[For Those Who followed a link to this webpage: The History of the Canonization of the New Testament and the Old Testament is in the last major section of this page, but all of the sections concern the Catholic and Protestant use of the Bible.]
Volume II Appendix II
Sharing Bible Canon and other Catholic Concerns About Protestant Beliefs:
Luther’s Precedents for Today’s Protestant Christians Who Question the Canon of the Bible
As a Full Expression of Ecumenism, this Book Both: 1. Takes Seriously the Concerns of Protestant Christians and Explains the Catholic Beliefs Protestant Christians Are Most Concerned about in Terms of Our Common Christian Fundamentals; and 2. Shares the Concerns Catholic Christians Have about Protestant Beliefs in the Hopes That They Will Likewise Seriously Consider and Explore These Concerns of Fellow Christians Already United in Vast Common Faith; This Is the Only Way We Can Together Eventually Work out Common Resolutions to Our Current Disputes, Towards the Christian Unity Jesus Prayed for
Part of the “contending together in love” over our differences, while affirming and celebrating together our great common faith, which is promoted by the joint document Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium, includes sharing our concerns over some of our differences and just why we believe our beloved brothers in other churches are mistaken on some points, with the aim of promoting further ecumenical discussion over these concerns. Ultimately, it is hoped that genuine sharing in love about our differences will help both sides to clarify its beliefs, identify strengths and weaknesses on both sides, and even, eventually, with the help of the Holy Spirit who already unites us in love, come to commonly-agreed upon resolutions to current disputes, which will not always necessarily mean one side agreeing the other side is entirely correct, but will sometimes involve the stronger position being appropriately altered and nuanced by important elements or considerations of the overall weaker position (this process is in fact how disputes were settled in the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Church).
It is as part of this sharing in love of my position as a former Protestant Evangelical who became Catholic but is still full of love for my Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ that I present these concerns I have about Protestant doctrine and practice regarding the Canon of the Scriptures which Protestants traditionally claim is their “only authority,” to stimulate such ecumenical discussion, hopefully towards our ultimate reunification as Jesus prayed for. I wish to present these concerns in terms of their roots in Martin Luther himself, the first Protestant. Luther first of all had a very low opinion of the New Testament’s Letter of James which explicitly contradicted Luther’s sola fide (“faith alone”) doctrine by declaring (in a directly applicable context) “not by faith alone” (James 2:24), SETTING THE PRECEDENT FOR MANY PROTESTANTS TO, LIKE LUTHER, NOT TRULY RESPECT THE ENTIRE SCRIPTURES but instead have a “Canon within the Canon” wherein they PICK AND CHOOSE which bits of the Bible they treat as truly inspired by God (I suprisingly discovered that Catholic Theology in general is much more respectful of the entire Bible as truly inspired than Protestant Theology in general).
Luther second of all rejected seven Old Testament books used by the Early Church, when he adopted for Protestants the 90 AD Palestine Canon of the Old Testament which was the Old Testament of the anti-Christian Jews, instead of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (with seven more books) which was actually used by the Apostles and the Early Church (and by the Catholic Church in continuity with it). In this he further set the precedent for Protestants who accept “the Bible Alone” as authoritative to decide for themselves just which books or passages make up the inspired “Bible Alone” which is their only authority, and in fact a growing number of Protestants today accept the heretical Gospel of Thomas and other such early Christian-era works as Canonical, without contradicting the Principles of Protestantism because the traditional New Testament Canon is that which was decided in history (from 367-405 AD, details below) by the Catholic Magisterium on the basis of Catholic Sacred Tradition (both of which the Protestant Reformation said had no authority).
The following are two excerpts from other books of mine which deal with these issues. The first is an excerpt from my earliest manuscript, Discovering Jesus and His Church: Testimony and Reflections on a Journey with Jesus, a book wherein I discuss my journey first to Jesus Himself within Protestantism and later into His Holy Catholic Church, and the second is from my book Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality.
[excerpt from Discovering Jesus and His Church]
My Disturbing Discovery That the 35,000 Different Protestant/Evangelical Denominations of Today Come from Individual Protestants Following Luther’s Precedent Which Effectively Boils down to “My Interpretation of Scripture Is My Only Authority”
There are over 35,000 distinct Evangelical and other Protestant denominations today, with slightly to widely different doctrine, each claiming God and the Bible as their only authority. All of this made it clear to me, as a Protestant, that the sad reality of Protestant authority is that “my interpretation of Scripture is my only authority.” We Protestant Christians submitted to nothing bigger than ourselves. At most, individual Protestants submit to the teaching authority of their pastor or their denomination, but if they personally don’t like something they either leave for another denomination or start a new denomination (“my opinion of my denomination or pastor’s teaching is my only authority”).
The Contradiction at the Heart of Protestantism:
Luther Refused to Make His Doctrine According to His Own Principle of “The Bible Alone” but Declared the Bible’s Book of James to Be Inferior and Ultimately Not Binding on His Christian Faith Because it Directly Contradicted His Doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone” – and like Luther Different Protestant Churches Typically Seek Different “Proof-texts” for Their Different Contradictory Doctrines Instead of Seriously Seeking a Doctrine That Incorporates Everything the Bible Testifies So as to Truly Respect the Whole Bible as the Inspired Word of God (This Is Why Protestants Who Become Catholic Often Say ‘The Bible Made Me Do It’)
Particularly disturbing to me as a Protestant was that this “my interpretation of Scripture is my only authority” attitude reared its ugly head in the very first Protestant, Martin Luther. Luther started the Protestant rallying cry, “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone is the only authority for the Christian,” rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church’s ordained hierarchy in succession from the Apostles. He then also started the second great Protestant rallying cry, “Sola fide” or “faith alone is how people are justified, made right with God” (ultimately, saved). These are known as the “Pillars of the Reformation.” It was pointed out to Luther that in the context of a lengthy discussion of faith and good works (that is, works of love in action!) being necessary for justification before God (James 2:14-26), the Bible explicitly declares the opposite of his rallying cry, “faith alone.” The discussion starts, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” (James 2:14). The discussion continues about how faith is completed by works (2:22) and concludes with the answer , “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). You could not get a more explicit denial of the Reformation Pillar that “a man is justified by faith alone,” right in the Bible. Luther responded to this Biblical challenge by calling the Epistle of James “an epistle of straw” because it went directly against his doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. This demonstrates a fundamental contradiction at the very historical core of Protestantism, because the First Pillar of the Reformation states that “Scripture alone is our authority,” but when that authority explicitly contradicts the Second Pillar, “faith alone is necessary for justification,” the first great Protestant, purely on HIS OWN AUTHORITY declares one portion of Holy Scripture (the Epistle of James) to be somehow less authoritative and binding on him as a Christian than other parts of Scripture. Luther can create a doctrine and declare “by faith alone” even though Holy Scripture explicitly declares, “not by faith alone.” The ultimate reality of Protestant authority is indeed that every Protestant Christian (starting with Luther) is his own magisterium, his own pope, his own sole authority.
So the Second Pillar of the Reformation is directly contradicted and rejected by Scripture, and the First Pillar in practice crumbles under the person who built it (Luther) refusing to stand on it and let Scripture guide his doctrine. This really bothered me as a Protestant, because the Christian-based cults do exactly the same thing as the first Protestant: they let their doctrinal beliefs shape their interpretation of Scripture, instead of letting Scripture put parameters on their doctrinal beliefs. If Luther really believed in “the Bible Alone” then honest and straightforward reading of the Bible should have made “faith alone” an interpretation that could never be seriously considered since the Bible Alone, clearly and in the relevant context, says “not by faith alone.” Some later Protestant theologians who were more serious about respecting the whole Bible than Luther was have gone through unbelievable “mental gymnastics” to try to “justify” Luther’s “faith alone” doctrine by trying to show it somehow can fit the inspired Bible in James 2:14-26, but these oblique and obtuse, roundabout interpretations are ultimately not very satisfying to either intellect or honesty – certainly not near as satisfying as the much more Biblical Catholic understanding of justification by “faith working in love” (Galatians 5:6) – see below.
So it is no wonder that so many Protestants today like Luther the first Protestant have a “Canon within the Canon” and personally pick and choose (on their own authority) just which books or passages of Scripture they accept as truly authoritative and binding on their Christian faith. Doctrinally liberal Protestants go so far as to gradually lose their grip on Christian fundamentals because of the large portions of Scripture they do not treat as truly authoritative over their faith (as Luther treated the Book of James). Some doctrinally liberal Protestants even suggest alternate Canons than the traditional New Testament Canon (which was fixed by the Catholic Church’s Magisterium between 367-405 AD, see below). But (I speak from much personal Protestant experience in many denominations here) even doctrinally conservative Protestant and Evangelical Christians, while firmly maintaining the traditional (Catholic) Christian fundamentals and the traditional (Catholic) New Testament, still treat the Scriptures the same way as liberals when it comes to their secondary doctrines. Many such denominations have contradictory secondary doctrines where each denomination has a different set of “proof-texts,” a different collection of Bible verses which on its own seems to “prove” their particular distinctive doctrine – each different collection of verses “proving” a contradictory doctrine. Frequently no serious effort is made to truly reconcile the different collections of verses, all of which should be accorded the very same extremely high dignity as the inspired written Words of God Himself. Although there is a great deal of room for legitimate theological speculation and debate over a great many different secondary Christian doctrines, the incredibly huge number of different secondary doctrines proposed by the 35,000 Protestant/Evangelical denominations would be greatly “weeded out” and reduced just by avoiding proof-texting and instead seriously attempting to incorporate even the Scriptures which at first seem to contradict the particular doctrine. If the doctrine cannot be sustained while respecting the usefulness and integrity of those Holy-Spirit-inspired Scriptures which seem to contradict it, then the contradiction stands and the doctrine should be abandoned.
Although Catholic theologians are also sometimes guilty of ‘proof-texting,’ I have generally noticed much more serious attempts to respect and use the entire Bible among Catholic theologians, much more serious attempts to find ‘principles of relation’ which reconcile passages of Scripture which at first do not seem compatible so that even those Scriptures which at first do not seem compatible with the doctrine are actually incorporated into the doctrine, perhaps nuancing or otherwise altering the doctrine to make it more completely Scriptural. I also noticed, as a Bible-loving Protestant studying the Catholic Church, that Catholic Christians make doctrinal and practical use of much more of the Bible than Protestant Christians do. I noticed that Protestant Bibles could be much thinner, many whole passages could be simply removed, and it would have absolutely no effect whatsoever on Protestant doctrine and practice, since Protestants either ignore many passages of the Bible which Catholic Christians make use of or study them only to find an excuse to ignore them, some interpretation which allows them to not draw the conclusions Catholic Christians draw from them, even though these Protestant interpretations are often flawed or otherwise unsatisfactory according to the principle that the Divine Holy Spirit authored those Scripture passages for a reason and He intended Christians to make positive use of them, and not just to find reasons to act as if they are not even in the Bible (such as Jesus’ words to Peter “I give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven,” and His words to the apostles “whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained,” Scriptures which Catholics make positive doctrinal and practical use of but which could be removed entirely from Protestant Bibles without having any effect upon Protestant doctrine and practice – see footnote [A] below ).
The irony is, it is Protestantism’s very emphasis upon the supreme value of the Bible which leads many Protestant/Evangelical Christians (including myself) to become Catholic Christians. It is because we love the Bible so much and want to give the Bible in its entirety the ultimate respect as the very words of God that we eventually notice just how Catholic the New Testament is, and just how much more of the Bible is used positively by Catholic Christians than by Protestant Christians in their doctrines and practices. It is because we love the Bible so much as the totally inspired Word of God and desire Christian doctrines to incorporate as much of the Bible as possible and to ignore or contradict as little of the Bible as possible that we eventually notice just how much more careful and respectful of the true inspiration of the entire Bible Catholic theologians generally are than Protestant theologians generally are, genuinely seeking synthesis of apparently contradictory passages in ways that respect the true inspiration and usefulness of all the Bible’s passages that appear to have any bearing whatsoever on the theological topic at hand, leading to doctrines that make as comprehensive use of the Bible as possible, incorporating even the passages that at first seem contradictory into the doctrine. This is why many Protestant/Evangelical Christians who become Catholic observe that “the Bible made me do it.” This is why Protestant Fundamentalists like David B. Currie can write that they were “born Fundamentalist,” but “born again Catholic.”
The official and irrevocable dogmatic Catholic teaching upon the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible is not only something that any devout conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christian would heartily agree with, it is also a greater protection of the Bible than anything within Protestantism. All the “doctrinally liberal” Protestant denominations who question or reject the traditional Canon of the Bible used to be conservative, traditional Protestant churches – such as the one I was raised in, which lost its grip on the traditional fundamentals of Christian faith and morality and on the traditional Canon of the Bible itself in my own lifetime – simply because their Protestantism ultimately could not logically allow them to think that the New Testament and its fundamental interpretation could only possibly be what the Catholic Church Magisterium (teaching office) said it was in the early centuries of Christianity (‘historic Christianity’ is Catholic Christianity). But the inspiration and inerrancy of the traditional, historic Canon of the Bible is a permanently certain fixture of Catholic Christianity which recognizes the Catholic Church Magisterium as part of the Mystery revealed in the Bible that the Church is the Living Body of Christ still on earth and therefore “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). That Church authority has permanently, dogmatically and irrevocably clarified for all Catholic Christians that:
The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19–21; 3:15–16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their powers and faculties so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.
Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures. Thus “all Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17, Gk. text) … all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture. In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. (Vatican Council II, Dei Verbum (DV), The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation – DV 11, 21)
Thus, with authoritative and irrevocable teaching like this from the Body of Christ the Church about the inspiration and inerrancy of the traditional Bible, Catholic Christians can never question, doubt or reject parts of the Bible or change its Canon (list of Sacred Books) the way so many of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” Christian churches and denominations have. In this sense Catholic Christians are the real “Bible Christians”!
The Much More Scriptural Catholic Formulation for Justification: We Are Justified by God’s Grace Alone, Through “Faith Working in Love” (Galatians 5:6)
The Catholic formulation for Justification is actually much more Scriptural (than Luther’s Faith Alone): We are justified by God’s Grace alone, through “faith working in love” (Galatians 5:6). This is a much more thorough use of Scripture, because it combines Paul’s “by grace we are saved through faith” with James’ discussion and point that “faith without works is dead,” and with Paul’s clear subordination of faith to love in 1 Corinthians 13, “if I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Note that both the faith and the works are gifts of God’s Grace. Also note that the word “works” appears in the Bible in two contexts: Works of the Law of Moses, and Works of Love. We are saved “not of works” of the Mosaic Law, but we are justified before God by works of love, “and not by faith alone,”(James 2:24) since faith without works of love is dead (James 2:26).
For much more on justification in the Bible and how Luther confused the works of the Law of Moses which Paul spoke against to defend the Church against Judaizing Jewish Christians with the works of love which both Paul and James indicate are involved in our justification, see my book Discovering Jesus and His Church: Testimony & Reflections on a Journey with Jesus.
The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (signed since by the World Methodist Council also) has already recognized that Protestant and Catholic Christians are much closer to each other regarding Justification than was thought. Once really listening to the nuances of each other’s position it becomes clear that each side takes a different angle of approach to the topic and emphasizes different aspects of the issue, but each side’s detailed beliefs are open to each other. But I suggest that the “faith alone” issue is simply a symptom of the more serious “Bible Alone” issue which is actually the root of Protestant doctrinal liberalism.
[Excerpt from Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality.]
The Principles Regarding Authority and Scripture Which Consciously or Unconsciously Underlie All Protestantism as a Basic Foundation Cannot Be Drawn from Scripture Alone
Above [in the book this excerpt is from] are some of the Scriptures and Scriptural principles which support the consistent ancient belief and practice of the Christian Church until the Protestant Reformation that there is legitimate and authoritative Sacred Tradition and Magisterium in addition to Sacred Scripture. Can the Protestant teaching that “Scripture is our only authoritative source of knowing true things” be found in the Scriptures? Former Fundamentalist Protestant David B. Currie defines the problem this way:
To paraphrase Protestants, only those doctrines taught in the Bible are to be trusted for our theology. This very statement, however, is logically self-destructive! The simple fact is that (according to your own criteria) this statement cannot be trusted, because it is not taught in the Bible. The Protestant view of the Bible is unbiblical. Your view of Scripture is unscriptural.”1
Currie notes that it is not just a lack of doctrinal terminology in the Bible, as with the doctrine of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not in the Bible, but the substance of the doctrine that bears that name is definitely in the Bible.2 In contrast, the Protestant “Pillar of the Reformation” that “Scripture Alone is our only authority and source of doctrine” is not substantially taught anywhere. The verses that Protestants typically use to show “Scripture Alone” are made to say something other than what they actually say. For example, “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, etc.” (2 Timothy 3:16) in no way implies that only Scripture is useful for teaching, etc., and if it did, it would mean that the entire body of Protestant literature (Pilgrim’s Progress to Billy Graham) is useless for teaching and training in righteousness and so on.
The typical Protestant response to the Biblical challenge of the above verses [in the book this excerpt is from] which explicitly testify to Sacred Tradition is the theory that “by the time the New Testament was finished, the complete oral apostolic tradition Paul refers to would be written down,” is also not at all supported in Scripture. Scripture never says anything like “everything that is true and that you need to know will eventually be written down on paper.” This idea is in fact contradicted by John 21:24-25, since John’s gospel was one of the very last books of the New Testament written, and he tells us how it is impossible to write down everything.
The Scriptural challenge to Protestant Christians is this: Where is it substantially taught in Scripture Alone that the entirety of the Christian Revelation given to the Apostles through Christ and the Holy Spirit will be crystallized in written Scriptures by the time of the death of the last Apostle, so that the Scripture will after the death of the last Apostle be the only authority for the Christian, and there will be no more Authoritative Tradition and no Succession of the Apostolic Authority which the Apostles have used to lead and teach the Church up to this time? If Sola Scriptura (“Bible Alone” doctrine) is true, then every clause above should be clearly taught in Scripture Alone. This is quite a detailed Protestant (implicit) belief, but if Paul and the other Apostles believed this, they certainly give no clue in their Scriptural writings, much less Scriptural evidence of every clause in the above Protestant doctrine.3 Yet something close to the above is assumed or believed implicitly by all Protestants even if it is not in their formal teaching. So where does this teaching come from?
Honest Protestant Christians seeking the truth realize that the few Scriptures used in support of these ideas do not even come close to substantially defining the above doctrine. What Protestants are left with is that this doctrine, which is essential to justify Protestant Christian faith separate from the Catholic Church, is simply a Protestant tradition – and unlike Catholic Sacred Tradition, it is an under 500 year old tradition of men. This Tradition leaves those who grew up in the Protestant Reformer’s separate churches generations later with a strongly held implicit belief which has no root, and even contradicts itself, since this doctrine is not in Scripture Alone. This is what leads men like David B. Currie who were “born fundamentalist” to become “born again Catholic.”
The Canon of Scripture Itself Cannot Be Drawn from Scripture Alone, but Is a Product of the Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Living Body of Christ the Church
The Formation of the New Testament Canon (Fixed 367-405 AD by the Catholic Magisterium of Overseer/Bishops, Patriarchs and Pope in Apostolic Succession as a Function of the “Profound Mystery” [Ephesians 5:32] of the Church as the Very Body of Christ and “Pillar and Foundation of the Truth” [1 Timothy 3:15])
Another glaring lack of Scriptural testimony for Protestant belief regards the Canon of Scripture. There is no Scriptural list of which books should or should not be in the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture alone is there even a principle to guide the complete formation of the “table of contents.” Jesus affirms the Scriptures of the Jews as inspired (without specifying which version – see below), 2 Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scriptural, and a few other books quote other books as Scriptural, which explains the wide early acceptance throughout the Church of the Old Testament, the four Gospels and the letters of Paul. But some epistles and other books were written in certain areas and circulated in those areas but not in others, resulting in many different canons across Christendom (not including the different canons of some heretical groups). Many early New Testaments used by orthodox Christians did not have books like Hebrews, Revelation, 2, 3 John, 2 Peter, James, Jude, etc. Many orthodox New Testaments had books like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didaché, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles of Clement to the Corinthians, and so on. Because there was thus confusion about just which books were worthy to be read when Christians gathered on Sundays for the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist (scroll down to footnote 4 for much more on this point), 4 these many different local Christian canons of the New Testament eventually necessitated that the Catholic Church Magisterium settle the issue by considering the lived Sacred Tradition of the Church and discern with the Spirit’s direction and authoritatively declare for Christians which books were genuinely inspired Scriptural Canon and which were simply excellent books written by some of the earliest Church Fathers (Monuments of Tradition). The Magisterium, led by the Spirit according to Jesus’ promise to His Apostles and their successors, fixed the Canon of the New Testament over a period of 38 years: First of all Saint Athanasius, the greatest defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics since 325 AD (sheltered by the pope during his exile by the Arian heretics, who were Christianity’s first “Bible-only” Christians, see footnote 5 below),5 in 367 AD (near the end of his life) first proposed his list of the same 27 books we recognize as the New Testament today, arranged in different order. As he was the Patriarch of Alexandria, this meant the issue of which books were to be read in the Sunday Divine Liturgy was for the time being settled for those Christians under his jurisdiction, but it did not fix the Canon for the whole Church for all time. Although Athanasius as a Patriarch (overseer/bishop/eparch in charge of a particular cultural expression of Christianity) was an important member of the Catholic Magisterium, his list was not a collegiate magisterial action of the overseer/bishop/eparchs in union with the successor of Peter, collectively exercising their Holy-Spirit given charism of truth. Thus larger groups of overseer/bishop/eparchs (also in North Africa) later met in Council (at Hippo in 393 AD, just before Saint Augustine became Bishop of Hippo, and at Carthage in 397 AD) to together discuss Athanasius’ list and declare for the Christians under their collective jurisdiction what was to be considered the Canon of the New Testament to be used in Christian liturgies. The Councils of Hippo and Carthage confirmed Athanasius’ list, arranged in the order we know it today, the 397 AD Council of Carthage specifically referring to the need to confirm this list with “the Church beyond the sea” in Rome, and later Pope Innocent I in Rome in 405 AD indeed confirmed the findings of the Councils, resulting in the complete, fixed Canon of the New Testament as we know it today, recognized by the entire Christian Church under the authority of the Pope, ending all Canon disputes among orthodox, Catholic Christians. Conservative Protestant Christians unknowingly rely completely upon Catholic Sacred Tradition and the authoritative declarations of the Catholic Magisterium from 367 – 405AD to know with certainty the Canon of their own New Testament, which they simply adopted from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation. Many Liberal Protestant Christian scholars currently propose different canons, often favoring the heretical Gospel of Thomas and devaluing large tracts of the traditional four gospels, precisely because they know the traditional Canon of Scripture is a product of the Catholic Magisterium which they as Protestant Christians consider unauthoritative and not binding upon their Christian faith.
One famous conservative/orthodox Protestant theologian (I believe it was R.C. Sproul) who studied the Traditional Canon of the Bible according to Protestant doctrine which does not accept the authority of Tradition, described the Canon of the Bible as a “Fallible List of Infallible Books.” If they remain true to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine, this description really is the very best orthodox Protestant Christians can possibly do to justify their faith that they have the correct Bible Canon to use as their “only authority” – and it does not inspire very much confidence. If the list itself is fallible, capable of error, then that means the list could be faulty, the list could contain some books which are not truly inspired and infallible (the way Luther and many Protestants after him treat the Letter of James); and likewise there could be books which were inspired by God and therefore infallible which are not in the traditional list of the Bible’s“Table of Contents” (as some doctrinally liberal Protestants claim that the heretical Gospel of Thomas and other works should be in the Bible Canon). So in practice the only reason Protestants can continue using their traditional Bible with certainty at all is by being unconsciously “Catholic at Heart” and accepting their New Testament in particular as if the Catholic Magisterium and its pinnacle in the pope (specifically Pope Innocent I) had real authority as the divinely-graced mouthpiece of the Living Body of Christ Himself, the Church, to settle all the early Christian controversies over the Bible’s Canon (see below).
Saint Athanasius, the Greatest Defender of the Divinity of Jesus Against the Arian Heretics, and the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria Who in 367 AD First Collected Together the 27 Books All Christians Today Know as The New Testament, Did Not Believe in the Bible Alone but Also in the Tradition and Magisterium of the Catholic Church
As the first person to put together the present list, Saint Athanasius is the single human person most responsible for the 27-book New Testament Canon conservative Christians know and love, the single human person most responsible for the Bible which the Protestant Reformers said was their only authoritative source of knowing the Christian faith. So while I was still a Protestant Evangelical exploring the Catholic Church I found it very interesting to find out just what his opinion was on authoritative teaching in Christ’s Church. Did he believe “Scripture Alone” is what the Christian faith is founded on? No – in his First Letter to Serapion he says,
“It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers [the overseer/bishop/eparchs who were the apostles’ successors, in whose line he himself is an overseer/bishop/eparch and Patriarch]. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.”
Saint Athanasius was the premier defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics, and the “Third Great Creed of Christendom” (after the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed), known as the Athanasian Creed, which is the definitive description of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics, was attributed to him to honour his vast anti-Arian contribution. So Patriarch Saint Athanasius knew better than most that Arianism could not be condemned on the basis of the Bible Alone, but only on the basis of the Bible as interpreted by the ancient Tradition of the Living Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, guarded by the Catholic overseers/bishops/ eparchs in Apostolic Succession. Later Saint Augustine, the greatest theologian of the Early Western Church (who became the Roman Catholic Overseer/Bishop of Hippo shortly after the 393 AD Council of Hippo which arranged the New Testament in its current order), although Scripture was central to his theology (as to all Catholic theology), would confirm the priority of the Living Body of Christ the Church which collected and canonized it over the Bible by saying that “I would not believe the Scripture if the Catholic Church had not told me to” (scroll down to Footnote 6 for more on how extremely Roman Catholic Saint Augustine was despite the Protestant Reformation’s [very selective] use of his theology).6
The Formation of the Old Testament Canon (Fixed in the Palestinian Form Protestants Use by the Anti-Christian Jews of 90 AD; the Septuagint Form Catholics Use Was Consistently Used by the Early Christian Church and Endorsed When the New Testament Canon Was Fixed)
Regarding the Old Testament Canon, it should be explained that doctrinally conservative Christians differ slightly in Old Testament Canon, because the pre-Christian Jews had no fixed Jewish Bible Canon. The community of Israel and what was left it after the scattering of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Babylonian Exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah (made up mostly of the Tribe of Judah, the Jews) had instinctively recognized and used certain books as Scriptural in a gradual process of their ongoing history, but there were still disputes about just which books in addition to the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) deserved to be recognized as Scriptural (the Song of Songs and others were quite disputed). So different Jews used different Old Testament Bible canons. The two most commonly used Jewish canons at the time of Christ were the Hebrew Palestine Bible primarily used in Palestine and the Septuagint (LXX) Greek Bible translation primarily used everywhere else, which had 7 more books (since the Jews had continued to write about God’s dealings with them in the language they used after Alexander the Great had conquered the world) and additional chapters in Daniel and Esther (actually, some of these books were originally written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek, but the Hebrew originals were not copied as much in the Jewish diaspora which spoke Greek and so they were eventually lost). Protestant Christians use the Hebrew Palestine Canon, Catholic Christians use the Septuagint Canon, and those Eastern Orthodox Christians no longer in Catholic Communion are open to the possibility that both the Septuagint’s 7 extra books and a few others (like the Book of Enoch, which is quoted in the New Testament Letter of Jude) may be inspired. The difference is not significant, since no commonly-held Christian doctrine, nor any of the lesser doctrines on which conservative Christians disagree, depends upon the testimony of the handful of disputed Old Testament books. The Jews themselves did not decide the issue of the “only proper canon” of the Jewish Scriptures until 90 AD, and their decision to consider only the Hebrew Palestine Canon inspired (while still making liturgical use of the Septuagint Canon, as in Purim celebrations, where the Septuagint’s “extra” chapters of Esther are read) was based at least partly on simplifying their apologetics problems with Christians on the basis of detailed Messianic prophecies fulfilled in Jesus contained within the Septuagint’s extra 7 books (Luther apparently did not realize he was following the decision of ANTI-Christian Jews when he cited the Jewish judgement on the canon as part of his reason for adopting the Palestine Canon for Protestants). The Catholic Church accepts the Septuagint Canon not only on the basis of the fulfilled Messianic prophecies, but primarily because it was the Old Testament version that was actually used and quoted by all the New Testament writers. When Paul writes that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” he is writing in Greek to Timothy, a Greek Jew living in the Greek-speaking part of the world where all the Jews use the Greek version of the Jewish Scriptures, the Septuagint, with its 7 extra books, which are in fact alluded to in the New Testament although not quoted directly (note the Book of Enoch, not canonical for Protestants or Catholics, is quoted directly, and many Hebrew Old Testament books are not, so direct quotation alone is no guarantee of canonicity). The Apostolic Fathers – the generation of Church leaders which overlapped the generation of the Apostles and were even trained and ordained by them – do directly quote the Septuagint’s extra books – that is, they use the Greek Septuagint Old Testament the Apostles themselves used and taught them to use. The 393 and 397 AD Councils of Hippo and Carthage which first confirmed Saint Athanasius’ 27-Book New Testament Canon from among several New Testament canons used by earlier orthodox Christians (not by heretics, who also had some different New Testament canons) also endorsed the Septuagint Canon of the Old Testament on these bases. With a 15 century long Lived Tradition of Christian use of the Septuagint Canon of the Old Testament as Inspired Scripture, the entire Catholic Magisteriumformally dogmatically proclaimed this Canon of the Old Testament at the 16th Century 19th Ecumenical Council at Trent, after Luther had formally rejected it in favor of the Palestine Canon (the choice of the anti-Christian Jews of 90 AD!).
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Go To Volume II Appendix III: Baptiste’s Version of Saint Louis De Montfort’s Consecration to Jesus Through Mary’ –The “Crown” of the Catholic Church’s Marian Devotion in a Theologically Precise and Ecumenically Sensitive Format Which Should Be Unoffensive to Protestant Christians and Which May Draw Them (and Catholic Christians) Deeper into the Holy Mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Body of Christ the Church
[A] There are in fact a great many passages of Scripture which Protestants simply ignore or otherwise make no positive use of at all, because they do not fit into Protestant doctrine – while they fit perfectly into Catholic doctrine and practice preserved in Living Sacred Tradition from the early years of the Church. For example, in John 20:21-23, Jesus says to his disciples chosen to be Apostles, “ ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending [apostello] you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ ” Protestants act as if these words are not even in the Bible. But the Early Christian, Catholic Church enacted these words in the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation ministered by overseer/bishop/eparchs and elder/presbyter/priests in Apostolic Succession (who declare the forgiveness of sins confessed in genuine sorrow for offending God not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus who they are ordained to represent in this manner, as testified to in this passage of Scripture).
As another example, 2 Kings 13:21 says, “Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.” Acts 19:11-12 says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” These Scripture passages testify to a spiritual reality ignored by Protestants which is recognized in the ancient Christian Tradition of the Catholic use of relics (a first order relic being part of the body of a saint, as in 2 Kings 13:21, a second order relic being something worn or touched by a saint, as in Acts 19:11-12): God uses His people, members of Christ’s Body the Church, as instruments of His power, and even sometimes works miracles through them, sometimes even after they are dead or are not present except through things they have touched or used. It seems God in this way calls attention to a holy life that is worthy of emulation, and God is not afraid that such miracles associated with a particular human instrument of His will take away from the glory due to Him who worked the miracle through that human instrument: rather God is confident that those who see their good works (including miracles) will glorify their Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).
These and many other examples show that Catholic Christian doctrine and practice passed on in Church Tradition is much more fully Biblical than Protestant doctrine and practice, it makes positive use of much more of the Holy Scriptures which God inspired. This is one of the reasons why so many former Protestant Christians who became Catholic Christians, like myself, later testify that “the Bible made me do it.” My Protestant upbringing taught me to highly respect the Bible as the very words of God Himself. Yet it was because I had such great respect for the Bible that I found Protestant theology, for all the good things in it, insufficiently respected the Bible. Huge portions of the Scriptures could be simply deleted from the Scriptures and it would have absolutely no effect upon Protestant theology and doctrine, yet Catholic theology and doctrine and practice since the early centuries of Christianity made positive use of these Scriptures! I feel that I am much more fully a “Bible Christian” as a Catholic than I ever did as a Protestant, since I actually use and respect the whole Bible and I no longer find myself motivated to ignore so many Scriptures or to study them only to find an excuse to justify ignoring them or to label them “hard to understand” so I could ignore them and the quite reasonable use the Catholic Church made of them.
2Though still not compellingly taught, as the only possible interpretation, hence all the early heretical interpretations of the Bible Alone that only the authoritative Sacred Traditional interpretation of the Bible could debunk. The Arian heresy was a particularly thorough and sophisticated interpretation of the whole Bible (as used by orthodox Christians at the time – the final Canon had not yet been set by the Church, see below) which denied the Trinity and the Incarnation of God in Jesus, and objected to the use of these terms (and to The Nicene Creed’s definition of Jesus as “one in being with the Father”) specifically because they were not in the Bible – the Arian heretics were the first “Bible-only” Christians!
3Which is why the actual, historical Early Christian Church did not practice “Scripture Alone” (except for some of the heretics who denied Christian fundamentals), but in fact practiced Scripture in concert with Tradition and the Magisterium in Apostolic Succession. Note that the very idea that the written Divine Revelation of the Scriptures which had been ongoing for thousands of years would end with the death of the last of Christ’s personally chosen Apostles is not from the Bible but from Catholic Sacred Tradition. Even the Evangelical Bible College I attended noted that the curse upon those who “add from or take away from this book” in the Book of Revelation refers only to the Book of Revelation, not the entire Bible. Revelation’s dating is open to question in any case (it may well not be the last book written – its Greek is much more primitive and “Hebraicized” than that of the Gospel of John, so if John himself wrote it it was likely written earlier, while he, a fisherman from Palestine, was still perfecting his written Greek). It is the Catholic Magisterium in the Councils of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 AD which arranged the current order of the books with Revelation last, and it was not until this time that the Book of Revelation was universally regarded by orthodox Christians as Scriptural – it was one of the most hotly debated of the documents which was finally included by the Magisterium in the only official New Testament Canon.
4It is significant to note that the Early Church’s primary motivation for fixing the Canon of the New Testament in the first place was not in order to be sure just what was inspired written Revelation as the only source of revealed “building blocks” for Christian theology and doctrine, as Protestants might imagine. The Church, being mysteriously the Living Body of Christ Himself, animated by His Holy Spirit which led the ordained leaders of the Body (the Overseer/bishop/eparchs and Patriarchs and Pope) into “all the truth,” had existed, lived its life and passed on its life for decades before the New Testament documents were written, and for centuries before the New Testament was collected into the form we know it today and formally recognized as one body of inspired Scripture. The Church, “the pillar and foundation of the truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15) had formally condemned the Arian and many other heresies, and dogmatically proclaimed the fundamental Christian truths of the Divinity of Jesus and the Trinity and the Incarnation as the only proper way to interpret the Scriptures (against heretical interpretations) even before the Church fixed precisely what the Canon of the New Testament Scriptures was! The Lived Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ Himself, with the Church’s authoritative offices, put down the heresies and formally defined the fundamental truths of Christianity even without a complete and fixed New Testament. But the primary way in which the Early Church lived its life on Earth was by participating mysteriously in the Heavenly “Lamb’s Supper” when Christians met as the Body of Christ on Sundays for the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist (Eastern term) or Holy Mass (Western term), and Christians desired that only that which was certainly inspired by God be read in this Heavenly Liturgy. The Canon of the New Testament was fixed by the Early Christian Church primarily for the sake of the Liturgy of the Body of Christ the Church, not primarily for the sake of theology and fights with heretics (who in any case continued to interpret the fixed Canon of the New Testament differently than the way passed on at least implicitly in the Church’s Sacred Tradition even when they agreed with the fixed New Testament Canon).
5Saint Athanasius was actually exiled by Arians several times. The Arian heresy, which was a very thorough and sophisticated interpretation of the commonly agreed Scriptures (the full Canon had not yet been fixed) which interpreted that Christ’s being the “first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) meant that Jesus was God’s first creation, through whom God had created everything else, but was not actually God, not actually Divine, had been formally condemned by the 1st Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 AD. However, it took a very long time for it to die out, especially because Roman rulers supported it. The Arians, who had the support of many Roman rulers, caused confusion among many Christians because they claimed that the 325 AD Council’s declaration against Arianism that Jesus was “one in being with the Father” (not just one in purpose with a Father who “is greater than I,” according to the Arian interpretation) was not authoritative because neither this expression, nor the terms Trinity and Incarnation which orthodox Christians traditionally used to describe their faith in the Divinity of Jesus, was in the Scriptures (thus the Arians became the first “Bible only” Christians). Christianity had been legal since 313 AD but the official religion of the Roman Empire was still Roman paganism until near the end of the century, even though the majority of Romans had become Christians once it was legal to do so without persecution (slightly over half had already converted even during the persecutions). In the midst of this drawn-out Arian controversy Emperor Julian the Apostate attempted a pagan revival and renewed the persecution of Christians, exiling Athanasius yet again. The Arian heresy was not finally settled within the Roman Empire until the 2nd Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (Byzantium) in 381 AD, which formally declared not only Jesus but also the Holy Spirit Divine (this had been questioned by many non-Arian Christians who accepted the Divinity of Jesus), formally validating the term Trinity which had been used by orthodox Christians to describe their faith as implicitly handed-down to them in Tradition since Tertullian coined the term in the late 100s AD. The Arian Christians had had successful missions in barbarian lands, however, their deficient form of Christianity still being superior to primitive religion, and so orthodox, Catholic Christian missionaries (particularly the Benedictine Monks sent all over Europe by Pope Saint Gregory the Great) after the fall of the Roman Empire to the barbarians in 476 AD gradually over many centuries converted the barbarians not only from primitive paganism but also from Arian Christianity. Given the long-standing success of minority Arian Christianity, which justified itself against the Catholic Magisterium’s condemnation of it as heresy on the basis of “the Bible Alone” being authoritative, it is not surprising that so many Protestant “Bible only” Christians today are “liberal” Christians who are modern-day Arians, denying the Divinity of Jesus, or at least modern-day Semi-Arians, unsure if Jesus is Divine, since they have no authoritative interpretive tradition with which to judge between the orthodox and the Arian interpretations (both sopshisticated) of the Bible Alone.
6The Protestant Reformers claimed to follow Saint Augustine’s theology but did so only very selectively. Although his famous autobiography The Confessions of Saint Augustine is popular among Protestant Christians, it is usually reprinted without the chapters which demonstrate the simple fact that he was the Roman Catholic Bishop of the City of Hippo! A thorough reading of Saint Augustine’s voluminous writings reveals him to be about the most Catholic Christian one could imagine: he was a celibate Catholic priest and then bishop who founded a religious order (which Protestants, save for Anglo-Catholic Anglicans, do not have); he defended the Apostolic Succession of the authority of overseer/bishops/eparchs (which he believed he had) and the Apostolic Sacred Tradition guarded by it, using both to defend the orthodox Christian faith against the heretics; he identified and quoted the “deuterocanonical” Old Testament books accepted by the Catholic Church but not Protestants as Scriptural; he believed in and submitted to the papacy (whence his famous statement: “Rome has spoken. The matter is finished”); he affirmed the doctrine later known in the West as the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a necessary theological consequence of the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus through Mary’s Virgin Birth; surrounded and outnumbered in his local area by Donatist heretics with their own bishop, he fought the Donatists (who were not gross heretics denying fundamentals, but principally differed from early Catholic Christians by their belief that sin in Church leaders invalidated their Apostolic authority in the Church – similar to what the Protestant Reformer Calvin taught), and criticized them sharply for leaving the Catholic Christian Communion and thus associating Christ the Bridegroom with “2 Brides” (so he would hardly look favorably upon Protestantism which has associated Christ with 35,000 Brides!). The Protestant Reformers, in forming their own doctrines on Original Sin and Grace, gravitated towards some of Augustine’s extreme statements about Original Sin (a theological term he coined, not used in the Christian East) and Grace in which he was directly contradicting the heretic Pelagius who claimed the opposite extreme, and ignored Augustine’s more mature and reflected theology and doctrine of Sin and Grace, closer to the definitions of the Church Council of Orange in 529 AD which specifically corrected some abuses of Augustine’s earlier and less reflected statements on the matter, which were initially merely extreme reactionary statements to Pelagius’ opposite extreme.