January 18, 2021

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Where Was The Canon Hiding? And How Did You Find It?

IM friend Ragamuffin was recently in a debate with some sisters who claim that Roman Catholics are not Christians, don’t worship Jesus, etc., and the subject of the canon came up. His conversation partner, “pilgrimsdaughter,” covered a lot of topics, such as a kind of Landmark view of the church, and then got around to the canon.

Here’s her statement:

As to whether the RCC gave us the doctrine of the Trinity, the Canon, the understanding of Christ’s nature, etc.: IF the men that finalized those ideas and wrote them formally as church doctrines were RC and not just simply churchmen, that still does not negate the fact that all those things were already understood by the Apostles and early believers and WRITTEN IN SCRIPTURE, where I and any other believer can find them. As to the canon, that was understood well before any council finalized it.

Now I actually agree with pilgrimsdaughter that the Trinity and the natures of Christ are data in scripture, but I believe this data, like any other statement in scripture, isn’t in a confessional form in the original texts and was later put in confessional, doctrinal form to be affirmed as “those things which must be believed.”

But the statement on scripture is a puzzler. Did the early Christians have a sense of inspired writings? Absolutely. Did they call these writings scripture? Yes, but was there complete agreement on the canon? No. Was there a process of canonical formation that debated, included and excluded? What part did the church as a whole play in canonization?

What happens when individual conservative evangelicals declare themselves to be their own authority on the issue of the canon of scripture? How does a Protestant who deems church councils to be the instruments of an apostate church defend their own idea of canon? Where was the canon of the New Testament when it “existed” before any church council? Where was it hiding and how do we find it if we ignore Catholicism?

So if you reject the finalization of the canon as the actions of an apostate church, what do you tell a Mormon about his canon? “That’s not in my Bible?”


  1. No, I mean agreeing on where all Christians were before the great divisions.

    I must be nuts.

  2. Louisiana Catholic says


    Fair enough, the article from newadvent is about 12 pages long so tried, not so good I guess [mea culpa mea culpa] to sythensize it, and also provide quotes from very respected non Catholic Patristic Scholars [i.e Chadwich and Pelikan].

    And I don’t think it was polemical as I tried to be as factual as possible. If there are any polemics in it, I apologize as that was not my intent. I work in academia so I guess I have a habit of getting into teaching mode sometimes, even when I am not in the class room :)!

    Hope everyone had a Blessed Holy Thursday.

  3. Louisiana Catholic: No complaints about polemics. I just don’t want to encourage those who post comments far longer than 99% of my readers will ever read. The link is very helpful.

  4. Louisiana Catholic says


    Thanks and BTW, looks like UK got a heck of Basketball Coach in Calipari, but may you all paid a heck of salary for him.


  5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    (iMonk:) “No, I mean agreeing on where all Christians were before the great divisions.”

    But there were divisions from the beginning. Jewish Christians vs. God-fearers and Gentiles, Paul vs. James and various others…even Jesus had Judas!

    Would it have been perverse of God to allow the “true” form of Christianity to perish in ancient times? But this is what many Protestants seem to be arguing. If they deem Roman Catholic / Orthodox tradition to be predominantly corrupt, then on what basis can they accept church councils and the Bible (whose selection seems to have been guided as much by political considerations as scholarly ones).

    Recognition (or not) of the Catholic apocrypal books has few doctrinal implications, beyond that of canonicity itself. The most expansive canon, according to Wikipedia, is the Ethiopian Orthodox, which includes one of the books of Enoch–nothing too strange. But some of the ancient gnostic literature is as off-the-wall (from a modern perspective) as the Book of Mormon.

  6. Micheal Patton has a great post on this –

    “Why I believe the canon is fallible and why I am comfortable with it

    My experience has been that for many new Christians, this issue generates a lot of heat – especially if they are of the inerrant at all costs version of belief

    It can be very hard to have a reasonable discussion – good job so far by everyone!

  7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    P.S. The novel I was thinking of was Irving Wallace’s “The Word.”

  8. sue kephart says

    OK: Here goes. So much disagreement. But may I be so bold as to suggest that all Christians believe in the resurrection of our Lord. So to all of you my brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray for a joyous Easter for you all.

    Peace and Love,
    Sue K

  9. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but there are four canons of the Old Testament, but only one canon of the New Testament. The four Old Testament canons are the Protestant/Masoretic, the Roman Catholic/Vulgate, the Eastern Orthodox/Septuagint, and the Ethiopian Orthodox. If you want to see who has which books, go to http://www.orthocuban.com/2009/03/on-which-books-are-in-the-old-testament/

    The shocker for most people is that while the Church defined the New Testament, the Old Testament was actually left hanging. The first “dogmatic” definitions of the Old Testament were at the time of the Reformation, by both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics. Before that, everyone agreed on the same forty-some books, but there were differences among them. For instance, Athanasius had the same opinion as the Anglicans. Thirty-Nine books are for sure and the rest are in the Bible but ought to be read as devotional books. Others saw all of them as equally canonical.

  10. I was always confused by the strange contortions we had to do in the Protestant church I grew up in, with it’s unstated anti-Catholic bias. Like accepting “basic” Christian doctrines but not daring to discuss how they came to be outside of “they’re in the Bible”. Arianism and most of the other heresies (some making a great comeback today) were argued from a scriptural basis as well.

    To this day I remain puzzled by churches who like to pretend that nothing has happened since the Bible was written until today. I’m still a Protestant, but my current church doesn’t try to pretend that the work of the councils and the faith tradition and history of the RC and EO churches never happened and helped develop our faith.

  11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    If memory serves, the book most challenged by ancient theologians as not belonging in the canon, was the Revelation. (They were probably afraid that too many people would go nuts reading it. Not like the sober commentataries of today!) And the books most likely to be included, that were ultimately left out, were stuff like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Clementine epistles (that’s Romanus not Alexandrinus). Does anybody today think these are such a big deal?

    (crickets chirping)

    Fast-forward to modern times, when scholars of a skeptical bent inform us that Daniel is 2nd c. BCE (so we should toss it out, right?) while the Gospel of Thomas is about as authoritative (for purposes of telling us about Jesus) as the Gospel of John. The NT debate has moved from which *books* ought to be relied upon, to which *strata* are reliable. Some say Jesus was an apocalyptic, and hold up the apocalyptic verses as authentic. Some prefer the wisdom tradition of Q (with the Jesus Seminar people discerning in it strands of Cynic philosophy, of all things). That these strata do exist, seems to be widely conceded, however.

    The identification of similar strata in the Pentateuch is also generally accepted, which means (I guess) that “conservative” Christian scholars vest authority in the Bible’s compilers more than with any of its contributors.

    John Spong has written what is in my opinion an excellent book which holds that the synoptics were composed around various liturgical calendars, and that their contents reflect the Torah readings for each section (that would also be read according to a liturgical cycle). I also recommend the books of Donald Harmon Akenson.

  12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    Whoops. The Spong book is “Reclaiming the Gospels.” The Akenson books are “Surpassing Wonder” and “Saint Saul.”

  13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    P.S. Bart Ehrman (he thinks Jesus was an apocalytic who believed, wrongly, that the world would end soon) has written a number of popular books on canon formation. “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” focuses on what he feels were doctrinally-motivated changes to what are now canonical texts, while “Lost Christianities” and “Lost Scriptures” focus more on the exclusion of gnostic texts.

  14. If you read Spong or Ehrman, be aware that both are apostates who are out to destroy Christianity. Small agenda there. Particularly Ehrman. He’s 100% worong on everything regarding the early church and the canon. Spong is not a scholar but a polemicist who rejects every Christian doctrine. Ehrman is regular demolished by people like Ben Witherington III. (Two recent posts at BWIII’s blog.) Ehrman gets worse by the book and has utter contempt for everyone else in his field. Ehrman is obsessed with the idea that the Orthodox views of Jesus were second century inventions.

    Ninja: You need to read some people who have engaged Ehrman. He’s not the last word except in his own mind.

  15. Louisiana Catholic: Most of his salary comes from non-university sources. Media. endorsements. etc. I love the guy so far.

  16. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    What would you recommend?

  17. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    Oh, Ben Witherington. Yes, I am fond of his books.

  18. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    For Spong–have you read “Reclaiming the Gospels”? The basic idea is not his, but I think Spong is right to emphasize it. I admit that it is a popular work, like all of the others I have mentioned so far, but I think well-grounded. (They don’t have to be absolutely *right* to be worth thinking about.) Note that Spong is anti-Q–thinks the whole documentary hypothesis is balderdash.

  19. iMonk, I think you are too hard on Ehrman. BWIII is, in my opinion, laughable, by the way. I understand what he is trying to do, but his methodology only creates more loopholes. But for Ehrman, he was taught growing up that the absolute authority of Scripture resides in the hyper-text (i.e. the original autographs). Problem is, there is no such thing as the hyper-text, as in, today we can no longer determine what the hyper-text is. Nestle-Aland have been trying for decades (they are on edition 16 now?) and are no closer now to finding the hyper-text than when they first began, if anything, they have demonstrated that the texts are more diverse than anyone ever guessed. Since Ehrman’s faith has been taught to rest in this hyper-text, and since the best reconstructions of the hyper-texts show that the “original autographs” were quite different from the texts which have been passed down to his, his faith floundered, as only it must. Honestly, Ehrman’s results are only consistent with his initial presuppositions.

    I’m not going to make a tautological statement like “Scripture is Tradition and Tradition is Scripture,” but we need to realize that the authority of Scripture resides on something other than a mythical “hyper-text” of Scripture itself, Ehrman (and lots of others who aren’t as polemical about it) have proved that.

  20. Memphis Aggie says

    Shame to loose Calipari to y’all, but I wish him luck.

    So what do folks think about reading books not directly canonization? I think they are worthwhile, or at least some are. Wisdom 1 and 2 are poetic Proverbs. Tobit has the classic unrecognized angel story. Maccabees has a grim but potent martyrdom story.

    As for the new testament stuff like the dubious “Gospel of Judas” I expect it’s either a gnostic text or otherwise anti Christian and should be read skeptically if at all. Of course given the title “The Gospel of Judas” carries it own warning.

  21. Memphis Aggie says

    That should be “not directly canonized” – need more caffeine.

  22. Fr. Ernesto wrote:

    Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but there are four canons of the Old Testament, but only one canon of the New Testament.

    I thought that some of the near eastern folks had a different canon for the NT. The ones that use the Pishitta canon don’t have Revelation or some of the non-Pauline epistles, if I remember properly.

  23. treebeard says

    This is a little bit off the subject, but I heard a wonderful explication on the books of the Bible as compared to the book of Isaiah. It’s entirely subjective and inspirational, so should be taken with a big grain of salt.

    – There are 66 chapters in Isaiah, and there are 66 books in the Bible (meaning the accepted Protestant version).
    – There are 39 books in the Old Testament, and so the book of Matthew is book number “40.”
    – The 40th chapter of Isaiah is a prophecy of John the Baptist, and the New Testament begins with John the Baptist turning the age from the old to the new covenant by baptizing people and preparing the way of the Messiah.
    – Chapters 40-66 of Isaiah are clearly different from the earlier parts of the book, and are pointing to the New Testament age, consummating in the new heavens and new earth where Jesus reigns (in chapter 66 of Isaiah, and in the book of Revelation).

  24. I remember when I was a Freshman in college, I had a problem with the Nicean Council because I had thought (in my zealous ignorance) that one of the goals of the Council was kicking anything Jewish out of the Church. I also had some problems with the book of Hebrews at the time because I perceived it as saying things that contradicted what I perceived to be explicit in other parts of Scripture. I was also doubting both the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity at the time.

    Over a period of months, I worked out some of those issues eventually coming to the conclusion that if I rejected Nicea, I’d also be rejecting the NT canon among other foundational stuff to my faith. Thinking I had no other logical choice, I took its validity (as well as that of Hebrews, the Trinity, and Jesus’ divinity) by faith. Much later, I actually learned some church history and realized what an arrogant & ignorant kid I had been!

  25. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    In answer to the original question, I wonder what (if anything) is lost when we give up the concept of a canon. The literary “canon” (Homer, Shakespeare, and so on) is quite fluid, yet somehow English departments soldier on. Of course we don’t believe everything published by Penguin or Everyman Library–whether we would be right in applying this attitude to biblical literature is a matter of some controversy, at least in certain theological circles. I suppose the fear is that someone might believe some crazy gnostic teaching (all those Pleromas and Demiurges) in place of all those old familiar dogmas, and that without a canon, there would be no way to curse them for a heretic.

  26. I have nothing to add about the canon – but I want to make sure everyone notices what an informative and charitable discussion is going on here between people of different traditions. It is truly refreshing.

    Many thanks to our shepherd iMonk for bringing this flock together and keeping us on the right path.

  27. Michael – and that would be when, exactly?

    Thomas telling the rest of them “Listen, crazies, unless I see this for myself, no way!”?

    Paul telling Peter “You’re wrong, I’m right” about the Gentiles?

    Paul and the fun, fun, fun about the parties of Paul/Cephas/Apollos/Christ?

    If anyone ever finds out when exactly all Christians were in perfect accord, lemme know, mmmkay? 🙂

    Blessed Holy Week to you all!

  28. Wonderful discussion. A few scattered thoughts:

    Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages by the amazing Jaroslav Pelikan proved to be an easy, informative, and transformative read for me… regarding the formation of the canons. You will find the description “capacious” more than once in the reviews.

    I find it fascinating that, among all of the Greek-ness of the NT narratives, and considering the above-mentioned convictions about the NT usage of the Septuagint, Matthew and Mark have Jesus quoting the first line of the Hebrew Psalm 21 or 22 in Aramaic! How delightfully confusing.

    My Orthodox friends have provided me with a long list of all the places where Jesus, Paul, and the others quote or reference deuterocanonical writings. I had never heard of such a thing from my Protestant friends. If those quotations are indeed substantiated, why wouldn’t Jesus’ and Paul’s usage of them be “authoritative” enough?

    Why is it so necessary for some christians to try and nail down as “a definite, hard and clearly drawn line” many items that are unclear and not well documented history in ancient periods of the earliest christian centuries? Why is fuzzy, backward-looking speculation treated as historical fact? What is the intent?

    Are we so ethnocentrically self-absorbed and provincial as to think that God wasn’t moving in full effect before the formation of a written canon and the invention of the printing press, just so we could have a book in our hand to argue over? How did christianity ever spread without that book?

  29. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Where was the canon of the New Testament when it “existed” before any church council? Where was it hiding and how do we find it if we ignore Catholicism? — IMonk

    It was dictated word-for-word by God in the time of Kynge Jaymes, of course.

    (No resemblance to the Koran being dictated word-for-word by Al’lah to Mohammed…)

    Would it have been perverse of God to allow the “true” form of Christianity to perish in ancient times? But this is what many Protestants seem to be arguing. — TMNT

    And Mormons, and JWs, and a LOT of independent-to-offbeat-to-flake groups in general. All have the same concept of church history — when “founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD”, the “true form of Christianity” was just like themselves in every way. This perished in “the great apostasy” — not just “in ancient times” but IMMEDIATELY, going off the rails (usually into Romish Popery et al) at the very beginning. Then (normally less than a century ago, sometimes only a couple years ago) “Our Founder” rediscovered “the true form of Christianity”, took an Exodus out from the Apostates, and founded/restored that One True Form. (Never mind all those other One True Original Forms of Christianity (TM) running around who claim the exact same thing…)

    You would not believe how many times I’ve run into that attitude.

  30. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian:

    Tertullian was a Montanist (just messin’ with you).

    I think Canon is important just so heretical thought doesn’t creep into our Christian foundation. You would assume that after all these years that couldn’t possibly happen yet…

  31. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    Well who knows what he was like as a teenager…?

    How could a canon prevent heresy, unless limits on interpretation are also imposed? I suppose you will think of creeds, but these too must be interpreted, and no creed can think of everything. (What if I accept the whole Bible plus whatever creeds you like, with the additional detail that I am the Second Coming?) In the end, I think you are back to the authority of a church or tradition.

  32. Speaking of Ehrman, Stephen Colbert of all people absolutely crushed the guy last night on his show, and taught us all a valuable lesson: in the land of the blind pundits, the pundit who’s faking blindness is king.


    This is the second time Ehrman was on the Report.

    Here’s the first:


    Colbert’s the best guy we have.

  33. Louisiana Catholic says

    Mr. T:

    Good post and one I agree with. As I noted in and earlier post [the early Church Fathers cited extensively from the Septuiagint (LXX)] and the 7 Deuterocanoncials, using Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Terminology. After the New Testament period (30 to 49 AD) before St. Paul wrote 1 Thes. the Early Church cited scriptures from (LXX). This is supported by the fact that the NT itself was written in Greek and the majority of the “Old Testament (OT)” quotes in the NT came from the LXX source (about 70%). In the second century, we see disputes between the Early Church and Judaism as evidenced by St. Justin’s Dialogues with the Jewish Scholars of his day indicating that the Church has a longer set of scriptures than the Jews, which was a debate over the OT from the LXX and the Jewish scholars at Jamnia who drew up a shorter list of books.

    As for direct or allusions to the 7 Deuterocanonicals [Wisdom, Tobit, 1 and 2 Macabees, Judith, Sirach, Baruch and the LXX includes additional parts of Daniel and Esther], there are plenty of them.

    For example the Golden rule of Jesus “do unto others.. as you would have done to you” (c.f. Mt 7:12) is the converse of Tobit 4:15 which reads “And what you hate, do not do to any one”, which is the obvious source of that quote. Christ image as the gentle Master “take my yoke…find rest” (c.f. Mt 12:28-30, which is only recorded in Matthew clearly is drawing from Sirach 51: 23-26). In the same fashion, the theme of the suffering servant and if he be the son of God, God will save him (c.f. Mt 27:42-43) is a reference to Wisdom 2: 12-20). In St. John’s Gospel (c.f. Jn 10:22-36) we see Jesus celebrating the feast of dedication and stating “can you say that the one whom the Father has Consecrated** and sent into the world blasphmes…” (c.f. Jn 10:36. This passage is linking back to 1 Mc 4:36-59; 2 Mc 1:18) which reconsecrates the temple. The Letter to the Hebrews 11:35-38 makes reference to the martydom of a Mother and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42; and other martyrs during the Macabean revolt (c.f. 1 Mc 1:60-63). The first biblical text to to equate the serpent in Genesis 3 with the devil is Wisdom 2:23-24, which Christ affirms in John 8:44 and Revelation affirms in Rev 12:9 and Rev 20:2

    In the spirit of complying with Imonk’s request to keep posts to a readable length, I will end it here, but the support for the LXX translation is found in 1) 70% of the OT quotes come from it, 2) it was the OT version used by the early Church Fathers, and 3) it is clearly referenced and/alluded to throughout the NT by Christ and the writers of the epistles.

    God’s peace

  34. “Where was the canon hiding?”

    Since the process involved simply classifying existing written material, the canon was not hiding, but instead did not exist at all. The individual athletes may exist, but until they are put together as a coherent group with a singular purpose, the team does not exist.

    “How did you find it?”

    As specifically directed at me; I wasn’t looking for it since in my own blissful ignorance, I’ve not given it much thought.

    As a more philosophical question; I assume that at some point, God gifted others to bring some kind of order to the writing claiming to be “real”.

    One a different note, I find it interesting that the early church managed to survive, despite some pretty heavy counterattacks while the beachhead position was so thinly held, without a leather-bound, red-letter edition in the hands of each and every believer. Which to me begs the question: What if the canon had never been formalized, and what if all we had were one or two of the Gospels? Would reading the words of Christ on a regular basis, instead of Paul all the time, have led to a different looking body of believers?

  35. Obed – the original Peshitta did not contain 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. In fact, both the West and East Syrian Churches were quite resistant to changing up until the sixth century. Interestingly enough, the first version of the Peshitta gospels was only one Gospel, which was a harmony of the Four Gospels produced by one of the Syrian Fathers! After the sixth century, the New Testament is the same.

    The process of acceptance of the whole New Testament was delayed because the non-Chalcedonian Churches split from the rest of Christianity. For instance, after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, essentially the entire Patriarchate of Alexandria left the Church. To this day, 90% of Egyptians are part of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Antioch split into two parts, a part that remained with the other patriarchates and the Syriac Orthodox Church. In Europe, the Armenian Apostolic Church also left, and in India, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church also left.

    What we call the Great Schism was larger and more shattering, but it was not the first big schism.

    Ed – hmm, it was not that at some point God gifted others to bring some kind of order. Rather, it was that, from the beginning, Jesus called Twelve Apostles (later calling St. Paul) as well as many other apostles who were given as gifts to the Church and the specific task of hanging on to the Truth and passing it on to their successors.

    TMNT – yes, one comes back to the authority of the Church. However, be cautious, the way you expressed the interpretative process, it can easily mean that there is no type of certainty in anything written. Yet, we can follow written directions, we can do some significant science as well as thought experiments in cosmology, etc. That is, while one can make the argument that it is all interpretation and thus there is not surety about what anyone is saying, that is an argument that sounds good but is not backed up by actual experience–regardless of how many people claim we did not land on the moon (to give an example). The same is true with Scripture. Regardless of those who claim it (or Shakespeare or Bacon or Humes) can be interpreted in many ways, most scholars (whether of the Bible or literature) would say that there are limits as to what are plausible, or even possible, interpretations. The fact that someone can come up with an off-the-wall interpretation of Shakespeare does not make it any less off-the-wall. The same is true of the Bible.

  36. sue kephart says

    I think you have two different Bodies of believers (in the sense you are speaking). Those that are Liturgical and ( I’ll make them all happy now) come out of RC tradition. Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist (At least at the time of Wesley) and so on. These traditions are Gospel based. The lectionary is centered in the Gospel reading of the day with supporting scriptures read aloud at worship.

    Althought St Paul and his epistles are very important Paul never saw the incarnated Jesus.
    So Churches that are based in the writings of Paul tend to be more resurrention focused than incarnational.

  37. I guess my point is this, no matter what your view is about the Church in later centuries, we should all acknowldge that if it wasn’t for the work done in the first few centuries in laying down our christian foundation, we might not belive what we believe today. It is easy to say that things like the Trinity and the incarnation are in scripture, it’s another thing to actually be able to interpret it if it wasn’t for the work that was already done. What I mean is that the data may be there, but I might be able to make a case for Jesus as a subordinate being to God just as easy as making a case for the Trinity. Or I might be able to make the claim that Jesus was divine until he was on earth, then fully human and then divine again after His death and Resuurection. So we owe a lot to the early Church for helping to flesh out these issues.

    My pet peeve is when I run into someone who hits me on the head with scripture but refuses to acknowledge anything that went on outside of scripture because “it doesn’t matter”. Statements like the Trinity is right here in scripture makes no sense to me if history is not taken into account.

    I think it would be a really interesting experiment to give scripture to someone who has never been exposed to Christianity or any of its tenets and see if that person could determine the Trinity or if Jesus was fully Divine and fully Human just by reading the text. Heck, I’ll even give the person a multiple choice test. Odds are this person would not immediately come to the same conclusion.

  38. Louisiana Catholic says

    Sue Kephart:

    Well Sue, I can give an Amen to what you wrote as you have pointed out the difference in how the Scriptures are read in worship (Liturgy) and how they impact doctrine and for Catholics, Orthodox and Liturgical Protestants. In those Traditions, the focus is on the Gospels being the heart of what is read.

    Now, my following statement is not meant to cause friction, but I think what you wrote in your post, and what I wrote above, also has implications for all doctrines. For example, it seems to many (including me) that some Protestants start with St. Paul and interpret Christ and the Gospels from that context. This is not the “Catholic approach.”

    In my experience based on most of the Protestant literature that one sees (and I have only lived in 3 states in the Southern U.S.), does in fact start with St. Paul and usually calls it the “Roman Road of salvation” The passage that most often starts the Protestant view of justification is Romans 3:28-30; and it is usually complemented by passages from Galatians and Ephesians, and thus doctrines are built from this context.

    As you noted, Liturgical Churches do start with the Gospels as the focus, but I would also say the Catholic CHurch takes that and goes further and notes why the Gospels are the center (para 125) and thus why the Gospels are venerated in Liturgy (para 127, i.e the procession of the Gospels) and why the principle of Typology (para 128-130), which the entire Scriptures is read in light of the person of Christ, and thus the 4 Gospels, is the key principle of scripture interpretation and thus all doctrinal positions follow from that. I have provided the link to the CCC for those interested in the Catholic approach on this issue.


    God’s peace

  39. Louisiana Catholic:

    I completely share that approach to the Gospels and the Bible. Many Protestants and evangelicals do as well, though it’s rarely articulated.

    Folks….this thread has gone fairly far afield of where I wanted it to go. It’s been very civil and I appreciate that.

    I’ll keep the thread open as long as the original intent is in sight, but when I feel we’ve lost the fish I was casting for, I’ll close it.

  40. Louisiana Catholic says


    Fair enough, I see you started a new thread, which is geared towards Liturgy, which is probably where the content of my last post, perhaps Sue’s as well, is more relevant. In future posts in this thread, I will stick to the topic of the formation of the canon.

    God Bless

  41. charlie.hr says

    Ehrman starts his books with a wrong step.

    He claims that christianity is a religion of the book. Even thou I find his research quite interesting and respect it as a possibility; I don’t agree in his starting point, thus making perfectly understandable why he’s an apostate.

    I believe christianity is not a religion and less that is based on a book.

    As always I think many will misunderstand my words, but forgive me if I feel compelled to throw a wider perspective that is uncomfortable for traditional views.

    Many christian faith statements begins with…

    The Bible is the word of God, and is inerrant and infallible (some add in the original texts) and rule of faith and practice (the statement may vary depending on any given religious confession).

    This statement gives people like Ehrman a valid point to doubt about everything we believe on ’cause biased or not, he has done a lot of research in the subject of the canon; and liked or not, some of his claims are supported by another well respected christian scholars. (FF.Bruce, Robert Banks to name a few.)

    As Ehrman rightly states, we don’t have the originals, only copies of copies of copies. Where Ehrman misses everything is in his initial statement…

    WARNING: Here comes a shocker…

    Christianity is a faith not based on a book but in Christ, the living Word of God!!!

    The Bible (scriptures and canon) is ONE MORE medium that God has used to reveal his word throughout the ages.(The others are prophets, nature, etc).

    It’s true that the real meaning of the word of God cannot be understand by a simple reading of the text; if that was possible then all people (specially theology scholars) ought to be devoted, fruit bearing, christians. That’s why we need the Spirit of God, to GUIDE US TO ALL TRUTH. It’s not surprising to listen Jesus say that God obscured his WORD from the wise and intellectual (theology scholars?), but revealed to those who’re as children. Paul dismissed the idea that you can achieve a full revelation of the WORD OF GOD only by intellectual means.

    In the OT God promised that he will write his word in our hearts. That speaks of the indwelling word of God (Jesus himself) living in every christian. That’s why Jesus said that there will be no need of teacher cause the living word of God will teach us from within.

    Many religious people in our days still believe what the pharisees and greek philosophers used to believed; that knowledge is the key to a mans transformation.That knowledge was found in the scriptures or philosophy.

    The bible tells us that knowledge of THE TRUTH (as in Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life) is the beginning of a process (known as sanctification) of transformation. HE AND ONLY HE is Gods revealed truth to humanity.

    The book may contain some errors (even the most conservative scholars admit minor errors). But the WORD OF GOD (Jesus Christ revealed trough the Holly Spirit) is still inerrant and infallible.

    If God warned us against adding or subtracting a coma from the scriptures, was because he knew that this was possible (and some did it, it will be naive to think that not).

    I still believe the Bible is the most valuable resource we have to BEGIN our search and understanding of the WORD OF GOD. But it’s not THE ONLY one and to give the book attributes that only can be given to our Lord is idolatry and could lead some to legalism, some to heresy and others to apostasy.

    The tree is known by its fruit… Just do a little history check on the institutional church life and you’ll see what I mean. Even know, the demise of religious “christianity” is rooted in a false foundation.

    Have ears to hear?


  42. Can’t we just accept by faith that God used the Catholic church to give us the OT and the NT canon, and that everything he wants us to have are in those books. The historical when?, what?, and how? questions just leave me a little cold really.

    God bless,

  43. For purposes of full disclosure, I’m an ex-Catholic (not hostile) and a member of an ELCA church.

    Just a few comments on some quotes:

    “How does a Protestant who deems church councils to be the instruments of an apostate church defend their own idea of canon?”

    Such a de-historicized view of the development of the canon(s) seems untenable to me. The alternative is hopeless relativism: “the canon is simply what I say it is.” (More on this in a moment.)

    “it appears Tobit and Wisdom were in the LXX”

    “the Septuagint contained the deuterocanonicals”

    Note that our conception of “in” and “contained” have the idea of a codex (bound book) in view. This was not a reality until the second century at the earliest and more likely not until the fourth century, in terms of its wider use. When one needs to compile a book called “Bible” THEN canonicity becomes crucial; the compiler is forced to decide what will be included or excluded. The other canonical moment is when one must undertake a translation of scripture, qv. Jerome and Luther.

    “Jesus and the apostles probably used the Septuagent [sic].”

    See above. And has others have pointed out, thinking that Jesus and his apostles were fluent in Greek is really an unimaginable stretch. Certainly though, the gospel writers and Paul knew the Septuagint because they quote from it. I don’t know if this is necessarily the case here, but such comments are often part of a broader rhetoric of “Vugate-only-ism” or “Septuagint-only-ism” (sort of second-cousins to KJV-only-ism).

    “Barton does point out that “authoritative texts” were viewed on a sliding scale”

    “But the “books” were being read before the Council. The Word of God was being discerned along the way in the churches as they were being read and lived out.”

    I think both these statements are helpful. As our buddy L. Wittgenstein pointed out, “meaning is use.” Certainly it’s difficult to argue that Nahum (much less II Maccabees) is just as important to the life of the church as is the Gospel According to John. Your canon is essentially what you hear read/preached from on Sunday. If you belong to a church that does not use a lectionary, I’ll bet your canon is quite small indeed–look through some old church bulletins and see for yourself. And even if your church does use a lectionary, your canon, while broader, is significantly limited by the boundaries a lectionary draws. (There’s a popular fallacy floating around that says the RC lectionary contains the entire Bible–only about 33% of the OT in actuality.)

    Thanks iM for virtually calling out the “Council of Jamnia/Yavneh” for what it is: hokum. I agree with your comments on Ehrman–though I admit I was saddened by your support for Witherington–to me they both seem like they’re cut from the same cloth in terms of their pursuit of publicity. In my view, neither draws a pretty picture for biblical scholarship.

  44. Louisiana Catholic says

    Dave N:

    Why is speaking Greek such an impossiblity. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great conquered much of what was the Eastern Roman empire during the time of Christ and the Apostles. Hellenistic Judaims was the incorporation of the Jewish faith within the context of Greek language and culture. In fact, given that St. Paul was from Tarsus, some 50-100 miles or so west of Antioch would have been part of Hellenistic Judaism, and Hellenistic Judaism was the reason for the LXX translation.

    In addition, the NT intself supports Hebrew, Latin and Greek being spoken in Jerusalem during Christ’s passion (c.f. Jn 19:21). I don’t think any Catholic here is making a Vulgate-ism and LXX-ism claim.

    The evidence does support the LXX. For example, the Codices of the 4th century Church point to the LXX. The Codex Vaticanus is from the mid 4th century and contains all of the OT books of the LXX, except Gen 1:1-46 is missing, some verses of 2 Samuel are missing, about 30 Psalms are missing and 1 and 2 Macabees are not present. Still, it represents a great witness to the early form of the LXX. The Codex Sinaiticus is another LXX source that is also from the mid-4th century and is close to the same textual style as the Codex Vaticanus.

    With respect to St. Jerome and the Vulgate translation [which did become the authoritative text for the Catholic Church for the next 1,000 years or so], he did use extant Hebrew Text of his time to do his OT translation. However, he was called out on the carpet for doing so and his original Translation met much resistance including St. Augustine, who asserted that Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew was “an innovation against the Church’s use of the LXX. In other words, Jerome’s translation was the first to use the Hebrew text extensively as all the Old Latin texts drew from the LXX. While Jerome personally favored the shorter canon (he was in the minority along with Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianazus, Rufinius, and Epiphanius who favored the shorter canon) that found its way into the Masoretic texts, which Protestants adopted, St. Jerome felt bound by the Tradition of the Church and thus included the 7 Deuterocanonicals in his translation. In fact, later in his life, he actually defended the inclusion of the 7 Deuterocanonicals by writing a treatise against Rufinius.

    So, again the evidence supports the LXX version being the OT of the early Church and also supports the 7 Dueterocanonicals.


  45. I don’t disagree that the LXX was the Bible for the bulk of the early church. The entire reason behind the Septuagint was to facilitate reading the Hebrew scriptures in one’s native language. While you are certainly free to claim that the native language of Jesus and the apostles was Greek, you’d be in a very small minority of people who think so–actually I’m not aware of anyone who thinks this. You might want to review Eusebius in this regard as well as general Palestinian resistance to Greek culture in the Books of Maccabees.

  46. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    Martin Jack: “Can’t we just accept by faith that God used the Catholic church to give us the OT and the NT canon, and that everything he wants us to have are in those books.”

    Well you could…but then you would have no way of saying that this canon is any better than some other. Somebody else might just accept on faith the Book of Mormon.

    One significance of the Septuagint is that it makes explicit “a virgin shall conceive…” when the Hebrew might be more sensibly interpreted as “a young woman shall conceive…” Of course one could accept the Jewish reading of Isaiah, and accept Matthew’s gloss for reasons other than strict textual accuracy.

  47. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    Fr. Ernesto, I do not mean to say that any written text can legitimately be interpreted any way one wants. However, the Bible comes to us interpreted through “thick” hermeneutical traditions that would not always satisfy outsiders as fair readings. (We have already mentioned the Trinity.) If one such reading is legitimate, why not two?

    Of course it is one thing to say that a certain reading has scholarly merit, and another to say that it is permitted by the freedom due to everyone as readers. Few churches are interested in kicking members out over issues of interpretation, though these often come up as factional markers, during struggles for power and resources within a religious group.

  48. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says

    An example: if the interpretation of the OT can be “stretched” to provide prophecies of Jesus, then why couldn’t the same be done to the NT, so that it yields prophecies of Mary Baker Eddy or Rev. Moone? The answer, I think you’ll find, has less to do with the merits of their respective cases, than with the power of group identity and tradition.

  49. There WAS an early Christian Church east of Jerusalem and it was neither Greek nor Latin, nor was the LXX its OT text. We have very little idea what the numbers were…………..so it’s a bit presumptuous to say that the LXX was the Bible for the bulk of the early Church.

  50. OK. We’ve left the road a ways back, and I don’t think this is anywhere near the conversation I started.

    Peace to all who participated.

    Ehrman/Spong fans: In future threads, you’re going to get a lot more serious response from me. This isn’t an episode of “Fringe.”