This is part 11 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:

10) [A consistent Calvinist must be] A liberal higher critic, since Luther can slice up the canon, it follows so might anyone.

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

Virtually all Calvinists hold to the same 66 book canon of Scripture (see Belgic Confession Article 4, Westminster Confession of Faith 1:2, London Baptist Confession of Faith 1:2, and Savoy Declaration 1:2). The canon of Scripture is just a list of the inspired books (2 Timothy 3:16-17 “16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”).

The Calvinist position is well expressed by the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675), which states, in its first two canons:

Canon 1: God, the Supreme Judge, not only took care to have his word, which is the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believes” (Rom 1:16), committed to writing by Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care from the time it was written up to the present, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the Church justly ascribes to it his singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end of the world (2 Pet 1:19), a “sure word of prophecy” and “Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim 3:15), from which though heaven and earth pass away, “the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen will not disappear by any means” (Matt 5:18).

Canon II: But, in particular, The Hebrew original of the OT which we have received and to this day do retain as handed down by the Hebrew Church, “who had been given the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2), is, not only in its consonants, but in its vowels either the vowel points themselves, or at least the power of the points not only in its matter, but in its words, inspired by God. It thus forms, together with the Original of the NT the sole and complete rule of our faith and practice; and to its standard, as to a Lydian stone, all extant versions, eastern or western, ought to be applied, and wherever they differ, be conformed.

b) The Accusation Disputed

In fact, Luther did not “carve up the canon.” James Swan has provided a great paper on this subject (link) plus a three-part response to criticism (part 1)(part 2)(part 3). And, of course, Calvinists are not Lutherans.

Furthermore, as discussed above, Calvinists accept Scripture because of its divine authorship. Thus, consistent Calvinists do not feel free to discard books that are inspired or to accept additional books (such as the so-called “Deutero-canonical” book) that are not inspired. Even when Calvinists believe the legend that Luther removed one or more books from the canon, consistent Calvinists reject such action as inappropriate.

The term “Higher Criticism” has been used various ways. One definition I found is

“HIGHER CRITICISM” is a phrase used to express all investigations respecting the genuineness, authenticity, and integrity of ancient literary works especially the various books of the Bible.

(The Higher Criticism, Introduction, Charles Wesley Rishell)

Arguably, some form of higher criticism is the apologist’s role in defending the genuineness, authenticity, and integrity of the various books of the Bible. Although the ultimate answer for why we accept the books of the Bible as genuine and authentic is the persuasion of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit uses means, including (in some instances) historical evidences.

I think that by “liberal higher critic” Dyer probably meant to refer to those who approach “higher criticism” from the standpoint of extreme skepticism (doubting everything in the extreme way that, for example, Bart Ehrman does) or from the standpoint of pure naturalism (that is to say, treating Scripture as being purely the product of human composition). For the reasons stated above, the consistent Calvinist cannot accept either of these forms of higher criticism.

c) The Accusation Redirected

Modern Catholicism’s view of the canon is one that is based on determining which books were received by “the Church.” Thus, Trent declares: “And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod.” (4th Session) Although one might think that this sort of magisterial announcement might at least prevent Catholicisms adherents from carving out a canon of their own.

James Swan had discussed this issue earlier when Gary Michuta (an apologist for Catholicism) had argued that Trent did not reject the Septuagint book of 1 Esdras by not including it in the list (link). This would seem to suggest that further carving out (or carving in) of 1 Esdras is still possible in Catholicism, if Michuta is correct (which itself seems unlikely).

Perhaps of greater interest is the fact that Trent went beyond merely identifying the canonical books. Trent also declared:

But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church.

(4th Session) (emphasis added)

Note that Trent identifies the “old Latin Vulgate” as the authentic version, even as to “its parts.” There are two things that must be kept in mind: (1) the “old Latin Vulgate” was not an edition of the Vulgate then in existence. Pope Sixtus V was given the task of preparing the “official” version of the Latin Vulgate, but he failed. His version was so riddled with errors that his successor, at Bellarmine’s suggestion, withdrew all copies of the original Sixtus V translation and issued a new edition in which there was an attempt to correct the errors of the Sixtus V translation. This edition (called the “Celementine Vulgate” after pope Clement VIII who promulgated it) includes the famous “Johannine Comma.” If the Sixtus V translation, even as edited by Clement VIII, must be accepted as to “its parts” then it would seem that it would be a violation of the teachings of Trent for people in Catholicism to deny the authenticity of the Johannine.

Of course, that does not stop the modern textual critics with Catholicism. The Nova Vulgata, promulgated by pope John Paul II, omits the Johannine Comma. It also makes numerous other changes to the text.

Thus, although Catholicism in Trent would appear to eliminate the possibility of higher criticism, in the sense of accepting additional books or not accepting listed books, certain prominent apologists for Catholicism do not feel so limited. Likewise, although Catholicism in Trent would appear to be locked into a particular edition (or at least into the Latin textual tradition), modern Catholicism seems willing to revise the text in accordance with modern textual critical theories and resort to the original languages, rather than reliance on the Latin textual tradition.

Pope Leo XIII (in 1893) put it this way:

Hence it is most proper that Professors of Sacred Scripture and theologians should master those tongues in which the sacred Books were originally written; and it would be well that Church students also should cultivate them, more especially those who aspire to academic degrees. And endeavours should be made to establish in all academic institutions – as has already been laudably done in many – chairs of the other ancient languages, especially the Semitic, and of subjects connected therewith, for the benefit principally of those who are intended to profess sacred literature. These latter, with a similar object in view, should make themselves well and thoroughly acquainted with the art of true criticism. There has arisen, to the great detriment of religion, an inept method, dignified by the name of the “higher criticism,” which pretends to judge of the origin, integrity and authority of each Book from internal indications alone. It is clear, on the other hand, that in historical questions, such as the origin and the handing down of writings, the witness of history is of primary importance, and that historical investigation should be made with the utmost care; and that in this matter internal evidence is seldom of great value, except as confirmation. To look upon it in any other light will be to open the door to many evil consequences. It will make the enemies of religion much more bold and confident in attacking and mangling the Sacred Books; and this vaunted “higher criticism” will resolve itself into the reflection of the bias and the prejudice of the critics. It will not throw on the Scripture the light which is sought, or prove of any advantage to doctrine; it will only give rise to disagreement and dissension, those sure notes of error, which the critics in question so plentifully exhibit in their own persons; and seeing that most of them are tainted with false philosophy and rationalism, it must lead to the elimination from the sacred writings of all prophecy and miracle, and of everything else that is outside the natural order.

(Providentissimus Deus, Section 17)


Continue to Part 12

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