Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Biblical Canon: Truth with Great Consequence.

The following post is by Michael Goodwin, a former evangelical Christian who went to college at Cedarville, a fundamentalist Christian college. He later came into union with the Catholic Church during his training to be a chaplain for the US Army. Here's Michael's post I found  on facebook.

"The authority of the Bible is the topic often brought by those not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
The position usually is expressed like this:
"Jesus gave us the Bible, which is God's utlimate and final authority for our beliefs.  Scripture is the only authority we need and any other authority is just man made.  I just believe what the Bible says and that is sufficient for salvation." 
Slow down a moment and let's walk through this line of thought.  Let's reflect on the undergirding premise and also the results of this conviction.
First, what is the bible?  All Christians believe it is a collection of writings that were brought about through God's inspiration.  But if you pick up a copy of a bible today, you likely have taken for granted the table of contents or list of books provided for you.  How do you know which books God wanted included as the totality of His written Word?  Have you noticed that there is not one mention in any biblical text stating which books are to be included?
I rememember when I was attending protestant seminary we began to learn about the history of biblical translation and the different approaches used in translating the texts from their original language.  There was the discussion on the difference between a formal equivalent translation and a dynamic equivalent translation. (word for word vs. a thought for thought approach)  As the class went along one of our professors brought up the idea that some translations more accurately represent the itent of the original language.  But, he said, "We need to be sure that by explaining the history of translation we don't take the bible away from anyone in the Church."  This refrain was repeated on a number of occasions.  This was well-meaning advice.  The professor was expressing that we don't want to undermine a person's reliance on the Bible's authority by sharing about the real messyness of translating the text and the uneven history of the biblical canon.
Interestingly, the history of the canon was not discussed in our classes in much detail.  We also were never given opportunity to read any writings that other Christians (such as the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics) include in their canon.  I did not pick up on this then, but something was very bothersome about this.  Here's why:
The main argument offered by the first protestants for how they conclude which books are to be a part of the canon of Scripture was the concept of scriptural perpescuity.  That's a fancy word that conveys that the Scriptures are discernable.  With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Christians can understand and distinguish between what is Scripture and what is not Scripture by carefully reading the text.  So, the idea is this:  I could pick up a bible, turn to the book of Job read it and then put the bible down and then pick up the text for Shakespeare's Hamlet and after reading both, I would inherently know that Job was God's Word and Hamlet came just from Shakespeare.
There's a grand canyon size hole in the example I have given.  The comparison does not represent what must be distinguished.  Judging between Hamlet and Job is easy.  The real test is can a Christian pick up a copy of the text of Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, etc.  and carefully read them and know with firm certainty that :  "These writings were not of God's guided inspiration and they should not be included in the canon."
Now, come back to the guidance of my seminary professor.  He urged us not to 'take the bible from those in our Churches."  But, if there is even a possibility that protestants removed seven books that were part of an established canon, is that not what every protestant Church has essentially done?  Have they not taken part of the bible away from Christians?!?!?!
What I find so shocking is what little matter of consequence this seems to be to many people I attempt to talk with about this.  What I find also quite alarming is the amount of misplaced faith that must occur in order to sustain confidence in the protestant canon.  Here is an outline of where I consider faith is misplaced:
  • First, there is for most an absolute blind faith placed in the table of contents in the copy of the bible held by each protestant.  They too quickly assume that the list of books stated at the beginning of their bible is God's irrefutable Truth. 
  • Second, faith is in a reliance on the conviction that their local pastor must have carefully studied to make sure that each book is from God and not merely a compilation offered by the latest bible publishers. 
  • Finally, there is misplaced faith in 'respected' bible scholars who can give you a convenient list of "four ways that determine the canon of scripture."
There's all this faith being thrown around and a mountain of assumptions that have been built up over the last four centuries.  Instead of all these assumptions and blind faith, there is another possibility that could be considered much more plausible.  It is rejected outright because the consequence of the conclusion would mean a radical change, humble admittance of wrong, and submission to an authority outside their own private judgement.  The possibility avoided is that Christ's authority and the totality of revelation perseveres in the successors of Christ's apostles.  If the Church's authority comes from Christ, then the communion of bishops, with the successor of Peter maintains an office of authority initiated by Christ at pentecost.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
What's at stake...
What is really at stake here is the foundational claim regarding the authority of Scripture and how it relates to the Church. If it can be reasonably discerned that the scriptures that protestants maintain have excluded a part of God's revelation it undermines their entire claim regarding authority.  And also we also come to face a matter of enormous gravity.  If we believe the totality of God's Word is eternal, with not one word to be discarded, then if protestants have discarded or dismissed a part of this Word, then this is a serious matter and a great offense.
Jesus' word is very forceful on this matter:
Matthew 5:17-18  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."
So, should it not be alarming if someone begins to propose the removal of some books from the canon?  Now, some protestants offer an argument in reply.  They argue that the protestant reformers went back and followed the Hebrew Canon that were recognized by the first century Jewish community.  They argue that Catholics 'added' books to the bible at the Council of Trent when the canon began to be questioned by the reformers.  They argue that the Catholics didn't finalize their list of canonical books until after the protestants questioned them.
This is a version of history that finds very little correlation with reality.  It's a version though that protestants enthusiastically accept without questioning it because the alternative would likely have a major consequence.
There's been a lot written in response to this fantastical proposition, so I will just give brief summary.  If you have an open mind and would like to really examine what your underlying assumptions are concerning the canon and who has the authority to discern it, you can easily reply to this writing and ask to examine this more.
1.  Protestants follow the Hebrew Old Testament canon.
Reply:  First, the Jewish population in the first century A.D. was not the monolithic body that this assertion would have you believe.  There were different sub-communities within the Jewish people.  Some Jewish communities had integrated into the greek culture that was around them, even speaking the greek language.  Some Jewish communities believed that God only communicated His Word through the Hebrew language.  The seven books recognized by the Catholic and Orthodox, which protestants exclude, were thought to be written mostly in Greek close to the 3rd and 2nd century B.C.
This was one of Luther's rationale for his decision to place this in a section of his bible called the Apocrypha.  There's a couple major problems with this.  One is that the same Jewish communities that were excluding any Greek language writings in the Old Testament were also excluding the ENTIRE new testament for the same reason.  Remember, all the apostles and most of the first Christians were FROM the Jewish community.  We have substantial record that Christians were using the OT books (including the 7 that the Catholic Church maintians) to point their fellow Jews to the messianic prophecies that Christ fulfilled.  The Jewish leaders at the time were looking for a way to dismiss the Jewish Christians who were growing and evangelizing all the surrounding communities to Christ.  So, they decided to narrrow their canon down in order to illegitimize the Christian movement.  And yet this is one of the main supports of authority that the protestants use for their canon. 
The other major problem is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1952.  Protestants often look to this discovery to support the historicity and validity of the Scriptural texts.  The Scripture found at this site were the oldest ever discovered, dating back to the first few centuries of the Church.    What protestants do not talk about is that many of the books rejected by protestants were also discovered at this site.  Another major discovery was that some of the OT writings originally thought to only have a greek language source were instead discovered to have writings in Hebrew.  So one of Luther's primary arguments, that he borrowed from the first century A.D. Jewish community, falls apart.
2.  Was the Catholic Canon not authoritative until the Council of Trent after the protestant reformation? 
This assertion is truly absurd.  And it is still brought up by most respected protestant bible scholars when confronted on the canon.  If protestants want to argue that the canon was not recognized until the council of Trent then protestants need to show us that there was a consensus in the early Church that recognized the canon that protestants hold to today.  This in no way can be done.  In fact, the canon of Scripture remained pretty unsettled until 394 A.D. when the Council of Carthage met and they provided a list of books that the Church had come to recognize as God's revelation.  This council includes the books rejected by protestants.  Some protestants try to point to other councils where some of the books were not included.  But there is a problem with this, there is not one council in recorded history that excluded all the books.  There is typically one or two held in question.  But the other problem is that at this same time, NT books accepted today by all were put on that very same list of questionable books.  Such as "Esther, Jude, 2 Peter, James, and Revelation.  This is why Luther intially pushed to have these removed from the canon in his German translation (in his first German edition of the NT, he puts these NT books in the back as a separate section.)  The fact is there was up to 3 separate councils, occuring in different countries, within the first thousand years of Christianity that accepted the Canon that Catholics still maintain today.  The council of Trent reasserted this canon only when it was challenged by the protestant insurrection.  And this is something I learned right in my seminary classes as a protestant:  Doctrine is not strongly or authoritatively declared until it is challenged.  This was true for the doctrine of Christ's being eternally begotten from the Father.  This was not authoritatively declared by the Church until about four hundred years after Christ ascended to heaven.  It was then that certain priests and bishops in the Church began to question and then reject this teaching.  And in response, the doctrine was strongly declared (see the Niceene Creed).
When protestants lay out their reasons for why books are included in the canon, one of the criteria often cited is that the writing was widely accepted and used by the earliest Chrsitians.  Sadly, the protestant canon does not meet this criteria.  The books they exclude were widely accepted and read aloud in the Churches. (see links below for support of this.)  There is a mountain of evidence that shows this.  And they continue to be widely read and accepted by the majority of Christians throughout the world (over a billion Catholics and Orthodox).

So, what does this all mean? 
It means that if protestants are wrong on the canon of Scripture, which is one of the most fundamental Christian beliefs, the question deserves to be asked:  What else were they wrong on?  If they could not properly discern what should be included as part of God's Word, then is it possible that they are wrongly interpreting the Scripture they do have?  Could it be possible that the early reformers' rejection of Church authority had an influence on which books they 'decided' to recognize?  Is it possible that their judgement was clouded by a zealous bias against the Catholic Church?
If their authority rests utlimately on the Bible and their bible is not the entire bible then does this not collapse their entire presupposition?
For Christians who place the Scripture in such high regard, I would hope the canon of Scripture would not be a trifling matter.  My impression during seminary was that the canon that protestants had been widely accepted since the earliest days of Christianity.  But this premise was never supported historically by any writings in the early Church.  So I was left to just take for granted that the professors were being academically honest with regard to the research of early Christian history and the canon that was widely used then.
Most Christians today use as their rationale for their acceptance of the protestant canon something similar to what mormons use to accept the 'book of mormon' promulgated by Joseph Smith.  When you ask a mormon how they know that Smith's book should be recognized as part of God's word they say, "the Holy Spirit revealed it to my heart and gives affirmation to me that it is true."  In honesty, I've heard the very same thing from many protestant friends and family I have tried to talk with about the Canon.
The reason I believe there is such a avoidance of this issue is that the alternative option would be to accept that the teaching of the Catholic Church on the canon of Scripture is not relative position, but an authoritative doctrine.  And if the Catholic Church was preserved from error in the preservation of God's Word, then would not Christ keep the Church from error on all matters of doctrine and morals?   For did not Christ promise to not leave us as sheep without a Shepherd?  How does Christ Shepherd his Church today?  Is it through a succession of Bishops that Christ has maintained since his ascension?  Or is a Christian shepherd based on whether he is accepted by a majority of Christians in a local community?  Is a Christian shepherd one who is most enthusiatic in saying that "I only teach the bible." (watch out, Joel Osteen says that at the same time John Piper does.)
These men all say they preach the Bible. Really? The whole Bible?
2 Timothy 4:3-4   For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.   Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Become Catholic;  where the canon of Scripture and the Truth does not change when popular opinion and zealous teachers change.  It's a wonderful journey that I began just over a year ago and it continues today!

To look further:
You can start with a video I made-
And one made by another:
And a good start for reading:  (this provides extensive quotes from the early Church.  Especially from Jerome, who protestants claim firmly rejected the deuterocanonical books.)


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