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July 26, 2010

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This is exactly how the Catholic Church knows that the apocryphal books ought to be in the canon.

At some point, though, human judgment is involved which is why there is still a discrepancy between the Catholic and Protestant branches of the Church. It is vital that Christians know how the Bible (with Apocrypha or without) came into being. My opinion is that many Christians believe subconsciously it just dropped out of the sky, fully bound in King James English. Usually, "inerrant in the original autographs" is the phrase used which makes all of our translations not necessarily inerrant in their present forms.

What is the difference between this explanation and "just 'cuz"?

Eric,
There's a difference between being confident "just 'cuz" and being confident because of a certain line of reasoning that you may or may not agree with.

Steve K,

Greg says to see this question as a subset of the question of inspiration. Then he says, "we hold that the Bible is inspired". He provides no line of reasoning to support this - he just asserts it here.

Q. Why should I believe that A is true?
A. Because A is included in B, and I claim that B is true.

If no justification is given for the claim that B is true (and none is given here) then the answer is not different from "just 'cuz".

The closest thing to a justification for this is when Greg says:

"If we have reason to believe that God has secured inerrent texts then we also, by the same rationale, (the sovereignty of god; the power of God) have the confidence that whatever texts that he did so inspire he also enabled his church to recognize."

But that's not an argument. It's just more assertion. The sovereignty and the power of God do not lead to a conclusion that any particular text is inspired. One could, without contradiction, accept the sovereignty and the power of God and still not believe that a certain text was inspired by God. What about the Book of Mormon, or the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita (which a Hindu friend assures me whas not inspired by God, but was written by God)? God's sovereignty and power would be consistent with these as well. So, how do we know that God's sovereignty and power mean the Biblical cannon is inspired, but these other texts are not? Just 'cuz.

Greg summarizes his "argument" at the end of the video:

"My confidence is that they settled on the canon somewhat in the same way that the individual writers settled on what they would write in the text".

He re-states his "confidence", but without any evidence or logical argument behind it.

(Any errors in transcription from the video are unintentional. Please correct if I have made a transcription error.)

Eric,

Then he says, "we hold that the Bible is inspired". He provides no line of reasoning to support this - he just asserts it here.

Like much of history, we hold this to be true today because, in part, it has been held that way early on in history. There's much more to it than that. Books have been written. See also my other comments below.

One could, without contradiction, accept the sovereignty and the power of God and still not believe that a certain text was inspired by God.

One could easily assert this. For the record, I do think that divine inspiration is a subjective experience but that it CAN play out in such a way as to fit experiences that others can experience - thus helping to validate it. The unfolding of history since the early acceptance that it was inspired gives us little reason to think differently. I would say the unfolding of history has helped to support the case for divine inspiration here. The totality of it all is what makes Christianity so compelling.

So, how do we know that God's sovereignty and power mean the Biblical cannon is inspired, but these other texts are not? Just 'cuz.

Your questions are good ones. They basically amount to asking the age-old question, how do you know which religion is true? The answer is a very long one, and not well suited for a blog post.

How about this argument (not originally my own. I don't know the reference) which isn't circular?

Historical works tell us there was a man named Jesus who claimed to be God.

Treating the "gospels" as purely historical and not inspired, we learn that Jesus said he would build His church on Peter and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (MT 16). Other Historical works by Paul also think the that the church is the "church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15)

There is great evidence and good reasons to believe that Jesus was resurrected by relying on historical works that 95-99% of historical scholars agree are trustworthy (credits to Habermas).

Since Jesus was trustworthy because he did rise again and it's reasonable to believe He is God, and He said he would build a Church on earth that the gates of hell would not prevail over, we can have confidence in the Church He founded.

The church Jesus founded claimed (with good reasons) what the New Testament Canon was in the 4th Century and claimed what the Old Testament Canon (46 books) was in the 4th and 5th century.

Each book that gets in the canon, gets in on the basis of its being inspired, not on the basis of the council that puts it in being inspired. Some, books, like the Gospels get in because good arguments exist (based on claims about the death and resurrection of Christ and on the nature of the theological claims made therein) that they are divinely inspired. Others get in because books like the Gospels provide tests for identifying other inspired works (principally, the test of apostolicity).

The early decisions of the early councils on the contents of the canon are to be respected, but not because of any extra-Biblical claim that the councils were themselves inspired. It's just that those men at that time were in a better epistemic position to make judgments about which books pass tests like the test of apostolicity. I am not here denying that our Provident God was involved in the canonization process, of course he was. What I'm saying is that we can have confidence in God's involvement because we can first have confidence that the canon does represent divinely inspired apostolic teaching.

Notice that the process of discovering which books belong in the canon is one where mistakes can be made. But there is also a means, at least in principle, of correcting those mistakes. It is also a process that allows, again, at least in principle, that the canon could be expanded: we could discover new books in clay jars somewhere. For example, there is some reason to think that Paul wrote a third letter to the church of Corinth. If that letter were found, and could be proven to really be from Paul, it goes into the canon. So the canon is, at least in principle, open.

With that said, the canonization process is now stabilized. While it is, at least in principle, possible that changes to the canon could be made in the future, it is very unlikely that any changes to the canon will be made in the future. Take the case of 3 Corinthians, it rests on some really huge 'ifs': if it were found, and if it could be proven to be Paul's. I don't expect these conditions ever ever to be met. (I'm not even sure what would count as proof of authorship at this point, so far removed from the original text.)

Thanks for your comment WisdomLover.

I am trying to understand your argument, and if it goes like I think it does, it seems problematic:

God inspired the scriptures.

Men (or at least men back in the 4th century and earlier) can recognize that the scriptures are inspired by God by using a standard to identify them.

God protected the canon by allowing men to use the right standard (? I think you're arguing this).

If this is your argument, and I can't be certain that it is, it seems to beg the question unless you're willing to offer what the standard is. What standard would you identify for a new testament book?

Also, to clarify, in my argument above I am not claiming that because the church that God founded said the books were inspired they magically became inspired. The books were certainly inspired before the council said so.
I am arguing that the church God founded is the only establishment that has the protection from error and the authority to proclaim what books do belong in the Canon.

eric beat me to it, so I'll just restate my point in a slightly different way than his.

How is Greg's argument not circular? We can trust that the Canon is the way God wanted it, that he superintended the selection of the books that went into it. But on what basis can we have such trust? On what basis should we think that God had a hand in choosing the books of the Canon? Because it says so, or is implied, in the Canon.

So the Canon is reliable and accurate because the Canon says its reliable and accurate.

Torgo,

So the Canon is reliable and accurate because the Canon says its reliable and accurate.

There was a reasoning process behind the original decision. That reasoning process being rooted in a confidence that certain people/reports were more trustworthy than others, a confidence in certain historical events and experiences taking place - both subjective and non-subjective - a confidence in the correct understanding of the culture, etc, etc, etc. We use similar reasoning today for arguing against including various non-Canonical books.

So no, it's not circular.

We're still suffering from Descartes' belief that one must have an indubitible starting point in order to have warrant in believing something.

Why sweat it? We have a Bible, the Church was involved with its canonicity, and its members had standards by which they made these judgments. The only way you can be sure that the standards and judgments were correct is if you believe the Holy Spirit was working in the Church to make sure the correct canon arose.

That does give some group of Christians a sort of magisterial status, whether we like it or not. And if they had that status then, was it the sort of thing that remained in the Church after that time? If not, then you're sort of ad hocing it.

It's interesting to note that as the canon develops in the first couple of centuries, developing alongside it are beliefs such as baptismal regeneration, apostolic succession, the Mass as sacrifice, etc. In fact, by the time you get to Nicea that's pretty much standard Christian practice. So, if you think the Holy Spirit was working in the Church then, and that Church had all that Catholic stuff, then why accept the Bible and not the Catholic stuff since nobody at the time thought the latter was inconsistent with the former?

This is a hard question and one that often leads people either to Rome or Constantinople.

My challenge to SteveK, or anyone who says there is a standard that was used, but is not relying on the authority of the church, is to name a standard that takes into account that the canon of the Bible:

    Contains books by Luke - Author doesn't have to be an Apostle.

    Contains Hebrews - Author doesn't have to be known.

    Contains Revelation - Doesn't have to contain information that is provable or even understandable.

With that in mind, what standard can you offer that doesn't allow for non-controversial epistles like those by Clement, but does include all the "books" of the New Testament Canon in its current form?

Without stating a standard, I believe the argument is either circular or begs the question.

Just wondering Greg, which "canon" are you speaking of that was agreed upon in what year and by whom?

SteveK wrote:

"There was a reasoning process behind the original decision. That reasoning process being rooted in a confidence that certain people/reports were more trustworthy than others, a confidence in certain historical events and experiences taking place - both subjective and non-subjective - a confidence in the correct understanding of the culture, etc, etc, etc. We use similar reasoning today for arguing against including various non-Canonical books.

So no, it's not circular."

No, that's not circular, but that wasn't all of Greg's argument. He gave the argument above, but also claimed that God had a hand in ensuring the right books made it into the canon. It's the latter claim I find circular.

3 reasons for having confidence in a 66-book Cannon:

1. The number and quality of early manuscripts for the 66 book Christian Canon far exceeds the manuscripts evidence of any other religion or Christian sect.
2. The Dead Sea scrolls function as a "time capsule" that demonstrate the Old Testament books were faithfully copied for 2000 years. No other canon possesses this evidence for the validity of its modern copies.
3. The fact that some books were disputed shows that the early Church was thoughtful and judicious about what to include. Such disputes indicate there was no mass-hypnosis, no mind-numbed acceptance, no powerful religious/political cartel was able to quietly force a particular, narrow Cannonical viewpoint on everyone else.

Do these reasons PROVE the 66-book Cannon is the inspired Word of God?

No, but they are consistent with a God who typically works both in and through nature, as described in Romans 1 or Psalm 8, and in the hearts of men as described in Romans 2 or Proverbs 8, to inform people of His existence and His concern for them.

These reasons are not circular, since they are extra-Biblical. They do not beg the question; they directly address why a person can have confidence in the 66-book Cannon even if there was controversy about which books to include.

Rich, I wanted to challenge your 66 cannon number if I may.

1. The Septuagint, which, when the new testament quotes the old testament, is used 80% of the time, had what Protestants call the "apocrypha", or the extra 6 books.
2. The Dead sea scrolls also contained the apocrypha, which would lend to 72-73 (depending on if you group Jeremiah-Lamentations or not) books in the bible, among other various works.
3. I agree with the point of being thoughtful and judicious. As you may know, after much debate, the first bible, the Latin Vulgate, contained the books of the apocrypha.

So my questions are. How do the dead sea scrolls tell us what books belong in the canon since they contained dozens of other works?
What is your opinion of the Latin Vulgate that St. Jerome completed in the 4th century?

Torgo

He gave the argument above, but also claimed that God had a hand in ensuring the right books made it into the canon.

This would be a subjective truth that not everyone would be expected to know first-hand, except those that know first-hand. Not that controversial on the surface since we are all exposed to this on a daily basis.

There are some things we know to be true that can't be demonstrated or reasoned to - yet they remain true. From the outside it looks as if all you have to offer is a circular argument. The outsider either accepts that you know 'X' with some measure of faith, or they do not.

I know my wife love me, but you'll have to take my word for it that I know it is true.

M.M.

Without stating a standard, I believe the argument is either circular or begs the question.

I'm advocating the standard of a reasonable line of thinking, which I briefly explained above. If you think it unreasonable, please explain.

SteveK,

Maybe so, but I don't think that's what Greg is arguing. He doesn't appear to be arguing for a properly basic belief a la Plantinga, which is what your wording sounds like. And besides, God ensuring that the canon is reliable seems far fetched as a properly basic belief.

I'll let you have the last word on this side issue, but would like to note that your wife loving you is in fact something I can verify empirically without simply taking your or her word for it. The only way you know she loves you is because of her words and deeds, and were I privy to the same information, I'd draw the same conclusion.

Torgo,
I'm not talking about properly basic knowledge. I'm talking about knowledge revealed and passed on.

your wife loving you is in fact something I can verify empirically without simply taking your or her word for it.
Not quite. If love is empirically verifiable than so is hate which then leads to empirically verifiable moral goodness. None of these things can be found in the laws of physics or chemistry, nor described in materialistic terms. You can't put love in a beaker, on a balance scale or under a microscope. You know them by other rational means.

Another thought...you could never recognize love empirically unless you FIRST knew what it was you were looking for (which is love).

The only way you know she loves you is because of her words and deeds, and were I privy to the same information, I'd draw the same conclusion.

Not the only way, but I get your meaning.

Oh, and if someone was privy to the information God had then they would know something God knows and they could pass it on to us.

MM-

Thanks for your reply.

It is not part of my argument that God protected the canon by making sure that men used the right standards for inclusion. (Though I happen to believe that that is true.)

Instead, I'm saying that there are some books, like the Gospels, that belong in the canon because we can argue directly for their inspiration. Even today, we can argue for their inspiration, though the early church was probably in a better position to do so.

These books express or imply tests for inclusion of other books in the canon. Most notably the test of apostolicity.

While we could, in principle, apply those tests today to add or remove books from the canon, we're simply not in a good enough position to do so, but the early councils were.

The important part of my claim is that the tests given in the inspired Gospels are then applied in an utterly mundane way to arrive at the canon.

Here's an analogy. Kierkegaard wrote under a variety of pseudonyms. There were over a dozen separate names that he wrote under. Now suppose that two other unpublished works are discovered that were written by Kiekegaard under two new pseudonyms. These discoveries prompt a number of 21st century writers to publish newly 'discovered' works of Kierkegaard under known or newly made up pseudonyms. In time, what was started as a clever (yet silly) affectation by a few Kierkegaard scholars becomes a serious problem generating real confusion about what Kierkegaard actually said. Finally, in 2050, the Soren Kierkegaard Research Centre (SKC) in Copenhagen calls a meeting to establish the Kierkegaard canon. The result comes to be called the AKC, or Authorized Kierkegaard Canon. It includes the originally published work of Kierkegaard and the two later discoveries. The standard for inclusion was simply: did Kierkegaard really write it.

Now let 1500 years pass. The world has lived through two more massive World Wars. Western civilization has been wiped out, but a new civilization has sprung up from the ashes. Many of the old works of the West are still honored in the new civilization. In particular, the works of Kierkegaard are highly honored. The pseudo-pseudonymous works are known, but the 2050 meeting called by the SKC is also known and the contents of the AKC are known.

Even in AD 3550, one wouldn't need to assume anything inspired about the proceedings of the SKC that led to the AKC. One would still be fully justified in saying that the true writings of Kierkegaard are in the AKC. This is true even though, in 3550 no one would be in a practical position anymore to make direct judgments about what should be counted as part of the Kierkegaard canon.

SteveK,

I know I said I'd let you have the last word, but . . . I don't necessarily want to debate this topic with you in depth, but I do want to be understood.

You write: "If love is empirically verifiable than so is hate which then leads to empirically verifiable moral goodness. None of these things can be found in the laws of physics or chemistry, nor described in materialistic terms. You can't put love in a beaker, on a balance scale or under a microscope. You know them by other rational means."

I'm not trying to reduce good, evil, etc. to materialistic causes. All I'm saying is that we know people's inner thoughts, feelings, etc. by inferring them from their actions and words. How else do I know my son is in pain except through his crying, his facial expression, etc.? How do I know my wife loves me and some stranger does not? Because my wife does certain things that the stranger doesn't do. I don't thinks this is a controversial claim. What your proposing may be a mix of empirical evidence and rational reflection on that evidence to infer certain things about the interior mental states of a person. And that's the same things I'm saying. If that's not what you mean, then are you claiming we have some supernatural sixth sense for such things?

Next: "Oh, and if someone was privy to the information God had then they would know something God knows and they could pass it on to us."

True, but how could we distinguish such knowledge from delusion? How does one know that such knowledge is genuine? How does the knower know this, and how does the person he tells know this?

SteveK,

What of my original complaint: That invoking God to claim the Canon is reliable is circular?

Torgo,

I'm not trying to reduce good, evil, etc. to materialistic causes. All I'm saying is that we know people's inner thoughts, feelings, etc. by inferring them from their actions and words.

We do.
How else do I know my son is in pain except through his crying, his facial expression, etc.?

He could write you a letter or communicate to you through a friend.
How do I know my wife loves me and some stranger does not? Because my wife does certain things that the stranger doesn't do. I don't thinks this is a controversial claim.

Not controversial at all except I was trying to get you to see that 'knowing' goes well beyond what you can see and hear. See my last paragraph for an example of this.
What your proposing may be a mix of empirical evidence and rational reflection on that evidence to infer certain things about the interior mental states of a person. And that's the same things I'm saying. If that's not what you mean, then are you claiming we have some supernatural sixth sense for such things?

I am a Christian so I do believe in the supernatural soul. Don't know if that qualifies as a sixth sense.
Next: "Oh, and if someone was privy to the information God had then they would know something God knows and they could pass it on to us."
True, but how could we distinguish such knowledge from delusion? How does one know that such knowledge is genuine? How does the knower know this, and how does the person he tells know this

Knowledge = Justified true belief.

Don't answer this here, just asking you to think about this. Ask yourself how it is you know your thoughts belong to Torgo, and that you're not deluded into thinking they are? How do you distinguish?

You can't access your thoughts via your 5 senses, yet somehow you do know a lot about them. You know they are there, know their contents and know they are not the thoughts of someone else. You are very justified in saying you know a lot about your thoughts, but on what basis can you say that? Certainly it's not on the basis of seeing, touching, hearing, tasting or smelling.

I've enjoyed the conversation. Cheers!

MM:
Thanks!

1. I referenced the 66 book Canon as a baseline on which Protestants and Catholics both agree. Just thinking as minimalist.
2. The Vulgate would fall into the same category as any translation--useful, but not to be taken as inerrant.

Greg's original point was that since God inspired the originals, God can preserve the copies.

I will simply point out that: a) We don't know how inspiration of Scripture worked, and b) We don't know how preservation of Scripture works. It appears that both involve God working through/motivating/directing people in some ill-defined way. Even so, faith that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is not a blind leap--it is based on reason and historical evidence.

Its great to see that people are sharing quite profitable information with each other and now we can move our selves to a new era.

Perhaps I'm moving away from the central issue, but I think it is important to note the 2 criteria which the early church applied to determine the NT canon:

1) The book had to be written directly by an Apostle, called by Jesus to his apostleship.
2) Or if not written directly by an Apostle, it had to be a book authorised by an Apostle or with an Apostle in the background as primary source for the book.

Thus I think the fact that a few NT books were controversial for a long time in the early church until the final fixing of the canon in the 4th century is a sign of how careful the church was: the reason Hebrews was controversial was that nobody could say who had written it, and 2 Peter was so controversial because the early church were just not sure if Peter was the author or not.

In the end these texts gained admission into canon because the theological content was so convincing to the early church. Nevertheless, the long controversy suggests that the church was extremely careful and really only wanted to limit the canon to those books where they were sure an Apostle had written or sponsored them directly.

Hi Marcus,

You wrote:


Thus I think the fact that a few NT books were controversial for a long time in the early church until the final fixing of the canon in the 4th century is a sign of how careful the church was:

To which 4th century canon do you refer?

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