Monday, July 30, 2012

The ‘Rule of Faith’ and the New Testament Canon

David Anders #224:
I think perhaps I was not sufficiently clear in my question.

I wasn’t asking about how we identify the canon.
(For the record, however, I have glanced at Kruger.)

For the sake of argument – even if I were to grant Kruger his thesis – (‘self-attestation’) – this still does not get at my question.

The question is not, “how do we identify the canon?”

It is, rather, “How do we know that the canon is (or is not) the rule of faith?”

My understanding of the Protestant confessions leads me to the understand that

1) All articles of faith must be established by divine revelation.
2) Sola Scriptura is an article of faith.
3) Sola Scriptura means that the canon (however we come to recognize it) is the Rule of Faith.

Presumably, then, Sola Scriptura must be established by divine revelation.

My question: where does divine revelation establish that this canon of Scripture we possess (however we come to recognize it) is the Rule of Faith.

Turretinfan has done quite a bit of legwork on the topic of Aquinas and the rule of faith, which you may want to look at. Here is a sample:

Thomas Aquinas' expression, "sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei" at first glance sounds a lot like the Reformation maxim that the rule of faith is only the canonical scripture.

Here's an English translation of the relevant portion:
It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and others of this kind, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is his meaning when he says ‘we know his testimony is true.’ Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!” The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things. …

[While we acknowledge this does not say that Aquinas is … simply a modern-day Reformed Presbyterian, the real question is], what did Aquinas mean by "sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei" ("only canonical scripture is [the/a (Latin lacks articles)] rule of faith")? Can any of the Roman Catholics reading answer that question positively (i.e. by refraining from telling us what Aquinas is not saying but rather by telling us what Aquinas is saying)?

Meanwhile, you should see Kruger’s summary of how the “rule of faith” functioned within the second and third century church:

Although the regula fidei is a type of “tradition,” it is important to distinguish it from later ecclesiastical tradition. In Irenaeus’s battle with the heretics, he refers to the regula fidei not as something that derives from the church but as something that derives from the apostles themselves—the church merely preserves it. He declares, “We refer [the heretics] to the tradition from the apostles which is preserved through the succession of presbyters in the churches.” In this sense, the rule fo faith did not contain new teachings or doctrines that were not found in the Scriptures, nor was it unduly separated from the Scriptures as if they were two entirely independent sources for orthodox teaching. Instead, it was understood to be [Citing Vanhoozer] “a summary of Scripture’s own story line” or [Citing Cullmann] “the principle and logic of Scripture itself”. Or, as Irenaeus put it, the rule is “the order and connection of the Scriptures.” This was certainly true in regard to the way the rule related to the Old Testament. Far from being something entirely separate, the rule expounded o the Old Testament and revealed its relationship to the redemptive work of Christ. Christopher Seitz makes this point: The rule of faith in the early church fathers is a correlating of the gospel with the stable and authoritative claims of the Scriptures of Israel, seen now as a first testament and crucial foundational witness. Clement of Alexandria affirms this same connection: “The ecclesiastical canon is the concord and harmony of the law and the prophets in the covenant delivered at the coming of the Lord.

Likewise, the rule can be understood as a summary of the message contained in the New Testament writings…. (Kruger, pgs 139-140).

Just as a comment on all the Patristics citations that are floating around, there is a difference between throwing out one or two quotes, and really understanding a particular writer’s whole corpus of writings. Kruger here (and Vanhoozer and Cullmann) are individuals who could immerse themselves in all of Irenaeus’s writings, in the original languages, and to understand what’s really the emphasis and what’s likely a throwaway quote. Such a distinction is genuinely important in understanding what Irenaeus (and other early writers, such as Clement of Alexandria) meant by “the rule of faith”.

Finally, on the topic of “rule of faith”, Bavinck says:

In the earliest period of the Christian church, it lived by the word of the gospel proclaimed to it by the apostles, which was clarified and expanded in the Epistles and the Gospels. There was no difference between the word received in preaching ad the word passed down in writing. The whole of it was based on the Old Testament, which was, at once and without resistance, accepted and recognized by the Christian churches as the Word of God. From the beginning the Old Testament was, for Christians, the book of revelation augmented and completed in these last days by the word of the gospel through the oral and written preaching of the apostles. Accordingly, from the very beginning both the Old Testament and the apostolic writings held authority in the churches of Christ and were viewed as sources of knowledge. From them people drew on their knowledge of God and the world, of angels and human beings, of Christ and Satan, of church and sacrament. From the most ancient times on, it was customary to demonstrate the truth of the faith, the confession of the church by means of Holy Scripture, the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles. Dogma was that which Christ and the apostles had taught, not that which had been conceived by philosophy. Scripture was the rule of faith; confession and church were subordinate to it. The most ancient and, from ancient times, the most important proof for the dogma was the proof from Scripture (Bavinck vol 1 pg 62).

While Bavinck allows for the role of the church “pedagogically”, “in the logical order Scripture is the sole foundation (principium unicum of church and theology. In the conflict between (church and Scripture), the possibility of which can never be denied on a Reformational view, church and confession must yield to Scripture. Not the church but Scripture is self-authenticating, the judge of controversies, and its own interpreters. Nothing may be put on a level with Scripture. Church, confession, tradition—all must be ordered and adjusted by it and submit themselves to it … Scripture alone is the norm and rule of faith and life” (Bavinck, vol 1, pg 62).

David Anders continues:

My question: where does divine revelation establish that this canon of Scripture we possess (however we come to recognize it) is the Rule of Faith.

Kruger (from what little I have read) only deals with the question of identifying the canon. This is a completely separate question.

By Protestantism’s own terms, I either need some divine revelation to tell me that the Canon is the Rule of faith, or I need to concede that Sola Scriptura is not an article of faith.

Does this make sense?

It is a ridiculous question at two levels.

First, as Oscar Cullmann noted, in response to his work on Peter, no Roman Catholics actually addressed that work. They asked this question. It seems to be the question of first- and last-resort for all Roman Catholics. And it has been sufficiently answered (see Kruger, for example).

Second, As Kruger notes regarding this question:

First, would an “inspired table of contents” really solve the problem [as Roman Catholics] maintain? Let us imagine for a moment that God had inspired another document in the first century which contained this ‘table of contents’ and had given it to the church. We will call this the 28th book of the New Testament canon. Would the existence of such a book satisfy Catholic concerns and thus eliminate the need for an appeal to church tradition? Not at all. Instead, they would simply ask the next logical question: “On what basis do you know that this 28th book comes from God?” And even if it were argued that God had given a 29th book saying the 28th book came from God, then the same objection would still apply: “Yes, but how do you know the 29th book came from God?” And on it would go. … In the end, therefore, the Roman Catholic objection is, to some extent, artificial. Such a ‘table of contents’ would never satisfy their concerns, even if it existed, because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting. In other words, built into the Roman Catholic model is that any written revelation (whether it contains a ‘table of contents’ or not) will require external approval and authentication from church tradition.

In essence, your question is nonsensical because it carries with its own answer. You are, to quote a phrase, “begging the question”.

Kruger’s model of “self-attestation” relies on not just on one, but on three facets:

1. Divine qualities of the works themselves: ““My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me”.

2. The Apostolic Origins of the works: Imagine, Paul writes a letter and sends it to Corinth. It is kept and acknowledged as a letter from the Apostle. He writes a second letter. This, too, is kept. He writes to Rome and Galatia. These, also, are kept and collected. (There’s a very good chance that Paul himself kept a collection of his own letters; but it is even more highly probably that these were collected within his own lifetime). So there never is a time when the church didn’t have “a Pauline canon”.

3. Corporate reception: by a very detailed process (which includes a study of manuscripts, ancient book binding, actual artifacts of the writings themselves – including which works were included in which manuscripts, and when), Kruger outlines how these various “canons” came together, (including the Gospels and the “catholic” epistles); this was not a smooth ride, but by and large, by Irenaeus’s day, there was a “canonical core” which was known as “THE New Testament” – there were 23 books which were not contested at all.

So again, if you understand Sola Scriptura as it is defined, rather than as you choose to caricature it, there is more than enough evidence to justify that the canon of the New Testament is “self-attesting”, and Christians today absolutely may feel justified in accepting the 27-book canon of the New Testament, without at all relying on anyone else’s authority (least of all, Rome’s).

Just by way of summarizing my own position, the way that you have become Roman Catholic is all word-games and mind-games, almost completely divorced from the actual history of the early church, and from the actual things the early church believed.

As someone here has mentioned, Christ himself forbade the disciples from “arguing which was the greatest”. Yet throughout history, it is the jockeying for position that has caused huge amounts of damage to “the church”. Few people today agree that the “Nestorian” churches held to any heresy, but they were cast off by Rome and the “Orthodox” churches, and millions of them perished by the sword. The same is true of the “Monophysites” of Egypt – they held fast to Cyril of Alexandria’s earlier Christological formulation, and they, too, were cast off by Rome and the “Orthodox”, and they, too, have largely been killed off.

It needs to be said: this “Great Schism” of the fifth century was far more massive of a split – with far more horrific consequences, than any other splits in the church. On the surface, these were splits over Christology, but foundationally, these were splits over “authority” – as in, “my position is more authoritative than yours”. And again, it was largely claims of authority that caused the 1054 split.

And yet, you CTC guys are at it again – “The Roman Catholic Church has the only authority to say what Scripture is, and what is Scripture” – the mind-games you play to come to this position are truly mind-boggling. Divorced from history, divorced from Scripture. And ultimately harmful, I am sure. How can I know this? Where else in history has anyone else held to Michael Liccione’s “Catholic IP”? When did it come into being? And yet, you’re all very satisfied with yourselves to hold it as an article of faith.


  1. Here's my simple (siimplistic?) way of answering Anders' question.

    It should also be said that while all forms of God's special revelation are equally authoritative because they are GOD'S Word (whether verbally through a prophet, through an auditory voice (interally or externally heard), through visions/dreams, through angelic message).

    Yet, *since* the time of Moses when special revelation started to become inscripturated in the covenant community, all additional alleged revelations (including written) needed to be tested by the already accepted and acknowledged Scriptures in the covenant community.

    So, for example, before the book of Esther could be included in the canon, at the very least, it could not have contradicted the Scriptures already known to be part of the Canon. The same goes for a generally reliable prophet.

    Isaiah's divinely claimed pronouncements and prophecies were to be believed because he was known to be a prophet who had genuinely spoken in the past for the God of Israel. However, knowing that a prophet could backslide (Jonah 1) or tell untruths (1Kings 13:18), anything a prophet might say must still always be tested by a past certain revelation (whether unwritten, but especially the written Scriptures (Deut 18:14-22)).

    So, in 1 Kings 13, the younger prophet should have tested the pronouncements of the older prophet by what he (the younger prophet) *KNEW* to be Jehovah's past (auditory?) Word to him. If he had, he would have known that the older prophet's pronouncement was not truly from Jehovah. Even though in the past the older prophet was genuinely used by God as His mouthpiece. In fact, after the old prophet lied, God speaks through the old prophet again in judgement against the younger prophet for not abiding by the earlier revelation he (the younger) had received and known to be from God. He should have realized that the newer alleged revelation by the older prophet contradicted God's revelation to him and therefore must not be from God since God cannot contradict Himself.

    In the same way, Isaiah's claimed (additional) divine pronouncements needed to be tested by Scripture. Same with his prophecies. While some of Isaiah's prophecies would not be fulfilled in the lifetime of his hearers, what could be tested had to be in keeping with and not contradict Scripture. They also had to come to pass as predicted. Otherwise, it could be known to be a false prophecy.

    Since Catholics acknowledge that public universally binding special revelation has ceased with the death of the Apostles, all alleged further private revelations or alleged traditions must be tested by the only source of unquestioned infallible and inspired Revelation, namely the Holy Scriptures.

    In times past, when public universally binding revelation was still being given, infallibility went hand-in-hand with inspiration. Or if it was a tradition that wasn't necessarily "inspired", yet God ordained/required (e.g. some specific about temple worship), it could nevertheless be approved or rejected by someone who was a Prophet or Apostle (so long as he met the criteria mentioned above).

    But in this day, there are no such OT Prophets or NT Apostles. Therefore, it's Catholics who have introduced a theological novum by requiring us to accept as infallible, teachings that are ADMITTEDLY uninspired and/or aren't public universally binding special revelation.

  2. Hence, Sola Scriptura. Though, as a continuationist (and Charismatic) I like to use the phrase Summa Scriptura. That's because I believe there continues to be God given private non-universally binding revelation which are not on par with Scripture, and must be tested by Scripture.

  3. Typo correction:

    "Since Catholics acknowledge that public universally binding special revelation has ceased with the death of the Apostles, all alleged further [public or private] revelations or alleged traditions must be tested by the only source [we have] of unquestioned infallible and inspired Revelation [available to us], namely the Holy Scriptures."

    Additionally, I believe this historical and logical argument holds EVEN IF we didn't know what the correct canon was. The fact THAT Scripture is the highest authority, doesn't depend on whether we know with absolutely certainty which books belong and don't belong in the Canon. Summa Scriptura, in this sense applied EVEN DURING times of inscripturation. For example, when the Torah was complete but other books of the OT were still being added. Or when the Psalms were still being compiled. Or when the prophets (major or minor) were still orally proclaiming inspired Revelation on par with (past recognized) Scripture (e.g.Torah). Or during the post-Apostolic era when the Church as yet wasn't certain which books belonged in the New Testament/Covenant canon.

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  5. Anders said...
    By Protestantism’s own terms, I either need some divine revelation to tell me that the Canon is the Rule of faith, or I need to concede that Sola Scriptura is not an article of faith.

    Obviously the Bible doesn't teach, what I like to call, "Sola Scriptura HARD". Imagine Paul writing and sending a God inspired letter to the believers at Berea saying that ONLY the Written Revelation/Word of God is the rule of faith (i.e. Sola Scriptura HARD). That would MEAN that FROM THEN ON OUT, Paul could NEVER AGAIN verbally reveal or proclaim a new Revelation from God in his preaching.

    The ultimate claim of Protestants is (or at least should be, is) that God's Word/Revelation (in whatever form it comes, whether written, proclaimed verbally, transmitted orally, received via audition, or via dream, vision, or angelic message etc.) is of the highest authority because it is **GOD'S** Word.

    However, new universally binding public inspired Revelation has ceased because there are no longer any prophets or apostles on par with OT prophets and NT apostles around to relay such revelation. Hence the canon is closed. Btw, as a continuationist, I do believe in "prophets" and "apostles" in a lower sense than just mentioned.

    The only way for a non-written but inspired Revelation on par with Scripture to come down to us APART from Scripture is if it is orally transmitted. During OT times, such a thing was possible. For example, Moses on Mount Sinai could have relayed to Joshua a new revelation, and then Joshua himself pass it along to the rest of the congregation. Joshua himself wasn't necessarily inspired (on such an occasion). BUT to the degree that he faithfully passed on God's Revelation, that Revelation was binding. However, the problem with orally transmitted messages is that they often get corrupted after awhile. Moreover, there's no OT or NT precedent where orally transmitted 1. Revelation Or 2. non-inspired tradition was to be regarded as on par with what WAS recognized as written Revelation (i.e. Scripture). What was already written and recognized as Scripture was always the standard and measure of any other further alleged revelation or tradition.

    In other words, Summa Scriptura functioned in the OT and NT even during times of 1. continued new verbal revelation, 2. continued new written revelation, 3. fallibly transmitted oral, but genuinely inspired, revelation, and 2. fallibly transmitted oral (non-inspired) tradition.



  6. Contrary to what God did in the OT and NT times, Catholicism wants us to accept as infallible 1. non-inspired non-revelational oral tradition. 2. alleged (i.e. merely claimed) orally transmitted inspired revelation.

    With regard to #1: Infallibility previously always went hand-in-hand with inspiration. So Catholicism is the one that's introducing something novel by splitting the two.

    With regard to #2: Oral transmission was never considered or sanctioned as a TRULY reliable way of passing down a. genuinely inspired revelation and by implication b.) non-inspired tradition,

    We can see that in Matt. 15:3-9 where Jesus rebukes the Jews for elevating to the level of Scripture traditions which the Jews believed were inspired revelation.

    We can see that in how Eve misquoted (by adding to) Adam's quotation of God's command. Either Adam related to Eve God's verbal command as a prophet himself. In which case, that goes to show how God's revelation can be sinfully interpreted. Or, if Adam did not speak to Eve, his wife, as a prophet, then Eve got the message 2nd hand, and therefore, shows how orally transmitted revelation can easily get corrupted. Though, being only transmitted by one step, it 'SHOULD' have been relayed accurately. God commanded Adam to tell Eve. But this is totally different than, say, the alleged apostolic Tradition of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

    We can see the problem of orally transmitted revelation again in 2 Thess. 2:2. when Paul talks about "by word". The fact that "by spirit" or "by letter" is is also included only appears to hurt my case; but really doesn't. Since what the Thessalonians thought was a letter from Paul wasn't confirmed as genuinely from Paul by settled consensus, it therefore doesn't fall under the rubric of assured Scripture. With regard to "by spirit", these revelations the Thessalonians were either receiving or hearing about weren't from Apostles or Prophets with full apostolic and prophetic prerogatives (i.e. able to give inspired Revelation).