A defender of Catholicism took issue with some things that I had written in Who Stole Those Books?. His first issue was with these comments:
Let's face it. Some pretty important folks in the early church did not accept the Apocrypha as canonical. People like Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Melito of Sardis, Origen, Philo, Josephus and Athanasius. In that there are no contemporary copies of the Septuagent extant, there is no way to tell whether those ancient Jewish translators indeed did include the Apocryphal books in their canon, or whether they were included as supplemental reading. We have no way to know if some pious scriveners didn't simply add the books in a burst of religious enthusiasm.
The Romanist had this to say:
While Protestants LOVE to speak about the canonicity of the "Apocrypha", they rarely…if ever…speak of the canonicity of the New Testament Books and the similar controversies with them. Not everyone in the early Church agreed upon what should be included in the New Testament.
He then referred me to one of the Catholic apologetics sites that litter the Web. I suppose he is not aware that I likely have seen everything ever posted on any of these sites as the information has been copied and pasted to me at least a bazillion times. No reason to go there. I can read the RCC mantras in my own email archives. His next issue was with these words of mine:
I don't think anyone stole them after the Reformation. I believe the Scriptures simply were restored to their proper order and makeup in the Canon of Scripture established by the original Author Who gave them to us, the Lord God Himself.
At this point, the Catholic took off his gloves and pulled his big gun. It has been my observation that in their engagements with me, RCC apologists tend to focus on a single issue; attempting to force anything I might mention to address this issue. For example, were the apologist's issue of the day the pope's ring, then every word of mine would be re-directed to address the pope's ring. I might comment, "Today, the sun is shining brightly," to which my Catholic antagonist might reply, "Yes, doesn't it sparkle on the pope's ring?" You get the idea. This guy's issue of the day appeared to be the date the Canon of Scripture was established. (Psst. We soon discover what his REAL issue was.) He wrote:
Just once I'd LOVE for a Protestant to pick a date when the "true" canon was finally established. For the KJVers, it'd be 16ll AD! At least Trent has that beat.
Fact is, for a Protestant to pick ANY date for establishment of the canon would be FATAL to Sola Scriptura. That's why they only attack the Apocrypha and the alleged Catholic "additions," yet never show when the "true" canon was compiled.
My reply was not what he wanted to see.
It is not possible to pinpoint the date when the Canon of Scripture was closed, for we don't have an exact date for when John finished writing his Revelation.
The very best I can do is to declare, firmly and forcefully, that God closed the Canon of HIS Scripture when the Apostle John set down his brush after forming the words translated as "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all." (per 21st edition of Nestle's Novum Testamentum Graece.)
I cannot and will not speak for anyone but myself. I have never written anything disputing the New Testament Canon because I do not disagree with that canon as held by Catholicism. Why fight a battle that needs no fighting?
The Romish apologist expressed his displeasure, a bit peevishly, I thought:
Ron, let's not play games, please. I feel we're playing words games with "closed".
I explained myself:
Not at all. This is not a game with me. The issue is not a game, but a failure to have established a common vocabulary for our exchanges. For you, I imagine, the Canon of Scripture was closed on April 8, 1546, when the bishops gathered in the 4th session of the Council of Trent defined the Canon of Scripture for the RCC. I don't have any trouble with that. It cannot be denied that that was the date when the Church of Rome stamped her approval on the Canon according to Rome. It should be noted that earlier councils had also defined the Canon of Scripture for Catholic readers. The Council of Florence, for example, defined the Catholic Canon in 1441.
I believe that the Canon of Scripture has existed since John's last stroke of the brush as he wrote the book we call Revelation. That Canon of Scripture has always been known to its Author, the Lord God Almighty. That it was not recognized by men, whether assembled at Trent or in some other place, until centuries later changes nothing. God closed the Canon when the Holy Spirit had finished his inspiration of John.
I believe this is one of the issues that clutters the field between the Catholic and the non-Catholic camps on this issue: Catholics seem to think that the Canon of Scripture was not determined/closed until Mother Church had stamped her seal of approval on it. I believe--you should be aware by now that I prefer not to speak for all professing Christians when defining what I believe--that the Canon was closed when God's inspirational work was completed. It is not terribly important to me to be able to fix a date when man gave his stamp of approval to God's finished work.
The Romanist pressed for me to pin down a date. Since I would not be budged from my stand that the Canon was closed when John set down his pen, the Catholic re-phrased his demand. I hasten to point out that I consider what he did remarkable, in that I have rarely interacted with a competent RCC apologist who exhibited any degree of flexibility.
Let's agree that the Canon was "closed", i.e., all of the N.T. Books EXISTED, with the last book of the N.T. (presumably Revelation.). Let's say, for sake of argument, the year 90AD.
It is a self-evident fact that all the N.T. books "existed" upon "completion" of the last.
Now, what I'm asking is the date the Church RECOGNIZED what documents, of all those floating around vying for inclusion, consisted of the TRUE canon...when it was compiled.
Seeking to match his accommodating adjustment, I accepted the date he had suggested. Why not? We don't have any firm data pointing to the precise moment in time when John finished; AD 90 seemed to be in the ball park.
AD 90 is good for me, though I would be more comfortable with a date in the mid-90's. I really do not believe fixing a date is all that significant. More significant to me is a working definition of "Church." For you, I should imagine, "Church" must always refer to the entity that grew out of the primitive Christian Church into the billion-member organization today called the Roman Catholic Church. For me, "Church" refers to that body of true believers, living or passed, who make up the Body of Christ. In my understanding, these were and are to be found scattered among the multitude of local or denominational communions that have existed since the day the Church expanded beyond the walls of Jerusalem. In my understanding, the Roman Catholic Church is just another of those denominational communions. Not every member of every assembly can be assured of inclusion in the Body of Christ simply by virtue of membership, nor can anyone be assured of exclusion from the Body by virtue of nonmembership in a denomination. This is what I believe.
The Catholic identified the canon he was referring to:
I'm not speaking of some "hidden", unrecognized canon...as you speak of the "Church".
I seized the opportunity and climbed up on my soapbox to beat one of my favorite drums:
Here, in microcosm, I believe we see why ecumenism cannot work. In order to meet and dialogue meaningfully, non-Catholics are expected to abandon our beliefs in order to meet with Catholics who are unwilling to make any concessions to non-Catholic beliefs. In other words, ecumenism is a one-way street whereon traffic moves only toward the Catholic fortress.
Let me make it as plain as I am able. I firmly declare and define that the one authentic Canon of Scripture is that determined by God, its Author. I believe that the inspired books of that Canon were revealed to mankind through the labors of scholars and theologians whose efforts were illuminated by the Holy Spirit. I believe that those books determined to be canonical by both Catholic and non-Catholic Bible scholars gathered in councils to make the determination are indeed canonical. I believe that those books not mutually agreed upon by Catholic and non-Catholic scholars in council are not canonical. I really could not care less when men placed their stamps of approval on God's work. The canon I have received into my hands in my lifetime is, as far as I am concerned THE Canon of Scripture. How much more plain shall I make it?
My antagonist sure did want me to pick a date. I suppose that, in his program to move the discussion to the point he wished it to reach, he considered it imperative that I provide him a date that he might use as a linchpin
Pick a date, Ron. Do you contend that upon completion of Revelation the Church recognized the N.T. canon as it exists today?
I can be accommodating too. I expressed my willingness to pick any date the guy wanted. After all, he only appeared interested in my acknowledging when the RCC settled the canon for its membership.
What date would you like? AD 382 for Rome? How about AD 401, when Innocent I identified the canonical books in his epistle to Exuperius? If you prefer, I will agree to AD 1546, when the bishops gathered in Trent defined the Canon of Scripture for the Roman Catholic Church. I do not believe I ever have contended that the Church (your definition) recognized the Canon of Scripture immediately John finished writing Revelation. My contention has ever been that the Canon was complete from that moment, whether the Tridentine Council or any other assembly or individual acknowledged it.
Perhaps the watershed issue is who, or what, we each accept as final and determining authority. Your authority for the Canon of Scripture certainly appears to be the Roman Catholic Church, through her bishops assembled at Trent. My final and determining Authority is God. You trust that your Church gave you the Canon. I believe that God made the Canon known to me through the agency of those whose deliberations He illuminated. In other words, I am the beneficiary of the scholarly labors of gifted men.
If you want a date when I personally acknowledged the Canon of Scripture, it was August 15, 1987, the date of my re-birth. And that is reality also.
The Catholic once again demonstrated that willingness to adjust, if only a little bit, his argument that distinguishes him, in my mind, from the run of the mill RCC apologists I have dealt with.
I may have poorly worded my point, but I believe you understand what I'm getting at.
Yes, maybe I mean "compiled"...not "completed.
And so I started banging my pet drum again.
And that's what it boils down to, isn't it? We are approaching the issue from two widely separated vantage points. We experience difficulty when attempting to communicate because of our disparate points of view. Given that accord might only be possibly were I to abandon my deeply held convictions, I fear we never shall meet on level ground.
It was at this point that the Romanist cleared his gun ports and fired his first broadside.
This is the Achilles heel of Sola Scriptura, for putting compilation of the canon on ANY timeline is fatal.
That's why I've never seen any Protestant do it.
I trundled out a gun of my own:
And now we segue to the Sola Scriptura thing, which is but another example of miscommunication. I have yet to encounter a Catholic apologist who appears to have even a rudimentary understanding of what Sola Scriptura is and is not. I have explained again and again. I have no desire to go through it all again. Instead, I suggest you read a book that will explain it for you. James White's The Roman Catholic Controversy is a good choice. Sola Scriptura is explained in detail in Chapter 5.
If you've never seen any Protestant do it, that must be because you haven't read enough of my writings. I do it all the time -- just as I have done it above. Acknowledging that the Roman Catholic Bishops defined the Canon of Scripture for the Roman Catholic Church in 1546 in no way injures my personal systematic theology, nor does it weaken my stand on Sola Scriptura.
In my estimation, this whole issue is in reality nothing more than an attempt to find a fulcrum that Catholic apologists might use in their labors to move the central focus of non-Catholic Christians from faith in God to faith in Rome. It may work with some, but it will not work with me. I am standing on the Rock, and I will not be moved.
With that said, I ended my participation on that thread.