Bryan Cross said,
“So that leaves you in Sproul’s position, unless you want to appeal to an internal witness in your heart regarding each book of the [Protestant] canon.”
Notice how Bryan repeats the same falsehood. Bryan doesn’t try to argue in good faith.
Let’s take a couple of obvious counterexamples. Other examples are more subtle, but we’re start with these to illustrate the point:
Luke and Acts form a literary unit. They are mutually attesting. It would be utterly artificial to treat Luke and Acts in isolation as canonical candidates. Either both are canonical, or neither is.
Same thing with the Pentateuch. That’s a literary unit. The books are internally related to each other through a continuous narrative. Likewise, Genesis foreshadows various developments in subsequent books of the Pentateuch while subsequent books build on, presuppose, and refer back to, Genesis and other (earlier) parts of the Pentateuchal narrative.
These books are not discrete, self-contained units. One could cite many other examples of the weave and cross-weave of Scripture.
But Bryan doesn’t care. Bryan refuses to deal with that. He studiously ignores counterevidence. He resorts to crude, deceptive all-or-nothing arguments, when that’s simply untrue.
i) One can generate a “list” from inspired intertextual attestation. And that would be internal to Scripture.
ii) However, your statement is equivocal since you are oscillating between two very different claims:
a) It is impossible to generate a complete list intertextually.
b) It is impossible to generate any list intertextually.
You set up a false antithesis when you claim a Protestant must fall back on the witness of the Spirit to attest each book, as if each book must be treated separately and independently attested.
However, any list (complete or incomplete) which one can generate intertextually would be an “inspired” list inasmuch as it would derive from inspired cross-attestation.
So you need to radically scale back your argument.
iii) I’m also confining myself to intertextuality since it’s best to deal with one issue at a time, before we move onto the next issue. However, that’s not the only type of self-attesting evidence we have for the canon of Scripture. In addition:
a) There is the intratextual evidence, involving the self-witness of this or that Bible writer.
b) There is the paratextual evidence, in terms of how the books have been sequenced.
Sean, since you want to make Esther your paradigm-case, fine. Let’s spend a bit time on that.
i) Sean cites Esther because he thinks that’s a weak link (maybe the weakest link) in the Protestant canon.
ii) Notice that his challenge evades the point I made to Bryan. Suppose for the sake of argument, that Esther is a weak link. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Protestants cant justify the canonicity of Esther. Would that undermine the Protestant canon as a whole? No. It would just mean that some books enjoy better attestation than others.
“It is never quoted in the New Testament.”
Irrelevant. Intertextuality operates at different levels. For instance, if Esther is intertextually attested in the OT, and the OT is intertextually attested in the NT, then Esther is intertextually attested in the NT via the NT attestation of the OT generally. A second-order attestation.
“We do not know the author.”
An authorial self-attribution is one form of internal attestation, but not the only form.
“Even the 1st century Jews did not agree on its place.”
You don’t cite your sources. For a compact treatment of the extracanonical Jewish attestation, see p254 of Clines’ commentary on Esther (bound with Ezra/Nehemiah).
“The book never even says the word ‘God.’”
Which completely misses the point. God is the unseen, but major actor in Esther. Esther is all about the special providence of God. Instead of God manifesting himself through visible signs and wonders, he manifests himself through a discreet, but opportune pattern of timely events.
“Let’s put your texting and weaving into practice. Why is Esther in your canon? How do you know that Esther belongs in your canon?”
Esther is a chapter in the historical narrative arc of OT Scripture. It narrates a conflict between Mordecai the Benjamite and Haman the Agagite. To a Jewish reader, that would instantly evoke historical precedent, involving a similar match-up (1 Sam 15). And that, in turn, refers back to the ancestral enmity between the Israelites and the Amalekites, which provoked a prophetic curse on the descendents of the Amalekite tribe (Exod 17:8-16; Deut 25:17-19).
The contest between Haman and Mordecai, resulting in a reversal of fortunes, whereby Haman is deposed and executed, while Haman is vindicated, carries the story forward, in a pattern of promise and fulfillment. So Esther quite nicely illustrates the weave and crossweave of Scripture.
Andrew McCallum said,
“You want me to prove that we should not carve up the concept of Scriptures into firstly the initial writing and then secondly the collection of the books!? This is just a bizarre request, Bryan. I am assuming the when God speaks of inspiring His Word He is talking about His complete Word, not a group of disparate writings that get dumped on the Church for the Church to muddle through.”
Let’s take two concrete examples to flesh this out a bit. To simplify the illustration, let’s stipulate the traditional authorship of Scripture. I think that stipulation is eminently defensible, but I’m going to skip the preliminaries for now.
Example #1: Does it make sense to say the composition of the Pentateuch was inspired, but the canonization of the Pentateuch was not? (I’m using the word “inspired” in both cases since that’s how the issue has been framed.)
But wasn’t the Pentateuch written for Israel? For the community of faith? Indeed, didn’t the Pentateuch constitute the covenant community? Wasn’t the Pentateuch immediately conferred on or even imposed on the community of faith?
“Canonization” is implicit in the initial “giving of the law.” It’s not as if Moses first wrote the books of the Pentateuch, then this was followed by a long process of canonization. It’s not as if the Pentateuch was put up for a vote.
If Moses is who the Pentateuch says he is, then the Pentateuch was instantly canonical.
Example #2: Likewise, take the psalms of David. These were never merely private compositions. These were always public compositions. Composed for the corporate worship of Israel. From the moment the ink was dry, they figured in the corporate life, worship, and prophetic expectations of the people of God. They always had that official status.
1. In my observation, and maybe there’s something I haven’t seen, Bryan rarely if ever attempts to provide direct evidence for his commitment to Rome. Instead, he constantly falls back on a hypothetical argument.
I guess that’s his standard tactic because the historical evidence alone falls short of what he needs to get where he wants to go. So he needs some sort of makeweight. Or simply use a different type of argument altogether.
So, for instance, he frames the canonical issue this way:
i) Either you have a fallible list of infallible books (the Protestant position)
ii) You have an infallible list of infallible books (the papist position)
And (ii) is vouched for by an infallible church. An infallible church yields an infallible canon.
He treats (i) as a kind of dare, then uses that to leverage (ii).
The unstated assumption is that if (i) represents the unacceptable consequence of the Protestant principles, then your only recourse is to (ii).
Again, though, this is a fact-free argument. No hard evidence is feeding into the argument. It’s all hypothetical.
2. Moreover, even at a hypothetical level, it’s a false dichotomy. For it’s not as if the negation of (i) entails (ii). (ii) is not the only logical alternative to (i).
For the sake of argument, consider another hypothetical:
i) Protestantism has a fallible canon
ii) Romanism has a fallible canon
But there’s a difference between (i) and (ii):
The Protestant canon is based on the best available evidence whereas the papist canon is based on blind adherence to (selective) tradition.
Now even if that’s what the choice came down to, it’s not as if (i) represents a worst-case scenario.
You can have two fallible methods, yet one fallible method may still be far more reliable than the other (or another) fallible method. They may both be fallible without being equally fallible, or even close.
For instance, consider two different ways of taking a take-home T/F exam. You could either take the test by looking up the answers, then circling the correct letter, or you could flip a coin and circle the corresponding letter.
Each method would be fallible, yet one is clearly superior to the other in yielding accurate results.
3. Let’s consider another hypothetical. Suppose that on the basis of intratextual, intertextual, and paratextual evidence, we can generate a list of 60 canonical books. To use TFan’s lingo, that canon is artifact of revelation. That’s something we derive from Scriptural evidence alone.
Yet, according to my hypothetical, that method only gets us up to 60 books–which is 6 books shy of the Protestant canon. Suppose we have to supplement our 60-book core canon with extrabiblical evidence to bring us up to a 66-book canon.
Even though this comes short of a “complete list” which is purely an artifact of revelation, that would still enjoy a degree of certainty which is higher than a list compiled by purely extrabiblical evidence.
Again, this illustration is hypothetical, but I use it to illustrate a principle which is overlooked by Bryan. And since Bryan’s basic argument is also hypothetical, he shouldn’t object.
In addition, although the number I gave is hypothetical, my argument isn’t purely hypothetical by any means. There is real evidence that can generate a list (regardless of what number we decide on). Something I’ve discussed on my own blog.
I find that Michael Liccione constantly uses a similar argument (to Bryan’s). As you know, it goes something like this: “Doctrine is underdetermined by evidence. There is more than one way to construe the evidence. Therefore, we must have an infallible church to issue de fide teachings, without which we can’t exercise the proper degree of faith.”
It’s all hypothetical.
Since the role of providence has also been brought to bear in this discussion, it’s important to clarify the scope of that appeal. In my opinion, the Protestant argument is not that God has providentially insured that every Christian will arrive at the right canon of Scripture. Rather, the Protestant argument is that God has providentially insured that Christians have the means to arrive at the right canon of Scripture. Whether or not we always make right use of the available evidence is a different question, but if we make the wrong call, that’s not because the evidence was fundamentally deceptive or deficient.
God has providentially maintained sufficient evidence for us to arrive at the right canon, if we make right use of the evidence.
To take a comparison, the members of some NT churches learned the Gospel straight from the lips of the apostles. You can’t improve on that. Yet that didn’t prevent some members from going astray. Even though they had sufficient information to know and do right, they willfully disregarded apostolic doctrine.
“I have no problem with what you said regarding individual Christians, as long as we maintain that God did ensure that the church would receive his word, which doesn’t preclude apostate churches and cults adding or taking from that Word. Yes?”
True. Every individual Christian needn’t be in a position to investigate the issue. He can be the recipient of the labors of others whom God has put in such a position.
To take a concrete example, every Christian can’t do what F. F. Bruce could do. But we can benefit from his work. We don’t have to independently confirm everything he did. In the providence of God, God uses some people in the church to prosper other people in the church.
Perhaps, for clarity’s sake, I can try to recast Andrew’s claim. Let’s see if Andrew agrees with my paraphrase.
i) I assume Andrew is making the point that the inspiration of Scripture is a means to an end. God wills the production of his word because God wills that his people have his word. God doesn’t will the production of his will for its own sake, as if he inspired the apostles and prophets, but then locked the Bible away in a vault.
In that respect, the giving of the Scriptures vis-a-vis inspiration, as well as the giving of the Scriptures vis-a-vis canonization, are correlative. God gives his word to the apostles and prophets (by inspiring them) in order to give his word to the faithful.
ii) Likewise, God, who wills the end from the beginning, wills the entirety of Scripture. He inspires a set of books. And that was his eternal intention. He had the whole canon in mind. Through inspiration, he realizes that complete idea. The books of the canon, while inspired over centuries, and collected at various times, correspond to his timeless idea.