Friday, December 18, 2009

'cliff notes on theology' continued: the discussion

The following discussion was generated after a posting called "Cliff Notes of Theology: Why are these books in the Bible and not others?"


Interestingly the "extra" books have been a part of the Septuigant from the beginning, and have been considered canonical since the before late 4th century, when the 27 books of the New Testament were canonized. References in Acts, and Jude are made to passages found in Books considered apochraphal by Protestants. As I have heard it explained, Luther wanted to match the Masoretic canon, which was only 39 books, so he threw out the "extras". Rome considered them Extra-canonical before Trent, but the Eastern Orthodox have always called them Canon.


I think, beyond traditional recognition, a great part of the determination of canonization, was how the writings in question bore consistency with the rest of Scripture, against which, they fell short.


I'm aware of the inclusion of the extra books in the Septuagint, but I guess that raises the question, Was the inclusion meant to indicate canonicity? Often helpful books were appended to translations in the way that notes are appended to study bibles or commentaries are to Bible software. I've heard of bibles distributed early in the church to which was attached the epistle of clement, the shepherd of hermes..without indicated the inspiration of these works. So, were the Alexandrians attempting to define or redefine the canon, or offer a helpful translation? It might be helpful to consider how the Jews as a larger religious community regarded these writings. I think the evidence is pretty strong that they considered their 22books (our 39) as the totality of OT canon (e.g. Jamnia). And so we can interpret their inclusion of these "extras" as helpful, but not necessarily inspired. This is also confirmed by early church fathers like Jerome, Cyril, Origen...


I thought the extra books were considered helpful, but not God breathed or God inspired. Please correct me if I am wrong Pastor Jake.


Not all of the earliest Church Fathers (Origen not being considered a "father" by the East in later centuries) agreed on the same Canon. It wasn't until nearly the end of the 4th century that we see a final consensus on the canon. I believe the East has, since that time, considered the extras of the OT Canon as canon.

The other thing to consider, in discussing the Eastern Orthodox, is the fact that Holy Tradition is considered an equal source of Apostolic Doctrine as the Scriptures. The Traditions of the Apostles were first passed down and preserved orally before the Epistles and Gospels (then referred to as memoirs by early Fathers) began to circulate. In other words, the Church itself is the "pillar and ground of truth", with Scripture and Tradition as a "one-two punch" of its authority, both have their authorship in the Holy Spirit.

I guess to get to my point, The Orthodox Church considers them canon, so for them, that ends the discussion. Not that they check their minds at the door, because they have good scholarship to back up their claims too.


Bonnie, I think you're right.

Jeremiah, I think I'm safe in saying that the vast majority of early fathers held to the canon held by the vast majority of Jews (which considered the apocryphal books apocryphal). I see your point about the view of authority subscribed to by the O.C. (cool abbreviation), but I think the question becomes, "Do they have a particular tradition on the content of the canon that can be traced back to apostolic origins?" If so, what? This is also a relevant question for our Roman Catholic brothers who affirm doctrine x to be true because it can be traced to tradition rather to Scripture. Unfortunately, when pressed, they often retreat from tradition to the Church Magisterium. If you're interested, I wrote an article sometime back defending sola scriptura given the backdrop of RC claims related to authority. I spend some time looking at their argument from tradition. Here's the link:


I read the blog. Jake, good stuff. I like the length of the argument. Very pithy and to the point. I wish I had some more time to evaluate the Church Fathers you mentioned. I'm still working through Shelly's Church History in Plain Language.


The traditions of the O.C. (I'll borrow your abbreviation) do in fact have their origins in the Apostles. The Epistle of Jude has accounts taken from the books in question. The history recounted by Stephen before his martyrdom in Acts is taken from Jewish tradition AND scripture. The fact is that we don't have obvious statements made by the Apostles about which books they deemed Scripture.

The other thing (and I pointed this out in my last statement) the Orthodox do not put Tradition and Scripture in opposition to one another. Scripture was born of the Traditions of the Church. They go hand in hand, and are both birthed of the Holy Spirit. You will not find a knowledge Orthodox who uses the terms Scripture and Tradition in an either/or context. They are always both/and. The question of authority lies in the Church itself, not in a magisterium.

Unfortunately for Rome, they separated themselves from the East nearly 1000 years ago. Having departed from Orthodoxy, they have added doctrine and tradition that are not Apostolic, which is why there was a Reformation.


I'm not sure I get how an apostle quoting from extra-canonical material should lead us to affirm that the traditions of the O.C. do in fact have their origins in the Apostles. Firstly, we still have to investigate whether there is good evidence that any particular tradition is in fact traced to an apostle (similar to the rigorous science of High Criticism for NT books). Secondly, even if we did discover some tradition, the question is whether this tradition authoritative. Just because an apostle said x, doesn't of necessity mean that x is inspired. He may have quoted from his grocery list or communicated compromise (Peter and the Judaizers). Properly speaking, the "writings" are always inspired, not the authors (2Tim 3:16-17). Thirdly, any tradition should be consistent with Scripture, otherwise Paul's call to Christians to test his message by Scripture would have been misdirected. Even Jude's citation of Enoch where the Lord is coming with is saints isn't a novelty. Fourthly, a inspired writer quoting from a source and including it in his writings does not mean that the source is inspired proper (as in, Titus 1:12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.").

I would argue that the church wields divine authority to the extent that it handles the word of God properly. Officers of the church have authority, but when its in opposition with the Vox Dei, they seize to wield divine authority. This tells me that church authority is derivative and therefore secondary to Scripture


The Apostles' quotations were just an example, although they do not prove conclusively in themselves the canonicity of a text. I have heard a Biblical scholar state that it is believed by some that the Canon of even the OT was not finalized until after the 1st century. This same scholar says the "extra canonical books" were not thrown out by the Jews until much later, and was in response to the Christian use of Scripture to prove Jesus is the Messiah. Her name is Eugenia Constantinou of the University of San Diego.

On the statement about authority, to say it is derivative creates a dichotomy that was never there in the early Church. The New Testament was written by the Church, and came from the Church (as it was established by the Apostles). Jesus, in sending the Holy Spirit, began a community called the Church. This same Holy Spirit guided the writing of the NT, and also guided the assembling of the NT by the Church. Remember, it was the Church which decided which books were in or out. Where was their authority? The guidance of the Holy Spirit through Tradition, prayer, conciliarity, the OT, Apostolic succession, among other things. This is all pre-Schism between East and West.

Authority, Tradition and Scripture work in unison in the life of the Church. Not wielded by one person as in the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox view of authority is in stark contrast to anything Protestants are willing to acknowledge, so we don't need to argue our points on that.

I enjoy discussing these issues, as they bring up very many good points.


I’m enjoying the discussion also. It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at the history behind canonization. I would venture to say that books were often formally accepted far after they had been practically accepted. To illustrate, its like when my wife and I received certain legal documentation identifying the citizenship of our children sometime after they were born. They were citizens prior to this formalization, being recognized as such upon birth, and this was conveyed in a formal way through documentation (I’m sure there’s a better analogy – perhaps paying off a car and waiting to receive the title…)

I don’t think your observations about the relationship of church and scripture establish your offered confusion of the two (confusion of authority). The church was instrumental in the writing of Scripture, but so was the east wind in spitting the red sea, and Babylon in executing God’s judgment. An instrument of some effect should not be viewed as equally important as what it produces. For example, medicine is instrumental in health, but it’s not equal in importance to health. In fact the value of medicine is derivative from health. If no one could get healthy or sick, medicine ceases to be important. Note also that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 refer to both the human agents of inspiration and the product of inspiration. There is no hint in these passages of authority being conferred upon the human authors due to their role in inspiration. The conclusion of both passages is that Scripture is binding, not that the church (or a writer) is binding.

These remarks also apply to the process whereby the church discovered (not ‘decided’) which books were in and out. Did the church have authority? Yes. If the church formally recognizes canon by her authority, then does that make her authority on par with Scripture? No. If a man is commissioned by a king to discover a new land (let’s say America) and finds it, he is still no king of this land, nor any greater in authority after the discovery. So it is with the church and scripture. I affirm that the Holy Spirit providentially guided a fallible church to recognize infallible scripture, to which she must constantly subject all her enterprises.

I feel pretty confident (from these considerations and numerous passages) in affirming that there is a distinction between church and scripture, and that the authority of the church is derivative from God’s word.


Wow... right on. I couldn't agree more with @Jake.


Go Maccabees!


Such a good discussion. I've been enjoying the read. When I first brought this question about cannon to you Jake I was mostly drawn by not understanding why some of the histories of Gods peoples were called divine but others for no other reason I can understand are omitted. (Maccabees for instance.) Also I remember reading in one of the epistles Paul makes reference to another letter he wrote to another church that is not found in the scripture. (I'm drawing a blank on referencing this one, it's after 3 AM.) I'm often finding myself craving more of the stories of how the apostles lived, led and taught Christs ways.

As for what I know, it bears more questions. I know that you don't need the whole thing for salvation. I haven't been redeemed by my reading of the scripture. I still haven't read the whole thing yet I'm still saved. Also the Ethiopian ruler who was reading from Isaiah had a seemingly brief exposure to much scripture. It seems likely also that some of the early church had other teachings that were divinely inspired and obviously beneficial to their edification being that they were directly under the leadership to those authoritative ones, the apostles. Ask most Christians to name all 12 and they won't be able to. Most of the apostles seem to have nearly no effect on the church because if they did write, then it obviously wasn't inspired enough to last to where it matters to me.

I just get this impression that what we have is enough even though there could be (and maybe was) more that lack nothing in legitimacy. But I wonder all the more about the staunch "these 66, no more, no less" stance.


Josh, great observations. I was reminded as I read your statements of John's statement at the end of his gospel where he said that If all of what Jesus said and did were recorded, the libraries of the world could not contain them (21:25). Of course this is hyperbole, but the point is that writings are not nearly exhaustive, which may clue us in as to why God limited what was inspired (the human limitation to handle large amounts of data in a responsible and edifying way). Maybe.

I think the "no more no less" stance should refer to the topic of authority. So I would say that the 66 books are the highest authority in the church, no more and no less. Yet I would also insist that there are derivative forms of authority (church government; teachers, both ancient and contemporary) that should be consulted, and our incredibly helpful in understanding doctrine and practice. But when the two conflict, as if when a portion of the Apocrypha contains some doctrine that is at odds with the 66 (or your pastor for that matter), Scripture must carry the day. This was what was referred to by Luke's commendation of Bereans about his own oral and written teaching:

Acts 17:10-11 "10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."

Luke states that the Bereans were praiseworthy in that they eagerly checked the oral teachings of Paul and Silas to see whether or not they spoke truth. Notice that if Scriptures did not contain concepts communicated by Paul and Silas, the Bereans would have concluded that the concepts themselves were dispensable (although not necessarily untrue).

Consider how this might relate to Roman Catholicism. If a Catholic claims that tradition differs in substance from the Holy Writ, and Paul and Silas were communicating these traditions, then the Bereans would have been lauded by Luke for dispensing with these traditions. Or, if Luke had believed that there are oral traditions which are on par with, but not necessarily equivalent in substance to Scripture, Luke would have withheld his praise from the Bereans for their actions. Or, if Paul and Silas believed the Catholic concept of authority, then they should have chastened the Bereans for not recognizing that outside of the written text, there is an oral tradition which is equal in authority and different in substance. In this case, Paul might have responded to their efforts by saying, “you may or may not find what we are talking about in the text. But that’s irrelevant because Scripture is not the only authority.” But we find no such things.


Jake, your comparison of the Church with the east wind, or Babylon as instruments underscores a problem with modern Protestant Theology, and that is the gnostic notion that all things material are unimportant at best, and/or evil at worst. The creation may be an instrument, but we His Church are a temple unto God, the pillar and ground of truth, the Body of Him who filleth all in all.

Another fact that is not acknowledged in this discussion is the fact that Scripture must be interpreted. Let me take that back, it is acknowledged indirectly when you stated that the Bible is not exhaustive. Who has the authority to interpret it aright? Anyone who claims the Holy Spirit and is a Christian? Nearly 30,000 denominations and countless cults prove that's not the case. A Church that holds to the Traditions and Doctrines of the Apostles, and has a succession of Apostolic authority has the correct interpretation. Now, this does not say all others are therefore patently false. They have varying degrees of "fullness", so to speak. The reason your friend Josh wonders about "these 66 and no more" is because the modern churches have almost no continuity with history and tradition of the historic Church. Heck even modern "Reformed" Churches have a vastly different theology than the reformers. Just one example is the teaching on Mary. The reformes regarded her as the Mother of God, Ever-Virgin. No modern Protestants believe that, let alone early Church writings.

I think we would do well to examine our modern theology in the light of the earliest teachings of the Church on the Scriptures. That's not to say that just because it's old it's gold. But if it's true, it's not new. I know I am making some broad statements, but I don't have room to get into too much detail.


Jeremiah, comparing the protestant doctrine of inspiration to Gnosticism is like calling someone who recycles a left-wing tree-hugger: a gross mischaracterization. The protestant tradition has been recognized by scholarship as possessing a robust connection of sacred and secular. A part of the wild impact of Luther among the masses was the elevation of the blacksmith to priest in his trade, wielding the tools of his daily trade by God’s power for his glory. That seized the hearts of the peasant and pauper who, up to that time, viewed pope, pastor, and prince as the real instruments through which God really works. It certainly is no secret that most historians attribute sciences like higher criticism to a reformational view of general revelation as it relates to special revelation. It was from Germany and Geneva that the clergy began to take seriously the instrument of inspiration (by applying humanistic principles of literary analysis to the text and authors), not Rome or Constantinople.

Further, I think you missed my overall point. You contend that if the church is used by God to write scripture and to recognize it, it must wield an authority equal to it. My examples show that this is unwarranted move, not that the church is completely unimportant in the process (which I also was clear on). Reason and Scripture seem to move us to assert the primacy of Scripture in authority over against a church entrusted to steward this Scripture.

I don’t think your argument from division works. Both the RCC and EOC claim to have a pedigree of tradition which corrects conflicting interpretations, and yet…

(1) a person must interpret these traditions in order to figure out how they answer debatable doctrines. Rome says that in order to have a set body of doctrines, you must have an infallible interpreter. Of course this is terribly na├»ve and circular, for we all have to interpret the pope (more accurately, the church’s pronouncements) when they tell us what Scripture means. Do we then have to be infallible?

(2) we must have good reason to believe that any proffered tradition comes from an apostle (which most often boils down to, “It comes from Peter because we say so). Again, circular.

(3) one often finds the same debates brewing in the RCC and EOC that you find in Protestantism (e.g., those who will have a strong view of God’s sovereignty in salvation, and others who will emphasize human agency debating in back rooms).

(4) one finds the same disunity at the time of the apostles. I would assume that you believed that all of the elements necessary for unity existed in the early church (otherwise why would the apostles chide the churches for factions). And yet we see significant disunity then. For example, the Corinthian Church had Scripture, tradition, and the apostles present in their assembly. However, when Paul addressed the church in 55 A.D., it was fractured by factions (1:10). Various groups in the congregation formed in isolation to others, each one claiming to be closer to the truth. Some claimed to be of the Pauline school, others the Apollosian school, others of the Petrine persuasion, and still others claimed to be allied with Christ himself (1:12). In short, disparaging disunity. This factiousness continued up to and beyond the dawn of the second century, recorded for us by Clement who takes the Corinthians back to Paul’s writings, reminding them that nothing had changed on their part.

Given these observations, if a RC or EO wants to maintain that their view of authority is the kind that is necessary and sufficient for everything in Christian living, including unity, and yet the Corinthian church displays a seditious disunity in the midst of this tripartite authority, should we conclude that RC and OC are wrong in their doctrine of authority? We must if we follow the line of reasoning offered here. Now if RC or EO can maintain their view of authority in the midst of the seditious disunity in the Corinthian church (and beyond), then why can’t the Protestant maintain Sola Scriptura even though all of Christendom seems to be a macrocosm of Corinth? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

You say, “The reason your friend Josh wonders about "these 66 and no more" is because the modern churches have almost no continuity with history and tradition of the historic Church.” Certainly reformers both pre and post Protestantism knew all about history and tradition, in fact they were steeped in it. It was precisely the unhealthy elevation of these that they so vigorously responded to. Their argument was that there wasn't the degree of continuity with the New Testament and the existing churches that should exist. Their reforms where born out of discontinuity that existed between church and ancient church history, particularly the New Testament. Their conviction (which I agree with) was that to the extent that you let up on the authority of the Word of God in your life and church, to that extent you’ll stray from it. And so any healthy church will always be in reformation, constantly being challenged and checked by Scripture.


I was not comparing Protestant view of inspiration gnostic, but the view of the material creation. It is not an explicit comparison, but implicit. But that really wasn't my point.
Comparing the RC and the EO only goes as far as a surface comparison of what appears to be the same ritual and sacrament. There is, as a result of the Great Schism, a huge difference in the theology of the two. The West became rationalistic, forensic and juridical in it's understanding of Scripture, Tradition and Sacrament. History shows that when Rome broke from the East, her theology changed as well. Not completely, but there were novel inovations to the Apostolic Traditions. An objective look at the early Church Fathers in comparison to RC (Especially after the Middle Ages) will show a vast difference. But Compare the same to EO and you will not find significant differences.

Also, you stated one finds the same debates in RC and EO. Actually, the Dogmas of the EO are non-negotiable and have not changed. One has to look no further than Vatican I to see dogmas added to the RC that were not there in previous centuries. There are a lot of doctrinal differences in the RC and Protestantism. While there are many areas where the EO differ, doctrine is not one of them. That's not a "we're better than you," statement. Just an objective fact.
I don't see how the disunity in Corinth = EO being wrong about authority. Nothing in your argument necessitates that conclusion. A look at the history of the 7 Ecumenical Counsels shows that there was great debate, but eventual unity. Even RC and EO were one Church for over 1000 years.

But again, you come at this discussion with the idea that Rome = totally wrong, so therefore East must = wrong too. I generalize in an exaggerated fashion, but you know what I mean. I will give you that the Reformers responded to the excesses of Rome in the best way they knew. But the EO contends they threw the baby out with the bath water. Tradition and Scripture are not at odds with one another. Rome's excesses were a result of adding to and defiling Holy Tradition, which led to bogus interpretation of Scripture to back up their claims. The EO doesn't have to do that.

A look at the Church Fathers shows a Church that looks nothing like modern Protestantism. Nor, for that matter, modern Roman Catholicism. What it does look like is the Eastern Orthodox Church. I don't say that presumptuously. This is just from what I have been studying myself. Peter Gillquist and several others of Campus Crusade for Christ did the same study, and came up with the same conclusion. It's pretty fascinating.

Again, I don't paint Protestants and RC's as wrong outright. I just see that the EO have a more complete understanding of Scripture, Tradition, Sacrament and the Church. The Church does not need constant reformation, as we tend to think of it. She does need reminders, as did Israel before her.


Jeremiah, the context of comparing Protestantism to Gnosticism was related to my assertion that just as there is concurrence in history, there is concurrence in inspiration. Concurrence forces us to look at God work and human instrumentality. Regardless, I also think it is a gross mischaracterization that they were Gnostic about creation.

As to the comparison of the RC and EO, I’m definitely aware of the differences and wouldn’t want to confuse the two. The similarity is, however, the conviction that the church possesses an authority on par with Scripture because it was given through her apostles and prophets and collected by church officers. I think that this is an unwarranted step, as I have argued; most of the points being relevant for the RC and OC.

But let’s take the issue of uniformity of doctrine. For all the issues that divide the RC and PC (Protestant Churches), (1) In what way does the OC maintain uniformity? a) By having official positions on most contentious matters – A Robust Uniformity. b) By emphasizing essential and cardinal doctrines, while remaining silent or flexible on tertiary matters – A Mild Uniformity.

If it’s the former, then I’d be really interested to see how the OC works to ground their exhaustive official stances on all the particular minutia that Christians debate over. I have a suspicion that such justification would be less than convincing and would lapse back on claims of authority (because we say so).

If it’s the later, then it appears that there is a tolerance of difference because the OC is more interested in affiliation to the organizational side of the church. At this point, it would seem that the charge of rampant division is not as forceful as it was thought to be. As long as you affiliate with the organization, participate in its liturgies, confess the universal creeds and subscribe to a few doctrines that are deemed important, you’re OC. That sounds like my church, and a bunch of others as well.

This leads to a broader point. In my estimation, the OC is just another denomination like others. Instead of being the exception to the norm, they’re just another example of it (division). Unlike other denominations, they claim to be THE denomination, the purest expression of Christian faith and practice. This big claim deserves big justification. I don’t think there is.

My argument about Corinth was designed to show that if a person claims that division in the church is a sign of inadequate authority (as in the case of, “protestants are hopelessly divided because they don’t recognize the role of the church, church fathers… in interpreting Scripture”), they must assert something was inadequate the Paul/Corinth saga. But of course we don’t want to say that. Everything needed to maintain unity was present there, and yet there was no unity. Come to find out, this type of disunity existed not just in Corinth, but all over. The early church was a microcosm of the modern church. The church of Jerusalem adopted different liturgy, diet, expression, and had a different value for the role of OT in NT life. The Gentile churches were less stringent, viewed by some as libertines. The leaders of Jerusalem were tempted to say that their denomination was the purest denomination and had to be corrected, with some concessions. The examples abound.

The bigger point. My argument isn’t that the OC is necessarily wrong in their claim to authority from these observations, but that the presence of division doesn’t mean that they are right in their claim to authority; over and against protestants who don’t possess their particular formula for authority. Division doesn’t necessitate the inadequacy of Scripture being the primary and fundamental source of authority in the church. There was division then, there is division now.

I understand the OC feeling that the Reformers went too far in their evaluation of tradition, but of course the reformers would argue that they handled them well. They were quick to esteem church fathers and labored at understanding them, but also recognized that they too were teachers, fallible and ultimately subject to the scrutiny of Scripture.

The comparison of church fathers and modern expressions of church may be significant; it may not be. Having been to a few Orthodox Services, much of the liturgy appeares completely foreign to descriptions of church life in the NT (1Cor.14). I don’t discount the OC expression, but cringe at their conviction that somehow they have captured the model. Further, what church father at what age? One observes significant changes from 2nd century (in ecclesial and doctrinal expressions) from 6th century expressions.

I do agree that the church father exercised unity at the 7 councils, but remember that the topic was extremely narrow, and conclusion universally apply to the diversity of all churches today (with exception to Nicea pt. 2): the person of Christ. If they would have expanded their scope to address all issues dealt with in all churches, we would not find this same kind of unity. On essentials unity. But on non-essentials, can there be both charity and “division” like we see between the Jerusalem and Gentile churches. I think so. Unity, “yes.” I’m not so sure about the OC pursuit of uniformity.