The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
19th of October, 2014

Recognising—Not Declaring—Canon

Interesting research which touches on the reception and transmission of scripture:

Gathercole identifies a group of seven extra-canonical Gospels with which he will engage: the Gospels of Peter, Truth, Thomas, Philip, Mary, the Egyptians, and Judas. This is the major group with which he compares the four canonical Gospels. His argument then proceeds in five steps.

First, he identifies the apostolic gospel message as a ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei).

He finds these four points in ‘the gospel’ of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which it is widely agreed represents an early, traditional formulation of the gospel message.

In sum, it is not that the canonical Gospels are the only ones which have any of these four ‘rule of faith’ elements—but it is the case that the four canonical Gospels are the only ones which each contain all of the four ‘rule of faith’ elements typified in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
The regula fidei that the researcher uses is essentially a much-stripped-down Apostles’ Creed, with one or two Nicene concerns thrown in. Now, you know that we also said that Apostles’ and Nicene creeds are bound together with our Bible, because they are legitimate rules of the most-holy faith.

The reason the Reformed view is able to deal with such a historical fact as the recognition of canon, by a rule of faith (I could be irritating and say fideistically), is because the Reformed view already by default defines the canon by faith, not by antiquity, multitude, or council. (The Reformation was a restoration of primitive truth, which they, in their blindness, thought was innovation.)

So, even when they appeal to antiquity, a main rule that guided Christian antiquity (“the churches of the apostles!”) was that Christ’s death fulfilled the Scriptures.
The orthodox canon—the Scriptures—had to be known to those who recorgnised and collected the orthodox canon. They referred to the scriptures, which were fulfilled by the Christ, when they were forming the basic rule of faith; they referred to them in that rule of faith.

See, the Roman Catholic apologists (for instance) have this mythical moment, during or after some council, when the canon as we have it was now recognised, and it was now legitimate to.
On the contrary, the Confession of Faith says:

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself.
That is the attitude that receives and transmits scripture. So the Belgic Confession is an authoritative canon list, because it is written by people with an orthodox scripturology. They follow the rule of faith in the Confession, accept the two creeds, and also have this sound scripturology (and also the orthodox soteriology). They recognise by faith, as do we.

In accepting its creed, we append this Confession to our Bible, which follows its canon. Because it declares canon, it receives scripture.
Since it is an orthodox document, and it is bound together with the Bible, it contributes to scripture. They received scripture, as do we, and transmitted it—the Bible we receive, which is 66 books. We add this Confession, and transmit these Scriptures now, not as the work of mere men, but as inspired by the Holy Spirit. We recognise canon by faith—even when canon now means “the Bible, the Two Creeds, and the Confession of Faith.”

Whoever is to accept this canon is going to do so not because someone declared it so—not because I wrote this, for instance—but because they recognise the canon to follow the rule of faith. By faith, people. The just one shall live by faith, not by sight.