Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beckwith With Thoughts On the Canon

TurretinFan of AOMin has interacted with Francis Beckwith's recent blog post. Beckwith is now using the same argument against Sola Scriptura many Roman Catholic Apologists have been using for quite some time. How do Protestants know what books belong in the canon of Scripture since Scripture does not have an infallible index within its own pages? Therefore, Protestants must be borrowing from Rome's authority to know that there are 66 books of the Bible and which books they are.

Turretin rightly concludes:
What Beckwith's argument essentially asks the reader to do is to derive the belief about the number of books of Bible without the Bible. Then having taken away the Bible, Beckwith claims that the number of books can't be determined. But this is simply a game of bait and switch. Beckwith lures the reader in with a proposal to derive something from the Bible but then takes away the Bible.

Finally Beckwith asks:
Where have I gone wrong in this reasoning?
To which we may reply that he went wrong when he made the switch from letting us have the Bible to taking it away from us. If we have the Bible, we can easily tell you the number of books, even if the table of contents is missing. If we don't have the Bible, we're not dealing with Sola Scriptura any more.
Having had this conversation many times over, I'd like to add a couple of thoughts.

1) First, I would love to ask how Mr. Beckwith knows there are 66 books of the Bible. He would obviously say, as a Roman Catholic, that it is the RC church's authority to tell us this information. Of course, then I would ask how he knows the church has this authority. Of which he would then explain that Jesus told us in Matthew 16 that Rome has this authority. To which I would then ask how he knows Matthew 16 is God's Word. He would then respond by saying the church says so. To which I would ask...I think you might get the point now.

This leads to circular reasoning. Of course a couple of Roman Catholics have explained to me that this is not circular but spiral. That has been an interesting spin, but call it what they will. A circle is still a circle.

2) If we were living in the 20th year of the wilderness wandering after the Exodus from Egypt among the Israelites, and God spoke to Moses, and Moses wrote down what God said, would we need an infallible external authority to tell us that what God said to Moses and what Moses wrote down was in fact God's Word? Of course not! When God speaks, that is His own Word and authority. There is nothing higher to appeal. In other words, Moses would never have appealed to Rome's authority or any external authority. It would not only have begged the question, it would have undermined God's own authority.

So after Moses finished the first five books of the Bible, the people of God did not need to have an infallible index within the Bible. If you wanted to know at the time how many books were in the Bible, you simply would have counted them.

In conclusion, Rome has never been needed to know infallibly what books or their number should be in the Bible. The Bible is self-authenticating. This does not mean the Bible is without a witness by Rome and other churches such as the Eastern Orthodox or even church fathers such as Athanasius. It simply means that what Roman apologists require of the Bible is not necessary and is in fact is an un-Biblical epistemology.


Turretinfan said...

Thanks for this post!

As a minor matter, I note that Roman Catholics like Beckwith actually allege that there are 72 books (not 66), but the remainder of your point remains the same.

fwiw: I've previously discussed the so-called "spiral" argument (main post, response to an attempted rebuttal) and concluded the same as you have.

Howard Fisher said...


Thanks for the encouragement.

I wasn't actually thinking about the Apocrypha in the number since "66" was what was mentioned in the post. I should have thought of that.

As for the Spiral Argument, I simply don't see why RCs don't get the argument. From a Protestant perspective, what I am hearing is that God can't speak in such a way as to speak with ultimate authority. Rome's position actually makes her voice of a higher authority.

I realize they don't see it that way. But that is what we are saying, and they simply do not respond. The only conclusion I can come to is that they are simply blinded by their own Traditions to be able to understand what we are saying.

The Protestant position has never been that the Bible hangs out in mid air or that it fell from the sky. We believe the church has a role in its testimony for the reliability of the Bible. We just don't believe that God needs man in an ultimate/infallible sense.

But when one has to maintain certain beliefs that are clearly anti-biblical, then....

Howard Fisher said...

I did respond to one comment on Beckwith's blog. Here it is:

I think part of the debate between both sides is a misunderstanding of the Protestant position. For instance, it was said,

"But the Protestant response is that we have merely pushed the question back a step. They have to identify their authority (Scripture) without an authority to help them. We also have to identify our authority (The Church, along with Scripture and Tradition) without an authority to help us choose."

1) The premise seems to be that one must have an ultimate infallible authority outside of God Himself to know what is Scripture.

2) Another caricature and false premise is that Protestants don't believe in the witness of the church or her testimony to what is Scripture. The quote above makes it sound like each and every Protestant just shows up and catches a book that fell out of the sky and must be his own infallible pope to believe it is from God.

Perhaps William Whittacker's book Disputations On Holy Scripture may be of help to Roman Catholics who wish to understand what Protestants actually believe (of course it doesn't help when most Protestants actually fit the description due to their ignorance on the subject). Perhaps reading Calvin's Institutes would be of help as well.

Hey, perhaps Protestants should start reading too! :-)

Howard Fisher said...

Beckwith has commented on his post, and it just gets better. He states,

"What I am suggesting is that without extra-Biblical theological knowledge--whether it is from the Holy Spirit, the Church's Magisterium, or some criteria of canonicity--it is difficult to figure out how one arrives at 66 particular books (73 in the case of Catholics and Orthodox) that constitute Scripture."


"My reflection was really prodded by some recent reading on natural theology, and that got me thinking about the necessity of non-biblical theological knowledge in the formation of the canon."

This is fascinating. Now we are going to seek man's perverted knowledge of the creation and allow that to dictate how we know anything about God's special revelation.

Now of course there is some truth to this thinking. We use reason and logic, ect. But the problem arises as to how we know what is Scripture and its nature. This form of knowledge must come from Scripture itself. Scripture is not a natural phenomenon.

The question for how we know what is Scripture could be put another way. If we were living in Thessalonica, and we heard the Apostle Paul's preaching. Then we witnessed Paul getting kicked out, then Paul writes us a letter claiming to represent legally the Lord Jesus Christ, we would have to ask, how do we know this letter from Paul is binding on our consciences and is inspired.

So the claim starts theologically by Christ, His resurrection and through His Apostles, not historically or knowledge that comes by natural law.