Whitaker on the Canon, Part 2

Chapter 3 of the first question is a recounting of ancient heresies that rejected parts of the Bible that neither Catholic nor Protestant reject today. I will make only one brief comment on this chapter before moving on to the substance of Whitaker’s arguments against the Apocryphal books. There are modern heresies that deny parts of the canon. One might think of Dan Brown and his attack on the entirety of Christendom through his revisionist historical readings of the New Testament, and his preferring of the Gospel of Thomas. One might think of the Mormons, who use only part of Scripture, but not all of it. It is useful, therefore, to read this chapter, if only to get a feel for how these kinds of heresies operate.

Moving on to chapter 4, then. Whitaker summarizes his opponents’ argument in this manner:

Our adversaries have but one argument in behalf of these books, which is derived from the authority of certain councils and fathers. They allege, in the first place, the third council of Carthage, (in which Augustine himself bore a part,) can. 47, wherein all these books are counted canonical. Should any one object, that this council was only provincial, not general, and that its judgment is, therefore, of less consequence; our antagonists proceed to shew, that this council was confirmed by pope Leo IV (Dist. 20. C. de libellis), and also in the sixth general council held at Constantinople, which is called Trullan, can. 2…Besides, they adduce the council of Florence under Eugenius IV. (in Epistol. ad Armenos), that of Trent under Paul III (sess. 4), and pope Gelasius with a council of seventy bishops. Of fathers, they cite Innocent I., who was also a pope, in his third Epistle to Exuperius of Tholouse; Augustine, Lib II. c. 8. De Doctrina Christiana; Isidore of Seville, Etymolog., Lib. VI. c. I. So that the argument of our opponents runs thus: these councils and these fathers affirm these books to belong to the sacred canon; therefore, these books are canonical (p. 39).

Whitaker rejects the evidence of the councils of Florence and the council of Trent on the basis of their late date (p. 40). That Trent was not a general council is proven by the fact that all who were in attendance made about 50, almost all of them Italians and Spaniards, hardly a general council of all bishops throughout Christendom.

The council of Carthage, says Whitaker, was merely provincial, despite Catholic objections. He says it was composed of only a few bishops. Furthermore, canon 26 of that council says the following: the bishop of the chief see shall not be called high priest, or chief of the priests, or by any such title (aut ejusmodi aliquid). Whitaker argues that these kinds of titles are exactly what the Roman Catholic church claims for the pope, and that therefore, if part of this council be rejected, then the rest of the council cannot have the kind of authority required. Further, if the Trullan council approved the Carthaginian council, then it approved all of the Carthaginian council, and therefore such titles cannot be given to the pope. Whitaker acknowledges that the Trullan synod was fully ecumenical. He argues that it proves too much. Furthermore, there are things in the Trullan council that the Romanists cannot accept, either. For instance, in canon 36, the see of Constantinople is equal to that of Rome (and by extension, the bishop of Constantinople is equal to the bishop of Rome). Canon 13 forbids the current Roman practice of forbidding wives to priests. Whitaker notes that several Romanists rejected Trullo, such as Pighius and Melchior Cano (p. 41). Therefore, Trullo cannot be used to legitimate Carthage. We will get to the other evidences in a later post.



  1. D. T. King said,

    June 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Another aspect germane to this consideration that Whitaker offers, and is not, at least overtly, discussed by Whitaker, is the following…

    The provincial councils Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) received the Septuagint version (i.e., what has come to be known as the “Alexandrian” canon) of 1 Esdras as canonical Scripture, which Innocent I approved. However, the Vulgate version of the canon that Trent approved was the first Esdras that Jerome designated for the OT Book of Ezra, not the 1 Esdras of the Septuagint that Hippo and Carthage (along with Innocent I) received as canonical. Thus Trent rejected as canonical the version of 1 Esdras that Hippo & Carthage accepted as canonical. Trent rejected the apocryphal Septuagint version of 1 Esdras (as received by Hippo and Carthage) as canonical and called it 3 Esdras. Thus the canon of Scripture approved by Hippo and Carthage, and subsequently by Innocent I – differs from that of Trent.

    For a full discussion, including a helpful chart, see http://www.christiantruth.com/articles/Apocryphapart2.html .

  2. Paige Britton said,

    June 5, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Hey, back to chapter 3 a sec. I noted a small argument in there for inerrancy (p.37), but in passing Whitaker couples this with a dictation theory of inspiration (p.38). Does anybody know the history of the doctrine of inspiration in this regard? If it was natural for Whitaker to assume dictation, and if we are now thinking in terms of a broad “superintendence” of word choice (through various modes), what happened between then and now in the history of theological thinking?

  3. Andrew McCallum said,

    June 6, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I’m surprised that this post has not produced more replies. Surely if there was a topic that ought to bring Catholics and Protestants to the table of constructive interaction it would be that of the Councils and the papacy and their respective claims to speak for the Christian tradition. Whitaker mentions Florence – the history of the Council of Florence is a convoluted and fascinating one and reflects the battle over papalism vs conciliarism in determining orthodoxy.

    Whitaker speaks of Carthage – his observation is that Catholics would object to the council here being provincial. Did the RCC ever think any of the synods/councils held here were ecumenical? If that’s so I’m not aware of it. Can someone fill me in? And then on Florence, Whitaker complains that this council should not be considered ecumenical given the makeup of the bishops there. But is this really fair? Even the great ecumenical councils that we all consider ecumenical were never really that well attended by those outside the region. The great ecumenical councils of the early centuries of Christianity had little representation from the West. But I think this is a matter that reflects logistical difficulties in travelling to out of the way places rather than a lack of worldwide applicability.

    Concerning Florence and the canon, it’s interesting to me that Florence did not settle the matter and there were still those in the RCC who did not accept the Deuteros/Apocrypha up until Trent. Cajetan, writing after Florence but before Trent takes Jerome’s position on these disputed books. This would not have been a possibility for a RCC scholar after Trent but it was apparently within the range of RCC Orthodoxy before this time. Any thoughts on this anyone?


  4. D. T. King said,

    June 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I would like to recommend two very helpful Protestant Works on the Canon of Scripture from a historical perspective.

    The first is by Archibald Alexander, titled The Canon of the Old and New Testaments and can be downloaded here, http://www.archive.org/details/TheCanonOfTheOldAndNewTestamentinspirationOfBibleNewTestamentBy

    The second is by John Cosin, A Scholastical History of the Canon of the Holy Scripture and can be downloaded here, http://www.archive.org/details/scholasticalhist00cosiuoft

    While both are excellent works, Cosin’s work was noted for years as the work to consult, but some of the old English spelling in a few words may give some pause to modern readers. There is nothing slack about Alexander’s work.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    June 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Paige, I would probably go to Warfield to answer that question, but as I have not started reading him yet, it will be a while.

  6. D. T. King said,

    June 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Our Lord’s own words (Matt. 21:42; 22:29; 26:54; Mk. 12:10, 24; 14:49; Lk. 4:21; Jn. 5:39; 7:38; 10:35; 13:18; 17:12; ), as well as those of his apostles (Matt. 26:56; Mk. 15:28; Lk. 24:27, 32, 45; Jn 2:22; 7:42; 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9; Acts 1:16; 8:32, 35; 17:2, 11; 18:24, 28; Rom. 1:2; 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4; 16:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-4 Gal. 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim. 4:18; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Jam. 2:8, 23; 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:6; 2 Pet. 1:20; 3:16), presuppose a recognized OT canon in their day. Moreover, the Apostle Paul informs us implicitly that the canon of the OT was bequeathed to the NT Church from the OT Church (Rom. 3:2). Many of the early church fathers themselves affirm this to be the case. In other words, if an epistemological crisis concerning an OT canon existed in the time of Christ and His apostles, not only do their own words reveal nothing of it, but the same actually presuppose its identity. Does not such a claim, to the contrary, strip the Jewish people of all responsibility whom our Lord engaged with His indictments of their faithlessness in the face of the testimony of Holy Scripture otherwise (Jn 5:39, Matt. 12:3ff; 19:4; 22:31; Mk. 12:26)? Do not his words presuppose their culpability for not knowing the Scriptures (Matt. 22:29)?

    In short, even the apostolic church itself was never without a *functioning* canon (e.g., Acts 17:2, 11; 18:24, 28; 24:14). Thus, if the OT of Holy Scripture was commonly recognized in their day, without the aid of any authoritative, conciliar declaration, why should we entertain the alleged need for such in our day, when already in the time of the apostles themselves the NT canon was being recognized (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18 and 2 Pet. 3:16) apart from the same. How does the alleged apologetic against this revealed state of affairs avoid the charge of what amounts to a self-serving agenda of special pleading? Again, what is being called into question is not simply the sufficiency of Scripture, but the sufficiency of God Himself to reveal and make Himself known in Holy Scripture.

    It seems rather difficult to avoid the conclusion posited by Warfield: “The early churches, in short, received, as we receive, into their New Testament all the books historically evinced to them as given by the apostles to the churches as their code of law; and we must not mistake the historical evidences of the slow circulation and authentication of these books over the widely-extended church, for evidence of slowness of “canonization” of books by the authority or the taste of the church itself. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, reprinted 1970), p. 416.

  7. Coram Deo said,

    June 7, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Well said, DTK.

    Ridiculously Romanists would have us believe that no one could have “authoritatively” known of what either the OT or NT canon consisted until 1546!

    It’s amazing the Jews and Christian church somehow managed to get by all those years in blind ignorance until the light shone forth from the glorious Council of Trent!


    In Christ,

  8. Paige Britton said,

    June 8, 2010 at 6:10 am

    Thanks, Lane — I’ll be patient till Warfield. (But if anyone knows of a helpful survey article online in the meantime, related to my Q in #2, I’d be obliged.)

    Thanks, DTK, for good reads.

  9. June 8, 2010 at 10:25 am

    The fact that we can possibly arrive at truth (just as St. Athanasius did by being the first to list all 27 NT books in 367: some 330 years after Christ) did not guarantee that the collective of early Christians came to a consensus.

    Therefore, Church authority (sanctioned by God and the Bible) was needed to make a proclamation that would settle the issue, just as other doctrines (notably trinitarianism and Christology) were hammered out by the early Church, with authoritative decrees handed down.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    June 8, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Dave, that is off topic. The topic is much, much narrower, and has to do with the specific councils that Whitaker shows to be lacking in authority because not all their contents are agreed upon by the Catholic church. And if there is therefore no council until Trent that actually has the full support of the RCC that also affirms the apocryphal books, that seriously undermines their credibility.

  11. June 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I thought my comment was directly relevant to sentiments from #6 and #7, but whatever.

  12. D. T. King said,

    June 9, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Another excellent historical examination of the witness to the canon of Holy Scripture is the work by Louis Gaussen, The Canon of the Holy Scriptures and can be downloaded here, http://www.archive.org/details/canonofholyscrip00gaus

  13. June 13, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    > “…if part of this council be rejected, then the rest of the council cannot have the kind of authority required. …Furthermore, there are things in the Trullan council that the Romanists cannot accept …several Romanists rejected Trullo, such as Pighius and Melchior Cano (p. 41). Therefore, Trullo cannot be used to legitimate Carthage.’

    Oy-vey. Who can keep all these councils straight? We need some sort of infallible guide as to which parts of which councils are authoritative and what the benefit is of the other councils. No wonder Luther said, ‘ I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other…’

  14. June 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    […] Whitaker on the Cannon, part 2 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: