Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Canon and Consensus

Responding to Alex over on Dave Armstrong's blog. He started by quoting JI Packer:
A non-Catholic, such as J. I. Packer would say, "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."
My new comments are in black. My original ones are in purple. Alex's are in green.

Randy: The analogy to the law of gravity is flawed. Scientific theories are inherently empirical. They exist because they are useful in predicting experimental results. The moment something more useful comes along then that theory is discarded.

Alex: The point with the analogy is that physical laws, however they are understood, are given by God by His act of creation. Surely, you should have understood it as such.

Creation is given by God. Scientific laws describe the behaviour of the creation. Anyone could describe gravity and have his description verified and accepted as accurate. Jesus is different. He gave us a gospel that nobody else could discover on his own. If the New Testament got it wrong then we would not have no way of knowing.

Randy: The canon is nothing like that. It cannot be checked empirically. It is revelation from God.

Alex: If the Canon is a revelation from God, is it not experienced and witnessed? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes , which we have looked upon , and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;” (1 John 1:1)

It is highly empirical as that. Christianity is not an esoteric mystic religion, but highly situated in this empirical world by a God who is the God of History and Communication. He is not a deist god, but an active God in our empirical world, and who even experienced the vulnerable human nature when He bodily died on the cross.

This seems quite off point. We cannot check the canon. Either God protected those books from error or He didn't. If He didn't, how would we know? Are you saying they are self-authenticating?
Randy: One can empirically recognize people's opinion about the cannon but that presupposes that a strong consensus of human opinion is the basis for the canon. That could be right but you need to state that as the real foundation of the canon.

Alex: This applies for all aspects of our human affairs. Ultimately it depends on what we choose to believe, for there are various consensuses in our multicultural society, and sometimes we are confronted to choose which consensus to accept: Evolutionist vs. Creationist, Atheist vs Theist, etc. The point is that in our western society, we have large groups of people operating within different kinds of paradigms. However, I do not hold to the Consensus Theory of Truth, but that the formation of our beliefs depends, among many things, on some consensus. And that's why we discuss right now. I belong to another tradition of consensus than you do.

But my tradition acknowledges the way God uses consensus. It has the notion of Sacred Tradition which makes very precise exactly where you should look for consensus. Your tradition explicitly rejects that. So are you making an exception here? When you say consensus do you mean a consensus of Catholic bishops expressed by the pope? I assume not. What precisely would you say makes a consensus something we should accept as revelation from God?
This means that either one of our consensus is true, or that none is true. After all, Christianity might be a false religion and that Jesus' bodily resurrection is a myth. (I certainly do not endorse such view, because I believe in Christ's bodily death and resurrection and that He was God manifest in the human flesh.) That's why we must question our traditions and put them under test in order to verify/falsify them.

So how do we test them? Who does the test? You? Is not the tester in some way greater than the scriptures being tested?
Randy: The problem with the consensus theory is twofold. One problem is that other consensus existed. For example, a consensus developed around apostolic succession. Why is that consensus not an accurate reflection of God's mind when the canon is?

Alex: Well, from my hermeneutic standpoint, the consensus around apostolic succession has not enough biblical evidence. Here it is not question-begging to appeal to the Bible, even though we discuss the nature of the formation of the NT Canon, because the Bible is our common indisputable ground that we can both appeal to.

It is question begging. If scripture can stand firm on a foundation on some consensus of Christendom then why can't apostolic succession stand on the same foundation. This is where it is important to be precise about what you mean by consensus. Otherwise it becomes just arbitrary. Consensus matters when you want it to and does not matter when you don't.
Now, concerning the question of which canon is the right one, whether we should include the OT apocrypha or not, I would say that there are very good reason why they should be rejected, reasons that I am sure you have heard in your numerous discussions with Protestants :-)

I haven't heard any protestant give a good reason why they should be rejected.

So, let us not dwell much in this issue, which is quite a different one and logically independent of the real issue here. The real issue is whether the Catholic Church through her councils established the Canon. I can even accept the Catholic apocrypha, but disagree on the view that the Catholic councils gave us the canon.

This takes the arbitrariness to a new level. To use one method to arrive at your OT canon and another to arrive at your NT canon. To say the NT canon is as obvious as gravity and then claim those same people got the OT canon wrong. Consensus matters when you want it to and does not matter when you don't.
Kind regards,


Thanks so much for replying.

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