Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Could a Roman Catholic Sign the ETS Doctrinal Statement with Integrity?

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but this is interesting.

With the conversion of Dr. Francis Beckwith, ETS President, from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and his statement: "Because I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS," a debate has ensued over whether the ETS statement necessarily excludes Roman Catholics. The statement reads:

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

Well, Dr. Beckwith did in fact withdraw from the society. But the question still remains:

Could a Roman Catholic sign the ETS doctrinal statement with integrity?

I have previously argued that he could not, because the Roman Catholic understanding of the word "Bible" is different than the Protestant understanding. One word cannot mean different things at the same time and in the same sense without breaking the law of non-contradiction and, thus, rendering itself completely meaningless. In the statement, the word "Bible" must either mean to include a 39-book (Protestant) or 47-book (Roman Catholic) Old Testament. It cannot mean both. And since the framers of the statement were Protestant, it must mean to include a 39-book OT.

One leading ETS member Dr. Andreas Kostenberger, professor of New Testament and director of Ph.D. studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted an interchange between himself and Dr. Gregg Allison, professor of Systematic Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and expert on Roman Catholicism. Kostenberger asks Allison whether a Roman Catholic could sign the statement with integrity. Allison's response is ultimately, "I would seriously doubt that informed Roman Catholics would sign the ETS doctrinal basis." His reasons are interesting and include the fact that the Romish Bible is different from the Protestant Bible. You can read his response to Kostenberger's question here.

13 comments:

Jared Nelson said...

ETS says "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written." I think Catholics could sign that as it specifies "written". If it said Bible alone is the Word of God, that of couse would be wrong for both Evangelicals and Catholics, as Jesus is the true and perfect Word of God.

Vatican II did state: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God," But does not specify "written" so if a Catholic wanted to parse words, then yes.

Jared Nelson said...

Non-traditionalist Christians are big on this issue, but I think Presbyterians and Anglicans have more sympathy for tradition. I really think this is a discussion that needs to happen for Evangelicals as we accept the many doctrines of the early church: canon of scripture, the nicean creed, and the formation of the doctrine of the trinity. If tradition has no authority, why accept any of it? We don't need to re-invent the wheel every generation due to a preference for the present just because it is the present. Anyone that accepts the Bible as Scripture MUST accept some tradition.

Svigel said...

This is a great question. I suspect it will be answered in upcoming ETS meetings. Nowhere does ETS specifically delimit the Bible at 66 books. In fact, those who know their church history will know that no ecumenical council ever actually defined the canon. Delimitations to the collection of the canon only occur in local synods and, with respect to the Protestant tradition(s), only in denominational or regional confessions (e.g. the Westminster Confession, the Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statement, etc.). And the Roman Catholic Church officially declared their canon in the Counter-Reformation. So, from a history of dogma perspective, Protestants who are not necessarily bound by a confessional standard are technically free to include or exclude books from the canon without denying inerrance of the inspired corpus, however that is defined. Only those who affirm a particular confessional tradition have bound themselves to that tradition's canon. However, within the orthodox Protestant traditions, there has been a nearly-unanimous agreement about the extent of the canonical corpus. This should not be ignored. It is, of course, ironic that the Protestant canon of Scripture (the somewhat ad hoc tests of canonicity notwithstanding) is based on Protestant tradition, consensus, and confession. The BIBLE itself, of cousre, does not define the extent of the corpus.

I think two believers who confess the "Bible alone as the Word of God written" could conceivablyl define the corpus of the Bible differently without breaking the law of non-contradition. "BIBLE" refers to a collection or group, and the issue is whether certain books belong in that group or not, not whether the properly-constituted group is or is not the Word of God written. Let me use an analogy: It's sort of like saying "The ELECT is the only group that will be saved." One can argue over what constitutes membership in "the ELECT" and disagree over whether certain people are "in" or "out" of this group without contradicting the main assertion---that "the ELECT is the only group that will be saved." So, the issue here is whether or not ETS will adopt the near-universal conservative Protestant tradition and make the extent of the canon part of its explicit confession.
If ETS decides to vote on the extent of the canon, I will support that definition, basically because that WAS the intent of the authors, because it represents the overwhelming consensus within the historical and contemporary evangelical Protestant theological tradition, and because it would reflect my personal confessional commitments.

M. Jay Bennett said...

"I think two believers who confess the "Bible alone as the Word of God written" could conceivablyl define the corpus of the Bible differently without breaking the law of non-contradition. "BIBLE" refers to a collection or group, and the issue is whether certain books belong in that group or not, not whether the properly-constituted group is or is not the Word of God written."

Yes two believers could confess the the "Bible alone as the Word of God written" without breaking the law of non-contradiction. But if they are affirming the meaning of that statement in order to confess a common creed, then they must both understand the word Bible as having the same sense. To define it according to any sense would break the law of non-contradiction and thus render the doctrinal statement meaningless (i.e. the Bible can't be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense).

Svigel said...

"the Bible can't be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense." But this seems to be mixing two distinct premises. Issue 1 is: "The Bible is A (66 books)" versus "The Bible is non-A (not 66 books)." These two are contradictory and mutually exclusive. But this is not the issue in signing the doctrinal statement. Issue 2 is "The Bible is A (the only Word of God written)" versus "The Bible is non-A (not the only Word of God written)." Those are two distinct premises. Until ETS actually defines "Bible" as "66 books," non-contradiction does not apply to Issue 2, because the ETS statement is making an affirmation ABOUT a category (A), not an affirmation about the CONTENT of the category. Shame on the ETS founders, then, for not defining "A." Having worked four and a half years as a paralegal preparing countless pleadings and orders, I know what can happen when one fails to define ambiguous terms. This is why legal documents almost invariably include multiple definitions, so we know what "party" and "propery" and "estate" actually includes as we later make assertions about these things. I think my "ELECT" analogy helps clarify the problem here. I wish we could easily appeal to the law of non-contradiction here, but this would be a misapplication of the law.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Yes, but even if the word is not defined it has to mean something, right? Why else would it have been written?

The fact that the words "the," "alone," and "entirety" are used to modify the word "Bible" as well as the reference to the idea of "autographs" in the statement, implies that it refers to a specific set of books. It has to mean more than simply any corpus of writings one chooses to hold as Scripture.

It would be the height of absurdity to assert: "[Any corpus of writings one chooses to affirm as Scripture]alone, and [Any corpus of writings one chooses to affirm as Scripture) in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs." What possible purpose could a statement like that serve? It may as well not have been written.

Since the word "Bible" must mean a specific set of writings in order for the statement to mean anything at all, and RC's and Protestants affirm different sets, then RC's and Protestants cannot both sign the statement with integrity unless the law of non-contradiction is broken. The Bible cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense.

And, the original intent of the authors must be taken into account. Since the framers were Protestant, it is certainly reasonable to understand the word Bible as referring to the 66-book Protestant canon. Therefore, the RC would be unable to sign the statement with integrity.

However, I agree that defining the word "Bible" explicitly would be helpful.

Svigel said...

I completely, unequivocally agree with your final statement. :)

M. Jay Bennett said...

Oh . . . that last statement should read:

"However, I agree that defining the word "Bible" explicitly would be helpful though unnecessary."

:-)

Jared Nelson said...

So is the Bible understood to be Majority Text or Revised? If one doesn't think the end of Mark 16 is part of the Bible, are they out? Can one question if Esther is in the canon? Or is the particular canon that makes up the Bible off limits?

Svigel said...

Jared!!!
>:(
Bennett and I were ALMOST nearing a consensus until you messed it up!

M. Jay Bennett said...

Dang . . . Jared!

M. Jay Bennett said...

Howard has written an op-ed for the WSJ in which he writes:

"The ETS executive committee--of which I am a member, as a past president of the society myself--released a statement thanking Mr. Beckwith for his many contributions to the society and expressing its desire to maintain cordial relations with him. The committee also noted that his resignation was appropriate, since the ETS affirms that "the Bible alone . . . is the Word of God written."


The phrase "the Bible alone" in the ETS context refers to the 66 books in the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon and thus rules out Mr. Beckwith's continued membership, given that the Roman Catholic Church accepts additional books in the canon, commonly referred to as deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. Mr. Beckwith maintains that he can still sign the ETS statement with full integrity because it does not enumerate the 66 books, but he voluntarily withdrew his membership in the interests of avoiding a rancorous debate in the society."

I have posted on it here

GUNNY said...

Well ... this is interesting.

Scope out this 2004 article in The Southern Baptist Theological Journal.

It is critical of the ETS statement and notes the many non-evangelicals who could sign it.

"In the wardrobe of doctrinal statements the ETS statement is a bikini."

Does the ETS Doctrinal Statement Say Enough?