The Claims of Romanism and the Issues They Present
1) The Church determined what books made up the “Canon of Scripture”
This is an extremely common misunderstanding that many Christians have been taken captive by. I believed this idea myself up to recent years of study and research. So, why is this commonly believed? The answer is simple and in two parts:
- It is the normal and immediate response of men to all things authoritative. We naturally assume that “someone” or “some group” determined what would be authoritative in religion.
- It is commonly stated as fact by both Christians and secularists. Most often it is Christians who perpetrate the idea that the canon was determined at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This was even stated in the book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. There are other councils given credit for “determining canon” as well such as the Council of Trent (claimed by Catholics as the authoritative declaration of canon) and the Council of Carthage.
So how did the Canon of Scripture originate, if not “determined” by the Church? To put it simply: The Scriptures originate with and are declared by the triune God which gave them. No man has been given authority to declare what God’s word is. It was always the Holy Spirit speaking through men which declared the truth of God. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21) So, it is God who declares what is Scripture.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:20-21
J.I. Packer puts it this way in his book God Speaks to Man:
“The church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity, by his work of creation, and similarly he gave us the New Testament canon, by inspiring the individual books that make it up.” – J.I. Packer, God Speaks to Man
We also see that Scripture determines what is Scripture. Peter’s second letter, as previously discussed, clearly identifies Paul’s writings as Scripture. (2 Peter 3:15-16). Also, throughout the word of God, we find passages which are literally quoting or paraphrasing other passages of Scripture. Thereby, we can see that Scripture also can determine what is Scripture.
“Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.” – 2 Peter 3:15-16
With that, I will utter a word of caution in stating that simply because a writing is quoted in scripture does not inherently make that writing itself scripture. It still requires that the writing literally be “God breathed” or “inspired” as the Scripture states. The most commonly referred to evidence of this is in Jude 9 where Assumption of Moses is quoted and Jude 14-15 where the Book of Enoch is quoted. Careful observation and study of both texts reveals that Jude not only quotes these non-canonical books, but also corrects the error of the “quoted” text. Additionally, his writing can be supported by other texts which are recognized as canon. There are many quotations of non-canonical books throughout the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments. What you will not find anywhere is a passage in Scripture which identifies writings which are not part of the canon as Scripture or as “inspired”.
In determining what is Scripture then, we see that it is not man which does the determining any more than it is man which determines what is sin. God does the determining and we simply identify what specifically is sin based solely on what God has said. We handle canonizing Scripture in a very similar way. We do not “determine” or “canonize”. We simply identify and collect what God gave as Scripture and apply it as such in our lives and in the organization and operation of the Church. The reality of the collection of canon is simply this: the various individuals and councils of the early Church which identified the canon were only listing books which were already being observed and recognized as Scripture throughout the Church.
F.F. Bruce says it this way:
“One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa – at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 – but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of these communities.” – F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Books: Are They Reliable?
What about the New Testament books which were debated among Church leaders as to their canonicity? What measures were taken to determine their inclusion or expulsion from the Bible? Rob Phillips identifies three points which all Scripture meet in his book The Apologist’s Tool Kit:
- Apostolicity: the book was written during the “apostolic age” and no writer is more than one person removed from an apostle or other authoritative eyewitness of the life of Christ.
- Catholicity: This has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” simply means “universal”. Catholicity means that believers throughout the world to which Christianity was spreading were in agreement on the value of these books – and used them widely.
- Orthodoxy: This refers to the faithfulness of the books to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.
Rob’s third point is the true test of “inspiration”. If any writing contradicts, changes, modifies, or denies any portion of Scripture, it is indeed not Scripture at all, but heresy. Any writing which would not be perfectly harmonious with the teachings of the Savior and His apostles and disciples could in no way have come from the work of the Holy Spirit.
In concluding this point, we must reject the idea that the Church is supreme in determining what is Scripture. It is God and God alone who determines what is His word.
- Who has determined what is and what is not Scripture?
- What qualifications do we see as clear and evident concerning all Scripture?