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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    190 replies to "Why I Believe the Canon is Fallible . . . And am Fine with It!"

    • Bryan Cross

      Michael,

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

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

      In the peace of Christ,

      – Bryan

    • John

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • cherylu

      CMP,

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

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

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

    • HornSpiel

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

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

    • Rick

      CMP-

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

      As Scot McKnight wrote:

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

    • HornSpiel

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

    • WLS

      You’re PROBABLY wrong.

    • EricW

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

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

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

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

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

    • Bryan

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

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

      Nope. That dog won’t hunt.

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

    • carl Peterson

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

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

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

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

    • Chuck

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

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

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

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

    • C Michael Patton

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

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

    • ScottL

      EricW –

      You voice many questions I have as well.

    • C Michael Patton

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

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

    • Dr Mike

      This is basically what you wrote here and here.

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

      Not complaining. Just curious re the first question.

    • Dr Mike

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

    • WLS

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

    • cherylu

      CMP,

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

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

    • Chuck

      Michael,

      You continue to equivocate, this time in methodology.

      A court case is not an experimental hypothesis.

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

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

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

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

      Thanks.

    • Chuck

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

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

      Sorry.

    • Rick

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

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

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

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

    • EricW

      Sausages, laws, canons, creeds….

    • cherylu

      CMP,

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

    • Bryan

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

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

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

    • Richard

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

    • EricW

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

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

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

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

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

    • Jesse G

      Bryan,

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

    • EricW

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

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

    • Tom Brown

      Dear Michael,

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

      You said:

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

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

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

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

      Peace in Christ,
      Tom

    • Randy

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

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

    • Jugulum

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

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

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

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

    • MikeB

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

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

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

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

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

    • MikeB


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

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

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

    • Bryan

      Mike B.,

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

      So let’s tighten this up a bit.

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

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

    • Gary Simmons

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

    • John

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

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

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

    • Jugulum

      MikeB,

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

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

    • Jugulum

      John,

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

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

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

    • Rick

      MikeB-

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

    • Peter Eddy

      Hi CMP,

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

      Thanks,
      Pete

    • Mike B

      @Bryan

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

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

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

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

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

      @Jugulum

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

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

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

    • John

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

      Reference please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Margeaux Klein

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

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

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

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

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

    • Rick

      MikeB-

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

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

      Again, I quote Scot McKnight:

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

    • MikeB

      @Rick

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


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

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

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

    • MikeB

      @John

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    • Rick

      MikeB-

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

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

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

      So then, John Frame writes,

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

    • #John1453

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

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

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

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

      regards,
      #John

    • ScottL

      CMP –

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

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

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

    • EricW

      ScottL:

      You might want to buy and read:

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

      Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders THE CANON DEBATE

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

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

    • mbaker

      CMP,

      In order to decide this, even with a degree of probability, wouldn’t we have to examine in detail the specific methods that were actually used by the canonizers of the Bible to make the final decision of whether a book was included or not? And the strength and weaknesses of their methodology?

      What happened, for instance, when there was a tie? Who made the final decision in that event and what criteria was it based upon?

      Language, historical accuracy, verification of time periods, etc;.- all of these things would have had to played a part in proving or disproving a manucript’s authencity. Perhaps a follow-up post that was more specific in those details would be in order so that folks who are not familar with how the canon was decided upon, or who do not have the time to do in-depth reading about it, would be in order here.

      To declare the canon is a fallible collection of infallibe books is simply too general a conclusion, in my mind at least, without something more substantial to go on. It is a catchy phrase, but one that raises , as # John pointed out, above some thorny application problems in other areas of Christology.

    • EricW

      mbaker:

      That’s the kind of question I’m asking in my post #26 (slightly corrected in #28):

      http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/01/why-i-believe-the-canon-is-fallible-and-am-fine-with-it/#comment-24061

    • C Michael Patton

      sorry I can’t be too involved here guys. But I think most of your questions concerning evidence and such can be answered in sessions 4 and 5 in Bibliology and Hermeneutics of The Theology Program: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/?page_id=8

    • Dave Z

      @Margeaux Klein

      Much to admire in your post. Our eye and our faith must be focused on all three members of the Godhead. Scripture points to God and it is the best pointer humanity has, but it is God that communicates, and he is not limited to scripture, though he is limited by scripture, in that any communication by God will not conflict with scripture.

    • Jesse G

      @ John

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

      ‘Reference please.’

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

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

      John,

      A very strong argument that Jesus rejected the Apocrypha as canon comes from Luke 11:49-51.

      Luk 11:49-51
      (49) Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
      (50) so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,
      (51) from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.

      Here Jesus says that the blood of ALL the prophets from the foundation of the world that will be required of this generation span from Abel to Zechariah. Abel is martyred in Genesis 4. Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24.

      What’s initially perplexing about this statement is chronologically there were other prophets in the OT that were martyred after Zechariah. Jesus seems to be leaving them out. His declaration becomes clear, however, when you realize that Jesus wasn’t referencing the chronological order of the martyrs but rather the order that the accounts of their martyrdom appeared in the in the Scriptures which He considered to be canon.

      The Greek Septuagint (which included the Apocrypha as canon) is ordered the same way our modern bibles are today: Genesis through Malachi. However the Jewish Tanach (which rejected the Apocrypha) is ordered from Genesis through . . . guess what . . . Chronicles (1 and 2 combined as one book).

      This reveals concretely that the Bible Jesus used was the Jewish canon, and His declaration that ALL of the prophets span from Genesis to 2 Chronicles seems to me a devastatingly strong inference of His rejection of the Apocrypha.

      Jesse G

    • MikeB

      @Rick


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

      I agree with Witherington’s statements above, except maybe the comment “very little debate”. Based on what the early church history records about the debate I might have said something like “with some debate”. However as I tried to note in another comment – the number of books being debated is very small.


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

      In regards to the HS helping the church distinguish the canonical books – I can certainly accept that – especially at the onset where churches like Ephesus in the first century had to determine whether to accept a letter as authentic Paul’s vs. the false letters they were warned about. Nor do I rule out the HS having a role in the ensuing debates regarding the canon identification. However since we have no explicit claim from God regarding the canon, no manuscript of a list of Biblical books that we would point to and say that was inspired or was approved by an apostle, and the debate lasted nearly 400 years I do not assume that this process was infallible. I allow for it to be a fallible process.

      Regarding the distinguishing of the canon two questions:
      1. Do you accept the Apocrypha as part of the Scriptures? Regarding this see Bryan’s questions above.
      2. What do you think happened at a church where all/most of the NT Canon was accepted but also included the Didache or 1 Clement?

      BTW: Thanks for the good discussion and questions. It has helped me think through these things again! While the process is certainly “messy”, it is encouraging to know that the early church was careful to test the books before accepting them. That gives me confidence that these were the words God wrote through His apostles to let us know He loves us and offers us forgiveness in Jesus.

    • EricW

      Jesse G wrote:

      John,

      A very strong argument that Jesus rejected the Apocrypha as canon comes from Luke 11:49-51.

      Luk 11:49-51
      (49) Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
      (50) so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,
      (51) from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
      Luk 11:49-51

      So… what was Jesus quoting when He said this?

    • John

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

      Actually the reference I was looking for was to the bit about “they rejected the apocrypha”.

      “However I would think that a good majority of them would be represented in terms of quotations or referring to events in them”

      Whoa, most people agree that Hebrews makes reference to the events mentioned in Macabees. (Hebrews 11:35 if memory serves me). So that criteria just is a major problem for your argument.

      “especially if one considers the 12 minor prophets a single book as is often done in OT canon listings.”

      Unless you prove that this grouping is finalized by Jesus’ time, then you just beg the question.

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

      This assumes there was one Jewish canon, even in that one place and time, which isn’t normally assumed to be the case. cf Jerome who said the Saducees only recognized the 5 books of Moses. And that’s before we start to consider the diaspora.

      Futhermore, why do we need to assume this was settled by the Jews in a particular year? How long did it take for the Church to get even a lot of consensus about 2 Peter, James etc? Given the Syriac church, I’m not sure it ever did, but we know it was after Chrysostom since he refused to quote those books. We might assume gathering consensus might take 500 years. So if the process wasn’t done by Josephus’ time, and he happens to fall against the wind of a different tradition – the one the Church inherited, who is to say one date is set in stone as when the Jews finalised their canon?

      “Eusebius Ecc His 4.26 also shows that an OT canon that does not include the Apocrypha (nor all of the 39 books we have today) existed.”

      I believe he refers to Melito whose Canon includes Wisdom, but excludes Esther. Which comes back to my point that there is really no cause for assuming Wisdom is deutero canon, and Esther is proto-canon. One might just as well assume the reverse and have a different canon. There is no fixed line between the two. There is far better early and widespread support for including say Wisdom and Baruch than there is for including Esther. If Esther is the minimum criteria, we might easily include at least half the so-called deutero canon, or maybe more.

    • […] and understanding the Scripture and theological truths. Interestingly enough, a blog I frequent, Parchment & Pen, has recently posted an article along the lines of this […]

    • John

      “His declaration becomes clear, however, when you realize that Jesus wasn’t referencing the chronological order of the martyrs but rather the order that the accounts of their martyrdom appeared in the in the Scriptures which He considered to be canon.”

      Major major problems here:

      1) It completely begs the question. If we assume Jesus here is referring to the Jewish canon, you still beg the question about what that canon is! If I say that canon includes the deuteros, you have no comeback.

      2) I don’t think most scholars agree that Chronicles is the last book. The major codices of the Hebrew scriptures have Chronicles first, not last, and this position is supported by the fact that the last paragraph of Chronicles is identical to the first paragraph of Ezra. Furthermore, Josephus does not have an ordering with Chronicles last. And wherever you happen to think Chronicles fits in the list, it doesn’t prove what books might come before it, since the whole argument presupposes that the order is not chronological.

      3) If you are able to make assumptions about what you think Jesus’ Jewish manuscripts contained, and in what order, then certainly I can do the same by noting the apostles used the Septuagint, and making my own educated guesses about what that contained.

    • Rick

      MikeB-

      I too appreciate the conversation.

      I do think Protestants need to rethink the role of the Apocrypha, Didache, 1 Clement, etc.., although not in terms of Scripture. As history has shown, and some of the other conversations on this post are showing, there is much disagreement. As one who leans towards paleo-orthodoxy, I do put much value on how the EO’s and RC’s look at this issue. However, I tend to see those writings as important to the church, but not sacred. As Witherington says, in regards to 1 Clement, it was “valuable Christian literature that was not heretical.”

      Christianity as a whole has at least accepted the list of Athenasius. Again, quoting Witherington:
      “The church in Africa, Asia, and the West recognized these 27 books as our NT, which is pretty amazing since they disagreed on other important issues such as church polity. But they did so because they understood the proper criteria for recognition was that these source books are either apostolic or eyewitness in origins. And as such they had to come from the very beginnings of Christianity, and could not include later fictions and forgeries.”

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      Is there someplace that addresses the questions #John, mbaker, and I have asked about where one can draw the line on fallibility, given the statements you made in your lede? (See comments #3, 48 and 51.)

    • mbaker

      One of the reasons I don’t agree with the probability theory per se, regarding the infallibility of scripture is that we can look at weather forecasting as a prime example of how hit and miss this process can be. For instance, let’s say there is a 90% chance of rain forecast, yet it does not rain, but is partly cloudy instead.

      Does that mean the 90% prediction, based on what was known at the time, was not true? No, it was only true as far as what could be determined in the future with some certainty. However, in the canonizing of the scripture we are talking about about events that had already happened, and the methodical process of determining and separating relevant theological truth from that which was probably true, but not necessary to make the canon more viable.

      Thus, I do not see how the use of probability is a primary determining factor in infallibility at all, if we are already discussing known facts. We either decide them to be true or we don’t, based upon their individual merit and relevance. Probability, in this case, should only come into play when something can’t be decided 100% conclusively. And since there is a pattern of continuing themes in the OT, which point to the coming of the New Covenant and what it entails, we should be able to pretty well gauge how well these themes are borne out in the books which do come under some question by using all the methods of deduction.

      To go to the extreme of probability type thinking in trying to determine truth, as it relates to the Bible at least, would be to engage in the same kind of Robert Schuller type ‘possibility’ thinking that we know has lead to so much relativism in the modern church. Relative possibilities, no matter how the percentage toward the good do not not establish truth, they merely point out the chances of it, one way or another.

    • ScottL

      Thanks Eric W for the book recommendations.

      You might be interested in an article I just posted on my blog.

      Are you RC or EO?

    • C Michael Patton

      One of the problems when discussing the issue of probability is that it is a technical term. We have skepticism, doubt, belief, assurance, certianty, and absolute certianty all making up this scale. With the evidence that we have, both theological and material, I think that we can be high on the scale of certianty concerning our canon. In other words, I am not advocating skepticism or doubt.

      In the end, all of our beliefs fall short of absolute certianty by the simple fact that we are fallible. Even if you were to entertain that the church was infallible in this one area of deciding the canon or that the Roman Catholic position was correct, that belief could not be infallibly certian and would have to look to the evidence to prove it! All one would have done at this point is push the argument up one level. But the same problem (that we all fall short of absolute certianty) remains no matter how you handle this issue.

      However, this does not make our beliefs unfounded or unsecure. Just as I have a belief that the sun will rise tomorrow and it is not infallible, this does not mean that it is likely at all to be wrong.

      People’s search for infallibility is a vestage of a Modernistic methodology. It is not only irrational to require such assurance, it is impossible.

      To punt to the Holy Spirit’s conviction is problematic when one does this individualistically. There is a personal conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it must be tempered against the corperate conviction of the history of the church. This provides a peice of the theological evidence that we need to confirm our convictions concerning such matters.

    • EricW

      ScottL on 26 Jan 2010 at 2:19 pm #
      Thanks Eric W for the book recommendations.
      You might be interested in an article I just posted on my blog.
      Are you RC or EO?

      ScottL:

      I was non-denom charismatic/protestant for more than 25 years, and then became EO for 3+ years – 2 as an inquirer/catechumen (during which time I largely kept the fasts, attended the weekly Divine Liturgy and many of the other special services, vespers, etc.), and 1+ as a baptized and chrismated communing member, during which time I definitely kept all the fasts, services, etc.

      There came a time, though, where, among other things, I realized I no longer believed and could no longer profess/confess the Orthodox doctrine of the Eucharist, nor could I support the concept of the priesthood and the role of the priest, etc., and my further studies of church history and the development of the Liturgy, as well as my study of the Scriptures, were not able to convince me otherwise or bring me back to my previous acceptance and profession of these things. So I am no longer Orthodox.

      (I still have lots of icons and incense, though. 🙂 )

      FWIW, I suspect I could not ever become RC, though it was a serious consideration at the time I was exploring both it and the EO Church. But my present views of the Eucharist and the priesthood would definitely preclude doing so now.

    • Cory Howell

      “What was that odd sound? It sounded like a can opener.”

      “That? Don’t worry about it…it was just Michael Patton opening up a huge can of worms.”

      “Oh. I was worried for a second.”

      “He likes to do it occasionally, just to get people to examine their faith a little more closely. It’s how he rolls.”

      “He’s a braver man than I!”

      “I know. Funny, they said the same thing about Cranmer before he plunged his arm into the flames…”

    • C Michael Patton

      LOL! You got my number Cory.

    • John

      “All one would have done at this point is push the argument up one level. But the same problem (that we all fall short of absolute certianty) remains no matter how you handle this issue.”

      Except that allowing the Church to be the one who speaks to this issue has one thing other arguments don’t: agreement and consensus.

      And since the Protestant claim is that scripture is meant to be THE rule of faith in the church, that kinda needs agreement and consensus, which can’t be guaranteed if everyone decides for themselves.

      Individually deciding the canon may (or at least so you argue) have the same kind of epistemological certainty, but it doesn’t have the right kind of attributes for scripture to fulfill he purpose it needs to.

      EricW: I’m curious what things about the priesthood and eucharist you found so troubling, but this may not be the right forum. If you want to mail me at: xpusostomos at gmail.com feel free.

    • EricW

      John:

      Okay, I’ve emailed you my email address so you can share your thoughts/questions.

    • Jesse G

      EricW

      “Luk 11:49-51
      (49) Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
      (50) so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,
      (51) from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
      Luk 11:49-51

      So… what was Jesus quoting when He said this?”

      My guess is He was stating what He knew God’s providential plan to be. Matthew records these words simply as part of Jesus’ own rebuke. Why is this relevant to the argument?

    • John

      I’m sure I remember that there is a verse analogous to Luk 11:49-51, that implies a Septuagint ordering and boundary of books, but I can’t remember what it is.

    • Jesse G

      John

      “1) It completely begs the question. If we assume Jesus here is referring to the Jewish canon, you still beg the question about what that canon is! If I say that canon includes the deuteros, you have no comeback.”

      I’m starting from the premise of the Jewish canon today, a canon which rejects the detueros. If your argument is that Jewish canon included the deuteros in the first century but at some point in history rejected it, the burden of proof, I think, would be on you to provide the evidence of that denunciation.

      “2) I don’t think most scholars agree that Chronicles is the last book. The major codices of the Hebrew scriptures have Chronicles first, not last, and this position is supported by the fact that the last paragraph of Chronicles is identical to the first paragraph of Ezra. Furthermore, Josephus does not have an ordering with Chronicles last. ”

      To which codices are you referring? And where is Chronicles in Josephus’ ordering? I wasn’t aware that Josephus had recorded an order. Only that the canon included 22 books.

      “And wherever you happen to think Chronicles fits in the list, it doesn’t prove what books might come before it, since the whole argument presupposes that the order is not chronological.”

      So just to be clear, you’re passing off Jesus’ reference to the blood of all the martyred prophets being from Abel to Zechariah – Genesis to Chronicles – which are the first and last books of the Tanach that rejects the apocrypha in every list I’ve seen . . . as coincidental? Logic argues simply from Jesus’ “from/to” language that He had some kind of an order in mind. We know it wasn’t chronological, given the later martyrdoms which He would have had to have been intentionally excluding. . . so that doesn’t leave much left. To much there for mere coincidence in my opinion.

      “3) If you are able to make assumptions about what you think Jesus’ Jewish manuscripts contained, and in what order, then certainly I can do the same by noting the apostles used the Septuagint, and making my own educated guesses about what that contained.”

      The difference would be the context. I’m not aware of any of the apostles making sweeping, comprehensive statements of men – first to last – considered to be martyred prophets. The argument isn’t just that Jesus referenced the Tanach, it’s the manner in which He did so. You’re also dealing with an improvable assumption that because the apostles quote from the Septuagint and the Septuagint includes the apocrypha that the apostles necessarily accepted the apocrypha. That A agrees with B and B is a part of C does not infer that A will always agree with C. That’s a burden that is not shared with the Tanach, which to my knowledge never included the deuteros.

      ” I’m sure I remember that there is a verse analogous to Luk 11:49-51, that implies a Septuagint ordering and boundary of books, but I can’t remember what it is.”

      I would be interested in this if you can think of it.

      Jesse G

    • ScottL

      EricW –

      So now which circle do you fellowship with. I’m still a charismatic. Couldn’t leave what I have seen and known, though I am not always happy with some evangelical beliefs and viewpoints. 🙂

    • EricW

      I currently meet with a rather informal and small non-denom charismatic/charismatic-friendly group. And like you, esp. with my exposure to and study of the early church and the liturgical tradition, I’m uncomfortable with some Evangelical beliefs, viewpoints and practices.

      Also, I’m pretty much an egalitarian re: what women can do in church leadership and ministry, though that persuasion came after I left the EO Church and was not a factor in my leaving; i.e., it wasn’t that only men could be priests that caused me to leave the EO Church. If that topic also interests you, Philip B. Payne’s new book Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters http://www.pbpayne.com/?page_id=98 discusses the relevant texts and current arguments re: Paul’s writings. Though he expects the reader to know some NT Greek, that shouldn’t dissuade you from buying and reading it, as there are large parts that a non-Greek reader can understand and benefit from reading.

    • ScottL

      Thanks Eric. I too have egalitarian leanings, though I don’t like the word, as it carries a lot of baggage.

      I’m glad we are on a journey and don’t have all these things figured out. But I am secure in God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself in Christ.

    • Margeaux Klein

      @Dave Z

      As a lay person, who has listened to The Theology Program on ITunes and just started to study, I don’t know if I should post here. I really have no one at my church who likes to study the word in this way or talk about apologetics, history etc… so I hope its ok to ask questions here? I feel like I am watching a tennis match though. Its good, but in the end you are back where you started…you can’t really know for sure.

      I recently have been listening to a podcast on C.S. Lewis and I got a spiritual ah-ha moment about the timelessness of God. If God created time along with space then as created beings we never can know or understand absolutely because we were created “in time” Yet God has given us the ability to wrap our minds around the “idea” of timelessness. This, to me, seems why there is a lot of circular discussions.

      Maybe we were not meant to see the whole picture yet. (1 Cor 13:12, 1 Jn 3:2) Which makes me ask, what should I be focusing on? I could spend all day studying the Bible. I want to know God more and more, but yet I have four teenage girls who are now rebelling against going to church and being pulled toward the world. They could care less about the authority or infallibility of the Bible. I put scripture and quotes from Blaise Pascal on my refrigerator just to get them to get a little heavenly education.

      I yearn for more than application in my church. I want to know more, but when I read posts like this I feel as though I am in the movie Lentil.

      I appreciate those who have been blessed by God to be gifted as teachers and historians in Theology, but how far should you spend in contemplation in these discussions as a lay person? If they increase your faith by learning more and being able to see God more clearly then great! What if they confuse you more and cause you to doubt?

    • MikeB

      @Margeaux
      I appreciate those who have been blessed by God to be gifted as teachers and historians in Theology, but how far should you spend in contemplation in these discussions as a lay person? If they increase your faith by learning more and being able to see God more clearly then great! What if they confuse you more and cause you to doubt?

      I would say your #1 goal is to model Christ to your family and focus on the issues that matter to your daughters regarding faith, doubts, etc. They are your #1 mission and discipleship battle ground. If this area is not it than spend time on those that are. That would be my advice.

      I understand why some of the history behind the Bible, theology etc can cause confusion or doubt. It is far more complex than we like and not all the questions raised are easily answered. But for me it is important to understand the historic truth – because Christianity is a faith based on history. I also encounter many who are familiar with works like the DaVinci Code, Misquoting Jesus, etc. that present the information so that it will cause doubt (see latest blog entry from me). So I like to understand these issues to try to help diffuse doubt.

    • John

      ” If your argument is that Jewish canon included the deuteros in the first century but at some point in history rejected it, the burden of proof would be on you to provide the evidence of that denunciation”

      If it just comes down asking for the burden of proof for who changed it, I might say you have the burden of proof for showing who systematically changed all the church’s manuscripts to include the deuteros and thereby change the canon.

      You see, we’ve got two traditions here, and simply appealing to one and forcing the burden of proof on the other is a game both sides can play to equal effect.

      And in fact, since pretty much every source for the early Jewish canon has differences, I would furthermore put the burden of proof on you to show the Jewish canon was settled at that time. If you can’t establish that then all talk of someone changing the canon is moot anyway.

      “To which codices are you referring? ”

      In the Leningrad codex (the oldest complete one we have), Chronicles is the first book in the Writings: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, The Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah. And Zechariah is not the last martyr in that list. Another one is the Aleppo Codex which is almost as old.

      “you’re passing off Jesus’ reference to the blood of all the martyred prophets being from Abel to Zechariah – Genesis to Chronicles – which are the first and last books of the Tanach in every list I’ve seen . . . as coincidental?”

      Just because I suggest other interpretations, doesn’t imply coincidence. I mean in the parallel verse (Mt 23:35) he is called Zachariah, the son of Barachiah. However the Zachariah in Chronicles is son of Jehoiada. i.e. prima facie evidence does not point to it being the same person. For this reason, many have thought it refers to Zacharias, son of Baruch who was a righteous man condemned by the Jews in times more contemporary with Jesus. They gave him a mock trial; and, when no evidence could be brought against him of his being guilty of the crime they laid to his charge, viz. a design to betray the city to the Romans, and his judges had pronounced him innocent, two of the stoutest of the zealots fell upon him and slew him in the middle of the temple. (See Josephus, WAR, b. iv. chap. 5. s. 5). That would mean Jesus is bringing the blood guilt all the way from Abel right up to the minute. Not a coincidence, but not your explanation either. Others imagine that Zachariah, one of the minor prophets, is meant, who might have been massacred by the Jews; for, though the account is not come down to us, our Lord might have it from a well known tradition in those times.

      “You’re also dealing with an improvable assumption that because the …apocrypha that the apostles necessarily accepted the apocrypha.”

      No more unprovable that your completely unfounded assumption about what book order Jesus was familiar with, or even that this implies he accepted all the books contained therein or only those.

    • Jesse G

      I appreciate your thoughts, John. Just to add one more thought, the phrase “son of Berechiah” isn’t present in codex Sinaiticus which makes it possilby/likely a later scribal addition.

      Jesse G

    • Russ

      It’s pretty ironic that someone who believes God controls the lives of each and every person on the face of the Earth to the point that He determines who will be saved and who won’t be saved without regard to their decisions would then turn around and believe that God loses control of His Words to the world at large.

      Interesting arguments, but the contradiction is astounding.

      Russ

    • Perry Robinson

      Some criticisms.

      First certainty is not a necessary or sufficient condition on knowledge so it is irrelevant for knowing. The question is not so much about knowing but about normativity. Since the canon is fallible on your account, it is not ultimately authoritative and hence can be revised over time. The canon has a provisional status.

      Since the question is about the normative status of the canon, it seems you are mistaken to say that we all are floating down the same river. Everyone may start from the ame place with respect to knowing but that doesn’t imply that we are all in the same position with respect to forming normative judgments. We all may be in the same position to know what the Constitution means, but we are all not supreme court justices.

      Lastly, no confessional statement then has the normative status of revealed truth, even if it is correct since it is put forward as and on a provisional and reconstructive basis. Formally, it is the teaching f men which is why it cannot bind the conscience.

    • John

      “son of Berechiah” isn’t present in codex Sinaiticus which makes it possilby/likely a later scribal addition.”

      One manuscript only, even Sinaiticus is not normally considered weighty, especially as in this case when omitting it could be considered an attempt to correct an error, whereas there seems like no motivation for adding it.

      But the point is, nobody can neatly know who is right about the canon, simply by appealing to Luke, because of all the uncertainties of various issues, textual issues with Sinaiticus only complicates it further.

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry, are you fallible?

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      Yes, I sure am, but I don’thave to be infallible to know. The relevant point is not about knowledge though but about the normative status of doctrinal statements. A judgment can be true but the normativity of divinely taught and promulgated statements outruns that of accuracy, otherwise by analogy there’d be no legal difference between the judgments of say a law professor and a court judge or more directly, there’d be no difference in the level of obligation between when an Apostle taught and a first century layman.

      So there are two levels at work. In order to know that such and so is infallible doctrine is quite different than the conditions for such and so to *be* an infallible doctrine. At best the Protestant position may get biblical teaching right, but it can only put it forward as the best human re-construction and hence as provisional of divine teaching. Which is why no Protestant doctrine is beyond possible revision, including the canon.

      Are you fine with the canon always being in principle in flux?

    • C Michael Patton

      So you have a fallible belief about the canon too?

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      Sure and I never claimed otherwise.The question isn’t about fulfilling the conditions on knowledge but rather normative statements. I am sufficient to fulfill the conditions on knowledge, but I am not sufficient to do so for a normative statement on what the canon is in fact is. So someone else is only obligated to adhere to what I claim to know if they know it too, if we are limited to the level of knowledge. But the normativity of doctrinal statements, and especially of truths taught with divine authority outrun the normativity attached to true propositions. That is, divine truths are more than just accurate, they are authoritative.

      The skeptical worries expressed about knowing which books are canonical are meant to serve to show that the canon cannot be normative on your principles since a sufficiently normative judgment, that is one in which the canon would be in principle non-revisable, entails knowledge. If you don’t or can’t know, then the canon might be revisable. It strikes people as counter intuitive that the final word is revisable and that which requires an absolute committment and not a probabilistically grounded one is revisable. This masks what the real issue is in discussions, which is not about knowing, but about the revisability of the canon and whether it is a human construction or a divine one.

      The doctrine of the right of private judgment then is not that everyone is in a position to know that X is canonical, the right interpretation, etc., but that no one can be obligated to adhere to a doctrine unless they so judge it to be correct. The question on the table then is about the normative status of the canon and not if you know if the books are inspired or not. And no Protestant ecclesiology can in principle produce a statement on the canon that is beyond possible revision.

    • C Michael Patton

      In the end we both have a fallible belief about the canon, yet we feel justified in our belief about the canon.

      The next issue is the epistemic justification for our beliefs. But that is not the subject here.

    • David Richards

      If the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books, then why believe any particular book belongs in the canon? And if a particular book does not belong in the canon (which is possible since of course the collection is “fallible”) then that just shows that a particular book are fallible. Something infallible cannot be a subset of something fallible. It makes no sense.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      As I noted from the start, the issue isn’t epistemological. Epistemological worries only motivate the concern over normativity and this is because epistemology entails a certain degree of ethical content.

      So the conclusion is, your canon is revisable. The canon and all other doctrines are taught in principle as the best or most probable approximation or human reconstructions of divine material. These seems like an insufficient basis to ground a a judgment in favor of an absolute committment.

      Moreover, the canon is just as open and subject to challenge as any other doctrine in Protestant confessions since there is no ecclesial authority that can obligate the conscience of any individual that is external to the individual.

      On the other hand, adherence to various doctrines put forward by Protestants is done so in a way that seems to require an absolute committment even if such persons fail to know that such and so doctrines are true. (Perhaps they have mere true belief for example.) And Protestants put forward the canon as a settled matter, which in principle, it really isn’t. Protestantism then seems to imply a more robust conservatism and that in the sense of an unwillingness to make dogmatic claims than is usually or historically the case. If such and so is the best we can do, it seems warranted not to try obligate anyone to believe much of anything. ANd yet the biblical witness as understood by Protestants seems to entail something quite the opposite.

      Consequently, I don’t think you’ve engaged the actual problem.

    • C Michael Patton

      Well, you have conceded all that need be for this post Perry. That is the only point that I was trying to make. We all have a fallible belief about an infallible source.

    • C Michael Patton

      Not that you are represenative of anything. I don’t know anything about you. So I don’t want to act as if your representation is conclusive for the point I was trying to make.

      Others may want to engage this differently.

    • C Michael Patton

      David, I can’t engage in this thread any more. Normally when a post is two days old, I cannot comment on them anymore.

      The only thing I can do is ask you what I asked the gentleman above: are you fallible or infallible? If you are fallible, then you belief about the infallible cannon is fallible. So we are in the same boat.

      That is the point of the post. No more no less. Hope that makes sense.

    • Don Bradley

      CMP.

      I think you’re mislead about how rigid the Orthodox are about the canon. I find most Orthodox find the issue so trivial they don’t want to risk carpal tunneling debating it.

      There wasn’t a consensus among some Orthodox Fathers, and the issue wasn’t pronounced enough on the radar for them to consider communal separation from others to further their personal opinions. Here’s some trivia for you:

      1. St. Athanasius’s 39th Festal Letter of 367 lists his opinion on the canon, which was binding for his diocese. There are minor variations with everybody’s list in use today, which everybody is quick to dismiss in their rush to claim unity with him because of his historical stature.

      2. In modern ecumenical discussion with the Copts and the Orthodox, the issue is barely raised, despite the more extensive list of the Copts.

      3. In the contacts between the 17th century Lutherans and Patriarch Jeremiah II the issue wasn’t raised by either side. The discussions never got past how each view God Himself, centering on the procession of the Holy Spirit.

      4. There is silence in all 7 Ecumenical Councils on the issue of canonicity.

      5. Revelation isn’t used in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

      6. The establishment of a closed canonical list was originated by the heretic Marcion, which necessitated a Church response.

      7. The Orthodox believe we recieved doctrine from Christ Himself and it is preserved in the Tradition of the Church. Meaning, we don’t get our doctrine from texts; they are the witness to the doctrine we already have. IOW, we have different starting points.

      8. The West pushed the issue (namely Augustine), and the East followed along on this issue because there really was no point in making a fuss about it. IOW, passive acceptance.

      BTW, I think I read somewhere on one of your sites attributing a quote to Sproul; that we have a fallible list of infallible books. I believe that comes from his mentor Gerstner.

      IMHO, since there is no Ecumenical pronouncement on the issue, I hold to an open canon. I know it’s open. I am certain my Bishop would have a strongly different opinion, and his is what counts concerning my churchmanship, so I defer to those wiser than myself. My point is it’s not pushed. There are bigger fish to fry, such as the dilemna Perry presented to you.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      I thought the point of the post was to engage the supposed problematic nature of a fallible canon and not a demonstration that everyone’s beliefs about the canon were fallible.

      So no, we are not in the same boat.

    • C Michael Patton

      Don, you are right. As far as my studies have taken me, I have never seen anything that would lead me to believe that the Orthodox church is definitive about the inclusion or exclusion of the Deuterocanonical books. It has cause some frustration from some Orthodox.

    • David Richards

      C. Michael Patton, how does it follow from the fact that my knowledge is fallible that therefore the canon is fallible? That needs to be demonstrated via deduction, not just assumed. It contains a hidden premise somewhere, that if a belief is fallible the source of those beliefs is likewise. So if I believe what God says, yet my belief COULD be wrong, is it possible therefore for God to be wrong? It says more about me than it does about the source of my beliefs. So you really have not engaged my point nor have you made a persuasive argument for how the canon can be a fallible collection of infallible books. If the collection is fallible, then any of the books could be cut out and hence would not be INfallible.

    • Don Bradley

      CMP,

      Let’s be honest, shall we? I love St. Athanasius like he was my own father, so much so I took him as my name-saint in joining the Orthodox Church. But look at his 39th Letter: it reads more like it comes from the Book of Common Prayer from Thomas Cramner than an Orthodox Saint. He’s like, “These books are like OK, cool, I’m down with that.” Not really a hearty endorsement.

      But I think you’re still not getting it. A book’s reading in an Orthodox liturgical setting tells you where we are on that book (Revelation excluded, long story there). Inclusion in the Liturgy is what we’re talking about when we use the word “canon”, not personal usage or personal doctrinal research. In the Liturgy, Tradition is paramount, and not open to debate. I am strongly disposed to deuterocanonical inclusion.

      Why the Orthodox angst? Look at the situation. You are dealing with mostly Orthodox converts unwilling to give up philosophical “certainty”. But it’s larger, something that permeates our entire culture; the need to prove minutia, especially to our own skeptical minds. There are elements of fundamentalism that have seeped so deep into our culture that even those who despise it embrace it unknowingly. Foregoing a rigidly closed canon goes contrary to what has been drilled into all of us from the cradle.

    • C Michael Patton

      David, you are assuming that your canon is “the” canon. The correct canon is not infallible, all would agree. What I am talking about is your BELIEF about the canon is fallible seeing as how you are fallible. All your beliefs are fallible. Therefore, as I have been saying, saying that I believe in a fallible canon of infallible books is the same position that everyone is in out of necessity due to their own fallibility.

    • C Michael Patton

      Don, not sure I know what you are saying, but my latest post may have bearing? Check it out.

    • John

      If there was some authoritative source for finding out the canon in Protestant thought, then we might give credence to Michael’s thoughts about the fallible nature of our perception of that source.

      However, since its highly questionable if Protestantism even has such an identifiable and documentable source, I don’t see how it is comparable.

      Perry’s knowledge of the Church’s canon might be fallible, but at least he has a source to look to. Whether Michael has any source is highly questionable.

    • C Michael Patton

      John, you mean whether Protestants have any source? Either way, the source is the evidence, which is not the subject of this post. But I appreciate your understanding of the direction of this post with regard to our common plight—fallible beliefs. But this, does not need cause us de facto discouragement as everything in life and all our beliefs are fallible. The possibility of error does not necessarily lead to the probability of error.

      This post is meant to answer a common objection that primarily comes from Catholics that since we have a fallible canon, our faith is in jeapordy. I have demonstrated that this is not the case at all since no matter what position you take, it is fallible. A humble task, but I don’t think that there is any way around it and its implications.

    • David Richards

      C. Michael Patton, saying that you believe in a fallible canon and then that your belief in the canon is fallible are not the same thing.

    • C Michael Patton

      David, I figured the post and the fact that I have a particular (Protestant) canon, assumed these things. If not, this is what I meant.

    • John

      “the source is the evidence”

      What evidence? To have evidence, you would have to have an objective documentable basis for application of evidence. Since the scripture doesn’t document an objective basis for knowing what is scripture, all you have evidence for is non-theological facts, like who possibly wrote a book, and so forth, and even then the evidence in that respect is fairly scant. But evidence for what books are inspired is non-existent, because the basis for such application is non-existent outside the authority of the church. But if you start appealing to evidence from authority, that such and such a church fathers thought something is scripture, then you’ve wandered into our turf of the authority of the church.

    • David Richards

      That may be, but the two ideas are not the same. One should be prepared to argue for a conflation when one commits said conflation. Do you really think belief in a fallible canon is the same a fallible belief in an infallible canon?

    • C Michael Patton

      David, from the standpoint of a Catholic apologetic against the Protestant idea of canon, yes, it parallels perfectly. (The same could be said for the KJV Only camp and the insistance on an infallible translation).

    • C Michael Patton

      John, I have said it a few times on this post that this post is not about the evidence, but about the prolegomena of the canon issue. If you want to get into the evidence for all positions, then the only thing I can do is point you to where I have taught on this in my Bibliology and Hermeneutics class. You would have to watch session 1-4 to get an understanding.

    • C Michael Patton

      http://www.reclaimingthemind.org is the place to go. Click on The Theology Program and then courses.

    • John

      I don’t have to get into the evidence to point out that there is no evidence concerning the issue of inspiration. There is evidence about who might have written stuff, and there is evidence about the opinion of church figures about what is scripture, but there is no criteria outside the opinion of the church about what is inspired.

      The one exception might be 2 Peter calling Paul’s writings scripture, but since that is the most disputed book in the canon, you can’t really use that as the foundation for proving the inspiration of the least disputed books.

      And this is all on-topic here, because we have fallible knowledge about an infallible authority, whereas you have fallible knowledge about mere historical, and non-theological factoids about who wrote what book, since your hermeneutic lacks an infallible source for fallibly knowing the canon. You have fallible knowledge of history and secular knowledge. We have fallible knowledge of a revelation of the canon to the church. You are one more level removed.

    • C Michael Patton

      John, please calm down and respect what I have said. My point has been made. If you disagree, it is your right. And if a have said the topic of this post is not about the evidence I, the author, have that insight! I don’t need any evidence for that…I am the source!!

      No more going that direction or your comments will be deleted.

    • John

      I don’t know what you mean about not respecting you about this thread not being about the evidence. I haven’t brought up any evidence, I haven’t challenged you to bring up evidence. I’ve just mentioned the meta-issue that for you, the canon is not an object of revelation, whereas for us it is.

    • Don Bradley

      CMP,

      I read the previous post you alluded to; let’s see if I can hit the mark here. You accept a fallible canon; which you and I would agree upon. Great. Where do we go from here?

      The Protestant mind MUST, MUST, MUST close the canon first so the mind can then extract from a finite source what must be believed to save their personal derrierre. Agreed? It’s fundamental to spiritual survival. Even if you KNEW and were CERTAIN you had the correct canon, you know your mind is fallen and rendered incapable of deriving correct doctrine from those books. Will you do “OK”? Maybe, maybe not. The chances are less than deriving which books are infallible. Frankly, I think the idea that an individual examines each book objectivelyand then and only then, decides to include it in their canon is less than absurd, it is delusional. Who has EVER examined each book and made up their own mind on each and every single one? By what criteria did they accept 3rd John? Give me a break; they accepted it as a whole, they just don’t have the courage to be honest. They picked it from the bookstore, listened to some preacher who told them which books to accept, and drank the kool-aid.

      If finding an infallible list is improbable; how much less is finding the proper interpretive schema amongst the thousands, if not millions, of schemas the millions of minds can create to digest that list of books into something that is the correct interpretation of those very same books? The odds are infinitesmal. As you can already tell from the vitriol of the Protestant reaction to your postings; their minds have already raced to the inescapable conclusion that an unclosed canon is intellectual and spiritual doomsday. If you apply the EXACT same criteria you have to the canon to the more important issue of interpretation, then you’ll understand Perry’s question.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      You write that the correct canon is not infallible, but again, I am not sure how we get form a fallible belief about the canon to the canon itself being revisable. This would only be so if the canon were the product of a fallible process and judgment, but to assume so is just to beg a whole lot of questions.

      To say that all of my beliefs are fallible is somewhat misleading. Suppose there are analytic truths and that a triangle has three sides is one of them. Is that a fallible belief? If it is a priori true then it doesn’t seem so or does it? Is the belief that all beliefs are fallible, fallible or no?

      Thirdly, your position is that the canon itself is a fallible thing since it is the product of a fallible church, but that presupposes a certain understanding of the church. My position is that I have a fallible belief about an object. I could be wrong, or I could be right but fail in my justification or whatever the fourth condition on knowledge turns out to be. There is more than one way to fail with respect to knowledge. In any case, my belief about the canon may be fallible, but the canon itself can still be infallible. Your position is that formally, this is in principle not so or possible since the canon formally speaking is a human and fallible product. But to reason from the mode in which I hold a belief to the nature of the object itself is specious. Just because I hold a belief about something in a fallible way doesn’t transfer to the object such that it might be otherwise per se.

      Suppose Jesus gave us a list of books. My belief about that list is fallible, but the list isn’t.

      The problem that seems untouched by your post is the in principle revisionary status of a belief system that entails an absolute commitment. I can’t see anything written in your post or remarks that touches the seemingly problematic nature of a revisable canon.

    • C Michael Patton

      Perry, I agree. But that is like saying the truth is really the truth! The problem is not an ontological one concerning the canon (is there one and is it correct—that is a different story that gets into way too much postmodern thought than I am ready to touch), but an epistemic one, i.e. can we have a infallible belief about the canon? The answer is no. No one is infallible, therefore all of our belief are, by definition, fallible. Therefore, the Catholic argument concerning the Protestant belief in a fallible canon loses all its force when perspective is gained.

      However, I don’t want this to go in the wrong direction. I believe, precisely because of the testimony of the historic Christian church, that we can have a great degree of certianty about the canon, albeit fallible.

      I really feel as if I am going in circles here, but I hope it has helped. Either way, I can’t continue to engage in this post (it is a very old post, relatively speaking!)

    • David Richards

      CMP, I am a bit perplexed. How do we get from a fallible belief to belief in a fallible source? How does a claim for one amount to a claim for the other?

    • C Michael Patton

      David, I doubt that anyone would claim that the source for the canon (God) is fallible.

    • David Richards

      CMP, OK: so if God is the source for the canon and is infallible, then is the canon infallible or fallible? It doesn’t seem to leave much wiggle room, does it?

      • C Michael Patton

        David, God is infallible and he is the source of a lot of things, like reason, rationality, and people. This does not make the expression from each of these infallible does it? In other words, the canon as God knows it is perfect and infallible. But as we, fallible people, attempt to access these things, they will, by definition, be fallible. This does not make them wrong or up in the air any more than my fallible statement that I am wearing shoes right now is wrong (I am wearing shoes). However, I cannot make an infallible statement about such since I don’t possess the impossibility not to fail (which is what infalliblility is). Therefore, I rely on the basic reliability of sense perception and make a fallible judgment that is correct. Not infallible, but correct. The same thing is true about the canon. I don’t need an infallible canon to have have assurance that the canon we have is correct.

    • Don Bradley

      David,

      When did God reveal the canon? And by what means did He do so?

    • David Richards

      Don, I do not understand the question of ‘when.’ The canon was codified by the Church and in my opinion is on a level with doctrinal statements such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Theotokos.

    • Don Bradley

      Really? When? The best case any Orthodox person could make is the 6th Council, which accepted multitudes of canons without much discussion, but how binding are some of those lesser canons where most have never been enforced?. For the East, it never was a big issue, and it still isn’t.

      I thought you were a Prot, my bad. They ultimately appeal to their feelings without an external source, and quite vaguely. The words may be different than the Mormons, but in kind Protestants sound just like Mormons that appeal to a burning in their bosom to validate the canon. Both usually react with anger when questioned on the subject. Lutherans aren’t so bad on the subject; confessionally they basically have an open canon.

      Protestant theology begins and ends with soteriology, and that done solely from a judicial point-of-view. Say Trinity, they merely say mystery. Say incarnation, you get a milk-toast reply of God-man that means what they want it to. Say Theotokos, and venom spews forth. The last one is the one that exposes their weak Christology. In this last one, we see Perry’s true point; that their interpretations are varied so as to create anarchy, and all of them tend toward if not fully embrace heresy.

    • David Richards

      Don Bradley, no I am Orthodox, Antiochian jurisdiction.

    • EricW

      Say Theotokos, and venom spews forth.

      No, the venom doesn’t spew forth. Mostly they go, “The Theo-wha…?” 😕

      I never did understand why Greek Catholics and other Orthodox refer to Mary as the Theotokos, but refer to their Old Testament as the Septuagint (aka LXX) instead of as the Evthomikonda (Εβδομηκοντα aka Ο’) (Modern Greek pronunciation). 🙂

      Also, unlike Trent for the RCC, I’m not sure the EOC has ever officially or conciliarly codified or declared the canon.

      Protestant theology begins and ends with soteriology, and that done solely from a judicial point-of-view.

      Is that true for the Wesleyan/Holiness/Sanctification tradition in Protestantism?

    • Rick

      EricW-

      “Is that true for the Wesleyan/Holiness/Sanctification tradition in Protestantism?”

      No. In fact, there are many common traits between EO and Wesleyan/Holiness beliefs.

      Here is a link from Duke Divin. School that deals with that issue, and I understand that places such as St. Vlad’s Seminary is doing more research into that common ground.

      http://www.divinity.duke.edu/docs/faculty/maddox/wesley/John_Wesley_Eastern_Orthodoxy.pdf

    • EricW

      Rick:

      I actually have a book of essays on the overlap between Wesleyan and Eastern Orthodox beliefs:

      http://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Wesleyan-Scriptural-Understanding-Practice/dp/0881413011/ref=pd_sim_b_1

      (there is at least one other volume in this series/set edited by Kimbrough)

      hence my question – because I felt Don Bradley overly simplified Protestantism in his statement. Protestants aren’t uniform re: views of the atonement, either, and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and scholars such as N.T. Wright are influencing what Protestants believe about everything from salvation to justification.

    • Rick

      EricW-

      You are right, Protestantism is a little more diverse than Don appears to be considering. The influences on various denominations and schools of thought are not as uniform as some believe.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the book. I will put that on my list!

    • AmandaO

      Thank you!! This is awesome.

      This is the post/essay I’ve been looking for for a long time.

    • mbaker

      CMP,

      Sorry I don’t follow that line of reasoning either. Yes we are fallible but because we are, do we have to automatically assume the canon is because we doubt it? It just follows to me, that we if we make that assumption, based on what we think, rather than what scripture says, then we would have to make the story of Christ fallible. How is that different?

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      I asked a very similar question way back at the start of this thread to the one just brought up by mbaker. I missed it if you replied to it. You argue that we are fallible people with all of our beliefs subject to error. If that is the case, how can we know that our Bible is made up of infallible books? How do we know that belief is not in error? It was after all written down by fallible people, was it not? Does this idea not in fact leave us open to the very real possibility that our Bible contains Scripture–the inspired word of God–but that not all of it is Scripture? That idea has been argued by some here on another thread. And how then would we know which parts are which?

      And most importantly, how do we then know that the redemption story as given us in our Bible is indeed infallible and that we are not basing our eternal destinies on something that is totally incorrect?

      Now I certainly realize that we are convinced of the realities of God an salvation by the Holy Spirit, but those realities are based on what is told us in His Word. It is our final statement of truth. Otherwise we are no different then any other religious group. Say the Mormons for instance.

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      I ran out of time in my editing and adding to my last comment.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that that we as Christians have always claimed to have the Bible as our final objective authority and any experience we have or what we believe to be the Spirit’s conviction will always and must always line up with that Word. If we can’t say for certain that Word is infallible, where does that leave us? And I honestly do not see any way that we can say that if we follow your line of reasoning to it’s logical conclusion.

      Am I missing something here?

    • C Michael Patton

      I think that you are still equating fallibility with “there is a good chance we are wrong.” This is not the case at all. Refer to the sun illustration. My beliefs about the sun raising are fallible. There is a possibility that the sun will not raise. But a possibility does not equal a probability.

      Therefore, for Catholics to say that we have a fallible canon of infallible books is empty in its intentions. All our beliefs are fallible.

      Not only this, but we have a fallible interpretation about a fallible canon of infallible books!

      But fallibility is unavoidable.

      Even Catholics, who believe that the Magisterium is infallible, have a fallible believe in the Magisterium.

      My point is that no one escape the possibility that their beliefs may be in error. No one.

    • #John1453

      I’m with mbaker and cherylu.

      I don’t follow the significance of this at all. So we might be wrong. That’s true of almost all our beliefs (excluding math, etc.), and though true it is also trite. Moreover, it would also be true of a belief about inerrancy.

      The proper question is not whether our belief is fallible, but whether it is warranted.

      Regards,
      #John

    • #John1453

      Compare:

      “2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium) disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility.”

      and:

      “The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having an inerrant Bible disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility.”

      No significant difference. If the question we ask is whether our belief could be in error, we get nowhere. How do I know my beliefs are correct and true if I could be wrong about the Bible being inerrant? How do I know my beliefs are correct and true if I could be wrong about which books actually constitute God’s Word? How can I be secure in my relationship with my wife if I could be wrong about her love for me? (and I know more than one person who was told after many years, “I never really loved you from the get go”)

      The issue is not error, nor the possibility of error, but warrant. That is, despite the possibility of error are my beliefs warranted?

      Regards,
      #John

    • C Michael Patton

      John,

      “The proper question is not whether our belief is fallible, but whether it is warranted.”

      Exactly. This is the entire point of the post. I think that you would have to have been in one of these discussions with a Catholic to realize the point.

    • C Michael Patton

      John,

      “”2. The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having a living infallible authority (Magisterium) disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility.”

      and:

      “The smoke screen of epistemological certainty that seems to be provided by having an inerrant Bible disappears when we realize that we all start with fallibility.”

      No significant difference. If the question we ask is whether our belief could be in error, we get nowhere. How do I know my beliefs are correct and true if I could be wrong about the Bible being inerrant? How do I know my beliefs are correct and true if I could be wrong about which books actually constitute God’s Word? How can I be secure in my relationship with my wife if I could be wrong about her love for me? (and I know more than one person who was told after many years, “I never really loved you from the get go”)

      The issue is not error, nor the possibility of error, but warrant. That is, despite the possibility of error are my beliefs warranted?

      Regards,
      #John”

      Again, you are kind of understanding but lacking to see the significance. The Bible, people would believe, is inerrant due to its nature, not for pragmatic reasons of necessity.

      No matter how many middle men one puts into the equation, we all have to interpret and this produces a fallible faith. Catholics have to interpret the Pope and the catechism and we have to interpret the Bible. We just take out the middleman.

      Pragmatically, neither is necessarily better. It is just a matter of justification. But Catholics argue that they must have an infallible authority to personally possess infallible beliefs. My point is that it does not help with regard to this goal, therefore, it is not a good argument.

      It is really pretty cut and dry. Not much to argue about here, especially from a Protestant perspective. It is classical Protestantism.

    • Rick

      I, and apparently Cherylu, still have a problem with the lack of attention paid to the Holy Spirit in this issue. The discussion seems to be just about “reason”, and the focus on individuals.

      My concern in #5 still stands.

    • MikeB

      @Rick
      I know you & I expressed some thoughts regarding that in this discussion, hope others join in so we can hear some other POV too.

      For me the question I have is this:
      if the HS did illuminate the church (and I don’t rule out the possibility) regarding the compilation of the NT canon then did He do this only in regards to the NT books? All the early lists that contain the NT (27 books) – Athanasius, Council Hippo/Carthage also contain the OT with the Apocrypha. It would seem that we (Prots) would have to accept that set of books too based on this fact. Or we must be very selective in what decisions the HS supported and which it did not within the same documents.

      Then we have to ask: how do we know that the 27 book list is the right list? Maybe the HS was right in guiding the church in producing one of the other (and earlier lists) like the Muratorian Fragment which does not include several books in the NT that we do today.

    • cherylu

      CMP,

      “The Bible, people would believe, is inerrant due to its nature, not for pragmatic reasons of necessity.”

      But we are fallible people subject to error and mistakes in our beliefs. So following that line of reasoning, what makes any one at all sure that our belief that the Bible is inerrant due to its nature is not a mistaken fallible belief? How can you state with any certainty that the Bible in infallible under these conditions? After all, you gave the example of the statement that you were wearing shoes–which you insisted you were–as a fallible statement! With this type of logic in place, it doesn’t seem to me that one can know anything with certainty.

      And I am sorry, but when it comes to things of eternal importance–like my faith in Jesus for my eternal destiny as we are taught in the Bible– the thought that I am a fallible person subject to fallible beliefs and therefore it is possible that I may be wrong about this is something that I don’t find very comforting at all. As a matter of fact, it is something that I find very disturbing.

      See what your “deconstructing” is doing to us?!? (Don’t know how to use the smiley face, or I would put one here.)

    • #John1453

      “The Bible, people would believe, is inerrant due to its nature, not for pragmatic reasons of necessity. ”

      compare

      “The canon of the Bible, people would believe, is infallible due to its nature, not for pragmatic reasons of necessity.”

      No difference.

      cherylu got my point, or perhaps I got hers: if we can be be wrong about infallibility, we can be wrong about inerrancy. If we can be wrong about those things, we can be wrong about doctrine regarding our salvation. It all unravels if the only relevant aspect is the possibility of error.

      Hence, its not the possibility of error, but the warrant that is important. If it’s warrant that is important, then we can have a warranted belief that we have an infallible canon.

      If one goes, the other goes; if one stays, the other stays, too (inerrant text, infallible canon).

      Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      An fallible canon is not basic or historical Protestantism, but an American reaction to issues of inerrancy.

      regards,
      #John

    • Jugulum

      Cheryl,

      At times like this, a saying comes to mind: “Just because it’s conceivable that I could be wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable to think that I am.”

      It’s conceivable that we’re living in the Matrix, or we’re the dream of a butterfly. It’s conceivable that Vitamin C is a poison, and arsenic is necessary for life—and someone has been been tricking me through manipulating my senses, as part of a conspiracy to get me to eat a poisonous, poisonous orange!

      But… Well, it’s not very reasonable to worry about it.

    • cherylu

      Jugulum,

      I agree that it is not very reasonable to worry about such things as you have mentioned.

      But let me get even blunter and quite personal here for a moment. I am not particularly young any more (just had my 60th birthday). I have been having a series of health issues this winter that I still don’t know for sure what the final diagnosis will be. In other words, I have been having to realize that not only due to my age, but also because of medical conditions, I am staring my own mortality squarely in the face.

      When in such circumstances, the last thing I need or want to know is that there is a possibility that I have been wrong about everything I have believed (although it isn’t probable) about my faith in God. When staring your own mortality in the face, you need to KNOW beyond the shadow of doubt that what the Bible teaches and you have based your faith on are correct. Probabilities don’t quite seem to cut it at such times.

    • mbaker

      CMP,

      The example of the sun coming up is based upon things we can see happen with unchanging regularity. Faith is the evidence of the unseen.

      So on what we do we base this faith, if not upon the infallibility of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, the story of which is both prophesied and fulfilled in the word of God? Should we start qualifying the Christian belief to others by telling them that the Bible is based upon a collection of books we are told were inspired by the HS, yet those who decided to put the books together in one place were not similarly inspired on some level?

      It just doesn’t sound like God to do a halfway job, and then quit. Perhaps a post on how the canonizers themselves went about deciding the books which were inspired and those which were not, and the criteria they used would answer the questions several of us have seem to have here.

      Thanks.

    • #John1453

      The Formation of the Canon of the New Testament

      By B.B. Warfield

      Pub. 1892, by the American Sunday School Union, Philadelphia, Pa.

      IN ORDER to obtain a correct understanding of what is called the formation of the Canon of the New Testament, it is necessary to begin by fixing very firmly in our minds one fact which is obvious enough when attention is once called to it. That is, that the Christian church did not require to form for itself the idea of a “canon,” – or, as we should more commonly call it, of a “Bible,” -that is, of a collection of books given of God to be the authoritative rule of faith and practice. . . . The church did not grow up by natural law: it was founded. And the authoritative teachers sent forth by Christ to found His church, carried with them, as their most precious possession, a body of divine Scriptures, which they imposed on the church that they founded as its code of law. . . .

      What needs emphasis at present about these facts is that they obviously are not evidences of a gradually-heightening estimate of the New Testament books, originally received on a lower level and just beginning to be tentatively accounted Scripture; they are conclusive evidences rather of the estimation of the New Testament books from the very beginning as Scripture, and of their attachment as Scripture to the other Scriptures already in hand. The early Christians did not, then, first form a rival “canon” of “new books” which came only gradually to be accounted as of equal divinity and authority with the “old books”; they received new book after new book from the apostolical circle, as equally “Scripture” with the old books, and added them one by one to the collection of old books as additional Scriptures, until at length the new books thus added were numerous enough to be looked upon as another section of the Scriptures. . . .

      Let it, however, be clearly understood that it was not exactly apostolic authorship which in the estimation of the earliest churches, constituted a book a portion of the “canon.” . . . [from the beginning] [t]he principle of canonicity was not apostolic authorship, but imposition by the apostles as “law.” . . . That the apostles so imposed the Old Testament on the churches which they founded – as their “Instrument,” or “Law,” or “Canon” – can be denied by none. . . . The authority of the apostles, as by divine appointment founders of the church was embodied in whatever books they imposed on the church as law not merely in those they themselves had written.

      The early churches, in short, received, as we receive, into the New Testament all the books historically evinced to them as give by the apostles to the churches as their code of law; and we must not mistake the historical evidences of the slow circulation an authentication of these books over the widely-extended church, evidence of slowness of “canonization” of books by the authority or the taste of the church itself.

    • cherylu

      #John,

      Thanks. If what Warfield says is correct, it sounds quite authoritative to me. Actually, that is the basic idea I have always been taught about the formation of the canon.

    • Rick

      MikeB #138-

      I would go along more with the “Vincentian Canon” (”everywhere, always, all”) on the issue, but you ask a good question.

      However, the role of the Holy Spirit in the matter has not even been much of a topic.

      As MBaker said in #143-

      “It just doesn’t sound like God to do a halfway job, and then quit.”

    • cherylu

      Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of {things} hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

      In protestant circles with our great, and I believe correct, emphasis on Sola Scriptura, it seems to me to be quite difficult, if not even impossible to have the faith spoken of in Heb 11:1 if we are to contend that we have a fallible canon.

    • EricW

      Perhaps a post on how the canonizers themselves went about deciding the books which were inspired and those which were not, and the criteria they used would answer the questions several of us have seem to have here.

      The problem with this, I believe, is that there is a certain amount of conjecture involved in statements about this subject. I.e., we don’t have documents from that time that tell us in enough detail how the canonizers, whether of the OT or the NT, went about doing this. We have some of the arguments people made in favor of or against certain books – e.g., Jerome’s arguments/statements for the Hebrew OT text and the Jewish canon vs. Augustine’s arguments for the Greek OT including the Apocrypha (or at least I believe we have what they said about this) – and we have lists like Melito’s and Josephus’ (maybe not a list, but more a numbering) and Athanasius’ and the Muratorian Canon, but how each book was argued for or against and decided upon or decided against is I think information we at present lack. How a book was determined to “defile the hands,” etc., is not explained, is it?

      Some of this is forever lost in the murky shadows of tradition.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong; I haven’t read books on canon formation for quite some time.

    • mbaker

      Thanks #John.

      “The authority of the apostles, as by divine appointment founders of the church was embodied in whatever books they imposed on the church as law not merely in those they themselves had written.”

      I think this puts the onus on those who think that the original canonizers were a bunch of politically/denominationally oriented people instead, who included or excluded books which were or were not a refection of their own beliefs.

      Doctrinal oversight by the church is certainly important, but as Warfield pointed out it was not the main thrust of the canonizers of original church doctrine. Context and a solid hermeneutic is invaluable in correctly interpreting the Bible, however a correct interpretation alone does not make something true, any more than an incorrect interpretation makes it untrue.

      So for CMP to conclude, on a probability basis, that we have a fallible collection of infallible books, without more specific reasons to back up why, how and where he believes the canonizers themselves erred would seem to me more a rhetorical statement at this point, than proof we have a fallible canon.

    • EricW

      http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/01/why-i-believe-the-canon-is-fallible-and-am-fine-with-it/comment-page-2/#comment-25044

      Quoting Warfield:

      The church did not grow up by natural law: it was founded. And the authoritative teachers sent forth by Christ to found His church, carried with them, as their most precious possession, a body of divine Scriptures, which they imposed on the church that they founded as its code of law.

      What historical and documentary proofs by persons from that time or by persons who accurately learned from persons from that time does Warfield provide to support this (these) statement(s) of his?

      And what proof does he offer that the books that he accepts as the 66-book OT canon + 27-book NT canon are the very same and only books he insists the apostles carried with them and imposed on the churches as their code of law?

      Just askin’.

    • MikeB

      I have seen some comments regarding how the canon was “decided”. THe best (only) reference from a historical perspective comes from Augustine – who was alive and active in the canon debate at the time of the councils in N. Africa in the 4th century. I hope this helps us trust that the canon on NT books was based on the churches like Ephesus, Corinth etc having first accepted the letters/books that were written by Paul who actually visited them and performed signs & wonders.

      On Christian Doctrine Book II Chapter 8
      …Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of [universal] churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.

    • #John1453

      Given that some NT books (e.g. Peter) referred to other NT Books as scripture, Warfield’s point seems entirely reasonable, i.e., that the travelling apostles orally gave instruction as to which new writings should be accepted as giving authoritave instruction from God.

      It also seems reasonable that not all apostles travelled as widely, or the same routes, so that not all churches would have heard directly from all apostles as to which new writings are authoritative. So then we get some churches on one end of the Mediterranean saying, “we never had an apostle travel through here and say that Revelation was authoritative”, while other churches essentially say, “well we did”. And 200 or 300 years after the fact, it’s difficult to say if a tradition (e.g., we heard an apostle say this writing is authoritative) is correct. So then we get variations in traditions of which books are authoritative, and then wrangling over the traditions, and the need to find alternative ways of settling the issue since the apostles were no longer around to ask.

      regards,
      #John

    • EricW

      #John1453:

      So you’re saying that Warfield’s “This is what happened” statement/assertion is based on your belief that it “seems entirely reasonable” – as opposed to historical or documentary proof that this is what in fact did happen?

      Does Warfield say that he makes his statement/assertion because in his opinion it “seems reasonable,” as opposed to having hard evidence to support what he says happened?

      Again, what does Warfield offer as proof – not simply conjecture or his reasonable (to him) conclusion – that what he says happened did indeed happen as he said it happened, and happened such that it proves or certifies or unmistakably validates the 66+27-book canon that Warfield holds to be the canon of the church?

      On what facts or evidence does Warfield base his statement?

    • Don Bradley

      Why do you accept the NT canon, and invoke Athanasius’s authority, yet dismiss his doctrine? In Catholic and Orthodox circles we accept the canon because of those that went before us, and as such we follow how they interpreted it as well. But if the sole authority lies with the individual and how they feel about the canon, they always do the same with interpretation, which the NT expressly forbids. Your source for the canon, and your interpretation, will always have the same source. Ascribing both to God is a not so clever dodge, because we all think that….. the means by which He communicates that canon and its proper interpretation. Having the scriptures is a good thing, but interpreting it wrongly is lethal.

    • cherylu

      EricW,

      I believe this is the article that #John has quotes above from Warfield from: http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/bible/warfield_canon.html

      I have read about 2/3 of it now. Why don’t you go and read the whole thing? His reasoning and why he believes as he does regarding the formation of the canon is set out very convincingly in this article, IMO.

    • EricW

      Thanks, cherylu!

    • #John1453

      Re Don @#54

      Arguments regarding canon will never be rationally compelling in the sense that it would be irrational not to accept them as true. We will only ever be able to argue as to the best explanation for the data at hand.

      Consequently, we have to look at the evidence as we find it and decide what facts can be established from that evidence, and then reason to the best explanation(s).

      1. in the first century, there were no canonicity disputes
      2. the apostles and other leading teachers taught authoritatively, as recorded in Luke-Acts, etc., and as is known from the nature of the culture
      3. there was early recorded recognition of some writings as authoritive (Peter’s comment about Paul, Paul’s likely quote from Luke-Acts, etc.)
      4. authoritativeness was not tied to the apostles as writers (i.e., some writings are not authored by apostles) but appears to be tied to apostolic recognition of the authority of the writings (e.g., Peter, an apostle, recognizes the authority of Paul’s writings)
      5. the process, as recorded, is not one of slow recognition of books by the church as led by the Spirit and the church being infallibly led in councils to pronounce the canon, but rather a process where the authority of the books was recognized early on, and then disputed later because of differing traditions in differing regions.
      6. etc.

      From that sort of data and facts we can then engage in the sort of reasoning undertaken by Warfield.

      The Catholic concept of a leading of a true section of the post-apostolic church into the gradual recognition of the canon is not born out. Rather, we see the apostles recognizing writings as authoritative and taught that to their local communities.

      regards,
      #John

    • C Michael Patton

      John, I agree with all that you have said here.

      It is of significant note that 80% of the NT was already accepted as athoritative by AD 150: Gospels/Acts corpus and the Pauline corpus.

    • #John1453

      And in essence I agree with you (except for the fallible part); it just took me a while and several posts to work through it. I’ve never really thought about canon before, other than reading Brevard Childs’ book (but that is a different issue). I read a number of articles on line, and went to some Catholic web sites; they all seem to pretty much lob the same arsenal of points at each other. I was mildly surprised by F. Beckwith’s affirmation of someone’s RCC blog about the issue as it didn’t seem all that persuasive or have much intellectual depth.

      regards,
      #John

    • C Michael Patton

      John, where is it that you saw Beckwith’s comments about the issue?

    • John

      “authoritativeness was not tied to the apostles as writers (i.e., some writings are not authored by apostles) but appears to be tied to apostolic recognition of the authority of the writings (e.g., Peter, an apostle, recognizes the authority of Paul’s writings)”

      The trouble with this is 2 Peter is the latest to be accepted, and has and had the least agreement.

      So you can hardly claim the universal acceptance of Paul is due to what Peter said in a book that was much rejected and disputed.

      ” is not one of slow recognition of books by the church as led by the Spirit , but rather a process where the authority of the books was recognized early on, and then disputed later”

      This seems to be splitting hairs. Slow recognition and slow agreement are in effect the same. Nobody would necessarily dispute that somebody or other may have thought Revelation scripture from day one. But that doesn’t alter the fact there were centuries of suspicion and debate and disagreement about it, and you need a reason to believe a particular outcome was the correct one.

    • Rick

      F.F. Bruce, near the end of his historical review of the canon in “The Canon of Scripture”, writes:

      “What Hans Lietzmann said of the four gospels in the early church may be said of the New Testament writings in general: ‘the reference to their apostolic authority, which can on appear to us as a reminder of sound historic bases, had the deeper meaning that this particular tradition of Jesus….had been established and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit working authoritatively in the church.”

      Bruce goes on to write,

      “The theological aspect of canonization has not been the subject of this book, which has been concerned rather with the historical aspect, but for those who receive the scriptures as God’s Word written the theological aspect is the most important. The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of prophecy; he is also the witnessing and interpreting Spirit.”

      Finally, Bruce writes:

      “The work of the Holy Spirit is not discerned by means of the common tools of the historian’s trade. His inner witness gives assurance to hearers or readers of scripture that in its words God himself is addressing them; but when one is considering the process by which the canon of scripture took shape it would be wiser to speak of the providence or guidance of the Spirit than of his witness…as one looks back on the process of canonization in early Christian centuries, and remembers some of the ideas of which certain writes of that period were capable, it is easy to conclude that in reaching a conclusion on the limits of the canon they were directed by a wisdom higher than their own.”

      As Bruces says, the Spirit that inspired Scripture is the same One that illuminates it.

    • mbaker

      “,,,it is easy to conclude that in reaching a conclusion on the limits of the canon they were directed by a wisdom higher than their own.” Certainly if fallible men only relied upon their own flawed wisdom to decide what was infallible, naturally the canon would be fallible.

      A point often missed. Kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees, and then calling it not a collective forest at all, but a merely an accidental happening of individual trees. We know God’s sovereignity and His natural laws do not work that work that way, despite man’s efforts to prove the contrary.

    • #John1453

      RCC critiques of the protestant canonization process also forget that many protestants have a very different lay and noninstitutional view of the church as the body of Christ. Protestants see the work of the Holy Spirit in the church as a whole without having to have some official, institutional recognition thereof. Hence, recognition of the canon is what the Holy Spirit does through all the members of the church, not just the institutional and organizational and hierarchical structure of the church. So, where we protestants see the broad acceptance of the books of the Bible in the church at large (and consequently not just an individual burning in the bosom), we see an authoritative working of the Spirit. Protestants don’t need the stamp of approval of a Bishop or Pope.

      Regards,
      #John

    • John

      “So, where we protestants see the broad acceptance of the books of the Bible in the church at large, we see an authoritative working of the Spirit.”

      Except that Protestants have a very limited perception of the church at large. For all the rhetoric about about eschewing institutional unity, all too often Protestants don’t see unity with anyone outside their own sphere of experience. Thus their canon is no better than their limited experiences.

    • Rick

      #John 1453-

      In #157, you wrote:

      “5. the process, as recorded, is not one of slow recognition of books by the church as led by the Spirit and the church being infallibly led in councils to pronounce the canon, but rather a process where the authority of the books was recognized early on, and then disputed later because of differing traditions in differing regions.”

      You seem to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit.

      But in #164 you wrote:

      “So, where we protestants see the broad acceptance of the books of the Bible in the church at large (and consequently not just an individual burning in the bosom), we see an authoritative working of the Spirit. ”

      You seem to play up the role of the Holy Spirit.

      Is your major difference the “infallibly led in councils to pronounce the canon”?

    • #John1453

      Re Rick @#66

      No.

      The apostles were recognized as full of the Spirit by the nature of their lives and various signs. Because of that recognition their teaching was held to be authoritive. The apostles taught, firstly, that the Jewish scriptures were the Words of God. Secondly, they wrote or received letters, etc., that they considered to be authoritive. The groups that knew the apostle followed his teaching as to which letters were authoritive and God’s Word.

      Some apostles, such as Paul, travelled widely and were widely recognized as full of the Spirit and able to speak with the authority of God. If they taught something was the word of God, it was. There is no doubt that they taught that the Jewish scriptures, in either Hebrew or Greek, were authoritive. It is not a stretch to believe that they treated new writings analogously (i.e., the apostle believes a writing is authoritive, and he teaches his own belief about the writing to the house churches he visits).

      Luke also travelled widely.

      James did not.

      As christianity expands, you get groups with different traditions interacting. So, for example, one can suppose that the palestinian church was taught that James was authoritive. The church in France never had teachers who taught this to them. French and palestinian christians meet. French group is told James is authoritive, but they don’t have their own teaching or tradition about it so they question the Palestinians, “why should we believe you”.

      The history of canon squabbles reveals that the reconstruction above makes the most sense of the facts. We know from the squabbles that not all groups accepted all the same scriptures. All that the councils and the lists resolve is how two or more groups with different traditions resolve their differences. The councils do not reveal how the scriptures came to be held as authoritive in the first place.

      Ask yourself, why would any early Christian accept any new literature as authoritive? Because they were taught so. This is just like people nowadays accepting the KJV, or the apocrypha. They don’t accept it because they have investigated it or read the councils, they accept it because they were taught so as new believers or as children.

      It’s not like there were a bunch of books flying around in 70 A.D. that were heavily used and then some Bishop says, “hey, we use this a lot, and we get spiritual meaning from it, we should canonize it”. That’s a western existential approach.

      In the first century it was the apostles and other recognizably Spirit filled teachers who decided what was authoritive and taught this to the house churches they went to. We see that very thing happening in Peter’s letter. The authoritive and God’s Word nature of the writings was recognized from the get go, from the time they were first received and read.

      So, the only evidence we have supports the Warfield reconstruction of how the new writings were recognized as scripture. No evidence of the other way.

    • #John1453

      So, it’s not that the institutional church had a number of commonly and frequently used writings that came to be recognized as God’s word. “Oh dear, the apostles are gone, but we have all these writings that seem to have good effects on our church members, what should we do with these documents to recognized their value?”

      The institutional church did not give the documents their canonicity, it only preserved an already given canonicity, a teaching that had already existed.

      Aside from the metaphysical reasons for my disagreement with CMP over the fallibility of the canon, I disagree with him because we have, as our common church heritage, an infallible teaching of the apostles regarding which documents were authoritive for Christ’s body. That teaching was preserved, much as the inerrant words were preserved. The preservation was not perfect (hence disputes over some words, or disputes between different groups heritage/ preserved teaching of what is authoritive), but it is perfect enough that we can be confident that what we have is the infallible canon and the inerrant words.

      Regards,
      #John

    • cherylu

      #John,

      Thanks for the digging you have done on this issue. I appreciate it.

    • mbaker

      I think we need to address the subject of sufficiency when we discuss fallibility vs. infallibility. For the larger portion of Christendom, at least, the Bible in its present form is sufficient proof of God’s word for both individuals and the corporate church.

      If that were not the case, we would be hearing a sustained outcry from learned theologians and apologists who don’t believe the present canon is sufficient, and who would be calling for greater proof themselves. Yet, we do not have such a consensus because the few things that are contested by folks here really have nothing to do with the main message and thrust of the Bible.

      I think we get to a point where faith no longer becomes faith when everything in the Bible has to be physically proven true. That’s why we have to weigh the preponderance of the evidence we do have against what we don’t know, and either call it sufficient or call it quits.

    • EricW
    • mbaker

      Interesting reading here too on CMP’s mentor, Chuck Swindoll’s site. The very first thing on the mission statement is that he believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

      http://www.ministrywatch.com/profile/insight-for-living-chuck-swindoll.aspx

    • #John1453

      re mbaker @#70

      Good points.

      My faith is in Christ, not in the Bible. The Bible contains things to help us live a more abundant life and to be able to love like Christ did. Abraham had faith without having much of the Bible, and if he did then I’m sure I can make do without a few books like James, etc., were such books ever proved not to be in the canon. Or additions.

      regards,
      #John

    • C Michael Patton

      mbaker,

      I too believe the Bible is inerrant. I have never said otherwise. I hope that much of what is going on here is not under the assumption that I deny inerrancy?

    • mbaker

      CMP.

      I think a lot of us here are having trouble, vis a vis this post. I don’t understand how you can believe the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books, if we agree that the original canon was not established by the church, only confirmed by it.

      You have also stated that interpreted correctly you believe the Bible to be inerrant. I believe in one of my previous comments I pointed out that merely interpreting something correctly does not necessarily establish the truth of it, just as not interpreting something correctly doesn’t disprove the truth of it.

      I wonder if you could expand upon what you see the differences in inerrancy and infallibility are in a little more detail.

      Thanks.

    • cherylu

      And CMP, I also still simply do not understand how you can be so certain that your belief in the inerrancy of the books of the Bible is correct when you have argued long and hard that we are all fallible people and everything we believe is subject to error. If our belief in the cannon is fallible because we are fallible, is not our belief regarding the books of the Bible also fallible and subject to error?

      Or is your belief in the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture a matter of probabilities too?

    • mbaker

      CMP,

      Just to further clarify my comment #175:

      You have stated:

      “Catholics have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; Protestants have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. Both authorities must be substantiated by the evidence and both authorities must be interpreted by fallible people.

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

      I think that it does make a difference in this regard:

      I think Sproul made a mistake by saying the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books. While it’s a catchy little Christian phrase, obviously it doesn’t make sense in the first place since the definitions are polar opposites. It also gives rise to the question of whether the Bible as a whole book is reliable, because of differing opinions on which books should have been included or left out, as the case may be. I think that’s what some of us here are having trouble with.

      Whereas, if he wants to say the perceptions of different theologians as to what should or should not be included the canon are fallible that’s fine with me. That’s an entirely different ball game than saying the Bible is made of 66 infallible books, but as a whole the canon itself is fallible just because certain people can’t agree on what should or not have been included.

      That’s kind of the same thing as saying God is fallible because some folks can’t agree on whether He exists or not, is it not?

    • #John1453

      I’m with cheryly and mbaker. If the Bible is a fallible collection of books, then perhaps we have incorrectly included the book(s) that establish the doctrine of inerrancy. Perhaps the true canon wouldn’t include that book, in which case we lose support for inerrancy. My faith would survive finding out that the canon was a fallible collection, but I’m certainly not “fine” with the idea. Theoretically, the two (infallible collection and inerrant words) don’t necessarily have to go together, but it seems more likely that they would.

      Regards,
      #John

    • C Michael Patton

      Guys, this has been a great conversation and I appreciate the responses, but this is going to have to be my last comment here as it seems that we are going around and around in circles.

      1. Fallibility does not speak to probability. Our epistemic assurance about our faith rests in a great deal of probability that we can have utmost confidence about, including the canon. See sun illustration.
      2. You have offered no alternatives to this from a Protestant perspective. Unless you are willing to say that the Church was infallibible in this specific declaration, then you are still in the same position as me, you just are not comfortable with it.
      3. Even if you do say that the church was infallible with regard to this, then you are STILL in the same position as your belief about the churches infallibility has to be justified by arguments and these arguments are going to be fallible!
      4. Finally, if you were to appeal the the assurance that the Holy Spirit give you, this is a different issue all-together. Assurance does not produce infallibility. As well, a subjective appeal to the witness of the Spirit is still subjective and all traditions make such a claim. Which one has it right?

      In the end, I do think the case is very strong that we have a fallible canon of infallible (and inerrant) books, but we need not be alarmed by this in the slightest. There is simply no other option. And even if you convert to the Roman Catholic position you have not really solved anything, just pushed the problem up one level.

      God bless friends.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      Coing back to the thread, it seems that the issue has not been grasped. So let me attempt to clarify.

      It is the case that on Protestant principles, the formal canon is still revisable. It may be the case that materially speaking such and so books are in fact inspired, but the formal canon may not always or necessisarily match up with the material canon. This is because the formal canon is a fallible reconstruction. And even if it did, the formal canon qua fallible is still revisable, even in the direction of error in excluding inspired works.

      So as regards to what the formal canon is, we are not in the same position. On say Orthodox principles, the formal canon is not in principle revisable. On Protestant principles, the formal canon is revisable. Fallible knowing about the formal canon does not put us in the same position as to what the nature of the formal canon is.

      As to our shared individual fallible epistemic position, this is irrelevant, since as such on Orthodox principles individuals are not the source of the formal canon. It is one thing to say I have a fallible belief about an infallible canon qua a formal doctrinal list and another to say that the list itself is revisable.

      As to point three, this would be true with most forms of reasoning, but not necessarily with transcendental forms of reasoning. If an infallible church is a necessary condition for a formally infallible canon, then it isn’t clear that such an argument can be objected to in a way that say a premise in a deductive argument can be objected to. While it may be true that Protestants may reject the belief that the canon is formally infallible and unrevisable, they can do so on pain of other problems entailed by such a rejection, much as a naturalist can reject induction to stave off admitting that belief that there is a God is rational.

      Even if there were no other option, it doesn’t follow that the Protestant option is right or correct.

    • Mike B

      @John

      we have incorrectly included the book(s) that establish the doctrine of inerrancy.

      Which texts do you use to support this doctrine?

      I agree with CMP that no alternatives from a Protestant view adequately deal with the historic facts regarding the collection of the books into a canon.

      @cherylu

      Inerrancy (for me) comes from the fact that the truths we have in the Bible were originally taught verbally. THink Peter @ Pentecost and Paul in Corinth (the events that were written about). The truths taught are confirmed with signs and wonders. A very lively experience to those hearing these truths in the first century. Then these writers compose letters to various churches spread around the world. These letters explain and correct things that were taught. They in essence say remember what I taught you and confirmed with signs and my life style.

      These letters were accepted because they align with what the apostle taught and confirmed. Then the letters get shared over time likely in geographical regions based on proximity at first. Hence the idea that Ephesus might not have Corinthians letters right away etc.

      It is the HS that confirmed to the early church the apostles teaching and the original letters that were sent (from possible false ones). However over time we have to trust the fallible (IMO) collection of all these works into a single canon. (see Augustine On Christian Doctrine excerpt in comments above). I hope to expand on this in blog later but for me that’s how I can accept inerrant books and a fallible canon.

    • cherylu

      Mike B,

      I understand what you are saying and pretty much agree with you. However, I do not like the word fallible applied to the canon because it does leave a degree of question–probability there–if the books we have there are the right ones. Maybe one or two should have been left out? Maybe there is another that needs to be added in of the ones that we know exist–although I don’t believe that to be the case? Maybe one has been lost altogether that contained very vital information that we really need to know? When it comes to our relationship with God and our eternal destinies, “iffines” leaves me quite uncomforatable.

      But my main question has been related to CMP’s assertion on how fallible we really are as people in relationship to this whole issue. I believe that it was in comment # 128 that he stated that he was wearing shoes and assured us that he was but then stated that even that statement is fallible! Now that seems to be a very high degree of fallibility to grant to people! Granted, I suppose it could be argued that he was only having a hallucination at the moment and just thought he was wearing shoes!

      However, if he really believes we as people are that fallible that he can’t even know for sure at any given time if he is wearing shoes or not–although in all probability he is–I just don’t see how he can be so certain that the books that are part of the Bible are infallible. How can a man that can only know in a fallible way if he is wearing shoes know if the books of the Bible are truly infallible? Isn’t his belief that they are infallible at best a fallible belief??

      Or is it that he is convinced with such a high degree of certainty that those books are infallible that he is willing to pronounce them so? But on the other hand does not have the same degree of certainty about which of them should be a part of the canon? Either way, unless I have missed something totally here, it seems to me that there is the possibility for a good degree of doubt being opened up here. And obviously several other folks have had the same questions.

    • cherylu

      I need to clarify one sentence in my last comment. In the last paragraph I said, “But on the other hand does not have the same degree of certainty about which of them should be a part of the canon?” That sentence should read, “But on the other hand does not have the same degree of certainty about which BOOKS should be a part of the canon?”

    • […] Patton posted a couple of weeks ago on Why I Believe the Canon is Fallible . . . And am Fine with It! He asks, “Do we need absolute infallible certainty about something to 1) be justified in our […]

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

    • Theodore A. Jones

      MY oh My what a ‘Way’ to get out of “continuing in My word”, but no student knows anymore than his teacher.

    • […] activity in the blogosphere regarding the canon of Scripture in the last few days. Two recent posts here and here from the Parchment and Pen blog and another here from the iMonk. In fact the first post […]

    • […] – how do we know if we have the right books in the collection we call the Bible? how was the canon assembled? who has the “right” to discover and affirm which books […]

    • Ray Grieshaber

      I agree that it is possible for all of us to be wrong. But if that is a possibility, then doesn’t it inherently imply that there is a right? How can there be a wrong if there is no right?

      All measurements of the Earth’s diameter can be wrong, but one measurement is right.

    • Jeaux

      It somewhat bothers me to speak of infallibility if there is not a methodology to certify the canon of Scriptures itself. This is the old parable of putting the cart before the horse. It is problematic that Protestantism has such a low regard of the witness of the early church. Protestantism in its desire to reform the church fractured into hundreds of conflicting sects that still don’t seek any real tangible form of unity (the proof that we are genuine), much less does any form of Protestantism pray for unity fervently. You haven’t really discussed what constitutes the Church of Jesus Christ to start with. Those who put their faith for salvation in infallibility or Jesus? You have not answered the egg verses chicken question: Which came first the Church or the Scriptures? Has that not always been the problem with any form of Protestantism? I am just about as unhappy with Catholics who espouse their belief in an infallible messenger in the Pope as I am with a Protestant with an infallible message in print. Is not the faith of a so-called “Evangelical” Christian built on a person [Jesus] rather than on infallible INTREPRETATIONS and DISPUTATIONS of Scriptural opinions? This devolution of Protestantism into squabbling over every small point (jots and tittles) over Scripture has robbed it of any real power. Have you ever heard this: the LETTER KILLS and the Spirit gives life? The Holy Spirit is not free to blow where he wills because layers of doctrine and protestant tradition forbid Him a real role in leading the Church. As long as Protestantism spells Church with a small “c” or “church” it will flounder as a poor representation of anything founded by Jesus. Don’t be so quick to condemn our Roman Catholic brethren for the[r doctrinal faults because we “Protestants” may be the ones standing outside playing to Pharisee.

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