Biblical Canon and Authority

Hello, this is the response I got from a protestant pastor when I questioned how to know what makes up the NT and OT canons and what authority those people have. I am trying to come up with an educated response and would appreciate any help refuting his arguments.


The canon that Protestants champion was established incredibly early during the Councils of Jamnia (between AD 90-118).

As to the OT, the criteria is much the same [as NT], except the authorship needs to be by a recognized prophet, instead of an apostle. Also, just as we Americans know the difference between something written by a forefather and something written by a friend of a forefather, early Jews knew what writing stood the test of legitimacy and what writing had no clear tie to the prophetic line. Accepted books had authority because they were written by those appointed by God, and were recognized as such. Also, canonical books cohered to truth from other canonical books. They were quoted in the NT, used by the early church, universally recognized as being from God. The deutero books don’t share those privileges. They weren’t universally seen as authoritative. They weren’t used by early Christians as normative for faith and life.

The criteria for canonicity is twofold, I’d say, one informal and one formal process. Informally, the canon was agreed upon by the apostles through use and universal recognition. When an entire community adopts and relies on a text because of its ties to the prophets, apostles, or Christ himself, then that book is half way there to canonization. Formally, the process was implemented by dozens of church leaders over several years. The church assumed authority in deciding what books were canonical, but they did so by the precedent set by the NT authors and their treatment of the OT.

Why do the non-canonical books like Baruch contain pseudopigraphal books (like the Letters of Jeremiah) that attest to authorship wholly rejected by scholars? They’re deutero because they don’t merit the labels inerrant or infallible.

The “deutero” books are ripe with incoherent theology, and in many cases, heresy.

Take these two, and there are many more, examples:

Ecclesiasticus 3:30, Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms maketh atonement for sin.

Tobit 12:8-9, 17, It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin.

If anything is clear in scripture, it’s that alms do nothing for the atonement of sin. That’s Catholic, not biblical, doctrine. These notions or alms/sin are rejected by the entire counsel of scripture, so they pose a real problem to those who want to include the respective books in the canon.

He also referenced this


This is a helpful article:

III. Tests of Canonicity

The early church councils applied several basic standards in recognizing whether a book was inspired.

A. Is it authoritative (“Thus saith the Lord”)?

B. Is it prophetic (“a man of God” 2 Peter 1:20)?

  • A book in the Bible must have the authority of a spiritual leader of Israel (O.T. – prophet, king, judge, scribe) or and apostle of the church (N.T. – It must be based on the testimony of an original apostle.).

C. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?

D. Is it dynamic – demonstrating God’s life-changing power (Hebrew 4:12)?

E. Is it received (accepted and used by believers – 1 Thessalonians 2:13)?

(Norman L. Geisler & William Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible. pp. 137-144).

IV. The History of Canonization

A. Old Testament Canon – Recognizing the correct Old Testament books

  1. Christ refers to Old Testament books as “scripture” (Matthew 21:42, etc.).

  2. The Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90) officially recognized our 39 Old Testament books.

  3. Josephus, the Jewish historian (A.D. 95), indicated that the 39 books were recognized as authoritative.

B. New Testament Canon – Recognizing the correct New Testament books

  1. The apostles claimed authority for their writings (Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14).

  2. The apostle’s writings were equated with Old Testament scriptures (2 Peter 3:1, 2, 15, 16).

  3. The Council of Athenasius (A.D. 367) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) recognized the 27 books in our New Testament today as inspired.

V. The Disputed but non-canonical books

A. The Apocrypha is not scripture.

The Apocryphal books are 15 books written in the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew. They record some of the history of that time period and various other religious stories and teaching. The Catholic Bible (Douay Version) regards these books as scripture. The Apocrypha includes some specific Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory and prayer for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:39-46), and salvation by works (almsgiving – Tobit 12:9). Interestingly, the Catholic Church officially recognized these books as scripture in A.D. 1546, only 29 years after Martin Luther criticized these doctrines as unbiblical.

Below are listed several additional reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha as inspired:

  1. The Jews never accepted the Apocrypha as scripture.

  2. The Apocrypha never claims to be inspired (“Thus saith the Lord” etc.) – In fact, 1 Maccabees 9:27denies it.

  3. The Apocrypha is never quoted as authoritative in scriptures. (Although Hebrews 11:35-38 alludes to historical events recorded in 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42).

  4. Matthew 23:35 – Jesus implied that the close of Old Testament historical scripture was the death of Zechariah (400 B.C.). This excludes any books written after Malachi and before the New Testament.

B. Other disputed books are also not scripture

  1. There were other books that some people claimed to be scripture. Some of them were written in the intertestamental period and called Old Testament psuedopigrapha (or “false writings”). Others were written after the apostolic age (2nd century A.D. and following). These are called New Testament psuedopigrapha.

The writers often ascribed these books to the 1st century apostles (Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, etc.). Evidently, they figured they would be read more widely with an apostle’s name attached. They include some fanciful stories of Jesus’ childhood and some heretical doctrines. No orthodox Christian seriously considered them to be inspired.

  1. There were some other more sincerely written books that had devotional value and reveal some of the insights of Christian leaders after the 1st century (Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, etc.). Although they are valuable historically, and even spiritually helpful, they also do not measure up to the standards of canonicity and were not recognized as scripture.

Most Protestant pastors go through years of study at seminary. It would require a similar amount of advanced study to not merely refute, but to convince.

Actually he’s out to lunch with that response.
Here’s the scoop on Jamnia.

The Council That Wasn’t

What exactly did the council of Jamnia conclude and did it actually happen? (Radio program)

And this should also help. Catholic bible more books than protestant bible?

There are no “Apocryphal” writings in the Catholic Bible and the only reason anyone ever questioned them was that for centuries they had no copies in Hebrew. That changed in the 1950s when they were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Also, if they aren’t canon then exactly why are about 90 +% of the New Testament citations of the OT taken from them? That’s a fact that even n-C scholars have pointed out.

Oh, and the church held them as canon all along and the only reason that Trent spoke on the issue is because the need had arisen to defend them against guys like Luther…ask him if he would also like to dump Esther and the books of the NT that Luther questioned?

Thanks for the reply! It helped tremendously. And if anyone wants a good laugh or see why I don’t trust his education, please read the following about Mary that he included in the email.


As to Mary, the distinction between worship and veneration is a bit of a semantic game. Here is where you’re pulling from when you distinguish: "Idolatry etymologically denotes Divine worship given to an image, but its signification has been extended to all Divine worship given to anyone or anything but the true God . . . An essential difference exists between idolatry and the veneration of images practised [sic] in the Catholic Church, viz., that while the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers, the Catholic knows “that in images there is no divinity or virtue on account of which they are to be worshipped, that no petitions can be addressed to them, and that no trust is to be placed in them.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)

In the Bible, worship clearly includes kneeling, praying, and devotion. What the Catholic church calls “veneration” looks identical, when it comes to how believers approach Mary. She’s bowed before. Prayed to. And used as an object of devotion, both in mind and heart. I can choose not to call those actions worship, but then I’d be pressed to redefine worship. Mary is also given divine powers in Catholicism, being able to pardon sin and grant divine favor. Needless to say, scripture makes no allowance for that.

:whacky: Has no actual clue as to what the church teaches. It’s like asking a garbage man about rocket science. You’ll get an answer, but would you put your life on the line relying on his answers?

Catholic encyclopedia isn’t even authoritative. Tell him to bring you contextual citations from authentic and authoritative Catholic documents that support what he has asserted. He won’t do it and can’t because those documents would contradict his arguments and allegations.

It’s really pretty sad because Catholics would know if we were worshiping and adoration is and we already know who we worship.

Tell him to get Fr. Oscar Lukefahr’s excellent text book **Mary : Christ’s Mother and Ours **and study it with his Bible open beside it the way I did.

Clown shoes anyone…i1015.photobucket.com/albums/af273/Apple_Devol/Paint/clown.jpg

:whacky: Has no actual clue as to what the church teaches. It’s like asking a garbage man about rocket science. You’ll get an answer, but would you put your life on the line relying on his answers?

Catholic encyclopedia isn’t even authoritative. Tell him to bring you contextual citations from authentic and authoritative Catholic documents that support what he has asserted. He won’t do it and can’t because those documents would contradict his arguments and allegations.

It’s really pretty sad because Catholics would know if we were worshiping and adoring and we already know who we worship. God alone…

Tell him to get Fr. Oscar Lukefahr’s excellent text book **Mary : Christ’s Mother and Ours **and study it with his Bible open beside it the way I did.

Clown shoes anyone…i1015.photobucket.com/albums/af273/Apple_Devol/Paint/clown.jpg

People bowed and genuflected before kings. In the Bible we see people “worship” King David or throw themselves flat on their face before angels.

It’s the modern equation of these type of acts of honor and veneration with worship that is an “innovation.”

He doesn’t seem to realize that this could be applied to his own arguments.

In the Bible, worship clearly includes kneeling, praying, and devotion. What the Catholic church calls “veneration” looks identical, when it comes to how believers approach Mary.

Looks can be deceiving. Oh wait…that’s a logical thought process an therefore will not work with his bias.

She’s bowed before. Prayed to. And used as an object of devotion, both in mind and heart. I can choose not to call those actions worship, but then I’d be pressed to redefine worship.

Bowed before? I don’t know what he’s talking about. Never seen any such thing. I will kneel before a statue of Mary just because it serves to help me focus on her just as a photo of my wife or sons would. She is the 2nd most unique person in all of history and my main favor I ask of her is that she help me to love her son the way she does. (Talk about a personal relationship with Jesus!) His definition of prayer is messed up since it makes it synonymous with adoration, which is completely wrong. He has no sense of The Intercession & Communion of Saints (Feel free to use that too). Devotion is not adoration any more than devotion to one’s wife is.

He’s having a good time whacking that straw man.

Mary is also given divine powers in Catholicism, being able to pardon sin and grant divine favor. Needless to say, scripture makes no allowance for that.

I know of exactly no Catholic teaching that says Mary pardon’s sin, so he’s nuts there…

As for granting favor, ask if she is the mother of the messiah or not because if she is then that makes her the the Gebirah (Queen Mother) of a Davidic king of Israel (and all of creation) and so fulfills the scriptural role of intercession that began with King Solomon.

She displays this intercessory function in John 2 when she does 2 important things.

  1. She goes to her Divine son in intercession for the wedding couple, and
  2. in so doing she actually gets Jesus to begin His ministry earlier than he planned. This shows that she knew her position and so did Our Blessed Lord.

Further, point out that Mary’s message has been the same in every apparition as it was that day at the wedding in Cana. John 2:5 says it all. “Do whatever he tells you.”

:thumbsup: Exactly!

Those are some of the few arguments I have already typed up!

Sorry to back track, but when discussing the OT canons and their authority, is bringing in the authority of the people who defined the canon a good argument? For example, what authority did the Jews have establishing the OT canon. If they aren’t infallible, then how can a book that claims infallibility be infallible? If they submit to an authoritative source, then the idea of Sola Scriptura would render nil, would it not? <—That may need cleaning up for clarity.

But basically:

Catholics- makes sense to me
Jesus(infallible)–(gives infallibility to Church)–>Church(infallible)–>Establish Bible(infallible)

Protestants- doesn’t make sense to me, how can a fallible source establish an infallible Bible?
Source of Authority(fallible)–>Establishes Bible(infallible)

The Pastor cited a passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia that perfectly contradicts what he said.

It is not that you have to “trust” that his education, but you must respect it and approach him from a position of humility. Putting together a few rebuttals you just learned from the internet will not change his mind. He has developed an entire personal theology over years of study, that he believes is internally consistent. You will not win an argument with him - only the Holy Spirit can do that!

Trying to trap him with facts, will backfire. The devil can play word games, and a good Christian will resist any sort of manipulation that relates to changing his faith. Instead, you would have to become a teacher yourself, learning Catholic theology and history in depth.

If you learn the truth yourself, perhaps, if you share tidbits of this truth with him, and ask him to clarify his beliefs, you might help open him up to the Holy Spirit more thoroughly. Only the Holy Spirit can move the devout Christian’s heart on matters of faith.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses. (Exodus 9:12)

I’m actually not arguing with him. My girlfriend is a Protestant (United Methodist) and she has been researching the Catholic faith because of me. She wanted to reach out to a Protestant pastor of the same denomination to see why he believes what he believes, because if anyone has a logical answer, it would be him. I’m a logical thinker, so if something does not add up, it doesn’t make sense to me (something I have never struggle with in the Catholic faith). I am not trying to trap or convert the pastor. I am merely pointing out the inconsistent logic behind what he is presenting and asking for an explanation. I have a real curiosity behind his reasoning, and since I am not well versed in apologetics, I decided to ask for help. Also, I respect the man, but it is hard to take someone seriously when they are extremely misinformed about the Catholic faith. Every email that I have sent has been studied with deliberate care on the UMC faith. I didn’t spew any ignorant Protestant misconceptions or misinformation. I took time to try to understand his belief, but there are questions that aren’t answered on the UMC website, so that is why I am reaching out to him.

I fail to see why and how Jews during this time period hold any authority for Christians, or hold authority to declare what is and what is not Scripture. The very people that opposed St. Paul, St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles now have authority to determine Scripture?!?!?

As to the OT, the criteria is much the same [as NT], except the authorship needs to be by a recognized prophet, instead of an apostle.

1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Job, Esther, Ruth, etc, etc, etc were not written by prophets.

Also, just as we Americans know the difference between something written by a forefather and something written by a friend of a forefather, early Jews knew what writing stood the test of legitimacy and what writing had no clear tie to the prophetic line.

Early Jews didn’t recognize God Himself when He came in the flesh. And they didn’t recognize the New Covenant.

Accepted books had authority because they were written by those appointed by God, and were recognized as such. Also, canonical books cohered to truth from other canonical books.

Ask him why he doesn’t accept the Didache. It is the teaching of the Apostles, written very early in the 1st century, and coheres to truth from other canonical books.

They were quoted in the NT, used by the early church, universally recognized as being from God. The deutero books don’t share those privileges.

The most widely quoted version of the OT in the NT writings is the Septuagint, which contains the deuterocanon. There are also things in the NT that ONLY come from the deuterocanon, such as the story of the woman with seven sons. (there is no other reference in the OT to eternal life after torture except in 2 Maccabees)

They weren’t universally seen as authoritative. They weren’t used by early Christians as normative for faith and life.

Each group of Jews considered a different canon of Scripture. The Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes all had a different canon of what they considered Scripture. So there was NO universal list of Scripture.

Additionally, NONE of the early Reformers had the same canon of Scripture either. Luther rejected the deuterocanon and 4 books of the NT. Calvin rejected the deuterocanon but accepted all the NT. etc etc.

The criteria for canonicity is twofold, I’d say, one informal and one formal process. Informally, the canon was agreed upon by the apostles through use and universal recognition.

What is his source for this claim? Considering the Gospel of John and Revelation were written when all other Apostles had been martyred, I fail to see how they agreed to them. Second, there is no informal or formal recognition of Apostles. The only item we have is Peter declaring some of Paul’s writings Scripture. But that doesn’t mean Peter’s writing is Scripture, so that declaration is an assumption without support.

When an entire community adopts and relies on a text because of its ties to the prophets, apostles, or Christ himself, then that book is half way there to canonization.

Ask him for examples of this specifically from history. Canons varied wildly among communities in the early centuries. That was the reason the Church formally determined a canon, to make the Mass uniform. They wanted to make sure that the readings in the Mass were the same for the whole Catholic Church.

Formally, the process was implemented by dozens of church leaders over several years. The church assumed authority in deciding what books were canonical, but they did so by the precedent set by the NT authors and their treatment of the OT.

Ask him for a citation for this. Who, when, where and why. Who exactly what it that decided this and when?

Why do the non-canonical books like Baruch contain pseudopigraphal books (like the Letters of Jeremiah) that attest to authorship wholly rejected by scholars? They’re deutero because they don’t merit the labels inerrant or infallible.

The letter of Jude mentions book of Enoch. Does this mean it is not Scripture?

The “deutero” books are ripe with incoherent theology, and in many cases, heresy.

It can’t be heresy if it is Scripture. It’s only “heresy” to him because it conflicts with his personal theology and interpretation.

Take these two, and there are many more, examples:

Ecclesiasticus 3:30, Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms maketh atonement for sin.

Tobit 12:8-9, 17, It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin.

If anything is clear in scripture, it’s that alms do nothing for the atonement of sin. That’s Catholic, not biblical, doctrine. These notions or alms/sin are rejected by the entire counsel of scripture, so they pose a real problem to those who want to include the respective books in the canon.

Jesus seemed to think differently of the widow’s mite.

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