Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Canonical Dilemma II

Recapping the previous blog: as an evangelical protestant I have taken for granted the formation of the sole foundation of my faith—the Bible. As an evangelical protestant I have hypocritically disdained tradition/oral tradition. Why is this hypocritical? Because as I mentioned yesterday, Jesus, the One upon which Christianity is based, never gave me, nor any of His early followers a list of canonical books. In fact, the recountings of Jesus life, the gospels, were written after the majority of the New Testament. So, inadvertently in my ignorance, I have relied on tradition, actions of men, to decipher what writings belong in the book I call the Bible. I will be focusing on the two main streams of Christianity and their canons: Protestantism and Catholicism (hereafter, RCC).

There are two preconceived ideas on canonization that may be false:

1) Martin Luther wished to purge the RCC of
practices that were clearly unbiblical, i.e. praying for the dead. The
RCC, in order to justify these practices added books to the canon at the Council
of Trent to justify such practices. 2 Maccabees 12:38-46 justifies praying
for the dead. How many times have you heard that the RCC canon has “extra”
books. Josh McDowell on this subject: It cannot be overemphasized
that the Roman Catholic Church itself did not officially declare these books
Holy Scripture until 1545-1563 at the Council of Trent. The acceptance of
certain books in the apocrypha as canonical by the RCC was to a great extent a
reaction to the Protestant Reformation. By canonizing these books, they
were able to legitimize their reference to them in doctrinal
2) The early RCC decided to close the
canon and allow only the book of the Bible as they appear in the protestant
canon. Later, the RCC reneged and allowed the seven extra books to be

Books, volumes…libraries have been written on this subject. I will only be scratching the surface of this historical giant as I give a brief history of the formation of the canon up to Luther, and let me forewarn you, it will be disorganized.

Did a reactionary RCC have to defend their doctrine and thus canonize illegitimate books (Trent)? Well, the reactionary part is true. Isn’t this what councils always served as? Protestants (most) accept every council as God ordained. The reactionary Council of Nicaea had to settle Alexandrian schism between Arius and Athanasius. This council affirmed what the catholic church had always held as truth. Nicea did not “add” anything new to belief and practice. The function of Trent was exactly the same as Nicea. It did not add to the cannon, just affirmed that the cannon was not going to change for the RCC as it did for Luther.

So this seven book heavier canon existed before Trent? F.F. Bruce (conservative, evangelical, protestant scholar) in “The Canon of Scripture”
In 405 AD Pope Inocent I embodied a list of canonical books in a letter
addressed to Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse; it too included the
Apocrypha. The 6th Council of Carthage (419AD) Re-enacted the ruling of
the 3rd Council, again with the inclusion of the apocryphal
6th Council of Carthage repromulgated (in canon 24) the resolution of the 3rd
council regarding the canon of scripture, and added a note directing that the
resolution be sent to the bishop of Rome (Boniface I) and other Bishops:
‘Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to
other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon [canon 47
of the 3rd council], because we have received from our fathers that these books
which are to be read in church.

Now, let’s go to the Council of Florence…41 years BEFORE the birth of Martin Luther, 75 years BEFORE the Protestant Reformation. Here is what the council decreed before the hint of a schism arose:
This sacred ecumenical council of Florence…professes that one and
the same God is the author of the OT and the NT—that is, the law and the
prophets, and the gospel—since the saints of both testaments spoke under the
inspiration of the same Spirit. It accepts and venerates (see here Pete,
they VENERATE it. Because a controversy has not arisen like that of
Luther, there is no need for the church ‘canonize’) their books as
follows. Five books of Moses, namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
Deuteronomy; Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of kings [1&2 Samuel, 1&2
Kings], two of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms of
David, Proverbs, Ecclesiaties, Song of Songs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah,
Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezzekiel, Daniel; The 12 minor prophets and the 2 books of
Maccabees, (then they go on to name all 27 books of the NT.

The Synod of Hippo, also ruled pre-Luther in favor of these books as inspired and venerable. Are you noticing a pattern here? Just like the councils of Florence and Trent, the Synod of Hippo also included the “deuterocanonical” books as books of the “canon”. In case you are keeping track, this synod published its canon of Scripture 1,086 year BEFORE Luther was born, 1,120 years BEFORE he nailed his 95 Theses to Castle Church, and 1,149 years BEFORE the council of Trent that supposedly manipulated scripture to accommodate doctrine.

What about the Jewish OT…it doesn’t have the seven extra books.

However, one group of Jews rejected Jesus. The other group openly accepted Him as their Messiah and became members of the growing sect not yet termed Christianity. The Hebrew Canon of the majority of today’s Jews is the canon that was settled upon by a group of Rabbis meeing in Jamnia {or Javneh} in 90 AD (hmmm…pretty close to the explosion of Christianity). However, these rabbis were exclusively those who rejected Jesus. Keep in mind, MANY Christian Jews maintained their ties with their community and heritage. This same group also rejected the NT. At this same meeting all present were required to curse the name of Jesus Christ. The other group of Jews, Christians, ACCETPED THE DEUTEROCANONICAL BOOKS AS EQUALLY INSPIRED. This can be seen in their writings where they quote from these books and call them HOLY SCRIPTURE. This begs the question—“Do I look to the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees, who did not recognize the Incarnated Word of God when He walked in their midst? Do I trust these people to tell me what the inspired written word of God is? Or, do I trust the witness of the early church. Or, did God give Luther insight to save is Bride from unfaithfulness?

Love or hate the RCC, the institution can and, in my humble opinion, be seen as God’s tool for sustaining His people from 313 till, depending on your viewpoint, at least the day a passionate monk with grace flowing through his enraged veins nailed a series of theses to an unsuspecting church door. This institution is a witness. If I accept Nicea, I must at least consider Trent and the historical backdrop of its outcome.


Rob said...

"Isn’t this what councils always served as?"

Nate you are absolutley correct. Often times formal statements of orthodox belief are a result of the effort to clearly define them against a heretical uprising. You might even say that the cannonization of scripture itself is a process of this kind, specifically as it relates to the picture of Jesus in the 4 gospels, (because there were of course many others with differing views it was crucial to "set limits" for what Christians read about the historical Jesus)

I have the perfect book for you. It is right where your heart is at right now.

Whose Bible Is It? - Jaroslav Pelikan

Nate Watson said...

Thanks for the book recomendation. I agree with your statement, and thus revere the councils...but I also revere the work guidance in setting limits of men and women outside councils. After all there were only 21 church councils in 2 millenia, and plenty of individuals contibuting to the affirmative results before councils even commenced.