Friday, November 18, 2011

Canon Closed

Someone recently asked me to explain why I thought the canon of Scripture is closed. I cited a few arguments for him from various authors and then summarized those arguments as follows:

The only explanation of what it can mean when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away and cease is that after the time of the apostles, the last of whom was Paul - as he was the last to whom Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:8, cf. Hebrews 1:1-2) and therefore he who was to fill up the word of God (Colossians 1:24-26) - the purpose of divine revelation was fulfilled. The apostles laid a foundation to which no other [revealed] knowledge was needed in addition, for what had been revealed was complete or sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17) as opposed to that partial, orally disseminated knowledge which accompanying apostolic signs were designated to validate or attest (Hebrews 2:1-2).

If God is speaking to individuals today, this information would be binding on the consciences of all Christians. This is a serious claim which requires answers to at least these following questions:

How are such claims to be verified? Can anyone point to an actual, verified case?

What answer to the question of why God would speak to an individual today could be given which does not impinge on the formal and material sufficiency of Scripture?

Do such claims presuppose the necessity of apostolic succession, and if so, can such succession be identified?


Reformed Apologist said...

Ryan, how about this? Jesus promised to build his church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus also told his apostles that those who received them received Him. (Matt. 10:40) The implication is that the building project of the Lord was to be founded upon the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone. (Eph. 2:20) Consequently, the words of the apostles and Christ had to be received without error because Jesus promised to build his church upon them, which is now a matter of history given the passing of the apostles. Therefore, the canon is closed, lest the church has no foundation. The apostolic tradition was both oral and written (II Thess. 2:15) but only the written apostolic tradition has been providentially preserved. Accordingly, Scripture alone is what the church is built upon, which must have been God’s intention since Scripture alone is all he left us in keeping with Christ Jesus’ promise to build his church.

Ryan said...

That sounds very like what Clark argued in his commentary on Ephesians 2:20.

//The word kinsman in the previous verse is connected etymologically with house or household. Hence, Paul can pass smoothly from cocitizen to a building with a foundation. This change of metaphor results in an implication not immediately obvious. Since the building is not merely its foundation, but has walls, rooms, and roof, and since the apostles are the foundation and not the roof, the implication is that there are no apostles today. The offices of prophet and apostle are things of the past. No Christian since A.D. 100 has inherited any such things of the past. No one today receives new revelations from God. The canon is closed. Hence the claims of the pope and the Pentecostals are false.

This implication is supported by two arguments. The first is the order of the terms in the verse: apostles and prophets. For all the unity of the Christian church with the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), the prophets referred to here are New Testament prophets. If Paul had wished to mention Old Testament prophets, he would have written “prophets and apostles.” Then, second, an overlapping reason, the church here mentioned contains both Jews and Gentiles, shortly or even already more Gentiles than Jews. Therefore, Paul is speaking of the church in his day, not the church in Abraham’s or Moses’ day. Since now the foundation has been laid, prophecy can be said to have ceased by the end of the first century. The foundation was finished the process of building continues; but as there can be no second cornerstone, so can there be no other apostles and prophets.

Some interpreters (for example, Meyer and Wilson, and also Alford with very poor reasoning) argue that the apostles and prophets could not themselves be the foundation of the church because 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11 say that Christ is the foundation. Alford avoids the ridiculous inference that the apostles had laid the foundation (they certainly did not put Christ into position) by interpreting the phrase to mean “the Apostles’ and Prophets’ foundation – that upon which they as well as yourselves are built.” This would be similar to someone showing a visitor his church. All this complicated juggling is unnecessary when one realizes that figurative language is ambiguous and changes its meaning from one place to another. While 1 Corinthians 3:10 certainly pictures Christ as the foundation, Revelation 21:14 identifies the apostles themselves as the twelve foundations. Not only does a figure of speech have different meanings from one book to another, but one should note the alteration of imagery within these past four verses. In any case, Ephesians here makes the apostles, not Christ, the foundation, for Christ is the cornerstone.

Students who like to delve into small details may observe that the last phrase of the verse can be translated in two ways. The usual translation is, “Christ himself being the cornerstone.” But the pronoun used for himself can be neuter as well as masculine; and hence grammatically one can translate the phrase as “its cornerstone being Christ Jesus.” The only grammatical argument again this second translation is that autou akrog┼Źniaion would have more clearly meant its, that the text’s order of akrog┼Źniaion autou. This has some weight in favor of the usual interpretation, but it is far from conclusive. One must judge from the sense of the context.//