Whitaker on the Canon, Part 1

I thought it was fascinating that Whitaker did not first treat of the authority of Scripture in his book. Instead, he argues about the canon. There is a very good reason for this particular order. And that is that one cannot really speak about the authority of the canon unless the canon is defined first. Which books have (potentially in the argument) authority and which do not?

Whitaker starts off defining canon this way: “The books of scripture are called canonical, because they contain the standard and rule of our faith and morals. For the scripture is in the church what the law is in a state.” (emphasis original, p. 27). The canon is the rule of faith and practice. He quotes Augustine (I will be seeking to track down patristic quotations and give them in both translation and original whenever possible, though I will not be exhaustive in this: only what I deem the more important quotations will I track down), saying “whatever belongs to faith and moral life may be found in the scriptures” (p. 28). Although it is not mentioned here, the quotation comes from De Doctrina Christiana, which has been translated recently by Edmund Hill in the New City Press version as Teaching Christianity. There, it reads “The fact is, after all, that in the passages that are put plainly in scripture is to be found everything that that touches upon faith, and good morals, that is to say hope and charity, which we dealt with in the previous book.” This is available in the original Latin series Patrologia Latinae on Google books here, and the quotation in Latin is on page 42. Augustine goes on to say (quoting Hill’s version): “instances from the plainer passages are used to cast light on the more obscure utterances, and the testimony of some undoubted judgments is used to remove uncertainties from those that are more doubtful” (ibid.). Here we actually see the sufficiency of Scripture, as well as the perspicuity of Scripture. For Augustine clearly states here that everything that touches upon faith and good morals is found plainly in scripture (of course Augustine does not believe that all passages in scripture are clear: but then, neither do any Protestants of whom I am aware). Further, we see the rule of scripture interpreting scripture here as well, where the more clear scriptures shed light on the less clear. He goes on to note that a good memory is of the greatest value, therefore, in rightly interpreting scripture.

If the fathers are right about the importance of the canon, then the question becomes one of which books are canonical. Here the Romanists and the Protestants differ on the matter of six books in particular: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus). That the Romanists still have this difference with Protestants is clear from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 40 (section IV 120), although there it is clear that Baruch is regarded as canonical as well. According to Whitaker (29), the Jesuits interpreted Trent to include Baruch, the Hymn of the Three Children, Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, and the additions to Esther. However, these are not explicitly mentioned in Trent or the Catechism, except Baruch (see Session IV of the Council of Trent).

The Prophets Samuel and Elijah as Preachers

Continuing on in Old’s book, we come to an interesting distinction he notes from Roland de Vaux. This distinction is that “priests were concerned with the interpretation and application of the Word of God as it was revealed in the law of Moses, while the prophets were concerned with proclaiming the Word of God as God revealed that Word directly to the prophet” (p. 41). Undoubtedly, this is a bit simplistic, as there were preachers who also proclaimed a new word from the Lord. Ezra was one of these. However, the distinction is still helpful, as long as it is remembered that the preaching of the Word of God IS the Word of God (while it is faithful to the Word of God, of course).

What motivated prophets to say “Thus saith the Lord?” Old says that “It was not that they were so convinced of the truth of their interpretation of current events and so impassioned by the moral imperatives of what they thought ought to be done that they were willing to call their view the word of God in order to get people to listen. As they understood it, God had given them His Word” (p. 42).

Old asks the question what Samuel was doing in Shiloh with old Eli (p. 44). The answer was almost certainly that he (probably along with other boys) were “being taught the sacred traditions, both the written and the oral ones” (p. 44). In terms of the distinction noted above, Samuel also constitutes something of a crossover, since he combined both priestly and prophetic duties in one person. Given the fact that he was a judge, he also had a somewhat kingly function as well. Von Rad points comes to the conclusion that Samuel can best be regard as a preacher of the Law (Old Testament Theology, 2:7, referenced on p. 44 of Old).

When it comes to Elijah, he must be vigorously contrasted with the ecstatic Canaanite prophets (pp. 45-46). Elijah was something “much more profound.” Elijah mediated the Law to the people, especially in terms of the first and second commandments, as the incident on Mt. Carmel indicates. Both of these two prophets understood the necessity of preaching the Law of God to the people of God.

The Medieval Scholastic Doctrine of Scripture, part 1

Chapter one of volume two of Richard Muller’s magnum opus is concerned with the doctrine of Scripture as it developed over the course of the Medieval period.

Muller notes that “The doctrine of Scripture was, after all, not an independent locus (topic of theology, LK) or quaestio (question, in the technically scholastic sense, LK) until the second half of the sixteenth century” (p. 23). This was surprising to me. The reason for this late development is the Reformation itself. Anything said about Scripture before the Reformation was included in the sections on prolegomena. Indeed, the doctrine did not really receive much explicit notice at all until the high scholastic era of the Middle Ages (p. 25). In the course of the Reformation, the debate between the Reformed/Lutheran, on the one hand, and the Romanists, on the other hand, meant that the topic of Scripture came into its own as a separate locus. The other factor Muller notes is that, in order for there to be a separate doctrine of Scripture, there must arise a “distinction between Scripture as source and doctrine as result – and such a distinction itself took centuries to arise” (p. 23).

Muller says that “the formulation of a doctrine of Scripture virtually presupposes the formulation of the other doctrines in the theological system and assumes an exegetical, hermeneutical, and methodological analysis of those doctrines from the perspective of their relationship to and use of the text of Scripture” (p. 23). In other words, all the doctrines of the faith are closely intertwined.

As with many other loci, the Reformed doctrine of Scripture was not in radical continuity or discontinuity with the Medieval traditions (p. 24). Instead, there is continuity and discontinuity in various ways. Medieval theology certainly constitutes a backdrop to the Reformed understanding of Scripture.

The Medieval doctrine of Scripture manifested “a relative fluidity of the canon” (p. 30). Different authors regard different books as inspired, ranging from the Shepherd of Hermas to the Revelation of Peter. Muller notes (as does Whitaker in many places) that the Apocrypha, THE battle ground in terms of the canon issue between Rome and Protestants, was quite commonly rejected by the Medieval theologians (such as Hugh of St. Victor, see references on p. 31 to Patrologia Latina 175, columns 15-17).

The Medieval period did not draw sharp distinctions between exegesis and doctrine, as we tend to do today. Instead, “the language of Scripture and the language of theology flowed into one another. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, one cannot distinguish firmly between biblical and theological language, but only between the fundamental elements of theological language learned from Scripture and the other aspects and elements of theological language learned from the larger tradition and used to interpret Scripture and to formulate doctrine” (p. 33).

The Medievals interpreted Scripture using the quadriga. The quadriga is a four-fold method of interpretation involving the literal, the allegorical, the tropological, and the anagogical methods of interpretation. The literal describes what really happens in the text. The allegorical is how one understands one thing through another. The tropological is moral declaration, and has to do with the ordering of behavior. And the anagogical is the vertical, almost-Platonic leading into “higher things” (p. 35). However, even within the Medieval tradition, there started to be leanings towards a more heavy emphasis on the literal interpretation. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas were “largely responsible” (p. 35) for this shift. They understood the literal as being foundational for the other three methods. Aquinas, in particular, argued that the literal sense contains within it every truth necessary for salvation (p. 36, quoting ST Ia, q. 1, art. 1).

The Medievals were considerably more sophisticated in their interpretations that we tend to think they were. For instance, they recognized the importance of genre for correct interpretation (see p. 37). They even stated that Scripture mostly contains the history of salvation (p. 38)! The historia salutis thus has an ancient pedigree, even in doctrinal formulation.

As to the issue of authority of Scripture, “the emerging concept of theology as a science” (p. 42) had a profound relationship to the inspiration of Scripture. This is so because “logically derived conclusions, no matter how expert and precise the logic, cannot be endowed with certainty unless certainty is known to reside in the principles from which they have been drawn” (p. 43). Hence, “If theology is to be a divine scientia, it must rest on revelation” (p. 43, quoting Aquinas, ST Ia, q. 1, art. 1; art. 8, ad. 2).

Why the Scripture Debate?

I recently announced a shift in this blog’s emphasis from the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith alone) to the formal principle of the Reformation (Scripture alone). The reason I have done this is not difficult to assess. A denial of the one will eventually result in a denial of the other. The two doctrines are inextricably intertwined. For how will we know about salvation unless God tells us? And what has God told us but Jesus’ Person and Work, which comes to us via justification? It is no accident that the attack on justification characteristic of our times has come lock-step with an attack on the doctrine of Scripture. No doubt, the people who are advancing these views think that they are being more faithful to Scripture, not less. Genuine questions that arise in the study of Scripture make these men uncomfortable with the older explanations, and so they seek to find more up-to-date answers.

Take Dr. Peter Enns, for example (who is listed as a visiting scholar at Rev. Craig Higgins’s church in New York). He has recently come to the conclusion that Adam is not the father of the entire human race. Why is that? He has difficulty with the traditional explanation of where Cain got his wife. He argues that Genesis does not support the reading that Adam is the father of the whole human race. One wonders why Eve is explicitly named “Eve” because she was the mother of all living. Notice that the syntax shows that the reasoning is not said to be Adam’s explicitly, but the author’s. The author reflects what Adam thought, namely, that Eve was the mother of all living beings. Of course, vitally important in this discussion is the Adam-Christ typology that works itself out in Romans 5. I’m not sure how Enns would deal with this question, other than to say that Romans 5 should not impact how we read Genesis 2-3.

Other issues with Enns revolve around his book Inspiration and Incarnation, upon which see the outstanding critique that Dr. Richard Gaffin made of it. I cannot really improve upon it, and so I will not even try.

A Great Alternative

I have just learned that there will be an alternative motion to the Strategic Plan proposed at the GA. It comes from the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, and is largely the work of Rev. Jon Payne. Read the full proposal here. I couldn’t agree more with Jon Payne’s analysis, or with his solution to the issues. This blog salutes Rev. Payne for upholding confessional truth, and directing us back to Jesus, our true center.

At Tim’s request, I am now including a small “blurb” about the Strategic Plan, and also Jon Payne’s alternative.

The Strategic Plan is an attempt by the Administrative Committee to address some of the difficulties currently facing the PCA. The narrative plan is available here. One would get a fairly decent sense of where the Plan is headed by reading all the highlighted material. The Plan consists of an analysis of some of the problems facing the PCA, along with some proposed solutions. The solutions include some controversial ideas. The ones most controversial have been making a mandatory support of the AC committee across the board for all PCA churches. This support would take the place of GA registration fees. Secondly, there is a suggestion that we withdraw from NAPARC, for the reason that it is draining our ministry resources. Other controversial language in the Plan includes “provide more seats at the table,” for minorities, young leaders, and women. Also controversial is its characterization of the various groups within the PCA, as to whether they might be simplistic or not.

I’ll just shoot from the hip a bit here. I was actually against the mandatory support of the AC committee until I read Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan’s defense of it. He convinced me that it was a good idea. And then when I read more carefully that it takes the place of the GA fee, I was even more in favor of it. The AC is essential to the PCA, in that it funds the SJC, and does innumerable other vitally important services for our denomination. It does need to be supported. I will cheerfully admit that there are other things that could be done, perhaps, to reduce the financial load of the AC. Personally, I think our GA is way too big. I am in favor of a delegated assembly. If we didn’t have to pay half a million dollars just to rent a convention center for GA every year, but could have it in churches, that would significantly reduce the burden of GA every year. Very few churches can seat 1500 people (3000 for the services). But many churches can seat 500.

Withdrawing from NAPARC would be a serious mistake in my opinion. I don’t see it as any kind of a needless drain on resources. Aren’t we supposed to be about Reformed Catholicity? Why would we want to deny that kind of catholicity by withdrawing from our like-minded brothers and sisters in NAPARC? Seeing that the other NAPARC denominations are more confessional than the PCA is (on average), the only reason I could think of for withdrawing from NAPARC is if we want to head in a different theological direction from NAPARC. This also would be a mistake, I believe.

This is by no means an adequate summary of all that is in the Strategic Plan. I have only touched on the more controversial issues present. Rev. Jon Payne seeks to draw us back to a means of grace frame of mind. Of course, I don’t see Rev. Payne’s contribution as contradicting everything in the Strategic Plan. Rev. Payne, for instance, does not address the AC support issue. But what I see Rev. Payne doing is to remind us that God has a plan for us, and it is simple, and is based on the means of grace.

Whitaker’s Preface

You can see an excellent introduction to Whitaker’s work over at Beggar’s All. I don’t need to overlap what he has already said regarding this most excellent work. It has been noted that this work is available on Google books. I would highly encourage the Roman Catholic readers of my blog to read this book along with me. It is usually best to engage the strongest arguments of one’s opponents. This is something Whitaker was remarkably good at doing, as we will see. I don’t know how many posts Whitaker will take up, but I intend to set forth his strongest arguments, and note any updates that need to be applied to his arguments. I would certainly like to encourage readers also, if they think of updates to his arguments that I miss, for them to note said updates in the comments. It is important also to note that Whitaker’s entire project here is to affirm the Protestant position of sola Scriptura over against the Roman Catholic position.

Whitaker says an important word concerning the importance of this doctrine:

The matter of our dispute is certain controversies of religion, and those of the last importance, in which whosoever errs is deceived to the eternal destruction of his soul. In a word, we have to speak of the sacred scriptures, of the nature of the church, of the sacraments, of righteousness, of Christ, of the fundamentals of the faith; all which are of that nature, that if one be shaken, nothing can remain sound in the whole fabric of religion (p. 15).

Whitaker lays out also on page 19 what will be his method:

We must, lest we should seem to construe the doctrines of the papists otherwise than the practice of the Roman church requires, or to take for granted what they grant not, or to ascribe to them opinions which they disclaim, take care to follow this order, namely, first to inquire what the council of Trent hat determined upon every question, and then to consult the Jesuits, the most faithful interpreters of that council, and other divines, and our countrymen at Rheims amongst the rest. And since Bellarmine hath handled these questions with accuracy and method, and his lectures are in every body’s hands, we will make him, so to speak, our principle aim, and follow, as it were, in his very footsteps.

Notice several very important things about Whitaker here. Firstly, he is extremely concerned to state the Roman Catholic position accurately. He notes some of the very common pitfalls in debate. Secondly, he desires to take the stated position of the Roman Catholic Church as the point of departure. This is as it should, for all will allow that conciliar documents are much more clearly the position of a church than any individual opinions are. Later on down the page, he makes note of the fact that he will have to make reference to “the fathers, tradition, and the practice of the church; lest perchance we should appear to shrink from the battle, we have determined to make use of that sort of weapons also.”

His goal is stated very plainly: “I hope to make it plain to you, that all our tenets are not only founded upon scriptural authority, which is enough to ensure victory, but command the additional suffrage of the testimonies of fathers, councils, and, I will add, even of many of the papists, which is a distinguished and splendid ornament of our triumph” (p. 19).

In closing, it should be noted that Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, probably the greatest debater that the Roman Catholic Church had at the time, held Whitaker in very high esteem, even to the point of bringing in Whitaker’s picture to his study (see page x). If this is Bellarmine’s opinion, then modern Roman Catholics would do well to give Whitaker the respect due an adversary worthy of the steel. Bellarmine and Whitaker both could wipe the floor with %99.99 of modern theologians in a debate. And so we will follow the progress of these excellent fencers as they do battle for their respective beliefs.

Changing Gears

This blog has sought, over the last 5 years, to clarify the material principle of the Reformation, namely, the doctrine of justification. The debates with the Federal Vision have been geared towards this great doctrine. I am now officially giving notice that this blog will now shift gears to treat of the formal principle of the Reformation, namely, the doctrine of Scripture. We will not be putting aside the doctrine of justification. Indeed, one cannot, even the midst of such a shift, since the doctrine of justification and the doctrine of Scripture are inter-related. However, there is evidence that a massive buildup of scholarship is about to be unleashed on this doctrine. In Reformed circles, especially, over the next few years, we are going to see a lot of books and articles treating of this doctrine. In large part, this is in response to some of the challenges of the traditional doctrine that have been coming from various quarters (Peter Enns, A.T.B. McGowan, Carlos Bovell, Kenton Sparks, and Craig Allert). I’m sure there are others as well not on this list. I plan on attempting to read all the books I own on Scripture in the next 3-4 years. I’ll be blogging about what I read, and I hope and pray that the Christian church will once again confess its faith with regard to this vitally important and undergirding doctrine of Scripture. If God has not spoken, then we cannot live. For man lives by the Word of God. If Scripture falls, then so does every other doctrine.

Edit: Due to Reed’s request and Phil’s comment, I will just mention that the first two books I plan on reading are the following: volume 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, by Richard Muller; and Disputations on Holy Scripture, by William Whitaker. After that, I plan on reading Warfield. For those who would like to read along with me, that’s my plan.

The Trials of Theology

I received in the mail a wonderful little gem of a book.

It has a collection of statements made about the dangers of theological study from some of the great theologians of the past, including Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, and from the present, including Woodhouse, Carson, Trueman, and Bray. I highly recommend this book for anyone desiring to go to seminary to study theology.

I wanted to share a particular quotation which I found not only humorous, but also hitting a little close to home:

If…you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books (or blogs, LK), teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it – if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, ‘See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.’ That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels (Luther, from volume 34 of his collected works, pp. 287-288, quoted in the book in question, p. 30).

Definitive Text of the Larger Catechism

Dr. Bower’s work on the Larger Catechism is now the first published volume in the Principal Documents of the Westminster Assembly Project. It is a full-scale critical text and historical introduction to this great-but-seriously-neglected Catechism. May it stimulate further work on the Catechism. It will certainly stimulate my work on it.


I’m going to have to ask Scott Clark’s forgiveness here for not blogging about my recent trip to Westminster California. All I can say is, here is my attempt to rectify the situation. To put it simply, I had a great time.

I got to go out for lunch with 3 faculty members (Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and historical theology, Joel Kim, Assistant Professor of New Testament, and John Fesko, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology). Now, I’m sure that such ribbing and teasing goes on among many faculties of many seminaries, but I haven’t seen too many professors have such fun together. The fellowship was sweet. I included their respective fields for a very specific reason: these professors weren’t competing against each other, nor did they view their respective fields as competing fields. The collegiality was most refreshing. With the recent faculty problems at WTS Philly, which have been going on for a while now, I did not witness the same across-the-board collegiality. There is certainly some there, but the tension between the “biblical” guys and the “sytematic” guys was palpable when I was there. I hope things are improving at WTS in this regard. I have every reason to believe that it is so.

Of course, what is a seminary visit without books? Scott loaded me down with about 8 or 9 of them (many thanks, Scott! I am especially enjoying Van Drunen’s book on Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms).

One other thing I noticed was that all the faculty offices were on one corridor. I imagine this was intentional, but I still think it is a wonderful thing: collegiality among faculty is greatly increased when it is that easy to duck into another professor’s office. I think every seminary ought to consider this kind of a move.

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