Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Canon of Scripture: Did the Catholic Church Create It or Merely Authoritatively Acknowledge It? (with Kevin Johnson)

By Dave Armstrong (7-25-04)

[From a thread below, originally unrelated to this particular topic; Kevin's words will be in blue; Jason's (Catholic) will be in red. I agreed with Reformed Protestant Kevin in this instance, and disagreed with Jason]

We don't have a problem admitting the Church's role of recognizing the canon of Scripture. To say otherwise is to misrepresent our position. Certain fundamentalists may have a problem, but Reformed Catholics or classical Protestants never have.

What we do have a problem saying is that somehow the Church determined the canon and Scripture is what it is because the Church has determined it to be so. Most Roman Catholics I know wouldn't agree with that particular understanding of the canon either.

God's Word is Scripture because He has made it such. The Church, by the providential hand of God, has recognized this through canonizing the relevant books, but that determination by the Church only served to make plain what was already true. That is the Protestant position and I would venture to guess that Dave and others wouldn't disagree with it.
How could the inspiration of the biblical books be plainly true? They don't even claim inspiration, let alone inerrancy. That is an absolutely non-biblical doctrine.
No one (here) is disputing the Church's role from the Protestant side. Of course the Church had a role in writing and faithfully transmitting the text over the centuries and the canon is an important development in the history of the Church by the Church. What needs to remain clear though is that God's Word is what it is because by nature God made it to be so. I don't really think we disagree here.

The error that I think can creep in is to think that because the Church had a hand in producing Scripture as well as canonizing it that those facts somehow make it clear that the Church is a more ultimate authority than Scripture. I don't see Catholics here necessarily making that argument but I have seen Catholics do it elsewhere. It's an obvious non sequitur. Hopefully your arguments for an ultimate authority in the Magisterium lay elsewhere.
. . . Many of the books do claim inspiration—but that aside, not all biblical arguments require explicit warrant from the text. You know this if you are Catholic because you are trinitarian. The doctrine of the trinity is inherently biblical but it is not necessarily as plain say as the humanity of Christ in the Scriptures.

It is only the Baptist that requires explicit biblical warrant and it actually puzzles me how similar Baptist thinking is compared to standard Catholic fundamentalist thinking. We have no need in Protestantism to see things explicitly stated in the text…God gave us brains and the ability to use reason and the idea that somehow we must find directions for the canon in the appendix of our Bible is just absurd.

In other words, you are not attacking classic Protestantism when you attack the idea of a closed canon not being found in the text of Scripture. That may work with fundamentalist Baptists but it won't work with those who have a better handle on the authority of the Church and the Scriptures as Reformed Catholics do.

Sorry to disappoint. :)

You [Kevin] are absolutely correct. You want common ground; this is one. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) from Vatican II, makes this clear:
For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
Was this something "new" in Vatican II? Hardly. It merely echoes an earlier statement from Vatican I (1870) — which in turn was not far from similar expressions in Trent —: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II:

These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because . . . they were afterward approved by her authority . . . but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.
Seems to me, Kevin, that this is quite sufficient to establish that we agree on this point. Any Catholic or Protestant who states otherwise simply doesn't understand Catholic dogmatic teaching on the nature of the canon of Holy Scripture.

Thus, in my opinion, the real discussion here lies in the area of defining "Church" and figuring out the peculiar Protestant relationship to it, taking into account sola Scriptura and private judgment, etc., not the nature of the canon itself, or the relationship of the Bible to the authority of the Church, which was necessary to have a once-and-for-all canon, setting the parameters of said Holy Scripture (because eminent Fathers disagreed on various particulars of canonicity).
In general, I agree, Dave. Thank you for the clarification. The issue in regards to differences between our position from our side of the fence is one of ultimate authorities— sola scriptura obviously taking center stage here.
The doctrine of inspiration/inerrancy is neither implicit nor explicit in the biblical texts. The only reason a person would believe it were if they accepted non-biblical doctrines as part of Divine Revelation.

While I will agree that modern fundamentalist attempts to pigeon-hole these concepts in the light of Enlightenment based modernity is not a part of the record of Scripture, I do think the Scriptures clearly teach inspiration and that the text is without error. A simple read of 2 Timothy 3:16 makes it obvious that inspiration is a part of the biblical doctrine:
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
Likewise, there are many passages in the Bible that speak to the fact that the Bible is without error—Psalm 119 comes to mind as one clear place to find such statements. Not only that but the perfection of God's Word can be inferred from the fact that it is God's Word—something which I don't think you may have taken into account.

So, I'm not sure where you are getting the idea that the inspiration and inerrancy of the text are somehow outside the text of Scripture. Nor do I understand how it has anything to do with discussions back and forth between Protestants and Catholics on these issues. But perhaps you can explain it to me.

I agree with Kevin's comments directly above this post. Scripture does teach that Scripture is inspired and infallible and inerrant, in many places, both explicitly and implicitly. What it doesn't teach is its own canon, or sola Scriptura.


You cite 2Timothy as proof that Scripture teaches its own inspiration and inerrancy. But to cite 1Timothy, you first have to accept it as inspired and inerrant Scripture, something it does not claim to be. To claim it is requires belief in a non-biblical doctrine.

My point in all this is that, obviously, I believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant. But this belief is a non-biblical doctrine. I must first accept the validity of non-biblical doctrines before I can accept biblical inspiration.


I don't follow your logic here. Scripture is what it is. 1 Timothy and other passages clearly teach inerrancy and inspiration. Therefore, they are biblical doctrines, because they are books in the Bible. Period. The canon is a separate issue. I think you are unnecessarily confusing the two areas.

The Catholic Church simply acknowledges what is intrinsically Scripture; it doesn't make it so (as my citations from VI and VII proved). At best you can only demonstrate a certain epistemological disconnect at some point in Protestantism vis-a-vis the Bible and Tradition and sola Scriptura (I've made that argument a hundred times myself), but you haven't shown that Scripture itself doesn't teach that Scripture is inspired and infallible and inerrant.

If you followed your logic consistently, you would end up with the absurdity of saying that no doctrine taught in the Bible is a biblical doctrine, because we can't know for sure that any biblical book is in fact part of the Bible without non-biblical Tradition. Thus, by a reductio ad absurdum, this particular argument of yours collapses. It "proves too much."
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Thomas said...

God has inspiration. Church has authority. The Catholic Church does not create the inspired, rather, it 'recognizes' it by the power or 'authority' given to her by God. Of course Scripture is inspired! The difficulty is determining what Scripture is. It has to first be recognized by an authoritative source.

Michael Fraley said...

There seems to be an interesting relationship between the recognition of inspired Scripture by the Church and the recognition (or canonization) of saints. God alone can inspire Scripture and "make" saints. The Church can only authoritatively recognize what God has done. This is quite a happy thought, and places things in the right perspective.