Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Response

In the comments on the Bible study I had earlier this week I was asked to read an article by Apologetics Press (an Institutional Church of Christ non-profit group who generally pushes the ideas of Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism.) This article claims to explain (at least in a basic form) why Protestants believe the books they have in their hand are the complete and total revelation of God, the full Canon of Scriptures. I suggest you read it before continuing on with this post, but I will reference page numbers and quotations on my thoughts while I was reading it.

  1. On page 1, Dr. Kearley asserts that some books "lay claim" to being a part of Canon. Very few of our books of the Bible make any kind of claim that they are the inspired word of God and many books claim to be inspired that are not really (Book of Mormon). This is really shoddy evidence.
  2. On page 2, he comments about Jerome, Origen, and the Jews at the time. Jerome originally questioned the authenticity of these books but after careful study and consideration decided they were inspired and included them in the Vulgate. Origen quotes extensively from these books in his writings as being inspired. The list he leaves them out of was what the "Hebrews" used at that time. For a discussion of this and why the Jews stopped using these books, see this informative post and read his link off it. Perhaps the best information that these books were accepted by the Jews in Christ's time and by the early Church is all the references about these books in the New Testament. For an extensive list, see here. (Note that the lower portion of that will deal with early Church Fathers and their opinions on the other books of the Old Testament that Protestants want to neglect.)
  3. On page 3, (and used in later arguments), he asserts that a) books must contain "holy and pure doctrines" to be canonical and b) they must have "accurate geograpy, astronomy, science, etc.". We'll deal with a in point number 4. Along with b, he is going to reject certain things he picks out of the so called "Catholic books" by saying they have bad science. Unfortunately for him, many of the books in his Old Testament make reference to the world being flat, the history presented even in the Protestant version of Daniel of the kingdoms of the time is sketchy at best, and Joshua "makes the sun stand still" even though it is already standing still. Sometimes the list of kings and enemies isn't consistent between Chronicles and Kings. All of this I am not saying to attack the integrity of the Bible. I know a lot of these things can be explained in a satisficing way for me, but we have to remember that the Bible is not a history book, a science book, or an astronomy book. Sometimes things are said in poetic or symbolic ways to make a theological point (see Job, the Psalms, Matthew's gospel, the Apocolypse , etc.)
  4. As per doctrine, take this example. This is exactly what Martin Luther does. He will reject certain books just because they don't synch with his interpretation of scriptures and the doctrine that his Church teaches. For instance, Maccabees teaches prayers for the dead, Baruch teaches that God can hear the prayers of the dead, Maccabees teaches about purgatory, etc. etc. etc. These are rejected because they don't fall in line with doctrines that their individual Church teaches, thus they cannot be inspired by definition. Talk about putting tradition OVER the Bible!
  5. On page 9, we begin to see the circular logic that traps so many sola scriptura thinkers. It says "The Old Testament bears witness to itself of being inspired". This can be lumped in with statements about Jesus quoting scriptures from the Old Testament, that using a book that you havn't proven to be inspired to prove the inspiration of other books! That's exactly what I experienced in my study when I was told that Paul's epistles were inspired because Peter said so!
  6. Page 9: Here the good doctor points out that a canon is really a "recognized standard of faith and action". Assuming that his point is that the Jewish tradition was to reject those books (again I believe to be fallacious), he asserts that this tradition dictates in some way which OT books are inspired. So if I get this straight, Christian tradition and history (that the Church has consistently used all the "Catholic" books since the canon was formally decided for the first time) are put on a side burner because of what Jewish tradition dictates?!
  7. Page 11: "The earliest Christians had no need to list the inspired books. They knew because they knew the writers." First, is he saying that somehow if the early Christians did list the books that would be binding? Because they did much closer to 400 A.D. Secondly, he's wrong here because most people didn't have most of the books. There were no printing presses, and even the four gospels themselves (with the exception of John) were not even present in all the Churches. Most had one gospel and if they were lucky one or two letters to work with. The teachings were passed down (as well as traditions about who wrote them, when they were written, etc.) orally through Sacred Tradition of the Church and settled in finality close to 400 A.D.
  8. The discussion of the New Testament and why books are taken as inspired is so pitiful that I don't even think I need to comment on it.
  9. So, after reading this article, I don't believe anything was said to convince me (distorted historical facts, appeals to Jewish Tradition, and circular logic) that Protestants have a good understanding of why they use certain books. I should say that at least groups like Lutherans and Anglicans have some solid reasons for what books they read, but these too all boil down to Traditional holdings of their Church and the Roman Catholic Church.


Anonymous said...

You leave me with quite a bit of reading to do. Let me give you a few initial thoughts, and I'll leave you alone on this topic ... until the next time. :-)

You say few books lay claim to being inspired. "Few" is a subjective term, but to me it seems like many books claim to be inspired. In fact, that would seem to me to be a rule for determining which books are inspired. The five books of the law do, the prophets do, all the books of Paul if I recall correctly, and most of the other epistles. That may leave a few books that don't outright claim inspiration, but I think we can safely assume they meant to express inspiration. If I right a book about how God told me something, that means I "lay claim" to inspiration. Or maybe I'm just misunderstanding you here.

Second, the argument about "holy and pure doctrines" may be misused by some, i.e. they examine books and judge them to the degree to which they sync with their personal views. Nonetheless, books to be in the canon must contain "holy and pure doctrines" that sync with other teachings in other inspired works.

Third, I think a work of inspiration does have to be inerrant, not only in spiritual teaching, but also history and science. I agree that the Bible is not a science book (much of it IS a history book). I recall reading a book about the Bible's validity, as written by a creationist (don't remember his name). The book is just one example among probably many where a Christian scientist goes in to way too much science to prove the Bible, citing poetic/figurative language and comparing it with recent scientific discoveries. But when science does come up, the Bible really should be correct if it is from God.

And I know, the sun doesn't stand still, literally. Here you're making the same mistake as some of those Christian scientists. I don't think Joshua meant to say the sun literally stands, either. Even today, we say sunrise and sunset, but we don't mean to say the sun actually moves. I don't think Joshua was trying to comment on the behavior of planets. He just talked about it as he saw it, which is what everyone does.

Fourth, you say, "...using a book that you haven't proven to be inspired to prove the inspiration of other books!"

I think where you may be wrong here is in assuming we haven't proven X book to be true before using it to prove another book. If a prophecy becomes true, and the same author validates another book, then vwala. Also, if an apostle validates a book or another author, vwala. Furthermore, why does your tradition validate books as inspired? What gives tradition such authority? If what Kearley said is circular, so is the Catholic method.

Anyway, I really didn't mean to be this long, but I thought maybe you were looking for me to say something here. You bring up some interesting points, many of which do perplex me and give me quite a bit of so-called "cognitive dissonance." I feel like I'm stuck between two people telling me this or that is historically accurate, and one of them must be lying :-)

The problem is, I know both sides are sincere.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Just a few thoughts: "What about the Bible’s own claim to inspiration? There are not many places where such a claim is made even elliptically, and most books in the Old and New Testaments make no such claim at all. In fact, no New Testament writer explicitly claims that he himself is writing at the direct behest of God, with the exception of John, the author of Revelation. " from Catholic Answers. If you see these direct claims in other books let me know.

I agree to your second point, that wasn't what was being talked about in the article, and you also have to be careful that you aren't saying that a book contradicts your personal interpretation of a doctrine. In other words, I believe several passages in the New Testament talk about purgatory, but someone reads about it in Maccabees and dismisses it as conflicting the NT.

I agree with your comment on Joshua. I was making a point about what could be taken as "inaccurate", not saying that I believed it was.

Finally, I'll spend just a little more time on circular logic. First, if prophecy coming true proves inspiration, Wisdom has to be accepted. Secondly, the Catholic Tradition is infallible when it comes to faith and morals. The canon of scripture is one of these issues that has been settled infallibly by the power directly given by God. Sure, we can point to the scriptures to show where this was given to them, but the writings of history show us clearly that we were the First Church, that the Apostles worked miracles, that Apostolic succession took place, that the Church set the Canon of scriptures. I'd argue that I can know the scriptures are inspired because of the Church and I can know the Church is Christ's because it is an historical fact. But that's a completely different can of worms :) And, if you want to know why we have that authority, that's because Paul said the Church was the "Pillar and Foundation of the Truth".

I agree with you about the sincerity. That's another one of the reasons I had to change my mind. As a member of the Church of Christ, I had always believed that God revealed himself totally in the pattern of his word, that anyone who was honest and sought him could come to the same conclusions about what the scripture means from their own interpretation, etc. It was when I was confronted with honest people like you and myself that I realized if you put 10 people in a room with the Bible (even if they had no outside influences at all), they would all interpret it differently. This is the fallacy of individual interpretation. Some Protestants explain it better using the Holy Spirit as an example, but the Church of Christ doesn't have room for that in their theology.

God didn't write a document so complicated that people couldn't come to the same conclusions about salvation. He authored a book that was to be interpreted and "rightly handled" by the body of his son Jesus Christ, which is the Church.

~Joseph the Worker said...

BTW Matt, did you get to read my journey? You might see some familiar questions and feelings in there.

St. Gregory said...

This is a very interesting discussion! Thank you both for taking the time to engage each other and to listen.

One brief comment, then I’ll stay out of it and anxiously watch you two challenge each other further.

When I was in a Protestant denomination, I felt very comfortable in my local church, as I knew that our pastor held to a solid interpretation of scriptures and faith in Christ Jesus. We ignored most of the other controversies within the denomination as a whole because we could comfortable say that our church was “orthodox.” However, the denomination then began to declare as doctrine certain actions and behaviors that were clearly contrary to scriptures (and tradition for that matter). The denomination was then divided into camps of orthodox and revisionist (although the revisionists claimed to be orthodox in their views). The revisionists sincerely believed that they were interpreting scriptures accurately, and that the actions they were endorsing were indeed in accordance with the Word of God! For many in the local church (and the denomination as a whole), it came down to the question of authority.

Who gets to decide which interpretation of scripture is accurate? As one of you claimed in a previous comment, someone is wrong and someone is right. The same bible is being used, and both sides believe they are interpreting it accurately. This can be seen all throughout church history, starting at the beginning with the Gnostics and other similar groups (who seemed to truly believe their version was correct), to the thousands of denominations of today (who each seems to sincerely believe they are all correct in their interpretations of scripture). They all cannot be correct as there are clear differences in doctrine and practice.

I hope you two keep this wonderful discussion going!

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks for the input Gregory, and you also noted what I see as a big problem with personal interpretation. I really hope this discussion keeps going too. There is absolutely no way we will grow in unity as Christians without dialogue. Sometimes, we won't come to the same conclusions, but at least by talking we can grow in love for one another and understand how other people come to viewpoints. I understand Matt's position so well because he holds almost exactly what I used to hold to, he's in my old Protestant church. I've given him too much reading though to expect a reply soon!

Anonymous said...

"As one of you claimed in a previous comment, someone is wrong and someone is right. The same bible is being used, and both sides believe they are interpreting it accurately."

While this is indeed true, I just want to make the point that when I said I am stuck between two people telling me two different opposing things, I was speaking within the context of history and which books were accepted by the ancients (both Jews and early Christians), not really on interpretations of scripture.

Joseph, I am in the process of reading your conversion story (read: book). It should be interesting.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Sounds great. Be critical :)

St. Gregory said...

Yes Matt, that makes sense what you say about opposing views of accepted biblical books/letters. It seems to me though that this actually does come down to a matter of doctrine. Knowing which books to accept as inspired is huge! If you accept the wrong ones, or if you choose not to accept correct ones, then one's entire foundation of faith could be shaken.

By the way, may early "apostolic letters" were viewed by many to be inspired writings. It took a Church Council to make an authoritative decision.

There I go, sticking my nose into someone else's discussion. Sorry.

~Joseph the Worker said...

Don't worry it's a public discussion welcoming lots of thoughts from many people Gregory.