Saturday, December 13, 2008

By what Authority were the Books of the Bible selected?

Let us look at Chapter One of the Westminster Confession of 1646. The meat is in Article 2, where the books are enumerated, Article 3 which declares the Apocrypha illigitimate, and Article 4 which says:

IV. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

The trouble with Article 4 is that it misses the point. By what authority does the Westminster Confession declare what the books of the Bible are? It doesn't say. We have only their word, the word of an uncredentialed authority. There isn't even the mention of a credentialed authority. If there is a credentialed authority, the Westminster Confession has certainly detracted from it in their very first Chapter.

Who would have credentials. The Jews had their own Cannonization Process for their Torah, our Old Testament, which is generally accepted by Christianity. Thus, restricting the question to the New Testament, all New Testament credentials and authority would derive from Christ. Since almost all of the New Testament books were not written until after the death of Christ, his authority must have flowed somewhere to make the New Testament valid. The Apostles are generally considered the recipients of this authority. Yet none of the Apostles, not even John, were alive when the collection of scripture which became the New Testament was finally agreed upon. The Apostles had successors, who inherited their authority and held the Office of Bishop, hence a Doctrine of Apostolic Succession is needed in order to maintain the Bible. Recapitulating, the Authority flowed from Christ to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to the Apostolic Successors to authenticate the Bible.

Historically, the Council of Carthage of 397 AD set the de facto standard for what qualified a book to be in the Bible. The one thing about a de facto standard is that even though it is not necessarily legally in force, it recieves acceptance because of necessity, and because no one else is able to come up with anything better. The Council of Carthage had plenty of necessity justification for what they did, as their purpose was to discard the Gnostic Gospels from the Cannon which were about to polute and overwhelm the Cannon, a situation which Bishop Irenaeus warned against in Against Heresies. One does not pick a Holy Book out of the gutter, from whence the Gnostic Gospels came. At issue was what a what books to keep, what books to discard, and by what authority. The solution, roughly described as the Smell Test of St. Irenaeus, was to requre that each accepted book have a demonstrable connection to an Apostle, a property of the Most Frequently Used Books by the Oldest Churches with the Closest Connection to an Apostle. Additionally, the Scriptures had to be consistent with each other. We note in passing that the Apocrypha contains valuable history which assists with the Cannonization Process, contrary to Chapter 1, Article 3.

The problem with deemphasizing the Council of Carthage of 397 as an unimportant council is that it delegitimizes their purpose of discarding the Gnostic Gospels from the Scriptures, thus opening the door for reinstating the Gospels of Judas, Thomas, and Philip, the Apocalypse of St. Peter, and various and sundry other Gnostic Gospels. There is no contemporary alternate authority from which to draw legitimacy.

Coming full circle, the Westminster Confession mindfully and arbitrarily skips the authentication of the Bible. It does not give any reason to discard any Gnostic Gospel, other than the fact that they were not mentioned. Hence, since the Gnostic Gospels were not explicitly excluded, the Westminster provides implicit grounds to include them in Scripture. This problem is in addition to the Westminster Confession's inability to qualify their own authority. Further, since the Westminster Confession some 1250 years after Carthage, the connection to the Apostles is at least three times as dilute, should the Apostolic Succession argument be attempted. As we continue our examination of the Westminster Confession, we will find that a foundation was laid to delegitimize any and all findings of Church Councils in Chapter XXXI, which in turn legally permits the eventual overruling of the Council of Carthage and the Reselection of the Books of the Bible.

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