When building, begin from the ground up. Foundations come first. Walls, windows, ceilings, carpets, those things come later. This method of construction applies to buildings and blogging alike. Hence, in the response 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura, an anachronistic approach is necessary. It is also necessary then that there be some overlap as similar arguments and issues are tackled first. The next installment of the argument from the negative states:
“An ‘Extra-Biblical’ Authority Identified the Canon of the Bible.”
The point being, how can a Protestant believe the Bible is sufficient for the faith apart from any extra-biblical authorities, when the Protestant needed extra-biblical authorities to even know what the Bible is?
“Since the Bible did not come with an inspired table of contents, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura creates yet another dilemma: How can one know with certainty which books belong in the Bible – specifically, in the New Testament? The unadulterated fact is that one cannot know unless there is an authority outside the Bible which can tell him. Moreover, this authority must, by necessity, be infallible, since the possibility of error in identifying the canon of the Bible would mean that all believers run the risk of having the wrong books in their Bibles, a situation which would vitiate Sola Scriptura. But if there is such an infallible authority, then the doctrine of Sola Scriptura crumbles.”
First let’s deal with the “inspired table of contents” quip. This claim is meaningless, because even if God did inspire a canonical table of contents, Rome would challenge our ability to know it was inspired without her help. If we can’t know “1 Corinthians” is from God without Rome, why would she allow us to know “The Holy Table Of Contents” is from God without her help either? In fact, the author’s very next point is how one needs Rome to identify Canon, so from his perspective, an inspired Table of Contents would not solve anything: we would still need Rome to identify it.
Pressing forward, as has been said before, all ultimate standards are necessarily circular, but not all circles are created equal. Thus, this objection can be dealt with in two different responses:
- Our Canonization method breaks our own rule? So does yours.
- Our Canonization does not break our own rule.
Our Canonization method breaks our own rule? So does yours.
The claim is that an extra-biblical authority is needed to establish the authority of the Scriptures. Even granting that, if that disqualifies the notion, then we ought not to be Roman Catholics either, for they do the very same thing. How would one go about authenticating the authority of the Roman Church?
There are two options: The Papist could refer to the Church herself (circular) or he could not (extra-ecclesiastical). Rome could not validate the Church’s authority with Scripture because the entire claim is that the Church is first needed in order to know the canon of Scripture. And, Rome could not use history to validate the Church’s authority because that’s a fallible process. The author himself states,
“The unadulterated fact is that one cannot know unless there is an authority outside the Bible which can tell him. Moreover, this authority must, by necessity, be infallible, since the possibility of error in identifying the canon of the Bible (20) would mean that all believers run the risk of having the wrong books in their Bibles.”
No human history book is infallible. All history books (outside of the Bible) are written by fallible men, and read by fallible men. The absolute, infallible certainty the author demands requires an infallible source, and no history book is claimed by the Catholics to be that. In order to rightly understand written texts at all, one needs Rome’s “infallible” authority.
As it stands, the Bible and history books are off of the table, because Rome’s authority is needed to properly identify and interpret these things.
Lastly, the appeal cannot be made to any tradition for the same reasons: the Church alone has the authority to define and interpret tradition.
So, how does one possibly verify the Church without a circular argument: “the church says so.”
If our author validates the church’s authority any other way besides, “The Church has the authority because the Church says so!” he would be breaking his own rule. And, if he allows the Church to simply validate Herself, on what grounds does he take away the Scripture’s (which he agrees are inspired) ability to do so also? God’s Church can validate itself, but God’s Word cannot? I guess it is settled then! Clearly, that is an arbitrary distinction.
The author is forced to validate the church’s authority outside of herself, which means he is breaking the very logical rule he accuses Protestants of breaking.
Ours doesn’t break our rule.
The second problem is we do not, will not, and have never needed the Roman Catholic church to validate the Bible’s authority. That has already been dealt with here:
Who Gave Us the Bible Anyway?
The facts remain that this claim is biblically and historically not true; it is just a lie. To summarize, I will ask the same questions and make the same points as the last time we dealt with this:
How did the Jewish people know the Old Testament without an infallible Church? In other words, why did Jesus hold people accountable to knowing the Scriptures prior to the instillation of the Roman pontiff, giving them no Pope to tell them which books were inspired?
“Another historical fact very difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that it was none other than the Catholic Church which eventually identified and ratified the canon of the Bible. The three councils mentioned above were all councils of this Church. The Catholic Church gave its final, definitive, infallible definition of the Biblical canon a the Council of Trent in 1546 – naming the very same list of 73 books that had been included in the 4th century. If the Catholic Church is able, then, to render an authoritative and infallible decision concerning such an important matter as which books belong in the Bible, then upon what basis would a person question its authority on other matters of faith and morals?”
Are we really supposed to believe God’s people were able to come to the knowledge, apart from any Church, that the O.T. Scriptures are authoritative, but then God’s people could not, for 1,500 years, know the second installment of Scriptures, which were inspired by the same Holy Spirit, in the same format, until Trent came along and saved the day? That’s unadulterated absurdity, and has also been refuted elsewhere, most notably, in Dr. Michael Kruger’s book, The Canon Revisited.
The councils listed there were not Roman Catholic. Rome changes like a chameleon. The men in those councils did not believe many of the things that one must believe today to be a faithful Catholic member.
Second, this quotation refutes itself subtly: all Trent did was name the books the church already decided on in the 4th century. Clearly, as the author admits, God’s people had it figured out Canon long before Trent.
Third, this is a most egregious question begging epithet. ‘A council met and declared the books officially, which had already been declared hundreds of years earlier unofficially, therefore that council is infallible.’ That’s just an arbitrary assumption. There is no logical connection between those two facts which dictates infallibility. It’s a leap of logic.
Trent’s behavior is not a logical proof for the validity of the primacy of the Papacy or Rome’s claim to universal authority. Only when viewing Trent through the already assumed position of Rome’s authority would one interpret it that way.
Lastly, the 4th century Christians decided on 27 books, not 73. Remember, the 4th century Christians were establishing the New Testament. The Old Testament had been long established by then. So much so the Bereans knew what to examine Paul’s teaching in light of (Acts 17). So much so, Jesus knew what to hold people accountable for knowing (Matthew 19). So much so, that Paul told Timothy to hold fast to the books he knew from childhood (2nd Timothy 3). So much so that Peter knew what was confirmed by Jesus (1 Peter 2). Thus, Rome’s extra 7 books have nothing to do with the first four centuries of church history, but of the nature of Canon prior to Jesus’ ministry. And no, the Jews did not accept those books, but that will be dealt with in an upcoming segment.
In summation, the Old Testament was not received via an infallible church, the New Testament canon was widely recognized in the first 3 centuries of the church, and only final agreement on some books was reached in the fourth century, and the modern Roman Catholic Church does not resemble in any way the ecclesiastical organization of the 4th century.
God Creates Canon
The primary reason this argument against Sola Scriptura falls short is this: Sola Scriptura does allow for one extra-biblical authority: God.
John 10: 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
1 Corinthians 2: 10-16, “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 3: 14-18, “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,e are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
How would God prove He is God? Would God not appeal to Himself, His own power, His own nature?
We affirm the Scriptures are authenticated elsewhere: by God Himself, as His Word. But given their nature as being God-breathed, that’s not really an “extra-biblical” authority.
We need the Spirit to save His Church, regenerate His Church, and reveal the Shepherd’s words to His Church. That’s what we believe; that’s not breaking Sola Scriptura. As Kruger and the reformers point out, the divine qualities of the books themselves which are seen by regenerated eyes validated canon.
God’s Word is inspired by God and is therefore capable of authenticating itself.