Thursday, October 11, 2007

Show us the Canon

Francis, you stated that what scripture is, is "a relatively stable concept", and it is clear what it is because "its writing was accompanied by miracles and signs from God that testified as to its authenticity."

From my point of view, you are glossing over an enormous number of problems that were really only sorted out in the life of the Orthodox Church. The only way you can know what the bible is, is by doing the exact same thing we advocate doing for any teaching, which is to look to the people of God. And to look to the people of God, naturally implies that there is a visible people of God, who you have identified as the people of God, to the exclusion of other claimants. Without that, you will be pitting one claim against another.

I think the only way to highlight this inconsistency is to ask you to give a brief outline of the basis you have for some specific books being or not being scripture. By choosing some difficult examples I hope to highlight the inconsistency in your approach. Obviously we don't want a long essay, but just the brief facts on how you know they are scripture. In fact, if you require a long essay to present a decent case, it would argue against how workable your rule of faith is. I suggest it's not going to be enough to trot out a few historical facts ("my historical facts trump someone else's facts"), rather you need something more substantive in your epistemology.

The books I select are: Esther, 1 Clement and 1/2/3 John. By way of introduction, I offer some brief facts on each:


The book never once mentions God. According the the Anchor bible dictionary, "For as late as the 4th century A.D. some Jews were still denying the book canonical status, as were a number of Eastern Church Fathers as late as the 9th century ". "the book was not used by the Jewish Dead Sea community at Qumran", "there is not a shred of evidence that the book of Esther was canonized by the Academy of Jabneh (i.e., Council of Jamnia)", "Josephus (AgAp 1.38–41) said that the Jewish canon contained 22 books; but, unfortunately, he did not enumerate them.", "when the rabbis of the 2nd century C.E. justified Purim as a day of eating and rejoicing, they cited as their authority Megillat Taanit (dating to the 1st century C.E.), not the book of Esther (8:15–17);", "The book, for instance, was denied canonical status by Melito of Sardis (fl. ca. 167), Athanasius (295–373), Gregory of Nazianzus (329–390) in Cappadocia, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?–428) in Cilicia, and others.",, "More serious against the book’s historicity is the fact that some of the statistics in Esther are incorrect: Persian satrapies numbered 20, not 127 (1:1); if Mordecai had been part of Nebuchadnezzar’s deportation of 597 B.C.E. (so 2:6), then he and, especially, Esther would have been far too old to have accomplished everything attributed to them in the days of Xerxes (486–465 B.C.E.), i.e., some hundred years after the deportation. According to Herodotus, Amestris was queen between the 7th and 12th years of Xerxes (compare Esth 2:16 and 3:7 with Herodotus 3.84) and Persian queens had to come from one of the seven noble Persian families, a custom which would have automatically ruled out an insignificant Jewish woman."

In short, Esther contains all the problems that Protestants like to assign to the deutero canon. It was not accepted by the Jews, at least until well after when they could be considered the people of God. It was a disputed book in the early church, being a little more favoured in West than East. It has historical and factual difficulties.

1 Clement

Like Luke, tradition says that he was one of Paul's fellow workers. Phil. 4:3 "Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." Like Luke, other Church Fathers attest to this (e.g. Origen Jo. 6.36, Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.4.9) Irenaeus, (Haer. 3.3.3)).

Like Luke, it is found in early codexes of the scriptures (e.g. Codex Alexandrinus). Like Luke, the Fathers attest that it was read in the Churches. Anchor: "Eusebius attests that the letter was read in the worship services of many churches, in the days of old and in his own time (Hist. Eccl. 3.16). Indeed, the letter seems to have been one of the best known writings in the early church."

"Polycarp makes full, if tacit, use of the work (Lightfoot 1890:1.149–52). Irenaeus praises the letter and summarizes its first chapters (Haer. 3.3.3). The epistle is frequently utilized by Clement of Alexandria, who knew the work when he wrote his Paedagogus (1.91.2), and filled the Stromata with explicit quotations (Grant 1965:5–6)."

Anchor dates the book to 95 AD which is the same date it gives to Revelation. Anchor suggests a date of 80-85 for Luke which would also be after Paul died. The book seems to have been in the canon for many in the early church, and seems to still be part of the Ethiopian Church's bible.

1/2/3 John

These books were never used in the Syrian churches, right down to this day. They are never referenced by many Church Fathers, including John Chrysostom, who out of his something like 10,000 scriptural quotes, never ventures beyond the Syrian canon (which also excludes Revelation, James, 2 Peter and others).

According to Anchor dictionary: "The similarities between the Fourth Gospel and 1 John are the most impressive. But the differences are so significant as to weigh against the tradition that equates the fourth evangelist with the author of 1 John."

"Nonetheless, given all of these considerations, it is the wiser choice to conclude that the evidence for common authorship [with 1 John] is not convincing. ", "1 John teaches a soteriology which goes beyond the tradition rooted in the Fourth Gospel.", "a serious contradiction arises within the treatment of sin in the first of the writings."

The epistles of John have all the problems Protestants would assign to the deutero canon, or to something like 1 Clement, or worse. Lack of evidence of authorship. Perceived contradictions. Lack of unanimity in acceptance. Differences in style. Lack of certain affiliation with the apostle.

Do you do what the Orthodox Church advocates, and accept these books by faith because of the testimony of God's people in the tradition of his Church? Why do you take the Orthodox New Testament and eschew the non-Chalcedoneon New Testament?

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