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!

Navigating the Tiber: Your Guidebook Has Arrived

I’m happy to announce that my second book from Catholic Answers has just been published: Navigating the Tiber: How to Help Your Friends and Family Journey Toward the Catholic Faith.

Origins of the Book

I was sitting at lunch one day with friends: one Catholic, two Protestants, and we were having a series of in-depth discussions about whether Catholicism was true or Protestantism was better.

Navigating the Tiber
Navigating the Tiber

The debate ranged all over: justification, the canon of Scripture, sola Scriptura, Bible interpretation, authority, perspicuity, Church Fathers, sacraments, and more.

My friend, George, asked me after each discussion how I decided to choose one topic over another, or use one argument to rebut their point versus a different one. We were able to talk one-on-one and I could mentor him in apologetics, not just the arguments but also the soft skills, the psychology, and how to connect one topic to another.

I could sit next to George each week and do this, but I couldn’t replicate that to all the other Catholics who have ever been in a discussion with Protestant friends and family, feeling stumped or confused or scared because the arguments their friends were making sounded so strong.

Navigating the Tiber was born.

This is the book I would give to any Catholic needing help in understanding Protestantism and helping their Protestant friends fairly consider the Catholic Church.

It takes you from defending your Faith to going on the offense and leading Protestants into Catholicism!

The Guidebook for Navigating the Tiber

The Tiber river flows through Rome and has been something of an unruly watercourse in its history with the city. To “cross the Tiber” means to become Catholic.

This metaphor became the book’s overall narrative image. I am helping you to navigate the waters of the Tiber with your friend, so that they can cross over. There are swift currents, dangerous shoals, hidden rocks, sea serpents, enemy ships, and many more obstacles that they (and you) will face. The book guides you through it all.

I actually wrote the initial draft for this book five years ago, before The Protestant’s Dilemma was even published. It was one of those manuscripts that just flowed out once the main idea was settled on. But over those five years I was able to hammer at it, refine it, add more experiences to it, and most of all work on it with my friend Todd Aglialoro at Catholic Answers.

Five years of hard word, whittled down to a concise paperback.

The goal: to equip you to lead Protestant friends to the Catholic Church.

Please do check it out, and let me know what you think!

The Evangelical Exodus: Protestant Seminarians Become Catholic

A powerful new convert stories book is out from Ignatius Press, and you need to pick it up. Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome recounts the stories of nine converts to Catholicism.

Evangelical Exodus Begins

But these converts aren’t just run-of-the-mill Joes like I was.

They were all:

  • Protestant seminarians
  • From the same seminary: Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES)
  • Who learned from a prominent Protestant scholar, Norman Geisler

And who all decided to become Catholic, not in spite of their Protestant schooling there, but in many ways because of it!

Evangelical Exodus bookMy good friend Doug Beaumont is the editor of the book and himself one of the converts. He and I first corresponded online many years ago. I knew right away that he was a deep thinker and a Protestant who was open to finding the fullness of the truth, wherever the search led.

After long years of reading, studying, and praying, he entered full communion with the Catholic Church. And so did many of his former peers at SES.

More Than a (Conversion) Feeling

These converts were all getting graduate degrees from SES. Many now have doctorates from well known institutions.

In Evangelical Exodus they each describe their own journey from Protestantism to Catholicism through study of the Church Fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas, philosophy and theology.

These men were committed Evangelical Protestants who believed in sola Scriptura, sola fide, an the Protestant canon of Scripture. They were not to be moved toward Catholicism by shallow arguments or evidence. Rather, as they demonstrate, they pierced into the depths of the reasons supporting the Faith and discovered that Christ’s Church was there waiting for them.

Doug Beaumont writes:

During my time at SES I had been told that we were learning to defend the “historic Christian faith.” But as I enlarged my studies, I began to realize that many of SES’ distinctive teachings could not be counted as historic in the implied sense.

Much of SES’ doctrinal statement (to which students and faculty were held) contained a mix of Reformation theology, Anabaptist doctrines, and even late nineteenth-century beliefs.

True or false, these did not seem legitimately to constitute the historic Christian faith.

Commendably, SES directed its students to study Aquinas and the Church Fathers. Most Protestant seminaries don’t dare do that, or do so in a tightly curated fashion.

But ironically such study had the opposite effect: the students came to see that their seminary wasn’t teaching what the Fathers taught!

For Better and For Worse

Becoming Catholic was not easy for these men. And since becoming Catholic some have had very challenging times. They had invested years of their lives into becoming Protestant teachers, pastors, and scholars, only to leave Protestantism.

I am so glad that they have told their stories in this volume. They lay out clearly, succinctly, and in a heart-felt manner the way that God led them to Catholicism. None expected it nor sought it.

Do yourself a favor and get Evangelical Exodus today.