Thursday, May 19, 2011

Infallible Canon of Scripture

Steve Hays writes on Triablogue:

i) Catholics are fond of quoting Sproul’s adage about how the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books. They make a big deal about how the Bible doesn’t list its contents.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, this is misleading, so I won’t repeat myself here. Now I wish to make a different point.

Hays may wish to make a different point, but the point still remains that the Bible does not contain an infallible table of contents - on its own - the Church, specifically the Catholic Church, put it there.  Protestantism has removed several books from the infallible canon, but the FACT remains that THEY got THEIR canon FROM US!  Let us move on and see Hays’ “different point,” shall we?  

ii) Suppose the Bible came with a table of contents. An infallible list of the books comprising the Bible. How would a Catholic apologist respond? Would he withdraw his objection? I doubt it.

I imagine that he’d simply shift the goalpost. For he could always say, “How do you know the books listed in the table of contents correspond to the books in your edition of the Bible? How do you know those two go together?”

He’d then say that just goes to show that having an infallible book is useless unless you have infallible church to infallibly identify the book.

Well, let’s not get into Hays’ straw man factory here.  The simple answer is, the Catholic wouldn’t HAVE an objection to withdraw if Scripture somewhere, anywhere, listed the Canon of Sacred Scripture within it!  Again, all straw man arguments aside - Hays’ assertion of “I doubt it,” is groundlessly based upon an imaginary scenario which does not exist at all in reality.  Come back to the real world, Steve.

iii) However, this merely pushes back the problem which the Catholic posed for himself.

a) Trent has a list of books. Even if (arguendo) the list is infallible, how do we know what the list refers to? How do we infallibly match the books on the list with a corresponding set of books to which the list ostensibly refers? The list itself doesn’t single out a physical book.

After all, different books can go by the same title. Moreover, what if the title is spurious?

Well Mr. Hays is just flat out wrong (again) here.  The Canon of Sacred Scripture as infallibly delineated by the Council of Trent SPECIFICALLY states:
Moreover, the same holy council considering that not a little advantage will accrue to the Church of God if it be made known which of all the Latin editions of the sacred books now in circulation is to be regarded as authentic, ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.  (The Council of Trent, Session IV).
So the edition of the “old Latin Vulgate” is that which the Council of Trent declares to be THE volume of the Scriptures to be used by the Church.

b) Trent also mentions the Vulgate, but was there a uniform edition of the Vulgate? No. Was there an official, infallible edition of the Vulgate? No.

So to what edition of the Vulgate was Trent referring?

Simple, Mr. Hays, “the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years...”  Your denials aside, “the old Latin Vulgate Edition” is specifically stated.  Again, you are simply wrong.  

iv) One traditional line of evidence for the NT canon are patristic attributions. Church fathers attribute certain books to certain authors.

But the Catholic objection to the Protestant canon undercuts that appeal. Before we know that Irenaeus attributed a certain book to the Apostle John, we must know if the book attributed to Irenaeus is authentic. Is there an infallible list of which church fathers wrote which books?

Even assuming the writing attributed to a church father is authentic, how do we know the book he named in his writing denotes a book in our edition of the Bible?

Well, 1) the Church has told us which books are to be contained in Scripture and 2) we are in AGREEMENT over the New Testament Canon!  I smell a red herring.

v) And it’s not just the canon. Catholics also try to prooftext the papacy (among other things) from the church fathers. But where’s the infallible list of church fathers?

Ah yes, it is a red herring.  The discussion is not over an infallible list of Church Fathers or about the papacy, it is about an infallible list of Canonical Books of the Bible.

vi) Likewise, is there an infallible list of papal encyclicals? And even if there were, how do we know that the listed encyclicals refer to the same encyclicals that happen to go by that name? What if some encyclical by that name is misattributed?

Again, more diversionary tactics involved - but the simple answer is there is no “infallible list of papal encyclicals.”  Typically speaking, papal encyclicals are NOT infallible documents to begin with!  With as long as Mr. Hays has been an apologist opposing Catholicism one would THINK he would not blunder so badly as he has here.

Same thing with church councils. Is there an infallible list of church councils? And even if there were, how do we know what historical gathering that list refers to? How do we connect names on a piece of paper with historical events? The list itself doesn’t pick out the corresponding event.

And again, the discussion is not about Church councils and no, there is no “infallible list of Church councils.”  However, there IS consensus regarding which councils are considered to be ecumenical and dogmatic councils.  That being said, not EVERYTHING which comes even from these ecumenical councils are infallible statements!  The decrees from said councils are infallible, but not every word.

vii) Catholic apologists fondly claim the canon depends on the church. Yet when they try to prove the church, they act as if the church depends on the canon.

For instance, they try to prooftext the papacy from Mt 16. But if the church must first vouch for the canon, then how can a canonical book vouch for the church? If the church must establish the canon, then the same church can’t very well quote from a canonical book to establish the claims of the church.

Unless it already had a canon, independent of the church, it can’t use Mt 16 to prooftext the papacy. For the canon is supposedly a product of the very church that authorizes the canon. How can the church authorize the canon if the canon must authorize the church?

Mr. Hays has presented a false dilemma here.  Just because the Church can show proof of the papacy in Matthew 16 this does not make the canon authorizing the Church - that’s called a non sequitur.   The fact is Matthew 16 demonstrates that Jesus gave to St. Peter, and to St. Peter ALONE in this chapter, the authority to bind or loose whatsoever he chooses.  That authority is not only bound/loosed on earth - but bound/loosed in heaven - therefore this authority is, by its very nature, infallible authority - for nothing errant could be bound/loosed in heaven.  Now just because the Book of Matthew is also contained among the Canonical Books of Scripture, that doesn’t make the Church reliant upon the Canon.  Hays attempt to present a circular problem for the Church fails.

Catholics like to question the Protestant canon.

No, Catholics like to question where Protestantism got their canon!  We ask the question because we already know the answer - you got it from US!  Well, you got the New Testament from us - and the Old Testament you rely upon Jews who didn’t decide their canon until sometime AFTER Jesus was crucified.  The FACT is the Jews had TWO canons of Scripture at the time of Christ, the Palestinian Canon and the Alexandrian (Greek) Canon.  This article is not the place to discuss the two Jewish canons - but the truth is there are many very persuasive arguments that the canon used by Jesus and the Apostles was indeed the Greek or Alexandrian Canon - the same one the Catholic Church codified in the late 4th century - and some 1100 years later protesting Christians decided to go with the protesting Jews, who also rejected the Catholic Church.

But questions beget additional questions. They start asking questions, but they prematurely stop asking [I think he meant to say “answering” here] question(s). Yet answering the question by reference to the church doesn’t logically terminate the interrogative process. Questions don’t suddenly halt where Catholics come to a halt. Once you begin, the questions continue. The questions circle back on yourself.

Well, no, the questions do not circle back upon ourselves - we’re quite assured by the linearity of the arguments and answers we can and have provided.  Again, Mr. Hays' attempt to make our position circular has failed.


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