On The Canon Of Scripture

Those who engage in apologetic discussions with those who would defend the Catholic faith sooner or later are likely to be informed that “It was the Catholic Church who gave you the Canon of Scripture.” The implication here is that, without the intervention of the Catholic Magisterium, there would be no authentic collection of inspired writings that we know as the Bible. This, of course, is utterly in error for Catholicism did not give us the Scriptures nor any other sacred writings. The inspired scrolls that comprise the Canon of Scripture were given by God through the instrumentalities of men chosen by Him to commit His words to human writing.

When a Catholic apologist declares that the Catholic Church gave us the Canon of Scripture, he is evidencing a personal misunderstanding of the teaching of the Roman Church. What the RCC indeed teaches is that her Magisterium discerned which of the many documents that existed from antiquity were divinely inspired and merited consideration as Sacred Scripture. The current teaching reads:

120. "It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books.[Cf. DV 8 # 3.] This complete list is called the Canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New.[Cf. DS 179; 1334-1336; 1501-1504.]. . .Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc., p. 34

It took a while for Mama Church to figure out which writings made up the Catholic version of the Canon of Scripture. In fact, though there were a number of earlier efforts to establish the Canon, it was not until the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent (April 8, 1546) that the Catholic Canon of Scripture was infallibly defined. (Denzinger 783-84). Even then, after some 1200 years of Romish control of what had been the Christian church, the bishops couldn’t get it right. Ignoring the opinions of early Bible scholars such as Jerome, Trent included the Apocrypha in their canon, something that the Jewish custodians of the Old Testament Scriptures had never done.

More than a decade ago, my friend Tim Kauffman, Bible scholar and published theologian, was involved in a brief exchange with a Catholic apologist concerning the Origins of the Canon. This exchange appeared on an earlier incarnation of the Proclaiming The Gospel message board. I re-post it here for the edification of all. The Catholic apologist’s words are in brown.

The Origin of the Canon

Posted by Timothy F. Kauffman on 18 February 1998.

[The Catholic] wrote:

"The Bible wasn't finished being written yet in the first century - it didn't get finished until about the year 100 A.D. Thus the apostles couldn't give us canonical lists of the Testaments."

There is some dispute on the matter of the time when the New Testament was written. Based on some investigation, I have concluded that the New Testament was finished no later than about 68 A.D., or just before Jerusalem was sacked by Rome. Even so, if the New Testament was finished around 100 AD--even if the Apostles couldn't give a canon because it was still being written--that still leaves about 285 years when the canon could have been published by the Church, but was not. Why did it take the Church another 285 years to provide a canon, and then another 1200 years to provide one infallibly? But that question is admittedly rhetorical, and assumes that the canon can only be defined by the Church itself.

What is of interest I think, is that Origen made reference to the canon as early as the mid-200s AD, decades before the Councils of Hippo, Carthage and Rome did. He wrote:

"No one should use for the proof of doctrine books not included among the canonized Scriptures." (Origen (185-254 AD), Commentary on Matthew, 28).

I don't know what Scripture Origen used to prove his position. Nonetheless, he was (and still is) considered orthodox, in spite of his view on Sola Scriptura.

But how did Origen know which books were in the canon if the Church had not yet ruled on which books were in the canon? To merely say "because the Church told him" is not enough, since there had not even been any infallible ecumenical councils at which the Church could have done so.

Earlier in this thread [the Catholic] had written:

"I demand that you abide by the stated rules of the board and that you quote the Scripture which supports the belief that we should quote Scripture to support beliefs and opinions."

Very well.

"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20).

The perceptive observer may note that four verses earlier, Isaiah indicated that the "testimony" to which he referred in verse 20, is that "testimony" which was written on the scroll:

"Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples." (Isaiah 8:16).

Thus, at least Isaiah believed in Sola Scriptura, but I don't know which verse he used to support that position, either.

Tim Kauffman

"That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it." (Isaiah 45:6-8)..

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