Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arminius answers Beckwith

Frank states: Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-Biblical theological knowledge. (link)

Arminius responds:

But by the very arguments by which the Scriptures are Divine, they are also [proved to be] Canonical, from the method and end of their composition, as containing the rule of our faith, charity, hope, and of the whole of our living. For they are given for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for correction, and for consolation; that is, that they may be the rule of truth and falsehood to our understanding, of good and evil to our affections, either to do and to omit, or to have and to want. (Deut. xxvii, 26; Psalm cxix, 105,106; Rom. x, 8, 17; Matt. xxii, 37-40; 2 Tim. iii, 16; Rom. xv, 4.) For as they are Divine because given by God, not because they are "received from men;" so they are canonical, and are so called in an active sense, because they prescribe a Canon or rule, and not passively, because they are reckoned for a Canon, or because they are taken into the Canon. So far indeed is the Church from rendering them authentic or canonical, that no assemblage or congregation of men can come under the name of a Church, unless they account the Scriptures authentic and canonical with regard to the sum or substance of the Law and Gospel. (Gal. vi, 16; 1 Tim. vi, 3, 4; Rom. xvi, 17; x, 8-10, 14-17.) (link)

Beckwith’s challenge should be broken down into two parts: 1) where does the cannon come from and 2) how do we know what the cannon is? Each specific book declares itself to be God’s word, so God made the cannon that we are required to hold to. We know a book to be God’s word by its self assertion of authority, moral excellence, theological excellence, internal consistency and acceptance by God’s people. As soon as we know a book to be God’s word, we know it to be canonical. So our cannon of scripture is derived from scripture alone.

Beckwith’s arguments is self-defeating. If we cannot recognize God’s word, then we cannot have a cannon; it doesn’t matter if the word is supposedly written or spoken via the Pope. Since the books themselves tell us they are God’s word, they were God’s word and a cannon before Trent. Further, the church didn’t have to wait around for over a thousand years for the pope to tell them they are God’s word.


pchurcher87 said...

The problem we have is it's great to acknowledge what books are from God and therefore Canonical but the question is how. I agree with you that each book in the canon proves itself to be from God (although not for the reasons you state) but does that mean you hold the canon to be open?

For example a book called 'The Shepard of Hermas' was extremely popular before the established canon but was left out mainly because it wasn't written by an apostle (although we now know that most of what we thought was, wasn't anyway). Should that be added back in then?

I think the point Frank was trying to make is that we say that we should live according to scripture alone but in reality the scripture we have established didn't come about by that criteria, even if you argue that it could have.

This is not to say that the doctrine is wrong but rather that we must (as indeed the reformers did) understand it properly and be aware that although our theology does arrive from scripture alone ultimately, there are other factors that play a part in that such as culture, tradition and most importantly the Holy Spirit.

God Bless!

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Pchurcher,

Whatever factors are involved in making the determination, either we can determine what is God’s word, or we cannot. Frank, in an effort to overemphasize that he thinks the Church can infallibly know, ends up saying we cannot know. That’s the issue.

Now I agree with you that defining ‘the test’ is difficult; at least for some books (others being obvious). The Shepard of Hermas passed some, but not all parts of ‘the test’ and some books like Hebrews barely passed. But the simple fact that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looked at various books to determine which should be in and which should be out moves against Frank’s argument, because the Church did use the books to determine the cannon.

God be with you,

MikeB said...

The canon problem is an interesting one especially given the history of the process.

So we ask a good question - how do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are the "right books"? Even the early church seemed to struggle with this.

If we as Protestants are going to assert that the canon (the list of books) is infallible then I would ask what that is based on? Dr. Beckwith seems to argue rightly that we do not have an explicit promise or revelation from God about which of the books belong.

One problem I see is that if the Holy Spirit did reveal the canon then did He do this only in regards to the NT books? All the early lists that we know of that contain only the 27 books of the NT we accept today – Athanasius, Council Hippo/Carthage - contain the Apocrypha in the OT. We don't accept these books.

That (among other historical factors) lead me to accept a fallible canon with infallible books.

Godismyjudge said...

If we as Protestants are going to assert that the canon (the list of books) is infallible then I would ask what that is based on?

Objectivly, the cannon is infallible, since each book declares itself to be the word of God. Subjectivly, we don't have to be infallible, when declaring these books are God's word. We just have to be right.

The debates over the cannon show actually favor this approach. The Fathers didn't view themselves as infallible.

God be with you,

Odeliya said...

I agree with Dan.Interesting issue, for sure..

Indeed, when reading infallible text we, as humans, as perfectly capable to interpret it the wrong way;)

variety of often diametrically opposed to each other interpretations of the same Biblical text undoubtedly proves it.

Thats why I, for one, don't really worry about what kind of sausage making process was involved in nominating books for canon, and why some books made it and some didn't. God can guide us to proper understanding even thru means of not-so-perfect books.