EO appeal to Tradition (Canon of Scripture)

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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
In all discussions I have with anyone who is Eastern Orthodox (EO) the argument always comes down to Sola Scriptura (no surprise).

The EO position is the following (and I am putting it very simply); they will ask of you,
"How did we receive the canon of Scripture?" Their answer is through tradition; that Jesus taught the Apostles (including Paul) the Apostles taught their students, and their students and so on. All the while preserving the teachings of the Church through oral tradition, narrative and Epistle.

And In the 5th Century, the Church came together and through the Holy Spirit and much debate figured out which books were inspired.

And it was the Church that determined which books were inspired, and so because it was the Church who determined it then the Scriptures and even Sola Scriptura hang on the Church's tradition. Thus, 'proving' tradition to be on the same level or greater than Scripture.
Now my question is, how ought we to respond to this argument, which is always made by the EO? And if I got the argument wrong, then please correct me.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
If memory serves me on this the consensus on the canon occurred much earlier than 5th century.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Did the dudes who ironed out the canon really do so to put themselves over the Scriptures? I don't think so. If they had, the canon would not have been set in stone the way it was.

No. They were looking to acknowledge and preserve the apostolic authority they rightly understood to be greater than theirs. They worked out the canon in order to put themselves under it. They only agreed to recognize a higher authority that was already there.

Anyway, something like that would probably be my attempt at a succinct answer.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Even if we did receive the canon through tradition (which is debatable), this is still a far cry from disproving Sola Scriptura. In order for the argument to work one has to grant the premise that the church was determining what scripture is/was in the formation of the canon by their tradition. This is something that has to be proven not merely stated as something probable or likely.

Furthermore, the canon includes the Old Testament, which though the church of Jesus' day had received from their forefathers, was not established on the basis of tradition or the authority of the church (though many would have liked it that way - Matthew 15:3ff.). Rather the scripture was true and received in faith because it was inspired and could not be broken (John 10:35). Indeed Jesus shows us that the church's adoption of a canon is not according to the church's authority but in accordance to divine revelation, as evidenced by His appeals to scripture and not merely His own authority (though He could rightly claim this). If our Lord submitted Himself to scripture, why not the church? Our traditions must always be judged in light of it, as opposed to the other way around.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
It seems to me that the argument proceeds on basis of an equivocation. Because the Church rendered an ecclesiastical determination, that does not mean that it was a constitutive determination. So for instance the listing of canonical books in the WCF doesn't make those books Scripture: it shows what the Westminster Assembly recognized as Scripture. In other words, the Church acknowledges what is already the case, that such and such books are inspired by God and given to the church as the norming rule of faith and practice; they do not invest said books with such authority.
 

louis_jp

Puritan Board Freshman
i. Their argument misunderstands Sola Scriptura. SS does not mean that scripture is our only source of information or authority, only that it is our only infallible authority. Therefore, one can validly look to history, church authority, etc. in identifying the canon in the first place. As it is sometimes said, we have a fallibly determined collection of infallible books.

ii. The canon is established by the fact that God authored certain books and not others. The church merely recognizes what God has authored. It identifies the canon; it does not create it by its authority.

iii. Their argument against SS applies with equal force to their own position. What they are saying boils down to this: How can you know that scripture is authoritative, without something outside of scripture to authenticate it? Yet, they rely on the authority of "the church." How can they know that the church (their church) is authoritative without something outside "the church" to authenticate it? If our position is circular and self-refuting, so is theirs.
 

Idelette

Puritan Board Graduate
Ultimately, the EO faith is traditionalism, that's the very substance of their religion. So when you address the authority of the church, you are attacking the very foundation of their faith. I think Louis_jp's third point is excellent. It's a circular argument because the church's "authority" had to be given from an outside authority. I would start there if I were you, and ask where the church first received it's authority from God. And at that point address how Scripture is the final and all-sufficient authority.

It is the belief that the EO tradition is closest to the early church so it would be the most authoritative tradition to interpret the Scriptures. They claim that the Protestant church today only has roots in the protestant reformation but not further back. And that is the reason for the many protestant denominations and various theologies that are based on our "traditional interpretations". So, I would address that, and I would also point out how Paul abandoned his traditions and counted it all rubbish for the sake of gaining Christ.

Here are some good resources on EO: Monergism :: Eastern Orthodoxy
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
There is also a more fundamental flaw in their argument. The Church did not gather the Scriptures, the Scriptures gathered the Church. It was the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Scriptures, that effectually called the Church into existence. No other books have that power accompanying them. The Church could only recognize that reality, not control or manipulate that reality. :2cents:
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Found some quotes by Irenaeus (late 2nd Century). There, contrary to the EO position against Sola Scriptura which says that Sola Scriptura is a Reformation invention, Irenaeus shows it to be his view. He writes the following concerning authority and the transmission of authoritative knowledge concerning God and His gospel:[SIZE=+1]

[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith [/SIZE](Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1.1)
[SIZE=+1]Not to be misunderstood regarding the sufficiency of Scripture, he adds:[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]
[/SIZE]

[SIZE=+1]For it unlawful to assert that they [the apostles] preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles [/SIZE](Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1.1).

[SIZE=+1]In regard to the perspicuity of Scripture, he writes:[/SIZE]
[SIZE=+1]
[/SIZE]

[SIZE=+1]Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all , although all do not believe them ... those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]...[/SIZE](Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 27.2).
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
The EO position is the following (and I am putting it very simply); they will ask of you,
"How did we receive the canon of Scripture?" Their answer is through tradition; that Jesus taught the Apostles (including Paul) the Apostles taught their students, and their students and so on. All the while preserving the teachings of the Church through oral tradition, narrative and Epistle.

Now my question is, how ought we to respond to this argument, which is always made by the EO? And if I got the argument wrong, then please correct me.

1) Well, the dilemma proposed by the EO apologist is one that his own communion has not resolved, so he's proposing an alleged crisis for which his own communion has never answered with certainty. Thus if the problem is one for Protestants (which we reject out of hand), then why has his own communion never settled the very issue he seeks to raise? I'd tell him that his own communion has no such high ground on the determination of the canon which he falsely presumes. Take for example the Council of Trullo which sanctioned 4 different lists of the canon! Which one was right? They couldn't all be right! Hence their own theologians acknowledge the confusion that still exists with respect to his alleged dilemma...

Demetrios J. Constantelos: The early church as a whole did not take a definite position for or against the Deuterocanonicals. Church leaders and ecclesiastical writers of both the Greek east and Latin west were not in full agreement. Some preferred the Hebrew canon, while others accepted the longer canon that included the Deuterocanonicals. The ambivalence of ecumenical and local synods (Nicea, 325 CE; Rome, 382; Laodicea, 365; Hippo, 393) was resolved by the Trullan Synod (692). It adopted deliberations of councils that had favored the shorter list, and decisions of other synods that had advocated the longer list. See his article "Eastern Orthodoxy and the Bible" in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 174.

Demetrios J. Constantelos: The canonicity of the Deuterocanonical books is still a disputed topic in Orthodox biblical theology. See his article "Eastern Orthodoxy and the Bible" in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 175.

Meyendorff: The Christian East took a longer time than the West in settling on an agreed canon of Scripture. The principal hesitations concerned the books of the Old Testament which are not contained in the Hebrew Canon (‘shorter’ canon) and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. Fourth-century conciliar and patristic authorities in the East differ in their attitude concerning the exact authority of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith, and Tobit. Athanasius in his famous Paschal Letter 39 excludes them from Scripture proper, but considers them useful for catechumens, an opinion which he shares with Cyril of Jerusalem. Canon 60 of the Council of Laodicea - whether authentic or not - also reflects the tradition of a ‘shorter’ canon. But the Quinisext Council (692) endorses the authority of Apostolic Canon 85, which admits some books of the ‘longer’ canon, including even 3 Maccabees, but omits Wisdom, Tobit, and Judith. John of Damascus (t ca. 753), however, considers Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus as ‘admirable,’ yet fails to include them in the canon. Therefore, in spite of the fact that Byzantine patristic and ecclesiastical tradition almost exclusively uses the Septuagint as the standard Biblical text, and that parts of the 'longer' canon - especially Wisdom - are of frequent liturgical use, Byzantine theologians remain faithful to a ‘Hebrew’ criterion for Old Testament literature, which excludes texts originally composed in Greek. Modern Orthodox theology is consistent with this unresolved polarity when it distinguishes between ‘canonical’ and ‘deuterocanonical’ literature of the Old Testament, applying the first term only to the books of the ‘shorter’ canon. John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), p. 7.

Thus the EO disputant's own communion has never even settled the very issue that he attempts to suggest is a dilemma for Protestants!

2) If the canon cannot be known apart from conciliar pronouncements, then ask him how it is that Alexander of Alexandria knew what the canon of Scripture was before there was ever any such conciliar statement regarding it. Such a recognition of the canon is presupposed by Alexander when he said...

Alexander of Alexandria (d. 328), the spiritual mentor of Athanasius, testified of the Arian heretics in a letter to Alexander of Constantinople: They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures. NPNF2: Vol. III, Theodoret's Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 3, or the translation of this phrase as the letter is preserved in ANF: Vol. VI, Epistle to Alexander, Bishop of the City of Constantinople, "The religious perspicuity of the ancient Scriptures caused them no shame . . ."
Greek text: Οὐ κατήδεσεν αὐτοὺς ἡ τῶν ἀρχαίων Γραφῶν φιλόθεος σαφήνεια. . . Theodoreti Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Liber I, Caput III, PG 82:904.

Moreover, when Jesus disputed with the Jews of his day, he presupposed no such problem when he testified to them, You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me, (Jn. 5:39) for that very statement of our Lord presupposes a sufficient recognition of the canon of Holy Scripture apart from any conciliar delineation of the canon, for there was no precedent established at that time by an council regarding the canon.

3) The EO behaves himself in the same manner of many liberal politicians in our days, in that he seeks to create a crisis, for which he then assumes that his communion alone has the only infallible solution for the very problem which he himself created. How convenient for an apologetic tactic! Even the devil Himself didn't behave himself so fastidiously when the Lord Jesus declared to Him, "It stands inscripturated..." (Matthew 4 & Luke 4). Since his own communion and its alleged "tradition" has never resolved the very issue he raises, he has thus engaged himself in the use of a double standard.

Therefore, we ourselves ought to be cautioned against any argument which terminates on the word of men. When an alleged Christian apologist's most effective tool finds its allegiance with what amounts to the essential equivalent of the tempter's question, Has God indeed said? (Gen. 3:1), it is reflective of a mindset willing to follow a pattern of argumentation owned by the enemy of the souls of men. It was none other than the method of the devil himself in an attempt to subvert the word of the true and living God, thus inciting other creatures to rebel against their Creator, by questioning the certainty of His explicit command. It manifests a willingness to submit the veracity of the Creator's word to the mere fallibility of creature confidence, thus suspending the declaration of ultimate authority until acknowledged by human opinion. God's word needs no sanction by his creatures. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. (1Jn. 5:9).

DTK
 
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P.F.

Puritan Board Freshman
One way to promote discussion on the canon with an Eastern Orthodox person is to point out the difference between their widely accepted Old Testament canon, which is longer than the Roman Catholic canon, and the canon of the Old Testament of men they regard as church fathers, such as Athanasius of Alexandria and John of Damascus. This may help to lead to a discussion of why we (Reformed) accept the 22 book (by Hebrew numbering of the books) Hebrew canon, rather than some of the more expansive but less well informed canons. It may also serve as a platform of pointing out that even if they will insist that our canon is incomplete, they must surely not think that such an incomplete canon is necessarily problematic, unless they will dissociate themselves from those two men that they regard as "saints."
 
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