Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Did the Church "create" Scripture?

Al Kimel over at his exceptional Pontifications blog has a brilliant discussion of the question "Did the Church 'create' the Scripture?" I think he's done a remarkable job of covering all the major issues here in fairly short compass. The notion that Scriptures are "self-authenticating"--a notion that a commentator, Mr. Atwood reiterates--is quite commonly voiced in various Protestant, particularly Reformed, circles. I know they taught that at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia when I attended there in the seventies. Like all those other ultimately subjectivist criteria (the "inner promptings of the Holy Spirit," "what preaches Christ," etc.), it ends up functioning as a wax nose that can be turned in nearly any direction the interpreter desires. Luther would have left out Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, which Luther classified in the first edition of his Deutche Bibel (pictured left) as non-canonical books, along with the Deuterocanonicals. Most Protestants today would be rightly scandalized by a Bible that omitted Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. The one thing you didn't address is the bizarre fact that most Protestants do, however, omit the Deuterocanonical books without batting an eye. I say "bizarre" because they typically cite St. Athanasius' Easter encyclical of AD 367 as the first public record of the complete list of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament--as does the popular evangelical textbook by Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p. 27--without batting an eye, either ignoring or ignorant of the fact that the same Athanasian list includes all of the Deuterocanonicals as well. It does them no help to cite the canon of ecclesiastical consensus at this point, because the consensus clearly recognized the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture. Greek was the lingua franca of the New Testament ethos, and the "Scripture" to which St. Paul referred in II Tim. 3:16 as "inspired," and the "Scripture" to which other NT writers quoted and cited in their epistles and gospels was for all practical purposes the Septuagint (LXX), which included the Deuterocanonicals. I think it's the Nestle-Alland edition of the Greek NT that contains the appendix listing the multitude of allusions in the NT to the Deuterocanonical books (worth checking out). Also every listing of the canonical books of the Bible in the Council of Rome (AD 382), Council of Carthage (AD 397), St. Innocent (405), and Council of Trent (AD 1546) includes all of the Deuterocanonicals, even though they are called by slightly different names (Link). This fact alone says something about how the process of canonization occurred and where the authority lies. To me it's a safe truth that when the Apostle John declared that the "Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth" (John 14:6), he did not mean by "you" every Tom, Dick, or Harry who with his CD-ROM concordance at hand sets out to interpret the Bible by his own best lights (we have over 300 major denominatinal factions to attest to that: the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion).