Saturday, July 21, 2018

The canon question

I've been asked to comment on this post:

1. Before delving into the details, I'll make some general observations. Brown chooses a few foils. Primarily Luther, Calvin, R. C. Sproul, Laird Harris, Herman Ridderbos, and F. F. Bruce. But there are significant defenses of the Protestant canon which Brown fails to engage. For instance:  

Dempster, Stephen. G. “The Old Testament Canon, Josephus and Cognitive Environment,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson, (Zondervan, 2016), 321-361.

Ellis, E. E. The Making of the New Testament Documents (Brill 2002). 

Gathercole, Simon, ‘The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts’, ZNW 104.1 (2013), 33-76.

_____, "E pluribus unum? Apostolic Unity and Early Christian Literature," D. A. Carson, ed. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans 2016), 407-55.

Hess, R. S. The Old Testament: A Historical, Critical, and Theological Introduction. Baker, 2016, 4-9.

Hill, C. E., Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Porter, S. ‘Paul and the Process of Canonization.’ Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology. Ed. Craig A. Evans and Emanuel Tov. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008: 173-202.

Steinmann, Andrew. E. The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia 1999).

Trobisch, David. The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford 2000). 

It might be objected that some of these were published after Brown's post. However, Brown's post is a web document which he can update at any time. 

2. There's always an air of unreality in how Catholic apologists approach the canon. They operate with a theological ideal. But how does that correspond to reality? For instance, if God guided the Tridentine bishops in their canonical deliberations, what would we expect the result to be? According to Metzger:

Finally on 8 April 1546, by a vote of 24 to 15, with 16 abstentions, the Council issued a degree (De Canonicis Scripturis) in which, for the first time in the history of the Church, the question of the contents of the Bible was made an absolute article of faith and confirmed by anathema. The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford 1987), 246.

But if God illuminated the minds of the Tridentine bishops to discern the true canon, why did God see fit to leave the majority of the bishops in darkness? Why did he only illumine the mind of 24 bishops, while the other 31 either abstained or voted for the mistaken alternative? So the Catholic ideal seems wholly artificial when you compare it to the facts on the ground. A pretty paper theory. 

But this answer, that we know saving truth from the Bible, pushes the question back. What is the Bible?...“By what criterion do we know which texts comprise the Bible?” This is an essential question all Christians should be able to answer, but, in my experience in discussing this with other believers, it is to many a foreign subject matter. Without understanding why we believe the Gospel of Mark, or the Epistle of James, or the book of Esther to be among those writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, we cannot give a principled reason why we believe these books to be Scripture. Without any principled reason why we believe these books to be Scripture, we have no principled reason or basis for knowing what is the deposit of faith, and thus cannot give an answer to ‘everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope we have.’4

That raises many issues:

i) I hardly think it's incumbent on every Christian to be able to make a case for the canon. The church has many members. Different Christian have different duties according to their aptitude and opportunities.

ii) Then there's the methodological issue of the proper starting-point. That's a philosophically vexed question. According to one view, you begin with criteria. And there's a necessary place for criteria to assess or warrant a particular position. But the question is whether you can begin with criteria, for that's regressive. A Catholic apologist asks, "By what authority did you decide the canon"? He answers, "By the authority of the church". So "the church" (i.e. Roman Magisterium) is his criterion. But it doesn't take much imagination to realize how that answer only pushes the question by a step. For a Protestant can easily counter, "By what authority did you decide that your denomination is the true claimant? By what authority did you decide that your sect has the authority you imputed to it?" 

In other words, a Catholic apologist uses Rome as his criterion, but by what criterion does he verify the claims of Rome? If criteria are the starting-point, then he needs a standard independent of Rome to establish at the outset that Rome ought to be the arbiter. 

iii) Another approach is to begin with paradigm examples rather than criteria. Suppose you ask me how I recognize a watermelon. Well, that kind of mellon is always labeled as a watermelon. I know what it looks like. I know what it tastes like. Every store I go to has the same thing. The starting-point is a broad-based sample.

Now, it would be possible for a botanist to offer scientific criteria to distinguish watermelons from other types of melons. If necessary, that might be used to complement the inductive approach.  

In many cases, we don't begin with criteria. We begin with examples. We begin with experience. We begin with where we actually begin. The historical and epistemic situation in which we find ourselves. We may then deploy criteria to confirm or disconfirm the normativity of our experience. 

iv) Apropos (iii), most Jews inherited the canon from their forebears. They found themselves in possession of the scriptures. There was a chain of custody. God spoke to and through the prophets. Their oracles were committed to writing, copied, and disseminated. Initially, copies were kept in the ark of the covenant. Later in the Temple archives. Synagogues had copies. Retroactive criteria can be brought to bear to justify the result. But that's not the starting-point. 

They can be summarized as follows: the Old Testament canon is that set of Hebrew texts that were canonized by Jewish leaders of Jerusalem around the time of Christ; 

That's one theory. However, the OT didn't need to be formally canonized. The cutoff was the intertestamental period. You might say the scriptures are canonical by default. The end of public revelation marks the end of the canon. The termination of prophecy terminated the canon. It then resumed during the NT era. 

Given the Reformed assumption that whatever authoritatively testifies to the canonicity of Scripture must be more authoritative than Scripture, each of them necessarily places extra-biblical evidence above Scripture in its effort to objectively identify the canon. 

That's rhetorical trickery by casting the issue in terms of whatever authoritatively testifies to the canonicity of Scripture. But that's a category mistake. Evidence isn't the same thing as an argument from authority. Indeed, authority and evidence are contrary (though not necessarily contradictory) principles. 

Take an expert witness. I may defer to his authority because I lack the competence to evaluate the evidence on my own. Conversely, if I have direct evidence for a claim, and I'm competent to assess it on my own, then I don't need to fall back on the argument from authority. 

But as Dr. Flesseman-van Leer has rightly observed, those who accept the traditional canon of Scripture today cannot legitimately defend it with arguments that played no part in its original formation.7 Post hoc rationalization of such a critical point as the formation of the canon would be like painting a target around one’s arrow that is already embedded in the wall.

i) Brown makes that assertion as if it's self-evidently true. If anything, his assertion is self-evidently false. 

To begin with, the way in which we come to know something or believe something may be quite different than how we attempt to philosophically justify what we know or believe. For instance, I know some things by virtue of firsthand experience. If, however, I was proving what I know to a second party, who lacks my personal experience, then I'll resort to evidence in the public domain. I know what schools I attended for the simple reason that I attended them. I was there. If, however, I had to prove to somewhat else that I attended a particular school, I might point to public records. 

ii) Suppose I'm initially a Christian believer because I was raised in a Christian home. That by itself isn't a reliable yardstick. After all, if I was raised in a Muslim home or Buddhist home I might not be Christian.

When I reach a certain age, it's proper for me to consider the reasons for Christianity. Although those formed no part in my initial faith, they may corroborate what I came to believe on other grounds. 

Suppose I become a Christian apologist. As I discover new arguments for Christianity as well as objections to Christianity, that may effect a sifting process in which I discard weak reasons I use to have and replace them with better reasons. That's entirely legitimate. My justification for the Christian faith at 60 might well be and ought be very different from my justification at 15. I should have a more sophisticated rationale. 

iii) Finally, this sabotages his own position. Books of the Catholic Bible were canonized under the assumption of traditional authorship. That's no longer a given in modern Catholicism. Indeed, that's routinely denied in mainstream Catholic scholarship. Therefore, by Brown's own logic, the Catholic canon was finalized under false pretenses. 

Self-Attestation and the Testimony of the Holy Spirit

1. It's necessary to disambiguate these principles. The witness of the Spirit is a psychological process. Equivalent to regeneration, which makes the reader's mind receptive to revealed truths. The regenerate find the Bible believable in a way that the unregenerate do not. That's insufficiently discriminating to be a criterion of canonicity, but it does intersect with canonicity. 

2. Self-attestation concerns internal evidence for the canon and/or divine inspiration of Scripture. This can take different forms, viz. 

i) Authorial attributions. That may include implicit authorship. 

ii) Common authorship. If two or more biblical documents are by the same author, they don't require separate attestation.

iii) Intertextuality. The Bible contains a great deal of cross attestation. Later OT authors quote earlier OT authors. Successive historical books pick up where the preceding book left off. Samuel, Kings, Chronicles refer to many OT writers. NT authors quote OT authors. The Gospels, Acts, and Epistles often reference the same cast of characters. The Synoptic Gospels corroborate each other. And so on. Much of the evidence for the canon of Scripture derives from the self-witness of Scripture. 

We have evidence that many early Church figures, including St. Augustine himself, supported the inclusion of the deuterocanonical texts within the canon. 

Some church fathers quote the Sibylline oracles. Augustine thought Virgil's Fourth Eclogue was a messianic prophecy. So Brown's appeal proves too little or too much.  

As an initial matter, Calvin misstates the Catholic position by stating that, according to the Catholic Church, Scripture has its authoritative weight accorded to it by the Church. Rather, the Catholic position is that Scripture has divine authority because it is God-breathed, the Holy Spirit having inspired the texts’ authors. That is, Scripture has divine authority because of its divine author, not because of the role of God’s Church in producing it. As the Catholic Church decreed during the First Vatican Council...This belief is reflected also in the dogmatic work Dei Verbum, written by Pope Paul VI in 1965.

That's unintentionally comical. Calvin is remarking on the state of Catholicism in the 16C. For Brown to "correct" Calvin by appealing to Vatican I and Vatican II is grossly anachronistic. 

As St. Augustine said, “I would not have believed the gospel, unless the authority of the Church had induced me.”

So much the worse for Augustine, in that regard. Many people have come to believe the Bible by just reading the Bible. 

In this context, Ridderbos uses a priori to mean knowledge that has nothing but the canon as its starting point. His claim, then, is that if any part of a canon test depends on something outside of the canon (what he calls “a posteriori” elements)–for example, on the consensus of the Church–this explanation has placed some extra-Biblical authority “above” the canon. Within the framework of sola scriptura, this is a commendably logical observation. If Scripture is the sole infallible authority of the faith, and everything else is subordinate in authority to Scripture, then the basis for determining the canon cannot be any authority but Scripture. The working principle here is that an authority is only as authoritative as that on which it is founded...Here is Ridderbos’s riddle then, which he believes Calvin’s view has solved: how can we determine the canon, which does not fall from Heaven, without relying on extra-canonical evidence? Riddberos sees the need to avoid the use of extra-canonical evidence, because doing so would, under the Calvinist assumption, place the confirming evidence over the canon, which would violate sola scriptura. 

i) Once again, Brown repeats his blunder by confounding evidence with authority. Compare his confusion with a statement by Catholic philosopher and professional logician Peter Geach:

A man who decides to rely on an authority is indeed making a judgment about that authority; but in so doing he is not assuming the position of a judge, not setting himself up as a higher authority In recommending someone as a good lawyer or doctor, I am not claiming to be myself an even better lawyer or doctor. P. T. Geach, Reason and Argument (Blackwell 1976), 24. 

To expand on Geach's observation, if I'm looking for a good cardiologist, I might consult Best Doctors. I might consider a physician's credentials. Did he graduate from an Ivy League med school? Does he practice at prestigious hospitals? Does he teach at Ivy League med schools? 

I'm researching evidence for a good cardiologist. That doesn't promote me to an authority-figure.  

ii) Because the Bible makes claims about the world, it doesn't subordinate Scripture to the world to consider extrabiblical evidence, for Scripture itself points outside itself to the world around us. Scripture refers to historical events. That refers to a world outside the text. The text is not the world. 

But prior to Calvin, the Church never used this method to recognize a book as belonging to the canon. The Church recognized books as canonical on the basis of their having been inspired by the Holy Spirit.30 In its process of identifying which books possessed this quality, the Church never employed a private, individualistic means. Instead, it relied upon councils of the Church confirmed by the Bishop of Rome.31 Again, as one cannot legitimately defend the canon with arguments which played no part in its original formation.

Somehow I doubt Greek Orthodox church historians agree with Brown on the role of the pope. 

Today’s average Protestant does not study why he has the Protestant 66-book canon, and does not independently decide if the Bible handed to him is correct. Rather, he accepts as an a priori of his Protestant faith that the 66-book canon is correct. 

i) True. Most Protestant laymen inherit the canon. Once again, every Christian isn't a Bible scholar or church historian. 

ii) The average Catholic doesn't do any better. 

iii) The question at issue isn't whether the average evangelical layman is competent to defend the Protestant canon, but whether that case can and has been made by those who are. 

iv) One way in which God commonly cultivates saving faith is to providentially place the elect in churches of sufficient orthodoxy that they are exposed to the Gospel. That's a reliable belief-forming process. God intends that outcome. God provides the means. 

With Ridderbos’s answer to the Canon Question, we have no way of knowing whether the Holy Spirit is permitting a reader to recognize a text as canonical, or is simply permitting a reader falsely to perceive it as Scripture. We cannot tell since we would necessarily have to appeal to Ridderbos’s subjective element in order to know which of these actions the Holy Spirit is engaged in when, for example, He permits Catholics to recognize the deuterocanonical texts as Divine. If the Holy Spirit is simply permitting Catholics falsely to perceive them as Scripture, as Protestants must maintain, then Protestants have no objective criteria by which to distinguish this act of the Holy Spirit from cases in which He is permitting readers to recognize a text as canonical. 

i) That reflects a limitation on appeals to the testimony of the Spirit. The justification of the canon requires more.

ii) However, the fact that I can't compare my experience to your experience is not in itself reason to doubt my experience. Someone who's high on LSD perceives the world very differently from me, but that's hardly reason for me to think I'm the one who's deluded–rather than the acidhead.  

The renowned 20th-century Reformed theologian F. F. Bruce

He was a renowned NT scholar, not a renowned theologian. 

A test of canonicity that relies on such extra-Biblical evidence as what the Jews of A.D. 200 (or any other time) accepted as canonical falls subject to the critique of Ridderbos, noted above.45 Without biblical warrant to craft such a test, it remains extra-Biblical. Therefore, its application would be a canon above the canon and thus violate sola scriptura according to Ridderbos’s criteria. A major problem with this canon theory is that it grants to the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day an authority which, it claims, if possessed by the Church, would undermine the authority of Scripture. But it would be ad hoc to allow a Jewish magisterial authority to determine the canon while claiming that a determination of the canon by way of Catholic magisterial authority would undermine the authority of Scripture.

i) Once again, authority and evidence are two different things.

ii) Brown thinks the Jews didn't settle on the canon until the Christian era. And he imputes that to Protestants. But many scholars think the OT canon was settled long before the Christian era. 

First, there is no historical basis to conclude that any one Jewish group had the authority to pronounce and close the canon for other Jewish groups, or that any one of them could conclude the canon for Christianity. 

Once more, the case for the Protestant canon doesn't require that assumption. 

The Diaspora Jews, on the other hand, used the Greek Septuagint, which included the deuterocanonical texts as well as some apocryphal texts.

Brown suffers from an anachronistic and monolithic view of the LXX. For one corrective:

Harris’s third point about the Septuagintal canon is that, with the advent of the codex (i.e., bound book) replacing the scroll, early Christians found the need to fill up the scores of empty pages of valuable paper in their bound Bibles. To do this, Harris argues, they “[n]aturally” would “fill it with helpful devotional material.”58 This, he concludes, led to a conflation of helpful books with scared books. The extent of Harris’s historical evidence for his view is that it seems to him the only plausible explanation for these texts’ survival in spite of a lack of support from the early Church Fathers.

Brown seems unaware of what Christian codices actually contain. To take a few examples, Codex Alexandrinus includes the Odes of Solomon, Ps 151, 3-4 Maccabees, & 1-2 Clement. Codex Sinaiticus includes 4 Maccabees, the Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas, & the Shepherd of Hermas. None of that's canonical by Catholic standards. 

No authority within Scripture, and no argument from reason, requires Christians to abide by the speculative conclusions of the first-century Pharisaic leaders from Jerusalem, some of the very ones who had Christ put to death. 

Notice how Brown is so blinkered by his own view that he lacks the critical detachment to distinguish his view from Protestant views. He keeps acting as though evangelicals assume the case for the Protestant canon hinges on Jamnia. He's so conditioned by that way of thinking that he can't get it out of his mind. 

The definitive reason why the Septuagint was accepted by the Church is because it was accepted by the Apostles. 

As Nolland documents, in his commentary, Matthew frequently translates straight from the Hebrew text. Cf. J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Erdmans 2005), 29-33. 

These Christians’ use of the Septuagint indicates their conviction that it was authentically divine, and therefore authoritative.

i) That's counterproductive to Brown's thesis. To begin with, the OT was written in Hebrew (with a few Aramaic sections), not Greek. The LXX is just a translation. And it's a very uneven translation.

ii) More to the point, if Brown thinks the LXX is authentically divine, and therefore authoritative, then Trent was in error when it made the Vulgate, translated straight from the Hebrew, the standard of comparison. 

This speculation or hypothesis has no more support than the deistic assumption of the Holy Spirit’s non-intervention upon which it is based. 

How very droll! What about Brown's deistic assumption regarding the Holy Spirit's non-intervention in the Protestant faith? 

Rather, the Septuagintal texts’ early appearance in the Church, opposition-less acceptance, and widespread propagation by Christians lead to the conclusion that these very Jewish books had been in use by Alexandrian Jews.

Early on, there was a tragic split between the church and the synagogue, which opened the door to a looser view of the canon. 

The second reason that the ‘original Hebrew canon’ theory fails to answer the Canon Question is that it simply pushes back the question. By what criterion was the original Hebrew canon determined? Unless the answer to this deeper question can objectively produce a complete list of books belonging to the Old Testament canon, the ‘original Hebrew canon’ theory cannot be our criterion for determining the Old Testament canon.

There are multiple lines of internal and external evidence for the Hebrew canon. 

But if this is our defense of the canon, we are left once again relying on Jewish tradition in the formation of canon. And if we are relying on Jewish tradition, then we have no reason not to accept the tradition of the Alexandrian Jews who accepted the deuterocanonical texts. 

Brown seems to be totally ignorant of evidence to the contrary. For instance:

“No two Septuagint codices contain the same apocrypha, and no uniform Septuagint ‘Bible’ was ever the subject of discussion in the patristic church. In view of these facts the Septuagint codices appear to have been originally intended more as service books than as a defined and normative canon of Scripture,” E. E. Ellis, The Old Testament in Early Christianity (Baker 1992), 34-35.

“As we have seen, manuscripts of anything like the capacity of Codex Alexandrinus were not used in the first centuries of the Christian era, and since, in the second century AD, the Jews seem largely to have discarded the Septuagint…there can be no real doubt that the comprehensive codices of the Septuagint, which start appearing in the fourth century AD, are all of Christian origin,” R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986), 382.

“Nor is there agreement between the codices which of the Apocrypha t include. Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus all include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, and integrate them into the body of the Old Testament, rather than appending them at the end; but Codex Vaticanus, unlike the other two, totally excludes the Books of Maccabees. Moreover, all three codices, according to Kenyon, were produced in Egypt, yet the contemporary Christian lists of the biblical books drawn up in Egypt by Athanasius and (very likely) pseudo-Athanasius are much more critical, excluding all apocryphal books from the canon, and putting them in a separate appendix. It seems, therefore, that the codices, with their less strict approach, do not reflect a definite canon so much as variable reading-habits; and the reading-habits would in the nature of the case be those of fourth and fifth-century Christians, which might not agree with those of first-century Jews,” ibid. 383.

“At this point we encounter the Greek Old Testament in the three great codices of the fourth and fifth centuries: Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus…All exceeded the scope of the Hebrew Bible…In Vaticanus, however, all four of the books of Maccabees are missing and in Sinaiticus, 2 and 3 Macabees, as well as 1 Ezra, Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah—presumably only the result of lacunae in the text. Codex Alexandrinus, approximately one century younger, is, in contrast, much more extensive; it includes the LXX as we know it in Rahlfs’ edition, with all four books of Maccabees and the fourteen Odes appended to Psalms. The Odes also include the Prayer of Manasseh, previously attested only in the Syria Didaskalia and the Apostolic Constitutions,” Robert Hanhart, "Introduction: Problems  in the History of the LXX Text from Its Beginnings to Origen," M. Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture (Baker 2004), 57-58.

“It should be considered, further, that the Odes (sometimes varied in number), attested from the fifth century in all Greek Psalm manuscripts, contain three New Testament ‘psalms’: the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis from Luke’s birth narrative, and the conclusion of the hymn that begins with the ‘Gloria in Excelsis.’ This underlines the fact that the LXX, although, itself consisting of a collection of Jewish documents, wishes to be a Christian book. The relative openness of the Old Treatment portion of these oldest codices also corresponds to that of its ‘New Testament’: Sinaiticus contains Barnabas and Hermas, Alexandrinus 1 and 2 Clement,” ibid. 59.

“The name ‘Septuagint’ denotes both the first Greek translation of the Bible and the collection of Jewish-Greek Scripture, containing inter alia this translation. The latter usage is imprecise because this collection contains also late revisions of the original translation and books that were originally written in Greek. In order to distinguish between the two usages of the word, the collection of Jewish-Greek Scripture is generally called the ‘Septuagint,’ while the first translation of the Bible is often named ‘the Old Greek (translation),” Emanuel Tov, "The Septuagint," M. Mulder & H. Sysling, eds., Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (Hendrickson 2004), 161.

A fifth persistent factor that has clouded this discussion is the concept of an “Alexandrian Jewish canon” of Scripture that was broader than the Palestinian Jewish canon. This is based on a lack of clarity about the meaning of the term “Septuagint”.100

The author of this quotation has assumed that the “Septuagint” in the sense of that collection of texts known from Codices Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus (or in the sense of the critical editions available today) was the “Septuagint” of the Jewish community of the third century B.C.E. This is, however, a grave misstep, because the work undertaken in the third century B.C.E. in Alexandria involved only the Greek translation of the Pentateuch (clearly the scope envisioned by Letter of Aristeas). Moreover, the quotation involves its author in a paradox: it would be impossible for the third-century-B.C.E. version of the Septuagint to contain the Apocrypha books, since they were all written between 185 B.C.E. and 10 C.E. (with the possible exception of Tobit, which may predate the second century B.C.E.)! Also, telling in the argument against the Alexandrian Jewish canon is that Philo, the Jewish commentator in Alexandria par excellence, never quotes from the Apocrypha (Beckwith 1985: 384).101

The “Septuagint” codices mentioned above cannot be used as evidence for an Alexandrian Jewish canon that included the Apocrypha. These manuscripts are fourth- and fifth-century Christian works, fail to agree on the extent of the extra books, and seem to have been compiled more with convenience of reference in mind than as the standards of canonical versus noncanonical books (the fact that one even contained, at one point, Psalms of Solomon strongly suggests this). D. DeSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker 2004), 29-30.

Back to Brown:

Finally, Harris says, we can use the New Testament itself as historical evidence of what texts should be in the Old Testament canon.90 He argues that the books of the Old Testament were referenced in the New by Christ and the Apostles, and thus we can be certain of their canonicity: “Christ and the apostles have authenticated for us the thirty-nine Old Testament books and strictly avoided the seven Apocrypha.”91 Harris supports this claim by noting that the New Testament “cites almost all of the Old Testament books, often by name.”92

One problem with that claim is that the New Testament also cites “scripture” whose referent we cannot even identify. To give an example, “[w]e have no idea what ‘the scripture’ is which says, according to James 4:5, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us.'”93 If the criterion of the Old Testament canon is ‘that which the New Testament treats as Scripture,’ then we have here a grave problem, for in that case our Old Testament canon is incomplete. 

It's true that the witness of the NT is insufficient to document every OT book. But we don't require a single line of evidence. 

Also, the New Testament is full of themes and even direct phraseology from the deuterocanon. 

Putting aside Brown's exaggeration, his claim is confused. Mere allusions were never proof that the documented alluded to is Scripture. That depends on other considerations, like the prior reputation of the document, or how the document functions in the argument of the NT writer. Is he alluding to that material to cinch an argument? Does he regard that material as authoritative? Is he resorting to an ad hominem appeal?

While there are dozens of these uses, here are two short examples.94 The mention in Revelation 1:4 of the seven angels petitioning before the Throne in Heaven is a reference to Tobit 12:15: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” 

But Tobit 12:15 is secondary. As Fitzmyer explains:

The idea of "seven angels" is probably derived from Zech 4:10: the seven eyes of the Lord that roam the earth. J. Fitzmyer, Tobit (Walter de Gruyter 2003), 296. 

This is a problem when converts like Brown rely on pop Catholic websites rather than mainstream Catholic scholarship. 

In addition to the New Testament citation of “scripture” that is now lost, and the many references from the New Testament to deuterocanonical texts, the ‘adopted by the New Testament’ canon criterion faces one other major flaw. Judges, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs are not cited in the New Testament, and so would fail to satisfy this criterion of canonicity and drop from our canon. 

i) Once again, the evidence for the Protestant canon isn't confined to internal evidence.

ii) That said, a book like Judges doesn't exist in a vacuum but a continuum. It's part of an interconnected history. Joshua feeds into Judges, which feeds into Ruth, which feeds into 1-2 Samuel, and so on. 

Another proposed canon test, this one tailored for the New Testament texts, maintains that the proper test for canonizing the New Testament is apostolic authorship, or at least apostolic origin. But Harris and Bruce both argue that Apostolic authorship is a necessary criterion of New Testament canonicity.

I disagree. Apostolic authorship is (generally) a sufficient condition for the canonicity of books by apostles. If a book is by an apostle, then it rates inclusion in the canon. (Mind you, that's limited to extant apostolic writings. If God didn't see fit to preserve an apostolic writing, because it was too ephemeral, then it's not in play.)

But to say apostolicity entails the canonicity of apostolic writings doesn't entail that non-apostolic writings can't be canonical. The common denominator would be inspiration.  

Because there is no God-given list of “inspired authors” just as there is no God-given list of the New Testament books, the Protestant can only reach the conclusion that the twelve Apostles were inspired authors through the use of reason or extra-Biblical sources.

That's simplistic. It's a combination of internal and external attestation. 

Second, this position, that Christ gave a list of inspired authors who wrote out the Word, must be able to prove Paul’s actual apostolicity in order to defend his epistles as having apostolic authorship. But Paul’s apostolicity cannot be settled without resort to Tradition. This position also must defend the ultimate apostolic origin of Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, James, and Jude, books whose apostolic authorship is known only through Tradition.

i) Brown is using "Tradition" as a tendentious synonym for evidence. 

ii) The apostolicity of the Pauline correspondence is in the body of the text. 

iii) I deny that Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, James, and Jude require apostolic origins. 

But from the absence of evidence that 2 Peter was not written by Peter, we cannot reach the conclusion that 2 Peter was written by Peter, unless we resort to reliance upon Tradition. If Harris means to rely upon Tradition, as his words about the eventual conviction of the ancient Church imply, then without being ad hoc, he would also need to accept the deuterocanonical books. This is because the ancient Church eventually came to the conviction that the deuterocanonical books were canonical, as shown by the determinations of the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, already discussed above. 

i) I seriously doubt there's any mainstream Catholic Bible scholar who defends the apostolic authorship of 2 Peter. 

ii) Why is Brown appealing to local church councils? Even on Catholic grounds, they're not infallible. They don't presume to speak to or for the universal church. 

It is striking that Harris would look to the eventual conviction of the ancient Church. If the ancient Church did not have a conviction about 2 Peter’s canonicity at the point in time closest to that epistle’s composition, then its later-reached conclusions would only become less reliable with the passage of time. Memories of actual authorship would have faded, and opportunities for the inclusion of ‘urban legend’ would have expanded exponentially. That is, the Church’s Traditions would have become less reliable unless the Holy Spirit gave a special grace to the Church to be preserved from error.

That's a valid point, but it undercuts the theory of development. 

But the very act of answering the Canon Question inherently involves an extra-Biblical fallible human judgment, unless one is preserved from error by the Holy Spirit. This fallible human judgment, by defining the criterion of canon, exercises power over the canon itself. 

If Protestants see the Catholic Church as placing herself ‘over’ Scripture simply by articulating the canon of Scripture, so too they should see answers to the Canon Question culled from human reason or extra-Biblical evidence as being ‘over’ Scripture. 

The Catholic or Orthodox Christian will point to the work of the Holy Spirit in the visible Church as the basis for his articulation of the canon, which work is seen in sacred tradition.

In the fallible judgment of a convert to Catholicism like Brown, one can point to the Spirit's guidance in the Roman Church. But that's just a projection of his fallible perception. 

In other words, we can have no more confidence in the infallibility of the content included than we have in the process by which it was included. 

What a self-defeating objection! Brown is a convert to Catholicism. He believes the Roman church is protected from heresy. But of course, Brown arrived at that conclusion by exercising his fallible judgment. So he can have no more confidence in the infallibility of the Roman church than the fallible process by which he came to that conclusion. 

But in the Protestant scheme, because the process which yielded the canon is fallible, Protestantism cannot have complete confidence in the content of its canon. A fallible collection of infallible books cannot function as a binding authority.

1. To begin with, Sproul's position is simplistic. The internal evidence for the canon is infallible. The self-witness of Scripture is infallible. That may not suffice to cover the entire canon, but it's infallible with respect to what is covered.

2. Is it true that a fallible process necessarily yields a fallible result? Consider some biblical examples:

i) How did Joseph ascend to the prime ministership of Egypt? He became the victim of attempted murder; then he was enslaved; then he was imprisoned on a false accusation of rape; then he interpreted the dreams of some imprisoned courtiers; then he interpreted some dreams by Pharaoh. 

Normally that would be a highly unreliable strategy for a Jew to become prime minister of Egypt. It worked out that way not because the method is reliable, but because God directed the process.

ii) By process of elimination, the culprit is identified by casting lots (Josh 7). 

Normally, that's a highly unreliable method to identify the culprit. On this occasion it worked because God was directing the lots.

iii) Trial by ordeal (Num 5:11-31).

Normally, that's a highly unreliable method to determine infidelity. It only works in that case because God directs the process. 

iv) Revelatory dreams

Normally dreams are a highly unreliable method for making decisions or discerning God's will. It only works in that case because God directs the process. 

v) To take a hypothetical example, it's generally prudent to read both sides of an argument. If I only read one side of an argument, I may read the wrong side, but find that persuasive because it suppresses evidence to the contrary. Suppose I only read one side of the argument, but I happen to read the right side. So I arrive that the correct position by default, even though the process was fallible.

I finish with a challenge, and one I offer with a heart longing for Christian unity. Approach your pastor, or the most knowledgeable Reformed teacher or theologian you know, and ask him how he is certain that the Protestant canon is correct. 

i) I just gave examples in which an intrinsically uncertain process can be a basis for certainty, due to God's overruling process. So even if the process by which evangelicals arrive at the canon is fallible, if God intends for evangelicals to discover the true canon by such means, the conclusion can be fully warranted despite the fallibility of the methods. 

ii) But suppose, for argument's sake, that the Protestant canon might be mistaken in some particulars. If we're doing the best we can with the information God has put at our disposal, that's an innocent mistake. Unless God will punish us for error through no fault of our own, what's the big deal?

iii) That's only defective if Catholicism offers a superior alternative. But if the Catholic alternative is just a pipe dream, then that's not a real alternative. 

iv) What kind of certainty does Brown have in mind? Cartesian certainty, viz. impossibility of error? The ability to disprove skeptical thought-experiments? If that's where Brown places the bar, then it's out of reach for Catholics as well as Protestants. 


  1. "Finally on 8 April 1546, by a vote of 24 to 15, with 16 abstentions"


    1) Fascinating that anathemas could be passed by a minority vote.

    2) Presumably, the 31 who didn't vote for it either instantly changed their minds, or were excommunicated? Or perhaps not... that would have been difficult politically presumably, since between them they constituted a majority! Any Catholic apologists care to comment on that?

    1. In Catholicism the truth is established by decree. No matter the evidence and the fundamentals. From the moment it is decreed all obey.
      It becomes the official truth even if not always followed in practice, when it becomes unsustainable, such as the text of the Vulgate to be the authentic. After the Council of Trent textual criticism became unnecessary although the Catholic Bibles are now published without the Johannine Comma. It's a bit schizophrenic :)

  2. You can find a collection of many of our posts on canonical issues here, a collection that's broken down into a lot of subcategories. See here for a series of posts I wrote presenting a historical argument for the New Testament canon. The series also has a post that briefly summarizes a case for the Evangelical Old Testament canon. As I document in that series, the church fathers advocated multiple means of discerning a canon of scripture, including means that are identical to or similar to an Evangelical approach. And see here for documentation that the church fathers weren't Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox). The idea that relying on standard historical argumentation is equivalent to relying on Tradition, as Roman Catholics define that term, is absurd.

  3. Brown seems to confuse knowing and showing. Christians can know "this is God's word" without being able to show "this is God's word". Christians can know "this is God's word" without arguments and evidence, even though Christians can and do show "this is God's word" with arguments and evidence.

  4. Thanks for commenting on that article. I debated them in the comboxes for a long time back then in 2010; when I could find time to digest it and keep up. The 800 + comments were daunting to even keep up with and follow and usually my comments went into moderation for several days, and by the time they were published, there was already 10-20 more comments. Brown's main point, with me, is because I rely on some things in church history for knowing (epistemology - how we know what we know - (for example, how we know Mark wrote G. of Mark, Matthew wrote Gof Matthew; Luke wrote G.of Luke and John wrote John, etc. - they claim that church and tradition gives us epistemological basis for knowing what Scripture is, the canon, which books are canon, and which are not. (like some seemed to think Shepherd of Hermas, Pseudo-Barnabas, Clement were Scripture, etc. and that 2, 3 John, 2 Peter, James, Jude, Revelation, Hebrews, were questioned by some.

    Where were you back in 2010 when I was debating them in the comboxes there?
    Just kidding.

    There needs to be some good solid articles/books that systematically debunk many of those articles that at Called to Communion.
    The authors, especially Bryan Cross - their method is - "you are using the xxx logic argument fallacy or philosophical syllogism, and that is a violation; therefore you are wrong and we are right, since we have the church authority, history, logic, Latin, on our side; therefore you loose."

  5. What kind of certainty does Brown have in mind? Cartesian certainty, viz. impossibility of error? The ability to disprove skeptical thought-experiments? If that's where Brown places the bar, then it's out of reach for Catholics as well as Protestants.

    Excellent point. Roman Catholic Apologetics use the idea of the need for infallible certainty; and if you don't have some higher authority give you that confidence, then you cannot know what the Bible, and cannot know the truth or fullness of truth, etc.

    But God does not demand the category of "infallible" from us. He gives us assurance and certainty, (beyond a reasonable doubt that is possible for us as human creatures) (Galatians 4:6; 1 John 5:13) but it is never an "infallible certainty". God does not require that category from us. So wonderful we can surrender to Christ alone, by faith alone, awakened and drawn all the way to regeneration by grace alone, for God's glory alone, based on Scripture alone; and not have to go back to the legalism and slavery and bondage of the RC system of penance, indulgences, purgatory, merit of works and sacramental tredmill of never knowing if one is truly saved or not.

  6. Michael Kruger's two books on the Canon are also excellent; and his new book on 2nd Century Christianity.
    Canon Revisited
    The Question of Canon
    Christianity at the Crossroads

  7. I remember years ago, while debating Dave Armstrong and how his articles connected to a guy named Al Kimel, who converted to Rome from Anglicanism. I saved some of his comments; but he later took down his blog.

    Al Kimel (The Pontificator) was an Anglican who later converted to the Roman Catholic Church. He seems to basically agree with liberal scholarship that Ephesians was not written by Paul, that 2nd Peter was not written by Peter and that Paul didn’t write the Pastorals. (and that we can't be sure that Matthew wrote Matthew or John wrote John or Revelation)

    He wrote at the end of his 3rd article (below) on the canon, that Psedonymity is not a problem for God (Ehrman’s “Forgery”), and that if God employed those means, and the RC Church declared them to be "canon", “who are we to complain?”

    “If the historical evidence leads us to conclude that God employed the convention of pseudonymity in his sacred writings, who are we to complain? who are we to judge? I stand by the Word of God as confessed by his one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Al Kimel. (he seems to agree that the church just “declared” or “created” it as canon. )

    1. Last time I read him, Kimel has been Eastern Orthodox for several years. A theologically unstable individual.

    2. Wow. I did not know that. It shows that at least he realized the error of all the doctrines of the Papacy.

  8. This is a slightly off topic question, but is there a resource that I could check out for most/all of the historical errors of the Apocrypha?

    1. Not that I'm aware of. In his magisterial commentary on Tobit, Joseph Fitzmyer lists some basic geographical errors. I quoted him years ago.

  9. John Bugay and Turretinfan interacted at Called to Communion, and John B. wrote articles here on some of their stuff; but I have yet to see a full court press against the material there at Called to Communion, or maybe I have missed it. No one else seems to write or respond to them. (that I know of)

    Maybe Steve wrote other articles on their stuff that I just did not see.

    1. I've done quite a bit on that, both in the past and recently. But in my experience, Bryan Cross is a one-trick pony. So is Michael Liccione. So there's only so much to say. They just recycle the same three arguments. In fact, I rarely if ever saw Cross directly argue for Catholicism. Rarely give positive evidence for Catholicism. Most of the time it's just his exposition of Catholic theology.

    2. I guess I missed most of your articles about Communion. I am going to try and find them and see if I can understand.

      Bryan Cross just uses philosophy, Latin, and formal logic arguments with syllogisms and jargon that normal people (like me) cannot even understand. Along with long articles with lots of quotes from church history; and a sort of pre-suppositional basis of "we are right, because we have church history, tradition, church authority, and the Pope, so we are always right". (seems to me)

      I can understand John Bugay, Jason Engwer, James White, William Webster, David King, Eric Svendsen, Salmon, Whitaker, Goode, etc. but those Roman Catholics at Called to Communion are not understandable.

  10. using the search function:

    This was great from one of John Bugay's articles:

    Bryan can't discuss anything with Protestants, because anything a Protestant says is "begging the question" because it proceeds from a Sola Scriptura point of view. (Never mind that anything he says from "the Catholic paradigm" is begging the question from our point of view).

    from 2012

  11. I like David Anders; at least is understandable. I interacted with him a lot at this article in 2014.