The Canon issue used against Sola Scriptura

Friendly debates with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox:

An Eastern Orthodox convert from Evangelical Reformed Protestantism (that I have interacted with recently; and whom I consider a friend) put this meme below up:

Roman Catholics use the same kind of apologetic tactics to try and get Evangelical Protestants to doubt the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”.

This is a different friend from my former Baptist friend, Rod Bennett, who converted to Rome in 1996 and of whom I have written several articles about my interaction with him. (see his name on the side bar categories) They make similar arguments against Protestantism.

No photo description available.

Just a friendly push back on this meme: The doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”, does not mean “SolO Scriptura” (“all by myself in the woods with me and Jesus and my bible” = no church, no pastors / elders (presbyters), no authority, no accountability, no guidance, creeds or councils) or “I use the Bible alone” – rather it means “The Bible is the only infallible rule for faith, doctrine, practice” – “only infallible rule”, not “only rule”. (of course you know this) The primitive church DID have the Scriptures in the OT (T.aN.aKh.) (Torah, Nebiim (prophets) and “Khetovim” (writings = wisdom and poetic books) and various churches had copies of some or several of the NT gospels and / or letters at a time; (it took time for all the churches to get all the 27 scrolls at their particular church), the NT writings as individual rolled up scrolls, sent to different places / different churches. There was no such thing as a book with a binding (in the 1st century AD and in most of 2nd century; it was just becoming more common in the third century.) as we know it today. Later, in the second half of second century, is when they started flattening the rolled up scrolls out and tying them together with string – the first “codexes” – flattened out and tied together. Biblion βιβλιον and Biblos / βιβλος in the NT meant “scroll” (individual document rolled up) or “what was written on”, or “document” or “certificate”; not a book with a binding like we have today.

Therefore, to expect a “canon list” in first and second century is anachronistic. Origen (around 250 AD) actually gave the first complete 27 book list of the NT that is the same as Athanasius’ famous Festal Letter 39 in 367 AD. Irenaeus (180-202 AD) and Tertullian (190-220 AD) quoted from or cited as inspired from 22 out of the 27 scrolls. Even earlier than Origen’s list is the famous Muratorian canon, around 170 AD, which has most of the NT books, (20-23), but the original extant document was corrupted (rotted away) at the beginning and end, so we only have a fragment of it. (which is true of lots of the earliest NT manuscripts – all we have are fragments.)

The documentation of Origen’s list of the 27 NT canonical books, around 250 AD – by Dr. Michael Kruger.…/

So, James White was correct to say that the canon is an “artifact of revelation”.

(page 102-103 and more, “Scripture Alone”, Bethany House, 2004)

My EO friend was saying to me how wrong and shallow James White’s statement is that “the canon is an artifact of revelation”. But Dr. White makes a distinction between “Canon 1″ (the existence of the books at the time of writing”, 45-96 AD) vs. “Canon 2” (the discovery, sifting, discerning process of the early church that made this into the list of the 27 books and put them under one book cover.)

“For the Reformers, the Bible was “canon” as soon as it was written.” (R. C. Sproul, in chapter 3, “The Establishment of Scripture”, in Sola Scriptura!, page 50) [page 82 in the 1995 edition] (see below)

See also James White’s chapter in “Sola Scriptura!” (chapter 2 on the early church and Sola Scriptura – book edited by Don Kistler, with chapters by R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson, Joel Beeke, and Derek Thomas. (Ligonier, 2009, update from 1995 by Soli Deo Gloria Publishers). Dr. White has lots of key quotes from early church fathers such as Ireneaus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil of Caesarea, Athanasius, Augustine; but especially the ones from Athanasius are important and arguable, decisive.

See also James White book, “The Roman Catholic Controversy”. (Bethany House, 1996)

The evidence of inspiration / God-breathed quality and existence of the 27 books written from about 45 AD to 96 AD (Canon 1 = existence, revealed, inspired – 2 Tim. 3:16-17) – Canon 2 – the list discovered, discerned in a process by the church and sifted through and discerned over the false writings) – the Canon lists in Origen, Athanasius, Councils, etc. are artifacts of God’s revelation through the apostles (Peter, John, Paul, Matthew) and their helpers (Mark writing for Peter, Luke’s 2 writings, James and Jude, Hebrews (probably Barnabas, per Tertullian (On Modesty, 20); and internal evidence of the Levitical details; see Acts 4:36 (from tribe of Levi, accords with the knowledge in the book about the details of the Levitical priesthood and temple sacrificial details, etc.) ; and he hints at who he is at the end of the letter in Hebrews 13:22 – “this letter of exhortation/encouragement” – Barnabas was known by the Apostles as “the son of encouragement” ) it makes sense that Barnabas wanted to leave his name off, in light of the disagreement with Paul that he had over John-Mark, Acts 15:39). Barnabas was focused on the content and doctrine, not personalities. Barnabas was also called an Apostle with Paul in Acts 14:4, 14. But, granted, another theory of the author of Hebrews is that it was a sermon of the Apostle Paul that was translated into higher Greek by Luke, who wrote his gospel and Acts, and both are higher level of eloquent Greek.

There are other excellent works as well:

Keith Matthison’s, “The Shape of Sola Scriptura” (very helpful work that includes honor to church history, the early creeds, development of doctrine, and church authority. It was reading this work that I really understood the difference between saying “The Bible Alone is our authority” or “only source” vs. “The Bible is the only Infallible Authority” (the proper definition of Sola Scriptura), but there are secondary authorities like church, creeds, historical theology, commentaries from gifted theologians in history, early church fathers, etc.

And the extensive 3 volume work, “Holy Scripture: The Pillar and Ground of Our Faith”, by David T. King and William Webster. (much more extensive on the early church fathers and early church history, and the issue of the Jews and the Apocrypha, Jerome, and the early church on the Apocrypha books.)


About Ken Temple

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am a sinner who has been saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:28; 4:1-16), in Christ alone (John 14:6). But a true faith does not stay alone, it should result in change, fruit, good works, and deeper levels of repentance and hatred of my own sins of selfishness and pride. I am not better than you! I still make mistakes and sin, but the Lord is working on me, conforming me to His character. (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18) When I do sin, I hate the sin as it is an affront to God, and seek His forgiveness in repentance. (Mark 1:15; 2 Corinthians 7:7-10; Colossians 3:5-16 ) Praise God for His love for sinners (Romans 5:8), shown by the voluntary coming of Christ and His freely laying down His life for us (John 10:18), becoming flesh/human (John 1:1-5; 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8), dying for sins of people from all nations, tribes, and cultures (Revelation 5:9), on the cross, in history, rising from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 28, Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Corinthians chapter 15). His resurrection from the dead proved that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal Son of God, the word of God from eternity past; and that He was all the gospels say He was and that He is truth and the life and the way to salvation. (John 14:6)
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