Concerning the Canon of Scripture

What follows are the final posts from an online exchange that had been going on for two days. It began when a Catholic boasted that the Roman Catholic Church had given us the Bible and demanded to be told the exact date when the “Protestant” Canon of Scripture was settled. I and a few other Christian participants responded by pointing out that the Catholic Church indeed did not give us the Bible. Arguing that it was God who settled the Canon of Scripture, the consensus response was that the Canon was closed when John finished writing his Revelation. These responses were not what the Catholic was looking for, as the following second-day exchanges demonstrate. In reading, note that my antagonist “adjusted” his demand after every response.

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The Catholic Challenge: I have not been asking for the date my Church settled its canon for Catholics. I was asking you for the date YOUR CANON was settled (KJV format/66 books). You have failed to answer my simple question and you misrepresent my thrust in your soap-box "end zone dance." I was gentle in my original thread with regard to how your original PTG post is misleading by reference to Early Church controversy over the Apocrypha. I'll now be more forceful.

IMO, it is a DELIBERATE MISREPRESENTATION for a Protestant to bring up early controversy over the Apocrypha without also bringing up the fact that there was controversy over the New Testament Canon. It is misleading because those reading your post will assume that the early Church always used the KJV format/66 books until some evil Pope came along and forced St. Jerome and the Church to "add" the Apocrypha to the KJV format.


That is the thrust of my post to you, which you are doing your best to avoid. Protestants love to throw out dates (often 1546, Trent) for establishment of the evil Catholic Canon. The implication, of course, is that their KJV format/66 book canon was in use prior to that.

Ron, show me the date YOUR CANON (KJV/66 Book format) was settled. Not the date(s) of the evil Catholic Canon. And no more games about how God knew the canon. I want to know when the Church recognized and used it.

A Third Party Intervenes: I think Ron made a very important point. You are trying to make him name a date so that you can come back and say Aha, the Roman church "gave" us the Bible. NO, it didn't. Ron pointed out that the Roman church canonized the books FOR HER church on such and such a date...Good for her but that was only her stamp of approval and means squat to us.

Why don't you go to that site he listed for the Coptic Church. There they have another link on the Bible...they say some interesting things which I would certainly agree with! You certainly can't call THEM "Protestant" KJV onlyist at that Coptic site!

They make a strong point that the canon of the Old Testament in the Jewish mind was settled prior to 70 AD. You might note in this Coptic site that the LOCAL Churches were "settling" the canon long before Rome put in her two cents.

My Response: I now do not doubt that your intention was to discover when I believe the so-called Protestant Canon of Scripture was settled. That is not what I understood from reading your original post. My understanding at that time was that you were seeking to establish, irrevocably, the position that it was the Roman Catholic Church that "gave" the Canon of Scripture to the world. I make no apology for having disappointed you, for your expectations were of your own creation. However, in that I failed to address your question in the sense you expected, I shall seek to redress that error now.

I hasten to point out that in my own case, I accepted the Canon of Scripture as it was on August 15, 1987 -- the date I was called out of Egypt and into the arms of Christ. Before that time, I did not accept the Bible as holy, inspired or the Word of God. Before that time, I did not believe there was a God. So, as far as I am personally concerned, that date is valid.

As for a "Protestant" (I really have trouble with that word) canon, I herewith provide my very best answer to the question of when it was established. Please bear in mind that there would have been no "Protestant" Canon prior to the Reformation, which began more or less when Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church, on October 31, 1517.

The first impulse to secession was supplied by the opposition of Luther in Germany and of Zwingli in German Switzerland to the promulgation by Leo X of an indulgence for contributions towards the building of the new St. Peter's at Rome. -- Kirsch, J.P. (1911). The Reformation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 10, 2008 from New Advent © 2008 by Kevin Knight

The earliest "Protestant" document I was able to come up with, and I imagine you would wish documentary evidence in support of my arguments, is the Belgic Confession, which can be dated to 1561. It is the work of a Dutch preacher, Guido de Bras, who was martyred during the reign of Philip II of Spain. In writing the Confession of Faith, de Bras drew a bit from a confession of faith written by John Calvin for the Reformed churches in France two years previously, but it truly was an independent work. The Confession was well-received by the churches in the Netherlands and was adopted by national synods convened during the final three decades of the 16th century. The text was revised in 1566 by a synod in Antwerp, and again by the Council of Dort, but the contents were untouched. The Council of Dort adopted the Belgic Confession as one of the doctrinal standards to which all office bearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe in 1618-19.

Article 4 of the Belgic Confession identifies the canonical books as follows:

Article 4: The Canonical Books

We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments. They are canonical books with which there can be no quarrel at all.

In the church of God the list is as follows: In the Old Testament, the five books of Moses-- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings; the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon; the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job; the Psalms of David; the three books of Solomon-- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song; the four major prophets-- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and then the other twelve minor prophets-- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

In the New Testament, the four gospels-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen letters of Paul-- to the Romans; the two letters to the Corinthians; to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; the two letters to the Thessalonians; the two letters to Timothy; to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews; the seven letters of the other apostles-- one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.

Some might argue that the Reformed (I like that better than Protestant, but I don't consider myself to fit into the Reformed/Calvinist classification) canon was first iterated by Calvin in that French Confession, but I do not have a copy, nor do I believe I could read that archaic French if I did. I don't know what it claims to be canonical.

I do not know that declaring the Belgic Confession as written by de Bras in 1561 to be the document/date combination that set the non-Catholic canon would satisfy the criteria of theologians or church historians. If it does, then that is the date of the Protestant Canon. If not, then perhaps the date of the Antwerp Synod (1566) might do. Or, perhaps one of the other local synods in the last third of the 16th century. Certainly they would be equally as valid for the non-Catholic Christian Church as were the local councils of Hippo (397), Carthage (397), Rome (382), etc., for the Roman Catholic Church.

If my Catholic readers are not willing to accept the authority of the Antwerp synod, which was a near contemporary of the Council held at Trent, then I must posit the Synod of Dort as my declaration to you of a date for the fixing of the non-Catholic Canon of Scripture, i.e., 1618-19.

John Calvin had this to say about the process of determining which writings are canonical:

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed; viz., that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they extort from the simple this one acknowledgment, viz., that there is nothing which the Church cannot do -- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christion Religion, Vol 1, Chap. 7, para 2

I offer this for your consideration. You and I approach many issues from diametrically-opposed positions. Please understand that I simply do not bring the same presuppositions to our exchanges that you do. I do not, for example, have a great need to set a date for when men set their stamp of approval on a list of books considered canonical. That is not significant to me. I cannot comprehend why it is so important to you or any Catholic. When I say that God closed the Canon of Scripture, I am not making jest or in any way belittling you. I sincerely and deeply believe that man no more can choose which books are canonical than can he create the sun, the moon or the stars.

Look at it this way, if you will. Ernest Hemingway wrote a number of books, articles and short stories. When he died, the canon of Ernest Hemingway was closed, and it included everything he ever wrote. Whether editors, publishers or heirs found all his works or not makes no difference to the content of the canon, which was fixed by Hemingway and not some other party. That is how I and, I imagine, a great many non-Catholic Christians look at the Canon of Scripture. In that I have no access to the ancient documents and that none of the originals have been found to exist, I must rely on the labors of others, scholars who have gone before, to have evaluated those ancient writings and, under the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, were able to determine those that indeed are canonical. And I trust in the Holy Spirit to alert me to non-canonical writings.

That is the way it is with me. Perhaps that is the way it is with many non-Catholic Christians. I do not look to men for infallible guidance -- not even in the identification of the canonical books. I rely on the labors of other men, scholars, prophets, churchmen, Apostles, etc., as helps to my studies and to know of the Lord and His ways. That infallible guidance that I look for comes from the Holy Spirit, Who I believe dwells within me and guides me to all understanding. I also look to the Lord God the Father and approach Him in prayer sometimes to seek illumination of His will and His Revelation. I try always to be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the answers to my prayers; however, I confess that I do at times fail to perceive that guidance, or to override it with my own arrogant understanding.

When I address an issue of Catholicism, I draw on the recollections of my experiences as a Catholic and the teaching I received some 50 years ago. To this, I might add a few experiences and exposure to Catholic doctrine in the very supportive Catholic classroom and church environment during my four years as a pro-life worker and educator, and that ended nearly 20 years ago. I bring my understanding of the many RCC documents and books that I own and that I find on the Internet. Mostly, however, what I bring to bear on the issue is my non-Catholic Christian understanding, faith, beliefs and values. I can no more shed those can you shed your ties to the Roman Catholic religion. In our dealings in this "second season" of ours, I have made an extra effort to accommodate what you bring to our exchanges -- within the limits of my own theology.

I intend to continue to dialogue with you for so long as we are able to do so in an amicable, if not loving, manner. I expect you to slip now and then, for I recognize your humanity and acknowledge that we all stumble at times. I pray the same consideration from you. You and I are not at war, though our religious convictions may be.

A Catholic Continuation: My purpose should have been evident by now: To show it is misleading for Protestants to bring up the Apocrypha, rejection by some ECF's, and the date of 1546 AD...but NOT MENTIONING that the New Testament Canon was also in dispute. IMO, the typical Protestant presentation gives the reader the false impression that a pristine Canon exactly like the KJV/66 Book existed from the end of the Apostles to the evil Pope who "added" the deuterocanonicals/apocrypha. My second purpose, stated throughout, was how one can have Sola Scriptura without even having a settled Canon.

I'm glad you finally provided an answer. Truthfully, providing the Belgic Confession took my breath away.

I've been doing a little research myself, and found this:

In 367 CE, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria gave the list of 27 New Testament books, for the first time without making any distinction of them and which now becomes our New Testament.

It is possible that St. Athanasius used something very similar to the Protestant Canon around the year 367. I base this on reading something (in addition to your material) to the effect that he also rejected the "apocrypha" of the O.T.

So your reference to the Belgic Confession or other Reformation Confessions is much later than what I might have given.

I Respond: I had included the list of canonical books by Anathansius, whom I consider to be a Church Father even as you do, as an early "reliable source". In that the canon proposed by Melito differed, I consider Athanasius' version to be an informed opinion, but not authoritative.

In that you stated clearly you wanted a date when the "Protestant" canon was set, my assumption was that you wanted something authoritative that came after Luther nailed his theses to that church door. I could not cite the canon according to Luther, because it was incomplete, though, like that of Melito, it had a lot of truth. That left only Calvin's French canon, which is not accessible to me, and the Belgic Confession.

In all sincerity, I am not terribly concerned with the date men made God's Revelation "official." That, I believe, was a root cause of the misunderstanding between us.

He Again “Adjusts” His Challenge: I was not looking for the date of the Protestant Canon after Luther and the Reformation.

I was looking for the earliest date anyone in the early Church used a canon EXACTLY LIKE that of the current Protestant Canon (I use the KJV/66 Book format as my example.)

My Final Response: Perhaps, when you have questions for me you might wish to state precisely what you want from me and then stick with it. For instance, had you asked for the earliest canon of Scripture that represented what "Protestants" came to accept as the canon, I would quite likely have stopped my first response when I had typed in Athanasius' canon in my first reply to you. I provided all the other possibilities because I wanted to give you a complete answer. When I gave you the Belgic Confession and what followed, it was because I sensed you thought I was playing a game (you said that), so I figured you were looking for the first "Protestant" canon, so I gave you that. Perhaps I am trying too hard.

The church cannot establish the canon and make it authoritative, but only recognize and proclaim it....A goldsmith who separates dross from gold or who seeks gold in ore sees the difference between the true and the false, but does not make the true either for himself or for us, so the church separates true canonical books from noncanonical and apocryphal, but does not make them canonical, nor can it give authority to books which do not have it in themselves, but proclaim the authority already present from the books themselves. -- (The Doctrine of Scripture, ed. and trans. by John W. Beardslee III; Baker:Grand Rapids,MI; 1981 [1688], pp.82,83) quoted in an eight-part study in Bibliology Part 5, The Canon of Scripture, a most informative source that is well-worth reading. © Victory Christian Center. This is the fifth of eight parts, which are well worth reading from the home page all the way through

With that, I conclude my fruitless exchange with you.

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