Monday, February 01, 2010

The Development Of The Canon (Part 2)

Dave Armstrong writes:

Jason wants to casually mention Eusebius? He wrote about the book of Revelation (Apocalypse):

Among the books which are spurious should be reckoned . . . the Apocalypse of John, should it seem right. For, as I said, some reject it, while others count it among the acknowledged books.

(in Bruce, ibid., 199)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Sr. John Chrysostom, and St. Gregory Nazianzen all disputed the canonicity of Revelation.

I referred to Eusebius' comments about "the degree of acceptance of the books among the churches". I wasn't addressing the canon of Eusebius. I was addressing what he said about the canonical beliefs of Christians in general.

I was aware of Eusebius' doubts about some of the New Testament books. I didn't "casually mention" him. But if the evidence suggests that Eusebius was in the minority on the issue of the canonicity of Revelation, then what would his minority view prove? And how does adding sources like Cyril of Jerusalem and Gregory Nazianzen to the discussion refute anything I said? As I mentioned in an article last year, Revelation seems to have been widely accepted early on, despite later disputes like the ones Dave is citing.

And he isn't interacting with the main point I was making. I was making the point that Eusebius tells us how widely accepted various New Testament books were among the churches, whereas we don't have such information on how widespread something like Irenaeus' view of the church was. I was pointing out that we have better evidence for the degree of acceptance of particular books of scripture than we have for the degree of acceptance of particular views of the church. To respond to such a point by citing Eusebius' rejection of Revelation and that book's absence from the canons of some other patristic sources is diversionary.

Dave does go on to address my main point to some extent, but not much. He writes:

An authoritative, binding Church is all over the place in the fathers. I don't have time to reproduce all that again. It is displayed in many other papers of mine, and books.

Later on, I'll be addressing whether it's sufficient for Dave to appeal to the vague concept of "an authoritative, binding Church". But, for now, I'll note that I'm not aware of anything comparable to Eusebius' comments on the canon that could be cited in support of an infallible church.

Remember, I'm citing what Eusebius said about specific books and how they were viewed by Christians in general. It's not enough for Dave to respond by citing what "the fathers" allegedly believed about a concept as vague as "an authoritative, binding Church". As I said in my 2008 article that started this exchange, if Evangelicals are going to be asked to defend the highly specific twenty-seven-book New Testament, then their critics, such as Roman Catholics, should be expected to defend their own highly specific view of an infallible church. (My article was addressing those two concepts, a canon and an infallible church.) Eusebius was a church historian who had consulted many sources of earlier generations in the process of compiling his church history, and he often cites those sources on canonical issues. And what he reports about the degree of acceptance of the New Testament books among the churches seems generally consistent with the evidence we have from his day and from earlier generations. Eusebius was describing the views of Christians in general, not just "the fathers", and he was addressing specific books, not some vague notion like "an authoritative, binding Church".

The point I made in my 2008 article stands. We have better evidence for the widespread acceptance of the specific books of the Evangelical New Testament than we have for the widespread acceptance of the specific concepts that make up something like Dave's view of an infallible church.

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