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.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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

    • EricW


      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


      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.


    • Ed Kratz

      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.


    • Ed Kratz

      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.


    • 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


      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.


    • cherylu


      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.


    • #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.


    • Ed Kratz


      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


      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.


    • 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


      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.


    • Ed Kratz

      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


      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


      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.


      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.

    • Stefano

      Your perspective is very interesting, however it gives too much ground to the Catholic / Orthodox position.

      Surely the bishops of the fourth century have made a discernment on which were the inspired books. But how did they know which books were inspired and which were not? If no one in the third century knew the canon infallibly, if no one in the second century knew the canon infallibly, and if not even the apostles knew infallibly the canon of the books they wrote themselves, who gave the bishops of what century the list of books? The official theory on the subject is like a river reaching the sea, but no one knows where its source is.

      The bishops in the fourth century to recognize the inspiration of the books, followed the criteria of apostolic paternity, doctrinal orthodoxy, diffusion in the churches. But why were these books considered to be of apostolic origin? Why did they have sound teachings? Why were they popularized in many, if not all, churches?

      By doing this reasoning, you realize that it is implied that each of the 27 books, when written by an apostle or co-worker, was guaranteed by him as the inspired Word of God, doctrinally trustworthy, and disseminated to other churches. Each of the 27 books is born together with a teaching given by an apostle about his inspiration and authenticity and order of diffusion.

      This does not mean that an apostle gave a list of 27 books. It means that each of the 27 books was written, guaranteed and disseminated by an apostle, in different times and places. In the second and third centuries, many false books were circulated that did not derive from the apostles. In the fourth century, all the apostolic guarantee books were simply brought together.

      In conclusion, even a Protestant can accept the concept of oral transmission … if by this we mean the apostolic order to stick only to the 27 inspired Scriptures (= Sola Scriptura) transmitted by the apostles and their collaborators, to be added to the 39 books of the Hebrew canon, for a total of 66 books inspired by God.

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