did not work through the Church. Bryan then wants to drive my argument in ways that don’t necessarily follow which I tried to convince him of but I think with little success.

  209. When you present syllogisms, and the syllogisms are shown to be flawed, don’t say that they weren’t yet ready to be evaluated.

    You are right Bryan, there were not ready, but it was you who created them for me and I told you that they were not ready. We had not even established premises yet.

    If you had such an argument, you would have presented it by now (200 comments into this thread).

    I think it’s fair to say that you have not demonstrated to me that there is an issue and I have not been able to answer to your satisfaction the problem as you understand it. O dpn’t know how many times I pointed out that you had misunderstood my arguments but I don’t think you understood. And honestly Bryan, if you had picked an epistemological issue such as the Evangelical dismissal of history or their skepticism towards reasons reason and logic I would have been happy to admit these as problems. But you have hit upon one area of Evangelical epistemology where there is not an issue. No Evangelical denomination that I can think of has any skepticism or doubts the infallibility of the Scriptures. The Evangelical and Reformed have in reality full confidence here and have ever since the Reformation and before. So, if there is in fact no connection between your theory and reality then I have to think that it’s time to rethink your theory. Anyway, I hope that the next time I interact with you it will be over an issue that we both agree is an issue. And heaven knows there are plenty of these!

  210. You mean your presuppositions?

    No, TIm. I am speaking about Bryan jumping into deductive analyses before we had established what our premises were. So I presented the second syllogism knowing that you would disagree with the premises and then asking you how you would correct them. The only way I know how to establish a historical premise is to do the historical work that I suggested. And this is certainly not a purely deductive process.

    Why between the 4th & 15th?

    Generally we don’t raise issues where there is no point of contention and I did not see a point of contention between us as we look at the 1st to 3rd centuries on this matter. We both agree that the Church was still going through the evaluation process and there was no universal consensus. If there is an issue of course we could talk about it. And I structured my statement in terms of when the Reformers came on the scene which was near and in the 15th century. There is good reasons for doing this since it allows us to look at the period up until Trent and then talk about that later since Trent brought on some significant new issues for RCC and Protestant.

  211. Andrew,

    After Bryan refuted your syllogisms, you said “I do think that there is a problem in your attempting to analyze syllogisms before we had established the premises that go into these syllogisms.”

    But a syllogism contains at least one premise. Your first line is your major premise. If you have something other than what you wrote as your premise, then you did not properly formulate your syllogism. Now we’re getting into language that isn’t going to be all that helpful to our discussion. Just clarifying where I was coming from.

    Again your reply assumes that we are talking about the canonical status of the DC books which we are not.

    So to recap – you said originally that Protestants have an infallible canon. When pressed for your reasoning on this, you said (in a round about way) this was based on the scholarly consensus of the church throughout history without any particular charism of infallibility that the Catholics believe in. In your opinion, that consensus points to the Protestant canon. We needn’t discuss the validity of your opinion right now until you retract your original claim that the Protestants have infallible assurance of the canon since you pointed to a very fallible selection process.

  212. Andrew,

    So you don’t believe Trent answered the question concerning the canon, but do you at least recognize that God must act infallably through some human medium and that this human medium cannot be private, but ecumenical only–ecumenical in respect to the Church magisterium–in the establishment of a canon?

  213. Neil,

    I appologize that this is off topic:
    Thanks for the Ratzinger quote. It was interresting. However, being a protestant, we would say that the “rock” Jesus promised to build His church apon was the confession Peter had just given, and not upon Peter himself.
    How does a Catholic answer this very simple (yet crucial) difference in exegesis? Am I wrong in assuming that this verse as a “linch-pin” in the whole discussion of papal authority?

    in Him,
    Keith

  214. Keith,

    The interpretation that the “rock” is the confession of Peter and not Peter himself has been even abandoned by most Protestant academic exegetes as I chronicle in my paper on this subject in Paradoseis Journal 2, which can be viewed on-line here;

    http://web.me.com/aguirrerick/paradoseis/paradoseis/Entries/2009/3/27_Πετρος_in_the_Triple_Tradition_and_Matthew_16%3A18.html

    I demonstrate that the Aramaic which underlines the Greek can only refer to Peter’s person.
    _______________

    R. E. Aguirre
    (Blog) Regulafide.blogspot.com
    (Journal) Paradoseis Journal
    _______________
    αμαθεστατε και κακε, αφες τον παλαιον, μη μεταποιει

  215. Hey C2C,

    I want to sincrely and publically thank all of you. I spent this week taking a 3 day intensive with Michael Horton at RTS in D.C. The class was on the Church and the World. For the first time I made it known to some of my friends at RTS that I intend to pursue full communion in the Catholic Church.

    It really sunk in this week how ungrounded Protestants are in their dismissal of the Catholic Church. Although I have great respect for Michael Horton, his interaction with Catholic Theology in the class I just took with him was shallow and completely contradicted everything else he taught. For three days he urged the importance of being confessional, then, this afternoon I raised my hand and asked him why so many evangelicals are going to liturgical Churches and even to Rome. He responded by saying that evangelicals go to Rome because they, like emergent folk, go to Rome because they see nothing wrong with adding to Scripture. Rather than seriously interacting with other points of Catholic theology, he literally made jokes. I am honestly not trying to talk bad about Michael Horton, but, for an Oxford educated leader in Reformed theology, I expected something more.

    In reflecting this week, and as I began to share my discovery of Catholicism with friends at RTS, I realized that it would be a good idea for me to thank all of you. I know you have all strained relationships, lost friends, and have had your faith denegrated by standing up for the truth. Although I only know Tom Brown in person, the apologetic work on this site gave me confidence over this past week to let my friends at RTS know why I think we’re wrong. Thank you all for your love for Christ, His Church, and concern for the unification of Christ’s body.

    Kind of a funny side note; yesterday I had conversation with an incredibly bright friend of mine during our lunch break from Horton’s class. I asked him who taught Luther’s view of justification before Luther. He was willing to admit that Luther’s view was new. Then I asked him, “so the Catholic Church ceased to be a Church because it condemned a doctrine which it had never taught before?” He said, yes, but I question whether or not he believed it himself.

    Thanks, I have the highest respect for all of you and I know your conversion to the Catholic Church required tremendous sacrafice, boldness, and conviction of the truth. I’m kind of like Luther in that I wear my emotions on my sleave, so forgive me for blogging about my indebtedness to you all rather than theological stuff.

    Much love in Jesus, Jeremy

  216. Hey Jeremy,

    That is the second time (both recently) that I have heard the Catholic Church compared to the emergent church movement.

    I suppose that if an emergent church guru were asked why people leave Protestantism for the Catholic Church, he could respond:

    Because, just like the Reformed, they take doctrine way too seriously, even to the point of drawing up and defending extra-biblical confessions of faith. Catholicism is just the far extreme of taking doctrine seriously. Start out with this extra-biblical Confessionalism, end up in Rome (where the Confessions are infallible).

    Or ask a Dispensationalist the same question, and he will say:

    Because, just like the Reformed, they believe that you have to do good works to get into heaven. The Reformed call it perseverance of the saints, Catholics call it merit de congruo. Either way: no good works, no heaven. Start out with Calvin, end up with Aquinas.

    Of course, it is true that both Reformed Christians and Catholic Christians tend to take doctrine seriously. It is also true that Catholics and Reformed share some significant common ground in matters soteriological. A third truth, and then I’m done, is that these areas of common ground can serve as the basis for theological rapprochement and, eventually, unity.

    These are some of the reasons why I enjoy participating in CTC.

    The Catholic Church is the kind of thing that you can compare to anything. So, yeah, it is kind of like the emergent church. In fact, the Catholic Church is the one thing that all the Protestant things depend upon for there very identities as Christian communities. So, yes, it is kind of like all of them.

    On behalf of all the fellows, thank you for the kind words. Big Jesus love back at you, on this the feast of his most Sacred Heart.

  217. Andrew M,

    In #209, you wrote in response to my #198:

    You are right Bryan, there were not ready, but it was you who created them for me and I told you that they were not ready. We had not even established premises yet.

    I didn’t create them. You listed them out in #188, each having three numbered premises.

    I think it’s fair to say that you have not demonstrated to me that there is an issue

    I didn’t know that you wanted a “demonstration of an issue”. I have been asking you a question: How can a Protestant know that the Protestant canon is without error. I never “demonstrated an issue,” because I never attempted to “demonstrate an issue.”

    O don’t know how many times I pointed out that you had misunderstood my arguments but I don’t think you understood.

    If I have misunderstood any of your arguments, please correct my misunderstanding, and show how your arguments actually provide the ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    No Evangelical denomination that I can think of has any skepticism or doubts the infallibility of the Scriptures.

    I didn’t deny that. But, unless you can answer my question, you have no grounds for believing in the inerrancy of the Protestant canon.

    The Evangelical and Reformed have in reality full confidence here and have ever since the Reformation and before.

    Muslims likewise have confidence in the Koran. Confidence in x does not entail “x is true”, nor does it entail that people are justified in having confidence that x is true. (When Protestants start discovering that they have no justification for believing that the Protestant canon is inerrant, then their confidence collapses. So one way to preserve this [false] confidence is to avoid the question.)

    So, if there is in fact no connection between your theory and reality then I have to think that it’s time to rethink your theory.

    I never proposed a “theory”; I asked a question. So far, that question has not been answered. The reason it has not been answered is that Protestantism does not have the resources to ground the inerrancy of the canon. Sproul’s answer is the best Protestantism can do, other than resort to bosom-burning. If you disagree, please explain how a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  218. Keith,

    I imagine that this is a topic the blog hosts will tackle this in depth at some point. The exegetical point, however, is pretty simple. Every Protestant bible scholar that I know has abandoned the Peter’s confession = the rock theory (check out Davies and Allison’s commentary on this passage) because Jesus is addressing Peter until the end of verse 19. Even more importantly, the word rock is a pun on Peter’s name: “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you (sg)…”. The point is that Simon, who was nicknamed Peter, became the petra on which the Church is built.

    Cheers,

  219. Keith and following up on Nathan regarding “the rock”,

    I also recall reading that St. Augustine, in different writings of his, spoke of the rock meaning 3 or 4 different things: Peter, his confession of faith, Christ, and one other I forget. There can be multiple levels of symbolism or meaning in such things and not just one, even if one of them meanings is primary. That being said, Christ seems to be primarily referring to Peter here. (Called to Communion guys, if I am wrong on any of this, I submit to your correction.)

    The Church is obviously built on the rock of Christ firstly but then Peter can be a rock upon the rock of Christ, and further the apostles were the “foundations” of the Church built upon Christ the “cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). There is no contradiction here: Christ can build His Church as He sees fit.

    Another example: I have read that the Woman in Revelation 12 can refer to Israel, the Church, Eve, and Mary (from This Rock, also on Catholic Answers’ website). I would say that Mary is the primary symbol, but that doesn’t exclude it working on other levels.

  220. Jeremy,

    We will be praying for you. If there is anything you need along the way let me know. Hopefully we can all meet in person one day.

  221. Thanks,

    Thank you for the prayers. My wife and I are meeting with our PCA pastor on Monday to let him know what we’ve come to, so please pray for our meeting. Then, we will be moving to our local Parish. I guess timing will be up to the Priest since I already went through RCIA last fall.

    Thanks again. Keep up the great apologetic work! I’ve shown several friends this site!

    Much love in Christ, Jeremy

  222. So you don’t believe Trent answered the question concerning the canon, but do you at least recognize that God must act infallably through some human medium and that this human medium cannot be private, but ecumenical only–ecumenical in respect to the Church magisterium–in the establishment of a canon?

    Jared,

    I think that Trent answers the question as they answered lots of questions that those in Rome and outside of Rome were asking. There was a latitute of theological opinion on a number of issues that was unacceptable. So Trent tightens things up considerably, but whether they did this correctly or not is obviously a matter of considerable dispute.

    You wrote a number of very nice posts in the last few days and I wish I had time to answer them. I appreciate what you said about answering me on my own terms (or however you put that) although I do think that I ought to answer the folks here on their terms as well.

    Cheers….

  223. We needn’t discuss the validity of your opinion right now until you retract your original claim that the Protestants have infallible assurance of the canon since you pointed to a very fallible selection process.

    Tim, it does not follow that in fallible selection process cannot produce an infallible canon. All throughout OT and NT history we meet people who were entirely fallible and whose sin was constantly manifested in their actions. And yet God worked through fallible people and fallible groups of people to produce infallible statements.

  224. Jeremy Tate,

    I’m curious – Did Horton know that you were looking to move towards Cathlicsm when you asked him your questions? Also, I had made a few preliminary comments to you in post #93 above. I am not asking you to answer me, but I just wanted to know if this is the kind of thing you were looking for.

    Cheers….

  225. Andrew M,

    Tim, it does not follow that [a] fallible selection process cannot produce an infallible canon.

    Again, no one has denied that; in fact we have repeatedly granted it. So to keep going back to it is to avoid the question at hand: How do you know that the Protestant canon is inerrant? You have claimed that Sproul is all wet on this point, and that Protestants can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant. So, where’s your argument or evidence showing how Protestants can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant?

    Back here you wrote the following:

    But I will give you an example from a discussion that Bryan Cross and I had on Jason Stellman’s blog. Bryan told me that the Reformed don’t have an infallible canon and I told him that we do have an infallible canon, we just say that it is infallible because God is infallible and He oversaw the process of canonicity rather than saying that God gave the Church the charism of infallibility and she then acted infallibly. Bryan quoted for me R.C. Sproul who does say that we have an fallible collection of infallible books. Now this gets complicated because of course Sproul has quite a large readership and no doubt the folks Bryan interacted with as a Protestant really did believe this and for Bryan this really was what Reformed theology teaches. But the fact is that this is not the way the Reformed professors typically describe the canon. This kind of thing happens all the time both with simple Catholics who don’t know much about the Reformed creeds but also with much more sophisticated people who were in Reformed churches and maybe even went to seminary. It is the sophisticated folks who tend to be the more difficult challenge for us to deal with because they they are much more confident of their position.

    Apparently, in your view, when I said that Sproul’s position on the canon was the Reformed position, I was being a “simple Catholic” who didn’t know much about the Reformed creeds, even though I graduated from a Reformed seminary. So, it should be a simple matter then, for you, to show how Protestants can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant. Why is it, that this simple argument (showing that the Protestant canon is inerrant) has not yet been produced on this thread, and that no one has taken the time to show this yet-to-be-revealed-here argument to one of the leading Reformed spokesmen in the Reformed world: R.C. Sproul? (Or do you think people have shown it to him, but he wasn’t sharp enough to understand it?)

    It seems you are avoiding the question, and not conceding that you yourself (like the “simple Catholics” you described above) do not know how or whether Protestants can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  226. Bryan,

    Did you read Tim’s comments that sparked my reply? Tim said:
    We needn’t discuss the validity of your opinion right now until you retract your original claim that the Protestants have infallible assurance of the canon since you pointed to a very fallible selection process..
    So TIm says that I need to retract my statement that Protestants have infallble assurance of the canon because I pointed to a fallible selection processs. And so yes, once again I pointed to the fact that the fallible selection process does not mean we can’t have assurance of an infallible canon. Then you come along and say that no one has denied that…., but Tim just did deny it!

    I know that Neal got a little miffed at me for repeating what I have said (what you say no one denies) and I told him that I was doing this partly because it did not seem to be sinking in with some folks.

    On Sproul, you are not one of the “simple Catholics.” I don’t suppoe anyone here is. You are one of the sophisticated people who were in Reformed churches and maybe even went to seminary. Try reading the paragraph again in that light.

  227. Andrew,

    1)You are right that I don’t think Trent decided the problem although we never really talked about Trent why exactly Trent did reverse the work of previous RC theologians.

    You wrote this to me, and I was therefore thinking you don’t think Trent answered the question, so I asked this:

    So you don’t believe Trent answered the question concerning the canon, but do you at least recognize that God must act infallably through some human medium and that this human medium cannot be private, but ecumenical only–ecumenical in respect to the Church magisterium–in the establishment of a canon?

    but then you switched gears on me and replied this way:

    2)I think that Trent answers the question as they answered lots of questions that those in Rome and outside of Rome were asking. There was a latitute of theological opinion on a number of issues that was unacceptable. So Trent tightens things up considerably, but whether they did this correctly or not is obviously a matter of considerable dispute.

    First, you already said that you don’t think Trent has answered the question of the canon definitively by statement #1, but I’m not interested in what you think about Trent after this point, but what I am interested in is if you at least hold the the principle expressed in this question:

    Do you recognize that God must act infallably through some human medium and that this human medium cannot be private, but ecumenical only–ecumenical in respect to the Church magisterium–in the establishment of a canon?

    This is what im concerned with you answering. If you can’t answer in the affirmative, how else does God infallably work in his (fallable) Church in order that they may have objective assurance of the canon? You don’t have to affirm Trent to answer yes to the question, if affirming Trent makes you uncomfrotable.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  228. Bryan,

    Also, you are being unfair on my characterixation of Sproul I have already gone through this before (so what else is knew?) but Sproul is quite a happy with taking maverick positions on some things. He is just in the minority on how he approaches this matter. He is hardly “all wet on this point.”

  229. Andrew M,

    So Tim says that I need to retract my statement that Protestants have infallible assurance of the canon because I pointed to a fallible selection process. And so yes, once again I pointed to the fact that the fallible selection process does not mean we can’t have assurance of an infallible canon.

    If all you can do [to ground the inerrancy of the Protestant canon] is point to a fallible selection process, then you have no ground for assurance of an infallible [Protestant] canon.

    Do you intend to show how Protestants can know that the [Protestant] is inerrant, or do you intend to concede that you don’t know how to do so, or do you intend to avoid the question? Clarifying your intention will help us close out this [225+ comments] discussion.

    Also, you are being unfair on my characterization of Sproul I have already gone through this before (so what else is new?) but Sproul is quite a happy with taking maverick positions on some things. He is just in the minority on how he approaches this matter. He is hardly “all wet on this point.”

    If you are conceding that Sproul could possibly be right with respect to the fallibility of the Protestant canon, then you have just abandoned your claim that you have assurance that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  230. Jared,

    I’m trying to figure out if you do or don’t want to me to answer about Trent! But in short, yes Trent made a dogmatic decision, but this hardly resolved the matter. Of course it decided the matter for Catholics who now had to fall in line, but the question as to whether Trent made the right decision was one that was still very much open for those outside Rome.

    Do you recognize that God must act infallably through some human medium and that this human medium cannot be private, but ecumenical only–ecumenical in respect to the Church magisterium–in the establishment of a canon?

    So you are asking whether the establishment of the canon must be “ecumenical only?” I think the way that the Early Church would have had to answer this was no, because obviously the canon was not ratified by an ecumencil council. This was not a problem for the hundereds of years of various Medieval theologians (Hugh, etc) who still relied on a given canon despite the fact that no ecumical council had weighed in. Were they wrong? I don’t see any reason to suppose they were.

    I would add that Trent was about as anti-ecumenical as you could want to find. Trent was an expression of the power of Rome and stood in stark contrast to the councils of Early Christianity where Rome played very little part.

  231. If you are conceding that Sproul could possibly be right with respect to the fallibility of the Protestant canon, then you have just abandoned your claim that you have assurance that the Protestant canon is inerrant.

    Bryan, do you understand what a “minority position” is? No of course the majority position does not concede that the minority is correct. The majority is making the point that the minority is wrong.

    Do you intend to show how Protestants can know that the [Protestant] is inerrant, or do you intend to concede that you don’t know how to do so, or do you intend to avoid the question?

    Do you intend to demonstrate that there is good reason that the Protestant cannot know there is a fallible canon? I have not seen it yet. And also, have you conceded that your “problem” is one that has no extension in reality? If not, perhaps you could give me a listing of Protestant denominations that have demonstrated doubts concerning the canon.

  232. Dear Keith,

    I think I would have responded in the same way as Nathan and Devin had I seen this earlier. I do think you’re right that this interpretation (“rock = Peter’s faith/confession”) is widely held by many Protestants in the pew, and is also advanced by some popular teachers. But Nathan’s right that Protestant exegetes shy away from this kind of interpretation.

    Actually, when I was grappling with the issue of petrine primacy a couple of years ago, I was really surprised at how many Protestant scholars took the “traditional” line that “the Rock” means “Peter” in this passage; the point of dispute between them and Catholic scholars then had to do with the nature of this primacy (maybe) and also, of course, whether it got handed down via succession. But the first step of identifying the Rock with Peter is inevitable, I think, when you take the textual cues and the overall canonical context into account. (I notice that this perspective, typical among scholars, is also reflected in the New Geneva Study Bible: “If it had not been for the abuse of this passage by the Roman Catholic Church, it is unlikely that any doubt would have arisen that the reference is to Peter.” And then they go on to try to remove some of the force from Jesus’ words here.)

    We will certainly be spending a lot more time and energy on this question, and on this and like passages, in the future; so stay tuned!

    Neal

  233. Jeremy,

    Our prayers will be with you, for sure. I just “broke in” a new rosary given to me by this amazing Franciscan friar I met. I’ll pray for you guys when I pray it next.

    Peace to you,

    Neal

  234. Andrew M,

    I treat “all wet” as meaning all wrong. But you think Sproul is all wrong [on this point] but not “all wet”. Ok, I have no desire to quibble about that.

    Do you intend to demonstrate that there is good reason that the Protestant cannot know there is a [infallible] canon? I have not seen it yet. And also, have you conceded that your “problem” is one that has no extension in reality? If not, perhaps you could give me a listing of Protestant denominations that have demonstrated doubts concerning the canon.

    If you had intended all along simply to shift the burden of proof, I wish you would have said so from the beginning of the discussion.

    So here’s my argument:

    (1) If the Protestant canon were inerrant, the ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is inerrant could come only through Scripture, the Church, or bosom-burning within each individual.

    (2) But Scripture did not come with a table of contents, so Scripture itself does not tell us what the canon is.

    (3) Any claim by a Protestant that the ecclesial activity through which the Church determined the canon was infallible, would be ad hoc, since there is no principled distinction between that activity and all other ecclesial activities believed by Protestants to be fallible.

    (4) Therefore, the Church cannot be the ground for knowing that the Protestant canon is inerrant. [from (3)]

    (5) Therefore, the only way a Protestant could know that the Protestant canon is inerrant is if he has some bosom-burning experience in which it is directly revealed to him by an angel or the Holy Spirit that the Protestant canon is inerrant. [from (1), (2), and (4)]

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  235. Jeremy,

    Be assured of our prayers for you and your wife during our family prayers. It takes much courage to let seminary friends know of something like this but we have confidence in Him who has conquered fear by His death on the cross. May St. Francis DeSales, pray for Jeremy and all those who struggle with the weight of these issues concerning Christ and His Church, on this the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the insituition of the year of the priest.

  236. Andrew >

    You said:

    “Tim, it does not follow that in fallible selection process cannot produce an infallible canon.”

    Calling the canon infallible can only be a reference to the process by which it was formed. Otherwise it’s like calling a rock infallible or a tree. This goes back to what I said in post #139. Please re-read it if you don’t get what I’m saying here. Notice that I’ve usually been putting “infallible canon” in quotes because its not really proper to refer to the canon as infallible.

    That said, I assume we’re thinking of two different things here. I agree, as does Bryan, that a fallible process might produce an inerrant thing (like a canon). That’s where the confusion is coming in. Notice Bryan has been using “inerrant canon” since then to clear it up. Maybe we should all start doing that.

    So I agree that a fallible process of scientific investigation might have gotten the canon 100% correct and therefore inerrant. Just as I believe that it’s possible that Galileo’s fallible scientific investigation of the universe might have produced an accurate model of the universe. It did not, it turns out, but it was possible.

    What I absolutely deny is that this fallible process could give us any certainty. This still leaves us back with Sproul’s “Fallible collection of infallible books”. Sproul is not saying that he thinks the Reformers made an error in the canon, he thinks they got it right. He just understands that the process by which they did it was fallible, and that’s what we’re asserting.

  237. If you had intended all along simply to shift the burden of proof, I wish you would have said so from the beginning of the discussion.

    Bryan,

    I was not asking you to repeat your argument because I’ve already seen it, and answered it…. a number of times. And you have seen my argument (perhaps not in the form you might have liked) and answered it more than once. And we have been talking about both your argument and mine in this thread. In fact I bet if you thought about it some, you could figure out what I’m going to say now because I’ve already said it, and you’ve already answered it, and I in turn have answered your answer, and so on….(and hence some of my irritation you’ve seen coming out!).

    We got particularly into your point #3 in this thread (as well as others) and I told you that there was no reason to be splitting Scripture into the writing of it and the collecting of those writings. You said to me that this was ad hoc and I told you that that there was nothing ad hoc about it since “Scripture” as God uses the term is Scripture, not some sort of random collection of texts. Then you told me that it was ad hoc to see the writing and collecting as one but separate from the translation of this Scripture. And then I told you that there was nothing in the term “Scripture” which would include the translation of the text by individuals or collection of individuals and I don’t think you said anything to this (you can go back and look since I’m writing this here from memory but I think I’m right).

    So once again we are talking on the one hand about the formation of the Scripture through the agency of the Church which God said was Spirit-breathed, and on the other hand about all other ecclesial activity which to my knowledge God did not say was Spirit-breathed. So you want to say that somehow the separation of the writing/collecting of the texts and other ecclesial activity is ad hoc and I see no basis for this except for the fact that RCC tradition tends to blur the distinction between Scripture and tradition. So maybe what you are doing is reading a Protestant argument with Roman Catholic assumptions? If you are indeed merging the Scriptures with their translation by the Church (which would make sense given RCC assumptions) and then you are trying to understand our doctrine in terms of this RCC presupposition, this will certainly lead to confusion.

    One thing for you to consider is that in the Reformed tradition there in not just a theoretical but also a very visible, real, and palpable separation between the Scriptures as received through the agency of the Church and then translation/application of these Scriptures. And for all the epistemological issues with modern Evangelicalism this distinction is part of these communities as well. So don’t assume that there is no principled distinction even if you don’t agree with the distinction.

  238. Andrew M,

    I was not asking you to repeat your argument because I’ve already seen it, and answered it…. a number of times.

    Let’s clear up the terminological confusion. Arguments are not answered; questions are answered. Arguments are refuted (or not refuted). My argument (just presented in comment #234) has not been refuted.

    And you have seen my argument (perhaps not in the form you might have liked) and answered it more than once.

    I have not “answered” your arguments; I have refuted them, at least the ones attempting to show that a Protestant can know (apart from bosom-burning) that the Protestant canon is inerrant. A refutation of an argument isn’t based on like or dislike of an argument; a refutation shows that either the premises are false or unjustified or that the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

    Your objection to my argument in comment #234 is to its third premise, because you think that the collection of the books into the canon is part of the divine act of inspiring the Sacred Scriptures. And since inspiration is infallible, therefore collection is infallible. In comment #117 I showed that the claim that inspiration by its very nature includes canonization assumes that God does not have the power to inspire two or more books without collecting them into a canon, or with the intention of not collecting them into a canon. But since presumably God does have that power (lest we impugn God’s omnipotence), therefore, just because God inspires two or more books it does not follow that the inspiration itself ipso facto includes collecting them into a canon. And therefore collection does not belong to the very nature of inspiration. So these are two distinct things, i.e. inspiration and collection.

    What makes it ad hoc to claim that collection is infallible while all other ecclesial activities are fallible, is that there is no principled difference (with respect to susceptibility to error or protection therefrom) between the ecclesial activity of canonizing books, and the ecclesial activity of defining orthodoxy and heresy. Both ecclesial activities are essential for the life of the Church. Therefore to claim that one is infallible, and the other is fallible, is ad hoc. And therefore there is good reason to believe that premise 3 (of my argument in #234) is true. Since you only challenged the third premise of my argument, and since your objection does not show that premise to be false or unjustified, therefore, my argument stands.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  239. Andrew, your appeal to the widespread acceptance of the Protestant canon doesn’t demonstrate its validity any more than, as Bryan noted, the Muslim world’s universal acceptance of the Koran demonstrates its divine inspiration. By making this argument, are you not simply appealing to an extra-Biblical authority, namely that of scholarly concensus? Is this not why Dr. Sproul holds to his view that the Biblical Table of Contents can’t be rightly described as anything but fallible?

    If inspiration and canonical collection amount to one single act of God, it seems that throughout history there would have been, at the very least, far less deliberation concerning the canonical status of any single portion of Scripture (due to each valid text’s PATENT canonicity which you claim exists). However, this is simply not the case. Doesn’t the burden of proof, then, fall on you, Andrew, to demonstrate that inspiration and canonization are indeed one single divine act? Just the mere existence of disagreement, even dialogue, regarding the canonicity of certain texts, it seems, stands as an historical argument AGAINST the singular process of canonization/collection which you’re suggesting took place. The burden of proof, then, falls upon you to demonstrate that inspiration and collection indeed amount to one single act of God, does it not?

    Only if you can demonstrate conclusively that your view does not amount to a BREAK from the historical understanding held within the Church regarding its role in RECOGNIZING authentic Scripture, would you be justified in placing the burden of proof on Bryan, et al., as you’ve attempted.

    thanks for your time.

  240. Regarding Andrew & Bryan’s discussion (plus the many others who have weighed in):

    Perhaps consulting the Westminster Confession of Faith as a good representative of “the Reformed” position on the canon would be helpful:

    WCF 1.5 — “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture,(1) and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God) , the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.(2)”

    (1) 1 Tim. 3:15
    (2) 1 John 2:20,27; John 16:13,14; 1 Cor. 2:10,11,12; Isa. 59:21.

    ~Keith

  241. Keith,

    The WCF passage amounts to “bosom burning” which is one of the options Bryan initially stated. But this method does not give an infallible assurance. Again, Muslims’ bosoms burn too.

    -Tim

  242. Tim,

    First, I wasn’t trying to argue for Andrew’s position. I was trying to provide something solid that could be benneficial to both parties. Also, this is a very packed and concise statement which I thoght might aid the discussion as well. ;)

    Secondly, it states that the inward work or testimony of the Spirit is within our “hearts,” a word that is used to refer to the whole of man, including both mind and spirit. God created man with more than simply brains. True, using reason and logic are vitally important, but to state that the Holy Spirit ONLY communicates to men through their “bossom” is a pejorative straw man. (Do staw men even have bossoms?) I think we want to say that the Holy Spirit works by enlightening the mind of believers just as much as any other part, but we should be wary of excluding the idea that the Holy Spirit communicates to us through our other faculties as well… Granted, other religious systems have described their epistemology by the use of the phrase “burning of my bossom” (I am thinking primarily of Mormons here, but I know there are others), and grated as well, that we ought not to give any serious credance to such truth claims which are clearly founded upon nothing but air, but that being said, we ought to be careful of allowing the pendulum to swing in the other direction farther than it ought to.

    Finally Tim, I am not advocating for “infallible assurence” in the canon, (table of contents) and frankly, I didn’t realize that Reformed believers use this word in reference to it. I prefer “full confidence” or some other phrase rather than “infallible.” I am suprised that Andrew claims this, but it is interresting seeing him argue in favor of it. I just wish I knew more about it myself. ;)

    ~Keith

  243. Here is a question that i am curious about:
    Why was the RCC canon finalized at Trent? In other words, why was the apocrypha not canonized in earlier councils? If the HOly Spirit is the prime mover of these councils, why did he need to make such a vital amendment to His previous revelation to the church?
    Is the RCC canon “finalized” now, or could they hold another council and add more books?

    Just curious,
    Keith

  244. Keith,

    I think the fallible collection of infallible books is a defensible position. Andrew’s infallible assurance position, on the contrary, clearly is not.

    As for why the DC books were canonized so late, the DC books were canonized at other councils; Trent was just the first ecumenical council they were affirmed at. The local councils (including two at Hippo) were ratified by the Pope making them authoritative in the Church.

  245. Keith,

    The Decretal of Gelasius resulting from the synod convoked by Pope Damasus in 382 lists the same canon as Trent. So did the Council of Hippo in 393 and the Third Council of Carthage in 397. So did the canon of Pope Innocent I (405), and the Fourth Council of Carthage in 419. The popes in the ninth century appealed to the canon of Pope Innocent I. This same canon was again listed at the Council of Florence in 1442, and explicitly defined at the Council of Trent (1546), and reaffirmed at Vatican I (1870).

    So Trent was not a “vital amendment” to “previous revelation.” It simply defined what had been the longstanding tradition of the Church, in response to objections raised by the Reformers to the canon in the sixteenth century. The Reformers were rejecting the universal and longstanding practice of the Church with respect to the canon. Intrinsic to the Catholic faith is the idea that the Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth, and so does not permit universal and longstanding acceptance of error by her members in areas of faith and morality. Given this principle, the very ancient and longstanding acceptance and use of the Church’s canon is itself evidence of its authenticity. This is also one reason why no books can now be added or removed.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  246. Andrew, your appeal to the widespread acceptance of the Protestant canon doesn’t demonstrate its validity any more than, as Bryan noted, the Muslim world’s universal acceptance of the Koran demonstrates its divine inspiration.

    Herbert,

    You are missing my point here. Let me draw an analogy for you here. Let’s say I tried to persuade you that Islam does not allow for the use of human representations in religious art. I could go through with you the development of their concept of art and their understanding of worship and so on. In the end I think I could make the case. But now let’s say we try to test my argument with reality. We go to various places to view Muslim religious art and sure enough we find that my argument bears itself out in reality. But what if we find just the opposite? Suppose we found that there was lots of Muslim religious art that had human forms in it? Well then, perhaps I would want to reconsider my argument given the fact that it has no extension in reality.

    So likewise I am pointing out to Bryan that his argument has no basis in reality and I just thought that this might give him some pause. Perhaps there is some reason why his argument does not have any extension in the real world. Like I said to Bryan, the Evangelical world has lots of issues is the area of epistemological skepticism, but there is no lack of full assurance in the canon of Scripture. Now it could be possible that all of these millions of folks should have reason to doubt the canon, but the fact that they don’t suggests something about an argument that says they really should.

  247. Andrew M,

    So likewise I am pointing out to Bryan that his argument has no basis in reality

    If my argument (in #234) were based on what is going on in the Evangelical world, then my argument could be refuted by pointing out that at least one of the premises is contrary to what is going on in the Evangelical world. But my argument is not based on what is going on in the Evangelical world. If you are criticizing an argument that is based on what is going on in the Evangelical world, then you are criticizing some other argument besides my argument, and therefore leaving my argument unrefuted. My argument is based on the four premises I listed there in #234. If you wish to refute my argument, you need to show that at least one of those premises is false or unjustified, or that the conclusion does not follow from those premises.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  248. Andrew – Keith (above) disagrees with you here. And Keith and Sproul may be in the minority, but they’re in the minority because they’ve put thought into it and realized that Protestants cannot defend an infallible selection process of the canon and therefore they cannot have infallible assurance. Confidence, faith – yes they may have that; we are not disputing those things. No one here thinks that Protestants doubt their canon. But that is irrelevant to the discussion.

    You have not been able to defend your claim of infallible assurance in the selection of the canon.

  249. Bryan,

    But since presumably God does have that power (lest we impugn God’s omnipotence), therefore, just because God inspires two or more books it does not follow that the inspiration itself ipso facto includes collecting them into a canon. And therefore collection does not belong to the very nature of inspiration. So these are two distinct things, i.e. inspiration and collection.

    Bryan,

    The power of God has nothing to do with the matter. Of course God could do what you describe if He liked. No Christian would dispute that. My point is that the term “Scripture” when God used it in the 1st century does not mean something different then when we use the same term today. Uncollected writings are not Scripture. So you still need to explain why it is you want to separate the writing of the words of Scripture from their collection and why the term “Scripture” should mean something different when God used the term than when we use it today.

    You did not comment on something in my last post that I’m going to press you on here. There are two potential premises here:

    1) The ecclesial activity of inspiration/canonization is distinct from that of interpretation.
    2) The ecclesial activity of inspiration/canonization is not distinct from that of interpretation.

    My point to you in my last post is that if you utilized #2 above or some form of it then you are using a RCC presupposition in a Protestant argument and that will certainly lead to an internally inconsistent argument.

    Now I do understand why the Roman Catholic would want to use #2 given their merging of the Scripture as received with tradition that flowed out of that tradition. But this is obviously a difference between Protestant and Catholic. The Protestant (in line with the Early Church we would argue) sees the Scripture as received as distinct from the Church. Now you don’t need to tell me that you disagree, I know that. This of course is one of the age old arguments between us. But if you want to utilize a premise in your argument that assumes the RCC position of the relationship of the Church to the Scriptures then you are assuming just what we are asking you to prove.

  250. But my argument is not based on what is going on in the Evangelical world.

    Yes, I realize that your argument as nothing to do with the real world. I just thought that it might be interesting to test your conclusions with the real world.

    And I have “refuted” your argument to my satisfaction. And you have “refuted” my argument to your satisfaction. So should we leave it at that?

  251. You have not been able to defend your claim of infallible assurance in the selection of the canon.

    Tim – Yes, I know you think this. So let’s leave it at that. Maybe we could have a discussion over something that we both agree is a real issue next time. This stuff of you telling us that we have a problem that we cannot see and you cannot prove to our satisfaction is wearing rather thin.

  252. Andrew M,

    Nothing in #249 shows any of the premises of my argument (in #234) to be false or unjustified. Therefore, nothing in #249 refutes my argument. (If you disagree, please point me to some section of #249 that shows at least one of the premises of my argument to be false or unjustified.)

    In #250, you wrote:

    Yes, I realize that your argument as nothing to do with the real world. I just thought that it might be interesting to test your conclusions with the real world.

    I pointed out (in #247) that my argument (in #234) is not based on what is going on in the Evangelical world, and you respond by implying that I said that my argument had nothing to do with the real world. That, Andrew, is an example of sophistry.

    And I have “refuted” your argument to my satisfaction.

    Refutation has nothing to do with satisfaction. Logic is neither relative nor subjective. Refutation means showing that at least one of the premises of the argument is false or unjustified, or that the conclusion of the argument does not follow from the premises. Since you have not done that to my argument, my argument stands unrefuted.

    Moreover, I did not “refute your argument to [my] satisfaction“; I simply refuted your arguments. For each of the arguments you offered in this thread to show that a Protestant could know (or have “infallible assurance”) that the Protestant canon is inerrant, I showed that at least one of the premises was unjustified and/or that the conclusion did not follow from the premises. If you disagree, please refer me to one of your arguments [having as its conclusion that a Protestant can know that the Protestant canon is inerrant] that you think remains unrefuted.

    In order to make progress in a rational dialogue, we have to know and abide by the basic rules of logic. If we give up on logic, then we’re back to table-pounding.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  253. Have a nice day Bryan.

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  254. Bryan,

    Thanks for your answer above. It was enlightening. I have to review my church history class notes again. ;)
    Here is an interresting hypothetical question that came up in a discussion at church today: How would the church handle a “new discovery” of a text that had previously been lost? Say for example, a third letter from Paul to the church in Corinth was unearthed and it was (somehow) verifiable that Paul was indeed the author. Would rthe chuch conviene a council to study it and discuss whether or not it should be considered canon? I realize it is hypothetical, but it is interresting in that it would not have had universal or widespread useage in the early church and certainly not the historical church since it became lost.
    It was fun discussing this question at church, so I thought I would ask how the RCC would approach it.

    In Christ Alone,
    Keith

  255. Keith,

    Regarding your hypothetical question, the Catholic answer is a very definite ‘No’. The universal and longstanding non-recognition and non-use of such a text would prevent it from being included in the canon. Any growth in the Church’s deposit of faith is organic, an unfolding and clarification of what was already there and known to be there by the faithful, once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) Hopefully in a week or so we’ll be posting an article on ecclesial deism, which can be seen clearly in Mormonism. Ecclesial deism denies the organic nature of the Mystical Body, by retrospectively positing apostasy and loss, and then, claiming presently to offer a recovery of what was once lost. This presupposes the possibility of universal loss of [at least] some essential element of the deposit of faith, and thus it presupposes the possibility of discontinuity in the life and growth through history of the Mystical Body. And in this way it [conceptually] separates the indefeasible life of the Body from the Body, in substance-dualism fashion. The reason why we do not accept something novel is not only because Christ provided the final and definitive Word, but also because of our assurance that the Holy Spirit has necessarily and faithfully preserved that Word in the Mystical Body.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  256. Hey, Keith.

    I just noticed this remark of yours:

    I think we want to say that the Holy Spirit works by enlightening the mind of believers just as much as any other part, but we should be wary of excluding the idea that the Holy Spirit communicates to us through our other faculties as well … we ought not to give any serious credance to such truth claims which are clearly founded upon nothing but air, but that being said, we ought to be careful of allowing the pendulum to swing in the other direction farther than it ought to.

    This was very well put and I thoroughly agree with you. Reminds me of what one of my favorite Puritans, Richard Baxter, said: “Many an error is taken up by going too far from other mens’ faults.” (I guess it’s similar to Luther’s famous quip about humanity being like a drunk man on a horse, but it’s phrased beautifully.) Lots of wisdom there. Thanks for the apt and timely reminder.

    Best,

    Neal

  257. Hi again guys,

    Well, it seems like Andrew M. has gotten frustrated here, and I am not trying to add to it, but as a former Evangelical I would like to respond to his statement about Evangelicals:

    “Like I said to Bryan, the Evangelical world has lots of issues is the area of epistemological skepticism, but there is no lack of full assurance in the canon of Scripture. Now it could be possible that all of these millions of folks should have reason to doubt the canon, but the fact that they don’t suggests something about an argument that says they really should.”

    I would say that it is not only “possible” that there is reason for them to doubt the canon, but rather “most definitely” there is a reason. However, the vast majority of Evangelicals have given very little thought, let alone study and research, to why their Bible has 66 books it and not more (or not less). They implicitly accepted the 66-book Bibles given to them by their parents, pastors, and friends; after all, why should they doubt that this and this exactly is what comprises the Bible?

    When this implicit acceptance is coupled with anti-historical and anti-intellectual inclinations endemic to Evangelicalism, the result is that most Evangelicals don’t ever even consider the matters that we have touched on here, which necessarily involve the history of the Church and decisions made by her throughout the centuries. So their “assurance” about their 66-book Bibles stems from simple ignorance rather than sound thought and historical understanding.

    I’ve spent the last 5 months in discussion with one of my Evangelical friends about many different issues between our respective traditions, one of them being the canon. It has been exceedingly difficult for him to even comprehend the questions I am asking him about the canon because he had never thought of this important matter before–his Bible had always been his starting assumption! And he is a very intelligent man.

    To put it succinctly, the fact that there is widespread Evangelical ignorance of the basis for the Protestant canon is not a good reason to dismiss the arguments against it. Rather, the opposite should be true: A call needs to be made (within Protestantism even) to rouse the Evangelicals from their intellectual slumber and challenge them to discern through prayer and study whether their canon is fully correct or not.

  258. Devin,

    Well stated, and I agree with you whole-heartedly. Most “evangelicals” are blissfully ignorant of their complete lack of any degree of theological substance, let alone time-tested orthodoxy. Many of them don’t even know what “orthodoxy” means. However, don’t forget that doctrinal ignorance is just as prevalent in Rome, if not more so, as it is in broader evangelicalism… How many Catholics accept and believe in the canon given to them by their priests while being ignorant of the history of ecclesiastical dogma? So… to borrow your own words then: “So their “assurance” about their {Apocrypha–included} Bibles stems from simple ignorance rather than sound thought and historical understanding.”

    All of THAT being said, I think you are right on the money. Just because most “consumers” of an idea are ignorant of it’s epistemological/theological/historical foundations, does not make it wrong.

    Killing my own ignorance daily–a never ending task,
    Keith

  259. So, what’s at stake regarding the “fallible collection of infallible books,” and the inability of Protestant theology to ground knowledge of the inerrancy of the canon? In other words, so what?

    Neal referred to the implication in the body of his post:

    One cannot claim that Christians may have complete certainty regarding the words and promises of Scripture while simultaneously denying them certainty about which of the words and promises are Scriptural.

    Here’s what’s at stake. If Sproul is right that we have a “fallible collection of infallible books,” and we have no ground or basis for believing that the [Protestant] canon is inerrant, then for any particular book in the [Protestant] Bible, we cannot be certain that that book belongs to the canon. That’s in part because we cannot even be certain that there is a divinely-established canon. But in addition, even if we think there is good reason to believe that there is a divinely-established canon, without an infallible bosom-burning experience or a message from an angel we cannot know for sure whether any particular book belongs to the canon. And the divine inspiration and inerrancy of a book would do us no good if we could not know whether that book belonged to the canon, because its divine inspiration and inerrancy would remain hidden from us if we did not know whether it belonged to the canon.

    Furthermore, if we don’t know whether the collection is inerrant, and we don’t know which parts of the collection are correct (if any) and which are incorrect (if any), then we cannot put full faith and trust in the content of the whole collection; every part of it is suspect. In other words, with respect to epistemic certainty a “fallible collection of infallible books” is equivalent to a “fallible collection of fallible books.” Nor can a fallible collection of fallible books have absolute authority, since we can justify every disagreement with the text on the ground that it is fallible. After all, the book containing the ‘offending’ passage might not even really belong in the canon, if there is one.

    That’s what’s at stake, the very possibility of knowing and trusting God’s revealed Word, Jesus Christ, through the Bible. Thus to grant a “fallible collection of infallible books” is to cut off the branch on which you’re sitting. It [inevitably, when its adherents realize this internal incoherency] destroys the possibility of Protestantism, and thus destroys itself. And yet, as this thread makes clear, and as Sproul recognizes, Protestantism does not have the theological resources to ground knowledge of the inerrancy of the [Protestant] canon, without positing an infallible subjective experience had by each individual believer, explicitly confirming the existence and inerrancy of the [Protestant] canon. So, to have an “infallible collection of infallible books,” the two options, as Neal has pointed out, are:

    (1) some kind of bosom-burning experience had by each individual, infallibly testifying to the existence and inerrancy of the [Protestant] canon,

    or

    (2) the Catholic doctrine according to which “They [the bishops] have received the certain charism of the truth [i.e. gift of truth] according to the pleasure of the Father, with the succession in the office of bishop” (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haer. IV 26.2), and which bishops, gathered in ecumenical council, and in agreement with the longstanding teaching and practice of the Church (see #245), infallibly teach that:

    If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session 4)

    This is therefore a question that every Protestant, particularly those who haven’t had an indubitably infallible bosom-burning experience testifying to the inerrancy of the Protestant canon, ought to consider carefully, because the implications are serious. A faith built on a “fallible list of infallible books,” cannot endure.

  260. Bryan,

    You are pushing Roman Catholic “absolutist” language onto a Reformed statement of the canon. I hold that “infallible knowledge” is not necessary for “true knowledge and assurance.”
    Yes, I say that the canon (table of contents) is “fallible.” But you know what? 2+2=4 is a “fallible” statement as well. Does that mean that I have no ability to have any degree of certainty in the field of mathematics? Of course not. You cannot make grand assumptions concerning protestant statements based on YOUR interpretation of the words they use…
    Do you think that R.C. Sproul would agree with your conclusion that protestants who hold to a fallible collection of infallible books really have a fallible collection of fallible books? Of course he wouldn’t. Why not? “Fallible collection” to Sproul does not equal to “a pretty good guess but we really don’t know.” But this is the picture you are painting of him and of Protestants in general. And then you take this painting based upon semantically twisted thinking and make grand sweeping pejorative statements concerning all Protestants which are… just goofy.

    Ok, so you may be talking tongue-in-cheek when you say that protestants must have an “…indubitably infallible bosom-burning experience testifying to the inerrancy of the Protestant canon,” or else no assurence whatsoever (I hope that is the case). That is cute and creative. I’m not a fan of the “camp-fire experience mentality” which is prevailant in broader evangelicalism, and I think I can speak for the vast majority of Reformed when I say that. But you seem to be lumping us into the same hand-basket as every other protestant as though Reformed protestants do not have a rich and lasting history of Reformed orthodoxy upheld by a high view of Scripture and a high view of church authority as well.

    Don’t you think that you are being a little uncharitable?

    ~Keith

  261. Keith,

    I don’t want to get caught up in semantics, and I’m not trying to pin anything on Sproul himself, i.e. what he himself would say regarding the implications of his position. My argument is this. First, if we cannot be certain that the Protestant canon is inerrant, then the position is self-defeating by its very nature (in the way I explained in #259). Second, Protestantism in se (apart from positing this universal subjective experience confirming inerrancy of the Protestant canon) does not provide a basis or ground by which to be certain that the Protestant canon is inerrant. Hence, Protestantism, without positing this universal subjective experience by each individual believer, is self-defeating by its very nature.

    ‘Fallible’ as a term, is properly applied to agents or processes, and refers to an ability or susceptibility to err, even if there is no actual error. ‘Inerrant’ applies to statements or instances of processes, and refers to the absence of error, without specifying whether the agent performing the process, or the particular process leading to the statement, was (or was not) susceptible to error.

    If we don’t make this distinction, then claiming that 2+2=4 is “fallible” will mean that 2+2=4 is not inerrant, meaning that “2+2” does not equal 4. And, Sproul’s statement would be equivalent to saying that we have an “erroneous list of inerrant books”. Nobody wants to go there, obviously. So, we need to make the distinction.

    Do I need to be infallible to have “knowledge and assurance” of x? No. I’m capable of error. But that’s not the question. The question is How can I know that the Protestant canon is inerrant? And the argument that I’ve made in the comments of this thread is that Protestantism (on account of its ecclesiology) does not have the internal resources within itself to ground the knowledge that the Protestant canon is inerrant, without positing an internal, subjective experience in each individual believer confirming the inerrancy of the Protestant (but not the Catholic) canon. If you think I’m mistaken, then I hope you will show how a Protestant can be certain that the Protestant canon is inerrant, without resorting to some sort of bosom-burning experience. (Before you do so, I recommend reading through the comments of this thread, if you haven’t done so already.)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  262. Keith,

    Touche! You are quite correct in your statements about most Catholics being just as ignorant as their Evangelical separated brothers with regard to the canon of Scripture. We in the Catholic Church have much evangelization, catechesis, and formation to do within our own parishes to our fellow Catholics.

    An argument could be made that Joe Catholic or John Protestant in the pew shouldn’t need to learn the history of the Church in great depth nor all the issues and questions surrounding the canon of Scripture because their priests or pastors, who presumably have more learning and study, should be the ones to do it and then to lead their flock to the truth.

    Martin Luther agreed with this idea–listen to what he says in his introduction to his teaching on infant baptism in his Large Catechism: “Concerning this [infant baptism] we say briefly: Let the simple dismiss this question from their minds, and refer it to the learned. But if you wish to answer then answer thus…”

    In other words, John Protestant shouldn’t worry about this question and let learned men like Luther tell him what is true and false with regard to this doctrine. I think that this idea has some merit, for not all are Scripture scholars nor have the gifts to be theologians or historians. The sheep must be able to trust their shepherd, which means the shepherd must teach them the truth, or else he leads them astray. (And I would argue, the shepherds must be united to the Good Shepherd to know the truth.)

    Nonetheless, in our day there are great resources available to Joe Catholic and John Protestant, as well as high literacy and capability to understand logic and history, so I think it is laudable for every Christian to endeavor to learn about these issues and ask the tough questions, like we are doing in this post.

    Thanks and blessings to you in Christ,
    Devin

  263. I haven’t brought it up yet, maybe should have already, but the WCF explicitly rejects infallible canon selection process when it says “all councils may err and many have erred.”

    And in respect to this recent discussion on what lack of infallibility means for the Protestant, I will add one of my favorite quotes from Cardinal Newman:

    what can be more absurd than a probable infallibility, or a certainty resting on doubt?—I believe, because I am sure; and I am sure, because I suppose.

  264. Also, the 2+2=4 analogy is not a good example. As Bryan pointed out, a statement is not capable of being fallible or infallible. But we have a sure confidence in 2+2=4 even when produced by a fallible process; i.e. Joe says 2+2=4 whereas he might well have said 2+2=5. Joe is fallible. But we can rest assured of the inerrancy of the statement because it is demonstrably true. Not so with the canon.

    If it could be demonstrated that the canon was necessarily the 66 books of the Protestant canon then we wouldn’t need infallible assurance because the truth of the matter would be manifest to all sane persons as 2+2=4 is. This is very far from the case as I’m sure you will agree.

  265. Bryan,
    Thanks for your reply. However, there are a few things which I am still working through which may or may not stem from my misunderstanding of RCC thought.
    First, you stated, “Do I need to be infallible to have “knowledge and assurance” of x? No. I’m capable of error. But that’s not the question. The question is How can I know that the Protestant canon is inerrant?”
    This is not a problem unique to protestants as you claim, but it is a problem for Catholics as well. Here is how I understand the Catholic defense of your canon (please correct me if I am mistaken):
    1. The RCC has been granted the authority to produce certain infallible truth claims. (Only in Ecumenical Councils and the Pope on the chair of St. Peter).
    2. The RCC has generated the list of books to be included into the canon and claimed it is inerrant.
    3. Therefore the RCC canon is inerrant.
    2 & 3 only follow if #1 is granted. So… how can a Catholic “know infallibly” that #1 is inerrant? The only way that you can have inerrant knowledge that the RCC can be infallible is because the RCC claims to be able to make inerrant/infallible statements of dogma… But this is not a foundation, it is blatant circular reasoning. The way I see it, the only way that a Catholic individual can possibly know that the RCC’s claims to be able to produce inerrant truth claims is actually true, is a “burning in the bossom…” Each individual Catholic must decide whether or not to agree that Rome possesses this ability… based on what? Personal, subjective choice?
    To borrow your own words, “Hence, [Catholicism], without positing this universal subjective experience by each individual believer, is self-defeating by its very nature.”

    All of your claims that protestants have no infallible/inerrant epistemological leg to stand on apart from individuals reasoning within themselves is fine with me. Great. But don’t deceive yourself and think that Catholics do not suffer the same epistemological uncertainty, you have only managed to remove yourself from that uncertainty by one degree.

    Secondly, how can I, a protestant, have infallible/inerrant knowledge that the protestant canon is the correct one? Well, I do not claim that I can have inerrant or infallible knowledge of that. BUT, (again) this does not mean that I cannot have full assurance and confidence in it. I would answer your question in a similar way that you yourself would, I think that the average protestant layperson can, and ought to subject himself to the authority of the church in matters in which he is untrained, or unable to comprehend. God gave some to be teachers, preachers, evangelists, etc. for the benefit and edification of the church. Every Christian does not need to get an M-Div. or a degree in church history before he is “qualified” to have faith, confidence, and full assurance in the creeds and confessions of the church. This confidence in the canon is not a “mathematical certainty,” but it is an organic certainty, which grows and strengthens over time as the believer spends time in the word and receives the word and sacrament from his ordained church officers. The more time I spend in the word and doing the labor of exegesis myself, the more and more my faith and assurance that this book is the Word of God is strengthened, and I am grateful for that.
    As to whether or not the Apocryphal books ought to be considered canon, I honestly place my faith and confidence in the Reformed confessions and the authority that they hold in the matter. Who am I to challenge church authority in areas where I am uneducated?

    In Him,
    Keith

  266. Tim,

    Bingo! Thanks for bringing that up! –> ” “all councils may err and many have erred.”

    I believe this to be true unless it can be proven otherwise. Ergo, there is no way I could possibly posit a claim to have infallible or inerrant knowledge (mathematical certainty) that any council’s claims reguarding the canon of Scripture (or any othe extra-biblical doctrine or creed for that matter) is inerrant. BUT… because I make this statement does not mean that I cannot have full confidence and assurence. (I’m starting to feel like a broken record.) ;)

    ~Keith

  267. Keith – Sorry to make you feel redundant. I can appreciate the fatigue. But I’ve seen you state that you still have confidence, but I’ve not seen you give a satisfactory apology for this. Can you please explain how, knowing that the Church councils might have erred in selecting the books of the Bible, you can have “full confidence” in them seeing as how they are not self-evident or necessarily canonical? I do not know of any way to do this without resorting to an appeal to “bosom-burning” which takes us back to the very initial statements Bryan & Neal made on the subject.

    Your questions above to Bryan are very good ones. I may offer this (though Bryan will probably have a better response), the discussion, especially with Andrew, was centered on finding a principle for knowing with certainty which books belonged in the canon. You are right that I cannot say my confidence in the Catholic canon is infallible while your confidence in the Protestant canon is fallible and flimsy. That is not what we are claiming here. We are claiming that we have a consistent principle to know which books belong in the canon and the Protestants do not.

    Catholic ecclesiology affords us this luxury, Protestant ecclesiology, as shown above, explicitly rejects it. Both of us, (you and I) trust in God to get the job done (to collect the books in the canon). Catholics trust Him to do so through the visible, institutional continuum of the Church. Protestants, by denying the charism of infallibility to the Church, do not have such a principle. They have only the internal witness of the Holy Spirit (i.e. subjective bosom burning) coupled with fallible scholarly consensus as Andrew argued for above. They do not have a consistent principle that shows which books belong and which don’t.

  268. Tim,

    You stated:
    You are right that I cannot say my confidence in the Catholic canon is infallible while your confidence in the Protestant canon is fallible and flimsy. That is not what we are claiming here. We are claiming that we have a consistent principle to know which books belong in the canon and the Protestants do not.

    My consistent principle: I have full faith and assurance in the confessions of my church which specifically names the 66 books as canon and no others. In this particular matter, my faith that the 66 books are God-breathed is ever more strengthened by the fact that the church throughout history has held that this is so. (i.e. – even Catholics believe that the 66 are God-breathed.)
    The remaining question, is how do I know that the apocryphal works are not God-breathed. To this question, I must make my appeal to historic reformed orthodoxy and our confessions.

    Is there inconsistency that I am overlooking in that?

    ~Keith

  269. Keith,

    I wrote “Divine and Catholic Faith” last month, and in it I discuss the difference between Protestant faith and Catholic faith, and why trusting the Church is not “circular reasoning.” As I explain there, and in my fideism post, the Catholic can give good reason for believing that the Church is what she claims to be, by what are called the “motives of credibility.” These are external to the inquirer, and objective, and testify to the divine authority and infallibility of something external, just as the Apostles (though themselves fallible) could know that Jesus, being the Son of God, is infallible. Similarly the inquirer himself does not need to be infallible in order to come to the conclusion that the Church (under the specified conditions) is infallible by virtue of the promise and charism given to the Church by Christ. But the Protestant cannot give good reason for believing that the Protestant canon is inerrant, because there is not sufficient external evidence to ground that conclusion. Therefore the Protestant needs an inner, subjective paranormal experience in order to know that the Protestant canon is inerrant. So there is not parity between the two cases.

    What we’re dealing with is the relation between faith and reason, and the problem of fideism. Fideism starts with a leap (see here). But in Catholicism, faith does not leave reason behind; it elevates reason. So, from within faith, we can show how we got to our present position. But, the Protestant position cannot show how it got to the inerrancy of the Protestant canon. That’s because Protestantism took the Bible (or least the books other than the Deuterocanonicals) from the Catholic Church, but then rejected the authority of the Catholic Church by which those books were canonized.

    As to whether or not the Apocryphal books ought to be considered canon, I honestly place my faith and confidence in the Reformed confessions and the authority that they hold in the matter. Who am I to challenge church authority in areas where I am uneducated?

    Why do you think the Reformed confessions are authoritative? Do you just mean that they agree with your interpretation of Scripture? I suppose you’ve heard the saying: “When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me.” So what is it that makes you think the Reformed confessions are authoritative? Do you think they are binding on the consciences of all Christians, and thus that all Christians should be submitting to them? If so, why?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  270. Keith,

    You asked “Is there inconsistency that I am overlooking in that?”

    There’s nothing inconsistent there with your previous admission that you do not believe that the selection of the canon was an infallible process because the method you pointed to here is certainly fallible. Your principle seems to be whichever books “the church throughout history has held” to be canonical are canonical.

    Now, brushing aside historical arguments, (the fact is that the DC books have enjoyed overwhelming, though not unanimous, support as canonical throughout history), we are still left with the disputed New Testament books. The Church did not universally accept these during the three centuries where the Church would be most likely to know the correct books of the canon (from a historical critical point of view). So your principle, it seems to me, would have to toss out books like 2 – 3 John, it would have to include the last verses of Mark 16 (which scholars now reject) it would have to throw out James etc…

    Moreover, as someone argued before, your principle is ad hoc because it addresses only the canon. Even if we assumed that you were right that the Protestant 66 books have been universally received as the canon throughout history, there are many other things which have indisputably been received throughout Church history that you reject – baptismal regeneration, sacrifice of the mass, veneration of the Mother of God, episcopal hierarchy etc..

    So your principle is not inconsistent with itself, but it is inconsistent with your overall belief system.

  271. Tim,

    The “historical evidence” of which you address in your reply is only one evidence which supports the positive assertion that the 66 are inspired. I was intending to state that this historical evidence is only one piece of the puzzle which informs me, true, but it also informed the church councils where the Reformed confessions of faith were drafted, ratified, and adopted. There were obviously more evidences examined in those councils or assemblies if you will. I rest MORE upon the authority of those assemblies (councils) than I do of a simple argument from church history.
    I believe I am consistent in that I do believe that church councils and assemblies can and have erred. The reason I mentioned the argument from church precident is to assert that my confidence that the 66 are indeed inspired is a confidence which you and all Catholics also share. We are in agreement. What we disagree on, is whether there are MORE than these 66 which ought to be considered in the same light.

    In Him,
    Keith

  272. Keith,

    Tell me if I’m wrong – but I think I’m hearing you say that your principled reason for confidence in the canon is the historic Christian acceptance of the 66 books from about the 4th century until now + the fact that Reformed councils have affirmed them and only them.

    So if we are to examine a book to know with confidence whether it is part of the canon we should ask

    1. Was this book universally accepted from the 4th century onwards?
    2. Did the Protestant councils affirm or deny its canonicity?

    Is this a fair summary of your principled reason? If not, please correct.

  273. Isn’t anybody here aware concerning the fact that if you were to look in the New Testament, at the places where it quotes the Old Testament, the vast majority (something like 80%) of the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament come from the Septuagint (which is the Greek version of the Old Testament from which we Romanists consider the basis for our Canon for the O.T.)?

    At any rate, the very authors of the New Testament books themselves used the Septuagint tradition as the Old Testament Scriptures they relied upon when writing those inspired books of Scripture.

    (In fact, there are even Protestant seminary professors who go so far as to admit this.)

    And, they never, anywhere, are found to say:

    “By the way, guys, even though we’re using the Septuagint, you ought to know that some of the books you’ll find in this aren’t Scripture; and so you’ve got to be – be on your watch for them because they’re not really inspired.”

    On the contrary, they not only quoted from the Septuagint, they even, at points, refer to events from it.

    For example, if you look in Hebrews 11, there is a place where it talks about how some of the heroes of the Faith who refused to be released and were been killed and martyred in order to obtain a better Resurrection.

    Now, you could read the Protestant Old Testament from front to back and you’ll never find that.

    But, where you will find it is in the Book of 2nd Macabbees, where there is a group of martyrs who were being tortured for adhering to the Jewish Faith and rather than be released, they stuck to their Faith and were martyred so that they can have a better resurrection; and that’s what’s being referred to in the Book of Hebrews.

    Now, the Church Fathers, similarly, accepted the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, and that’s what shaped the Christian Canon of the Old Testament until the time of the Reformation.

    What happened then was Martin Luther looked around and didn’t like a lot of what he saw in the Catholic Church and there were certain doctrines in particular that he didn’t like.

    One of them was the Doctrine on Purgatory and he started talking about why he didn’t like the Doctrine on Purgatory and people were rather quick to point out:

    “Well, wait a minute, what are you talking about – Purgatory is clearly alluded to in the book of 2nd Macabbees”; and Luther’s response to that was: “Well, then 2nd Macabbees must not be Scripture” – because he thought that this doctrine was incompatible with the sufficiency of what Christ did for us.

    It’s not, but that’s what he thought. So, he looked around and said: “You know, there’s been something of a dispute in Church history about exactly which books in Scripture are canonical in the Old Testament”, because there were Jewish individuals who continued to use the Pharisee canon, and so, basically, Luther went on to say: “Well, that’s what we should use” – and that’s how the split developed between the Protestant and Catholic Canons of the Old Testament.

    But, what do I know?

    I merely a bloody Papist with no real knowledge of such things.

  274. Roma,

    The fact that the NT refers to DC books several times is an important fact but that doesn’t prove their canonicity. Also, if the wide use of the Septuagint proves anything, it proves too much because it includes non-canonical books like 3 & 4 Maccabees.

    The facts you brought up do cast doubt on the Protestant position, but I’d advise you not to let this be your angle of argument because its too easy for the Protestant to refute and then think they have defended their erroneous position.

  275. I want to piggyback on Tim’s remark. (It’s less awkward than piggybacking on Tim.)

    Roma, it may well be the case that some of the DC books, such as the Maccabees, were viewed with suspicion by the Reformers because they seemingly endorsed things like prayers and sacrifices for the dead. And everyone knows that Luther viewed some of the NT writings with suspicion as well, for different doctrinal reasons. At the same time, I think it would be hard to prove that the rejection of the DCs as a whole was motivated by the kinds of considerations you advance.

    Looking at Wisdom or Sirach or Tobit, for example, there isn’t anything that really jumps off the page at you and displays an obvious conflict with points of historic Protestantism. (And we can see echos of those books in the NT as well, as you point out.) So why should they be rejected? I think the Protestant is going to try to provide considerations against this collection of writings as a whole, which are not necessarily based on perceived conflicts between them and historic Protestant orthodoxy. They may point to the fact that these books had an ambiguous status with the Jews themselves, e.g., and that a number of Jews did not consider them to have the same status as the other OT texts. This isn’t by itself decisive, but I think it can be used as one plank in an overall Protestant argument against the DCs — and this argument needn’t appeal to disputed doctrinal questions necessarily.

    I admit, though, that I’m sort of out of my depth when it comes to the DC issue. Tim is right that the question of the deuterocanonicals isn’t really the primary issue I was wanting to raise in this post (unavoidable and important as it is), but that I had a more general concern in mind. And even here, my concern isn’t exactly about the canon as such (as important as that is, too). The question of the canon really points to a deeper and more fundamentally important issue concerning authority. Both Keith and Andrew, in keeping with the Reformed tradition, want to assign some real and important authority to such things as Church Councils, etc. The really interesting questions come about when we try to be more precise about the authority structures.

    One other thing that comes to mind, as I bring up Keith. I mentioned above that Keith’s intuition is spot on — we want to ensure that we’re not reactionary, and that we don’t run so far away from one mistake that we end up losing our balance and falling into a contrary mistake. Lots of us Catholics have made heavy weather about the importance of Church Councils, the authority of the Magisterium, and rightly so. But we betray not just history, but also our own Catholic tradition, if we do not allow any room for the sensus fidelium, or the overall (Spirit-led) sense of the faithful concerning doctrine and practice. This isn’t just irrelevant in a Catholic scheme of things: there must be some good sense in which the saints really are inwardly taught by the Spirit, really are attuned to the Shepherd’s voice. Abuses or improper applications of these ideas notwithstanding, we dare not pretend that there is no such thing or that it isn’t at all important.

    Relatedly, I think we should acknowledge something else which may have been obscured in our discussions of Councils and so forth: namely, that the ‘canonization process’ wasn’t just conciliar, but was liturgical as well. I don’t think Reymond has things right (as explained above), but we also should forthrightly acknowledge that the treatment of certain NT books as inspired and authoritative really did antedate the successive conciliar decrees about the canon, because Christians understood that it wasn’t appropriate to read anything other than “the Word of God” during the liturgy of the Word, and so decisions were made concerning which of the books the tradition had produced were appropriate to read in the liturgy. On some understandings, that was what the question of the canon really amounted to: which texts could be read in the liturgical proclamation, and which could not? Which could be proclaimed with the full force of “Thus saith the Lord,” and which couldn’t? So the Fathers involved in those early Councils to which we’ve alluded were certainly not starting from scratch, even though they did have to think really hard and make binding decisions and so forth.

    I’m not sure how helpful these caveats are at this point. If I’d written a longer article I probably would have included a discussion of these things. But I do think it’s important for us to acknowledge them, not just because they’re part of Catholic tradition, but also because they help to bring Catholic thought that much closer to the insights and suggestions that Andrew and Keith have been raising here. Discussions of this kind inevitably gravitate toward the points of contention, and this is of course understandable. But I think we all need to take care that we do not focus on the points of contention in such a way that the points of agreement are thrust aside or treated as irrelevant.

    All best,

    Neal

  276. I didn’t attempt to explore what Andrew wrote in comment #246, mostly since he seems to be gone for now. But since this thread just won’t die, and since Neal has just mentioned something which had come to mind as I considered Andrew’s hypothetical situation, namely the sensus fidelium, I thought I’d mention the following:

    As I see it, the appeal Andrew made in comment #246 was to the sensus fidelium. And though it’s important that we don’t downplay the role that the sensus fidelium plays in expressing the will of the Holy Spirit for the Church, I’ve found Church teaching regarding contraception to help to illustrate the relationship the Magisterium has with the Faithful.

    What I’m getting at is this- though statistics indicate that very few Catholics are actually following the Church’s teachings regarding procreation, it doesn’t follow that the teachings themselves should be called into question (As Andrew’s hypothetical seemed to me to suggest). As GK Chesterton said “Right is right, even if no one does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.”

    I realize that this particular subject doesn’t exactly have much of a place here on this thread (aside from the fact that it could possibly provide a good vantage point from which to analyze Andrew’s hypothetical from comment #246). But it would certainly be interesting to see further exposition of it in the future here at CTC. Let me end by offering one more line attributed to Chesterton: “I don’t want the Church to be right when I am right. I want the Church to be right when I am wrong.”

    And whether we’re discussing the process of collecting the Scriptures or we’re discussing the sanctity of human life, Chesterton’s line rings true. thanks!

  277. Tim and all involved,

    You (Tim) stated:

    “So if we are to examine a book to know with confidence whether it is part of the canon we should ask

    1. Was this book universally accepted from the 4th century onwards?
    2. Did the Protestant councils affirm or deny its canonicity?

    Is this a fair summary of your principled reason? If not, please correct.”

    My response would be that yes, this is the gist of what I was saying. However, I will narrow it down for you even further so that you can more readily interact with it. I will state that my assurance of the Reformed orthodox doctrine of Scripture resides primarily in the Reformed confessions & subsequent wealth of the Reformed Scholastic writings.

    Now, after narrowing it down, so that you may interact with it easier, let me expand on this summary of my claim.

    I am starting to realize that I should not take for granted that you understand that the Reformation was an attempt to “Re-form” the Roman church. We claim the pre-Reformation tradition of Rome going all the way back to the Apostles and Christ himself as our own.

    One point of church history which I think is being overlooked, is that the Reformers did not come out of thin air and start challenging an already solidified and universally accepted doctrine of Scripture. Their thinking on the matter of the doctrine of Scripture was very deeply rooted primarily in the plethora of discussions of the (Roman Catholic) Medieval scholastics. It seems as though most Catholics (and most Protestants for that matter) believe that Martin Luther was the first to challenge the Roman canon, but this is simply historically inaccurate. Roman Catholic theologians had been discussing the place for the Apocrypha and the Deutero-canonicals long before Luther had been born.
    All this being said, I fully realize that the Divines, doctors, and pastors (elders) at the Reformed assemblies were all much better acquainted with the historical development of the doctrine of Scripture which the Medieval doctors discussed at length, and they were also much more familiar with the writings of the early church Fathers than I am. (Note how often Calvin cites the Fathers in his Institutes!) I realize that the Fathers didn’t necessarily address the doctrine of Scripture directly per se, at least not in the defined categories which we are more familiar with today, but by studying their hermeneutical practices and seeing which texts they used and how they used them, the Medieval doctors and Reformed thinkers alike have been able to come to some conclusions as to their use of Scripture and deduce a doctrine of Scripture from the Fathers…

    Ultimately, what I am driving at is that the Reformed orthodox doctrine of Scripture is not something which was suddenly and without precedent thought up by the Reformers. It is a conclusion arrived at through an intensive study of the organic progression of thought on the matter of the doctrine of Scripture throughout the entire history of the Christian church. The history of the pre-Reformation Roman church is MY history, and although it is not without blemish and error, I hold it as my own.

    The bottom line is, I realize that the Reformed Divines & Scholastics studied the historical doctrine of Scripture in scrutinizing detail, and they have passed down the tradition of the church of Christ (which we firmly and confidently believe is a true and right continuation of the tradition of the Church of Christ from the Apostolic Church, to the Early/Ancient Church through the church in the Middle Ages through the Reformation, through the ages until even now) to all churches who call themselves “Reformed.” So yes, I place more confidence and assurance in their conclusions on the matter of the canon of Scripture than I do to burnings and even little tingles in my insignificant bosom.

    Reformed and constantly reforming,
    Keith

  278. Bryan,
    I may address the body of your argument above in a future post, but for now I’ll comment on your concluding question. You wrote, “Why do you think the Reformed confessions are authoritative? Do you just mean that they agree with your interpretation of Scripture?”

    I could ask you the same question. “Why do you think the Catholic confessions are authoritative? Do you just mean that they agree with your interpretation of Scripture?”

    The bottom line is that I could say that my belief in the validity of the Reformed confessions resides in my assent to them. But they are true or untrue apart from my assent. True ecclesiastical authority is derived from God alone, and not from the assent of mere men.

    Also, I believe that if you firmly believed that Scripture itself taught a doctrine that was diametrically opposed to an “infallible” declaration of the Roman church, you too would not assent to it, and your belief that the Roman church has an “infallible” authority would be radically shaken.

    How then can I conscientiously assent to Rome’s claims of ecclesiastical authority when I believe with full conviction that she has so clearly perverted the purity of the Gospel of my Savior as presented in Scripture? (This is not a statement tainted with sarcasm, it is with a grieved heart that I say this. I too wish that there was only one unified earthly institution of the Church with a singular corpus of orthodox dogma. But I don’t see this happening until the day of the blessed return of our Lord and Savior.)

    In Him,
    Keith

  279. Keith – I am aware that the Reformers thought they were Reforming the Church. We can save that discussion for another time though. If I use language that appears to take for granted that this was not the case, it’s because I insist that it was not the case – not because I am unaware that they thought this. Joseph Smith may also have thought he was reforming the Protestant community for all I know – history tells another story though.

    As to the matter at hand, given 1. & 2. that I stated as your position and you agreed to (adding a bit), this gives you some consistency and refutes my earlier charge that your position is ad hoc (i.e. that you accepted a principle for canonization but rejected this principle for other doctrines – given 1&2, you could accept the principle for both and be consistent). Because if we look at something like the sacrifice of the mass – since it was universally accepted from the 4th century onwards (and much earlier than that of course), it would pass 1 but since it was rejected by the Reformers, it would fail 2. Further, we could dispute about the universal acceptance of the DC books and whether or not they would pass 1, but we know they would fail 2 so your position is internally consistent here.

    So the entirety of your position rests on the authority of the Reformed councils. However, there remains the question of what gives the Reformed councils any authority whatsoever. The Reformed councils were by non-ordained men (rather – self-ordained men), having no material apostolic succession, and acting apart from the see of Peter outside the jurisdiction of any rightfully ordained bishop (in fact, acting in defiance against the rightful bishops in all cases). In contradistinction, the councils of the Catholic Church have been carried out by validly ordained bishops having indisputable material succession from the very apostles themselves.

    So given the above juxtaposition, what is your principled reason for accepting the Reformed councils and rejecting the Catholic councils?

    One more thing:

    How then can I conscientiously assent to Rome’s claims of ecclesiastical authority when I believe with full conviction that she has so clearly perverted the purity of the Gospel of my Savior as presented in Scripture?

    This is an easy answer: you can’t and shouldn’t. If you believe the Catholic Church to be teaching a doctrine contrary to the true gospel, it would be a lie and a sin to assent to her teachings. However, we are to inform our consciences. The Church has been charged with protecting the gospel, not destroying it – and she will, by God’s grace, accomplish her task. So I encourage you to continue “reforming” as you said – reforming your understanding of the Catholic Church. I assure you that none of us would have ever left Geneva had we the slightest suspicion that Rome might be perverting the truth of the gospel. We came to Rome not to abandon the gospel but to embrace it more fully.

  280. (Dovetailing off of Tim’s response, which poses excellent questions…)
    Keith,

    You wrote “True ecclesiastical authority is derived from God alone, and not from the assent of mere men.”

    I agree, and based on your comments saying the pre-Reformation Church is your Church, too, I assume you believe that God gave the pre-Reformation Church “true authority”. So if that Church had God-given authority, and then the Reformation happened to re-form it, what happened to that authority?

    1. Did it disappear such that neither the Catholic Church nor any Reformation church had it?
    2. Did a particular Reformation church receive it (Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian) and if so, which one?
    3. Had it disappeared centuries prior to the Reformation when the Catholic Church “so clearly perverted the purity of the Gospel of my Savior as presented in Scripture”, and then #1 or #2 happened?

    This is something like a thought experiment I am suggesting you consider.

  281. Devin,

    I believe that the pre-Reformation catholic church had true and rightful authority granted by God. What happened to that grant? We define “church” differently than do you. It is a kingdom NOT of this world, yet it is made manifest in this world. (Doctrine of Two Kingdoms). To the extent that a local, earthly church truely meets the marks of a “true church” it is granted authority by God. He gives authority to HIS church, not yours, not mine, not all churches starting with Saint ___ not all churches starting with Reformed… Our doctrinal dividing lines are not necessarily God’s.

    ~keith

  282. Tim,

    First of all, I appologize for the length of my last post… it was late and I didn’t realize how long-winded I was getting. ;)

    You stated: “The Reformed councils were by non-ordained men (rather – self-ordained men), having no material apostolic succession, and acting apart from the see of Peter outside the jurisdiction of any rightfully ordained bishop (in fact, acting in defiance against the rightful bishops in all cases).”

    RESPONSE ~ They were not ordained according to your standards, no. However, according to what we believe the true apostolic teaching in Scripture teaches, they were indeed rightfully ordained.
    No “MATERIAL” apostolic succession… ok, but the Reformed doctrine of apostolic succession differes significantly from yours. It is not like the Reformers simple “ignored” that fact.
    We can get into rightful ordination, but it may be a bit off topic… so I will leave it at that.

    However, as you are well aware, in RCC history, many men have PURCHASED so called “rightful ordination within the see of St. Peter” for money. Just because they had hands layed on them by someone who had hands layed on them who … repeat until you get to Peter himself, does not mean that this is a man called by God to the task of the ministry of the Word.
    The Reformed doctors & Divines saw the obvious historical corruption inherrant in the Roman doctrine of ordination and prefered to turn to Scripture (Sola) and re-examine what the Word of God states concerning proper ordination seeing clearly that those doctrines of “material succession” were far from a “magical” guarantee of “rightful” ordained into the ministry of the Word. Too many bishops in (our) church’s history were more interrested in authority than in ministry. Absolute power corrupts absolutely… even in Rome.

    ~Keith

  283. cont…

    I am not trying to imply (above) that all Roman bishops were corrupt… Just trying to make the point that the “right method” of ordination according to Rome, has been historically problematic. The “right Roman” (inerrant?) method of ordination has led to a great man errors… Makes me scratch my head…

    Of course, there are many “ordained” buffoons in protestantism as well…

    ~Keith

  284. Kevin – re: the invisible Church – Bryan & Tom Brown have refuted that position in this featured post. You may also be interested in my latest two posts on the subject. The first highlights the inconsistency of the Protestant view with the early Christian creeds and the second demonstrates its inconsistency with a full embrace of incarnational theology.

    On ordinations/apostolic succession, we will get to that in a featured article later. One is already in the pipeline and should be ready by fall. But my challenge remains – the Reformers’ reworking of apostolic succession to include formal succession only is not sufficient grounds to give authority to Reformed councils.

    Authority has to come directly from Christ in these matters – it cannot be captured by anyone who thinks they are interpreting the Bible correctly even if they have a number of people who agree with them. Christ gave authority to the apostles and they in turn to bishops. This has been the long standing model of Church authority since the first century. Calvin disputed the Ignatian epistles because he could not conceive of the early Church having such an episcopal government. Calvin was wrong – those epistles are now universally accepted among scholars.

    But perhaps we should leave our argument here because we have determined that our difference is whether or not the Reformed councils have authority. We (CTC) will argue our case when we address the doctrine of Apostolic Succession later this year.

    I’ll leave the closing remarks to you so we can put this thread to rest.

  285. Keith – I forgot to address the corruption part. I totally agree with you. There have been and always will be (serious) problems among the ordained.

    But if a politician does evil things, it does not follow that he wasn’t validly elected. Likewise, if a man does good things it does not follow that he has the authority of a senator. Similarly, if a bishop is bad, it does not follow that he is not truly a bishop. And, as you may have guessed, if a man is good it does not follow that he is a bishop.

    So the corruption angle is not a valid argument against the necessity for material succession. We’ll get into that more with the full article.

  286. Before the thread is finally put to rest, can I just invite anyone who’s interested to share reading recommendations on this subject (the formation of the canon)?

    I’ve sent a note to one of the CTC guys asking for his recommendations, but I’ve got so much to learn I might as well ask you all: what works (historical, critical, academic) would you recommend as essential reading?

    Pax Christi,
    stephen

  287. Keith! I’m sorry I didn’t mean to call you Kevin – I think I got confused and crossed your name with Devin’s.

    Stephen, Graham’s “Where We Got the Bible” is a good, short introduction to the topic. You can find the text online here.

    And I haven’t read it but “Exploring the Origins of the Bible” is probably a well rounded modern examination of the topic. It has eight scholarly essays on the topic from eight different scholars.

  288. Neal (and Tim):

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    Still, I have a bone to pick with you.

    For example, weren’t you aware of the fact that most Jews used the LXX (i.e., The Septuagint) for their own Scriptures rather than the Hebrew original (Hebrew having become a scholar’s language several hundred years earlier during the Babylonian Captivity)?

    Quite frankly, aggressive de-helenization in subsequent centuries A.D. is basically what was responsible for later Jews not accepting the LXX.

    Yet, I don’t even see why anybody would want to appeal to the Jewish tradition (especially considering the fact that the Jews had only established their canon later than we Christians had done as regarding our canon of the O.T. as ultimately selected via the Church Fathers and the councils); since, relatively-speaking, Christianity at that time became old enough then that its Christian tradition (that of the canon, etc.) was far older than the corresponding contemporary Jewish one.

    Unfortunately, Protestants presumably took their canon from the Masoretic texts rather than the LXX partly as a result of just this kind of confusion over such an issue.

    And as far as the use of the LXX by the NT authors – I personally think that this is quite unassailable.

    If you take Paul’s letters, for instance, and isolate his OT quotes and compare them to the MT, it is obvious that that is not what Paul was quoting. His quotes are often verbatim of exactly what we find in the LXX as you’d find in the modern edition. Sometimes they are not, but this is due to the complicated history of the LXX text, and the quotations that are not exact are cosistently closer to the LXX than the MT.

  289. One problem with that argument, roma victor, is it presumes that the LXX was a canon. It wasn’t. Lxx is just a rather imprecise way of referring to all the Greek translations of the Hebrew bible. So if Paul quotes from LXX Isaiah that doesn’t say anything about what Paul thought about 2 Macc or 4 Macc.

  290. Imprecise? It’s no wonder Paul used it extensively!

    If it was so remarkably awful, why in much of the Synoptic Gospels you find reference to much of what is found (almost verbatim, even) in the LXX as opposed to the MT?

    Also, your comments do not even come close to refuting the fact that the early Christian church had determined its O.T. Canon (relying on the LXX) long before contemporary Jewish elders had done so with theirs.

    Christians had already an established Tradition by that time — even older than our Jewish contemporaries, especially given that context; why would we defer to the Jewish tradition especially since we essentially were split from them after they had kicked us out of their Temples?

    We were heretics to them; would there then be any reason why we should forsake the ancient Tradition of the early church and substitute for theirs the Jewish one?

    My, how horrendous the extent to which schism and outright heresy tend to go even as so far as engaging in such blatant nihilistic emancipation from our own ancient Christian Tradition and beloved patrimony!

  291. Roma, cool yer jets, man.

    You are almost systematically misreading what people are saying to you. Nobody’s denigrating the LXX and of couse everybody knows that the NT authors relied on it. The stuff you’re saying isn’t revelatory for anyone here. Chill out a bit.

    Neal

  292. Blatant nihilistic emancipation from our Tradition? Heresy? Easy killer, I’m a Roman Catholic who loves the Old Greek translations of the Hebrew bible. And I think you’re quite right to say we shouldn’t be beholden to the MT canon. I’m trying to point out one weak spot in your argument.

    Here’s my point: I didn’t say the translations themselves were imprecise, I said the term Septuagint (= LXX) is imprecise. Insofar as the term LXX implies that there was an established Greek canon (i.e. list of authoritative books) in the first century it is misleading. There was no Septuagint canon. Rather, there were multiple Greek translations of the scriptures. Today we refer to all those translations as “the Septuagint” but they weren’t actually a defined corpus. Thus, when Paul or Luke quote from LXX Isaiah that doesn’t tell us anything about what they thought about LXX Genesis or Sirach.

    To be fair, in the past some scholars have thought there was a LXX canon in the first century, but this view has been thoroughly discredited and, therefore, I would suggest, should be avoided when we dialogue with Protestants.

  293. Nathan: Thanks for the explanation (and your generous patience).
    Neil: Apologies. Went to ‘spas’ mode there; neither helpful nor Christian.

  294. Keith,

    I wrote a reply late last night (to #278), but my browser crashed just as I was sending it, and I was too tired to retype the whole thing. So, I’ll try again!

    Why do you think the Catholic confessions are authoritative? Do you just mean that they agree with your interpretation of Scripture?”

    Catholics and Protestants have different conceptions of the nature and ground of ecclesial authority. The Catholic conception of ecclesial authority, which extends all the way back to the first century and the Apostles, is that magisterial (i.e. teaching) authority is handed down, from God the Father to Christ, from Christ to the Apostles whom He authorized and sent out, from the Apostles to the bishops whom the Apostles authorized and sent out, and from the succeeding bishops whom those prior bishops authorized and sent out, and so on. This is a sacramental conception of magisterial authority. It requires ordination by a bishop whose authority comes through a succession of ordinations from the Apostles. It is not fundamentally a democratic conception of authority, bottom-up, but fundamentally a top-down conception of authority, conferred not invisibly or immediately from heaven to *this man*, but visibly (and hence sacramentally), through the order established by Christ, by the laying on of hands by those having that authority. (It has to be by someone having that authority, because you cannot give what you do not have.)

    This pattern can be seen in St. Paul where he says, “how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:15, cf. Acts 15:24) It is the pattern visible in many different places in the early Church fathers, including St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian. So, for Catholics, the reason the Nicene Creed is binding is not because we agree with it or because it matches our interpretation of Scripture, but because it was promulgated as dogma by those having sacramental magisterial authority from the Apostles. What those having such authority teach definitively shows us what to believe regarding the deposit of faith and shows us how to interpret and understand the Sacred Scriptures.

    That cannot be true of Protestants, because the starting point of Protestantism as such is a rejection of the Catholic Church’s sacramental magisterial authority. We can see this in Luther’s famous statement at the Diet of Worms:

    Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.

    Luther, as the father of Protestantism, here expresses the defining characteristic of Protestantism as such. In his statement we see his appeal to his own interpretation of Scripture as greater in authority than the authority of popes or ecumenical councils. Obviously it would be inconsistent for Protestantism to attempt to propose sacramental magisterial authority to those within it, while having as the basis for its own existence as something separate from the Catholic Church a rejection or defiance of sacramental magisterial authority. And Protestantism never claimed to have greater sacramental magisterial authority than the Catholic Church. It rejected the concept of sacramental magisterial authority, and instead, grounded its doctrine and practice in a sola scriptura approach to Scripture.

    Because of its rejection of sacramental magisterial authority and its adoption of sola scriptura, no Protestant creed or confession can have any authority grounded on the sacramental magisterial authority of the person or persons who wrote it. A Protestant creed or confession can only have ‘authority’ to a person insofar as it agrees with that person’s interpretation of Scripture, or, less directly, insofar as those who wrote it share that person’s interpretation of or approach to Scripture. And that raises the [“When I submit (so long as I agree), the one to whom I submit is me”] problem I mentioned in #269.

    The difference between these two conceptions of authority is that the former is a sacramental grounding of authority (and thus a sacramental basis for the authoritative determination of orthodoxy/heresy), and the latter is a doctrinal (not sacramental) grounding of authority, which entails the rule of “private judgment” and, for that reason, perpetual fragmentation into various sects and schisms.

    Also, I believe that if you firmly believed that Scripture itself taught a doctrine that was diametrically opposed to an “infallible” declaration of the Roman church, you too would not assent to it, and your belief that the Roman church has an “infallible” authority would be radically shaken.

    You’ve described what is for Catholics the equivalent of God creating a rock so big He can’t lift it. In other words, you are criticizing the Catholic Church on the ground of a Protestant assumption (e.g. that the Magisterium can teach something that meets the conditions of infallibility, and which is “diametrically opposed” to something taught in Scripture). So it is a question-begging criticism; it assumes the falsity of Catholicism in order to criticize Catholicism. Catholics believe that whatever the Church teaches under the necessary conditions for infallibility, will not be diametrically opposed to anything in Scripture, just as whatever the Apostles taught definitively was, necessarily, (by the promise of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit) protected from error.

    How then can I conscientiously assent to Rome’s claims of ecclesiastical authority when I believe with full conviction that she has so clearly perverted the purity of the Gospel of my Savior as presented in Scripture?

    You can’t. But let’s talk further about this claim about “perverting the purity of the Gospel”. From the Catholic point of view, I’m sure you understand, it is just the other way around, in that Luther and Calvin distorted the Gospel. So, in order to work out this disagreement, we’ll need to consider each other’s reasons and evidence, in charity and sincerity. Which doctrines of the Church seem to you to be opposed to what is contained in Scripture concerning the Gospel?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  295. No worries, Roma. Zeal for His house can be consuming!

  296. Tim,

    Thanks for your replies. I will look into those books on the subject. Yes, I agree, we disagree on whether or not the Reformed councils have any substantial authority. It is a good place to leave the argument wherre it is.
    I think that the Reformers would ground their authority in Sola Scriptura, and Rome in Scripture + chruch tradition. I must admit, that this area of church history is not one into which I have researched at great length, so I look forward to the new thread on the subject.
    It has been an enlightening experience so far participating in this thread. ;)

    In Him,
    Keith (& sometimes called Kevin) ;)

  297. Keith – sounds good. I have appreciated the irenic discussion and look forward to more in the future. These are the kinds of honest and open talks that I love! Unfortunately they seem too far in between.

    BTW – those book recommendations were for “wilkins” (he asked for them) but you may enjoy them as well. :)

  298. Bryan,

    Thanks for your time and thought, …and for replying twice. I hate when that happens!

    I thought that you were formally a Reformed believer… Perhaps I have you confused with someone else on this thread… It seems to me, after reading how you describe Reformed ecclesiology that you are not very familiar with it. The majority of your issues with protestants is actually a critique of broader evangelicalism, not Reformed orthodoxy, and I join you whole-heartedly in that critique!

    For example, you stated, “It is not fundamentally a democratic conception of authority, bottom-up, but fundamentally a top-down conception of authority…”
    Reformed elders are not “elected” democratically either, I’m not sure where you got that idea. And I totally agree that true ecclesiastical authority comes from above and not from below. We simply believe that “above” means God and His Word alone, and you think it means Rome because God granted her the right to pass on His authority to whomever she so wishes. (In some cases, it was passed to the highest bidder, which makes me raise my eyebrow a bit.)

    =====================
    You went on:
    “…conferred not invisibly or immediately from heaven to *this man*, but visibly (and hence sacramentally), through the order established by Christ, by the laying on of hands by those having that authority. (It has to be by someone having that authority, because you cannot give what you do not have.)”

    Here is a question I honestly do not know: Do Catholics define a sacrament as a visible earthly representation of a heavenly reality? Also, in Rome, is the “visible” practice of laying on hands in the ordination ceremony symbolic of authority from God being passed to the man being ordained, or is it symbolic of authority being passed from man to man? This seems to me to be your gist…
    We too lay on hands, and it is the elders present who do the act… not the congregation. If there are no ordained elders present (in missionary situations for example) an ordained elder is normally flown in to perform this task. However, I’m not sure as to how dogmatic we are about that practice. I recognize that the first generation of reformers faced a problem that we have not had to face since… that of a broken line of succession… but I think this is a question for another thread. ;)
    {Yes, that’s my way of dodging the question.} ;-)

    =====================
    You also stated: “Obviously it would be inconsistent for Protestantism to attempt to propose sacramental magisterial authority to those within it, while having as the basis for its own existence as something separate from the Catholic Church a rejection or defiance of sacramental magisterial authority.”

    Uh… ? Are there protestants who claim that they have “sacramental magisterial authority” in the sense that Rome claims to possess? If so, I am unaware, so forgive me. Reformed believers do not claim this, nor do we have any desire to. Your concept of “sacramental magisterial authority” is an abhorrent abuse of power to us…
    Also, I don’t think that you understand that at the same time, we ABSOLUTELY have a high view of church authority. Just because we do not claim to be absolutely perfect in our governance does not mean that there is a total vacuum of authority.
    In fact, our high view of church authority is one of the things which principally sets us at odds with broader Evangelicalism, because they have a low view of it. Reformed orthodox Christians don’t really fit into the category that you are describing… unless I am completely missing your point.

    =====================
    You stated: “Because of its rejection of sacramental magisterial authority and its adoption of sola scriptura, no Protestant creed or confession can have any authority grounded on the sacramental magisterial authority of the person or persons who wrote it.”

    Bingo! This is because for us, authority, even for creeds and confessions comes from above and not from below. Our confessions are authoritative in-so-much as they agree with the Word of God Himself. We place our stock with the inspired Word of God, and when a creed or confession faithfully represents the Word of God, that is where it’s authority is derived… not from the man who penned it, ordained or not. Every man is fallible and fully and totally corrupted by sin. The Word of God is infallible and incorruptible. The confessions themselves even state as much. (I think that you and I have very different understandings of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.)

    =====================
    You state: “A Protestant creed or confession can only have ‘authority’ to a person insofar as it agrees with that person’s interpretation of Scripture…”

    A creed or confession can only have authority “TO a person” in so much as they agree… Isn’t this saying that a person only RECOGNIZES authority which he sees as valid? This is true of every man, Catholics included. (This is the thrust of the question I asked you about what you would do if you firmly believed that Scripture itself taught a doctrine that was diametrically opposed to Scripture, which you neatly declined to answer directly because the answer is plainly obvious.)

    However, if you would have stated, that “[a] Protestant creed or confession can only have ‘authority’ [OVER] a person insofar as it agrees with that person’s interpretation of Scripture…” then I would say that if a confession truly is authoritative, then it is authoritative regardless of an individual’s assent to it. The question we differ on is the grounds for determining that authority.

    I guess I could reply in kind: A Catholic dogma can only have ‘authority’ TO a person as long as that person agrees with the Roman Catholic Church’s self-assertion that she is “infallible.” If YOU thought that the Roman Catholic Church did not justifiably have infallible authority, you too would not believe that she was infallible simply because she claimed to be. ???? You don’t believe that Joseph Smith was authoritative simply because he claimed to be, do you? Of course you don’t. Why? Because you rely upon your personal interpretation of Scripture to determine that his claim is ungrounded. This is a totally different question than asking whether or not the claim is actually true. Truth is true regardless of the assent or rejection of men.
    The difference between you and I is that you happen to believe that Rome’s claim of infallibility is grounded and I do not. What am I missing here? People do not believe that which they don’t believe. Isn’t it that simple? You are convinced from your personal interpretation of Scripture that Rome’s claim to “sacramental magisterial authority” is grounded, and I do not.
    Please stop insinuating that “personal interpretation” is an inherent weakness unique to protestant adherents of Sola Scriptura. Individual interpretation is universal.

    Your last paragraph seems to indicate that you actually do understand what I am saying. You are right, I CANNOT conscientiously assent to Rome’s claims of ecclesiastical authority when I believe with full conviction that she has perverted the message of the gospel. I realize that you think that we are the ones guilty of perversion, and I’m ok with that. But my point is that you too could not assent to Rome’s claims if you believed with full conviction that she violated the truths contained in Scripture. Ultimately, you and I are both “practically” adherents to Sola Scriptura even though you hate the thought of that.

    I agree with Tim, that this thread has run its course. Most of what I said here relates to the foundations of my claim that the Reformed confessions are the basis for my trust in the 66 book canon of Scripture, but in order to examine this foundational claim, a new thread on ecclesiastical authority ought to be started.

    I have really enjoyed this conversation.

    In Him,
    Keith

  299. Keith,

    If I could jump into your conversation with Bryan; you refer to “Reformed Orthodoxy”. Who exactly defines what Reformed Orthodoxy is? Certainly not the WCF because the CREC and the PCA interpret it differently and have different ideas (sometimes very different ideas) about what Reformed Orthodoxy is. So, who defines what is and is not “Reformed Orthodoxy”? Without an infallible authority to define what constitutes Reformed Orthodoxy, the term is increasingly meaningless.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  300. Keith,

    I have a question for you. What is more authoritative: the WCF, or the London Baptist of 1689? ;)

  301. Keith,

    What makes Protestant polity intrinsically democratic is its rejection of the distinction between the baptismal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. (See here.) In Protestantism, all believers are priests, and equally so (i.e. “the priesthood of all believers”). So in Protestantism, ordination is not the bestowal of sacramental authority, because that would create an ontological distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood. Therefore, in Protestantism, ordination can be only, in essence, the giving of permission by the people (or their representatives) to the candidate to preach to them and administer the sacraments to them.

    In Protestant theology, the ordination of a Protestant pastor involves the divine bestowal of authority in the same way that the election of President Obama involves the divine bestowal of authority. The Protestant pastor and President Obama each have authority over a different domain, but in both cases God was involved in the giving of authority only providentially, not supernaturally. In both cases nothing supernatural occurred. When I said (in my previous comment) “top-down”, I wasn’t referring to God’s providential activity. That would make everything equally divinely governed in a top-down fashion. By “top-down” I mean that 2000 years ago, Jesus came down from heaven, and then, before His Ascension, gave authority to the Apostles, and they in turn gave to the bishops whom they ordained their own teaching authority, and so on, down to the present. The authority possessed by the bishops came from Christ, through the Apostles, but it didn’t come merely by God’s providential activity in their being selected as leaders. Of course providence played a role in their being selected as the successors of the Apostles, but then, at their ordination, they received from Christ through the Apostles by the operation of the Holy Spirit, a supernatural charism in their soul, by which they were authorized to serve the Church as bishops. Providential divine activity does not depend on the incarnation of Christ, since it obviously preceded the incarnation. But sacramental ordination (i.e. apostolic succession) does depend on the incarnation, because sacramental authority is an authority that comes from the incarnate God, and so it must come down to us from a certain place and time in history (i.e. Jerusalem, AD 33). Hence, we see the necessity of apostolic succession, in order for the present-day candidate for ordination to receive authority from the incarnate Christ. The life of the incarnate Christ continues on in His Mystical Body, the Church, but a living body grows organically, and thus with contiguity and continuity, not discontinuity. Hence the need for a continuous succession from Christ to the person being ordained. I hope I’ve explained the difference clearly enough.

    You asked about how the Catholic Church defines a sacrament. A sacrament is “an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.” In Catholic doctrine, grace is not merely “divine favor;” it is divine life. Through the sacraments we receive the divine life of Christ, merited for us on the Cross.

    Also, in Rome, is the “visible” practice of laying on hands in the ordination ceremony symbolic of authority from God being passed to the man being ordained, or is it symbolic of authority being passed from man to man?

    It is symbolic, but not merely symbolic. It effects what it signifies. The authority is given by God, through the sacramental means He has established. So it is both from the bishop and at the same time and without contradiction, from God.

    we ABSOLUTELY have a high view of church authority. Just because we do not claim to be absolutely perfect in our governance does not mean that there is a total vacuum of authority. In fact, our high view of church authority is one of the things which principally sets us at odds with broader Evangelicalism, because they have a low view of it. Reformed orthodox Christians don’t really fit into the category that you are describing… unless I am completely missing your point.

    I agree that there has been a difference between Reformed practice and Evangelical practice with respect to church authority. But the difference is in certain respects cultural, not theological. Reformed communities tend to be more conservative, while Evangelicalism is less than eighty years old, and so it is newer and less conservative. But when you compare Reformed and Evangelical theologies, the Reformed pastor (and elders) have nothing that the Evangelical pastor does not. So there is no principled difference between the authority of a Reformed pastor and the authority of an Evangelical pastor.

    for us, authority, even for creeds and confessions comes from above and not from below. Our confessions are authoritative in-so-much as they agree with the Word of God Himself. We place our stock with the inspired Word of God, and when a creed or confession faithfully represents the Word of God, that is where it’s authority is derived… not from the man who penned it, ordained or not. Every man is fallible and fully and totally corrupted by sin. The Word of God is infallible and incorruptible. The confessions themselves even state as much. (I think that you and I have very different understandings of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.)

    If you had lived in AD 50, when the Apostles held their council at Jerusalem, you would have had no “Word of God” by which to judge the decisions of the Jerusalem Council. Of course you would have had the Old Testament, but these questions pertained to the New Covenant. So you would have needed to accept the decision of the council because of the promises of Christ to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. And that pattern of trusting in Christ by trusting in those whom He authorized, continued after the Apostles died, and continues up to this day. There wasn’t some ‘switch-over’ toward the end of the fourth century when the canon was finalized, when the Church transitioned from a living Magisterium to sola scriptura. We agree that fallen men are sinful, but Christ’s promise to guide the Church is not limited or inhibited by man’s sinfulness and weakness. The late Fr. Neuhaus once wrote:

    “[T]here are two kinds of Christians: those whom I would call ecclesiological Christians, and those for whom being a Christian is primarily, if not exclusively, a matter of individual decision. There are those for whom the act of faith in Christ and the act of faith in the Church is one act of faith. And those for whom the act of faith in Christ is the act of faith, and the act of faith in the Church, if there is one, is secondary, or tertiary, or somewhere down the line.”

    He is exactly right. The pattern of trusting Christ by trusting the Church, is the pattern we see in the first century, before there was even a NT canon. And that is the same pattern that has continued on the Catholic Church.

    A creed or confession can only have authority “TO a person” in so much as they agree… Isn’t this saying that a person only RECOGNIZES authority which he sees as valid? This is true of every man, Catholics included. (This is the thrust of the question I asked you about what you would do if you firmly believed that Scripture itself taught a doctrine that was diametrically opposed to Scripture, which you neatly declined to answer directly because the answer is plainly obvious.)

    Both the Protestant and Catholic must recognize something. So in that respect, they are both in the same boat. But the Catholic recognizes that these bishops have been given authority through apostolic succession from the Apostles, and thus that the Creed they have definitively taught is authoritative for all Christians. The Protestant recognizes that this Creed says what he believes the Bible says. And because it says what he believes the Bible says, and because he recognizes the Bible to be authoritative, this Creed is in a certain sense authoritative. In what sense? In the same sense that a pastor’s sermon that agrees with his interpretation of Scripture is authoritative, or in the same sense that a Christian book that agrees with his interpretation of Scripture is authoritative. The Christian book does not have any independent authority; its authority is entirely dependent on his determination that it is in agreement with Scripture. This makes the Creed superfluous, because if the Creed’s only authority is dependent on my agreement that it faithfully summarizes Scripture, I can simply disregard the Creed and go by Scripture alone, which is where all the authority lies anyway.

    then I would say that if a confession truly is authoritative, then it is authoritative regardless of an individual’s assent to it.

    I completely agree. The question is what makes it authoritative. If the answer is “agreement with my interpretation of what Scripture says”, then you can just eliminate the extra document, and stick with Scripture.

    A Catholic dogma can only have ‘authority’ TO a person as long as that person agrees with the Roman Catholic Church’s self-assertion that she is “infallible.”

    Correct.

    If YOU thought that the Roman Catholic Church did not justifiably have infallible authority, you too would not believe that she was infallible simply because she claimed to be. ????

    Correct. Just because x claims to be infallible, that’s not a good reason to believe that x is infallible.

    You don’t believe that Joseph Smith was authoritative simply because he claimed to be, do you?

    Correct. (I don’t.)

    Of course you don’t. Why? Because you rely upon your personal interpretation of Scripture to determine that his claim is ungrounded.

    No. (I used to debate Mormons that way, but not after becoming Catholic.) Joseph Smith’s claim is not within Scripture; it is at a meta-level. It is about what even counts as Scripture. So the disagreement is not at the level of Scripture exegesis; it is at the level of history. That’s how I respond to Mormons, by appealing to history. Joseph Smith did not have apostolic succession. And we are not to receive those who were not sent by Christ, or by His Apostles, or by their successors.

    This is a totally different question than asking whether or not the claim is actually true. Truth is true regardless of the assent or rejection of men.

    I agree.

    The difference between you and I is that you happen to believe that Rome’s claim of infallibility is grounded and I do not. What am I missing here? People do not believe that which they don’t believe. Isn’t it that simple? You are convinced from your personal interpretation of Scripture that Rome’s claim to “sacramental magisterial authority” is grounded, and I do not.

    No. The sola scriptura approach tries to answer the whole question by studying the Scriptures. People can come to the Catholic faith that way (though that wasn’t the primary thing for me), but it sure helps to know the early Church fathers, and early Church history.

    Please stop insinuating that “personal interpretation” is an inherent weakness unique to protestant adherents of Sola Scriptura. Individual interpretation is universal.

    Individual interpretation is universal. But Catholicism involves identifying and believing the Church, through whom we then receive the Scripture along with its authentic interpretation. Protestantism, by contrast, leaves us with the task of interpreting a book, in which case we are then strapped with the problem of “private judgment.”

    Ultimately, you and I are both “practically” adherents to Sola Scriptura even though you hate the thought of that.

    I agree with you that when I was a Protestant, if I thought that the Catholic Church taught something contrary to Scripture, then I couldn’t have accepted it, and I would have concluded that the Church had erred. So, I [in my Protestant state] needed at least to see the Catholic doctrine as a possible way of understanding Scripture before I could pursue full communion. But once I came to believe that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, and is divinely protected in its definitive teaching of matters of faith and morals, then I no longer adhered to sola scriptura.

    I too have enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for your cordial tone throughout.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  302. Keith,

    A PCA pastor is “hired” by a congregation that interviews him and tests out his preaching. Most pastors or teaching elders even have a “contract”. The teaching elder can be fired.

  303. Neal,

    No worries, Roma. Zeal for His house can be consuming!

    AMEN, brutha!

    Sometimes, the Fire for Christ burns so intensely within a Christian; he himself tends to get burned by it if he isn’t careful! God bless.

  304. Taylor,

    First, I didn’t realize that PCA ministers are “hired.” I thought that they “called” them. (HUGE difference brother.)
    Second, are Catholic priests NOT interviewed or examined before he is ordained? If so… that’s “weird.”
    Third, you can’t “fire” someone whom you don’t “hire.” You can remove their call, but again, HUGE difference. (I realize that pragmatically speaking, it is easy to look at the process and see the similarities, but the differences are significant.)
    Fourth, are you insinuating that if a priest is ordained in the Catholic Church that this calling cannot be removed? If so… again, “weird.” The church on earth is not infallible and both protestants and Catholics alike have called men into the ordained ministry only later to recognize that there was a mistake. This further evidences my belief that the RCC as well as protestant churches are fallible.

    I have a feeling you were trying to point out that for protestants, the authority of ordination comes from below and not above. I understand how you could think this, but I think that you have not been made aware of some of the “distinctions” (like “call” vs. “hire as one example) in Reformed polity. ;)

    In Him,
    Keith

  305. Jared,

    The Westminster, Savoy, Belgic, London Baptist, Philadelphia, 3 Forms of Unity, etc. are all “authoritative” insomuch as they are in accordance with the teachings of Scripture Alone. (They all even assert as much.)

    Each confession is only “binding” upon those respected traditions. The 3 Forms of unity are binding for Continental Reformed, the Westminster for Presbyterians, the 1689 or Philli for Reformed Baptists etc.

    However, to the best of my knowledge, all of them are in complete unity regarding the issue of the canon, which is what this thread is “supposed” to be addressing.

    In Him,
    Keith

  306. Bryan,

    I wrote a two-page response to your last quote, but then decided that it really isn’t directly relevant to the current thread. I think that Reformed Christians such as myself and Roman Catholics like you could debate this topic for say… 500 years and not reach a conclusion. (Oh wait, we have!) I believe that I have answered the question at hand. I do believe that the Word of God is self-evident, but this does not answer the question of who has the authority to dogmatically “recognize” and declare it as such.

    The Reformed Orthodox position does not state that the canon is merely a personal, subjective, individualistic, bosom-burning choice. It is grounded in ecclesiastical authority and church history. Those in broader evangelicalism who promote individualism over and above the collective catholic (lower-case) body of Christ are in serious error and I join you in your critique of their position.

    Perhaps the next thread should be devoted to an examination of ecclesiastical authority.

    Your anathematized brother in Christ,
    Keith

  307. Keith,

    Thanks for your reply. If your two-page response had to do with ecclesiastical authority, and you don’t think it is relevant to this thread, feel free to post it as a comment under the Visible Church article, because I think it would be sufficiently relevant to that thread. Perhaps instead of debating the topic, we could simply discuss the topic, mutually pursuing the truth, by examining the evidence and argumentation for each side. Debate, in my opinion, tends to be about winning. (I have no interest in that.) But a discussion can be a mutual pursuit of truth. (I do have an interest in that.) When the goal is winning, then a disagreement can drag on for 500 years or more. But when the goal is the mutual pursuit and attainment of the truth and unity in the truth, then if we seek, we shall find, because we know that Christ does not want us to be in schism, but to be in full communion.

    Regarding the question of the canon (which is relevant to this thread), I’m glad we agree that the canon is “grounded in ecclesiastical authority.” That’s common ground. But, it does raise questions such as: Who has that authority, and how do we know when they are exercising it, and is it fallible or infallible? If it is fallible, then how do we know that canon in inerrant? If that authority is infallible, then in what other instances has it exercised such authority? If the “Word of God is self-evident”, then this seems to leave ecclesiastical authority no role in grounding the canon, but maybe I’m misunderstanding what you mean by “Word of God.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  308. Jeremy,

    You asked, “who defines Reformed Orthodoxy?”

    Good question. There are many different ways which scholars have suggested going about answering this question. However, for the purposes of this thread (a situation where there is universal agreement amongst all the confessions and traditions) I suppose that I would say that when I use the phrase, I am referring to the overall general consensus of all the confessions, and the immense corpus of the Protestant Scholastics.

    You wrote: “Without an infallible authority to define what constitutes Reformed Orthodoxy, the term is increasingly meaningless.”

    I can certainly see how you might think this, but several points:
    1.) Fallible authority is still “authority.” It seems that many RCC members have this notion that if church authority is not “infallible,” then is has no authority whatsoever. This is simply not the case.
    2.) Just because the RCC makes claim to infallibility does not necessitate that it actually has any authority at all. A claim is only valid if it is true.
    3.) We do claim to have an “infallible authority” which defines what Reformed Orthodoxy is. Scripture. I know that answer doesn’t sit well with you, but we believe that God’s Word is both effectual and sufficient to lead men to the truth of the gospel.

    Hope that is helpful.

    Keith

  309. Keith,

    First, I didn’t realize that PCA ministers are “hired.” I thought that they “called” them. (HUGE difference brother.)

    A know a PCA Pastor who has been ‘called’ at his church for over 15 years. He is now worried that he is going to be ‘un-called’ because he resisted the session’s initiative to move church buildings down the street. There was a vote of the congregation that didn’t quite get the necessary 75% approval for the move so he is in the minority and is worried that the congregation will vote to ‘un-call’ him.

    See how silly that sounds? Its hard to say that that PCA, at least, is Presbyterian in polity. Sure, they have elders and deacons but the PCA is really Congregationalist. The congregation votes to ‘call’ pastors, move buildings, ‘un-call’ pastors, excommunicate somebody etc.

    What is the difference between ‘calling’ and ‘hiring’ Keith? You say there is a big difference. What is it?

    Then, contrast what happens in the PCA to Episcopal church polity (Catholic).

    Your anathematized brother in Christ,

    If you weren’t a confirmed Catholic who later became Protestant than the anathmas do not apply to you. Anathemas are only directed at Catholics.

  310. Nathan,

    Thus, when Paul or Luke quote from LXX Isaiah that doesn’t tell us anything about what they thought about LXX Genesis or Sirach.

    Just to be clear, your point here still doesn’t refute the fact that the early christian church itself had defined its O.T. canon (again, quite ahead of even its Jewish contemporaries); nonetheless, it still strikes me as remarkably odd, if not, absurd that supposed Christians would prefer and even adopt the Jewish canon in place of that which the Church Fathers themselves and subsequent councils ultimately declared as our own O.T. Canon.

    If that’s the case, then the First Council in Acts was a sham and we should’ve simply adopted the old Jewish ways if we are seriously wont to regard them as our golden standard.

  311. In defense of Keith (though he likely doesn’t need me to defend him):

    Suppose a Reformed critic were to say that bishops and cardinals are “hired” by the pope, who himself had been “hired” by some or other conclave of bishops. And suppose he were to say that priests and deacons had been “hired” by their diocesan bishop.

    How’d we Catholics react? Probably, we’d point out that there’s a lot more going on here than hiring a particular person – that receiving Holy Orders is sacramental, and that it isn’t merely a human affair but that it involves essentially the operation of the Holy Spirit as well. “Hiring” may well be an apt description from a merely secular or worldly perspective, but inasmuch as it fails to connote anything supernatural or sacramental or particularly providential going on, we Catholics would reject this description as illicitly reductionistic. We’d say that the critic is focusing on what things look like from a reductionistic or empirical perspective only, and that he’s illegitimately taking this to imply that there is nothing supernatural going through the very process he depicts.

    I think that’s what Keith is saying.

    I remember reading about John Knox’s reaction, when he learned that he had been “called” to be a presbyter and pastor. He took this “calling” to mean that he had been called by God. And why? It isn’t because he looked on Holy Orders as a sacrament, in the way we Catholics do. But it is because he believed, as a Presbyterian, that the Spirit is indeed alive and active in the Church, and because, as a Presbyterian, he had a stronger sense of the requirements for presbyter than some of our evangelical friends may have. (I think this is what Keith is getting at when he reminds us of the distinction between popular evangelicalism and Reformed orthodoxy.)

    When I was a Presbyterian, I remember that when someone would say, “God has called me to the ministry” (e.g.), I would react (usually just mentally) by saying, “Oh, that’s nice. Which church has contacted you?” In other words, I looked on the calling of God to the ministry as something that involved more than interior feelings, but which also involved a concrete call of some kind. (Granted, folks would go to seminary before they received such “calls;” but something like this is true for Catholic priests in training as well.)

    Granted all this, there are of course still some questions that need hammering out. Remember, not too long ago, when R.C. Sproul Jr. and the session at St. Peter’s were “defrocked” by the RPCGA? And remember the controversy that erupted after he and his session were “cleared,” so to speak, by the CREC? (Not that the elders in the CREC didn’t think they’d done anything wrong, but that their wrongdoings didn’t merit defrocking.) It is perhaps this sort of thing that we may want to focus on here – though of course none of us should exalt in this, or see it as anything other than a nasty and unfortunate situation.)

    On the one hand, Sproul Jr. was “called” as a teaching elder in the RPCGA, and then, apparently, “uncalled,” in view of his alleged ecclesiastical tyranny. On the other hand, he is “called” again by another quasi-presbyterian board of elders, or at any rate welcomed into their group as one having the authority of an elder, and is no longer considered “uncalled” by the Holy Spirit. Why? How are we to adjudicate between the findings (the callings and uncallings) of the RPCGA vis-à-vis the CREC? Can the elders in the RPCGA be seen as speaking with an authority that the visible Body of Christ must respect, as some claimed at the time, or should the elders in the CREC be seen as rightly and authoritatively overturning a defective judgment of the RPCGA’s elders, with an authority that is supposed to resonate throughout the visible church themselves?

    Keith is right that there is probably a small core or nucleus of “essential” doctrine about which the major Reformed confessions agree; that should be granted. At the same time, pointing this out does not by itself answer the questions about authority, polity, and discipline, as they actually confront us in the world of Reformed churches. It is perhaps here that we should begin our thinking on this matter.

    Perhaps one more thing, which I believe to be related, should be brought out for discussion. Keith argues that Reformed confessions are indeed authoritative, but only insofar as they accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture, which is itself not just the prime and highest normative authority, but in some sense stands alone as the only genuine authority. This sounds reasonable. At the same time, some clarificatory questions may be advanced here. For example, supposing I were to declare myself called, plant my own church, and write up my own confession of faith. Does my confession of faith have the same kind of authority the WCF has, insofar as it accurately reflects the teaching of Scripture? Does an individual Reformed theologian speak with the same kind and degree of authority as the WCF, insofar as his/her positions reflect the teaching of Scripture? Does an individual Christian’s interpretive positions carry the same weight as the WCF, as long as they, too, accurately reflect what the Bible says?

    This series of questions isn’t meant to be rhetorical, or to set a trap. I ask them only to try to get clearer on what, from Keith’s perspective, the (unique?) authority of the Reformed confessions have that individual interpretations of the Bible do not have.

    Some scattered thoughts.

    Neal

  312. Roma>

    Just to be clear, your point here still doesn’t refute the fact that the early christian church itself had defined its O.T. canon (again, quite ahead of even its Jewish contemporaries);

    Roma, which canon are you referring to here? Which Church council defined an OT canon before the Jews had solidified their canon?

  313. Tim,

    Prior to my actually answering your inquiry on the matter, are you actually seriously contending that so long as the Jews solidified their OT Canon before the early christian church did, theirs is to be found more authoritative than our own church’s and, even further, possess higher authority than those who ultimately succeeded the Apostles themselves?

  314. “For how can [Protestants] consistently ‘accept by faith’ that God infallibly guided a Church Council…”

    My only guess would be holding on to something like a Branch Theory. It’s either that or solipsism (or Catholicism—yikes!).

  315. Roma –

    No I’m not.

  316. Hey Neal,

    Thanks for your objective spirit. It warms the cockles of my heart! ;)

    You asked several questions regarding the “kind” of authority we believe the Reformed confessions to possess. I think I’ll take a stab at them one at a time because they differ from one another:

    1.) “…supposing I were to declare myself called, plant my own church, and write up my own confession of faith. Does my confession of faith have the same kind of authority the WCF has, insofar as it accurately reflects the teaching of Scripture?”
    —–I wish I could give a more definitive answer, but I would have to say “yes and no.” There are a lot of assumptions involved in this hypothetical situation, making it tricky to answer without misleading someone who may be assuming a different set of circumstances than I am. For example, “declaring yourself called” is a minefield. If this means that you are a person who refuses to submit to church authority where you are, and you cannot find a church that agrees with your set of beliefs so you decide to set out on your own and plant your own church, then I would take serious issues with that. If you mean that you are in the Congo completely out of touch with the modern world or a “sending church” and you had been leading a Bible study to the natives there simply because you were the “best qualified” man to do so, and you saw God bless your labor and increase your knowledge, and desire to serve as an ordained minister of the gospel… and believing that receiving Word AND sacrament are important… and given that you have no way of seeking out elders to come and meet with you to function as a “sending church,” etc. etc. I think that possibly there is a legitimate way in which you could say that you believe you are “called” by God to serve this tribe in the Congo… As for “ordination…” it certainly would not be normative and the thought of it makes me queasy… but maybe I could be convinced to go out on a limb and say that a man in such extreme conditions could possibly be called of God without the sending of the church, but rather the sending authority would be Scripture itself… ? (Man, that still makes me uncomfortable, but thankfully this type of situation is practically impossible in the modern world.) Would such a man’s privately drawn up confession of faith be authoritative inso far as it conforms to Scripture? I suppose so. Would it be “more authoritative” than say the WCF? It would hold equal authority upon his congregation who willingly confess it. This does not mean that it is “more true” than the WCF, but the WCF cannot be “binding” upon a congregation which has never even heard of it. But you asked, is it the same “kind” of authority. If this means the same “type,” then, yes, it is claiming the same kind of authority, and if it is true and right, and in accordance with Scripture… yes.

    2.) You asked, “Does an individual Reformed theologian speak with the same kind and degree of authority as the WCF, insofar as his/her positions reflect the teaching of Scripture?”
    —–Not the same kind. An individual Reformed (pastor?) ought not to “bind another man’s conscience” over issues which are unconfessional (“extra-confessional”). So, for example, say a Presbytery decides to place a man under church discipline because he holds to the Framework view or the Instantaneous view of creation rather than a literal 24 view. The Presbytery would be in the wrong because the confession does not state that this is an unlawful position to hold. It is not an issue which ought to divide brother from brother. Some Presbyteries are doing this now, but I think they are in error, adding to the confession that which was “intentionally” left ambiguous. They are passing judgment on issues based upon their private and personal interpretation of Scripture which is, in my opinion, a violation of their own confession of faith. If a man is not found to be “contra-confessional” the elders should not exercise discipline upon him. So, in this sense, the confession has been given more authority than individual elders. In fact, in my particular group of churches, if I were to be ordained, I would be asked to take an oath stating that if my personal convictions concerning the interpretation of Scripture were to ever evolve into a position which was not in accordance with the confession of faith, that I would inform the elders of my position. In such cases, there are times when the presbytery or elder board will allow the minister to retain his ordination, saying that he is allowed “certain scruples” with the confession. (One example of a “scruple” would be if an ordained minister stated that he did not agree with the confession of faith that the Pope of Rome is an “antichrist.” I know one or two Reformed ministers who hold this, and they are often allowed to retain their ordination.)

    3.) Thirdly, “Does an individual Christian’s interpretive positions carry the same weight as the WCF, as long as they, too, accurately reflect what the Bible says?”
    —–Nope. At least not any ecclesiastical authority. I am willing to grant that the confession could be in error (gasp!) and if an individual “rightly” interpreted Scripture where the confession “errors” in its interpretation, then the individual is more “correct,” but not more “authoritative.”

    Finally, the authority of the confessions are unique in some ways and not in others. I suppose I could say this and allow for questions to be addressed because I’m not sure where this question is really headed. But the confession of faith is unique in that it is THE document which is authoritatively binding upon the members of that church. Obviously, Scripture is on the top of that hierarchy (under Christ) and then the creedal assent is more “essential” than the confession. To the best of my knowledge, if one does not assent to the doctrines contained in the creeds, then he is considered not to be a true believer. If he is found to be contrary to the confession, (depending upon what section I suppose) usually, he is declared to be a believer who has fallen into error. Much different concept. So, as far as authority goes, 1. Christ 2. Scripture 3. creeds 4. confession of faith 5. ruling elders (whose authority ought to be “constrained” by 1, 2, 3, & 4).

    I hope this was helpful, and I also hope it is accurate. (I wrote this off the top of my head, so I claim the right to take a mulligan on this one if needs be.) ;)

    In Him,
    Keith

  317. Chris,

    You wrote: ““For how can [Protestants] consistently ‘accept by faith’ that God infallibly guided a Church Council…”

    My only guess would be holding on to something like a Branch Theory. It’s either that or solipsism (or Catholicism—yikes!).
    ==============
    We do believe that God can and does infallibly guide his church, including councils… the problem is that we do not have an infallible way of knowing whcih councils and which conclusions of said councils are actually infallibly guided by God and which are not. Therefore, we hold all church councils (even our own) up to suspician and like the noble Bereans, strive to compare the teachings of councils with the Word of God.

    In Him,
    Keith

  318. Roma & Nathan,

    Guys guys…

    You are both trying to examine the 1st c. church through the lenses of your modern historical context.

    The early church did not have a “canon” in an IDENTICAL way which we, in our modern context define it. There were a number of historical conditions which placed a growing necessity for the church to assemble and make an authoritative ruling as to which books were recognized as canon and which were not. Those historical conditions did not exist in the 1st c.

    History is organic, and not diffinitive.

    I hope I’m not completely misunderstanding your argument, just trying to help out.

    In HIm,
    Keith

  319. Sean,

    First of all, I’m really sorry to hear about your PCA friend. It is really unfortunate that chruch polotics are so prevailant (in EVERY church). It is not “supposed” to be that way. But the only perfect church is a church made up of members who are completely free from the effects of the fall so… one day my friend. ;)

    Regarding your: “If you weren’t a confirmed Catholic who later became Protestant than the anathmas do not apply to you. Anathemas are only directed at Catholics.”

    Cool! I learned something! I’ve been telling people for years that I was “anathematized by Trent!” Glad to hear it. So… if I am not anathema… what am I called by Rome? A heretic? Unbeliever? Pagan? Barbarian horde? Just curious. ;)

    In Him,
    Keith

  320. The early church did not have a “canon” in an IDENTICAL way which we, in our modern context define it. There were a number of historical conditions which placed a growing necessity for the church to assemble and make an authoritative ruling as to which books were recognized as canon and which were not. Those historical conditions did not exist in the 1st c.

    History is organic, and not diffinitive.

    Well, if we must abide by the original conception upon which the Apostles themselves operated back in the 1st century, then I must raise the rather significant point as to the kind of alarming surprise that Paul, Paul and the other Apostles themselves would have been shocked to learn if they knew how it were their writings that certain Christians would strictly regard as ‘protocol’ as opposed to the Church itself which they meant to hitherto establish as Christ had instructed them accordingly and had instituted the very Sacred Tradition, comprising both not only their teaching but that very tradition handed onto subsequent generations traceable to the Apostles themselves, which later supposed Christians dare only spit upon and nihilistically eradicate with but extreme prejudice.

  321. Keith, please read my posts again. My point was only that there was no LXX canon in the first century.

    What is it about blogs that makes people shoot first and ask questions later?

  322. Nathan – good question!

    Roma – I notice you don’t have an email address, I’d like to clarify my position in private if you’re up for it. If not, that’s fine. You can contact me using the contact form if you’re willing to share your email address or just include it in your next comment under the email field (it remains private).

  323. Hey, Chris.

    Yeah, good point. The implied answer to my rhetorical question (viz., that Protestants *can’t* ‘consistently’ accept by faith…) overreaches anything I’m entitled to say, and, actually, anything I really think. (Unless of course a Protestant says that God never does this sort of thing at all, and also that He really did do it just once; that would be inconsistent I guess, but I don’t know many Protestants dense enough to utter this in one breath.) So, yes, you can take a branching approach and preserve consistency. Thanks for the correction.

    Nathan: you only say that ’cause you’re a papist. (Speaking of which, what exactly did you mean by that?)

    Keith: Thanks for your response; I’m going to have to look through it carefully and get back to you later.

    All best,

    Neal

  324. Nathan,

    I wasn’t trying to “shoot” at you. In fact, I was actually siding with you from a different angle. Just bringing up the point that you can’t judge 1st c. writings according to 21st c. historiographical protocal. I wasn’t trying to “attack” either of you, just trying to point out something that was being overlooked (more so by your opponent).

    Roma,

    Whoa, that was one really long sentence! I think I understand it, but correct me if I am mistaken.

    You are right, IF the Apostles intended to establish a church ecclesiology in the precise way that the Roman church eventually developed into over the centuries, then yes, they would be saddened and upset with protestants for rejecting the authorized councils. But that sort of begs the question a bit… don’t you think?
    I suppose I could say the same, that if the Apostles founded a church identical to Reformed ecclesiology, then they are mad at you! But what would be the point in saying that?

    A little confused,
    Keith

  325. If we get to 365 comments, then we might think about publishing this thread as a devotional booklet (400 pages worth!). I recommend Neal’s at #106 as the best argued bit of heresy in the whole lot. Tim at #315 wins prize for most succinct. Every contributor gets a cut of the royalties. Equal shares for all? (Matthew 20:1-16)

  326. Keith wrote: “We do believe that God can and does infallibly guide his church, including councils…the problem is that we do not have an infallible way of knowing which councils and which conclusions of said councils are actually infallibly guided by God and which are not. Therefore, we hold all church councils (even our own) up to suspicion and like the noble Bereans, strive to compare the teachings of councils with the Word of God.”

    For my part, I think pre-schism is a good starting place, i.e., the first seven ecumenical councils. For only they, it seems to me (and history agrees), were truly catholic. Now, catholicity does not orthodoxy make (Athanasius contra mundum comes to mind). But each of the seven councils, when compared and contrasted with Holy Writ, are not found wanting.

  327. Hi, Chris:

    Is there some ambiguity about Ephesus (431)? I was reading some of John Bugay’s remarks over at JJS’s blog, in which he argues that the condemnation of Nestorianism (just Nestorius?) was wrong, and it seems he wants to use this as evidence against the authority of the Council.

    Here I suppose I’d distinguish between what the Fathers in that Council condemned when they condemned ‘Nestorianism’, and the historical question about whether the real-live-Nestorious actually advanced the condemned position. (Similarly, Trent could’ve rightly anathematized certain views perceived to be Luther’s, even if the Tridentine Fathers incorrectly attributed some of those views to Luther.) A mistake on the latter account wouldn’t amount to a proof against the decrees of the Council, so far as I can see. But I admit I’m a little unclear about what Bugay is trying to say here, and also unclear about how reflective it is throughout the rest of the Reformed community.

    Thoughts?

    Neal

  328. Neal –

    I would agree. Chadwick’s history of the early Church spends several pages defending Pelagius from Augustine. I remember thinking that Chadwick is certainly outside of the popular imagination here but even if he’s right it simply doesn’t matter (as far as infallibility goes). So it may turn out that Pelagius didn’t really teach what we now call Pelagianism or Nestorius Nestorianism.. but Netsotianism and Pelagianism still stand infallibly condemned. (As does Iconoclasm which, on a side note, is one good reason why Keith can’t agree with Chris’s model of Church authority).

  329. Chris,

    Why would, say, Constantinople I, with no Western bishops at all, be “truly catholic”?

  330. By the way: I don’t think that John B. was sticking up for “nestorianism”, i.e., the doctrines condemned at Ephesus. I think that he is maintaining that what Nestorius himself actually taught is not identical to those doctrines condemned by the Council.

    This brings up the issue of whether the Ecumenical Councils’ identification of specific heretics, as distinct from specific heretical propositions, is protected by the charism of infallibility.

    It could be that we may grant the point concerning Nestorius himself while yet maintaining the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils with respect to definitions of dogma.

  331. If Satan wanted to reuse a heresy all over again in order to decieve Christians, and this heresy has been condemned, and its proponents anathematized as heretics, wouldn’t it be a witty move by satan if he would recolor the anathematized heretics in an unheretical light, while leaving the defined heresies to rest, making it appear as if the heretic didn’t really teach what he was accused of teaching so that people may reconsider what he taught and eventually come away docrinally corrupt once again, or confused?

    Just a thought.

  332. Dear Keith,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’ve been mulling over your remarks today, and I want to address a couple of general points which come out in the things you say before responding to some of your more particular claims.

    Two things really stand out to me.

    First, you say that a given confession (the WCF, for example) is authoritative, but it seems like you’re saying it is authoritative only for those who have willingly submitted themselves to it. (?) And second, you say that a “man’s privately drawn up confession of faith” is just as authoritative as the WCF, insofar as (i) this confession (also) accurately reflects the teaching of Scripture, and (ii) the congregation governed by the person who drew up the confession “willingly confess[es] it.” (Though later you maybe take this back? More below.)

    There are lots of really interesting issues in the neighborhood we could discuss, but let me instead just try to focus on your particular remarks in light of the above.

    Re #1, I like your Congo example. (It is very similar to a thought-experiment Luther used when discussing apostolic succession; did you know that?) So here you say that the guy’s privately drawn up confession is just as authoritative as the WCF, at least “for his congregation” because they willingly submit themselves to it. But notice that this kind of authority – which derives from the consent of the governed, bottom-up – is not really the kind of authority we are talking about, when we discuss the authority of Reformed confessions. If the confession in question really does have authority, and if its authority derives precisely from the authority of Scripture itself, then this confession has authority no matter what the individual believes about it: if they dissent from this authority, they’re dissenting from the authority of Scripture; if they assent to it, that’s good, but their assent doesn’t make the confession authoritative, no more than their assent to Scripture makes Scripture authoritative. The authority is what it is, irrespective of their assent or dissent, because it is grounded in Scripture.

    In other words, if I joined the Elks Lodge, I would be “bound” to “submit” to the “authority” of their charter. But that’s just because I want to join and stay in the group. The Elks Lodge doesn’t have any authority to tell the Shriner’s how they should go about their business, and if I pull up my stakes at the Elks Lodge and “go Shriner” there’s an end on’t. But the authority of the Word of God is not like the authority of the Elks Lodge charter: it ranges over every single group that calls itself Christian. Similarly, the authority of a Reformed confession isn’t supposed to be like the Elks Lodge charter. The WCF doesn’t say, “If you want to be in our club, here’s the stuff you’ve got to believe and do; but if you want to be in the Catholic club, that’s cool. Just make sure you abide by their charter instead.” It says: “This is the truth of God, and if you want to be an orthodox Christian period here’s the stuff you have to affirm and do.” So to the extent that a Reformed confession has authority, and to the extent its authority is grounded in Scripture itself, it is not merely a charter for those persons who willingly submit themselves to it, and its authority does not depend upon how many people decide to submit themselves to it.

    (I think you probably agree with this; but, as I read your comments, it seems like you may slide back and forth at points between the idea of objective authority and the idea of persons willingly submitting themselves to that authority, in such a way that the objective authority “becomes” authoritative “for them.” There is a category for this, but it is not what we’re talking about.)

    So what I’m really interested in is whether the private Congo-confession has as much (of this kind of) authority as the WCF, and it seems like you’re saying “Yes” – as long as it accurately reflects the Bible. But now it’s hard to understand exactly why you say what you say in #2 and #3. On the one hand, you don’t want an individual to illicitly “bind the consciences” of believers. On the other hand, it is okay for the Congo guy to bind the consciences of his congregation. Why? Because he’s the guy who wrote the confession. But so what? Guys who write confessions don’t have any special power to bind the conscience, do they? Only Scripture gets to do that. So to the extent that the WCF is “binding” in this way, it is binding because it’s transmitting Scripture correctly, right? But individual pastors can do that too, can’t they? So I’m not really seeing why you draw the distinction between the “individual” and the “group” who wrote the confession like this, or why the guy in the Congo gets to write his own binding confession but the guy in San Antonio doesn’t.

    (Interlude: I used to live in San Antonio. One of my best friends, Garfield, used to go to Faith Presbyterian (PCA) with me. He left so that he and a handful of people could start a CREC church, even though there were Reformed churches in the area that subscribed to the same confessions his church plant did. After this, I became a founding member of a church plant, under the pastoral care of my friend Dirk, which to this day remains unaffiliated with any denomination. [Though we wrote into the constitution that it should be affiliated with some denomination by 2009; I’m not sure that’s going to happen.] We wanted to make our own church, even though there were other established churches in the area that subscribed to the same confessional standards. Both of the teaching elders were ordained in the SBC, and both felt called by God to do what they did. Do you think that they/we did something very wrong, given your remarks in #1?)

    Maybe I can try to highlight my main concern by responding to another of your remarks (in #3).

    You argue that the Reformed confessions are authoritative only insofar as they accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible, right? This is because all authority must derive from Sacred Scripture. At the same time, you say that if some individual pastor or group teaches the Bible more accurately than does a Reformed confession, this does not mean that the individual pastor or group are more (or even as) authoritative as Reformed confessions – even if they are more correct about what the Bible says.

    I see a couple of problems here, but the central one is this. Setting aside the practical issues, if the authority of a Reformed confession derives solely from its fidelity to Scripture, then I am not sure why you would, in any circumstance, attribute more authority to a confession than you would to an individual pastor or theologian, if that pastor’s or theologian’s teachings accurately reflect Scripture to the same degree. Still less do I understand why you would say that an individual’s teaching could be both more faithful to Scripture than confession X, and, at the same time, less authoritative than confession X, given that whatever authority confession X possesses derives precisely from its fidelity to Scripture in the first place!

    Again, I can see why you would say, in such a case, that the confession is more authoritative in the “This-Is-Our-Group-Charter” sense; but who cares about that? Every group, Christian or not, religious or not, can draw up an “authoritative” charter like that, so as to ensure stability and order within the group and amongst the people who wish to affiliate themselves with it. But that isn’t what we’re talking about here, I think. This isn’t what the authority of the WCF consists in from your perspective, right?

    So when we set aside practical issues concerning group order and polity, and consider why precisely the guys who wrote the WCF and also the Congo pastor get to bind the conscience, but why my friend Dirk doesn’t get to, I admit I get a little fuzzy on the rationale.

    I suppose I could have just said that and not written this huge letter, but there it is.

    Peace,

    Neal

  333. Jared,

    I do not think that that would be a witty move.

    On the other hand, a scenario in which Christians who have been separated for a millennium and a half are brought back together in full communion through the recognition (as opposed to the concoction) of mutual misunderstandings, together with a common affirmation of the one Faith, would be wonderful. And it would not be the work of Satan.

    Also, the latter scenario is not purely hypothetical. You are undoubtedly aware of rapprochement and reconciliation taking place on several fronts, e.g., between Orthodox and “non-Chalcedonian” churches of the East.

    Closer to home, the comments in this thread indicate the possibility of Catholic and Reformed Christians finding some common ground on the issue of ecclesial authority; to wit, that there is such a thing and that it is not primarily exercised in democratic fashion.

    This has required, I think, various clarifications about the position of each community, which has perhaps resulted in the alleviation of some misunderstandings.

    Where there seems to be even the slightest possibility of rapprochement by way of such clarifications (as distinct from the renunciation of one position or the other), then, for the sake of communion, we ought to explore that possibility. Not all barriers between Christians can be removed in this way, but those that can ought to be.

  334. Good points, Andrew!

  335. Greetings, Andrew. You asked: “Why would, say, Constantinople I, with no Western bishops at all, be “truly catholic”?

    Now, I won’t pretend to know the history thoroughly, but here’s the main reason (and for my own consistency’s sake): It was affirmed as ecumenical by Chalcedon (451). Moreover, is it not disputed as to whether or not the council was completely bereft of a bishop from the West?

    Obviously, my thoughts on this matter rest entirely on a particular understanding of ‘schism’ and ‘branch’.

  336. Chris,

    Maybe a Western bishop managed to participate in the first Council of Constantinople. I don’t know. Tanner (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils) says that all 150 bishops were eastern, and I have never heard otherwise. Thus, the Council was, in terms of episcopal representation, a purely Eastern affair. That every genuinely Ecumenical Council must not be thus under-represented was all I could make of your “and history agrees [with me]” statement in #326. Unless you simply meant that non-Catholics agree with you, which is true.

  337. Yes, Andrew, I meant something like the former—not only “under-represented” but quite possibly the starting of any discussion re: communion with each other as the first seven councils represent the truly ecumenical pillars of the faith. I know this requires more from the Catholic than it does me (or the Orthodox), but I think there’s good reasons to pursue this trajectory. And further, as stated, the ecumencial council of Chalcedon (451) declared Constantinople 1 ecumencial (but admittedly was not deemed so before then), and in that way history confirms that all seven of the first councils were truly ecumenical. I don’t base this on the infallibility of councils (deeming a book as such is hard enough), but, again, on the councils’ ecumenicity and, primarily, on their not contradicting Holy Writ.

    So, Neal (and greetings, by the way), I agree with you here: Regardless of whether or not Nestorius actually taught what he was accused of is beside the point—the council’s decree stands (but the foundation upon which it stands we would probably determine differently?). From what I can tell/have read, Reformed/Protestant (even Catholic!, see L.D. Davis’ The First Seven Ecumencial Councils) historians may point out that Nestorious wasn’t so much a heretic as a pedant, but not in order to undermine a council’s authority, as they don’t call into question, for example, Ephesus’ decree against “Nestorianism.”

  338. […] speaking of this post on Called to Communion that I linked to in a previous post.  There have been 337 comments made, but so far no answer for […]

  339. […] 1,000 years before Florence, the canon was given by “Pope Damasus at the Council of Rome in 382, affirmed again by the Council of Hippo in 393, […]

  340. Roma,

    You wrote:
    Paul and the other Apostles themselves would have been shocked to learn if they knew how it were their writings that certain Christians would strictly regard as ‘protocol’ as opposed to the Church itself which they meant to hitherto establish as Christ had instructed them accordingly and had instituted the very Sacred Tradition, comprising both not only their teaching but that very tradition handed onto subsequent generations traceable to the Apostles themselves, which later supposed Christians dare only spit upon and nihilistically eradicate with but extreme prejudice.

    Who reguards the Holy Scriptures as “mere protocal?” Certainly not Refomed believers if that is what you are insinuating. That is an absolutley ridiculous accusation. We reguard the Word of God himself to be more authoritative than the words of ministerial ambassadors whom have been sent by Him to lead His chruch.

    We dare only “spit upon” the chruch? You’ve got to be kidding me! What an arrogant, insulting, and ignorant statement to make. We hold church authority very high. We just think that Rome has elevated her own authority beyond that which the Scriptures grant to her. This does not mean that we “spit upon” the authority of the church! Far from it “brother.”

    In Him,
    Keith

  341. Niel,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I’ve been very busy of late.

    You wrote: First, you say that a given confession (the WCF, for example) is authoritative, but it seems like you’re saying it is authoritative only for those who have willingly submitted themselves to it. (?)

    Not exactly. What I was trying to communicate earlier, is that there is a difference between “authoritative,” which speaks to the truthfulness of the document, and “binding” which speaks to the administration of it. A confession of faith is “authoritative” so long as it accurately reflects the doctrines contained in Scripture. If it is a true representation of Scripture, then it is authoritative, period. A confession is “binding” only to those who willingly submit to its authority. Obviously, if a confession of faith correctly and faithfully summarizes the Scriptures themselves, then it is authoritative regardless of who may or may not “submit” themselves to it. However, I added the “binding” section to explain why mainland Reformed church-members, for example, are not “bound” by the WCF, but rather, by the Three Forms of Unity, because that is the confession which their elders ask them to submit to. The WCF does not “function” in the same way for a Reformed person, just as the 3-Forms do not “function” the same way for Presbyterians. This does not mean that either are less “authoritative” than the other… In fact, they are in harmonious agreement, so much so, that it is possible to consistently confess both confessions at the same time.

    You also wrote:
    Guys who write confessions don’t have any special power to bind the conscience, do they? Only Scripture gets to do that

    Not exactly… God gave elders to the church and he gave them the responsibility to exercise church discipline. We hold that the officers in the church do hold real authority. It seems like this concept is difficult for Catholics to understand about us. We DO hold to church authority… just not “absolute” authority. Obama holds “real” authority, but not “absolute” authority… Authority does not HAVE TO be absolute for it to be real and binding.

    Also, perhaps this all stems from a misunderstanding or misappriciation for the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We hold to SOLA Scriptura, but not to SOLO Scriptura… big difference, and it seems that it is one that most contributors to this thread have a difficult time accepting as true.

    Also, you wrote:
    “…if the authority of a Reformed confession derives solely from its fidelity to Scripture, then I am not sure why you would, in any circumstance, attribute more authority to a confession than you would to an individual pastor or theologian, if that pastor’s or theologian’s teachings accurately reflect Scripture to the same degree.”

    I attribute more authority to the confession of faith because it is more representative to the teaching of the church as a whole. This does not mean that I believe that the catholic (lower case “c”) church is always inerrant, but to ignore historical theology when practicing theology today is a gross underachievement of the responsibility laid upon teachers and preachers of the Word. I always exercise care to ensure that my teaching is within the bounds of the confession, and even within the bounds of the majority of Reformed theologians. When, on occasion, I disagree with an esteemed theologian from our history, I exercise extreme care to make sure that I am not teaching error to the very best of my ability. It makes me slow down and rethink my humble understanding of Scripture more carefully than if my understanding is already in perfect conformity to the groundwork already lain ahead of me.

    You wrote;

    Every group, Christian or not, religious or not, can draw up an “authoritative” charter like that, so as to ensure stability and order within the group and amongst the people who wish to affiliate themselves with it.

    Sort of, but I think I know where you are going with this. But what makes you think that you are somehow excluded from this “accusation?” Rome has formulated documents which are “binding” upon her member roles… but they are not “authoritative” unless they are in harmony with the teachings of the Scripture. Period. I believe that Trent, for example, holds no authority because it violates the purity of the gospel of Christ as it is presented in Scripture. However, Rome has asserted it, and made it “binding” upon all of her members. I believe that she will stand before God one day in judgment for this, just as I will have to stand in judgment before God and be held responsible for all of the false teaching which has passed through my impure lips as well. I do not take this lightly, and nor should Rome. (And, no, I’m not saying they do.)

    Hope this clarifies my position a bit,
    In Him,
    Keith

  342. Hi, Keith.

    Thanks. Just a brief reply for now. You say:

    It seems like this concept is difficult for Catholics to understand about us. We DO hold to church authority… just not “absolute” authority. Obama holds “real” authority, but not “absolute” authority… Authority does not HAVE TO be absolute for it to be real and binding.

    I can see why it seems as though Catholics do not understand or aren’t listening to you when you say you believe in Church authority. But I think it isn’t that we don’t understand your position or what you say, but rather that we have different views on what legitimates authority and whence this authority is derived.

    I would ask for one clarification here, though. It seems, above, that you are identifying “authority” with Scriptural fidelity or “truth,” and then introducing a different term (“binding”) and saying that this is an administrative and not an alethic category. Is that the same thing you have in mind here? I ask because you say that “God gave elders to the church and he gave them the responsibility to exercise church discipline,” and it doesn’t sound as if you are thinking that the “authority” of presbyters is the same thing as the “truthfulness” (or fidelity to Scripture) of those presbyters. Rather, it sounds like you are saying something that has to do with “administration” of the Church instead. So is there another sense of “authority,” going beyond “accurate understanding of Scripture,” which such elders possess? If so, where do they get it from? Does it depend on the consent of the governed? If not, if it is an objective matter coming from God, where do we find the presbyters who have in fact been granted this authority, so that we can (in submission to God) submit ourselves to them?

    Also:

    Also, perhaps this all stems from a misunderstanding or misappriciation for the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We hold to SOLA Scriptura, but not to SOLO Scriptura… big difference, and it seems that it is one that most contributors to this thread have a difficult time accepting as true.

    I would say something very similar here as to what I said above. It isn’t that nobody here understands the distinction between sola and solo, or “Tradition 0” and “Tradition 1,” if you like. It’s a pretty straightforward distinction. Rather, what I think you will find is that, while we recognize the distinction being drawn, many here are suspicious that the distinction can actually be sustained, inasmuch as which tradition you decide to allow to be authoritative looks to depend, in the final analysis, upon your own (authoritative?) interpretation of Scripture, by means of which you try to judge which of the traditions is most faithful to Scripture.

    An analogy: we Catholics are frequently accused of elevating the positions/writings of noninspired authors to a level of either equal or (frequently, it’s claimed) greater authority than that of Scripture itself. We make distinctions, and explain why we do not in fact believe this. Reformed people, sometimes, will reply: “Well, those distinctions don’t make any real difference; you are still elevating the Church over Scripture” or some such. Does the Reformed person “not understand” the distinctions? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Likely, the Reformed person is just saying that he doesn’t buy the distinctions, so that our position “really amounts to” sola ecclesia, etc. This is kind of like when your Catholic critic tells you that your position “really amounts to” solo scriptura. (I’m not trying to make or evaluate the arguments here; but does that make sense?)

    You say:

    I attribute more authority to the confession of faith because it is more representative to the teaching of the church as a whole. This does not mean that I believe that the catholic (lower case “c”) church is always inerrant, but to ignore historical theology when practicing theology today is a gross underachievement of the responsibility laid upon teachers and preachers of the Word.

    I think you display humility and wisdom here. At the same time, I am not sure that this really answers the question. I was asking where authority comes from. You distinguish between “authority” and having the power to “bind,” which is (only?) administrative. So, if that is the case, how could an individual teacher’s authority (not “power to bind”) be less than a confession’s authority, if the individual teacher’s interetation of the Bible is as accurate or more accurate than the confession’s? You say that the confession is more “representative [of] the teaching of the Church as a whole.” But this relies on an assumption I didn’t supply, namely, that the individual teacher’s interpretation is not representative of the “teaching of the Church [i.e. the Reformed tradition].” Suppose it is just as accurate, or, more interestingly, even more accurate, more faithful to Scripture. The individual may not (but may have?) power to “bind,” but you’ve distinguished between this and the possession of authority. So I’m not sure I completely understand your answer to this.

    I think clarifying the distinctions is going to be important toward understanding your last remark, too. I would just ask this: If God has given the Church elders, and has bestowed upon them authority to teach the Word and to discipline, and if we have an objective (or independent) means by which these elders may be identified, and if it turns out that this objective means is something sacramental, something to do with succession and ordination (which you reject), then you are seemingly pitting your own judgment of Trent against that of authoritative elders, whose authority to teach and discipline comes from God. To be sure: you do not think it works this way. But this is why, as I said above, I would ask you to think through the genesis of authority, of binding, and what it means to say that God has given some people (but not others) authority over the fold. In this case, we could decide to “invest” some people with authority, depending upon whether or not we agree with what they say. But our decision to “invest” someone with authority is not equivalent to God’s investing someone with authority; this being so, we could be wrong about who we identify as authoritative.

    I think I’ve probably gone on enough for now! But I believe your remarks about authority, and your attempt to say (on the one hand) that authority comes from fidelity to Scripture (“Period”), but also that some people have been given greater authority (from God!) than others — even when those “others” may be more correct about Scripture — has a few wobbly bits in it that need ironing out.

    Peace,

    Neal

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