Refutation of the Protestant Canon of Scripture, Part 2
April 6, 2010 Leave a comment
I have noted many times that the canon was a development, and that several factors were involved in the decisions made on the canon in various parts of the Church in the Roman Empire. Oral Tradition was involved, as was Liturgy. So, in effect, an early bishop could say, “I was passed on this or that text, from the Church and Bishop who ordained me, and we have always held it divine, as we have also used it in our lectionaries.” This is not to deny the illumination of the Spirit in that process, since the Spirit has guided the Church. Certainly the Holy Spirit testified to which texts were Apostolic and inspired, but the mistake of Protestants is to think that He does this directly to the individual without any means. Calvin spoke of the” inner voice,” but this does not work as a public criterion for the canon. Especially when there were competing texts, and even New Testament epistles such as Hebrews, Revelation, and others, were long doubted in key sees and Patriarchates.
The point of this post is to show more evidence from respected Protestant scholars, who are experts in this field. F.F. Bruce writes in his classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? As follows:
“Another very important class of witnesses to the text of the New Testament are the Ancient Versions in other languages, the oldest of which is the Old Syriac and the Old Latin, go back to the latter half of the second century. Valuable help can also be derived from early Church Lectionaries.” (pg. 19)
Bruce, as I argued in my response, is noting that Liturgy was involved in the formation of the canon. If the Churches of God established by Apostles and holding the Apostolic Tradition read these, and had them passed on to them, then this was an important testimony to their authenticity. St. Irenaeus noted:
“2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.” (Citation)
Clearly, in contrast to Keith Mathison and other Protestant thinkers, St. Irenaeus was not calling Scripture the only tradition. Mathison argues this in The Shape of Sola Scriptura. In the last line, St. Irenaeus distinguishes the two. The Oral Tradition here is the rule in the sense of a hermeneutic, passed on by the Apostles, an example of which is the Apostles Creed. It is preserved by means of Apostolic Succession via the Holy Spirit, and it is this three-legged stool which refutes the Gnostics (Apostolic Succession, Tradition, and Sacred Scripture), which is the Church, and which is filled with the Holy Spirit. St. Irenaeus goes on to argue against the Gnostics on the basis of Apostolic Succession in the next few chapters.
St. Irenaeus is not unique in his view, either. He is standard among the early Church. Bruce goes on to note about the Church’s acceptance of the LXX (the Septuagint):
“Indeed, so much did they make the Septuagint their own that, although it was originally a translation of the Hebrew into Greek for Greek-speaking Jews before the time of Christ, the Jews left the LXX to the Christians…” (pg. 26)
As I also argued, the knowledge of Apostolic Authorship is not and cannot be derived from many of the Gospels themselves. Instead, for Matthean authorship, almost all turn to the following Tradition in Eusebius:
“1. There are extant five books of Papias, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord. Irenæus makes mention of these as the only works written by him, in the following words: “These things are attested by Papias, an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book. For five books have been written by him.” These are the words of Irenæus.
2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.
3. He says: “But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.
4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.” (Bk. III, Chpt. 39)
Conservative Protestant textual scholar Craig Blomberg, in his new work, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Second Edition, also agrees:
“Toward the end of that same century, Irenaeus affirmed that ‘Mark the disciple of Peter also transmitted to us what he had written about what Peter had preached,’ while St. Clement of Alexandria adds that this occurred during Peter’s lifetime. …This conclusion concurs with Jerome’s later declaration that Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, in AD 62. Regarding Matthew, Irenaeus wrote that Matthew produced his work while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel and founding the Church of Rome (Against Heresies, 3.1.1) , a reference that most naturally fits a date within the 60′s. Papias agrees that Matthew was the author of this Gospel, alleging that he initially wrote the ‘sayings’ of Jesus in a Hebrew dialect (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.16). If accurate, this tradition could suggest an earlier draft on the part of Matthew as early as the 50′s.” (pg. 26)
That Eusebius quote above is as follows:
“16. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.” And the same writer uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise. And he relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. These things we have thought it necessary to observe in addition to what has been already stated.” (Citation)
So, the knowledge of apostolic authorship is based on a Patristic Tradition, and authorship is key to canonicity, as Blomberg writes:
“The conviction that apostles or close associates of the apostles penned four Gospels already in the first century led Christians throughout most of church history to believe that they recorded historically reliable as well as theologically authoritative material.” (pg. 27)
Thus, Tradition is not mutually exclusive as opposed to Scripture; it’s necessary to it, and vice versa. It’s inescapable, and top Protestant thinkers admit as much. I conclude with the words of Anglican Scholar, Bishop Westcott (of the Westcott-Hort Text fame), in his older, The New Testament Canon:
“Words and rites [Liturgy] thus possess a weight and authority quite distinct from the casual references or deliberate judgments of individuals, so far as they convey the judgment of the many….It will be reasonable to conclude that the coincidence [of Scripture and Liturgy] implies a common source: that the written books and the traditional words equally represent the general sum of essential Apostolic teaching: and in proportion as the correspondences are more subtle and intricate, this proof of the authenticity of our books will be more convincing.” (pg. 13) He goes on in the footnote to agree that Tradition and Scripture are, in a sense, independent, but complementary. That’s Westcott’s point. Scripture can also be seen as an aspect of Apostolic Tradition, as St. Paul speaks in 2 Thess. 2:15.