Friday, February 29, 2008

The Canon (Intro)

It is often leveled against Protestantism that it is divided, confused and desperately in need of returning home- to the Holy Orthodox Church? While Protestants may be used to hearing such claims from their Catholic brothers and sisters, it may come as a surprise to hear the same coming from what seems like the other side of Christendom. Indeed, the world is getting smaller and now Protestants have come face to face with a long lost relative from the great schism between the East and West.

The critique against Protestantism is leveled anew. It is divided, confused and in need of order. Scripture alone is inadequate, and only part of the larger Church tradition. Besides, how can Scripture alone be trusted when Protestantism is missing some of their Old Testament Scriptures?

The charges of possible missing books and conspiracies are not only problems advocates of Scripture Alone are subject to. As far as the danger of tainting God’s sacred word goes, Eastern Orthodoxy is quite liable to the same warning as well as the danger of adding uninspired books to the canon.

One could charge that the infallibility of the Church ensures a reliable canon, but how would one go about showing that Church infallibility is most likely the case? It seems that maybe we ought to look for practical, and in some areas- material indications of Church infallibility, and in the absence or countering of such evidence, the Protestant ought to peer into the past and see what historical support there is for or against his Old Testament canon.

In this blog, I will show that the books now contained within the Hebrew and Protestant Old Testament canon are the books that the Christian Church should accept as canonical based off of historical support and the insufficient evidence needed to deny or add to the list. This will counter one of the critiques against Scripture Alone as well as challenge the Eastern Orthodox view of Church infallibility.

Side Note:
Also, these posts are not meant to cause division, but are a response to some more aggressive Eastern Orthodox people who have caused distress to some fellow Protestants. These posts are also in response to an Orthodox friend who explicitly asked me to make a case for evangelicalism (the canon debate is one step). That said, I must also add that there is much Protestants can learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church and that we should not be so quick to dismiss many of their views on other subjects just because they have made mistakes in other areas.

There is much to be discussed when it comes to both the Old and New Testament canon. Unfortunately, I will be limiting much of my information to what pertains to the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox discussion. Personally, I love researching the canon and have found it difficult to put this kind of limit into place.

Anyway, here is what I will be covering:
1. The Centuries of Silence
2. The Hebrew Canon
3. The Two Categories of Books
4. The Misunderstandings surrounding Jamnia and the LXX
5. The New Testament Use of Apocryphal Works

Apostolic Succession

I will address this once I am able to give it proper attention. :) I want to be thorough and fair. ...sadly there is that thing called school witch may affect my ability to do this anytime soon.

Acts 15

Is there a good Biblical case for Church infallibility? Some Orthodox friends of mine have attempted to do this by using Acts 15. They like to point out v.28 "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials:" They are quick to say the setup here strongly resembles the seven ecumenical councils and the infallible pronouncement came about through the Church. They use the leader James to further support the Church's authority in order to counter any mention of the apostles. I take issue with this for several reasons: apostolic presence, James' appeal to authority, key differences between the account in Acts and the ecumenical councils, and simple hermeneutics.

Apostolic Presence

Both Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians place infallible authority in the apostles. Tension arises between the two views over how this authority is expressed. The Orthodox say apostolic authority lies in the Church itself (see section on apostolic succession) and Protestants limit this kind of authority to the written Word.

That said, the Acts 15 example should have little impact on Protestants who believe apostolic presence is the key ingredient in this situation. Protestants believe there was an infallible pronouncement, but part company when the presence of the Church is offered as the reason for the pronouncement. A different Biblical example needs to be offered in order to show that an infallible pronouncement can occur via the Church councils apart from the bodily presence of the apostles. Unfortunately for Orthodoxy, no such passage exists.

James' Appeal

It has been put forward that one should not think the bodily presence of the apostles was necessary since the Jerusalem Church leader James was present and is not an apostle. First, James' position as a church leader does not detract from the apostolic presence. Second, if what was mentioned is not satisfactory, all one needs to do is look at what James appeals to in order to make his decision.

James appeals to 1) apostolic authority and 2) written tradition. In v.14 James goes back to what Simon Peter said and then in v.15 appeals to the words of the prophets before saying in v.19 "Therefore it is my judgment that..." This successfully counters the attempt to use James' leadership to deflect from apostolic presence as the necessary ingredient.

The Jerusalem church was founded by the apostles, and even though the church had room to make it's own decisions, the real authority was in the apostles, not James. Mark Saucy, a professor at Talbot seminary who has 13 years experience with the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine comments, "James is not even mentioned in Acts 15:4 nor in the final resolution recorded in 15:22 or 16:4. James prestige also was likely a result of his reputed piety in the church, which church history also attests.”

Key Differences

As far as a comparison between the seven ecumenical councils and the decision in Jerusalem is concerned, there are some key differences that are generally not mentioned by those making this comparison. First, authority was not located in the Jerusalem council itself, and second, unlike the ecumenical councils, only two churches are represented in Acts 15.

Authority was not located in the Jerusalem council. Neither James or the church in Jerusalem called the council, nor did they bring Antioch into account. Antioch initiated the meeting because the people from the Jerusalem church were stirring up trouble. The church in Jerusalem responded by telling them what to abstain from food sacrificed to idols...ect, encouragement and assurance that they did not send those people who disturbed them.

Unlike the seven Ecumenical councils, only two churches were represented in Acts 15. Even though adequate church representation can be questioned for the ecumenical councils, this was the intent. We see no such aim in this supposed "early ecumenical council." Instead, it is confined to two churches and does not represent the whole Church body. That is, unless the apostles are the key representative ingredient.


When reading the Scriptures and trying to understand the meaning of a passage or what is normative, one must always consider the genre in which the book is written. It would be unwise to read the Proverbs in the same way as Romans. Why? Because each belongs to a different genre and should be interpreted differently. While, using good hermeneutics will not guarantee that we will understand everything we read, it can help us to avoid some major interpretative mistakes.

Since the 1960's , people have more increasingly believed that they not only create the meaning of a text, but also create the text itself (Russel 2006syllabus p8). This is a huge problem in our culture and one that many Eastern Orthodox Christians are quick to point out. They also see our Protestant denominations as chaotic since there are many interpretations.

Each individual looks through his cultural lenses and arrives at his own interpretation. Eastern Orthodoxy is not immune to this either. They too are very much a product of their time. Those after the time of the apostles had their own lenses and influences when dealing with various heresies. This however, will have to make up another post.

One should read all of Acts with the whole in mind. When reading narratives, it is good to read the whole thing in one sitting several times and look for patterns and themes. The entire book should be combed in order to determine whether "specific events form a consistent pattern throughout or if the positive models Luke presents vary from one situation to another. The former will suggest that Luke was emphasizing a normative, consistent principle; the latter, that applications may change from one time and place to the next" (Into to Bib Interp; Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, p424).

There is no explicit statement in Acts telling us that the Church is infallible. If there were, a different kind of discussion would be appropriate. Instead, it is charged that Church infallibility is implicit within the text. If the idea of Church infallibility is normative and can be found implicitly in the text, then the following criteria should be met:

1) The behavior or emphasis must be repeatedly emphasized within the broader narrative of Acts.

2) The recurring patterns of behavior must also closely align with Luke’s main purpose to be considered normative (Russell p64).

Clearly, Church infallibility does not pass the criteria for being normative. The only way this could be taken as normative would be if Church infallibility were already considered true and the Church interpreted the passage in it's favor. This may bless the hearts of those who already accept Church infallibility, but it should not have the same persuasive power on Protestants.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Which is worse? Not having certain books from the Old Testament (many of which point to the coming Messiah) in our canon or adding to the message under the New Covenant?

Quick note: Believing in the accuracy of information is different from putting ones faith and trust in God. Here, I will be exploring the reasons we have for thinking Sola Scriptura vs Church infallibility is the way to go. Once we see which system better preserves truth, it is up to us to trust that system.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Ramblings

Well, here are my ramblings...they are not as complete or organized yet so bear with me and be ready for some upcoming posts.

My View
Note: Here I will just give a brief recap of why I think Sola Scriptura is the best option. I will do this given the assumptions of both systems about apostolic authority and God’s active involvement in human history to give us what we need to know for our faith and growth in Him.

In the very beginning, oral tradition was extremely beneficial and acceptable for an oral culture because 1) There was a smaller group and the information did not circulate to nearly as many churches as it did later. 2) The apostles were still alive to correct misconceptions- and they did. 3) The information was fairly fresh since it was closer to the event.

Later, written tradition became necessary because 1) Over time, memory fails and in this case, the message was passed on to many different areas, cultures and people. 2) With written tradition, there was less room for corruption. 3) The apostles and eye witnesses were dieing and would soon no longer be around to correct misconceptions.

So, why do I think Scripture should be our final authority? I am committed to the idea that the closer one is to the source, the better. In the case of the writings of the apostles and ones closely connected to them, that is as close to the source as we can get. Since we no longer have the apostles here with us, it seems sensible to look towards their writings as our authority.

Further, we can trace these writings in the manuscript tradition and see little mistakes down the line. These mistakes came about even in the possession of the church, but we are able to look back down the line and isolate where the mistakes arose and make the necessary corrections. We have a document that is around 99% reliable. We can not say the same for the EO's particular oral tradition.

Note: This is only in regards to interpreting written tradition

Given that we both accept apostolic authority as from God to the apostles, we must now consider our reasons for thinking there is an added step. I say added because, approaching Scripture from a view of Church infallibility does not stop at saying “Scripture is infallible since it came from an apostle” (our view of infallibility is all based on apostolic authority and written tradition is not the thing in question). People advocating this view go a step further and claim that in addition to the very words of the apostles, the infallibility of the Church is needed to properly interpret the infallible documents.

Why add a step either way? Why need writings when the Church can direct us in the right way? Why need the infallibility of the Church if the inspired writers wrote with the set intention of making the mystery of God’s love known to us? Or wrote in the hopes of clearing up misunderstandings. This is not to say all details will be grasped- just as Church interpretations are not fully grasped by individual’s within the existing “infallible Church.” One must also wonder how conducive this view is to the exposure of errors within it’s system.

Also, how could one committed to the necessity of the Church’s interpretations recognize there is any inconsistency between Scripture and the views of the Church? After all, those exposing such inconsistencies or contradictions are heretical- protestants or ones living in rebellion to the one true apostolic Church. Church interpretations are correct and no matter what contextual or hermeneutical evidence is put forward, the interpretation stands.

Addition and Subtraction
The charges of possible missing books, conspiracies and added books are not only problems advocates of Scripture Alone are subject to. As far as the danger of tainting God’s sacred word goes, both of our systems are liable to the warning. The Protestant may be guilty of taking away from the canon and the “Holy Orthodox” Church of adding to it- just as those preaching circumcision among the Gentiles added to the grace of God.

"I, who advocate Scripture Alone claim that God, in His wisdom and foreknowledge, preserved His crucial message and has directed the canon process."

One could charge that there is no guarantee of such a thing without the infallibility of the Church to ensure a reliable canon. To this I could easily say: “Oh, but God is all powerful and in His goodness preserved this source of His infallible truth.” A person might dislike this answer. However, in response I could just as easily point out that there is no guarantee when it comes to the infallibility of the Church either, to which the person might respond, “Oh, but God is all powerful and in His goodness preserved this source of His infallible truth through the infallibility of the Church.” The problem remains and cuts both ways.

It seems that maybe we ought to look for practical and in some areas- material indications that something ought to be in our canon (given we both take the apostles to have spoken infallibly). I have given my reasons for believing Scripture alone is the best route to take. Now I need reasons to believe in the infallibility of the Church. Merely appealing to the desired goal will not cut it.

Are either or both systems in the wrong on some issues? Possibly, and even on matters apart from the content of the canon. In comparing the two systems, I propose those approaching this matter spend time in prayer before looking to see if: 1)there is any indication that the Church is infallible, 2) the nature of this infallibility or 3) If in the absence of Church infallibility one must necessarily leave either system for the other.


My Critique:

“A: Which would best preserve God’s truth?”

1) If it was simply a question of which would best preserve truth, I could think of several better options for us than either of the two views. God could speak to all people individually and tell each what he wants on a continual basis. The next best thing is for an angel to come down from heaven with the full canon in the form of golden tablets. The writing could be recent, without a doubt from God and something all in the precision of the modern day could respect and better preserve.

If I were to take the above views seriously, how might one counter such wild ideas? It seems the best option would be to use the evidence available to us. To look at the reasons we have for thinking X preserves truth or is, at the very least, most reliable.

In my understanding, the “would” question ought to give way to “What is.” In other words, I am asking, “What do we have to work with?” Now, based off of the data available to us, which view of authority is most backed up? This last statement concerns the second step and is to be considered after a common method is established.

A’s Possible and Present (these are the critiques I have received) Critiques:

“B: What reasons do we have for thinking “X” best preserves God’s truth?”

1) You are promoting a naturalistic methodology.

2) You would not be able to know whether or not you have a complete canon. The Word of God may not be complete or could possibly have ideas or books that do not belong there. It seems the only way to insure the preservation of God’s word would be for the existence of an infallible Church.

My Response:

A. This critique was given in light of the “reasons” provided. While those reasons may or may not be adequate, that should be decided once a common method is agreed upon (the person and I were working "together" on a project).

B. My method does not deny supernatural significance nor does it claim scientific laws are adequate in accounting for all phenomena. My method does however assume, as does A's method, that God has preserved His truth. That is, God has preserved what is necessary for our faith and growth in Him. Given that this is the case, I am looking at the framework in which He operated.

A. Does my view give me the degree of certainty I would like? No, it does not. However, if I were to use A's method, I could easily embrace anything I felt would get me to my goal as demonstrated in my first critique.

B. This critique may give off the illusion of a devastating blow. That is, until one realizes the critique cuts both ways and remains an annoyance for both Protestants and Eastern Orthodox. This will be covered in more detail later.

Response Wrap Up:
Both Orthodox and Protestants can have faith that God set the stage for His truth to be preserved. Now let’s look at this stage and consider which direction the evidence leads. Faith in God’s goodness and overarching plan as well as indication of the reliability of Scripture has led me to conclude that Sola Scriptura is the best option unless such a thing as Church infallibility can be defined, found in contradiction with my view and demonstrated to be the case.

A Matter of Method

I've been asked by a specific Orthodox friend (may or may not be a scholarly argument), "whose system would best preserve God's truth?" "Can a system where individuals are encouraged to interpret the Scriptures themselves stand up against a system where God is using a living breathing Church to guide His people into all truth?"

I find many things wrong with the way the two system's are often portrayed, but for now, I am going to stick to discovering which questions Christians ought to be asking in order to discover how God preserved His truth. This will be done given the common Christian assumption that the apostles are where we get our authority, whether it be through apostolic succession, oral tradition or from their very words.

When speaking about such things to others within the Church (broadly speaking), I often hear the question, "which would best preserve God's truth?" The Orthodox give their shpeal on the infallibility of the Church, the canon and the mass chaos that supposedly overwhelms the Protestant churches and Protestants give theirs on the corruption of the church (mostly speaking form their experience with the old Catholic Church) and taking man's authority over God's...ect. The whole mess turns into a "my church is better than your church" argument that belongs in the sandbox.

A different approach is in order. Instead of dealing in the realm of what would be best and whose system would better preserve God's truth, I think it best to explore the reasons we have for thinking it is the case that our system does in fact, preserve God's truth.

A: Which would best preserve God’s truth?
B: What reasons do we have for thinking “X” best preserves God’s truth?

Issue: Each is approaching with different methods for trusting in the preservation of truth.

Common Ground: 1)Each believes the Scriptures within the Protestant canon are the infallible word of God (though some might include other books as well). 2) Each believes God has preserved what is necessary for our faith and growth in Him.

My Assumption: Our common goal is to understand the way God preserved His truth.

Our first step should be to establish a common method. To begin, we ought to critique each the other’s method and think about whether or not there is a better method that neither has thought of yet. This should be done without thinking too far ahead to what the consequences would be for our particular view.


Is Scripture the only infallible authority?
Why trust Scripture alone and not oral tradition as equally authoritative?

Before sorting through questions of canon, the Christian must decide who or what is to be considered his or her ultimate authority. Since Christians already agree the apostles are where God has grounded His authority, our next question ought to be how God has preserved His truth (as found in the apostles) through the wear and tear of time. As a Protestant, I have been taught that Scripture alone is the final authority while my Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters strongly believe it is the Church or Tradition (for Orthodoxy, Scripture is a part of tradition) that must be our guide in matters of faith and practice. They also say only the Church can properly interpret Scripture. Otherwise, there would be mass chaos and interpretation would be based upon the authority of the individual.

In this blog, I am going to be exploring these questions and focusing mainly on the Eastern Orthodox view of authority in contrast to the Protestant view. Through these posts, I hope to gain a better understanding of other people's views, make up my own mind and one day share my findings with others who are struggling with these questions like myself.