Friday, September 23, 2011

Self Authentication of Scripture?

A discussion of this topic began back on August 26th in the Catholic Debate Forum (hereafter "CDF" - link to first post in that thread) wherein it was asked:
How do you KNOW what comprises the New Testament? The New Testament does not self-authenticate its canon, this was done by the Church.
The discussion soon went into one of the "autopistic" nature of Scripture.  I am sharing this here because it almost seems like a deliberate tactic being used by the Calvinist challenger I was (still am) facing in CDF, and we (Catholics) should be on the watch for this.  Let us start by presenting definitions of the terminology.  Before continuing, however, please make note of the first question in this thread, we'll get back to that, I promise.

Autopistic:  "Scripture's believability is not based not upon (the authority of) the church but the Spirit's external witness in Scripture and internal witness in Christians.  Although Scripture is autopistic, that is, it carries its own credibility and evokes respect for its inherent majesty, it does not seriously affect believers until the testimony of the Spirit seals it upon their hearts (Inst. 1.7.5)." (Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith, McKim and Wright, p. 397).

Scripture bears its own authentication
Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgement or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgement, feel perfectly assured - as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it -that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which torest our judgement, but we subject our intellect and judgement to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it - an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by human will or knowledge.    (Institutes 1.7.5)
The word is similar in nature and in meaning to "autopsy" which means "Examination of a cadaver to determine or confirm the cause of death" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language qtd. here). In other words, the medical examiner determines from the evidence within the body itself to determine or confirm the cause of death."  Similarly, but not exactly the same, Protestants (primarily Calvinists it seems) use the term "autopistic" to mean the body of Scripture itself, since it is the Word of God, is by its nature authoritative and evokes respect. 

"Two approaches exist as to the credibility of the scriptural revelation. Fideists insist that the Scripture and the revelation it contains is self-authenticating, that is, autopistic. The infallibility of the Bible must be presupposed and can be because the Scripture says it is inspired and the Spirit accredits it.   (Basic Theology, Ryrie, Charles C., Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.  qtd. on: ).

Axiopistic:  "Empiricists, on the other hand, stress the intrinsic credibility of the revelation of the Bible as being worthy of belief, that is, axiopistic.  The Bible’s claim to authority is not in itself proof of its authority; rather there exist factual, historical evidences which constitute the Bible’s credentials and validate the truth of its message" (ibid).   Ryrie goes on to say, "My feeling is that there is truth in both approaches so that both can and should be used." 
Self-Authenticating:  "The act of proving that something, usually a document, is genuine or true without the use of extrinsic evidence." (Webster's New World Law Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.)

Discussion from CDF:
Alright, now that we have the terminology defined, let's examine how the discussion from CDF unfolded.  It is important to set forth the premise of the definitions at hand before progressing in the discussion/debate.  As you recall, the question first asked was "How do you KNOW what comprises the New Testament? The New Testament does not self-authenticate its canon, this was done by the Church."   The question being asked is not "Is the Bible, in general, self-authenticating?"  No, it is specific in seeking an answer as to how anyone, Protestant, Catholic or otherwise, can KNOW - with certainty, what IS the Canon of Sacred Scripture - and more specifically at this time, what comprises the canon of the New Testament.  The challengers in CDF (there were/are two of them in this discussion) kept going back to this autopistic and rather circular response - but never really answered the question at hand.  The autopistic definition they adhere to is actually something a faithful Catholic can adhere to as well!  Since Scripture IS the Word of God (a point on which both sides agree) then without any other extrinsic evidence, it is to be accepted and obeyed, even honored or revered as such.  The problem Calvinism has with this, as with most of Protestantism, is they take this autopistic view of Scripture to the extreme of sola scriptura, which is also not taught BY Scripture anywhere within its pages!  Let us not lose focus though!  One can see how easily this topic can get distracted.  The subject is NOT sola scriptura nor the authority of Scripture!  No, the specific question asked is "How do you KNOW what comprises the New Testament?"  And, the rather short initial posting answers, "The New Testament does not self-authenticate its canon, this was done by the Church."  

If one objectively reads through the posts on CDF what they will see is precisely what I'm describing here... the Protestant apologists never deal with the actual topic - but get focused upon the authority of Scripture by the autopistic nature of Scripture.  At one point one of the challengers DOES admit that the process took nearly 400 years to finalize the canon, but then insists the reason he is in that discussion at all is to "correct" the perception of Catholics (me specifically) of the autopistic view of Scripture held by Calvin and Calvinists.  When I confronted him with the fact that this view is actually something Catholics can and do agree with - rather than concede this is true and actually answer the question at hand - this apologist (who moderates one of the largest "Reformed" discussion groups on the Internet) bows out of the discussion.  His diversion did not work out for him, so he quits on that discussion.

THE subject of this discussion remains unanswered:
How do you KNOW what comprises the New Testament? The New Testament does not self-authenticate its canon, this was done by the Church.


Let us end on this note:  "Qui tacet consentit"

1 comment:

  1. Al Brennan invited me to respond here.

    How do we KNOW what comprises the New Testament?

    The New Testament does not self-authenticate its canon in and of itself, this was done by the Holy Spirit in the churches, which was later codified by councils.

    The New Testament is not merely ink on parchment, but is the living Word of God. Words only exist in minds. Thus, to consider Scripture to be merely an ancient document is to imagine the life out of it. The Word is God (John 1:1), and Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). The words of Scripture come alive in Christ, who inhabits His people (John 14:20). Thus, the "self-authentication" of Scripture is a function of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the people of God. As such, the Holy Spirit in me hears the Holy Spirit in Scripture and seals it with the confirmation of understanding and application in Christ.

    So, we are grateful for the Councils that pronounced their benediction on what the Holy Spirit had already done in the churches when they codified the dominant practice and use of various apostolic letters in the churches. The determination of the canon of Scripture was made by the Holy Spirit in the churches and codified by the elders in consultation. So, the "self-authentication" of Scripture requires the trinitarian Self of the Godhead.


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