A Challenge for Protestants

16 comments

“How do you know that the Book of Esther is the inspired Word of God and belongs in the canon of Scripture?”

This is a question I often ask Protestants. The Protestant literally has no way to prove that the book of Esther is inspired by God and belongs in the Bible. It is never quoted in the New Testament. It never mentions the word “God” in its pages. We don’t know who wrote it. Even the first century Jews could not agree on its place as Scripture.

An excellent question. And one not asked solely for the sake of pointing out who is wrong…but for the sake of Christian unity.  Check out the full “challenge” and discussion here.

And for further reading check out my post on “Why should we believe in the Bible?

16 comments Add comment

Jennifer October 22, 2009 at 12:53 pm

I’m confused. This is what I got off of wikipedia Books of the Bible:
“The Catholic and Orthodox Book of Esther includes 103 verses not in the Protestant Book of Esther”

I know we have different Bibles from protestants but we have Esther. Do we have more or less than protestants? Another source said something about 10-16 of Esther being omitted or might have been used by us?

planstoprosper October 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

If the Catholic Church is infallible, exactly how has it contradicted itself so often over history? It used to be that being Anglican got you excommunicated, but now Catholicism is more open to Anglicans. It used to be that selling indulgences were normal practice, but that’s thankfully gone the way of the buffalo. Throughout its history, various doctrines and confessions have affirmed that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, and various others have affirmed that there is. If Catholic doctrine is infallible, exactly why has it changed so often over history? If it is possible for the Church to have been wrong in the past, how can we know that it is not wrong today?

Protestants recognize that hey, we’re all human, we make mistakes. What’s important is not the minutiae of how our services are structured or exactly who wrote the book of Esther or III John or Hebrews. What’s important is that we recognize the saving grace of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins and rose again for our redemption. If we keep our eyes on Christ as he reveals himself to us through the New Testament and through our own personal prayer life, we cannot go wrong. Only Christ is infallible– every time you introduce a human element to your doctrine, you introduce fallibility.

Matthew Warner October 23, 2009 at 12:02 am

planstoprosper – thanks for your thoughts.

So you then believe that not only is the canon of scripture fallible, but so is scripture itself? Afterall, it was written by humans and you claim that any time you introduce a human element you introduce fallibility? Or am I misunderstanding you?

And for the record, the Church has never once contradicted itself within its realm of infallibility. I urge you to learn a bit more about what the Church means when it exercises a charism of infallibility.

Catholics also recognize that we’re all human and we make mistakes. Very much so. In fact, it is precisely because of that that Jesus did not leave us to our own fallible interpretations and instead left us an authoritative Church to guide us.

And for the record, a Catholic (which is what all Christians were up until the “reformation”) becoming an Anglican during that time required a direct rejection of Christ’s Church. That is the exact opposite of these Anglo-Catholics entering the Church today. The Church is not at all saying that being Anglican is in union with the Church. The Catholic Church is just allowing a bunch of Anglicans who want to become Catholic to become Catholic. How does this reflect a change in dogmatic teaching of the Church on faith and morals? I recommend reading up a bit more on a few of the accusations you are making here. I think you’ll find they are totally reconcilable and that the integrity of the charism of papal infallibility has not now (nor has it ever) been violated.

TMH October 23, 2009 at 12:19 am

Anglicans who seeks to find the fullness of truth and the Church that Jesus instituted is always welcomed in the Catholic Church, as it is the unbroken succession from the time of St. Peter the Apostle. The matter over excommunication has more to do with King Henry VII wanting a divorce unjustly, and the result of that fall out created the Anglican church.

The selling of indulgences has never been officially taught as a teaching of the Church, but the practice of indulgence is still an active practice today within the Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1472): “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt as already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is dully disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church, which as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints”. Further, the practice of indulgences in the Church is “closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance” (aka Confession).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (which is also called a Sacrament of Conversion, Confession, and Penance) is the way which is Church is authorized to forgive sins. It does not speak to your claim that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. It does, however, give us a sure knowledge that sins are forgiven through this Sacrament. For those who was not given a chance to know God fully, if they lived a honest and good life, it is completely up to God at that individual’s judgment where his or her salvation is determined. But for those Catholics, why give up the certain for the uncertain?

None of the above are the reason why the Catholic Church and the Pope is the infallible source of God’s teaching. In fact, the teachings of the Pope that taught ex cathedra (from the seat of Peter), is the only infallible doctrines of the church. The Catholic Church is the revelation of the fullness of truth only insofar as Jesus had authorized her to be. That is why the Pope or any other clergy or lay people cannot added or remove from the teachings of the Church, which rest assured they have not done so. Humans in their concupiscence and fallen nature can and will make mistakes. But with the help of the Holy Spirit as guide, the Church can never be overcome by the gates of Hell. That Jesus said so.

If you keep your eyes on Christ, then you’ll have to come to know the Jesus as He is, as the Messiah to the People of God; as true God and true Man that came to dwell among us; as the King of the Jews who fulfilled the prophecy of the Jewish people (hence fulfillment of the Old Covenant); and as the One who instituted the One, Holy, and Catholic Church.

Keep on praying!

TMH

+ St. Thomas More, pray for us!

Jennifer October 23, 2009 at 3:44 am

You pretty much covered it Matthew : )
Plantoprosper, we still believe in indulgences. Protestants often mistake them for what they are because of what public schools teach them to be I’ve noticed.

Drew October 23, 2009 at 9:27 am

I’m not entirely sure I understand what contrived Roman Catholic/Protestant disagreement is meant to highlight in the case of Esther, whether we’re talking about the Hebrew or the Septuagint version (since both Roman Catholics & Protestants accept the canonicity of the former). The latter version is, of course, also that recognized by the Eastern Orthodox, which means they managed to get it right by Rome’s standards without having an infallible guide. How were the Orthodox able to do this? Answering that question will also answer the question raised against the Protestants. In any case, raising the question in this way – which gives the impression that there was a singular, recognizable moment in history when the OT canon was determined, once and for all, is simplistic at best. Neither the Church Fathers, nor the early Councils, nor the medieval Scholastics, nor the Byzantines, nor the Protestant Reformers were in agreement with each other or among themselves as to which books belonged in the OT. In every case, conciliar decisions regarding the OT canon were made on the basis of excluding the testimony of some ecclesiastical writers in favor of that of others. The Eastern writers for the most part used the Deuterocanonical books, but understood them to be of “lesser inspiration” (in some meaningful sense) than those books originally composed in Hebrew. Why they thought the language had anything to do with it (since the NT was composed in Greek), I’m not sure, but that’s what they thought. The West, on the other hand, tended to view these books as equal to the Hebrew “Protocanon.” The current schools of thought on the subject are simply variations of, and reactions to, the schools of thought that existed in the first few centuries. The Protestants are probably the most interesting group in this bunch, since they not only took the “Eastern” approach with regard to the Deuterocanonicals (and used the Byzantine NT – textus receptus – and not the Vulgate as the basis for their own NT translations), but they also used the Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint as the basis of their translations of the Protocanonical books of the OT, which up to that point no one that I am aware of had done (because Jewish sources were considered hostile). So, the Protestant version of Esther may turn out to be the “safest” one out there, since the Reformers were concerned about historical accuracy and not buttressing claims of infallibility. This brings me to my last point. Protestants & Catholics alike are found of using the word “infallible.” What does that even mean? It seems to mean (generally) “incapable of making a mistake” when it is applied to a person, which of course means that it cannot properly be applied to any human person. Certainly, if God is omniscient and he cannot lie, then he is certainly infallible, but this is a description of his nature. The minute we bring language and communication into it, everything goes out the window. Language is always changing and in order to truly understand books like the Bible, their meaning must be tested (i.e., treated as though they are not fallible) in order for the truth inherent in those writing to be made manifest. Genuine propositions have to be falsifiable in order to have any meaning as such at all. So, propositions other than tautologies are never “infallible.” Their truth must be determined by testing, and I believe the Scriptures encourage us treat Scripture itself in exactly that way (“test the Scriptures”). So the charge that Protestants can’t have a genuine canon because they don’t have an infallible authority to determine it lacks cogency, since there is no such thing as an infallible authority (i.e., an authority whose statements are true, factual, non-tautological, but nonetheless non-falsifiable & untestable).

David October 24, 2009 at 7:17 am

Drew,

The Catholic Church teaches and believes that, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, it does teach with infallible authority. The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit keeps her from teaching doctrinal error, not just in the past but now and until Jesus returns to by reunited with his bride. The nature of the infallibility is derived from the Holy Spirit and thus is part of the nature of God. This teaching is a point of great misunderstanding between Protestants and Catholics.

David October 24, 2009 at 7:33 am

planstoprosper,

I think you have confused canon law with Christian doctrine. Canon law can indeed change, such as the excommunication of individuals or groups. The nature of Christianity does not change and the Church’s teachings on it have not changed but sometimes are elaborated. In regards to the selling of indulgences, clearly this is the sin of simony and of course wrong. I believe this ceased after the Council of Trent, but when it was happening I don’t believe that you could say it was a infallible dogma of Catholicism. Retrospectively, it should be viewed as a practice like that of bishops giving all their land holdings to their sons and making their sons bishops. Nobody should view that as an essential teaching of Christianity. This is opposed, for example, to the teaching that Jesus does not have any true human qualities and simply looks like a man to us because we ourselves are men/women and can’t perceive Him in any other way. The Catholic Church, with the Holy Spirit, has always stood as the bulwark against Christian heresy.

Drew October 25, 2009 at 1:21 am

David,

I do understand that this is official Church teaching, as enshrined in Pastor Aeternus at Vatican I, reiterated at Vatican II, & as contained in the current Catechism. Without intending any disrespect to the Roman Catholic Church (or its current Pope, whom I greatly respect), I was merely commenting on the linguistic & logical problems of clarifying just what “infallibility” can mean in light of the fact that all non-tautological statements are by definition falsifiable, and that using a book like Esther as means of displaying that Protestants are helpless without infallibility (despite the fact that this doesn’t really seem to fit the Eastern Orthodox) struck me as, well, strange.

Taylor Marshall October 26, 2009 at 9:30 am

The purpose of the “Protestant Challenge” is not to focus on the different versions of Esther or descend into a debate about indulgences.

The challenge is simpler than that. It is this. What is the Protestant criteria for including the book of Esther in their Bibles?

The Catholic answer is quite simple: The Council of Rome in AD 382 under Pope Damasus made an infallible decision – Esther is canonical. We know this for certain.

But the Protestant can’t make this argument. Protestants don’t appeal to papal authority. So there’s the challenge. How do Protestants justify Esther in their canon – by what authority?

Drew October 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Fair enough, vis-a-vis the different versions of Esther, indulgences, etc. Yes, the Council of Rome did produce a list of the OT books that was the basis of subsequent lists produced by Western councils. One question that needs to be considered is, did Pope Damasus “know” he was producing an “infallible” list? After all, if that is the case, and if the Church abroad also “knew” it was infallible (and thus that the debate was over concerning that topic), why did subsequent councils reconsider the question at Hippo in 393, Carthage in the same year and also in 397 and 419, Florence in 1442, and yet again at Trent in 1546? How many times did the OT canon have to be infallibly determined before it was clear to the Church? J.N.D. Kelly shows in his “Early Christian Doctrines” that the road toward the development of the OT canon was a lot messier than the sanitized version(s) often taken for granted on both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide. If these books were infallibly determined in the late fourth century, the East seems largely to be have been unaware of it, and continued to maintain the older viewpoint put forth by Origen, Athanasius, and Jerome that the deuterocanonicals were of “lesser inspiration” than the Hebrew protocanon, because the canonical books “must be received by all, must have the sanction of Jewish antiquity, and must moreover be adapted not only to edification, but also to the ‘confirmation of the doctrine of the Church'” (cf. The Catholic Encyclopedia, citing Jerome’s view), which was exactly the perspective held by the Protestant Reformers. Now, if such eminent saints as Athanasius and Jerome could hold this viewpoint without being heretics, why cannot the Protestants do so as well? Using infallibility as the proverbial bat on the Protestant pinata only pushes the real question back one more step: What principles did Pope Damasus and subsequent Western Councils employ in order to determine the status of the OT books? What matters is whether those principles were sound or unsound. If the former, then it doesn’t matter who uses them, and you don’t need an infallible decree to support them, since they’re “true” already. And if the latter, then infallibility can’t be brought in to make up for the lack (assuming it’s there, and I’m not necessarily saying that), given they’re already false (and again, I’m not necessarily saying that). On that note, it just so happens that the OT canon used by the Eastern Orthodox is different from that used in the West: it includes books like 3 Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon that aren’t in the Western list of the deuterocanonicals (some EO canons even include 4 Maccabees in an appendix). Is the EO canon wrong as well because it wasn’t decided by papal authority? I’m not trying to be difficult here but one can hardly bring up the case of Esther without discussing the larger problem of just what canonicity means in the first place (and whether there are degrees of it), and that means addressing the deuterocanonicals.

Matthew Warner October 27, 2009 at 10:52 am

Drew, you’re still confusing the question I think. I appreciate your points though.

Rome only needs to infallibly define something once. When the canon was re-affirmed at different times later it wasn’t that it was “reconsidering” the canon as if the canon could change, it was simply clarifying it in the face of questions or confusion. The fact that it never changed (accept of course when the protestants changed their canon 1500 years after Christ) simply further supports the infallible guide of the Catholic Church.

Whether or not the Pope knew it was infallible by the same understanding we have today is irrelevant to whether or not the teaching was in fact infallible.

Similarly, whether or not others may or may not have “gotten it right” by some other method does not mean their reasoning for getting it right or being sure of its accuracy is founded. That’s what is being questioned here.

And your question of level (or degree) of “inspiration” of different books in the canon is also irrelevant to the question of whether it is inspired (and in the canon) or not. These are all distractions – as Taylor so helpfully pointed out.

Nobody is trying to sanitize the development of the canon. In fact, it is precisely because of the “messiness” of the entire process that demonstrates the necessity for an authoritative guide if we are to do so with any confidence at all.

The charism of infallibility doesn’t make something true that is false. It simply gives us an assurance that the teaching is not false. Christ gave us an authoritative Church for at least partly this reason. To help us with things like this.

Otherwise, how do you know for sure what is authentic scripture and what is not? And why would you proclaim that this collection of books written by many authors over a large time period is the “inspired Word of God” Himself? That’s quite a claim. And how can you do so with any assurance?

And back to the post and the book of Esther, the reason why this is a good “challenge” is that many protestants use the point (among others) that an OT book quoted in the NT proves it is canonical. Esther clearly fails that test. But it leads to the much broader question we are discussing now. Indeed, that test even depends on the reliability of the NT canon – which of course, is entirely dependent on the reliability of who defined the NT…The Catholic Church.

Drew October 29, 2009 at 11:13 am

Good day, Matthew.

I appreciate your points as well. I’m not sure I can address all of them here, but I’ll do my best.

1) “Rome only needs to infallibly define something once.” – Agreed. However, the question here is not whether Rome has irrevocably defined the OT canon. It is rather when this happened. All sides can agree that it happened at Trent. The authenticity of the “Damasine List” is open to question, however (see http://www.tertullian.org/articles/burkitt_gelasianum.htm).

2) “Whether or not the Pope knew it was infallible by the same understanding we have today is irrelevant…” – Disagree. The Pope has to intend to define a dogma in such a way that it is binding on the whole Church by virtue of his authority as supreme pastor, and also in such a way that it is no longer open to debate. Ancient definitions may not include the words “infallible,” “ex cathedra,” etc., but if certain characteristics are there, e.g., anathemas, an irrevocable definition is exactly what was intended. So Popes and Councils must be aware (and clear) that they are rendering irrevocable decisions under the conditions above in order for them to “count” as infallible decrees, even if they don’t state the matter using post-VC1 terminology. Whether the Pope knows it in accordance with modern terminology is, of course, irrelevant; but he must know it in some explicit way, otherwise it couldn’t be recognized by his audience, the church, the very object of the decree in the first place.

3) “The reliability of the NT canon…is entirely dependent on the reliability of who defined the NT…The Catholic Church.” – Disagree. The reliability of the NT books are dependent upon the reliability of its authors as historical witnesses to the events they record. The reliability of the canon is then determined by the available manuscript evidence, and there is a ton of it. The NT is the most reliable & trustworthy historical document from the ancient world that we possess. It doesn’t need infallibility behind it in order to give more assurance of it’s trustworthiness.

4) Back to Point #2 – Even if we suppose Pope Damasus decreed an authoritative list of the canonical OT books in 382 (and this can be doubted in good faith), the Church in subsequent ages seems to have been unaware of it, as the vast majority of medieval theologians and commentators did not include the deuterocanonicals among the OT canonical books (see http://www.christiantruth.com/Apocrypha3.html). That seems like a bit of a problem to me. Even though Aquinas – taking the minority view – did follow Augustine by including the deuterocanonicals in the OT (see http://www.op-stjoseph.org/Students/study/thomas/Principium.htm), he recognized that the deuterocanonical “books have their power not from the authority of the authors, but rather from the reception of the church,” because their authors are unknown. This implies that the protocanonicals can be accepted by the authority of the authors (which would precede the authority of the Church both logically and chronologically), because we know who they were and we know that they were reliable witnesses of the events they recorded. This is a very important distinction. After all, is the Bible a collection of books filled with inspired ideas, or a history of events in which God intervened on behalf of his people? Historic Christianity has always favored the latter. Reception by the Church is important, but it cannot make reliability where none was to begin with. This is not to say that the deuterocanonicals do not contain truth about God and about our relationship to him. But, so does Shakespeare. So does the Qur’an (possibly). So does the Summa Theologiae. That doesn’t mean these things are Scripture. Granted, some of the deuterocanonicals are histories, but the fact that we don’t know who wrote them – as Aquinas noted – is the problem. If we don’t know who the authors were, we are left without an important (but not the only) basis for determining their reliability.

Now, having written all this, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I adhere to “sola scriptura,” think negatively of church authority, or revile the deuterocanonicals (you’ll notice I have referred to them as “apocrypha” not once). I use the deuterocanonicals, and am a member of a communion that uses them as well. I think the best possible attitude and use one can have toward the deuterocanonicals is “inclusion with reservation.” This surely jives with both the historical data and the majority of the tradition. That being said, I also think that modern “neo-Catholic” concerns with epistemological certainty and “assurance” really began with Newman and bear more than a superficial resemblance to Protestant notions of “assurance of salvation.” I suppose that is why I tend to see these kinds of arguments emanating more from converts than cradle Catholics (not saying you’re one or other; it’s just an observation).

Matthew Warner October 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

Drew,

Thanks for your perspective! I can tell you’re a very thoughtful Christian and I can always appreciate that even if we disagree on some things. So thank you.

But I still think you’re confusing the question.

First, there is a difference between the rest of the world realizing that a statement was infallible and the statement actually being infallible. Second, the charism of infallibility is not solely ex cathedra statements by the pope. That is only the extraordinary form. It also occurs similarly in Ecumenical councils and most usually in the Universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church.

That being said. I don’t want to continue to be distracted about when a particular infallible statement was made or recognized by all or whether or not the deuterocanonicals should be included with reservation or not. Those are another discussion. Let’s come to the present time. As Catholics, the Church infallibly confirms our canon of the Bible. This is how we as Catholics can trust that this is scripture – because the authoritative Church that Christ founded tells us so (something even St. Augustine believed in his time). Why do you include the book of Esther in your canon? Or exclude parts of it? Based on what?

And in regard to the “reilability of the NT” – here I’m not talking solely about the trustworthiness of its authenticity. Just because something is true/authentic does not make it scripture. These are two different things. There are plenty of other writings in history that are true. but they are not scripture. The reliability of knowing whether or not they are Scripture rests entirely on the authority of the Church.

You said:

The NT is the most reliable & trustworthy historical document from the ancient world that we possess. It doesn’t need infallibility behind it in order to give more assurance of it’s trustworthiness.

And the reason the NT is the most reliable and trustworthy historical document is because the Catholic Church early in Church history decided which writings were scripture and which were not. It decided which ones to preserve and which ones to discard. So even the trustworthiness depends on decisions made 1600-1800 years ago by the Catholic Church. If you don’t trust these decisions by the Catholic Church then how can you trust what you now call scripture?

Further, whether some ancient writing is God-inspired scripture as opposed to simply a trustworthy, reliable document are two very different things.

On the one hand you say that we can know which books belong in the Bible based on their historical trustworthiness. But then later you say that the Bible is not just a “collection of books filled with inspired ideas” but rather it is made up of a “history of events in which God intervened on behalf of his people”. So which is your criteria?

A book being historically accurate, authentic and trustworthy is entirely different than knowing if it is a God-inspired story and therefore “scripture.” That’s why God gave us an authoritative Church. And it is because of that Church that we can rely on the canon of scripture.

Drew October 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Good day, Matthew!

And I appreciate your perspective and thoughtfulness as well. I also want to reiterate that my viewpoint is not rooted in any form of anti-Roman Catholic bias that I’m aware of, and that I have a “high” view of the Church as well (and belong to a communion – even if not the case on the national level – that also has a high view of the Church and Sacraments).

Vis-a-vis “infallibility,” I am aware of the differences between the “ordinary” & “extraordinary” magisterium. Many hours of study of Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,” the CCC, and the Summae of St. Thomas Aquinas (my personal favorite theologian & philosopher) have provided me the necessary tools to grasp those distinctions. In any case, the OT canon was definitely defined in the “extraordinary” manner whether it was defined by Damasus in 382 or at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, a difference of almost 12 centuries. You see, the dating of this is part of my point. You said:

“The reason the NT is the most reliable and trustworthy historical document is because the Catholic Church early in Church history decided which writings were scripture and which were not. It decided which ones to preserve and which ones to discard. So even the trustworthiness depends on decisions made 1600-1800 years ago by the Catholic Church.”

Fair enough, but what if it didn’t happen that away? As I mentioned in a previous comment, it isn’t historically certain that the OT canon was defined in 382 (or even prior to the sixth century), by Damasus or any other Pope of that era. The fact that it was still an open question throughout the Middle Ages, and that the view put forth at Trent was in fact the minority view, is in accord with the hypothesis that the OT canon was not defined by Damasus in 382 (though of course it does not explain it). The NT canon is, of course, a very different story. But this also did not require an act of extraordinary magisterium. Athanasius gives us the same very same list of NT books that Roman Catholics & Protestants use in common today, and referred to them as though the issue had already determined by tradition (see Letter 39 in his corpus). The bottom line is, if it isn’t historically verifiable that “trustworthy decisions” were in fact made 1600-1800 years ago, what becomes of the RC view of the Canon?

People will probably laugh when they read this, but I tend to think that views not locating a complete NT canon within the first century are supportable only on the basis of an anti-supernatural bias. Athanasius managed to get it right (and so did many other Fathers) prior to any definition of such by the hierarchy (bearing in mind of course that Athanasius and many of the other Fathers were bishops), and not on the basis of either their personal authority or their “official” authority as bishops. In the latter case, I think Lewis Ayres in his “Nicea and His Legacy” has shown that the notion of bishops making infallible decrees (and understanding themselves to be doing exactly that) is historically untenable.

In response to:

“On the one hand you say that we can know which books belong in the Bible based on their historical trustworthiness. But then later you say that the Bible is not just a “collection of books filled with inspired ideas” but rather it is made up of a “history of events in which God intervened on behalf of his people”. So which is your criteria?”

…I’m not really sure where the conflict is, here, but I will say that we can hardly hope to produce full-fledged treatises on the subject of canonical criteria for OT & NT books. These are just blog posts. Besides, they’ve already been written. I would say that, in a nutshell, what gives these particular documents the authority they have is a combination of authorship, reliability, authenticity, & subject matter. The weight given to each of elements will of course vary from document. And, of course, some of the books in the OT range from probably to definitely not historical, although the overall aim of the OT is historical.

Overall, I’m not sure these are the kinds of questions we can reasonably hope to resolve to everyone’s satisfaction in a forum such as this. But, to return to infallibility once more, I think it’s important to bear in mind the distinction between the ordo inventionis and the ordo essendi. Let’s take the ultimate example: God. God is necessarily true, good, first cause, necessary, etc., in Himself, prior to the existence (and knowledge) of anything else. But, this cannot be known immediately by us. We can only know the necessary truths about God by means of “contingent” things (cf. Aquinas’s “Five Ways”). We can never have a knowledge of God that is both a prior and apodictic. I don’t see why our attitude to Scripture needs to be any different. What makes scripture Scripture? My answer is, Whether it is a reliable testimony to something that God has done, and that can be the basis of organizing others in the service of God. In other words, it can’t just be inspired; it must also be inspiring. Now, if you compile a list of works that were about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that were written by reliable witnesses to those events, were inspired by those events and inspired others to carry on that message, and can be judged to be authentic, I think the list of books you will come up with will match the 27 books of the New Testament. Now, if an ecclesiastical body wants to irrevocably determine what those books are, that’s fine, but the only real basis of such a definition will be those a posteriori indicators just in the case of proofs for God’s existence. Infallibility doesn’t allow one to make the leap beyond those limitations to a priori knowledge, which is what I’m concerned infallibility tries to do. So my concern is philosophical in nature, and not merely religious. In the case of the NT, there is general agreement, so the end-result is the same. So it’s not a question of one group or church having the wrong canon in the case of the NT. It’s just a question of how they came to possess it as such. It’s also a question of whether ecclesiastical authority is “arbitrary” in the philosophical sense, or whether it has a prior basis in reason.

Well, I hope I was able to answer your questions/meet your counter-objections adequately. I am also very open to continuing this dialogue via email if you like.

Have a safe Halloween,
Drew

Evan November 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Lively conversation!

As a Protestant, I wish to perhaps inject a perspective that might be of help. While most Protestants certainly do not know a dime about the canon of Scripture and why certain books made canon over others, a select few do. In my research as a Biblical Studies major and in my classwork, I, too, have come across this question.

The answer is quite simple: if your basis for canon is a book that mentions God, has a known author, and is quoted in the New Testament, then Esther does not belong in the Bible. Neither does Song of Songs (Solomon). If you are merely using one of the three guidelines mentioned above, then the answer still applies. Of course, I am taking your question quite literally (as all good protestants do). But, I digress. The answer for why Esther made canon is not because of the aforementioned reasons; it is because it demonstrates a characteristic of God that is still present, even though His name is not mentioned. The overall message of Esther is the deliverance of the Jews. How the Lord does (did) it is His business. Mordecai the Jew is, of course as we all know, threatened by the anti-semitic Haman, and the whole plot ensues from that point forward. Esther is an exploration into the working(s) of God, despite the fact that there was neither a prophet or a king who recognized the God of Mordecai. And, while Mordecai is not an overt follower of God, he is a Jew, which by implication connects him with God. This is the reason why Esther made Canon according to the Protestant perspective.

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