Canons and monkey-wrenches

The familiar Scripture norms the norm argument.

While it is more sophisticated and healthier than the chaos autonomy of the low-church evangelical, and it does slow the inherent mechanism for self-destruction and schism that is inherent in the evangelical mindset, it still comes up short.  If Scripture qualifies and subordinates human authorities and traditions, then it must qualify and determine the canon.  Yet this is the very thing that can’t be done.   You can’t know what is Scripture without presupposing a canon, yet a canon is a human tradition.

Do you see what is happening?  The Scripture is supposed to qualify and limit our traditions, but it is the canon–which is a human tradition–which qualifies and limits Scripture.

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8 comments on “Canons and monkey-wrenches

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    You should check out John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. I think that your critique holds true for a classically Reformed approach to an ontology of Scripture (when it’s placed in the realm of epistemology), but I don’t think it would fit with the dogmatically thick account of an ontology of Scripture provided by Webster in his book. He places Scripture in the realm of soteriology and sanctification, and thus as an aspect of triune speech. This way revelation is not collapsed into papal or paper (or metropolitan), and the keys of the kingdom are grounded in the divine person and enhypostatic humanity of Jesus Christ.

    On another front, it’s possible — as John Wenham has done — to provide an inductive argument for the canon from the canon by, again, grounding its ontology in Jesus. This avoids your critique.

    And all I’m going to do is make these assertions here, and just suggest, at your leisure, that you at least try to p/u Webster’s book (if you haven’t already). I think Wenham’s book is called “Christ and Scripture”. 🙂

    • Chetnik1945 says:

      Inductive arguments for scripture illustrate the problem: there is no agreed upon criteria, and such criteria it must be noted is a tradition of man, and the Protestant cannot know in advance which set of Jewish scriptures he is using.

      If Webster’s book comes my way, I might read it. But even then, my argument still stands: we see traditions of men limiting the horizon of Scripture, and when we add the phrase “Scripture interprets Scripture,” we see traditions of men determining the hermeneutic of Scripture.

      • Bobby Grow says:

        I don’t understand your first point on knowing which set of Jewish Scriptures; do you mean it was the Masoretic Text type, LXX etc.?

        2) No, on Webster’s point, the “horizon of Scripture” is limited by its placement in the divine speech itself. But I don’t disagree that the idea of canon itself is a tradition; yet saying such does not necessarily mean that the tradition is grounded in man as ectypal, but in the vicarious humanity of Christ as archetypal . . . thus avoiding the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture per se (per its ontological location) and saying that Scripture finds its meaning and inherence in the reality (Jesus the divine person) whom it bears witness to as triune speech. In other words, an “analogy of scripture” is replaced with an “analogy of faith”.

      • Chetnik1945 says:

        Per (1): Most inductive approaches to canon formation along sola scriptura lines take apostolic references to “the Scriptures” as rightly noting the Old Testament. The problem is that different Jewish communities had different lists of books.

        Per (2): With all due respect to your second point, I really don’t understand either what you are saying, or if I understand what I think you are saying, I don’t see how it gets around my point (I am going to expand on this in the next blog post).

        Finally, confessional Calvinists have to say that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” I know, you hold to the evangelical Calvinist variety–which is superior in most parts to Federal Calvinism, but I will expand on that later.

    • Vincent says:

      The “keys of the kingdom” are certainly “grounded” in Christ, so to speak, but they were handed to the Apostles as well. What they bind on earth is bound in heaven, and with their successors as well. St Paul speaks to this reality repeatedly in his epistles, noting the importance of not only apostolic succession through ordination (Holy Orders, if you will) but also the necessity of “holding fast” to those traditions being “traditioned” (paradosis is the word here) or “passed on” and “received” by the Apostles and their successors (e.g. St Timothy or St Titus).

  2. Bobby Grow says:

    1) Yes, and Jamnia doesn’t necessarily help given the controversy around it. Although we do have Jesus, dominically providing reference to the list of books we have now as canonical.

    2) Yeah, I need to re-think my point. I think a more simple way to state this (I was trying to get too Barthian with that point 😉 ) is that we can presume a priori that the whole process is Spirit guided (like appeal to Concursus) — like canon formation and recognition (so the “tradition” itself). Then the next question is how we conceive of that vis-a-vis an ecclesiological understanding.

    Yes, you didn’t have to tell me that Evangelical Calvinism is superior to Federal Calvinism; I know 😉 !

    • Vincent says:

      We also see Jesus directly citing, alluding to and paraphrasing portions of Scripture from the LXX (many of which are from Prophets and Writings not associated with the anti-Christian revision of the OT: the Masoretic text).

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