Skip to comments.Did Martin Luther Act Infallibly in Defining What Books Belong in the Bible?
Posted on 01/23/2011 5:12:54 AM PST by St_Thomas_Aquinas
Did Martin Luther Act Infallibly in Defining What Books Belong in the Bible?
If Luther did not act infallibly:
- How can Protestants be certain that they have an infallible collection of Books in Holy Scripture?
- How can the Bible be the sole rule of faith, if no one knows with certainty which books belong in the Bible?
If Luther acted infallibly:
- How do you know?
For the Bible to be inerrant, the source(s) that wrote, and preserved it must have been inerrant, and the authority that compiled it must have acted infallibly.
We're left with a dilemma: Either Luther acted infallibly in determining the canon of Scripture, or The Catholic Church acted infallibly in determining the Canon of Scripture.
Protestants often object that the Bible supports "Sola Scriptura." Even if that were true, this is a circular argument. One is assuming the inerrancy of the Bible to support the inerrancy of the Bible.
But Christians who love the Bible should not despair. There is a logically consistent argument in support of the inerrancy of Scripture. See the bold sections below.
The Reformers said the Bible is the sole source of religious truth, and its understanding must be found by looking only at the words of the text. No outside authority may impose an interpretation, and no outside authority, such as the Church, has been established by Christ as an arbiter.
As heirs of the Reformers, fundamentalists work on the basis of sola scriptura, and they advance this notion at every opportunity. One might think it would be easy for them to explain why they believe this principle.
But there is perhaps no greater frustration, in dealing with fundamentalists, than in trying to pin them down on why the Bible should be taken as a rule of faith at all, let alone the sole rule of faith. It all reduces to the question of why fundamentalists accept the Bible as inspired, because the Bible can be taken as a rule of faith only if it is first held to be inspired and, thus, inerrant.
Now this is a problem that doesn't keep most Christians awake at night. Most have never given it any serious thought. To the extent they believe in the Bible, they believe in it because they operate in a milieu that is, if post-Christian in many ways, still steeped in Christian ways of thought and presuppositions.
A lukewarm Christian who wouldn't give the slightest credence to the Koran would think twice about casting aspersions on the Bible. It has a certain official status for him, even if he can't explain it. You might say he accepts the Bible as inspired (whatever that may mean for him) for some "cultural" reason, but that, of course, is hardly a sufficient reason, since on such a basis the Koran rightly would be considered inspired in a Moslem country.
Similarly, it is hardly enough to say that one's family has always believed in the Bible, "and that's good enough for me." It may indeed be good enough for the person disinclined to think, and one should not disparage a simple faith, even if held for an ultimately weak reason, but mere custom cannot establish the inspiration of the Bible.
Some fundamentalists say they believe the Bible is inspired because it is "inspirational," but that is a word with a double meaning. On the one hand, if used in the strict theological sense, it clearly begs the question, which is: How do we know the Bible is inspired, that is, "written" by God, but through human authors? And if "inspirational" means nothing more than "inspiring" or "moving," then someone with a deficient poetic sense might think the works of a poetaster are inspired.
Indeed, parts of the Bible, including several whole books of the Old Testament, cannot be called "inspirational" in this sense in the least, unless one works on the principle, reported by Ronald Knox, of the elderly woman who was soothed every time she heard "the blessed word Mesopotamia." One betrays no disrespect in admitting that some parts of the Bible are as dry as military statistics--indeed, some parts are nothing but military statistics--and there is little there that can move the emotions.
So, it is not enough to believe in the inspiration of the Bible merely out of culture or habit, nor is it enough to believe in its inspiration because it is a beautifully-written or emotion-stirring book. There are other religious books, and even some plainly secular ones, that outscore most of the Bible when it comes to fine prose or poetry.
What about the Bible's own claim to inspiration? There are not many places where such a claim is made even tangentially, and most books in the Old and New Testaments make no such claim at all. In fact, no New Testament writer seemed to be aware that he was writing under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, with the exception of the author of the Apocalypse.
Besides, even if every biblical book began with the phrase, "The following is an inspired book," such phrases would prove nothing. The Koran claims to be inspired, as does the Book of Mormon, as do the holy books of various Eastern religions. Even the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, claim inspiration. The mere claim of inspiration is insufficient to establish a book's bona fides.
These tests failing, most fundamentalists fall back on the notion that "the Holy Spirit tells me the Bible is inspired," an exercise in subjectivism that is akin to their claim that the Holy Spirit guides them in interpreting the text. For example, the anonymous author of How Can I Understand the Bible?, a booklet distributed by the Radio Bible Class, lists twelve rules for Bible study. The first is, "Seek the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has been given to illumine the Scriptures and make them alive to you as you study them. Yield to his enlightenment."
If one takes this as meaning that anyone asking for a proper interpretation will be given one by God--and that is exactly how most fundamentalists understand the assistance of the Holy Spirit to work--then the multiplicity of interpretations, even among fundamentalists, should give people a gnawing sense that the Holy Spirit hasn't been doing his job very effectively.
Most fundamentalists don't say, in so many words, that the Holy Spirit has spoken to them directly, assuring them of the inspiration of the Bible. They don't phrase it like that. Rather, in reading the Bible they are "convicted" that it is the word of God, they get a positive "feeling" that it is inspired, and that's that--which often reduces their acceptance of the Bible to culture or habit. No matter how it's looked at, the fundamentalist's position is not one that is rigorously reasoned to.
It must be the rare fundamentalist who, even for sake of argument, first approaches the Bible as though it is not inspired and then, upon reading it, syllogistically concludes it is. In fact, fundamentalists begin with the fact of inspiration--just as they take the other doctrines of fundamentalism as givens, not as deductions--and then they find things in the Bible that seem to support inspiration, claiming, with circular reasoning, that the Bible confirms its inspiration, which they knew all along.
The man who wrestles with the fundamentalist approach to inspiration (or any of these other approaches, for that matter) at length is unsatisfied because he knows he has no good grounds for his belief. The Catholic position is the only one that, ultimately, can satisfy intellectually.
The Catholic method of finding the Bible to be inspired is this. The Bible is first approached as any other ancient work. It is not, at first, presumed to be inspired. From textual criticism we are able to conclude that we have a text the accuracy of which is more certain than the accuracy of any other ancient work.
Sir Frederic Kenyon, in The Story of the Bible, notes that "For all the works of classical antiquity we have to depend on manuscripts written long after their original composition. The author who is the best case in this respect is Virgil, yet the earliest manuscript of Virgil that we now possess was written some 350 years after his death. For all other classical writers, the interval between the date of the author and the earliest extant manuscript of his works is much greater. For Livy it is about 500 years, for Horace 900, for most of Plato 1,300, for Euripides 1,600." Yet no one seriously disputes that we have accurate copies of the works of these writers.
Not only are the biblical manuscripts we have older than those for classical authors, we have in absolute numbers far more manuscripts to work from. Some are whole books of the Bible, others fragments of just a few words, but there are thousands of manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages. What this means is that we can be sure we have an accurate text, and we can work from it in confidence.
Next we take a look at what the Bible, considered merely as a history, tells us, particularly the New Testament, and particularly the Gospels. We examine the account of Jesus's life and death and his reported resurrection.
Using what is in the Gospels themselves, what we find in extra-biblical writings from the early centuries, and what we know of human nature (and what we can otherwise, from natural theology, know of divine nature), we conclude that Jesus either was just what he claimed to be, God, or was a madman. (The one thing we know he could not have been was merely a good man who was not God, because no merely good man would make the claims he made.)
We are able to eliminate his being a madman not just from what he said--no madman ever spoke as he did; for that matter, no sane man ever did either--but from what his followers did after his death. A hoax (the supposedly empty tomb) is one thing, but you do not find people dying for a hoax, at least not one from which they have no prospect of advantage. The result of this line of reasoning is that we must conclude that Jesus indeed rose from the dead and that he was therefore God and, being God, meant what he said and did what he said he would do.
One thing he said he would do was found a Church, and from both the Bible (still taken as merely a historical book, not at this point in the argument as an inspired one) and other ancient works, we see that Christ established a Church with the rudiments of all we see in the Catholic Church today--papacy, hierarchy, priesthood, sacraments, teaching authority, and, as a consequence of the last, infallibility. Christ's Church, to do what he said it would do, had to have the note of infallibility.
We have thus taken purely historical material and concluded that there exists a Church, which is the Catholic Church, divinely protected against teaching error. Now we're at the last part of the argument.
That Church now tells us the Bible is inspired, and we can take the Church's word for it precisely because it is infallible. Only after having been told by a properly constituted authority (that is, one set up by God to assure us of the truth of matters of faith, such as the status of the Bible) that the Bible is inspired do we begin to use it as an inspired book.
Note that this is not a circular argument. We are not basing the inspiration of the Bible on the Church's infallibility and the Church's infallibility on the word of an inspired Bible. That indeed would be a circular argument. What we have is really a spiral argument. On the first level we argue to the reliability of the Bible as history. From that we conclude an infallible Church was founded. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired. It all reduces to the proposition that, without the existence of the Church, we could not tell if the Bible were inspired.
Now what has just been discussed is not, obviously, the kind of mental exercise people go through before putting trust in the Bible, but it is the only truly reasonable way to do so. Every other way is inferior--psychologically adequate, perhaps, but actually inferior. In mathematics we accept on "faith" that one and one makes two and that one, when added to any integer, will produce the next highest integer. These truths seem elementary to us and we are satisfied to take such things at face value, but apprentice mathematicians must go through a semester's course the whole of which is taken up demonstrating such "obvious" truths.
The point is that fundamentalists are quite right in believing the Bible is inspired, but their reasons for so believing are inadequate because knowledge of the inspiration of the Bible can be based only on an authority established by God to tell us the Bible is inspired, and that authority is the Church.
And this is where a more serious problem comes in. It seems to some that it makes little difference why one believes in the Bible's inspiration, just so one believes in it. But the basis for one's belief in its inspiration directly affects how one goes about interpreting the Bible. The Catholic believes in inspiration because the Church tells him so--that's putting it bluntly--and that same Church has the authority to interpret the inspired text. Fundamentalists believe in inspiration, though on weak grounds, but they have no interpreting authority other than themselves.
Cardinal Newman put it this way in an essay on inspiration first published in 1884: "Surely then, if the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so unsystematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times, and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation. How are private readers satisfactorily to distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal, what is idiomatic and what is grammatical, what is enunciated formally and what occurs obiter, what is only of temporary and what is of lasting obligation? Such is our natural anticipation, and it is only too exactly justified in the events of the last three centuries, in the many countries where private judgment on the text of Scripture has prevailed. The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility."
The advantages of the Catholic approach are two. First, the inspiration is really proved, not just "felt." Second, the main fact behind the proof--the fact of an infallible, teaching Church--leads one naturally to an answer to the problem that troubled the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:31): How is one to know what interpretations are right? The same Church that authenticates the Bible, that establishes its inspiration, is the authority set up by Christ to interpret his Word.
So the books of the Bible were solely selected by Luther? A false premise so the rest of the argument is not worth reading.
But of course if you want to attack Protestants its a good start.
There's a clear, obvious third choice.
Seems to me that we’ve been infected by a few folks who seek divisions among Christians.
This is the great consolation of Catholicism: we have an historical Church tracing itself back to Christ who in turn promises His guidance to the same. Our reason after finding the historical Church serves as a buttress to the the divine gift of Faith. In a nutshell we are blessed with the whole deposit of Scripture and have no doubts about it....Come home folks!
Apparently, the Armenian Church, The Orthodox and Calvin were absent that day...
Does this include the “Jesus” sayings on the rolling paper?
Never heard of ‘em.
Of course he did. And Islam is a religionofpeace.
How do they draw a logical conclusion as regards which books are inspired?
Didn’t Jesus say “read ye such reminisciences as might be written about me, determine ye thy faith as thy chooseth in concordance with whichever interpretation thy chooseth and be self-righteous in this endeavor?”
Oh yeah. He didn’t.
I’m a hook-nose but If I were a Christian I would be Catholic.
Attacking the Bible, the foundation of Christianity, is a common tactic amongst atheists and apparently some Catholics.
Saint Thomas, thanks for the invitation “home,” but we Christians will stay with Christ.
We don’t worship or “venerate” Martin Luther, so many of us will listen to arguments that he might have left out some books that should be in the Bible.
We Christians assembled the Bible (there were no “Protestants” back then, remember?) and then much later there was a split.
Who left Christ? Not the Christians. Maybe for a time it was those who started to worship a human organization rather than Christ.
I am so tired of these Catholics are the only true religion threads. They do a lot of things that I do not agree with but I am not going to start a hate thread about them. It is just taking up space which can be used for other things. No one is going to change another person’s beliefs. I have seen some threads where there are pages after pages of quotes when a link should be used.
I am so tired of people whining “Catholics are the only true religion threads” threads rather than just moving on.
If the thread bothers you do much, why not just skip it?
“Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”(Romans 5:1-2)
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
I’ll chose to stand with the blind man that said:
“I know not whether this man be a sinner or no, but I know wherein I was blind, and now I see.” (John 9:25)
And:”Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105)
“Entrance to thy words giveth light; it giveth understand unto the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
JESUS SAID:”YE SHALL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS.”
WE SHOULD NOT SO MUCH AS DEBATE GOD’S WORD, BUT WE SHOULD LIVE IT, THAT IS THE PROOF!
The Church is not an organization rather it is the Body of Christ. Those who depart from His body do indeed form a mere human organization sad to say.
Having gotten my undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and taken a theology course taught by a priest who was a proponent of textual criticism I can assure you that proving the inspiration of Scripture is the furthest thing from the mind of the textual critic.
While the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches may be the oldest Christian organizations on earth, it is the Baptists who most closely capture the faith and mindset of the early church fathers in the first few hundred years AD in this modern world.
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