One of the sad results of a lack of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants has been the ignorance of each other's theological literature.
In general Evangelicals have been woefully ignorant of important Catholic theological works in the areas of apologetics and philosophy. Catholics have neglected significant Evangelical authors in the area of biblical scholarship.
One such Evangelical scholar who hasn't received his Catholic due is F. F. Bruce, who has taught at the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, and Sheffield. One of his recent books, The Canon of Scripture, provides the opportunity to introduce him to a Catholic audience interested in defending the authority and integrity of Scripture against the onslaught of secularism. It also helps us to see the implications the Bible's canon has for discussing the nature of the Church.
The Canon of Scripture is one in a line of books in which Bruce defends the Bible. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? is an apology for the textual reliability and general historicity of the New Testament, while his acclaimed New Testament History has been described by one Catholic biblical scholar--an exception to the rule of Catholic ignorance of Bruce--as "the best of the single-volume studies in the field."
One thing to be said about The Canon of Scripture and its author is that, while Bruce comes down on the Protestant side of issues relating to canonicity, he nevertheless thinks in terms of a broader Christianity encompassing Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This distinguishes him from many American Evangelicals (he's Scottish) who write and speak as if the boundaries of Christianity are coterminous with Evangelicalism.
Bruce evidences an appreciation for tradition. He doesn't take the Catholic position that tradition is divinely revealed and hence as much the Word of God as the Bible, but he does value the role of tradition in establishing the canon of Scripture.
On the issue of the Old Testament canon, Bruce follows the Protestant line of excluding seven entire books (called deutero-canonical by Catholics and apocryphal by Protestants) and portions of Daniel and Esther held by Catholics to be canonical. Yet there's no polemic against the Catholic position.
In fact, little is said in defense of Protestantism on the point. Bruce records the differing views on the Old Testament canon throughout Christian history and concludes that "the greater availability of these [deutero-canonical] books means that there is a better appreciation of their character, and of the issues involved in delimiting the canon of the Old Testament."
This.aspect of the book will, no doubt, offend militantly anti- Catholic Fundamentalists who feel Rome can do nothing good. But it will challenge Evangelicals to think about how the development of the canon relates to ecclesiology, even though Bruce doesn't directly raise the matter himself.
There is one liberal school of Protestant thought that regards the Bible as different from other ancient literature only in that it's been held by some people to be the Word of God. That it should be studied more diligently flows from the fact that it was more highly esteemed by the early Church for reasons which, on this view, are due to historical accident rather than to divine guidance.
In opposition to this approach are the Evangelical and Catholic views in which the Bible is acknowledged as the Word of God, not merely as a collection of primitive Hebrew and Christian works. It is authoritative because inspired.
Protestantism, though, has a hard time establishing that the canon is authoritative. Bruce surveys some of the criteria which the ancient Church used to establish the canon (apostolicity, antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, tradition, and inspiration), but these serve only to strengthen a Christian's conviction concerning the canon.
When all is said and done, it is, as Bruce writes, only "by an act of faith the Christian reader today may identify the New Testament, as it has been received, with the entire 'tradition of Christ.'"
In contrast to this view, Catholicism sees the biblical canon as directly related to the nature of the Church and the authority with which it acts in the world. Scripture is not only inspired and authoritative, but definitively established.
Those who hold otherwise are breaking with tradition as it has been guarded by the Church. Protestantism dismisses this position because it supposedly concedes too much to the Church.
Protestants tend to claim Scripture is "self-evidencing." But it's hard to see from, say, the 25 verses of Jude that this short book is self-evidently the Word of God. The same can be said of many of the other sacred books.
The Protestant approach is defective because it was the early Church, not the Bible itself, which resolved the issue of the canon. It was the authority of the Catholic bishops which settled disputes about which books belonged in the Bible and which did not.
Sometimes Protestants note that the Church did not bestow inspiration upon the Bible, but merely witnessed to it. Bruce echoes this position when he talks about whether a newly discovered Pauline epistle could be accepted as canonical. He writes of such a hypothetical document:
"Moreover, who is there today who could make a pronouncement on its canonicity with such authority as would be universally followed? Even if the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Presidents of the World Council of Churches were to issue a joint pronouncement, there are some people of independent temper who would regard such a pronouncement as sufficient cause for rejecting this candidate for canonicity. Unless and until such a discovery is made, it is pointless to speculate. But the precedent of earlier days suggests that it would first be necessary for a consensus to develop among Christians in general; and papal or conciliar pronouncements that might come later would be but a rubber-stamping of that consensus."
This approach dodges the questions canonicity raises. How authoritative and binding is the Church's witness--its tradition--upon the individual Christian? Must it be accepted by all Christians on the pain of heresy? If the Church's decision on the canon isn't authoritative, then what happens to the authority of the books which comprise the Bible?
The Canon of Scripture doesn't directly address any of these issues. Yet the thinking Evangelical will, by reading this book, be led to consider the Catholic position. He will also be challenged, if not disconcerted, to learn how the Church proclaimed the Gospel for nearly four hundred years without defining the canon.
The startling conclusion he might draw: that whatever the position of the early Church might have been, it was not sola scriptura. The thinking Catholic, on the other hand, will find in the book a strong, if unintended, confirmation of his position.
-- Mark Brumley
The Canon of Scripture
By F.F. Bruce
Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988
The curious thing is that no one asks "Why?" Go ahead and argue, if you insist, that Peter isn't the rock, that Jesus was referring either to himself or to Peter's profession of faith. That's what "Bible Christians" do whenever the discussion turns to Matthew 16:18.
But they never seem to ask, "Why did Jesus change Simon's name?" You can't help asking that question once you realize Jesus never did anything--and never said anything--purposelessly.
Recall the first meeting at the Sea of Galilee. Andrew knew of Jesus first. He went to his brother, Simon, and said, "We have discovered the Messiah," and he brought Simon to Jesus.
"Jesus looked at him closely, and said, 'Thou art Simon the son of Jonah; thou shalt be called Cephas,' " and we're told "this means the same as Peter" (John 1:40-42). Cephas is nothing but the transliteration of the Aramaic Kepha, which means rock.
Here's this mysterious passage: Jesus telling Simon the fisherman that he would be called Rock. Then nothing more about the change of name until what is reported in Matthew 16:18: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Why don't more people start up when they read such a line, asking themselves, "What's the significance of this?"
Perhaps it's because we take the name Peter for granted nowadays. To us it's just another name, but to the Jews of the first century it wasn't a name at all. No Jew had carried the appellation Peter (coming from Petros, the Greek equivalent of Kepha), because no Jew had ever been called Rock, a name reserved for God.
Even many biblical scholars overlooked--and still overlook--this point. "[T]hey hardly paid attention commensurate to the fact," says Stanley Jaki, "that in the Old Testament only God is called rock. ... [E]ven if Peter's faith is taken for the rock, this still leaves one with much to consider about the fact that apart from that faith of Peter only God is called rock in the written word of God."
But Jaki quickly notes that this fall-back position is unsupportable and, even by top Protestant scholars, unsupported. He notes that Oscar Cullmann's Peter: Disciple, Apostle, and Martyr, first published in 1952, "dealt the coup de grace to the traditional Protestant interpretation that Christ meant Peter's faith and not Peter himself in speaking of him as a rock." If Cullmann the Protestant gave the coup de grace, Jaki the Catholic has removed the last traces of the old theory.
His marvelous book begins with an examination of the scene of the drama, at the outskirts of what was then Caesarea Philippi, hard against a massive wall of rock, two hundred feet tall and five hundred feet long, out of a cavity of which rose one of the sources of the Jordan.
It was at the base of this outcropping that Jesus turned to Simon and gave him a new name, the name he had promised to give him when they first met at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Who could miss the symbolism, particularly among that little crowd of Jews who grew up in a faith that was symbol rich?
Well, nearly all Protestants have missed it, partly because they know nothing about the circumstances of the episode, partly because they're convinced that rock can refer to almost anything exceptSimon. It's the scandal of the weak: Simon, the weakest of the apostles, the most cowardly, the denier, is the one Jesus builds his Church on.
This goes contrary to all human expectation. The Jews were expecting a political Messiah, and they would have expected his viceroy to be Solomonic in his wisdom and glory. They never would have looked for him among the tawdry fishing boats. Who would expect the Messiah's right-hand man to come from the lower classes?
But it is Simon Peter who is, if we may put it this way, quietly glorified in the pages of the New Testament. When the names of the apostles are given, his name heads the list. When a revelation is given that Gentiles are to be accepted into the Church, the revelation is made to him.
When the apostles meet at Jerusalem in the first council, it is he who gives the decision. And his name appears 195 times in the New Testament--the names of all the other apostles, taken together, appear only 130 times.
There's something extraordinary about this ordinary man. That much is obvious to any unprejudiced reader. And what should be just as obvious is that Matthew 16:18 makes no sense at all unless the rock mentioned were Peter--not his profession of faith, not Jesus.
What could be calculated to cause more confusion than to intend to say, "I will build my church on your profession of faith," and then immediately follow that declaration with the granting of a new (and, on this supposition, absolutely meaningless) name?
If the rock were the apostle's profession of faith, or if it were Jesus himself, then Simon's change of name is worse than a waste of time--it's positively malicious. It's a giant monkey wrench thrown into the nascent Church's machinery.
But could that be? Could our Lord have been so clumsy in his wording? Stanley Jaki doesn't think so, and Stanley Jaki is right.
-- Karl Keating
And On This Rock
By Stanley L. Jaki
Manassas, Virginia: Trinity Communications, 1987