On the first of March, 1516, the first published Greek New Testament, Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum, rolled off the printing press. Almost exactly twenty months later the Reformation was born when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. Luther later claimed that the Reformation never would have begun without Erasmus’s Greek New Testament in his hands. But with the emphasis on the Bible as our final authority in faith and practice, Protestants began to paint themselves into a corner, and Catholics capitalized on it.

By the 1630s, more than a century after this first published Greek New Testament, a publishing firm had called the Greek New Testament the “text that was now received by all” in the preface. Or, in Latin (as the preface was written), the Elzevirs’ Greek New Testament was the Textus Receptus. In the 115 years since the first published Greek New Testament, very few changes had occurred. Hence, the Elzevirs could make this claim, since there were no genuine competing rivals to the Greek text that was a direct descendant of Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum.

Catholics did not sit idly by as the Reformation marched on, of course. And a part of their attack was to call the Greek New Testament, the Textus Receptus (or TR), a “paper pope.” By this, of course, they meant that Protestants had abandoned papal authority and had replaced it with a “pope” on paper, the Greek New Testament. As well, Catholics argued that there were thousands of textual variants in the Greek manuscripts and that Protestants didn’t really have a right to just pick one Bible to follow. That was arbitrary, unscholarly, tendentious, disingenuous, hypocritical. You name it, the Catholics threw the thesaurus at the Protestants! Further, these textual variants undermined both the authority of the TR and probably displayed some different doctrines than what Protestants had embraced.

The response by Protestants was swift, though perhaps not particularly well thought out. In 1646, the first doctrinal statement about God preserving his text was formulated as part of the Westminster Confession. The problem is that what the Westminster divines were thinking of when they penned that confession was the TR. By virtually ignoring the variants, they set themselves up for more abuse.

Catholics began collating manuscripts and showing the differences. In one sense, we might say that New Testament textual criticism was born as a polemic against Protestants, intended to show that they couldn’t really trust the Bible! But in 1707, an Oxford scholar named John Mill (or Mills) published a remarkable piece of work that had taken him thirty years to produce. It was a Greek text with more than 30,000 variants! He uncovered almost all of the major textual problems and a good number of minor ones, by working through Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, and patristic writings.

Mill’s work created alarm for some Protestants who said that it undermined faith in scripture. But an equally industrious German scholar decided to do something about the question rather than stick his head in the sand. Johann Albrecht Bengel examined the 30,000 variants in detail, and added several more based on a dozen manuscripts that he had collated. But he also pronounced the now famous dictum that not one of these variants disturbs any article of the Christian faith. So, although it is true that there are places in the New Testament where the text is uncertain, this does not mean that those uncertainties affect cardinal truths or even more peripheral doctrines that Christians embraced. Although it would be inappropriate (for reasons that I won’t get into now) to elevate providential preservation of scripture to the level of doctrine, it is significant that the evidence that Bengel produced would strongly suggest that we can speak of this, in general, as a historical reality. In short, God has preserved scripture in such a way that no essential truth is in doubt textually.

So, where does that leave us today? Evangelical Protestants who believe in inerrancy usually claim that only the original text is inerrant. They recognize that no published text exactly duplicates the original, but they also recognize that this is the high calling that biblical scholars have: get as close to the original text as is humanly possible. At the same time, Bengel’s dictum, repeated by scholar after scholar down through the centuries, still offers a great deal of comfort: no article of faith is affected by any textual variant.

I personally would not state things as strongly as Bengel has. I would instead say that no cardinal doctrine is affected by any viable variant. The two qualifiers’ “cardinal and viable” seem to be more accurate delimiters on what the data reveal. But frankly, it’s very difficult to find any places where an actual article of faith, no matter how obscure, seems to depend on a dubious variant. And again, I would not elevate my belief in some sort of preservation to doctrinal status precisely because I don’t believe the doctrine of preservation is taught in scripture. But I do believe that it can be demonstrated historically by an examination and sifting of the hundreds of thousands of textual variants that are known today. The vast majority of textual variants are so trivial that they can’t even be translated. And those that are significant and viable (that is, have some plausibility of containing the original wording) constitute less than one percent of all known textual variants. Shucks, if I didn’t know better I might want to say that some divine providence was orchestrating such preservation!

    49 replies to "Is the Bible a “Paper Pope” for Protestants?"

    • iakobusdoulos

      Excellent article Michael. I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:14 with your finishing statement, “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him.”
      Amen, indeed!

    • C Michael Patton

      Sorry, I tried to take credit for this post, but it is actually Dan’s 🙂

    • Sean

      Hi Dan,

      Good article. As one of neo-orthodox persuasion, I do think evangelicals and fundamentalists sometimes use the Bible as a paper pope; it’s implicit in the concept of inerrancy.

      I think we need to teach about textual variants more; it’s one area where people’s faith can be needlessly shaken when they first encounter it. People need to be reassured about it that (1) yes, variants are there, (2) yes, pastors and theologians know about but (3) no, it’s not a big deal. I would also go beyond textual criticism and state that I do not think any cardinal doctrine is endangered by moderate, sane historical criticism.

    • Steve

      I’m really not trying to muddy the water but could I get a list of the “cardinal doctrines”?

    • Chad Winters

      Nevertheless, I would prefer a “paper” pope to a human pope. Especially when they differ greatly, I will go with the paper pope. The Catholics never answer what it means when the RCC goes against the clear meaning of scripture.

      A simple one would be the Pope would tell me if I wished to be a priest to not eat meat on Fridays and not to marry.
      The “Paper Pope” says:
      1 Timothy 4
      4:1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves 1 with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, 4:2 influenced by the hypocrisy of liars 3 whose consciences are seared. 4:3 They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4:4 For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 4:5 For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

      I will go with the “Paper Pope” myself
      I think it is important to remember how much importance Jesus put on “paper” His frequent answer was “It is written”…. It was never “the head Priest says”…at least not in a positive way

    • Finrod

      The sense in which “Pope” and “paper pope” are being used in this context, I believe, refers to one’s final authority, i.e., what is a believer’s ultimate source for things pertaining to faith and practice.

      Used in that manner, I have no problem seeing the Bible as a “paper pope”: it is my final authority as the Holy Spirit illumines God’s truth even as the final authority for Catholics is the RCC. I would be foolish not to listen to the opinions of others – even a pope at times! – and the invaluable teachings throughout church history, but my Berean-like disposition sends me back to – not the Pope – but my “paper pope,” the Scriptures.

      So I have a paper pope. That doesn’t trouble me since that paper is trustworthy because of its inspiration and living because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

    • Sean

      I prefer no pope. Scripture is the source, but Christ is the authority:

      “Actually, this is the point at issue: that the real norm is the revelation, Jesus Christ Himself, who Himself witnesses to us through the Holy Spirit, who, however, in addition to this His self-revelation, makes use of the witness of the Apostles…. The absolute authority is Jesus Christ Himself, whom we only possess through the record and the teaching of the Apostles; but He, whom we only have through them, stands above them. Their witness is valid, absolutely binding, in so far as it really witnesses to Him Himself….

      “A legalistic, immutable authority, such as the human desire for security would so gladly possess–and indeed is offered in an orthodox doctrine of the Scriptures as an axiomatic authority, or in the Catholic doctrine of the infallible doctrinal authority of the Pope–is thus denied to us. The word of Scripture is not the final court of appeal, since Jesus Christ Himself alone is this ultimate authority; but even while we examine the doctrine of Scripture, we remain within the Scriptures not, it is true, as an authority, but as the source of all that truth which possesses absolute authority.”

      Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 45. (1950). Emphasis original.

      (…and deliver us from typos…)

      • Alan Spencer

        Well said Sean!

    • Sean

      Doh! Actually that was page 47. I knew my post would be errant somehow…

    • veritas83

      Dan – I would be interested in hearing why you don’t think preservation is a biblical doctrine. I know that’s not the topic today…but maybe next week?

    • ChadS


      My “Paper Pope” has several references where Jesus fasted and abstained from food. In several other passages he urged his disciples not to have dour faces when fasting.

      Elsewhere Paul wrote that it is better not to marry. As far as I know these references are just as much holy scripture as 1 Timothy is.

      In your citation of 1Timothy 4 are you thereby implying that elsewhere in scripture is erroneous? I don’t think you are.

      Your jab at the Catholic Church is not only wrong but misguided. Not eating meat on Fridays during Lent is not a matter of faith or dogma, nor is a celibate priesthood. These are matters of Church discipline — subject to change and modification as the Church’s leaders see fit.

      What Timothy was talking about is people that forbade certain types of food purely on the thought that it is unclean — just like the Hebrews dietary laws. It’s also against those that would believe that marriage is somehow a less pure state than singlehood. These two are definitely not the case with Catholics.


    • Vance

      I posted this in another of Dan’s threads, and I think it explains my thoughts on this as well:

      “Since my view of inerrancy is not as strict as some others’, and I view what was selected by the Church community as a “collection of the texts which contain the message” rather than the particular words used in every case, I can not get theologically wound up over it. I believe that God inspired the writings of PERFECT concepts using very imperfect men, so that the exact method of presentation, the exact words that were used, were human. This is why God directed the use of four of the Gospels, and letters with overlapping themes. The message is inerrant, the concepts and teaching and theology are Divine, but I think we get into trouble when we determine doctrine on the commas, so to speak. I think the writers of the NT were struggling at times to explain the divine revelation they were receiving in human language, and that is not entirely possible. To understand the ways of God in human language, we must realize that the language will be imprecise and incomplete allow the Spirit to guide us from there. Thus, we might find contradictions and difficult language in the various texts if we are looking for absolute perfection in imperfect language.”

      That is why I am not concerned about getting to the original autograph. If I think God inspired the men to choose of the early Church to choose those texts which best present the Message and the Truth, how could I not trust Him to preserve that essential message along the way. When there are differing details, then that is a clue to me that the detail is not an essential.

      God seems to prefer to NOT reveal Himself in perfect clarity, whether it be in nature or Scripture. He makes us work, think, converse, ponder and eventually turn to the guidance of the Spirit while ultimately accepting that many truths will not be revealed until we no longer see “through a glass darkly”.

    • Felicity

      Dr. Wallace:
      First…I would like to recognize your skillful use of rhetorical verbiage! Examples from your blog include that Catholics “capitalized” on Protestant Biblical emphasis, that Catholics “attack” the Reformation, and that Catholic apologetics of the time was “abuse.” Although such loaded language is skillful rhetoric, it is, in fact, merely that—rhetoric—and though appeals to emotion and the exploitation of the connotation of words may make for more interesting reading, it does nothing to get to the objective facts.

      Ultimately, the question remains: What is the criteria for the Protestant Scriptural scholar that determines ANY text (including those already in the Bible) is fit to be called ‘inspired? I believe you may have inadvertently or indirectly answered that question in you essay when you speak of Mill and Bengel—though even then, the logic of relying on such criteria escapes me. Let me be more clear as to what I mean:

      1. As an introduction to your point about Mill, you attempt to shift any Catholic condemnation of the veracity of Protestant textual criticism back upon Catholic shoulders by claiming “New Testament textual criticism was born as a polemic against Protestants” (again the skillful use of emotional appeal through the loaded diction). Further, you make the fallacious claim that Catholic apologetics of the time were “intended to show that they couldn’t really trust the Bible!” rather than the objective facts of the matter which is the Catholic textual criticisms were attempts to quash the heretical teaching of Sola Scriptura.

      2. Next, you elevate Mill’s Scriptural study that eliminated “almost all of the major textual problems and a good number of minor ones,” and then you *codify* Mill’s work with Bengal’s “dictum.” This “dictum” is raised up as the authority upon which your position rests. Bengal asserts “that not one of these variants disturbs any article of the Christian faith” and that “those uncertainties [do not] affect cardinal truths.” You give Bengal the authority to speak on behalf of Divine Revelation by giving authoritative credence to his “dictum” that has been “repeated by scholar after scholar down through the centuries.” Age and repetition of a basic untruth does nothing to change the essence of the statement: it is still…untrue.

      3. You further conclude that with your own added qualifiers of “cardinal” and “viable” that the “vast majority of textual variants are so trival [sic] that they can’t even be translated” and that those that are “viable” “constitute less than one percent of all known textual variants” (and we must take that statistical claim at your word).

      Ultimately, what results is a means of determining the veracity of Scripture that is nothing more than a paper tiger rather than adherence to a paper pope. The key is in the statement you make that claims the “high calling” of Biblical scholars is that they have to “get as close to the original text as is humanly possible.” In that lies the Fatal Flaw of your hermeneutics—you rely on a HUMAN means of authoritative teaching—i.e. human reason without the aid of Divine Providence. You go so far as to admit as much in the last line of your essay where you say, “Shucks, if I didn’t know better I might want to say that some divine providence was orchestrating such preservation!” Well, Dr. Wallace, God does work through those human beings HE appoints as bearers of His Divine message—Scripture testifies to that repeatedly. I truly hope that you are “invincibly ignorant” of it and that is why you can say, “I didn’t know better.” However, if Evangelical Protestants believe, as you say, that only the “original [Biblical] text is inerrant,” and they strive to locate that text, they will need to recognize that for many years post the resurrection of Christ, the only New Testament text was primarily Oral Apostolic Teaching. The ONLY viable and scripturally supported source for Oral Apostolic Teaching (the source that preserved and protected the written texts and finally codified them at the Council of Trent) can only be located in the Sacred Oral Traditions only authoritatively present through the Apostolic succession of the episcopate of the Catholic and Orthodox Church.


    • Vance

      Felicity, while I agree with you generally on your points about the original autograph, and the fact that the Gospel message was passed on orally before the Scriptural texts were gathered and canonized, I think you make a question-begging presumption regarding authority. That is one aspect of your posting I think has caused some adverse reaction: you state what you believe to be true AS true in a conclusory manner to those who you know do not believe it to be true.

    • Felicity

      I hold my convictions to be true. I feel confident in that by means of my faith in the words of God. Those words are transmitted in a mirror of the Trinity’s hypostatic union—in other words, the mutually supporting, Divinely protected means of Revelation: Sacred Written Tradition, Sacred Oral Tradition, and the Teaching authority handed on through Apostolic Succession. I understand that committed conviction comes across to those who don’t adhere to the same beliefs as “presumptuous,” but if you are faulting me for being a true believer—I accept that—in fact, I thank God for that.


    • Felicity

      BTW–there is Scriptural and Historical evidence for Sacred Oral Tradition and an authoritative episcope–The hermeneutic presented in these blogs rightly applied attest to it as I have commented on in other posts on these blogs.

    • Vance

      Felicity, I am not talking about conviction of belief, since we all have that in equal measure. And that simple fact is the point I am making. It is simply a matter of mutual respect to discuss our beliefs, as much as possible, AS our beliefs. Very often you don’t just state your beliefs, but state them as if they are clear and obvious truths that we should just accept. You will appeal to authority for answers when you know already that we do not accept that source AS authoritative. I am sure we all do that to some extent, but I will often see a “question-begging” aspect to your posts.

      Just a friendly word to keep in mind when discussing such matters, and something we all have to remember: in a debate, you can not conclusively appeal to an authority to support your position when you know that the other does not accept that authority. You can explain what the authority says, and even why you think the authority SHOULD be followed as a foundational matter, but you can’t state your position AS IF that authority should be followed.

    • Felicity

      We discussed the issue of the historical evidence for the authority I cite, Vance, beginning in post #22 on the Gnostic Bible Study posting by Michael: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/devblog/2007/07/23/how-gnosticism-has-found-its-way-into-the-pews/#comments I am not merely making unsupported claims based on merely my “beliefs.”

      I do sincerely appreciate your friendly advice, but I have to tell you that I state my convictions as”clear and obvious truths that [you] should just accept” because I believe that objectively they ARE clear and obvious truths that you should just accept.

      I believe in the Word of God—and that Word is Jesus—the Logos. Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” I let my yes mean yes, and my no mean no—as Jesus told us—if it is uncomfortable for some, know I am just doing As Jesus commands.

    • Vance

      I respect and even applaud the strength of your convictions, but remember we ALL have equally strong convictions and have evidence and arguments to back them up. I am not saying that you do not back up your arguments, since you usually do, but I am just mentioning it as a matter of discussion etiquette.

    • Cory

      I see that there is already a discussion between Vance and Felicity, but I couldn’t help but respond to some of Felicity’s claims specifically, instead of her commenting style overall (which I’m not familiar with).

      . . .you make the fallacious claim that Catholic apologetics of the time were “intended to show that they couldn’t really trust the Bible!” rather than the objective facts of the matter which is the Catholic textual criticisms were attempts to quash the heretical teaching of Sola Scriptura.

      Sola scriptura is only heresy if its opponents can demonstrate the need for an infallible interpretive body, in this case–the Catholic Church. Historically, Christ’s followers have always recognized the 24 books of the New Testament as inspired, with later synods and councils that finalized the physical list. So I think that Dan made a fair assessment of the situation.

      You give Bengal the authority to speak on behalf of Divine Revelation by giving authoritative credence to his “dictum” that has been “repeated by scholar after scholar down through the centuries.” Age and repetition of a basic untruth does nothing to change the essence of the statement: it is still…untrue.

      I agree that repeating error doesn’t turn it into truth, but what Bengel said isn’t untrue. Are you asserting that the variations do affect doctrine? Because I will give you the standard challenge that I give to the atheists who repeatedly assert that these variations do affect doctrine: Please show me one variation that affects a core doctrine of the Christian faith.

      The ONLY viable and scripturally supported source for Oral Apostolic Teaching (the source that preserved and protected the written texts and finally codified them at the Council of Trent) can only be located in the Sacred Oral Traditions only authoritatively present through the Apostolic succession of the episcopate of the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

      But you just destroyed your own argument when you said that “Age and repetition of a basic untruth does nothing to change the essence of the statement: it is still…untrue.” The touchstones for Sacred Tradition are exactly what you said do not change their essence: Age and Repetition. So what makes them any truer than Bengel’s assertion, repeated and throughly researched by other scholars making the same pronouncements?

    • Felicity

      ***From Cory:
      Christ’s followers have always recognized the 24 books of the New Testament as inspired,

      Cory—I ask you the same question concerning these “inspired” scriptures….

      What is the criteria for the Protestant Scriptural scholar that determines ANY text (including those already in the Bible) is fit to be called ‘inspired?

      Sacred Tradition has Apostolic authority (granted by Jesus the Christ) AND is supported by Scriptural/historical evidence.

    • Felicity

      ***From Cory:
      Please show me one variation that affects a core doctrine of the Christian faith.

      Sola Scriptura denies the Apostolic authority that is the New Covenant fulfillment of the Levitical priesthood.

    • Vance

      But again, Felicity, that is question-begging on top of question-begging. You BELIEVE Sacred Tradition has Apostolic Authority and you BELIEVE that the Apostolic Authority exists in the first place as the Catholic Church describes it. These are appeals to authority that can have no persuasive effect on those who do not accept such authority, and are thus not effective arguments. They are explanations of YOUR position, and the Catholic position merely, and to that extent they are informational, it is true.

      You are right to question the basis of sola Scriptura and do well to challenge us on that, pointing to flaws and weaknesses in that position. But you must always keep in mind that there are layers and layers of foundational assumptions underlying your ultimate assertions. This is how the Catholics and Protestants end up talking past each other so often. You are working from a collection of presumptions and accumulated doctrines that we simply don’t accept to begin with.

    • ChadS

      The problem as I see it isn’t so much that the Protestants have set up the Bible as a “paper Pope,” but that they have set themselves up individually as their own “little Popes.” Protestants have taken Scripture and removed it from a communal setting, devoid of history and tradition. In it’s place they have established the individual as the final arbiter of how scripture should be read.

      Protestants reject a Christ-established temporal authority (the Church) in favor of giving their own readings pre-eminence. In rejecting the Church they have thrown out 2000 years of history, doctines, and tradition in favor of what they have divined at their kitchen tables. If they do acknowledge a pre-Reformation Christian history it’s only as support for what they agree with. They owe no ascent to any church’s teachings, except in as far as it agrees with their own reading of the Scriptures.

      Vance points out that any arguments from Catholics can’t be persuasive in as far as they appeal to authority and Apostolic tradition as believed by the Catholic Church. That is well enough. At the same time most Protestants dismiss out of hand Catholic claims to read authority and tradition in the Scriptures. At times it seems that the Protestant will accept almost any interpretation of scripture as valid as long as it does not somehow endorse a Catholic understanding of something. If tradition, doctrine and authority aren’t valid points to argue from and Catholic interpretation of Scripture are routinely dismissed then what route is possibly left open?

      I don’t owe my allegiance to the Catholic Church merely because my reason dictates it. I owe my allegiance because Scripture, tradition and 2000 years of history attest to it being the visible Church that Christ established when he gave St. Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.


    • C Michael Patton


      You said: “What is the criteria for the Protestant Scriptural scholar that determines ANY text?”

      It is the same criteria upon which you base your judgment that the Catholic church has infallible authority: Fallible criteria dealt with in a responsible way. All of us start with fallibility. You have a fallible belief in an infallible authority. We have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. The point is we both start with fallibility. Based on this, you could be wrong about the church, we could be wrong about the canon. In the end the criteria has to be the evidence. All of us fallible people make fallible decisions about the evidence.

    • Chad Winters

      Agreed, I’m not aware of any Biblical or extraBiblical evidence of Apostolic Authority being passed down. The early fathers who followed the apostles did not seem to take Apostolic Authority upon themselves. It was really not until the 3rd or 4th Century that this was promulgated to bolster Rome’s claims of preeminence.
      I’m not sure but I seem to remember that there is very little evidence for Peter ever becoming Bishop of Rome. In fact Peter, the Apostle to the circumcised was shown as very active in the NT in jerusalem and other jewish areas, not in Rome. He may have died in Rome, but most likely was transported there for trial. Paul founded the church in Rome

    • Athanasius2000

      Dan & Co.,

      Thanks for once again an insightful & informative post. As always, the content (as well as the comments it generates) are interesting to say the least.

      While I do not agree with everything the Reformers believed or did (for even they disagreed amongst themselves) I feel a huge debt of gratitude towards these believers. There are many freedoms that I as a Christian living in the 21st century have that these brethren were directly responsible for.

      Today I am the beneficiary of those who have the freedom to labor diligently in the arena of textual criticism to offer a biblical text that is as close as possible to the original autographs. I have the freedom to read the Bible in my own language (even multiple translations in English!) and can even study the original Hebrew and Greek if I desire to without resorting to learning Latin. I have the freedom to carefully examine the Scriptures for myself and evaluate the teachings of eccesiastical authorities in light of what I find in the Word. And I have the freedom to disagree with said authorities if I find their teachings to be at variance with what I find in the Bible.

      For all the wrongs committed by those associated with the Reformation (and there are many), I think that a well-earned tip of the hat is due to those who had the courage to pursue the things that have led to the freedoms I list above. After all, blogs such as this exist because we enjoy the fruit of those core issues fought for by the brethren who have preceded us.

      Love you guys,

    • murmex

      Dan, thank you for another thought provoking subject. I am amazed at how some get so upset st the simple approach to history. your remark about how textual criticism began was informative as well as amusing.

      I wonder if there will ever be an authoritative ground for discussion with protestants and the RCC. If the Bible is inspired and true, then we owe gratitude to the RCC for their work in textual criticism, whatever the motive may have been. But is there any actual textual variant that accounts for different interpretations between Rcc and Protestant doctrines?

      Some have attacked Sola Scriptura as denial of a New Covenant priesthood. Call me slow on the uptake here, butg aren’t we a kingdom of priests now?

      I was born in the South, and yet I am not proud of all that was done by the South such as slavery. But it is an historical fact. The mature thing for me to do is move on and admit the shortcoming of my heritage as well as respect the good things of it. If it is hairy, barks, wags it’s tail and chases the postman, chanches are it is a dog. If the RCC did some bad things in history, admit it and get over it and learn from it, don’t defend it.

      What if all of us read your article at face value and asked ourselves, “What can I learn here?”

      Can I learn that God has preserved His Word? That I can trust the simple sentences with subjects, verbs, adverbs etc. so I can know for sure what God has spoken? That true scholorship is a friend to truth? That we have a hard time thanking God for the fact that we live now, in this age of information, and owe much to the ongoing process of reformation?

      I want to thank all those who commented on this article. I have enjoyed it much.


    • ChadS


      Let me first point out that whether Peter was the Bishop of Rome or not in no way diminishes the authority Christ gave him to lead the Church on earth. Despite your assertion there is plenty of evidence that shows that Peter was indeed in Rome. One example is the letter of 1 Peter is addressed to Christians from Rome — Babylon was an early code word for Rome. Just because the Bible doesn’t say Peter was in Rome neither is there a denial of the fact that he was in Rome — you can not argue a negative where contrary evidence is not present.

      You also claim that Apostolic succession wasn’t practiced until the 3rd or 4th centuries and only then to bolster Rome’s claims. That is patently false. There is plenty of examples from the historical record that shows that earliest Christians from the death of the last Apostle onward have held to this idea of succession and have passed on distinctly Catholic understandings of Scripture and tradition. The Protestant assertion that the early Church was more Protestant in it’s theology and somehow went off the rails by the 4th century in favor of Romish inventions is absurd and does serious abuse to the historical record.

      Athanasius — Catholics have always been free to study Scriptures on their own. No matter how many times Protestants repeat the old saw that they gave the Bible back to the masses does not make it true. Don’t forget that for a long time after the fall of the Roman Empire Latin remained the language of the literate classes. Also, outside of nobility and clergy the vast majority of people were illiterate and Bible copies were prohibitively expensive for average people to effectively use or own. Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English wasn’t condemned because it was in English and somehow dangerous, but because it contained multiple errors which cast doubt on its translations.

      Murmex — What horrible things have Catholics done in the past that they aren’t owning up to? I think Catholics have been pretty open about their history and any times they have been evasive about things has more to do with the people in the Church at the time and says nothing about the nature or Christ-given authority of the Church. Have Protestants been free and open about the terrible things done in their history? Where is their ‘mea culpa’? I’m not sure what that sidebar about Catholic history had to do with anything discussed in this thread.


    • Felicity

      Michael…you truncated the question I asked. You left off the part that said: “(including those already in the Bible) is fit to be called ‘inspired?” And because you did that, your comment was an equivocation of “authorities.” If your program (The Theology Program) does as it claims, you should be able to answer the question rather clearly and succinctly, after all–on your home page advertising the program, it says this:


      “If you have ever asked these questions, then this is the program for you:

      How do we know what books belong in the Bible? ”

      THAT’S the question I’ve been asking! If the Bible is authoritative–the “paper pope” many here claim they believe it to be, I think it’s appropriate for you to reveal how we know those texts are “inspired” and therefore authoritative.

    • C Michael Patton

      Felicity, I guess I don’t understand what you are asking because my answer above seemed perfectly reasonable. We follow the evidence.

    • Felicity

      I guess I have yet to see what evidence you are referring to. Would you please cite some so that I might understand your perspective? What is the evidence that indicates the text is inspired?

    • Vance

      Felicity, you seem to equate a belief in the inspiration to write the Scripture and inspiration to “authoritatively” collect the Scripture with some greater and more sweeping authority, a general “Authority”.

      I think God inspired Paul to write the Epistles and inspired the contents, but I do not think Paul had Authority to make every decision for the operation of the Church, and I do not think everything Paul said in life was inspired by God and the same would go for the Gospel writers, etc. And the Catholic Church would say the same. So, the idea of having faith in limited authority, specific inspiration, and selective “jobs to do” is not something unreasonable in Christianity.

      I think part of the problem is that Catholics and Protestants use the word “authority” differently. Catholics tend to view this in a legalistic and very concrete manner, whereas Protestants see it more organically and less “institutional”. I think, I have FAITH that Paul was given authority to preach the gospel and write those letters. I believe and have faith that God directed the early fathers in the collection of the texts of Scripture in the first few centuries. I have FAITH that they were given this specific authority. This is not because they had some general authority over the Church in all areas of doctrine and procedure, etc.

      This is where Catholics and Protestants tend to talk past each other. At some point, ALL of us have to take something entirely and wholly on faith when it comes to authority. There is simply not sufficient historical evidence to rely entirely on that for a decision. Catholics swallow the blue pill very early and accept a series of presumptions which form the foundation of their current position:

      1. That the Scriptures in Matthew DO indicate that Peter was meant to be “THE” leader of the Church, and not just “A” leader.

      2. That this authority was meant to continue throughout his life and on to Rome.

      3. That the idea of appointing leaders was meant to be exclusive to the Apostles.

      4. That this appointment authority was meant to create an apostolic succession process.

      5. That process was meant to create some sort of “magisterium” authority for the Church body.

      6. That this magisterium authority was meant to extend to all the areas that the Catholic Church developed it into, including ongoing revelation.

      etc, etc. You have to buy into at least the first few of these concepts as a matter of faith and reason and Scriptural interpretation on your own, OUTSIDE of Church authority, and NOT based on the Magisterium and Church teaching, in order to buy into the rest, and accept the full Authority of the Catholic Church. If you say that you accept the Authority of the Church and the Magisterium based on the teaching of the Church and the Magisterium, then you can see that this is entirely circular reasoning.

      At some point, there is the individual, on his own, making the decision that, yes, the Church DOES have that authority. At that point, if such an INDEPENDENT decision is made, I would agree that a person should follow the dictates of the Magisterium and accept its interpretation, etc. But there HAS to be a point of independent determination of the validity of that authority, based entirely on faith, reason and interpretation.

      So, where does THAT original faith and reason and interpretation come from, since it can NOT come from the Church itself (without there being circular reasoning)? It must come from EACH PERSON, taking responsibility for their faith and making a decision.

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, that is exactly right.

      Since this is getting somewhat off the subject of the text of the Scripture as Dan’s post originally started, I will post a blog that I have been waiting for some time to post concerning the canon which may help us get to the heart of the matter.

      I remind everyone that we must persue this with an irenic tone. There are many posts on this particular blog that take a rather defensive tone and mischaracterize the issues. This will cause people to immediately be turned off, not by your arguments, but by the way your arguments are presented.

      Whether you agree with each other or not, let us go out of our way to be respectful and truly deal with the issues.

    • Vance

      ChadS, on the historical front, I think Hans Kung, in his “A Short History of the Catholic Church” does a good job with this subject. While is a bit of a maverick and not all that sympathetic to the current power structure of the Catholic Church, he is still a Catholic and, politics aside, a respected scholar on this subject.

      In short, I believe the evidence shows that the very earliest structure of the Church did not involve the level of hierarchy and centralization of authority we see today, and definitely not a primacy of the Bishop of Rome. These seem to have been growing developments over the course of the first couple of centuries. And the idea of apostolic succession did not seem to be as rigid, formal and legalistic a process as was later developed and then projected backward as if it had been such all along.

      I would recommend it regardless of whether you end up agreeing with him, simply to see him lay out the evidence.

    • Vance

      Just a point to add regarding Kung: I don’t think he is fair to John Paul II, with whom he had a personal grudge. I think at that point of the book, he let’s his personal issues get in the way, turning a bit polemical. Up to that point, however, I think it is a fair and scholarly overview.

    • ChadS


      If Catholics and Protestants talk past each other that is something that needs to be worked on. I think your comments on the term “authority” are accurate. Right there is a problem because we both can use the same words but with different meanings. When we do that any discussions are lost and become fruitless.

      I would like to make a few comments on your response to Felicity. I think Protestants tend to view the church as something that solely emanated from the Scriptures. From a Catholic view point it helps to keep in mind that all of Jesus’ teachings, death, resurrection and ascension all occurred before one word of the New Testament was written down. Peter was leading the Christians before anybody recorded Christ’s words to him.

      We see the Holy Spirit as working among the earliest Christians to write and record what was happening in those communities. So it doesn’t come as any shock or surprise that the Catholics would claim to find support for their doctrines in Scripture since they would view it as their product.

      I also don’t find it to be a stretch to imagine that Christ established things like a Papacy and apostolic succession to protect the teachings he left with his followers. Can you imagine what would’ve happened to Christianity if there wasn’t an authority to protect Christ’s teachings? We would’ve ended up with theological anarchy where the interpretations of the Gnostics enjoyed just as much legitimacy as that of the Arians and the four Gospels would’ve been only a few choices among two dozen or more “gospel” accounts. I don’t think anybody here would have to think too hard to imagine how disastrous that outcome would be. Even among Protestant traditions there is a wide range of interpretations that are quite at odds with each other. Is a theologically diverse and at times mutually exclusive theologic systems something Christ desired for his followers? I sincerely do not believe that to be so.

      I can also admit that the Papacy and apostolic succession may not have always existed in the exact forms we know and recognize today. Having said that though the mission of both the Papacy and role of the apostolic succession is still the same. It’s only natural that offices like the Papacy would develop over time. For the first 300 or 400 years of its existence Christians were on the run from persecutions. As the persecutions ended and the Church stabilized and its influence grew of course the office would develop. I suspect over the last few centuries the power of the papacy has actually waned.

      To use an American example did George Washington have just as much power as say Bush or Clinton did? I don’t think so but would anyone argue that Washington was any less of a president because he didn’t have those powers? Or would anyone say that perhaps Abraham Lincoln was actually the first president and any attempt to stretch the office of the Presidency back past 1860 is an attempt by 21st century Americans to give credence to what they believe and that perhaps George Washington didn’t really believe in a Constitution or the United States didn’t exist until Lincoln came along. Of course this is ridiculous and nobody would take any arguments like that seriously.

      Catholics accept the idea that doctines and institutions can develop over time. However we do not accept that the idea of ongoing revelation — all public revelation ceased at the death of the last Apostle. The Holy Spirit does continue to guide and lead the Church and help it develop and clarify its teachings when and where necessary.

      I will look into Kung’s work to see what he has to say. If I remember correctly he had his license to teach at Catholic Universities pulled for his views. Vance, thanks for your thoughtful comments.


    • Vance

      Right, Kung has run afoul of the current administration, but he was basically the one who gave us Vatican II.

      But on the issue of Peter, WAS he the leading of the Church? It seems like there was a plurality in every discussion of leadership (“Apostles and Elders” being used most common, and when names were used, Peter was among the few mentioned) and in the one instance we see anything like a council or synod of the Church, it was James who made the final pronouncement, and even that seems to have then been ratified by “whole Church”. Going on from there, hierarchies and structure slowly developed, but there is no evidence of Rome’s primacy among the Bishops for a good while and even then only in a very limited manner to start off with.

      As for “what would have happened”, it is hard to say how things would have progressed with a less centralized and absolute structure. I think there would have been councils of the leaders of the communities and general consensus reached, but that there would still be fringe groups and dissenting segments of the Church body on many issues. I think it would, to some extent look like the Protestant landscape we have now, and I would be perfectly comfortable with that, as “messy” as it may seem. Hard to say, but I really do feel more comfortable with that “organic” and dynamic process than what actually did develop up to the Reformation.

      Regardless, the idea still goes back to the idea of acceptance of authority. I think Catholics DO tend to accept the authority in a circular reasoning process, whether they know it or not. They accept the Church’s interpretation of Scripture because the Church has authority to interpret Scripture. And the Church’s interpretation of Scripture IS that it has this authority. How many Catholics really start with an independent analysis of whether that authority exists in the first place?

    • ChadS


      In the Council of Jerusalem I believe the text in Acts bears a certain argument for a Church authority that few Protestants would even begin to recognize. Acts clearly describes a deliberative process among the Church leaders. Notice, it was Peter, as head of the Church, that got up and spoke — in a sense giving the verdict of the Council, Peter also stated that their decision was guided by the Holy Spirit — in line with Christ’s promise to send the Spirit to always be with and guide the Church. Most Protestant apologists say that James is the one that made the final decision. But, in his role as Bishop of Jerusalem, he was given the privliege of speaking — and all he added was “I agree with Peter’s interpretation because this is what Scripture tells us.” James wasn’t a decider but more of a validater (if that is the right word I want).

      Also notice that this passage is an argument against Sola Scriptura. The Judaizers were rightly pointing out that a literal interpretation of scripture and it’s application would call for all new believers to be circumcised. Peter, says the Holy Spirit is showing us a different way now. That particular law no longer applies to the Jews that accept Jesus Christ as messiah (the Christians hadn’t left the synagogue system at this time so it would’ve been very bold of them to overturn an age old law without some divine proof — namely their decision at the Council being ratified by the Holy Spirit).

      If the multiplicity of doctrines and beliefs does not bother you, as you claim, why would Christians even have to bother with Councils or church meetings to hash out issues? Having Councils implies that something is wrong and needs to be rectified. This begs the question then of which group would have the authority to call that meeting and why would anybody submit to its authority if the basic rule of thumb had been to believe what you like and interpret how you feel?


    • Vance

      Oh, there would definitely be something wrong that needs to be rectified to the extent possible. The Church is made up of fallible humans, and our understanding will never be complete while here on earth as we see “through a glass darkly” (there is exception in this verse for actually being able to see all clearly during this time). The question would be whether the resolution of the council or consensus would be some kind of binding “you must believe X to be part of the Church” or not. As it is now, I consider myself part of the Church and I can participate in the Church even though I believe differently on many, many doctrines with the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations, and even within the denomination of the church I attend.

      Yes, there are inherent problems that arise with this, but I find it preferable to a situation in which fallible humans make dogmatic doctrine and then mandate that belief, for the simple reason that I am not convinced that this is how it was meant to work, and thus am not convinced that such authority exists. This means I simply can’t entrust my theology to an organization that I am not convinced has a mandate to determine that theology. Since you ARE convinced, then it is proper for you to do so.

      We would just have to agree to disagree on the issue of what happened at that Council. I think the evidence is that James was the leader of that Church, and even then not considered an exclusive “head”.

    • Dan Wallace

      Folks, I wanted to let this one run by itself without jumping back into the fray too quickly. I find an interesting sociology developing with my blogs, and I suspect it’s just a seasonal thing. Virtually no matter what I write on, there will be some who want to see me trying to divide Catholics and Protestants. Some Catholics and some Protestants are, in fact, pushing the envelope. I guess I’m a little more amazed at Catholics doing this since your claim is that the Protestant Reformation wrecked the unity of the body of Christ (of course, nothing is said about what the Catholics did to the Orthodox to help dissolve that unity a few centuries earlier). Protestants I understand: our very name says we’re contumacious! But bludgeoning us with obscure arguments and demands that we bow to an authority that we don’t recognize is not the way to bring us back into the fold. As Vance said, let’s just agree to disagree on that point.

      A second observation is that regardless of the initial topic, it seems to soon spiral out of control and off-topic. I thought this blog was mostly about whether the text of the New Testament was basically reliable and how Protestants have had to modify their doctrinal statements in light of evidence that Catholics supplied. I was actually giving some decent compliments to Catholic scholars for showing some of the weaknesses in the Protestant lines of argument, but one commenter (yes, Felicity, you know who you are!) seemed to think that I was bashing Catholics with my rhetoric. Of course, I also noted several things about how Protestants got a lot of things wrong. I mean, really, any time a Reformed Protestant picks on the Westminster Confession it’s almost tantamount to a Catholic telling the pope he’s a _____ (I’ll let Luther fill in the blanks; he had some juicy ones!). I’m an equal opportunity critic, after all. I just don’t hold to Catholic infallibility or Protestant infallibility. Our history has some terribly troubling things about it—on both sides of the fence. We might as well admit it, because all the non-Christian onlookers already know about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and Christians killing and persecuting other Christians. I think we’re all messed up sinners who are saved by God’s mercy in spite of ourselves.

      But the comments soon escalated or degenerated (depending on your perspective, I suppose) into a battle over what one’s final authority was. Fair enough. It’s good to see you all talking. But, like Michael, I would urge you to show a little more civility and perhaps even to listen to each other a bit.

      If I wrote a blog on, say, charismatic Christianity, whether Jesus really changed water into wine, or Christian responsibility toward the environment, I wonder if some of you would see this as some sort of attack on Catholicism or Protestantism. It would be amusing if it weren’t so sad. And I have to suppose that the Lord Christ Jesus is not smiling.

    • Felicity

      With all due respect, Dr. Wallace, the Catholic posters here are not “bludgeoning [you] with obscure arguments and demand[ing] that [you] bow to an authority.” We are merely asking you to be honest and back up the claims you make. After all, you fellows here at Parchment and Pen are not merely offering your personal observations—you are “teachers” and “preachers” by virtue of the “Theology Program” that is at the root of this blog site. You assume an authority, and when you do that, you are responsible to be precise and truthful—and you also assume the burden of being challenged on that authority. If you propose to be an authority on the topic of theology, it is only proper that your feet be held to the fire—especially when you are guilty of making heretical claims that can lead people from Faith such as your position on removing texts from Sacred Scripture and Michael’s claim that at some future date the Sacred Scriptures may be added to (from his lecture series linked to elsewhere). I’m fairly certain the Lord Jesus Christ ain’t smilin’ at that!

    • C Michael Patton

      Felicity, although this is not the subject of this blog AT ALL, your accusations cause me to have to clarify for others what you misreprented completely by not telling the whole story.

      For the record, I said that the “closed” canon is simply a phrase we use to describe the fact that God has not been giving any inspired text for the last 2000 years. What I said was that WE did not close the canon if it is “closed,” God did. And being such, if He should so decide, He can add to it. While I don’t expect him to add to it, it is certainly up to Him, not you or the Catholic church.

      Please stay to the subject and quit getting so defensive. You are a bright gal, but your rhetoric and defensive attitude will gain no following nor cordial discourse on this blog. This is not a debate and all the issues cannot be covered in one blog. Please stick to the subject. If you don’t agree that you are off subject, that is fine, but you must remember this is a Protestant evangelical blog not Catholic Answers. While we deal with apologetic issues, you still must respect the particular subject of each post.

    • Dan Wallace

      With all due respect, Felicity, I have found your arguments to be obscure and your approach to be overly aggressive. Further, I think that the arguments others and I have used (like Michael’s response to you immediately above) are clear and honest. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    • C Michael Patton

      Just a quick comment. I have not really been able to stay up with this, but please understand I appreciate all of your comments.

      One thing that I am beginning to realize is that this blog, at least right now, is being used as forum. While I am all for discussion, I don’t want this to be a place to debate or challenge people by calling them out every chance we get.

      As well, this is not a quick place to come and post your own blog (as well of writers as many of you are). Friends of RMM have a place for this called Euangelion which can be found at euangelion.wordpress.com.

      Neither do I want it to be a place where it seems to be Catholics vs. Protestants. What we are really trying to do is challenge thinking, whether Protestant, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Yet, our primary audience is going to be Protestant. Being such, we need to be self-critical. It is hard to our own beliefs when those from the outside begin to mount a charge. We quickly find ourselves defending home, rather than cleaning it up.

      I don’t want this to sound as if we don’t want the perspective of others at all–we do. But please understand our purpose for Parchment and Pen. It is not YOUR blog, or a forums, or a place to debate each other at every turn. If you need clarification on an issue, that is great. If you want to answer a question posted, great. If you want to discuss with others, great. If you want to challenge the writer of the blog, great. But be careful and respectful of the time of the blogger and the topic of the thread.

      Granted, there is only one person who is causing this to spin out of control (and I love that one person 🙂 ), but as one has said, others are sure to follow the traffic.

      I hope you all understand.

    • mghysell

      Dr Wallace (and Readers!),

      I appreciated your remarks.

      Of course, the question of the Magisterium is one that continues to vex ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. Yet I think it is helpful to point out that the Catholic Church actually believes that there are two kinds of Magisteria that St Thomas Aquinas speaks of: the magisterium cathedrae pastoralis, that is, of the episcopal college, and the magisterium cathedrae magistralis, that is, of the theologian-professors.

      Although I’m a Catholic, I would not be quick to accuse Protestants of making the Bible a “paper pope.” If anything, credible Protestant theologians are very attentive to “university theology” and I would even suggest that you, as an exegete, are a member of the “magisterium of the professor’s chair.”

      Leaving aside the question of papal magisterium, I think there is a real issue of the more simplistic outlook (e.g. Fundamentalism) that relies either on the pastor or even the individual as a kind of pope. (Case in point: most Fundamentalist churches post the name of their pastor immediately after the name of the church building, a practise that is rare in mainstream Protestant churches and even rarer in Catholic parishes).

      Polemical discussions (and I intensely dislike Catholic apologetics precisely for this reason) should not get in the way of the questions that need to be addressed. The recent situation with Dr Beckwith, I should hope, would spur non-Catholics to educate themselves about what the Church means by Magisterium and the various levels of teaching (non-infalliable, defninitive, ordinary, extraordinary, etc.). I’m rather astonished at the paucity of awareness of such theologians as Gaillardetz, Sullivan, Dulles, Grisez, etc., on matters of the Magisterium. On the Catholic side, I must admit that the theology of the Magisterium is not without its problems.

      Whatever approach my non-Catholic fellow-believers in Christ have towards the Bible, there is, doubtless, some kind of “magisterium” at work.

      Thanks for opening this discussion. It’s a refreshing and fruitful change from the tired, overused diatribes I often read and hear.

      Fraternally in Christ,

    • Dan Wallace

      Matthew, I only wish you’d write more comments on the blogs posted at Parchment and Pen! You have a wealth of knowledge and a spirit of love and unity that I deeply appreciate. Thanks for always illuminating us and for your warm acceptance of Christian brothers and sisters from ‘another flock.’

      I had wondered about how official Catholicism views its many distinguished biblical studies professors (some of the very finest in the world today, by the way), and your explanation goes a long way to helping me understand it better.

      Thanks again for your good words.

    • Cory

      ***From Cory:
      Please show me one variation that affects a core doctrine of the Christian faith.

      Sola Scriptura denies the Apostolic authority that is the New Covenant fulfillment of the Levitical priesthood.

      I was referring to textual variations of the Bible. Your response is therefore irrelevant to the question I asked. But, since you brought it up, sola scriptura does no such thing. For Christ is the fulfillment of the priesthood:

      This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,

      “You are a priest forever,
      after the order of Melchizedek.”

      For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

      And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

      “The Lord has sworn
      and will not change his mind,
      ‘You are a priest forever.'”

      This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. (Heb 7:15-22)

      As to what is the accepted canon of Scripture, no serious Protestant apologist would argue that we accept it based on anything other than church tradition. That isn’t what I’m saying. Apostolic succession and granting said tradition equal authority with Scripture, however, is a mistake.

      The problem as I see it isn’t so much that the Protestants have set up the Bible as a “paper Pope,” but that they have set themselves up individually as their own “little Popes.” Protestants have taken Scripture and removed it from a communal setting, devoid of history and tradition. In it’s place they have established the individual as the final arbiter of how scripture should be read.

      I actually agree with this premise, but not ChadS’s ultimate conclusion. But, again, what Catholics sometimes miss is that no Protestant is suggesting that tradition doesn’t play a role in how we read and interpret Scripture! If someone actually suggests that, then I suggest that they are a false teacher.

    • darrel slugoski

      With the number of differient denominations and beliefs out there protestantism fails to agree on truth. For example one church believes that baptism is symbolic, another believes it is a sacriment, another does not baptize at all, these beliefs are all found in differient protestant churches. However , there can only be one truth. At least the Catholic church is consistant in its teaching on baptism over 2000 years.If you dont believe that, read the early Church fathers and all Catholic historical documents on just this one issue.

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