Concerns About the Catholic Approach to Canon

The following is a quote from Michael J. Kruger’s book called Canon Revisited: Establishing The Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books:

“In regard to the more stringent Catholic approach to the church-canon relationship, the idea that the canon is “derivative”63 from the church or “caused”64 by the church also raises a number of concerns: (1) Although the New Testament was not completed all at once, the apostolic teaching was the substance of what would later become the New Testament.65 And it was this apostolic teaching, along with the prophets, that formed the foundation for the church, rather than the other way around.66 As Ephesians 2:20 affirms, the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”67 The church is always the creatura verbi (“creation of the Word”).68 Chapman sums it up: “The biblical canon is not a creation of the church, the church is instead a creation of the biblical canon.”69 (2) The earliest Christians did have a canon, namely, the Old Testament itself (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6; 2 Tim. 3:15–16), which seems to have existed just fine prior to the founding of the church.70 There are no reasons to think that the Israel of Jesus’s day had any infallible revelation from God that helped it choose the books of the Old Testament canon. (3) From the very earliest days, believers received Paul’s letters as Scripture (1 Thess. 2:13), Paul clearly intended them to be received as Scripture (Gal. 1:1–24), and even other writers thought they were Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). Thus, the Scriptures themselves never give the impression that their authority was “derivative”71 from the church, or from some future ecclesiastical decision. (4) It was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that the Roman Catholic Church ever made a formal and official declaration on the canon of the Bible, particularly the Apocrypha.72 In light of this scenario, what can we make of the Roman Catholic claim that “without the Church there would be no New Testament”?73 Are we to believe that the church had no canon for over fifteen hundred years, until the Council of Trent? The history of the church makes it clear that the church did, in fact, have a functioning canon long before the Council of Trent (or even the fourth-century councils). J. I. Packer sums it up well: “The Church no more gave us the New Testament canon than Sir Isaac Newton gave us the force of gravity. God gave us gravity . . . Newton did not create gravity but recognized it.”74”

Kruger, Michael J. (2012-04-30). Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Pages 44-45. Crossway. Kindle Edition.


“63 Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, 371.”

“64 Kreeft, Catholic Christianity, 20.”

“65 Turretin declares, “Although the church is more ancient than the Scriptures formally considered (and as to the mode of writing), yet it cannot be called such with respect to the Scriptures materially considered (and as to the substance of doctrine) because the Word of God is more ancient than the church itself, being its foundation and seed” (Institutes, 1:91 [2.6.16]).”

“66 Calvin wrote, “The Church is, as Paul declares, founded on the doctrine of Apostles and Prophets; but these men [of the Roman Catholic Church] speak as if they imagined that the mother owed her birth to the daughter.” See John Calvin, Tracts and Treatises, ed. Thomas F. Torrance, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 267.”

“67 William Hendriksen, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), 142; Richard B. Gaffin, Perspective on Pentecost (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1979), 93–95; and others, argue that “prophets” here is a reference not to the Old Testament, but to a revelatory office within the first-century church (cf. Eph. 4:11). Even if that is the case, however, it does not affect the overall argument here that the revelational deposit given to God’s spokesmen (which is preserved in the New Testament), is not the result of the church’s activity, but the foundation for the church’s activity. Those who view “prophets” as a reference to the Old Testament writers include John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 243; Chrysostom, Theodoret, Ambrosiaster, and Beza; see Ernest Best, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998), 282. In addition, Polycarp seems to make an allusion to Eph. 2:20 and understands “prophets” in the Old Testament sense (Phil. 6.3).”

“68 M. S. Horton, People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 37–71; and J. Webster, “The Self-Organizing Power of the Gospel of Christ: Episcopacy and Community Formation,” in Word and Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2001), 191–210.”

“69 Stephen B. Chapman, “The Old Testament Canon and Its Authority for the Christian Church,” Ex auditu 19 (2003): 141.”

“70 Of course, the state of the Old Testament in the first century has been challenged; e. g., Albert C. Sundberg, “The ‘Old Testament’: A Christian Canon,” CBQ 30, no. 2 (1968): 143–55. For more on this topic, see n. 55 in chap. 4.”

“71 Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, 371.”

“72 Early councils such as Laodicea (363), Hippo (393), and Carthage (397) produced canonical lists, but these were regional councils, and there were disagreements among them, as well as scattered disagreements even after the councils were over. E. g., Augustine was more favorable to the books of the Apocrypha (Civ. 18.36), but also admitted that they were not accepted by the Jews into their canon (Civ. 19.36–38). In contrast, Jerome was decidedly against them (see prologue to Expl. Dan.). See standard discussion in Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 209–47, and An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).”

“73 Küng, The Council in Action, 187.”

“74 J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 109.”

Kruger, Michael J. (2012-04-30). Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Kindle Locations 1466-1478). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

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