Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dialogue: Are All the Biblical Books Self-Evidently Inspired and Canonical? (vs. Ken Temple), Part Two

By Dave Armstrong (6-21-06)

Internal evidences for inspiration vary greatly. For example, the author of Hebrews doesn't identify himself,

(This part is true, he does not directly or explicitly identify himself. But it is clear that he knew Timothy (Hebrews 13:23), who was part of Paul's missionary (apostolic) team. Also, he may be hinting at who he is by verse 22, calling his letter, a "word of exhortation", since in Acts 4:36, he is called by the apostles "Barnabas", which translated means, "son of Encouragement". He is a Levite, which gave him special insight and emphasis on the Old Testament Levitical priesthood and the temple details, which is the main content of Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10.

This is neither here nor there for our present purposes. My point was simply that if you don't know who a person is, then it is difficult to determine if a book has apostolic authority, let alone if it is written by an apostle (which is one criterion for canonicity). It simply makes it more difficult for the individual to accept a book as inspired Scripture. But it still could be inspired. The Church in its collective and traditional wisdom is far better able to make that determination than an individual.

. . . and denies being an apostle (Heb. 2:3).

This is not true, the author of Hebrews does not "deny being an apostle", but only indicates that he was not one of the twelve apostles who were eye-witnesses of Jesus' ministry. Hebrews 2:3 says, "After it was first spoken through the Lord, if was confirmed to us by those who heard . . .".

Then why does the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia state?:

The author and his readers alike were not personal disciples of Jesus, but had received the gospel from those who had heard the Lord (2:3) and were no longer living (13:7).

. . . The passage that is most conclusive against the Pauline authorship (2:3) is equally conclusive against any other apostle being the author.

(Vol. II, 1357-1358, "Hebrews, Epistle to the")
This standard Protestant biblical reference work regards 2:3 as "conclusive" evidence that no apostle wrote the work but you casually deny it. That's fine; you can believe whatever you like, but this shows that my opinion is not without any foundation, and can be strongly supported by Protestant scholars.

To say that this is a denial of all kinds of Biblical apostleship, would also deny that Paul is an apostle, which we know you do not believe.

How so? St. Paul saw the risen Jesus. Therefore, He was a witness of Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8; Acts 22:6-11), and fully qualified to be an apostle, on this well-known ground. The biblical definition of apostle is somewhat fluid and flexible (as is the case with most biblical offices at their early stage of development), but my point still stands that if apostolicity and known authorship are two ways to easily identify a book as canonical, then Hebrews fails on both counts. The Church at length acknowledged its intrinsic status as Holy Scripture, but it would not have been so easy for an individual, which is, remember, the particular question I was dealing with.

So, if Tertullian (On Modesty, 20) was right, which I think he was, that Hebrews was written by Barnabas, the church planting evangelist fellow missionary of the apostle Paul, and called an "apostle" in Acts 14:4, 14, then your statement is not true.

If, if, if . . . thanks for supporting my argument. This isn't good enough for the person reading the book to definitively know it is Scripture. Perhaps that is one reason why the canonicity of Hebrews was so disputed. It has been argued that the widespread belief of the early Church that the book was written by St. Paul was the reason it could be accepted. But such a theory is not evident in the book itself. It can only be arrived at by complicated comparisons and internal analysis, which is, of course, beyond the average individual's capacity to determine.

But I should mention at this juncture that authorship by an apostle was not strictly required in the understanding of canonicity of the early Church. Some Protestants seem to think it was necessary but it was not. That only made it easier to conclude that a book was inspired. F.F. Bruce explains this:

Jerome's insistence that canonicity is not dependent on particular authorship, not even on apostolic authorship, reveals an insight which has too often been ignored in discussions about the canon of scripture, in earlier and more recent times alike.

(The Canon of Scripture, 227)
Bruce states that St. Augustine took the same view:

[F]or him, as for Jerome, canonicity and authorship are separate issues.

Like his older contemporary Jerome, he distinguished between canonicity and apostolic authorship.

(Ibid., 232, 258)
The more accurate ancient criteria for canonicity is described by Bruce as follows:

Even at an earlier period, apostolic authorship in the direct sense was not insisted on, if some form of apostolic authority could be established.

. . . If a writing was the work of an apostle or of someone closely associated with an apostle, it must belong to the apostolic age. Writings of later date, whatever their merit, could not be included among the apostolic or canonical books.

(Ibid., 258-259)
The latter is also true of the author of the book of James,

This is not true either, where does James directly deny being an apostle? Since silence does not mean "denial", then this is not true. Actually, Galatians 1:19 indicates that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was indeed an apostle!

Here you make a good point. My choice of words was very poor, since I meant that he didn't claim to be an apostle (in his letter), not that he denied it. As you correctly note, mere silence does not necessarily imply denial (nor do I hold this myself, since I believe that the author is the Lord's cousin, who easily qualifies as an apostle). I was guilty of sloppy expression. He starts the letter by calling himself simply a "servant of God" rather than the customary Pauline introductory assertion of his status as an apostle (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1, Eph 1;1, Col 1:1, 1 Tim 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1, and Titus 1:1).

Now, it is also true that Paul calls himself a "servant" in Romans 1:1, Titus 1:1, and Philippians 1:1 (in the latter, minus the accompanying title of "apostle"), and no title at all in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1, and "a prisoner for Christ Jesus" in Philemon1, but of course since we have many letters, and he often refers to himself as an apostle, this is irrelevant. In James' case, on the other hand, we have only the one letter, so the omission carries more (at least potential) significance.

But back to my linguistic mistake. I thank you for pointing this out, so that I could correct it before the book went to press. The old passage read:

Internal evidences for inspiration vary greatly. For example, the author of Hebrews doesn't identify himself, and denies being an apostle (Heb. 2:3). The latter is also true of the author of the book of James, and the former of the author of 2 and 3 John.
I have now corrected it in my blog paper and book, to read:

Internal evidences for inspiration vary greatly. For example, the author of Hebrews doesn’t identify himself (nor does the author of 2 and 3 John), and denies being an apostle (Heb. 2:3). The author of the book of James does not, in his epistle, make the claim to being an apostle (Jas. 1:1) - though the likelihood is that he probably was.
and the former of the author of 2 and 3 John.

This is not true either, the author of 2 and 3 John identifies himself as "the elder" or "the presbyter". The internal content and similarities with I John make it clear that the apostle John wrote it.

I should have also noted that the author of 1 John is also anonymous. I believe that all three epistles were written by the Apostle John, author also of the Gospel bearing that name, and I would use some of the same arguments you use, but again, this would not necessarily be immediately or easily apparent to a casual reader. "Elder" or "presbyter" is hardly a conclusive identification. I could write a letter signed, "the apologist" - and this would tell people that the author was Dave Armstrong?! So my point stands.

It is a better apologetic for Christianity to emphasize the positive points toward inspiration and canonicity rather than doubting them and giving ammunition to the enemies of the gospel.

I haven't doubted the inspiration or canonicity of any NT book, in the slightest. You obviously miss my point. But I have already addressed all this above.

Jude was questioned because it cited the Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15) and possibly the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9).

Yes, it was questioned, for those reasons, but, eventually, the witness of the Spirit with the people of God overcame those doubts. Jude may have been the last canonical book written, because he writes that "the faith" was "once for all time delivered to the saints" (verse 3).

The faith was delivered to the saints by our Lord Jesus Christ, not by the Bible, so Jude need not be the last book written at all. Tradition, Gospel, Word of God, and "the faith" are all essentially synonymous terms and none necessarily refer in context to the written Bible. To the contrary, all are predominantly oral, and were "delivered" and received" long before the NT was put together and canonized:

1 Corinthians 11:2 . . . maintain the traditions . . . . even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 . . . hold to the traditions . . . . taught . . . by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 . . . the tradition that you received from us.

1 Corinthians 15:1 . . . the gospel, which you received . . .

Galatians 1:9 . . . the gospel . . . which you received.

1 Thessalonians 2:9 . . . we preached to you the gospel of God.

Acts 8:14 . . . Samaria had received the word of God . . .

1 Thessalonians 2:13 . . . you received the word of God, which you heard from us, . . .

2 Peter 2:21 . . . the holy commandment delivered to them.

Jude 3 . . . the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
And he exhorts his readers "to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ". (verse 17)

Indeed; that hearkens back to the oral proclamation of the faith.

There is nothing wrong with Jude quoting or alluding to other material, as Paul quotes from the pagan Greek poets without ascribing to them inspiration (I Cor. 15:33, Acts 17:28, and Titus 1:12); and Jude does not say the whole books of Enoch or the Assumption of Moses are Scripture.

I agree. I was simply reporting the history of confusion and diversity regarding the canonization of some books.

They are not part of the "Apocrypha" either (the group of books the Roman Catholic Church calls, "Deutero-canonical"), though sometimes called "apocryphal". (note difference between the Apocrypha, a specific group of Jewish books, written during the Inter-testamental period, roughly 450 to 100 BC; and "apocryphal" a description of other books, meaning "not canonical", or "spurious".)

No serious quibble here . . .

Only the author of Revelation claims direct inspiration.

Paul and Peter claim inspiration in their writtings. I Corinthians chapter 2, 7:1, 40, 2 Peter 1:12-21, 3:1, 3:16

You are eisegeting 1 Corinthians 2. None of the words used are a compelling proof of inspiration. Rather, Paul is expressing guidance by the Holy Spirit such that all Christians have, or should have. Obviously, not all of us have been inspired to write Scripture. So St. Paul writes, for example: "'. . . what God has prepared for those who love him,' God has revealed to us through the Spirit . . ." (2:9-10). so this is a spiritual illumination, but not just for apostles and/or inspired writers of Scripture, but "for those who love him." In 2:12, he explains that the indwelling Spirit helps us "understand the gifts bestowed on us by God."

This has nothing to do with inspiration and Scripture, as indicated again in 2:13: ". . . those who possess the Spirit." Paul continues his general teaching on the indwelling Spirit and discerning spiritual things, referring to the "gifts of the Spirit" in 2:14 and "the spiritual man" in 2:15. When he concludes "But we have the mind of Christ" (2:16), this is also not referring solely to inspiration of biblical writers at all. It's a common theme in Paul (cf. Rom 8:6,27, 11:34, 15:6, 1 Cor 1:10; see also Heb 8:10). Moreover, the beginning of the chapter refers to Paul's previous oral proclamation, not to written Scripture at all (2:1-4).

All 1 Corinthians 7:40 tells us is that Paul has "the Spirit of God." Yes; so do all Christians (Jn 14:16-18, Rom 8:9-11, 1 Cor 2:12, 3:16-17, 6:19, Gal 4:6, 1 Jn 3:24, 4:12-16 ). But we all don't write the Bible, do we? So this proves exactly nothing, and is more desperate circular reasoning and eisegesis.

2 Peter 1:19-21, on the other hand, actually addresses inspiration (though it doesn't prove what you think it proves). We all agree that Scripture is inspired. But technically, Peter is not here claiming inspiration for his own writing in which he makes this remark; also there is an application to spoken prophecy in 1:21 ("spoke from God"), which may later be recorded in scripture, but not necessarily so (and there isn't all that much prophecy in the NT). My point was that only the author of Revelation actually expressly claimed inspiration (i.e., for the writing he was putting down, as he was writing it: as the OT prophets claimed direct inspiration). Since Peter here refers generically to "scripture" and "prophecy," and not to his present writing, this doesn't disprove my contention. All it does is suggest that Scripture is inspired, as all Christian believers agree.

Again, in 2 Peter 3:16 Peter calls Paul's writings (he doesn't tell us which ones) "Scripture." Sure: no one disagrees. I don't know what connection 3:1 has to this. Peter says that this is his second letter. He still doesn't claim that it is Scripture. We believe it is. Perhaps there is other internal evidence suggesting that it is, but this does not prove what you think it proves, nor disprove my assertion, which still, therefore, stands unrefuted.

You can't conclude that Peter's simply calling his letter a letter means that he is calling it Scripture, because he equated Paul's letters with Scripture. That doesn't follow, even if Peter's letter is indeed Scripture, as we believe. I don't think the biblical writers necessarily always knew that what they were writing was inspired. They often seem to not be aware, or if so, to not state such a thing, as a function of humility.

As for my opinion, I have the support of F.F. Bruce (in his section, "Inspiration," in chapter 21: "Criteria of Canonicity"):

By inspiration in this sense is meant that the operation of the Holy Spirit by which the prophets of Israel were enabled to utter the word of God.

. . . Only one of the New Testament writers expressly bases the authority of what he says on prophetic inspiration. The Apocalypse is called 'the book of this prophecy' (e.g., Rev. 22:19); the author implies that his words are inspired by the same Spirit of prophecy as spoke through the prophets of earlier days . . . his appeal throughout the Apocalypse is not to apostolic authority but to prophetic inspiration . . . That they [the NT books] were (and are) so inspired is not to be denied, but most of the New Testament writers do not base their authority on divine inspiration . . . when he [Paul] needs to assert his authority . . . he rests it on the apostolic commission which he had received from the exalted Lord.

. . . [T]he divine inspiration of the Gospels of Mark and Luke is not to be denied, but these works were accepted, first as authoritative and then as canonical scripture, because they were recognized to be trustworthy witnesses to the saving events.

Clement of Rome acknowledges that Paul wrote 'with true inspiration' [1 Clem. 47.3]. But he makes similar claims for his own letter.

[Footnote 38: 1 Clem. 63.2; cf 59:1 . . . The freedom with which the idea of inspiration was used by some of the church fathers is well illustrated by a letter from Augustine to Jerome, in which Jerome's biblical interpretation is said to be carried through 'not only by the gift but at the dictation of the Holy Spirit' (Augustine, Epistle 82.2 = Jerome, Epistle 116.2) . . .]

. . . Similarly Ignatius claims to speak and write by the Spirit: he, indeed, had the gift of (occasional) prophecy. 'It is not according to the flesh that I write to you', he tells the Roman church, 'but according to the mind of God.' [To the Romans, 8.3]

. . . But at this stage [Origen's time] inspiration is no longer a criterion of canonicity: it is a corollary of canonicity. 'It was not until the red ribbon of the self-evident had been tied around the twenty-seven boks of the New testament that "inspiration" could serve theologians as an answer to the question: Why are these books different from all other books?'

[Footnote 47: K. Stendahl, 'The Apocalypse of John and the Epistles of Paul . . .', p. 243 . . .]

(Ibid., 264-268)
Yes, exactly. This perfectly complements and supports my argument in this section.

But nothing illustrates the falsity of the claim of "self-attesting" books better than the history of the process of canonization itself.

[The history of the process does not give overwhelming weight to your argument against the "self attesting" nature of the books, but rather the historical process adds to the reality of the nature of the way the books were revealed and written, that God never sent them down in one session or under one cover in the first place.

Also the difficulty of travel and communication in those days and the persecutions added to the difficulties.

The discovery or discerning of which books were canon, of all the books in all the churches under one cover only testifies that they were not all at once written to every church, and that there was persecution and the burning of the many of the Scriptures for the first 311 years (off and on), and that it took time for all the churches to get all the books under one cover, so to speak.

They were written over a period of several decades, say from 49 AD to 70 AD, and a few maybe in 80 AD (Jude), and possibly John's writings in 90-96 AD. However, I believe that John's writings were also written before 70 AD, based on good evidence within Revelation itself. (see Kenneth Gentry's, "Before Jerusalem Fell", and R.C. Sproul’s "The Last Days According to Jesus". )]

How any of this supports your contentions over against mine, I confess I don't have the slightest inkling.

Church authority was needed to establish the canon once and for all.

John says, in I John 2:27, "you have no need for anyone to teach you", in an infallible church authority kind of way, that the RCC claims.

This is typical Hebraic hyperbole; clearly not meant to be taken literally (similar to the text "call no man father" or "anyone who doesn't hate his mother and father . . ."). The same author (as you yourself pointed out) calls himself an "elder" (2 Jn and 3 Jn 1:1), so obviously he is himself teaching in these three letters; therefore, a literal interpretation is impossible (since it would entail a vicious self-defeating logical scenario). To try to apply the verse to the more complex issue of truth claims, the criteria of dogma, reliability of authority, epistemology, infallibility, etc., is sheer eisegesis. I dealt with the biblical evidence for infallibility in another paper and book excerpt.

But we are grateful for the secondary sense in which the church authorities confirmed the reality of the canon that already existed, right when it was written, whether by Paul or Matthew or John or Luke or Peter. "

As I noted elsewhere (and as the Catholic Church wholeheartedly agrees).

All Scripture is inspired by God" 2 Timothy 3:16

It certainly is. Thanks for the reminder . . .

If it was inspired by God, it was canon automatically, at the time written, no matter how long it took for the church leaders to discern and recognize that fact.

As the Church has always taught . . . but this has no bearing on whether or not individual persons can discern that a book is inspired or canonical. They obviously could not, en masse, without the Church.

Church authority was used by the providence of God in history and was profitable to confirm, discover, and discern what inspired books were already in existence, from AD 49-70 AD, or those few that were possibly written in 80-96 AD.

Good for you. Now the question for you becomes: "if God used (infallible) Church authority in this very helpful sense on this occasion, why not in others, too?" For example, if the Chuch could settle the issue of the canon, why should we not also look to it to figure out the true doctrine of something like baptism or the Eucharist? Protestants split into five major camps on the issue of baptism, and even more regarding the Eucharist.


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