Tough Issues about Canon of Scripture

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by Link, Jun 24, 2005.

  1. Link

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    I have been, on and off, a participant of a discussion list headed by a retired Greek and Latin professor who also knows Hebrew. He has some very interesting insights of the scriptures, though his writings can go over the heads of those, like me, who do not know Greek, Latin, or Hebrew. It is slow reading at times.

    I have learned to respect this man's opinion from reading a lot of his writings over the years, and he seems to hold to a very high view of scripture. In a recent thread, he has been arguing that the scripture does not teach that the Bible is the 'final authority,' but that the Bible teaches that God would send the Spirit to lead into all truth.

    I have received carte blanche permission from him to use his posts for certain purposes.

    The following is taken from a post he sent out to his list recently. He seems to be an honest thinker who wants to deal with issues honestly, rather than just repeat oft-cited statements of dogma. I would appreciate comments on the arguments he makes in this message.

    **********
    The devil has seen to it that a hefty percentage of churchdom promotes his prolific project of obscurantism.

    Ever since the sola scriptura principle became the bottom line of countless protestant denominations 'the canon of scripture' has been a crucial issue, but, if you look into it, it could well become one of your favorite sources of amusement and fiction. (From what I recall of Menge's 'Repetitorium' I'd better not write 'scriptura sola'.)

    Misinformation regarding 'the canon of scripture' infects churchdom far and wide. Perhaps most protestants think 'the early church' already had a fixed selection describable as 'a bible' as early as ca. the year 100. Many apparently think of the Jewish bible and then the Christian bible as practically packaged in heaven and dropped down to mankind in two blocks. This would be close to the way the Quran, wrapped up ca. 652, speaks of itself or the way Joseph Smith spoke of his Book of Mormon, ca. 1830.

    Two salient facts becloud the input of the very reformers who set the often encountered sola scriptura in motion. The one would be that their major cited authority in their evaluating the 27 documents had ever been Eusebius, but throughout his history his primary, recurring means of identifying the true church had ever been apostolic succession. That is, although one can find him citing specific statements of scripture to prove certain points, a reader could hardly claim that he refers to a specific set of documents as his most basic test of wherein his 'true church' consists.

    Could it not be said today that the percentage of protestant churchdom that is not rejectionist debates the contents of their scriptures, to demonstrate the validity of their religiosity?

    The second salient fact would be that those very reformers and pioneer English translators to whom the protestants owe their sola scriptura bias were not the least bit timid about gnawing at their own platform. If I were to make some of their statements, as as if they were mine, some of you on this list would jump on me like chickens on a june bug. They did not hesitate to critique certain canonical books, just as unabashedly as any modernist or rejectionist.

    For example, as most of you probably know, Luther denounced James as 'an epistle of straw'. This would reduce his 'New Testament canon' to 26. But he also stated that he could not regard Revelation as prophetic, apostolic or even the work of the Holy Ghost. Now we're down to 25.

    (Despite Luther's obiter dictum, James, since an early dating seems more likely than a later one, was probably the only written guide that the earliest messianics had for some years, until Paul began to correspond with his converts.)

    And as for Luther's 39 books translated from Tanakh and the 14 of his Apocrypha, he said, "I so hate Esther and 2nd Maccabees that I wish they did not exist. There is too much Judaism in them and not a little heathenism." That would leave us then with 38 and 13 respectively, instead of the King James' 39 and 14.

    It may be noted in passing, with regard to any 'Hebrew canon' that Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah as one document each, that is, four. In the 1500's the influence of churchdom induced the rabbis to start splitting them into two parts, which custom has prevailed for going on six centuries now.

    From the time when Paul or James first wrote a Christian Greek epistle until a time about 350 years later, which of the 53 Israelite 'books' of the KJV might not have been in very widespread use?

    I first encountered some very informative documented charts on both this question and that another regarding the '27 books' from which such a question may be answer in William Smith's unabridged 'Dictionary of Biblical Antiquities, Biography, Geography and Natural History' (London 1863) under the article 'Canon'. The charts speak for themselves, if you take the time to look up the references.The fluidity of the situation, which offers a very different picture from the misimpressions of modern churchdom will be better appreciated, when you become aware that Eusebius quoted Origen as regarding Ruth to be part of Judges. (And HE 6,25,2 documents some of the Hebrew names as somewhat compatible with the present names from Origen's time, by way of that fragment, ee. g. bphci0 = bresith * Heb. breyshiyt 'in the beginning [of]', evidently a construct, not an absolute, ouellecmw0 = u elle smoth * Heb. 'elleh shmot 'these are the names', ouikpa = u icra * Heb. vayyiqra' 'and he made his appeal [to]', ammecfekwdeim = ammesphecodeim * Heb. ham ms' phqudiym 'the taking of numbers' i.e. 'the conducting of [military and other preparatory] inspections', that is, the foundational incident of the so-called 'bishopric', an obscurantist Greek word, a point missed by almost all of churchdom, and elleaddebapeim = elleaddebareim * Heb. 'elleh had-dbhariym 'these [are] the words'.

    And then the 12 so-called 'minor prophets' were treated as one.

    Evidently, even in ancient times, Esther, Daniel and Ecclesiastes, as well as Chronicles, had about the same standing for Hebrew readers that the collection of 'deuterocanonicals', or 'apocrypha', came to have for protestant churchdom, which bundled them out from among the rest of the 'books' of, or in, their bibles in early modern times.

    Nevertheless, Luther, by not excluding Esther, 2nd Maccabees, James or Revelation from his German translation, he left the minds of users of it unagitated, as they would have been had he left them out. He excused his including James under color that it was "not to be forbidden, since it contained some good sayings."

    Among protestant reformers who have formulated a concept of 'insipiration' and tried to impose it on every biblical document, perhaps Calvin will have been in the forefront, who described the writers as authentici amanuenses 'real secretaries'. Nevertheless, in the light of the discrepancy of Acts 07,14 from the Hebrew Genesis, he regarded the Holy Ghost as having gone along with a false, but widely used Greek (or Samaritan, if as now thought) version of the people. (This is analogous to one's pedagogically talking about a dalet as differing from re'sh by a tittle, when in ancient times it really had been the slant of a vertical.)

    Therefore my point stands: that the very reformers to whose work the sola scriptura approach has been attributed cannot be counted on to approve the identical scriptura, as being 39 plus 27, received as sola.

    And within the various documents many instances of the same freedom to critique can be cited. Luther agreed with Carlstadt that the account of Moses' death must have been added later by someone other than Moses.

    Luther also treated honestly of the denials of Peter, who, said he, would have had to warm himself at the fire four times to satisfy all four gospel records.

    Sebastian Castellio, denied ordination at Geneva for not affirming the divine inspiration of the Song of Songs, more cogently pointed out that Peter would have had to deny the Master eight times. (This proves him more astute than an Episcopal clergyman I heard who tells his audiences that Peter denied his Lord six times.)

    Moreover, as the protestant - catholic dialectics proceeded apace, leading lights on both sides can be shown to have taken refuge in my own Caretaker of such problems, the Holy Ghost.

    An intense focus of the catholic-protestant debate had been Luther's refusal, in effect, to pretend to think other than what he thought, that is, to denounce what he really thought the scriptures meant and to pretend to agree with what those who claimed to represent the church wanted him to say. When pressed regarding the accuracy of the scriptures, Luther had decided to say, "The Holy Ghost has only an eye to the substance and is not bound by words." For me, it really is either that or attribute some obvious contradictions to G_d, which does not seem to me to be a very good idea.

    Regarding the need to reconcile unresolved contradictory claims in the scriptures Luther noted, "... through the Holy Spirit the Law can become the Gospel and without the Spirit the Gospel can become the Law." Moreover, he made the, alarmingly to many, general statement: "If our adversaries cite Scripture against Christ, I will cite Christ against Scripture."

    Where do we get the expression 'sola scriptura'? Thomas Aquinas, the justly famous scholastic, wrote, "Sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei." Nevertheless, unless more can be learned about that statement from its verbal and cultural setting, it had best not be quoted by any pro-reformation enthusiasts. Did his 'regula fidei' refer to a measuring of faith, as assessing our believing, or to an instrument for determining what the faithful ought to believe? Should sola be taken more closely with canonica or with scriptura? That is, did he mean that only received documents should be utilized for the purpose or purposes he had in mind or that the writings would be sufficient of themselves apart from what his church had customarily handed down?

    Despite such puzzles, when on both sides the citing of authority boiled down to which side the Holy Ghost had authenticated or would authenticate, the catholic side cited either the collective nature of its decisions or in how the L_rd would surely favor the pope.

    The protestant side could cite the same verses that show up in my memos. Take, for example, 1st John 02,26-27:
    **These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you, but the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you, but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things and is truth and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.**

    At the same time, it would be obvious enough that any two reformation factions had enough serious differences, so that different spirits could have been leading them in different directions.

    Could there be pinpointed some beginning in the history of churchdom, when a 'canon of scripture may be said to have been defined? Can it be shown that any council that had churchwide convocation by competent authority or whose advice would be accepted by the whole church has ever set forth an unequivocally adopted list of 'the books of the bible'? Could someone on this list set forth any cogent evidence for it, or of it?

    Can you find me any official church list, other than a later assumption, containing the books of your bible? Any official document at all that had earthwide, alias 'catholic', status? I don't think so. Do inform me, but verify your findings. For several centuries at the beginning one must be satisfied simply to watch and see what's quoted.

    Aside from that one can find only piecemeal intimations, of which 2nd Peter 03,15-16 may be a very early specimen:
    **And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.**

    Perhaps this evidence justifies the conclusion that, since Paul's instructions were already being read aloud side by side with previously recognized scriptures, his letters too were being accorded the status of the special writings of Israel, termed 'scriptures'. It would seem so. But then it's curious that most of the 27 books were not again described as 'scripture' until Theophilus of Antioch, ca. 180.

    My first question asks about any 'churchwide' council, because many who speak their mind on the 'canon' have no idea how vague the word 'council' can be. A concilium could consist, as many did, of only a handful of prelates convened out of a very limited locale and many of them by just one authority figure.

    Does even any major denomination officially fix a 'canon' before the Roman catholic Council of Trent? This was a reaction to the protestant reformation, which did its work in the 1500's.

    What we are discussing has been irresponsibly distorted by very many opinion makers of conservative churchdom. You would think that, as soon as Jude or Revelation was written, that everybody thought, "Hooray, at last we have a bible!" and that it had been used thus from then till now.

    For those whom Peter addressed to hold on to copies of Paul's instructions and refer back to them is one thing, but to have a manual thought of as many of today's folk do their 'bible' is quite another. A situation comparable to modern protestant sola scriptura cannot be documented until hundreds of years would pass.

    Throughout the early centuries of churchdom about a seventh of the package used in one locality could differ radically from that used in another. The last time I looked, my Greek Orthodox Bible had 76 'books' listed in its table of contents. The texts used by the churches in Greek terriroty have remained about the same from the 100's till now.

    The Catholic edition of the RSV (1966) and the New American Bible have indices that list 46 'books' of the so-called 'old testament'. These follow what was customary in Latin manuscripts and medieval copies of the Vulgate, which did not relegate 'apocryphal', or 'deuterocanonical', books to a separate section as did the original King James Version.



    Anyone who wants good information on these matters needs the skills to understand what's extant and use it competently. One must read the work of Mansi and follow it up with later, far more accurate work, like that of Eduard Schwartz. You need to dismiss as incompetent and wrong most of the apologetic and polemic writers who have been promoted by uninformed conservative publishers and their uninformed clietele.

    Let me mention, as an example, that very many have cited 'the Council of Laodicea', which may have ended ca. 381:

    1. as if it were ecumenical instead of a local synod

    2. as if the list of 'books', or documents, were the same as 'our 66', but among its '22' (not listed as '39' for sure) has 1st & 2nd Esdras instead of our Ezra-Nehemiah, and contains Baruch and Epistle of Jeremiah and on the purely Greek side omits Revelation.

    3. as if its 'last canon' itself, namely, number 60, had not been tacked on by a later copyist (a proposition espoused by even the super-conservative Schaff and Wace English edition)

    Very many protestant platforms -- confessions, constitutions, covenants, statements of principles, etc. -- speak of the scriptures as if there surely must be a universally accepted canon, or as if they could show that their bible must be the very same as a presumed set of documents adopted by the early church.

    Perhaps most catholic and orthodox clergy speak of the church as 'superior to the bible', because, say they, the church selected the books of the bible. They seem oblivious to the fact that 'scriptures' as used in the scriptures cannot mean what they mean by 'scriptures' and to the fact that for centuries what christians in one area meant by 'scriptures' might not correspond exactly to what christians in another area meant by the same term.

    As you know, for me the Spirit remains a more fundamental guide than church or bible and determines for me both what portion of churchdom best represents 'true church' and what portion of ancient writing needs to be taken most seriously.

    Too many adherents of churchdom view their respective bibles as the most fundamental guide. Such evidently trust their understanding of language and fixing of the text more implicitly than I could trust mine. For me the persuasion of His Spirit in my heart seems far more trustworthy than my own puny brain.

    For example, many Coptic believers have as much reverence for the Coptic Gospel of Thomas as you do for your 27. And the thinking of a typical protestant sectarian would be conditioned by whatever English rendition he happens to 'like' at the time. These supposed deposits of objectivity vary from so-and-so's ignorant Paraphrase to a rejectionist manifesto like 'The Jerusalem Bible'. Even if no such thing as 'an original' exists for any of it, we can be a whole lot more 'original' than that.

    How fluid had been the role of the scriptures in the earliest messianic, or christian, communities? Maybe we could start forming a true answer, if we really consulted what they wrote, so that we could weigh the evidence.

    For example, whoever wrote the 'Didache' simply cites 'commandments of the Lord' as his authority, and does not pursue the method of quoting as Calvin would from his 27 documents or Luther would from his 26.

    An even murkier picture surrounds, back in the early centuries, the use they made of the '39 documents' (or 'the 53 documents', a number that would reflect the contents of the original KJV and almost match what has been in the bible of the Greek church from the beginning until now).

    The seven ecumenical councils professed to speak for the whole church.

    As a concomitant phenomenon, a provincial synod consisting of relatively few bishops was often called a concilium, and may now be referred to as a 'council'. Therefore when a writer speaks of a 'council' as adopting a 'canon of scripture', you need to find out what the facts really are. Otherwise you may trust in a murky and vague mess, misinterpret its implications, and parrot some non-factual facts.

    Three documents from the late 300's have often been cited to show which books of our bibles were accepted. Two of them resulted from local conferences, one of which is probably not authentic. And the third one apparently represents the opinion of a single individual. There seems to be nothing earlier that comes close to the present concept of authentication, or verification. Moreover, those claimed to be an exact match apparently fail to validate all the documents that they do list.

    Have fun. Let me know what you do think you learn. It would be so much simpler just to let the Holy Ghost show you what to respect, that is, if you ever learn that the Spirit of G_d remains more basic than 'your bible'.

    may you fare really well,

    Bill haz-Zaqen
     
  2. BobRyan

    BobRyan
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    In Mark 7 Christ condemns the Jewish leaders for "teaching for doctrine the traditions of man" even when those traditions violate the commandments of God.

    Yet the Church leaders of his day were among that group that canonized the OT text such that Christ and all NT apostles can refer to it and their listeners can study it as a "known" and accepted entity.

    So it is in the LORD's hands to compile.

    The book of James may not have been accepted by Luther - but it was written AND READ by all the church LONG BEFORE Luther!

    The fact is the first century NT church was not wandering aimlessly about waiting for a corrupt RC church to arise in Rome and tell them what to read a few centuries later.

    Nor can it be claimed EVEN TODAY that we have an exhaustive record of all documents available to the 2nd century church so "we" might know ALL that they knew "to read" of the letters written in the first century OR of the "Scripture" referrred to so often by the Gospel writers and the NT authors - by simply examining all 2nd century documents that SURVIVE to this day.


    In Christ,

    Bob
     

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