Monday, April 21, 2014

Navigating The Contours of The Canon - A Basic Presuppositional Defense (Pt. 4)

The Dispute
If Scripture is truly self-attesting, and the canon is Scripture, then the canon by its very nature must be self-attesting. In other words, there can be no canon for the canon. The canon serves as its own criteria. What has been framed up as criteria in many arguments and discussions around the canon is better understood as a list of similarities or common features shared by these very peculiar documents. From a rational standpoint, we can easily recognize these common features. However, these features are not the gatekeepers of the canon or what has been called, the criteria of the canon any more than the church is. The canon is its own gatekeeper. What we have in the canon is divine imposition applied through the apostles and their close associates by the work of the Holy Spirit, not only in the author, but also in the audience. It is this internal testimony that provides external ground for the features of the NT Canon. External grounds could never, apart from the authority of Scripture itself, provide an adequate foundation for testing or determining which books are canonical and which ones are not.
If the canon is Scripture, then it is self-attesting. The canon is Scripture. Therefore, the canon is self-attesting. Another way of stating it would be: If the canon is Scripture, then it is self-attesting. The canon is not self-attesting. Therefore, the canon is not Scripture. But the canon is Scripture. Therefore, the canon is self-attesting. The prior argument is in the form of Modes Ponens while the latter is in the form of Modus Tolens. These are two rules of inference used in formal logic to help with the evaluation of arguments. This is also an argument against competing claims by other religions that they're "holy" books are divine. The core issue is that books like the Qur'an are not self-attesting. There can be only one self-attesting authoritative revelation and it is Scripture. Since this is the case, competitors rest on outside sources of authority to establish their status and credibility. This inherently means they are not in the same class of divine Scripture. The Scriptures, while they are accompanied with external support, do not rest upon that support for anything more than providing secondary witness to their content. One would expect to find such evidence given the claims of Scripture and we do in fact find that evidence everywhere we look. But that evidence is not used to lend credence to the claims and authority of Scripture. Even the most honest person in the earth, whose word we should believe because she is the most honest person in the earth may derive some benefit from a corroborating witness.
Postscript: The Apocrypha
What does Apocrypha mean? The word apokruphos means hidden, or concealed. What are the contents of the Apocrypha? The following is a list of the books in the Apoc in the order in which they occur in the Eng. VSS (AV and RV): (1) 1 Esdras (150-100BC); (2) 2 Esdras (to be hereafter called “The Apocalyptic Esdras”) (late 1st century AD); (3) Tobit (180BC); (4) Judith (150BC); (5) The Rest of Esther(167-114BC); (6) The Wisdom of Solomon (100BC); (7) Ecclesiasticus (to be hereafter called “Sirach”) (180BC); (8) Baruch (100BC), with the Epistle of Jeremiah (100BC); (9) The Song of the Three Holy Children (165-100 BC); (10) The History of Susanna (165-100BC); (11) Bel and the Dragon (165-100 BC); (12) The Prayer of Manasses (1-2 cent. AD); (13) 1 Maccabees (end 2nd cent. BC); (14) 2 Maccabees (1-2 cent BC).[1]
The books of the Apocrypha range from 180 B.C. to possibly as late as 100 A.D. These dates are not above dispute of course, but there are hardly any dates from antiquity that are without controversy.
The evidence is most certainly against including the Apocryphal books in the biblical canon. Philo quoted the Old Testament prolifically, but he never quoted from the Apocrypha. Josephus explicitly excludes the Apocrypha from his list of the Jewish Scripture. Jesus and the New Testament writers never once quote from the Apocrypha. The Jewish scholars at Jamnia did not recognize the Apocrypha. Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate and great scholar, rejected the Apocrypha. Athanasius did not include the Apocrypha in his list. Many Roman Catholic scholars during the Reformation rejected the Apocrypha. It was not until 1546, in a polemical action during the counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), that the Apocrypha received full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church.[2]  Finally, the Apocrypha were composed when there was no prophet in the land. Moreover, the only books that were composed when there may have been prophets were composed during the life of our Lord or His Apostles.
In addition, Norman Geisler points out several other issues with the Apocrypha: 1) Some of their teaching is unbiblical or heretical; 2) Some of their stories are extrabiblical or fanciful; 3) Much of their teaching is subbiblical, at times even immoral; 4) Most of the Apocrypha was written in the postbiblical and intertestamental period. 5) Finally, all of the Apocrypha is nonbiblical or uncanonical, because it was not received by the people of God.[3]
The Apocryphal books were brought into the canon during the counter-reformation in what was likely a polemical response to attacks from the reformers on the authority of the church and the elevation of tradition to equal status with Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church had centuries to declare these writings canonical, but they did not. It was not until the Church was unable to defend herself against the arbitrary nature of her self-declared authority that she found support in her selective acceptance of the Apocryphal works.
It was at Trent that the Roman Catholic Church asserted itself in a manner that heretofore it had not. At Trent, the Church declared that the unwritten tradition, which it believed had been handed down from the apostles, was dictated by the Holy Spirit and had God as it's author. It declared the Latin Vulgate to be the authentic Bible of the Church. The Church also anathematized all those who taught that free-will had been lost at the fall. It was during this council that the same men declared these Apocryphal books, previously denied canonical status, with a stroke of their mighty pen, the authoritative works of God. No man or angel or demon has ever enjoyed that sort of power from the dawn of creation until now.
Summary
When we speak about the canon, we are speaking about Scripture. Historical evidences supporting the reasons for the canon are, at best, corroborating witnesses that one would expect to see upon historical investigation. They do not serve as a basis for our belief that the canon is Scripture. If the canon is Scripture, then the canon is self-attesting. The canon is Scripture. Therefore, the canon is self-attesting. Recall, this is the Modus Ponens form of the argument. If the canon is Scripture, then the canon is self-attesting. The cannon is not self-attesting. Therefore, the canon is not Scripture. This second form is what we call Modus Ponens. But the canon is Scripture and is therefore self-attesting. What I am arguing is basically that the canon must be Scripture if it is to be the canon. And as such, it stands on its own two feet. If it does not stand on its own two feet and is in need of support from external sources, then it is not self-attesting and if it is not self-attesting, it is not Scripture. The canon collapses in this case and Christianity with it. Jesus said, "My Word shall never pass away." (Matt. 5:35)




[1] Thomas Witton Davies, “Apocrypha,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 182.
[2] Geisler, Noman L. & Nix, William E. A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 272-273
[3] Ibid. 275

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