I was drawn back into this discussion by a blog article written by Ken Temple here: http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2014/05/sola-scriptura-canon-and-roman.html wherein he directs us to another blog he writes on here: http://apologeticsandagape.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/sola-scriptura-the-canon-and-roman-catholicism/ which has a Dividing Line (hereafter "DL") program was embedded in the blog. The DL program was with James White with Dr. Michael Kruger on the phone. White and Kruger are responding to a phone call into the Catholic Answers (hereafter "CA") radio show hosted by Patrick Coffin with guest Fr. Joseph Fessio. That radio program can be listened to or downloaded here: http://www.catholic.com/radio/shows/open-forum-9513 and the DL show can also be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGiUpdjiMHg
Mr. Temple "requires" that one demonstrate that they have listened to the entire DL program before commenting. Well, the program is an hour and twenty-five minutes long and a "response" in the combox at Beggars All and/or Temple's other blog would a) be hard to fit into such a combox reply and b) may not ever make it past the moderation stage at either blog (I am assuming since I am responding to articles written back in May, being two months ago, will now be subjected to moderation before posting). So the most appropriate place for me to respond is on the CathApol Blog (here). I will post notice on both of the other blogs announcing this article. It should be rather obvious to Mr. Temple that I have listened to the entire Youtube response to the CA phone call. So, with that, I will jump into the video response posted by White.
White: "Canon is an artifact of inspiration." He explains that there is a canon of books he (James White) has written, and those books became a part of that "canon" as soon as they were written. Thus he (and Kruger) explain that the books of Scripture were part of that canon of Scripture as soon as the ink dried on the page. White then goes on to say that Roman apologists challenge "How do we know what God has determined (to be canon) becomes the issue at that point." White is right in that question - but he does not answer it and goes on to deal with a phone call to the CA program, which I applaud him for posting the whole call without interruption at the beginning of this DL program. He and Kruger agree that the answer to this will come about in their response to the phone call.
My response to this "artifact of inspiration" argument is this... such an argument still does not answer how we got to the point of accepting and recognizing the canonical property of a given book so that Christians throughout the world can have surety that these books do belong to the canon (collection) of books which are the inspired Word of God. I would concede that from their inspiration and recording these 27 books are part of the canon - but again, how do we KNOW this? Many books claim to be of apostolic origin, and this still does not get around the fact that in the Early (Catholic) Church the canon was not firmly established for nearly 400 years. Yes, many of the books were commonly accepted but some which made the "final cut" were not part of earlier canons and some which were part of those earlier canons were not included in the final declaration of the canon. These are indisputable facts which neither White nor Kruger could possibly debate or deny.
The first claim they deal with in the phone call is the statement that there was no unit or single book to call the Bible or Scripture until about the fourth century. Kruger starts out misstating the CA response stating they claimed there was no New Testament prior to the fourth century, which is not what was said! Catholic apologists do not deny that Scripture existed prior to the fourth century, the wholly historic claim is that we do not claim there was a single agreed upon canon prior to the fourth century. Kruger goes on to agree that there was no officially declared or ruled upon canon but goes on to say there was a lot of agreement upon the books which eventually were "declared" canonical. He goes on to say "to say there was no New Testament prior to that time makes it sound like things were in utter chaos" - and again, the statement of "there is no New Testament prior to that time" really states, truthfully, that there was no New Testament AS WE KNOW IT TODAY prior to that time. Were their similar versions of the New Testament as we know it today prior to the fourth century? Yes, but the point is there were variations of it and it was not solidified until the later fourth century and into the fifth.
Next, they digress into discussing post Vatican II scholarship being more liberal, and perhaps that liberal mindset is finding its way into Catholic apologetics. White expresses a perceived irony that in his experience most Catholic apologists are quite a bit more conservative in their approach and mindset than the "less than conservative view of bibliology from the academy (at Rome)." Regardless, they went off topic and so am I now, so getting back...
White: "This is the key mechanism by which they (Catholic apologists) establish the concept of the authority of the papacy." Kruger chimes in and agrees and states that if it can be shown that as early as the second century there was agreement on the core books of the New Testament it shows that somehow the people knew what the canon of Sacred Scripture was even before the Church officially declared it in the late fourth century and into the fifth century. White jumps back in and states "they cannot allow for coming to that sort of conclusion without a functioning papacy" and goes on to posit "even they (Catholic apologists) recognize that there was no functioning papacy at that time." I do not know where White gets his information, other than possibly from this alleged "liberal bibliological academy" from Rome. No respected Catholic apologist I know of concedes this point to him or anyone else for that matter! The papacy began and functioned with St. Peter being thrust there by Christ Himself; but now I digress. The fact is this particular point has little to do with the papacy, as it was a series of conciliar declarations by which the final determination of the canon came about more in line with Matthew 18:18 than 16:18-19.
A passing remark made by Kruger should not go unnoticed here. He makes the comment that the next thing they (at CA) get into is the mistake of bishops mentioning bishops "and there weren't really any." Wow! Really? The office of the bishop is mentioned in Scripture. In Acts 1 it is Judas' office, or "bishoprick" which needs to be filled! To make a claim that there were no bishops, even in just a passing comment, cannot go unnoticed, and it hasn't. Kruger's claim here is just plain ludicrous and anti-scriptural.
White then tells a story wherein he brings up where he allegedly developed "The White Question." White asked this question of Gerry Matatics and allegedly "it got very quiet" afterward. That question is, "How did the believing Jewish person know that 2 Chronicles and Isaiah were Scripture fifty years before Christ?" Well first off, I know this was not just "something out of the blue" as White claims in this DL show, for I have been asked that very question, perhaps by White himself, on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) many, many years ago! White also claims he's never heard a good answer for that - well, if he did not hear my answer before, let me put it out there again now. The reality is that for the Jewish people the matter of a "canon" was not nearly as forefront as it is for the modern Christian (Catholic or Protestant). The fact is they didn't have a "canon" per se, but they did have a group of books which had been handed down to them by the means of Sacred Tradition which were accepted by the Jewish person 50 years before Christ. That being said, more proof that the Jews did not have a firmly established canon (and in speaking with an Orthodox Jew I was told that they, to this day, do not really embrace a concept of "canon" in the same sense that we, Christians, do) if we were to ask "The White Question" to a believing Jewish person 50 years before Christ, a lot might weigh in WHERE that Jewish person lived! If it were a Jewish person living in Alexandria, and say that we were asking about the Book of Baruch or one of the books of Maccabees, he would accept those books as Scripture, whereas a Palestinian Jew might reject those books as such - IF (again) they had a concept of "canon" like Christians have, and they don't. So, White's question is built on a faulty premise - but even if we accept the premise - WHERE that Jewish person lived would factor in because some Jews accepted the Alexandrian Canon while others accepted the Palestinian Canon (and again, these "canon" names are given by Christians discussing the topic more so than Jews). That is about as good an answer as one can expect from the poorly framed "White Question."
Back to the CA call... Fr. Fessio is talking about the books of the New Testament as opposed to books like the Gospel of Peter and other Gnostic works, to which Kruger rightly responds that such books weren't written until more than 100 years later and the first Christians would not be disputing/discussing these books because they weren't even penned yet. A better example would have been to use the Epistles of Pope St. Clement, the Shepherd of Hermes, the Didache or the Epistle of Barnabas which WERE part of several of the early canons, but were excluded from the final canon. Or how about several books, five of them actually, which were excluded from different early canons but included in the final canon (those books are: 2 Peter, James, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation). It would be nice to hear White and/or Kruger respond to actual examples. While I'm sure they can come up with all sorts of rationalizations as to why those books were excluded or included - they cannot get around the FACT that these earlier and varying canons existed AND that the canon question would not be firmly resolved until the later fourth century in several conciliar decisions from various councils (including Rome) and the compilation of the Vulgate under direct papal request, in the early fifth century. EVERY officially approved Catholic Bible from that point forward uses the canon per St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Another interesting and valid point here is that prior to St. Jerome's Vulgate, there was NO SUCH THING as a "Bible" with all the books put into one "book" (which is literally what "bible" means). While there were varying canon LISTS - there was no "Bible" until the Vulgate.
Kruger states that we don't have any evidence that the canon was declared by any official council and that the acceptance of the canon was more "organic" by the Early Church than it was "officially declared." I could not believe my ears in hearing this! Certainly Kruger is aware of the councils of Carthage, Hippo and Rome in the late fourth century and the commissioning of the Vulgate in the early fifth century. Prior to the fourth century the various canon lists did not just "organically" appear - but came to us from various leaders/fathers of the Early Church - who penned them and declared them to be canonical for their jurisdictions. To say there is no evidence of such declarations is an out and out lie. Sorry Dr. Kruger, but I have to call them as I see them.
Backtracking a bit, Kruger uses an example of going up to a second century Christian and asking them why they chose Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the Gospels he stated "he would look at you as if you had two heads" and continues, "those were the books handed down to us, he would say." So Kruger picks 4 books which were never disputed and included in ALL the early canon lists! Still, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the FACT that we did have several VARYING CANON LISTS! Kruger even repeats that "there is nothing in the fourth to fifth century range that can accommodate their need for an official declaration." He claims that those councils were not "declaring" something new, but simply stating that which was always believed by the Early Church and was handed to them. Sorry again, Dr. Kruger, but that is simply not true! Stop avoiding the 800 pound gorilla! Those earlier and varying canons did exist and the councils of the fourth century along with the commissioning of the Vulgate in the early fifth century were indeed in response to that 800 pound gorilla (the varying canon lists) and did serve to close the canon debate for faithful Christians. Of course, about 1000 years later some unfaithful Christians reopened the discussion which led THE Church to pronounce, infallibly, at the Council of Trent the restatement of the official canon and even NAMED the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome as THE canon for faithful Christians to accept.
After about 10 minutes of White and Kruger preaching to their own choir (White's words), White asks a question, "How is anyone supposed to grasp hold of this stuff when you can pick up even the standard works, the Gonzales and the Shaffs and things like that and you're going to find different understandings even in the secondary sources, let alone when you go to the primary sources and the Roman Catholic says 'See, when you do that you're never going to come to an answer, you need to have an authority that can even interpret the tradition as well as being an authority which can interpret the Scripture; and so without infallibility you're just going to be left with all this uncertainty.'" White pauses and Kruger jumps in, "That is the argument that keeps going on, that you cannot have authority without external validation." Then comes the standard attempt to pigeon hole the Catholic into a circular argument... the statement that Scripture (and tradition) need an external authority to validate them, but when we take it a step backward and ask where does the Church get its validation, from which external authority it points back to Scripture - and that the Church is self-validating. The problem White and Kruger have here is that THEY believe Scripture is self validating and we find IN SCRIPTURE the validation of the Church - so by THEIR STANDARD the Church IS validated. The point that is missed here is that the Church does not validate or give authority to the Word of God, it simply validates which books ARE the Word of God so that Christians can have confidence in reading them as such. As they claimed at the beginning of this discussion, a point we do not dispute, that these books were part of the canon as soon as they were penned - the point is the process of narrowing down the canon list to THE canon we have today.
Kruger goes on to say, "What you really have is sola ecclesia(m) as opposed to sola scriptura." White chimes in and says, "Believe me, they really don't like it when I use that terminology, sola ecclesia(m). But, but, but every time they argue against that, they prove my point because it is rather simple, you ask them 'Who has the authority to determine the extent of Scripture?' The Church does. 'Who has the authority to infallibly interpret the content of Scripture?' The Church does. 'Then who has the authority to determine what is and what isn't Sacred Tradition?' The Church. 'And who has the authority to infallibly interpret the Tradition?' And, it's the Church. How you can have the Church under the authority of two things which she alone can determine the extent of and she alone can interpret, I can't begin to understand and I don't think anyone else can." Kruger interjects, "No, I don't either." Well, I'm not sure who these other unnamed Catholic apologists are - but I for one have never shied away from sola ecclesiam, and I have actually used the terminology in some of my early debates with White. Sola ecclesiam is not something we need to argue against! The ecclesiam, or Church, encompasses Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition - the Church does not exist without both for it IS both! The ecclesiam is the apostolic succession of the bishops, it is the bishops gathered together in ecumenical council, it is the pope and it is all of us, faithful Christians who have been validly baptized into it and adhere to it as THE ecclesiam established by Christ to which He promised He would remain with that Church until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). To belong to and profess ANOTHER ecclesiam is to deny Christ and the Church He built. So yes, sola ecclesiam is not something for us to be ashamed of - we need to embrace it for it is THE authority Jesus left His People. The fact is Scripture has authority, but it is not alone. Sacred Tradition has authority, but it is not alone. The little "sola slogans" of the sixteenth century, especially sola scriptura and sola fide are meaningless, devoid of scriptural foundation and even oppose Scripture for Scripture comes right out and denies both of these in no uncertain terms! (James 2:24 and Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18).
Next White states, "Let me become the Roman Catholic apologist here and ask you (Dr. Kruger) to flesh out a couple of the statements which you have specifically made. You said that there just isn't anything in this early period that would provide the Church with the foundation of the claims that she is making. So, are you saying that... how did someone in the days of, let's just use Tertullian, as an example, how did he know what Scripture was and what Scripture was not if he wasn't appealing to an ecclesiastical authority as the foundation of his knowledge? Kruger responds, "Yah, well, several ways, and this does get into a trifold way in my book, as you know. Several ways in which an early Christian was to know if a book was to be included as Scripture were:
- It's apostolic origin. I mean it's clear when we're referring to early patristic writers, they weren't appealing to infallible church declarations. Instead, on the contrary, their basis for receiving one book and not another was apostolic origins. When they understood a book to be apostolic then they understood that book to be something they should receive as authoritative Scripture. So one way to know was the apostolic origin of the book. That seems to be playing a major role in the Early Church Fathers as opposed to infallible Church declarations.
- The second way in which people seemed to know which books was about usage. Or, another way to say it was the general consensus and as I said earlier it is entirely valid to look at general consensus. In other words look how the Church, filled with the Holy Spirit is responding to books and the consensus they developed around books is a great indicator of canonicity.
- The third way I get into in my book, of course Roman Catholic friends just really get upset with me about is this idea of books bearing within themselves marks of their own divine origin. Protestants refer to this as the self-authentication of Scripture. Calvin talked about it extensively, the fact that there are indicators or divine marks or qualities or characteristics of these books which set them apart as from God.
Well, where to begin?! Kruger's "trifold" list is so punctuated with errors - let's just start at the beginning. Many books claimed apostolic origin - if that were significant, they would have trouble dismissing the Gnostic writings attributed to Apostles. Secondly here - Mark and Luke were not Apostles! Were their books approved by Apostles? No doubt! But if apostolic origin is a requirement, we must cast out two of the Gospels from step one! Consensus? Sorry, if that were an indicator then you could not reject books like Clement's epistles, the Shepherd of Hermes, the Didache, etc. for in the earliest of canons, these books were widely accepted. Then we come to the five books mentioned earlier - those books were commonly excluded from many of the earlier canons - if this truly were a principle in determining canonicity, we'd have to reject those five books too. Dr. Kruger, your canon is down to 20 books now. Then we come to the nonsensical "self-determination" concept. Most of the Gnostic writings as well as other valid writings have the same or similar "self-determination" characteristics - so we've dropped down to 20 books, but now we expand well beyond the established canon into an unknown.
An example of Marcion is made- who allegedly butchered the canon of Sacred Scripture so much that it became a sounding board for Christian writers, that if you wrote against Marcion, you were establishing yourself as a truly orthodox Christian writer. The facts are Marcion was a heretic, not for his canon selection, but for his denial of the Old Testament God as the same God of the New Testament. His Old Testament god was seen as something less than the all forgiving God of the New Testament and it was for his teachings along those lines which got him condemned. Next fact, yes he did produce one of the earliest - if not the earliest - canons of Sacred Scripture of the New Testament. Yes, the Early Church did respond to his canon with more complete lists but he was excommunicated for his teachings about God more so than an incomplete canon. In fact, some sources credit him with being responsible for the Church putting out official canons and eventually THE canon of Sacred Scripture.
As White and Kruger are wrapping up this DL show White makes a plea to Kruger to explain again something which he feels is so paramount for the believer to accept - something which came to him as he was hiking a mountain and listening to one of Dr. Kruger's books - and that is the self-authentication of Scripture. Together they build up this huge straw man, that since Scripture is about God and is God Himself speaking through the Scripture that these books are unique in that they reveal God to those who are seeking God. As such, these books have the characteristic of being able to self-authenticate by their very nature of coming from God to begin with. This is all a straw man because there is nothing to support such a grandiose view. Now I grant you, Scripture is a grandiose collection of books - but as we have discussed in this response article, no book or collection of books self-authenticate. Based upon that logic, how does one say the Book of Mormon is not Scripture? It self-authenticates too! In fact, the "story" behind the Book of Mormon tells us of golden plates which came down from Heaven and the special glasses which Joseph Smith was given to read and interpret the plates... if self-authentication is the key, then White and Kruger have a real problem with NOT including the Book of Mormon in the Canon of Sacred Scripture!
The simple fact of the matter in determining the canon IS historically known. In the first four centuries of the Church the canon varied - this is indisputable, after the fourth century and especially with the commissioning of the Latin Vulgate in the fifth century - the canon debate was settled for all faithful Christians, that is until some unfaithful Christians about 1000 years later who left THE Church behind had to establish a NEW authority, and in doing so they came up with a DIFFERENT GOSPEL (2 Cor. 11:4; Gal 1:8-9) than what they had received and came up with the novel, and previously unheard of, concept of sola scriptura.
This brings us back to the point that was asked by Patrick Coffin - a point which White and Kruger completely glossed over - and that is, "Where is sola scriptura taught in Scripture?" One would think that such a foundational teaching would be quite clearly delineated by Scripture itself, but Scripture is silent on this. Now consider as well that the words "sola scriptura" are Latin, and Latin was the primary language of the Church from the fourth century onward, and remains to this day as the official language of the Church. One would THINK that such a foundational teaching, especially if not blatantly clear from Scripture itself, would be repeated over and over again throughout the Early Church Fathers - yet it is virtually unheard of until some fifteen centuries later! Even the semi-objective reader must accept this truth for if what I'm saying is false, then the Early Church Fathers, especially the Latin Fathers, used this terminology over and over again and folks like White and Kruger would be rubbing my nose in it, over and over again - yet there is silence and why? Because it is truly an unheard of teaching until about the time of the sixteenth century.
My hope and prayer is not to condemn folks like White and Kruger - but to bring them to the fullness of the Faith that they might become as strong and forceful FOR the Church as they are in opposing it today. May the Holy Ghost grant them the faith necessary to overcome the pride and the different gospel they have been taught and continue to teach themselves.