Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do Orthodox And Catholics Have Infallible Certainty About The Canon?

For the past several months I have been attempting to articulate a point to my Orthodox and Catholic interlocutors, but with little success. Thanks to James White, I think I finally know what I've been trying to say.

One argument against Protestants I've heard used a lot recently is that without an infallible list of books that belong in the canon (an infallible table of contents, if you will), we are left without absolute certainty that we actually have the right books. This lack of certainty seems to jeopardize any attempt at turning around and claiming this fallibly collected list of books to be an infallible and binding authority. But does the Orthodox or Catholic have it any better?

As White points out, each individual Orthodox or Catholic must choose, by his own fallible reasoning faculties, to accept that the church is infallible. But this decision itself is necessarily fallible. And a fallible decision cannot then produce infallible certainty.

This applies not only to the church's proclamation of the canon, but to the very claim of church infallibility itself. Can the Orthodox or Catholic be absolutely certain that the church is infallible? Not at all, for once again their belief in church infallibility is itself a fallible belief.

If the Protestant lacks assurance in his Bible, the Orthodox and Catholic must likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it. Unless, of course, we accept that our own fallible understanding of God's infallible Word is the best we can hope for in this life, as we look forward to that day when we shall at last know fully.

20 comments:

Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read.

>"If the Protestant lacks assurance in his Bible, the Orthodox and Catholic must likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it".

Nope. Catholics and Orthodox do not use the same criteria for determining the assurance of scripture as do Protestants, thus James conclusion is not the only logical outcome.

Most Protestants claim "the Holy Spirit tells me the Bible is inspired," an exercise in subjectivism. The presumption is that the scripturte is inspired, inerrant, and infallible and then proof is sought/offered to support the presumption.

The Catholic and Orthodox method of proving the Bible to be inspired is this: The Bible is initially approached as any other ancient work. It is not, at first, presumed to be inspired. From textual criticism Catholics and Orthodox are able to conclude that they have a text the accuracy of which is more certain than the accuracy of any other ancient work.

Next Catholics and Orthodox take a look at what the Bible, considered merely as a history, tells them, focusing particularly on the New Testament, and more specifically the Gospels. They examine the account contained therein of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Catholics and Orthodox conclude that Jesus is God as He claims in the historical texts. Thi Bible is merely a proven ancient historical text at this point on par with Caesar's Gaellic Wars.

Christ said he would found a Church. Both the Bible (still taken as merely a historical book, not yet as an inspired one) and other ancient works attest to the fact that Christ established a Church with the rudiments of what we see in the Catholic Church today—papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, sacraments, and teaching authority.

Catholics and Orthodox take the material and purely historically conclude that Jesus founded the Church. Because of His Resurrection Catholics have reason to take seriously Jesus claims concerning the Church, including its authority to teach in his name.

Jesus' Church says the Bible is inspired, and Catholics and Orthodox take the Church’s word for it precisely because the Church is infallible (1Timothy 3:15). Only after having been told by a properly constituted authority—that is, one established by God to assure us of the truth concerning matters of faith—that the Bible is inspired can Catholics and Orthodox reasonably begin to use the Bible as an inspired book.

Thus, Orthodox and Catholics do NOT likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it. Orthodox and Catholics have assurance and complete certainty.

Our fallible brother James may make all the long-worded explanatios regarding fallible and infallible decions that he wishes, but in the end nothing is changed one iota, except that a few Protestant egos are left feeling better aboutthemselves. In the end, Protestants still lack certainty of an infallible canon and must rely on the early unified Catholic and Orthodox Church councils as to the Christian canon.

Also left unasked and unanswered is the question of what authority do modern Bible publishers have to omit the Apochrypha / Deuterocanonicals from their versions of the Bible?

God bless...

+Timothy

source: Proving Inspiration

jacob said...

Timothy wrote:
"Most Protestants claim "the Holy Spirit tells me the Bible is inspired," an exercise in subjectivism. The presumption is that the scripturte is inspired, inerrant, and infallible and then proof is sought/offered to support the presumption."

Response:
Nope. Unfortunately, this is one of those "I'm generalizing the argument of how some Protestants in the Church say the Holy Spirit told me." This is not theologically accurate. We have full reason to believe the infallibility of scripture.

2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Perhaps Paul is wrong? The Protestant's are just assuming? There are other references as well. Hmm...there's no need to response to the rest of the post because it's textual inaccurate.

Timothy wrote:
"Christ said he would found a Church. Both the Bible (still taken as merely a historical book, not yet as an inspired one) and other ancient works attest to the fact that Christ established a Church with the rudiments of what we see in the Catholic Church today—papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, sacraments, and teaching authority. "

Response:
The Church was one until the schism of 1054...and papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, etc weren't official until the Church was institutionalized by Constantine. I'll make the bold claim that Timothy's claims are historically lacking.

Timothy wrote:
"Catholics and Orthodox take the material and purely historically conclude that Jesus founded the Church. Because of His Resurrection Catholics have reason to take seriously Jesus claims concerning the Church, including its authority to teach in his name."

Response:
Did they look at the documents and conclude a resurrection happened? Isn't this self-defeating? People can say some interesting phenomenon happen, doesn't mean it's true. We believe it because it's true. We cannot prove the resurrection empirically, we trust by faith.

Timothy wrote:
"Jesus' Church says the Bible is inspired, and Catholics and Orthodox take the Church’s word for it precisely because the Church is infallible (1Timothy 3:15)."

Response:
Timothy, look at 2 Timothy 3:14-17 as I have quoted above. The scripture is inspired because God said it is. Not because the Church said it is.

Timothy wrote:
"Thus, Orthodox and Catholics do NOT likewise lack assurance not only in the Bible, but also in the church that produced it. Orthodox and Catholics have assurance and complete certainty. "

Response:
It is understandable Timothy is saying this. If you merely read his response you can tell that what he calls "assurance" and "certainty" are a priori presuppostions that require the kierkegaardian leap of faith. It is assurance and certainty in the presuppositions, which make them only assurance and certainty in that given paradigm. We must logically make this distinction. Catholics and Orthodox may believe they have assurance and certainty, but almost all other paradigms disagree with these conclusions. We then need to validate reason, not only epistemologically and ontologically , but specifically of the Church. Science and Logic has come back with the verdict, and the Church has failed. But we, nevertheless, believe. We must realize the Catholic and Orthodox Church to be as faulty and frail in response as those that make the same statements concerning the Protestant Church.

Before Timothy can make the statement: "Also left unasked and unanswered is the question of what authority do modern Bible publishers have to omit the Apochrypha / Deuterocanonicals from their versions of the Bible?" He needs to answer the following: look at the differences in Canon between Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Protestants. Which Church, Timothy, do we choose regarding the canon? Protestants have chosen what St. Athanasius originally had to say.

Finally, regarding the Apocrypha, it is possible that TImothy is not aware of it's history in the Septuagint and that the Septuagint, even by liberal Jews is considered questionable and not really accepted. Normative Judaism has rejected the extra books, namely the Apocrypha. This has been unasked and unanswered. The Jews had theologically reasons for leaving this out of the Hebrew Canon. (I refer to the Jewish Apocrypha and how there is much copying of what we now call the Apocrypha).

God bless.

Jacob.

David N said...

Hey Timothy, thanks for the comment!

You said: "Most Protestants claim "the Holy Spirit tells me the Bible is inspired," an exercise in subjectivism."

This is only one of many ways in which Protestants claim to know that the Bible is inspired. And when it comes to making arguments against non-Christians (or Orthodox and Catholics), this is hardly the method they use, since it is obviously subjective.

You said: "The Bible is initially approached as any other ancient work. It is not, at first, presumed to be inspired. From textual criticism..."

Two brief comments: 1) I have never actually heard a Catholic debate this way. Perhaps, since they were debating with me (a Protestant who already accepts the Bible to be inspired) they just didn't feel the need the go that route. 2) Protestants use these sorts of arguments all the time to show that the Bible is inspired. In fact, it has been my experience that Protestants are often criticized for treating the Bible "like a textbook", making historical arguments and so forth.

In short, your distinction between "Protestants say this" and "Catholics and Orthodox say that" is a bit simplistic, and actually false.

Finally, nothing you have said here has actually addressed my argument. To make the point clear, let me simply ask you this question: Is the argument you have just presented an infallible one? Were I to be persuaded by what you have said and then decided to become Catholic or Orthodox, would my decision be an infallible one?

I certainly hope we can agree that the answer to both is no. Neither you nor I are infallible, so how could our arguments and decisions be infallible? But then, how can a fallible decision based upon a fallible argument give me infallible certainty? Therein lies the problem for the Orthodox and Catholic.

jacob said...

David n -- i agree 100%

(oh...i also saw this post in google blogsearch, sorry for intruding!)

MG said...

David--

Who, prior to writing this post, have you recently heard using this argument?

David N said...

Hi Jacob. It's not an intrusion at all. Anyone is welcome to come and comment.

MG,

This has come up several times in my discussions with David C, you and Perry.

MG said...

David-

You wrote:

"you and Perry"

When? We've never made this argument, and have specifically avoided doing so because it is so obviously flawed.

David N said...

MG,

You both (and Mark as well) have mentioned the fact that Protestants lack an inspired table of contents. Perhaps you weren't making this specific argument, but if not, then I'm not sure why you still feel this fact to be problematic for us.

Nathanael Taylor said...

You both (and Mark as well) have mentioned the fact that Protestants lack an inspired table of contents.

Response: Why think we need a inspired table of contents?

NPT

Catz206 said...

I don't know about Perry or Mark, but I remember MG arguing this way one on one. Maybe it was just a thought and not meant as an argument?

Nathanael Taylor said...

I don't know about Perry or Mark, but I remember MG arguing this way one on one. Maybe it was just a thought and not meant as an argument?

Response: I would agree with Dave and Allison...although Michael doesn't seem to use this argument anymore. Once cross examined Michael seems to prefer argument ranging from human-divine public infallible witnesses and the inspired table of contents stuff.

But perhaps I am mistaken...

NPT

Catz206 said...

Just to clarify in case I missed some train of thought here: I was referring to the inspired table of contents. :) That is all.

MG said...

David--

You wrote:

"You both (and Mark as well) have mentioned the fact that Protestants lack an inspired table of contents. Perhaps you weren't making this specific argument, but if not, then I'm not sure why you still feel this fact to be problematic for us."

Is it at least possible that there is a *different* argument (rather than the one you have refuted above) for the conclusion that lacking an authoritative table of contents is a problem? It doesn't even have to be a good argument; I'm just asking if its *possible* that me and Perry argue differently than the argument you decisively refuted above.

Consider, for instance, what I was suggesting on your blog a few months ago:

"What if there is a quality that is a necessary precondition for something to be infallible Christian teaching that can be ascribed to the Bible from a non-Sola Scriptura framework, that can’t be ascribed to the Bible if the SS framework is true? So long as this is possible, (even if it can’t actually happen) it seems like there might be a possibility that church infallibility can have thigns said for it that might not be said in favor of the doctrine of sola Scriptura. And in that case, your modal claim is false (that necessarily if something is a basis for believing in Church infallibility, it is a basis for believing in SS).

What property I’m referring to will have to wait for an actual post where I address these issues in detail instead of briefly critiquing your definitions. WOQ hasn’t ever actually done a detailed statement of our arguments against SS or Sola Fide; so expect that coming soon, including a response to your arguments here."

Does this sound like the argument you made in this post? I'm not asking if you think its a good argument, but I am curious if you think that it is even possible that the argument I quoted above might be different from the version you stated above in some important way.

Nathanael Taylor said...

"WOQ hasn’t ever actually done a detailed statement of our arguments against SS or Sola Fide; so expect that coming soon, including a response to your arguments here."

Response: Awesome! That sounds like a great idea Mike! I can't wait to see those up!

NPT

David N said...

MG,

"Is it at least possible that there is a *different* argument..."

Sure.

"Consider, for instance, what I was suggesting on your blog a few months ago:..."

Did you see the response I made to this on my blog? The point I was trying to make then (as with this current post) was that one must use fallible reason and argument to come to the conclusion that the church is infallible, just as one does to come to the conclusion that Scripture alone is infallible.

As soon as arguments are given, such as "there are criteria for infallibility which the church meets but SS does not", then my point is already accepted. Showing this has been my only purpose, then and now.

MG said...

David--

Is there a distinction between accuracy and authority?

Catz206 said...

MG- what kind of authority?

MG said...

Catz--

The kind of authority I am talking about is any kind of authority. Not infallible, per se. Just authority simpliciter.

David N said...

MG,

I'm not entirely sure what you're asking for, but I'll take a stab at it.

I would say that someone who is consistently accurate, and known to be so, has (or should have) some measure of authority. However it is possible for someone without authority to be accurate occasionally.

So yes, there is a distinction, but the two are still very closely related.

Anonymous said...

How about.

The word of God is a man not a book.

Say perhaps the error of scriptural innerancy was introduced a long time ago into both the written tradtion and the Oral and the proof is the Genocides of the Old testament contrasted with God incarnate of the new. Although there are ways to get around this those ways are not found in scripture.