Roman But Not Catholic – Who Gave us the Bible?
One of the ‘big points’ that Catholic Apologists make has to do with Protestants having no infallible table of contents to figure how which books are in the Bible. Catholic Apologists regularly make the point ‘how can Protestants hold to their principle of Sola Scriptura when trying to figure out which books were supposed to be in the Bible in the first place.’ The Catholic feels they have the upper hand here, because they think they can simply say, “Well the Catholic Church gave us the Bible.” What does a Protestant say?
In one way, the Catholic Apologists make a good point. For hard liner Fundamentalists who often act as if the Bible fell out of the sky as a finished product, there is simply no good way of grounding which books were supposed to be in the Bible. Their view of Scripture damages any reasonable inquiry into historical process. One just has to trust, or take it on faith.
My answer to the question about “Which books” are supposed to be in the Bible is several fold. But, it is important to remember, that for most of the history of the Christian church, ‘we’ have simply not been afraid of historical development. Therefore, I think the simple (and yet complex) answer about which books are to be in the Bible is what Charles Hodge said, “Internal and External Evidence.” Namely, that there is fair evidence internal to the Bible itself as well as external through Christian history, that bears witness to the decisions that the later church made concerning the Canon.
There are still two more answers that the Protestant can give here. The first, is that ‘we’ recognize the work of the church in the first four centuries to have recognized/determined which books were to be in the Canon. Protestants have this option, simply because the Reformation happened much later. Therefore, we share the same history as the Roman Catholic Church does, prior to 1500.
Moreover, ‘we’ can also say that ‘canon’ is something that is done by a ‘social group making a decision about what is final or official for them.’ So, to have a canon, one must have a body of people saying “yes” to certain books and “no” to other books. It is important to point out here, that “canon” is distinct from “inspiration.” The books of the Bible were “inspired” prior to any formal body saying ‘yes’ to them. But, to have a canon, a formal body/bodies, did need to confer the status of canon on them as they recognized them.
To the Catholic – The Catholic often gets off easy on this one as well. Like, they can just say “We know because the Catholic Church told us.” That really is not a strong answer of ‘how we know something’ because it actually employs the same kind of reasoning as the Fundamentalist. Namely, it has to be taken on trust/faith. The truth is, the Catholic Church has admitted through the centuries a historical process for recognition of the inspired books. The Hierarchy’s way of knowing, is actually quite similar to the Protestants. Namely, that we have to look into the internal and external evidence of what took place. The difference however has to do with where the Protestant and Catholic places the emphasis. Both groups can admit that God guided the leaders of the first 400 years to recognition of the Canon. The Catholic wants to place the lion’s share of weight on the “leaders of the early churches.” Namely, that Christ was still guiding his Church. Protestants can agree with this, but they wish to place the lions share of weight on the “Scriptures” which always spoke more clearly than other documents, and more clearly than later leaders.
The point that both the Catholic and Protestant need to avoid, and this is for the sake of non-believers, is thinking that having internal and external evidence is in fact a bad thing. We simply must have this, because without it our non-believing friends are not going to look seriously at our book being from the God that Catholics and Protestants both serve. Authoritative claims, at least in the west right now, are not that trustworthy without evidential backing. Moreover, if anyone looks into the actual documents of the early church fathers and the councils that speak of these events, they are going to have to weigh the evidence as they go. That is what makes us human.
Catholic? – There is one final point for us to consider, and this is something the Authors of the book “Roman but not Catholic” make many times through the book. Namely, it is anachronistic to read the later Roman Catholic Church into the early Catholic Church. One cannot just take their later interpretations and views as representative of the early church and views. Once again, “catholic” means according to the whole. And the Protestants can share in the “whole” without having to think the Roman Catholic Church is the sole heir of that whole, or even the best heir. For now, I will leave you to think about all that.