Canon and Church

Do Protestants concede infallibility to the church when we affirm the canon of Scripture? Some Catholics argue so: The church created the canon, and so when we accept the canon we are implicitly accepting the church’s infallible decision-making power. It’s inconsistent to accept the canon, and then go off with sola Scriptura.

Michael J. Kruger begs to differ. In Canon Revisited, he argues that “The books received by the church inform our understanding of which books are canonical not because the church is infallible or because it created or constituted the canon, but because the church’s reception of these books is a natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture” (106).

He elaborates: “In the self-authenticating model . . . the church’s reception of these books proves not to be evidence of the church’s authority to create the canon, but evidence of the opposite, namely, the authority, power, and impact of the self-authenticating Scriptures to elicit a corporate response from the church. Jesus’ statement that ‘my sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me’ (John 10:27) is not evidence for the authority of the sheep’s decision to follow, but evidence for the authority and efficacy of the Shepherd’s voice to call. After all, the act of hearing is, by definition, derivative not constitutive. Thus, when the canon is understood as self-authenticating, it is clear that the church did not choose the canon but the canon, in a sense, chose itself. . . . In this way, then, the role of the church is like a thermometer, not a thermostat. Both instruments provide information about the temperature in the room – but one determines it and one reflects it” (106).

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  • Zenon Lotufo Jr.

    The problem is
    not in the existence or not of a canon of scripture, but in how it has been
    used in the course of history. Ernst Troeltsch rightly says, in my view, that
    the necessity OF EXERCISE COERCITIVE AUTHORITY over the people caused the
    Protestants to place the Bible, or rather, the doctrines supposedly based on
    it, as a source of control over the minds, or of coercive authority. The
    source, before the Reformation, was the Church (institute of salvation as
    Troeltsch writes). Once the reformers abolished this type of control, they had
    to find another: the “biblical” doctrines became the new
    “institute of salvation.”

    Have you ever wondered: in the final analysis, why is there a need to defend
    the “sacred” authority of a group of books? What would be different
    if each of us had the freedom to form our own canon, our set of books through
    which God speaks to our minds and hearts? If God is a living God and
    communicates with us today, how would he speak to us if not to our conscience?

    • John Purssey

      Practically speaking, we do form our own canons. The Bible is used to support multiple and contrary positions by emphasising some parts and de-emphasising and ignoring others. One professor I used to know took his approach as using a canon within the canon. In his book “The Fringes of Freedom” (Lancer Books,1990 pp3-4) he wrote:-

      The starting place, in my opinion, is the recognition that the Bible
      does not speak with one voice on any major issue. While we may wish to say it
      is all inspired we clearly do not take it all to be equally authoritative for Christian
      living today. A quick look at the edge of the pages of a well-used Bible is
      ample evidence of the fact that, despite protestations to the contrary, in
      practice we use some sections much more frequently than others. It would be a
      strange Bible where the pages of Leviticus bore the same signs of wear and tear
      as did the Gospel of John, where Ecclesiastes had been used more than Romans,
      where Numbers had obviously taken precedence over Corinthians.

      In theological terms this raises the question of
      the canon within the canon—if the Bible is the measuring stick, or canon, by
      which we may examine various contemporary theologies, what is the measuring
      stick by which we may examine the various theologies within the Bible itself?
      As readers of this collection of studies will readily recognise, I have sought
      to use the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as the
      measuring stick for the rest of Scripture. This is the theological centre of
      the Bible as I read it, and from this centre I seek to draw a line backwards
      through the Psalms and the prophets to the revelation of God in the liberation
      of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. From the life and ministry,
      death and resurrection of Jesus I seek to draw a line forwards through the
      writings of Paul, the Gospels, I Peter and the Book of Revelation. Jesus of
      Nazareth remains at the centre of theological reflection.

      • Gnosissorrow

        Why use Paul (just some guy) as your measuring stick. His philosophy was entirely different from that of Jesus. If Jesus was indeed God then some guy that teaches an entirely different doctrine could not be right.

        • John Purssey

          I quite agree. But our knowledge of Jesus comes from the narrative traditions which were handed down and used by writers to construct their gospels. And only some gospels made any of the canons. In the end you have to decide what to use and how to use it for own (community’s) situation. That is what I understand by being guided by the spirit of Jesus (and there are multiple ways of expressing that meaning).

    • Gnosissorrow

      No I have not wondered why I should defend any sacred books. I do not believe there is a God or Canon to defend. I just wonder how any “sacred books” can be defended without any evidence that there is a God.

  • Gnosissorrow

    Which canon? I am in the process of finding out how many condoms are in use today. I have made many inquiries to universities, think tanks, etc. So far it looks like there are about 7.
    So if the Canon is so Devine it chooses it’s self than which canon is more Devine? Really? The Canon is simply as arbitrary as the books within it. What ever sect has the most power determines what books reflect their beliefs the most and therefore what books are in the Canon. It’s really that simple. There is no evidence of any real or true canon nor is there any evidence that the books within them are anything more than myth. It just got real. Compelledunbeliever.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    The aim of the RC Church and the Evangelical, Right Wing Protestant Churches is control. Especially the control of women, but the basis is control.
    Both groups condemn our LBGTQ+ sisters and brothers. All condemn a woman’s right to choose, and most Evangelical Protestant Churches, and all RC Churches condemn contraception. These groups are still living in the 19th Century.

    • Gnosissorrow

      If God is indeed real and good then anyone whom does not teach good is wrong.

      • Martha D Leadback

        judge the tree by the fruits it bears

        • John Purssey

          Your fruits seem to guilt tripping, negativity asnd judgmentalism.

          • Martha D Leadback

            You are your own judge, God is the only one who can dish out judgement, and those who he appoints to judge. Guilt lays on the shoulders of those who feel the driving nagging inner self guilt. It is called a conscience. we all have one , for we have inherited the quality from The first of Gods chosen. Negativity is a self reflection, and is voiced by those who see things from a negative point of view themselves. Judge not, so not to be judged, do unto others, and live by the sword. all tell a story of a person’s life. If I came off as judgemental it is with out a purposeful agenda, but with out knowledge of me doing so. and maybe just from your point of view?
            judgement on my part, NO I’m just pointing out Jesus ,God, and the word of God have a reason and purpose for every word, and cannot be added or taken away from, not ours to change or interpret. The Word has already laid out in specific manners, all the reasons, to be doing every thing in certain ways, according to the words of GOD.
            Weather humans believe or not is not Gods fault, It is mans ego and self centered attitudes that are in the fault range of realities. Then again it was Lucifers biggest down fall and reason for being booted from the ranks of Gods almighty… and Lucifer is doing every thing he can to destroy souls by distraction and disobedience to Gods very Word

          • John Purssey

            You have confirmed my impression of you.

            You have eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear.
            Repent and turn to God. Even now you might be saved.

          • Martha D Leadback

            so righteous are the pure , and those who do not follow the word of God, who deny the existence of Jesus Christ so informed are those who do not believe in God. Silly people. when offered the prize we spit on it, if it was not ours to have we would make a plan to steal it

          • John Purssey

            It would be better for you to keep silent and be thought a fool than to comment and remove all doubt.

      • Martha D Leadback

        something like that, besides why would you want to teach any thing, but good things, thoughts and ideas. It is what God came to earth, to show us. That there is a world filled with only love and all that encompasses that, a world where the lower nature of man kind is not allowed or tolerated. Only The feelings of Good are present always.

    • John Purssey

      FYI our Uniting Church of Australia has its Pitt Street Uniting Church led by a women minister in a same sex marriage (or hopefully it soon will be allowed by law).

      http://www.pittstreetuniting.org.au/

      • Martha D Leadback

        What is right is right and God says not one word is to be added or taken away from “THE WORD”. No matter how we humans justify our agendas. no matter how right each person feels, doesn’t mean or make it the rightful way or a natural right of every human to be as they please. Translation 7 billion different souls.
        Humans have the inherited sin, and fail to please always, no matter what we do as humans, we fail to totally please God. We have a built in ego gene , thanks to Lucifer’s trickery, and our curious young minds, at that time, that now holds us back from achieving a perfectly balanced soul again, as God first intended. When I say US , I’m referring to Gods chosen, not the gentiles , not you and me, well not me, a once me, but now, I follow The Word, I asked Jesus Christ to forgive me for what I have been in the world, that displeased him, and each day I thank God for sending Jesus Christ to be my personal Saviour…. I pray each day that I can go through my day with out falling short, as we humans always do, saved and un saved, We are imperfect humans, but we do have a choice , thanks to Lucifer. Better a student than The teacher, when God returns. try not to be tricked the second time, it will be the last time for sure. one way or another

        • John Purssey

          You do not even know what The Word is. John describes The Word as pre-existing and being incarnated as Jesus. You are debasing The Word when you make it into writings under your control that you can use to attack people with.

          • Martha D Leadback

            John 1:14-16

            14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

            15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

            16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace
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            full aware of God and what he is to this world and mankind. Attacking? maybe to you, not all would agree, as I don’t. God has a certain message and he does not need man telling him what he means. and when he says every Word is there for a reason, then that is exactly what God means, so be it. Besides who do we really think we are, as a society, that we can just rewrite his Word all together, just to suit our individual wants, lusts and selfish desires.? Really we are one mixed up society lost and decaying.

  • Seraphim Hamilton

    This misses the issue. Only a very ill-informed Catholic or Orthodox (of whom, sadly, there are many) would say the Church has the capacity to actually create the canon. Of course not- as indeed, the Church has no authority to create any of the tradition. Truth is always given by God and received by the Church. The question is whether one can have confidence that the Church has truly heard the voice of the Shepherd. If one can use that passage to justify confidence in the church’s reception of the genuine canon, why cannot that passage be used to ground equal confidence that the church’s theology is an expression of the theology intrinsic to the canon? While it is possible to overstate the degree of discontinuity between the early Protestants and the ancient and medieval church, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is a very large discontinuity. The dissolution of the episcopate, the priestly doctrine of apostolic succession, the veneration and intercession of Saints, and so on, are not minor correctives or developments on the Christian tradition. They constitute a fundamental break- the doctrines and practices I mentioned above (there are many more) are constitutive of everyday spiritual life and practice for practicing Catholics and Orthodox.

    • nscjhff

      Well said. In other words, if we Protestants trust that the church was a faithful and accurate “thermometer” with regards to the canon, the question is, at what point did the church stop being this thermometer, and why Protestants would be justified in thinking so.

  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this very short article. I cannot express an opinion on Michael J. Kruger’s book *Canon Revisited*, because all that I know about it I have learned from this article. Therefore the following remarks pertain only to this article and what it presents about the book.

    To begin: The argument “The church created the canon, and so when we accept the canon we are implicitly accepting the church’s infallible decision-making power” is illogical and false. To agree with someone does not necessarily imply that the person with whom one agrees has “infallible decision-making power”. This is easily seen in the fact that Catholics and Protestants agree on the canon of the New Testament but disagree on that of the Old Testament (as do the Orthodox).

    Kruger believes that the Church does not determine the canon, but rather the canon determines the Church, and the Church merely reflects the canon as a thermometer reflects temperature. This prompts the question: Which professed Christians are the best thermometer? Catholics could argue that they are, because they accept books as canonical which Protestants incorrectly consider apocryphal. Protestants could argue that they are, because they accept books as apocryphal which Catholics incorrectly consider canonical.

    Furthermore, Catholics will still argue that all of the authors of the New Testament were Catholics, and therefore the Catholic Church created the New Testament canon not merely by receiving its books and recognizing them are canonical, but by writing them. Also: It sounds as if Kruger believes, based upon John 10:27, that all who accept the New Testament canon are the sheep of Christ, because they hear His voice and follow Him.

    I do agree with Kruger that Scripture is, in a sense, self-authenticating. As the old saying goes: the cream rises to the top. And, as the LORD said to Jeremiah regarding false prophets: “The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28).