• 2 Timothy 3:16 with 1 Timothy 5:18 read:
All scripture is inspired by God . . . , [and] . . . for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
The Protestant Church of Christ combines these two passages, and presents them as meaning, “The Protestant Old Testament and the now-formed New Testament are all Scripture, and therefore, all that should be in the Bible is what we have in our own Bibles.” This meaning is, of course, circular (the Bible establishes the Bible), but it also implies St. Paul somehow knew that some (not all) of his own letters would become Scripture, and that he knew all of the other writings that are now in the New Testament—even writings that had not yet been written—would become Scripture. And since St. Paul, here, is quoting from both the Old Testament and what would become part of the New Testament, your apologists conclude that the nascent Church would resemble modern “Bible-only” communities.
That is the full-view illogic of this particular argument, but let us zoom in. St. Paul rightly taught St. Timothy in his Second Letter that all scripture is inspired by God. And in his First Letter, St. Paul referred to Deuteronomy 25:4 (You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.) and the Gospel of St. Luke (The laborer deserves his wages) as scripture (10:7). And since St. Paul referred to a book from the Old Testament and a book that is now included in the New Testament, your apologists insist St. Paul was referring to “the Bible” as we enjoy it today. St. Paul indeed referred to St. Luke’s Gospel as Scripture, and that is one reason why the Catholic Church decided his Gospel deserves residence in the canon of Christian Scripture. Does St. Paul, in this passage, mention any of the other twenty-six books that are in the New Testament? Do your apologists typically address how St. Paul did not endorse the other twenty-six books of the New Testament, but only St. Luke’s Gospel? Instead, they force St. Paul to have written what he did not write, which is that all the New Testament books were (evidently) written, discerned, canonized, and bound as a single volume by the time he quoted St. Luke’s Gospel.
Consider, now, how your group has gravitated to a meaning that St. Paul clearly did not communicate, and how it avoids what he clearly did communicate. One does not need to search a different Letter (1 Timothy) to find out what St. Paul was in fact calling scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16 because he explained what Scriptures he was referring to in verse 15. He wrote, How from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings. So it is clear St. Paul did recognize that the writings St. Timothy knew from childhood are sacred—that the Old Testament writings, not the later-formed New Testament canon, are Sacred Scripture.
When analyzed, your conjoined use of the passages at hand does not support your group’s desire for a Catholic-less self-authenticating canon; it supports the Catholic Church of Christ’s understanding that St. Paul recognized the Old Testament as Scripture, and that there were some writings such as St. Luke’s Gospel that were used within Liturgy and regarded as inspired. But it does not support your theory of a self-authenticating canon because such passages cannot be proved inspired by the “Bible only” (according to your own Rule). And even if they were proved inspired by the “Bible only”, they do not address the status of eighty-nine percent (twenty-four of twenty-seven books; the New Testament less Luke’s Gospel, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy) of the now-discerned New Testament’s Table of Contents from which your group circularly argues.
These are some of the problems that disprove your theory of a self-authenticating canon. But there is one principle that members of your group should think about, which is how they know the New Testament is complete; how they know public revelation ceased upon the death of the last Apostle.
Your group believes the New Testament is closed (complete), and rightly so; the Catholic Church believes it is closed as well. However, your group has no way of knowing from the “Bible only” if the twenty-seven books that comprise the New Testament are all that God intended for us to recognize as New Testament Scripture. How do you know there should not be a twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth book? Some of your members present Revelation 22:18 as a proof that the Bible is closed:
I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, . . . .
One problem with this proof is that the “Bible” did not yet exist (the “Bible” was not a book), and so this book refers to the Book of Revelation only. There are other passages in Scripture with similar language. Consider: You shall not add to the word which I command you (Deuteronomy 4:2). Perhaps, then, we should deny every proceeding verse from Deuteronomy, such as: You shall not add to it or take from it (12:32). Should we deny every book that was written after Deuteronomy? Should the canon have been closed after Proverbs? Surely, if Revelation teaches that the canon is closed, then Do not add to his words (Proverbs 30:6) teaches that the Old Testament canon ends with Proverbs!
But some of your members are less “Fundamentalist” than others, and rightly know “the word of God” includes the entirety of God’s public revelation, and know not to force a specific proof-text as the chronological end-point for public revelation. However, the problem of proving the closure of public revelation from the “Bible only” remains. The best argument your group provides is from Jude 3:
Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (emphasis added).
In the Protestant Church of Christ’s collective mind, the faith is essentially synonymous with “the Bible,” so if the faith was once delivered, then, in your minds, the full canon of Christian Scripture was once delivered. (The Catholic Church recognizes that “the faith” and “the Bible” are different things.) The first problem, of course, is your inability to provide a non-circular argument for the inspiration of the Book of Jude; and then you must explain how this passage can somehow evade the same problem that Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Revelation share. Jude was most likely not the last written book of the New Testament; most scholars believe 2 Peter was written after it. Unless Jude was the last written book of the now-determined canon, the author did not intend to communicate that the canon should be forever closed. The Church had not declared Jude as inspired for centuries, which hints to a logical conclusion you should consider: If Jude provides your proof-text for a closed canon, then the Church either appealed to an “extra-biblical” writing to determine the canon, or it determined the canon by its own authority. In other words, your group’s use of Jude 3 as an argument for the closure of public revelation inadvertently establishes your reliance on Catholic inspiration and authority.
Where does your belief come from? Why do you believe the canon is closed? What extra-biblical authority has heard and answered your appeal? Though you deny it, your belief is a Catholic leftover, a precious artifact from the ancient and living Sacred Tradition you have not fully abandoned. But let us consider your belief that the canon was closed at the death of the last Apostle; does your belief not allow for other texts that were in fact written before the death of the last Apostle to be included within the canon?
The Didache, as I already mentioned, was written before the death of the last Apostle, and it was most likely written by the Apostles themselves. As such, The Didache achieves your presumed criteria for inclusion, yet you somehow rightly presume it should not be a part of the Christian canon. We have writings by Polycarp, who died in A.D 156, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. We also have writings by Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred around A.D. 107. Consider St. Clement (a successor of St. Peter; the fourth pope) who died in A.D. 99. Pope Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians that we now call 1 Clement. His letter was read within the Church before the death of the last Apostle, yet you do not believe his Letter is inspired. St. Clement was a close associate to the Apostles, yet his writings are not canonical while other associates of the Apostles (such as St. Mark) are, and his Letter was so highly regarded that many bishops in the Church were convinced that it was in fact inspired; it, like The Didache, was circulated and read within the Church for centuries. But the Catholic Magisterium with her authority made a decision, and its decision was that 1 Clement was not inspired. There was absolutely no “biblical” way of knowing if 1 Clement was inspired or not—the “Bible” was not yet a finalized collection of books. What magisterium other than that of the Catholic Church do you think you have submitted to when you accept only the twenty-seven books that are now in your Bible as the only inspired New Testament writings?
The Bible, like Jesus, has a mother who gave it flesh—physicality: matter. The written word, like the Incarnate Word, has a mother who protected it when it was young and vulnerable. The Bible has a mother who knows it and understands it more than any other body. Catholic Christians are not threatened by the very real facts that surround the Bible’s authorship, compilation, and canonization. The Protestant Church of Christ, however, must argue for the Bible’s hopeful Catholic-less origins and for its Catholic-less self-authentication in order to remain true to its antipathy towards the Catholic Church, and to support its own founding, though anti-biblical, principle: sola Scriptura.