Answering 9 Protestant Arguements about the Bible
by Joe Heschmeyer
After yesterday's post, Brent Stubbs pointed out that a thoughtful Protestant named Shawn Madden raised a number of arguments against the Catholic Bible, and in favor of the Protestant Bible, in the comments at Called to Communion. His full argument is here, but he essentially makes nine points:
- Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.
- The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.
- We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.
- Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.
- The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.
- "General widespread agreement" is how the Church derived Her canon.
- Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.
- The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.
- The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council.
Here's how I responded to his nine points:
1. Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.
True. There was a lot of variation in the Jewish canon. This is one reason why your # 5 is false.
2. The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.
True. This points to the fact that the early Christians were actually much clearer about the proper canon of Scripture than were the Hellenistic Jews.
3. We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.
False. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees. In doing so, He's using the Pharasiac Canon. But in the previous chapter, when He condemns the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He uses the Sadduccees' canon. Specifically, He uses the Torah alone to prove the Resurrection (even though the Resurrection is much more easily proven from passages like Daniel 12:1-3, and 1 Samuel 28, and Psalm 16:9-10). That's because that was the canon used by the Sadduccees. I talk about it on my own blog here. If you're looking for a confirmation of a particular canon, look to Acts 17:11, where St. Paul praises the Hellenistic Bereans for reading their Scriptures.
4. Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.
False. The only thing that the passages you cite to have in common is that they all talk about the three-fold TNK ordering: Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim. But every Book of the Catholic Old Testament is either Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi'im), or Writings (Ketuvim). Both Catholics or Protestants could employ this three-fold ordering if they wanted to; neither do. So showing that the Jews classically put their Scriptures in these three groups doesn't tell us what Books were in those groups. It's true that for some Jews (like Josephus, and possibly Philo), the TNK included only the modern Protestant Bible. But this wasn't the only TNK canon.
5. The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.
False. If the Sadducees used the Pharisees' canon, Jesus wouldn't have dealt with them as He did. As you said in #1, there were multiple canons even amongst the Hellenists. There was nothing near canonical unanimity during Temple Judaism.
6. “General widespread agreement” is how the Church derived Her canon.
Partially true. The sensus fidelium is certainly the earliest way we know the canon. But as you yourself noted in #8, the Christians didn't completely agree. That said, it's incredibly significant that not a single early Christian seems to have accepted the Protestant Old Testament. I go through a pretty full list of candidates here.
7. Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.
False. The Church doesn't create Truth, She recognizes It. So the Church simply affirmed the canon of Scripture which most people knew to be true once a vocal minority began to question it. Likewise, She did the same thing with the Trinity, once non-Trinitarian heresies became a threat. In both cases, the underlying belief (the canon of Scripture and the Trinity) were widely believed before the formal definition. And significantly, that canon of Scripture was the Catholic one.
8. The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.
True.* Regional councils aren't infallible, and Laodicea was wrong. But Carthage was right, and significantly, accepted by Pope Damasus I, who commissioned Jerome to make versions of that canon accessible to the Latin-speaking populace.
[EDIT: *Tikhon notes in the comments below that Laodicea doesn't claim to be a list of every inspired Book, so there's technically no disagreement.]
9. The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council.
Sort-of true. Laodicea has the wrong New Testament canon, omitting Revelation. So there really was a need for papal intervention, which we got (see #8, above).
Significantly, the Church didn't decide the Old and New Testament canons separately. Both were handled as a unit -- for example, in Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage. So I think it would be an error to say that we can take our Old Testament from one place (Jewish consensus, rejected by the Christians) and our New Testament from someplace else (Christian consensus). If Christian consensus is our guide, the Catholic Old Testament is the accurate one. If we're going to ignore Christian consensus when we don't like the answer, then let's at least be honest about it.
As an aside, this appeal to Christian consensus, to the sensus fidelium, is an appeal to an extra-Biblical Sacred Tradition, whether you acknowledge it or not. It's an admission that for at least one critical doctrine ("which Books are in the Bible?"), your answer comes outside of the Bible Itself, from the early Christians.
To summarize: the Jews at the time of Christ didn't have an agreed upon canon; when there was a general Jewish consensus on the canon, that consensus was rejected by the early Christians; the Christians had a general consensus on the canon of Scripture, and it was the Catholic Bible; the Council of Carthage, Pope Damasus I, and the creation of a Church-wide Vulgate Bible all supported this conclusion. No one prior to the Reformers seems to have used the 66-Book Bible beloved by Protestants.