Francis Beckwith says:
It’s my understanding that the Palestinian Jews rejected the New Testament as well.
Francis Beckwith is fond of these cute little quips. But they’re intellectually shallow.
i) There’s nothing inconsistent about regarding Palestinian Jews as more reliable witnesses to the OT canon than the NT canon. God revealed the OT to the Jews. For centuries, the Jews copied and recopied the OT. A chain-of-custody. That’s hardly comparable to the NT.
ii) In addition, it’s reasonable to distinguish between Palestinian Jews and Diaspora Jews. Jews who relied on a Greek edition of the OT were further removed from the source.
iii) Keep in mind, too, that some NT writers were Palestinian Jews. So not all Palestinians Jews rejected the NT. Consider Jewish followers of Jesus who belonged to the 1C church of Jerusalem.
It is not clear how a divided Church tradition helps the Protestant case, since by employing this argumentative strategy you seem to concede the central point of Catholicism: the Church is logically prior to the Scriptures.
Divided tradition applies to “the Church” as well as the canon. There are divergent traditions regarding the primacy of Rome.
That is, if the Church, until the Council of Trent’s definitive declaration, can live with a certain degree of ambiguity about the content of the OT canon, that means that sola scriptura was never a fundamental principle of authentic Christianity.
i) No. At best that would mean sola scriptura was never a fundamental principle of Roman Catholicism.
ii) But this isn’t really a question of sola scriptura, although Beckwith would like to recast it in those terms. If the church of Rome can live with a certain degree of ambiguity about the canon of Scripture, that means the church of Rome can live with ambiguity about when or whether God has spoken. Ambiguity about true and false prophecy. Ambiguity about people speaking in God’s name without God’s authorization.
If that ambiguity applies to the canon, why not church councils and papal encyclicals?
After all, if Scripture alone applies to the Bible as a whole, then we cannot know to which particular collection of books this principle applies until the Bible’s content is settled. Thus, to concede an unsettled canon for Christianity’s first 15 centuries, as you do, seems to make the Catholic argument that sola scriptura was a 16th century invention, and thus not an essential Christian doctrine.
i) Needless to say, Protestants don’t think Trent settled the canon. At best, Trent settled the canon for the church of Rome. And even then, Trent settled on the wrong canon.
ii) Beckwith fails to draw an elementary distinction regarding the canon:
iii) Beckwith’s argument is circular. As long as the church of Rome had a monopoly on western Christendom, then, by definition, sola scriptura wasn’t fully operative. If a drug cartel controls a city, things can’t return to normal until the power of the cartel is broken.
iv) Trent didn’t confine itself to the OT canon. Trent settled a number of other Catholic dogmas. So, by Beckwith’s logic, Tridentine dogmas were never essential Christian doctrines. Tridentine dogmas were never fundamental to authentic Christianity.