A question about the formation of the canon that has bearing on presuppositionalism

Status
Not open for further replies.

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
Often Van Til talks about how special revelation is self-attesting, carrying its evidence in itself. I used to take this to mean that the actual words of Scripture are the kind that make people think, "This is God's Word" -- just as a friend might recognize another friend's terminology or style of writing in a letter. But, due to the fact that many believers could not point out a Bible verse from a similar Qur'anic verse, or due to the fact that, even if they could, it would not be due to some aura about the Biblical verse, it is quite obvious that Scripture cannot be self-attesting in this sense. Scripture cannot be self-attesting in the sense that the specific wording makes us think of its divine authorship.

Thus, what I am trying to understand is the nature of Scripture's self-attestation. This has been my train of thought to reach a tentative conclusion: when we were regenerated, we were convinced of a Gospel-system; we were convinced that we are sinners and that God saves us by grace (note: those two propositions define "Gospel-system" as I use it later in this post). And we understand that, historically speaking, this Gospel-system is always associated with the Bible, the Protestant canon. When we hear the Gospel preached, this Gospel-system is seen to be self-attesting, and then, due to the obvious connection between the Bible and the Gospel-system, we accept the Bible as authoritative. And once we've got the Bible as authoritative, presuppositionalism can get off the ground and wreak havoc.

However, during the formation of the canon, there was obviously no completed canon which could be historically understood to be associated with the Gospel-system. How could Scripture be viewed as self-evident, then, during this time? This question, to me, seems crucial to presuppositionalist tenets. For if it is not the case that the specific words of Scripture are what make Scripture self-attesting, and if it is not the case that a blatantly obvious connection exists between the self-attesting Gospel system and a set of texts, then it does not make sense how one could, at the time that the canon was being formed, know in some more immediate sense that God was the author of the canonical texts. Some other way would have to be offered for someone to know that a given text is divinely authored (and therefore that that text should be canonized), and this way must be non-inferential -- or at least close to being non-inferential -- for the other alternative to an immediate belief in a text's divine authorship is historical evidence to show that Scripture's canonization was an honest process. Yet once we have to appeal to historical evidence for honest canonization, the unbeliever's presuppositions can impose unreal standards, and all the problems of evidentialist apologetics set in. If some historical evidence must be offered to make it reasonable to believe that Scripture is self-attesting, then Scripture is not self-attesting -- because in that case it would have to be undergirded by historical evidences -- and therefore presuppositionalism suffers a large hit.

I presume the answer has something to do with the miraculous gifts that are nonexistent today (or at least, those gifts that cessationalists believe are nonexistent today). For in such a case, the specific texts, or the authors of the texts, would have a divine sign to be self-evidently supporting them. In other words, just as God's own voice prior to the NT canon carried its own self-evidence with each word He spoke, so also miraculous gifts would allow NT documents to have a divine authorship that prompted the early church to accept them.

But is this answer acceptable? It seems to me that canonization occurred apart from such signs -- at least, some canonization. Perhaps the saints' identification of the Gospel-system in a text made it canonical...

Yeah, I would appreciate some help.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
Why is the existence of the received canon an issue in this? The canon existed in various forms before its final reception and nothing therein makes its self-testification void. Van Til argued that the non-believer must necessarily borrow from the believer's worldview, thus their epistemologies were not fully formed.

A good read is found here:
PA016

AMR
 

chbrooking

Puritan Board Junior
I think we should be careful not to too radically distinguish the word from its Author. As it is God who speaks, it cannot but be self-attesting, as there is nothing by which we might stand in judgment over it. There is no difference between this and the rest of your argument. If we can subject the scriptures to such a test, then we could subject God to such a test (as they are His words), in which case we've given up the very God attested in the scriptures.

I understand your point about people recognizing it. However, I'd point out two things. First, quantity and context is relevant. "The" occurs in the text. So it is God's word. But AS "the", it's not. It's only when it is presented as a unit sufficient to be uniquely God's word. Secondly, that people don't recognize it touches their suppression of it. Just as the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not receive it, and just as it is clear in them because God has manifested it to them, and yet they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. I would say that our inability to recognize God's word has to do with our sinfulness, rather than to its lack of clarity. And, just as we cannot escape the knowledge of God, however hard we try, so we cannot escape the self-authentication of the scriptures, however much we deceive ourselves about it. :2cents:
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I think we should be careful not to too radically distinguish the word from its Author. As it is God who speaks, it cannot but be self-attesting, as there is nothing by which we might stand in judgment over it. [...]

I understand your point about people recognizing it. However, I'd point out two things. First, quantity and context is relevant. "The" occurs in the text. So it is God's word. But AS "the", it's not. It's only when it is presented as a unit sufficient to be uniquely God's word. Secondly, that people don't recognize it touches their suppression of it. Just as the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not receive it, and just as it is clear in them because God has manifested it to them, and yet they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. I would say that our inability to recognize God's word has to do with our sinfulness, rather than to its lack of clarity. And, just as we cannot escape the knowledge of God, however hard we try, so we cannot escape the self-authentication of the scriptures, however much we deceive ourselves about it. :2cents:

Just to let you know, I was previously and still am of the position (until a couple weeks ago) that all of Scripture was clearly God's Word and had a self-attesting nature to it. I just am disputing my understanding of the nature of this self-attestation.

Even a believer cannot pick out a given Bible verse from a similar Qur'anic verse; and even if he could, it would not be due to some special wording or phrasing of the former (e.g., it might be that the believer happened to memorized that specific Bible verse). In this case, if regenerates can have trouble identifying God's Word over against another holy text, then something else must make it self-attesting.

The one thing that might work for us here is what I bolded above. You mentioned talking about the "unit" of Scripture. If the "unit" can be reduced, such that each individual book can be understood as divinely authored, then the self-attestation makes significantly more sense. In fact, I am pretty sure that's the answer. :D I have to go now; I'll get back to this later.

Patrick, the canon comes into play here because during canonization, the Church recognized which texts were written by God and then included them in the canon of Scripture. But if there is no specific wording or phrasing that obviously points to divine authorship, then some other criterion must be used. The question of canonization plays a huge role in the nature of Scripture's self-attestation, and Scripture's self-attestation obviously plays a huge role in presuppositionalism.
 

Craig

Puritan Board Senior
The sort of question you're asking led one of my best friends to Rome...

I'm not saying it's a bad question, mind you...just that getting our ducks in what we think is a logical row can lead to tidy, but deadly, conclusions.

Triablogue has been discussing the cannon as of late...here's a link to a number of those posts.
 

chbrooking

Puritan Board Junior
The one thing that might work for us here is what I bolded above. You mentioned talking about the "unit" of Scripture. If the "unit" can be reduced, such that each individual book can be understood as divinely authored, then the self-attestation makes significantly more sense. In fact, I am pretty sure that's the answer. :D I have to go now; I'll get back to this later.

That was, indeed, my point.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
The one thing that might work for us here is what I bolded above. You mentioned talking about the "unit" of Scripture. If the "unit" can be reduced, such that each individual book can be understood as divinely authored, then the self-attestation makes significantly more sense. In fact, I am pretty sure that's the answer. :D I have to go now; I'll get back to this later.

That was, indeed, my point.

Excellent. Praise the Lord.

So, to explicate my thought and to have onlooking readers understand exactly what my error was above, I was making a false dichotomy: I posited that either (1) the total canon of Scripture is connected with a self-attesting Gospel-system, or (2) the smallest particular of Scripture (which, logically, would be each word of Scripture, as you intelligently observed) is self-attesting. Then, since (1) was inapplicable at the time of canonization, and since (2) is just false, I was in a bit of a quagmire. For if (1) was inapplicable during the time of canonization, then present-day believers cannot reliably appeal to the fact that the Protestant canon is historically linked with a self-attesting Gospel-system without first giving evidence for the honesty of Christian canonization. And if they have to do that, then evidentialism, with all its weaknesses, reigns. So, the upshot of this false dichotomy (if it were true) is that evidence for the honesty of the early church's canonization process would be necessary before anyone could take Scripture as self-attesting. And that is a problem indeed.

But that dichotomy, as I just said, is false. It is rather the case that each book of Scripture, the subunit of the canon, has its own divine self-attestation. And, to help out in the canonization process, this was supplemented by Spirit-wrought miracles -- i.e., not only did the early church have self-attesting books to accept as canonical; they also had miracles to back up the books' own self-attestation. (I think so...I would appreciate correction or confirmation on this last point regarding miracles.)

Therefore, now, since the canon is completed, we New Covenant believers have both a self-attesting Gospel-system which is historically connected to the entire canon and, moreover, the subunits of the canon, i.e., the individual books of Scripture, that are themselves self-attesting. This allows Scripture to be self-attesting without having to resort to evidentialism in order to establish the honesty of the creation of the Christian canon.

Problem solved. :cool:
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Of course, we need to understand self-attesting in a somewhat relative way. Maybe not each and every believer will be equally convinced of each book's authenticity, but definitely the majority of the books to the majority of the believers. Luther doubted James and (I've heard) Calvin questioned Song of Solomon.

I think this qualification is important, because without it we can't make sense of some of the early church controversy over the canon. Obviously, not every bishop was equally convinced of every book. Regarding the OT, Josephus places the canonical OT books in a separate class from other writings b/c they are the work of a recognizable line of prophets (possibly connected to miracle attestation), a criterion that is similar to the NT books being connected to the apostles or the apostolic circle.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
The sort of question you're asking led one of my best friends to Rome...

I'm not saying it's a bad question, mind you...just that getting our ducks in what we think is a logical row can lead to tidy, but deadly, conclusions.

Triablogue has been discussing the cannon as of late...here's a link to a number of those posts.

Thank you for the warning. I think this really reinforces the necessity of praying that the Spirit can bring us to correct answers. For while we can get to some answer that might organize what we already know (e.g., that some authoritative Roman Church is the mother of the canon), there can very easily be some other, much more adequate, answer.

Thank you also for the link. I enjoy understanding the process of canonization; I just like to ensure that I am allowed my Scriptural presupposition (i.e., in a sovereign God Who controls history) at the starting point of discussing canonization -- which this thread directly addresses.

-----Added 5/27/2009 at 05:34:41 EST-----

Of course, we need to understand self-attesting in a somewhat relative way. Maybe not each and every believer will be equally convinced of each book's authenticity, but definitely the majority of the books to the majority of the believers. Luther doubted James and (I've heard) Calvin questioned Song of Solomon.

I think this qualification is important, because without it we can't make sense of some of the early church controversy over the canon. Obviously, not every bishop was equally convinced of every book. Regarding the OT, Josephus places the canonical OT books in a separate class from other writings b/c they are the work of a recognizable line of prophets (possibly connected to miracle attestation), a criterion that is similar to the NT books being connected to the apostles or the apostolic circle.

I think this statement from above is fitting here:

I would say that our inability to recognize God's word has to do with our sinfulness, rather than to its lack of clarity.

Of course, a reasonable conclusion from the Bible's objective clarity is that a majority of regenerates will accept those books; but the flesh and the devil can still play a role to keep this majority stance from being unanimous, as with Luther and the book of James.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top