Monday, February 18, 2019

An inspired table of contents

1. A stock objection to sola Scriptura is that Scripture, or the NT in particular, lacks an inspired table of contents. That's trivially true. However, that's the framing fallacy, where a disputant tries to frame an issue in artificially narrow terms. If you can't meet the objection on his terms, the disputant acts like you failed. But there can be equivalent ways to meet the condition, even assuming it's a reasonable demand. 

2. In addition, the objection commits the straw man fallacy. Sola scriptura doesn't rule out the use of supplementary extrabiblical information to identify the canon. That's no more inconsistent with sola Scriptura than eyewitnesses to Jesus using their fallible senses to I.D. Jesus. 

3. Apropos (2), the "traditions" we use to help establish the canon are not for the most part Roman Catholic traditions. For instance, how many of the church fathers were Roman Catholic? Was Papias? Ignatius? Justin Martyr? Tertullian? Athanasius? Eusebius? Basil? Origen? Irenaeus? Ephrem? Chrysostom?

Was Ambrose Roman Catholic? Did the pope make Ambrose a bishop? Did the pope make Cyprian a bishop? 

To the extent that Protestant scholars cite patristic testimony to supplement their case for the NT canon, that doesn't imply any commitment to Roman Catholicism. Most-all  of the patristic testimony for the NT is independent of the Roman Catholic church. 

4. That said, what do the books of the NT say about themselves? To what extent is it possible to compile an inspired table of contents from the authorial attribution in the text of the NT documents? Look at how NT books are introduced: 

According to Matthew
According to Mark
According to Luke
According to John

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God [Acts]

It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus [Luke's Gospel].

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle...To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus...To the church of God that is in Corinth [1 Cor].

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia [2 Cor]

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father...To the churches of Galatia.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...To the saints who are in Ephesus.

Paul...To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.

Paul...To the church of the Thessalonians [1 Thes].

Paul...To the church of the Thessalonians [2 Thes].

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope...To Timothy [1 Tim]

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus...To Timothy [2 Tim].

Paul, a servant[a] of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ...To Titus.

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus...To Philemon.

You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon [Hebrews]

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia [1 Pet].

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ [2 Pet].

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.

5. In addition, the NT provides further background information about the stated authors to assist in the process of identification , viz.

Mt 10:2-4
Mt 13:55

Mk 3:17-18
Mk 6:3

Lk 6:14-16

Acts 1:13
Acts 12:12
Acts 12:25

Gal 1:19
Gal 2:9

Col 4:10
Col 4:14

2 Tim 4:11
Philemon 1:24

6. Taking stock, most of the NT writings identify the author in the text. Although Hebrews is formally anonymous, Heb 13:23 flags the author as a member of the Pauline circle. 

1-John are formally anonymous. But in terms of content, they're demonstrably by the same hand as the author of the Fourth Gospel. 

Scholars like Hengel and Bauckham have presented solid arguments for the originality of the Gospel titles. 

There's some dispute about whether the destination in Ephesians reflects the original text. That's defended by commentators like Hoehner and Baugh. But even if it's a scribal addition, the original text still states the authorship of the letter. 

So when we tally the internal evidence for the NT canon, it's pretty easy to compile an inspired table of contents. 

8. A Catholic apologist might object that this relies on the authenticity of the self-attributions. That, however, is shifting the goal post. He asked for an inspired table of contents. Since, by his own admission, the NT writings in question are divinely inspired, if we can derive a table of contents from the self-attributions, then that amounts to an inspired table of contents. His challenge was met. 

While it's relevant to consider evidence for the authenticity of the self-attributions, that's a different issue. And there's evidence for that.

9. Some OT books are anonymous. But the NT vouches for many OT books. And, once again, sola Scriptura doesn't preclude the use of Jewish tradition to supplement the Biblical attestations. 

10. A Catholic apologist might object that apocryphal works (e.g. The Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas) lay claim to apostolic authorship. But once again, that's moving the goal post. Since he doesn't think apocryphal works are inspired, their existence isn't comparable to the NT. Moreover, the apocryphal works are too late to be written by the purported authors. 


  1. I always wonder where the inspired "Table of Contents" for what constitutes infallible RC "Tradition" or ex cathedra teachings is. If the Church really is an ongoing oracle of revelation, the least it could do is give us that.

    1. I think my comment got lost, but I tried to make a similar comment.

      I was thinking of a saying James White likes to use: canon is an artifact of revelation, not revelation itself.

      So I don't think there's any Catholic who would say the canon is revelation itself, but I think they'll call it tradition. But it's not tradition in any sense of some apostle gave us a list of books.

      It's just the people of God recognizing Scripture, just like the Old Testament people of God.

  2. Also, given Catholic apologists' general adoption of an idea of "development" in the style of John Henry Newman, can they be sure that the list itself can't/won't undergo future development? Maybe the existing list is only the list for the church's current stage of life? Might the Magisterium pen a 67th book later on?

  3. Well for catholics itd be 74 not 67. But that aside, catholics are always shifting the goalposts. There are in fact very few infallible pronouncements that can be seen in catholic history. As such the catholic willreadily dismiss statements from the pope,bishops etc because their statements didnt meet the contrived creiteria for infallibility. How then is the catholic to navigate their way safely through the minefield of rcc blunders? With an inspired table of contents of church writings? Hardly. They interpret according to the presuppositions that they hold dear. Put trent horn in a room with gerry matatics and robert sungenis and see the "unity" that comes out of that little gathering.