The Key to the Canon of Scripture

Which books should be in the Bible?

The ones that God inspired.

Which ones did God inspire?

Protestants say: 66 of them; Catholics: 73 of them.

Who is right, and how do we know?

Good question!

Why the Canon is Key

Underlying every difference between Catholics and Protestants is the issue of authority.

Protestants say their sole infallible authority is the (66-book) Bible.
Catholics say it is the (73-book) Bible + Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium.

It makes eminent sense then to dig into which books make up the Bible, for we do not agree on that point, and further we don’t agree on whether it is the sole infallible rule of faith or not.

If we can get to the bottom of the canon of Scripture, it will shine light on the broader question of whether Catholicism or Protestant is true.

(As a heads-up, I’m offering a free webinar on how to help your Protestant friend understand the issue of the canon and why Catholicism is true; register for it here.)

Principled vs. Arbitrary

We say a position is principled if it is consistent with some principle, and we say one is arbitrary if it does not follow any principle.

An arbitrary position may be based on a feeling, or a whim, or an intuition, or a bias. It may be true, but it has no logical progression from a principle that we can follow to know whether it is true.

For the canon of Scripture, Catholics have a principled reason supporting their canon:

  1. God protects the Church from error in her doctrines on faith and morals
  2. The canon of Scripture is a doctrine that pertains to faith
  3. Therefore we can have confidence that the Catholic canon of Scripture is true

The Protestant position on the canon cannot say the same, because Protestants reject the authority of the Church. They, beginning with Martin Luther 500 years ago, claim that the Church can and has erred many times on faith and morals.

So the first premise, that God protects the Church’s teachings from error, is rejected from the outset. Protestants further confound themselves by claiming that the contents of the inspired books of the Bible are the sole infallible authority.

But, and pay close attention here, that claim only pertains to the contents of the books themselves, and does not include the discernment of which books those are!

What a pickle.

The result is that the Protestant position that a particular set of 66 books are inspired (and none others) is arbitrary.

Protestants Don’t Like Pickles

Protestants don’t want to have such a dilemma. So they try to solve it:

John Calvin claimed the Scriptures were self-authenticating. Therefore a Christian could tell an inspired book from an uninspired one as easily telling “white from black, and sweet from bitter”.

The implausibility of Calvin’s opinion is demonstrated through many facts: if the canon were so obvious…

  • Why didn’t the early Church immediately identify it?
  • Why did even the most faithful early Christians disagree on the canon?
  • Why did it take til 367 AD for the first Christian to list the 27 books of the New Testament, without ambiguity?
  • Why do Christians today disagree on the books of the Bible?
  • Why isn’t the first test we give to someone becoming a Christian to read 100 books and tell us which are inspired vs. not?

Calvin was wrong, of course, on this and on many issues, and he has led millions astray in the past five centuries.

Other Protestants simply give up and say that their starting point presupposes their canon. They begin with those 66 books, via a blind leap of faith, and go from there.

How to Argue for the Catholic Canon

It is thus indispensable for a Catholic to know the arguments for the canon of Scripture and to bring it up with their Protestant friends. Most Protestants have never thought about the issue, taking for granted the Bibles handed to them as children.

I’m offering a free webinar to talk in detail about how you can help your Protestant friend see the truth of the Catholic Church by explaining the canon of Scripture to them.

Sign up for it right here!

Pope Plants Seeds With Protestant Pastor

This post is by Jesus Florez, a Proven Catholic apologist.

Jesus Florez

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declared He would draw all men to Himself. He also affirmed that there would be one flock and one shepherd.

This is a clear indication that our Lord Jesus intended unity to characterize the new people He would gather around Himself. The early Christians were clearly aware of this. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century to St. Polycarp “let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation”.

Ut Unum Sint

According to Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ willed for the new people of God is one of a common faith, worship, and government: doctrine, liturgy, Magisterium.

Throughout the centuries there have been many heresies and schisms that have threatened to sever these bonds. In our present time, we experience the great divisions among Christians precisely over matters of faith, worship and government. The rampant fragmentation among Protestant Christian communities is only one example of how deep these divisions run and how serious they are.

Be Reconciled to Your Brother

We seek the reconciliation of all Christians in accordance with the will of our Lord and the means He provided for the continual transmission of the Christian faith. Among other things this means communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, whom Jesus Christ our Lord established as His vicar on earth and the principium unitatis, the principle of unity, among believers.

In 2016 Pope Francis met with several Protestant pastors from different denominations and traditions in an effort to promote ecumenical dialogue and foster collaboration among fellow Christians. One of them was Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, CA.

After meeting with Pope Francis, he proceeded to write an article and preach a sermon (iTunes podcast link) to his congregation in which he talked about unity among believers. I’ll comment briefly on three points I believe to be praiseworthy and then I’ll complement with additional reflections and considerations.

A Path to Reconciliation

When Pastor Kris met with Pope Francis he was very pleasantly surprised by his gentle demeanor and remarked during his sermon that he was convinced the Pope was filled with the Holy Spirit.

He also led a prayer for the Pope as part of his preaching. As a Catholic, it’s very encouraging to see this from a Protestant pastor who influences many people. It’s a clear sign that he has the right disposition of heart in order to make ecumenical dialogue possible. I applaud this as a Catholic and see it as an exhortation for all of us to do the same.

Towards the beginning of his sermon, Pastor Kris made the interesting observation that the first Christians didn’t have a New Testament, let alone the whole Bible. He also commented on how important it was to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Kris on the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. The Church enjoins us to approach Jesus in constant and fervent prayer and to hear His voice by frequent and prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Having said all this, realizing that the New Testament Scriptures didn’t exist as a unified canon for centuries and mentioning this during a sermon calls into question the Sola Scriptura paradigm whereby the Scriptures function as the formal principle of theology and the formally sufficient rule of faith without the need of a divinely appointed teaching authority.

We would encourage anyone that has become aware of this fact to continue to explore how in light of this millions of people, most of whom were illiterate, came to faith in Jesus and flourished in their relationship with Him.

Come, Holy Spirit

During the last portion of his sermon, Pastor Kris talked at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and how through it we can become part of the mind of Christ and achieve unity even if disagreement remains concerning doctrine and church government.

We readily agree with Pastor Kris in acknowledging the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in the economy of salvation and God’s designs. One needs to look no further than St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem“.  However, we would balk at the idea of achieving unity while jettisoning unity of faith and government.

We would encourage people to explore the possibility that the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit are not only personal and experiential but also hierarchical and communal.

For example, we believe that by a special gift (or charism) of the Holy Spirit the Roman pontiff is protected from error in declaring a point of faith or morals to be definitively held by all the faithful. We also believe that this gift is passed on by means of material succession within the context of the family of God.

Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith

Before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the Church. Since it is Him doing so, we believe that His prayer is infallibly effective, and therefore there will always be only one true Church of Jesus Christ.

We confess, in the words of Blessed Paul VI, that “the Church founded by Jesus Christ and for which he prayed is indefectibly one in faith, in worship and in the bond of hierarchical communion” (Paul VI, Creed of the People of God, 21).

We earnestly pray so that all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior work together to overcome division and return to the one household of God, the Church of the living God, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent His Son to unite all things in Him.

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!

About the Author

This post is by Jesus Florez. Here’s Jesus in his own words:

I’m a Proven Catholic apologist thanks to the efforts and expertise of our friend and mentor, Devin Rose.

I now share his mission to equip Catholics to defend their faith and help Protestants consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

I’m originally from Colombia in South America and grew up Catholic but lukewarm at best. At age 18, I joined a Catholic Charismatic community that helped me have a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Since moving to the United States in 2015, I became very interested in apologetics and in 2016 I participated in Devin Rose’s Proven Catholic apologist course as a beta tester and earned my certificate soon after.

I work full time as a receptionist at a local nursing home and in my free time I enjoy reading about our faith and spending time with my wife.

You can email me at lordtyberias8@gmail.com

May the Lord bless you and keep you in the bosom of His family, the Church!

Pope Francis, Please Pontificate!

I’ve been quietly observing Pope Francis’s papacy over these past years, not saying much because quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Like many, I’ve been bewildered with the variety of his off-the-cuff remarks, quoted and sometimes misquoted interviews, and the controversies now escalating around his exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

Here’s my apologist’s take on what is happening with Pope Francis and what, if anything, we as lay Catholics can do about it.

The Controversy

First, what is the controversy around his exhortation?

Quite simply, Pope Francis’s ambiguous statements in the exhortation regarding communion for divorced and remarried Catholics have now led to different bishops and bishops’ conferences issuing contradictory guidelines about the topic (which is a discipline and not doctrine per se, but which affects the perception of the doctrine among the faithful).

See for instance the Maltese bishops who have said if a couple feels at peace with God they can receive the Eucharist, even if they are divorced and remarried (without an annulment).

The confusion around the exhortation began quietly but has slowly grown. Last year, privately, four cardinals, including Raymond Cardinal Burke sent Pope Francis a dubia–a set of five questions seeking clarification about communion for divorced and remarried Catholics–but Pope Francis did not respond.

The cardinals eventually made their questions public, but Pope Francis has still refused to respond. Recall that one of the key benefits of being Catholic is that the Church can continually clarify her doctrines and disciplines. Pope Francis in this situation is refusing to clarify his teachings, and so the faithful are left in confusion.

The Sensus Fidelium Stirs

We are now seeing an unprecedented stirring among orthodox Catholics demanding that Pope Francis address the alleged errors and confusion in Amoris Laetitia.

Leaders are speaking out–respectfully yet insistently–from stalwart Catholic organizations like Catholic Answers, EWTN, Ignatius Press, and Catholic World Report.

Prior to Pope Francis, during the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, this was unheard of. The only voices that were yelling in opposition were from groups like the National Catholic Reporter.

These orthodox voices are speaking out, calling attention to the problematic ghost writing in the exhortation, the insanity of attempting stealth changes to the Church’s discipline and doctrine, and the crisis that is now forming due to his lack of clarification.

These voices are not demanding novelties, unheard of in the past 2,000 years, but rather pointing out that Pope Francis’s statements are at best inconsistent with previous papal teachings, and at worst contradictory to them (see, for instance, the question of whether a man and woman are capable of living together as brother and sister or not).

I see these lay voices, joined with many proven orthodox bishops and priests, as an expression of the sensus fidelium, the sense of faith of the whole people of God, from laity to episcopate, expressing universal consent on the unchanging truths of the Faith.

Why Has It Taken So Long?

Thomas Peters of American Papist and now Catholic Vote fame, made a call for “JPII and Pope Benedict-loving” Catholics to end their silence and stand together to ask Pope Francis for clarity.

It’s taken a long time for those of us whose first Pope was John Paul II to recognize and accept what is happening. With Popes John Paul II and Benedict, this kind of crisis never happened. So we have never had to make such a request of the pope.

Further, I know for me there’s a question of protocol: how does one make such a request of the bishop of Rome? Is it right to do so? How does one do it in a respectful and obedient way?

Of course, saints of the past like Catherine of Siena did just that. But, she’s a saint and I wouldn’t set my holiness next to hers in comparison. So this is uncharted territory for us.

What we are seeing now is a building groundswell of faithful voices, not condemning Pope Francis or contradicting him, but instead exhorting him to clarify his exhortation.

Liberius, Honorius, Francis?

Is Pope Francis setting himself up to go down in history as another Liberius or Honorius, popes who in some way failed to clearly and strongly uphold the unchanging truths of the Catholic Faith?

That’s question Dr. Ed Feser takes up in very incisive article:

“Honorius… did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.”

It is uncontroversial that Honorius was (as the second quote indicates) at the very least guilty of failing to reaffirm orthodoxy in the face of the Monothelite heresy, and it is commonly held that, at least materially even if not formally, he was guilty of the heresy himself.

Neither Liberius or Honorius falsify papal infallibility, and I don’t believe that Pope Francis will either, but they came close enough that countless Catholics through the ages have had to explain to others how their actions did not prove infallibility false.

I don’t think that Pope Francis is overly concerned with doctrine. Hence, these ambiguities arise, not out of malice, but out of a good desire to reach out to people in a pastoral way.

If doctrine and current disciplines get in the way of what, in his view, would help more people receive the mercy and grace of God, then he wants to circumvent those disciplines and doctrines. Not necessarily change them, let alone overturn them, just, well, ignore them.

So none of the demands for clarification imply that Pope Francis is a heretic or that what he has written is heretical. Nor has what he written substantially changed Catholic doctrine. Papal infallibility is intact. But in his ambivalence for doctrine he is confusing the bishops and thus the faithful on an important matter, one that could undermine the doctrine of the Eucharist itself.

An Apologist’s Nightmare

All of this makes for a scary dream for Catholic apologists, whose mission it is to defend the Church and explain the Faith.

I’ve told people one benefit of being Catholic is the continual clarification by the Magisterium of doctrines on faith and morals. Now, the pope himself is muddying the waters. What are people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, supposed to think? It can be a stumbling block to people entering the Church. It can cause the faithful to doubt their faith.

My belief in the Church’s infallibility is strong. But that is not the case for everyone. And non-Catholic polemicists can make hay out of all this and cause fear, uncertainty, and doubt to grow in the hearts of Catholics weaker in their faith.

Pontificate, Pope Francis!

Quite simply, we need the Pope to pontificate. I think he would like all this swept under the rug, and quietly have bishops across the world interpreting his words in the exhortation in their own way, but the voices demanding him to respond and clarify are swelling, and I don’t think he’ll be able to ignore them.

We’ve been blessed recently with popes who were theologians and philosophers, orthodox and careful. But God never promised the Church that every pope would be as sagacious.

What Do We Do?

I plan to continue to pray for the pope, everyday, especially through the Rosary. I plan to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt and be respectful of him. I also plan to join my voices to the many others asking him to resolve his problematic statements.

My hope is that he sees the crisis growing in the Church, especially among the bishops, and that he will act to clarify or even correct what he wrote in Amoris Laetitia. That would show great humility, a virtue he has shown many times during his pontificate.

This post on Pope Francis has been brought to you by Pray: the Catholic Novena app. Concerned about Amoris Laetitia? Start praying a novena today!