Saturday, January 08, 2011

The eye of Sauron

I'm reposting some comments I left over at Green Baggins recently.


You act as if the canon of Scripture is a random collection of books with no internal relationship. Yet the books of the Bible are interconnected in complex ways by various lines of intertextuality.

Likewise, why do you think the church is authoritative, but, say, the Gospel of John is not? If you think the church authorizes the canon, then what authorizes the church?

andrew said,

“However, since God has promised to lead the church into truth…”

Where does the Johannine verse you’re alluding to index that promise to the “church”? How do you exegete that referent?

“…describes her as the pillar of the truth.”

In context, that has reference to a local church–the church of Ephesus.

Also, what exegetical literature, if any, have you actually studied on that verse?

“…and has ‘entrusted the oracles’ to her.”

Where does the Pauline verse you’re alluding to index that statement to “the church”?

“I would much rather follow what the church has recognized than rely on my emotional/spiritual reponse on reading any possibly sacred text. To that extent, the church’s recognition is authoritative for me.”

i) Which claimant (among many) to be “the church” are you turning to for guidance, and why?

ii) The church is just a bunch of people. Some saved, some lost. Some wise, some foolish. Some learned, some ignorant. Some famous, some obscure.

“Now the standard Protestant posistion seems to be that each individual should read sacred material. When reading some of it he will feel ‘moved’ by the Spirit (precisely what this entails, I have been unable to establish). For him this is the canon. Now the problems in this seem to me so massive and glaring I won’t elaborate unless you want me too.”

You could elaborate by stating what “standard” Protestant literature on the canon you’ve read.


i) I don’t think my definition of the church essentially differs from WCF 25.

ii) Yes, I have no doubt God guided the church in the recognition of the canon.

iii) My response to Dozie indirectly answers your question about bibliographical resources (see below).

iv) In terms of looking to “the church” for guidance on the canon, two groups are pertinent:

a) There is testimonial evidence from Jewish and early Christian sources (as well as pagans and heretics).

b) The best of modern scholarship (of the sort I already cited in reply to Dozie).

AJ said,

“The crucial question is, Whose assumption a christian has to choose as an act of submission to authority? His own ability to discern? his pastor?”

When Jesus spoke to crowds, invoking Messianic prophecies, were the crowds supposed to exercise their own judgement, or were they supposed to turn to the religious authorities for guidance? Of course, the religious authorities were generally enemies of Jesus.

“The ultimate problem of making Scripture the authority…”

Since Scripture is the word of God, we can’t very well avoid “making” Scripture the authority. Scripture speaks with the divine authority of the God who inspired Scripture.

“…is that it is of necessity subject to interpretation. INTERPRETATION IS A HUMAN ACT, therefore authority (interpretive authority included) must rest in humans.”

Well, unless you think the pope is really an alien from outer space, cleverly disguised as a human, a papal encyclical is also A HUMAN ACT.

“Now, if everyone is their own authority, nobody can claim authoritative interpretation, because their authority is no higher than anyone else’s.”

Who says an interpretation has to be “authoritative” anyway. You’re just parroting the verbiage of Bryan Cross. Can’t you think for yourself?

Why does an interpretation have to be authoritative as long as it is correct?

Take the debate between the blind man and the Jewish leaders in Jn 9. They had the authority, he didn’t. Yet they were authoritatively wrong while he was unauthoritatively right.

“But this entails subjectivism…”

You need to define your terms. Are you using “subjectivism” as a synonym for an individual judgment? And what’s wrong with individual judgment as long as it is right?

After all, the pope is an individual.

And at the risk of stating the obvious, you had to exercise your “subjective” judgment when you decided that the Roman church was the true claimant among various competitors for the title.

“For correct (apostolic) doctrine to be ascertained in any objective sense, it cannot come from within (either the person or the text – even the Book of U.S. Constitution needs a supreme interpreter…”

Well, that’s an interesting comparison. So when the Supreme Court discovers a Constitutional right of abortion, or a Constitutional right to commit sodomy, that represents the “objective sense” of the text?

Do you even listen to what you’re saying? Or do you mindlessly repeat back what you read pop apologists for Rome say?

“Consequently, one cannot derive correct doctrine from the scriptures without first being properly taught the Scriptures. (Apostolic Tradition).”

That begs the question of what constitutes apostolic tradition, as well as how to identify and verify apostolic tradition.

dozie said,

“I will be following this conversation to try to understand a thing or two about Protestantism.”

If you were sincerely trying to understand the Protestant position, you wouldn’t be posing argumentative questions with tendentious assumptions that have been repeatedly answered on this blog and elsewhere.

“1. Is there a Protestant canon?”

A disingenuous question merits no response.

“2. If the answer to the above is yes, how and when did the Protestant canon come about?”

That’s a red herring. The important question is not so much the historical process, but how we evaluate the end-product.

“3. If an “unbeliever” joins Protestantism, will the new Protestant be required to accept the “Protestant” canon…”

i) In general, the prerequisite for membership is a credible profession of faith. Church officers are held to a higher standard.

ii) Are Catholics required to accept the Catholic canon? Are Catholics who reject the Catholic canon excommunicated?

“…or will the individual be expected to decide on his/her own canon based on some illumination from God?”

Of course, divine illumination is a false alternative. An individual can judge the case for the Protestant canon on the basis of the evidence for the Protestant canon. There are various lines of evidence for the Protestant canon.

“4. Is it necessary for a Protestant to accept the “Protestant” canon as a sign of an orthodox faith?”

Seems reasonable to me.

“5. Is the Protestant canon closed? Who closed it and upon what biblical authority? Can a Protestant or groups of them add or remove books to or from the Protestant canon? If not; why not?”

i) The Protestant canon is closed if it’s God’s will that the Protestant canon is closed.

ii) We can, of course, postulate hypothetical scenarios, like discovering a lost letter of Paul which was misfiled for centuries in the backstacks of St. Catherine’s monastery. But there’s no reason to think that’s a realistic hypothetical.

iii) You’re getting swept away with the metaphor of “closing” something. But something can be ipso facto closed, like when we say “that chapter of history is closed,” simply because it is past. That’s over and done with.

Likewise, the Protestant canon doesn’t have to be “closed” by a “who.” It can be closed by the fact there are no other viable candidates for inclusion in the canon.

Of course, in an ultimate sense, God is the “who” behind whatever happens in history.

iv) If there are no other biblical books, then there is no addition biblical authority.

v) There’s an obvious sense in which later Biblical books finalize earlier stages of the canon, by attesting earlier stages of the canon.

vi) And, of course, there’s the self-witness of a qualified writer like Isaiah or St. Paul.

vii) The question at issue is not what Protestants “can” or “can’t” do, but whether their actions are warranted. If there’s good evidence for the Protestant canon, then adding or removing books would be unjustified.

viii) We can also turn your question around. Is the Catholic canon actually closed? The Tridentine decree is arguably inclusive rather than exclusive. It was promulgated in reaction to the Protestant canon. It makes a point of including books which were excluded from the Protestant canon.

But it doesn’t speak to the issue of other potential or hypothetical candidates. It says what is canonical, not what isn’t canonical. It doesn’t speak one way or the other to the canonical status of, say, 1 Enoch or the Gospel of Thomas.

“6. Finally, a larger question: From the Protestant point of view and with so much reliance on ‘me, myself, and my bible, what is the nature of ‘Christianity’ and of ‘Christian’ beliefs?”

That’s another trick question. You never let honesty get in the way of papist apologetics, do you?

Protestantism avails itself of the best exegetical scholarship. The use of appropriate evidence, as well as appropriate rules of evidence.

dozie said,

“I am not sure Steve has an answer to my question. If he has, he would have been ready to offer a defense…”

Dozie has the mindset of a conspiracy theorist.

“The questions I asked were questions important to me.”

Of course, if Dozie knew the right questions to ask, he wouldn’t be Roman Catholic. Therefore, Dozie doesn’t get to frame the terms of the debate.

“Are we to assume that your end-product was dropped from the sky or is there a story behind it? Also, who in Protestantism evaluates the end-product?”

An example of asking the wrong questions. The pertinent question concerns the justification of the results. Are the results justifiable? And by what criteria?

The “who” is irrelevant. What matters is not “who” said it, but the quality of the evidence, and the supporting arguments.

“The question was about Protestant Canon.”

No, you posed a question about the Protestant canon in relation to church membership.

“I was assuming that Protestantism is not Catholic; does not act Catholic and does not want to be what Catholic is.”

So Dozie confesses to a double standard. He holds his own denomination to a lower standard than Protestant churches.

“As a Catholic, I am glad to proclaim that I am not capable to do the work a Protestant is required to do in order to judge the canonicity of each of the books in the canon. I accept the Christian canon as a whole and in its parts only on the authority of Catholic Church.”

In which case he’s not capable of doing the work required to assess whether or not the Roman church actually has a rightful claim to the authority it arrogates to itself.

“So, the canon is a Church thing?”

Which doesn’t follow from my answer.

“This is not a definite answer. You don’t seem to know if the Protestant canon is closed or not.”

We all depend on God’s providence. We play the hand we’re dealt.

There is no good reason to think the canon is open at this juncture, but one can always imagine hypothetical situations.

That applies to the church of Rome as well. What if a papal conclave was rigged. Can Dozie disprove that? He wasn’t there. The proceedings are secret.

“For the Catholic, the canon is closed. Even if a verifiable letter of St. Paul or St. Peter is found, such a letter will not make it to the canon.”

i) That nicely illustrates the arbitrarily character of the Tridentine canon, as well as Rome’s insubordinate attitude towards apostolic authority.

ii) BTW, who is Dozie to prejudge what the Magisterium would do in a case like that?

“You are talking Protestantism. In the Catholic Church, a closed canon actually means something. A closed canon is not an undefined Protestant terminology.”

I didn’t say it was undefined, I said it was metaphorical. The fact that you don’t know the difference disqualifies you from even discussing the issue.

“We would not know until we hear the story of the Protestant canon.”

So by Dozie’s own admission, his rejection of the Protestant canon is prejudicial and uninformed.

“Very pious but really begs the question.”

Is Dozie a closet atheist? Does he agree with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that “Goddidit” begs the question?

“Have there been other NT books that claimed to be biblical?”

The question is incoherent. If the books at issue were “NT books,” then, by definition, they’d be “biblical.”

“And, the Protestant canon that Trent wa reacting against was…? The Protestant canon was decided upon by…? The canon decision in Protestantism was decided in Church council or by what other authority? Was an authority even required to arrive at the ‘Protestant canon’? These are important stories that non Protestants want to hear and reason through. Are Protestants simply assuming a “Protestant canon”?”

Notice that Dozie tries to recast the issue in terms of “authority.” But that begs the question.

“Since scholarship is still continuing, it seems that in Protestantism, the attitude is to keep fingers crossed because this form of religion is still in the process of being defined – defined by the ever evolving next ‘best exegetical scholarship’.”

Notice Dozie’s distrustful attitude towards divine providence.

dozie said,

“Since scholarship is still continuing, it seems that in Protestantism, the attitude is to keep fingers crossed because this form of religion is still in the process of being defined – defined by the ever evolving next ‘best exegetical scholarship.”

i) That’s a self-incriminating accusation considering the fact that Vatican II codified the theory of development.

ii) Apropos (i), Modern scholarship, including Roman Catholic scholarship, is also redefining the historical foundations (or lack thereof) of the papacy. To take a few examples:

Raymond Brown, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections

Robert Eno: Rise of the Papacy

Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries

Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present

Francis Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church

dozie said,

“What is the case for the Protestant canon? Who made the case? When, where and how was the case made? I am really interested in hearing how Protestants arrived at the NT canon.”

i) Notice Dozie’s tacit admission that his commitment to Roman Catholicism is due to ignorance of the alternative.

ii) This will be a test-case of Dozie’s sincerity. Let’s see if he’s actually prepared to study the issue.

There are various types of evidence for the Protestant canon. This includes objective as well as subjective evidence. The objective evidence includes internal as well as external evidence. Internal evidence includes the intratextual, intertextual, and paratextual evidence. External evidence includes text-critical evidence as well as testimonial evidence from Jewish sources and Christian sources, as well as from enemies of the faith (i.e. pagans, heretics). Subjective evidence has reference to the internal witness of the Spirit.

I. Intratextual evidence:

Standard conservative Bible introductions, as well as major conservative commentaries, discuss the intratextual evidence for individual books of the canon. Representative OT introductions include Archer and Hill/Walton. Representative NT introductions include Blomberg, Guthrie, Carson/Moo, and Kostenberger/Kellum/Quarles.

The commentaries are too numerous to mention, but specific recommendations are available upon request. There are also conservative monographs on the authorship of certain contested books.

II. Intertextual/paratextual evidence:

Representative examples include:

Gregory Beale & D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament Canon

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible

E. E. Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents

Greg Goswell, “The Order of the Books in the Hebrew Bible,” JETS (Dec 2008)

John Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch

III. Testimonial/Text-critical evidence:

Roger Beckwith, The OT Canon of the New Testament Church

Everett Ferguson, “Factors Leading to the Selection and Closure of the New Testament Canon,” in The Canon Debate

Andreas Kostenberger & Michael Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy

Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament

David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament

IV. Monographs

There are also monographs that discuss the role of certain Bible writers (i.e. Ezra, John, Paul) in editing the canon of Scripture, such as:

David Noel Freedman, The Unity of the Hebrew Bible

C. E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels?, chap. 10

Stanley Porter, “Paul and the Process of Canonization” in Exploring the Origins of the Bible

V. The Witness of the Spirit:

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, chap. 41

I can give more complete citations as needed.

After Dozie has acquainted himself with the case for the Protestant canon, we’d be happy to take any follow-up questions.


  1. One of the questions Catholics should be asking themselves before they pose ridiculous questions, like Dozie’s, is what would happen if they applied the same questions to their own belief system (e.g., ask the same questions about identifying the church that you ask about identifying the canon of scripture). Why don’t they do that? Are they incompetent? Dishonest? Both?

  2. It's kind of unfair to engage Dozie like that. The dude is one of the easiest targets I've ever seen.