Who Chose the Books of the Bible? Are the Books “Self-authenticating”?

by Steve Ray on January 8, 2019

Are the Books of the New Testament “Self-Authenticating” or was the Catholic Church Necessary to Define the Canon of Scripture?

By Steve Ray

Hello Protestant Friend:

I was very happy to receive your twenty-five-page letter which claimed that sola Scriptura (Bible alone) and sola fide (faith alone) were the faith and teaching of the Apostles. I found your reasoning very weak (sorry to say) and since I once believed these false doctrines myself I thought I ought to respond to your misconceptions. I have no animosity toward you for your views; in fact; I love you for taking the time to express your theology and I love you for your sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. Having once held these views myself, I know that they can be held in good faith and I assume that is the case with you.

Since this letter became longer than I originally expected, I decided to add an outline to help you understand the flow of my discussion. So, here it goes.

  1. Our Recent Discussions
    1. Intro: Self-authentication of Biblical Documents
    2. Federal Rules for Self-authenticating Documents
    3. Correct Criterion vs. Circular Reasoning
    4. The Early Church and the New Testament Documents
    5. The Reformation and the Canon
    6. A Fallible Collection of Infallible Books
  1. Your Letter: Especially on Inspiration, Scripture, and sola Scriptura
    1. 2 Timothy 3:15, 16: A Basis for the Canon of the New Testament?
      1. Old Testament or New Testament
      2. Anarthrous Construction and Warfield
      3. Correct Translation of the Greek Text
      4. Universal Negative: Nothing else is Inspired or Infallible
    2. 2 Peter 3:16: Substantive Proof of the New Testament Canon?
    3. 1 Timothy 5:18 & Luke 10:7: Substantive Proof of the New Testament Canon?
    4. Summary using Norman Geisler’s Syllogism
    5. Catholic Teaching in a Nutshell
  1. Miscellaneous Comments from Your Letter
    1. Augustine, Calvin, and the Councils
    2. The Noble-minded Bereans and Sola Scriptura
    3. Is the Catholic Church “Co-equal” with the Sacred Writings
    4. Can Catholics Interpret the Bible?
  1. Sign-off and Finger-resting
  1. Our Recent Discussions
  1. Intro: Self-authentication of the Biblical Documents

Anyway, to get serious, when we talked about the authentication of the sacred books contained in our Bible, you mentioned legal precedent for documents that were “self-authenticating.” In other words, as I understood it, there was no need for anyone (including individuals, authorities, councils, apostolic successors, etc.) to make such a determination as to which books were infallible, inspired, and canonical, since they were self-authenticating and could be discovered, but not determined. This is Norman Geisler’s view as well (Endnote 1) Whew! I hope that mouthful made sense.

You also said that the reason it took so long to discover the collected canon was due to the condition of man. If you don’t mind, and in the spirit of friendship and combativeness we have always had together and thoroughly enjoyed I will continue our tradition and take another salvo in this letter. I don’t have any Norman blood, but I do have French [passion], and German [precision and belligerence], and Irish [feisty], and English [verbose] blood in me. So, don’t blame me, blame it on my genes.

  1. Federal Rules for Self-authenticating Documents

I am of the opinion that the sacred writings were not, and are not self-authenticating. I don’t mean they are devoid of divine authorship, nor that they are without the divine imprint. I only mean that internal and external evidence alone is not enough to clearly and definitively establish them as inspired, authoritative, and infallible. Since you mentioned it, I looked up the legal guidelines on the matter of self-authentication in the Federal Rules (U.S. Code Title 18 Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Federal Rules no. 902) (Endnote 2). This is the section, as you well know, of Self-Authentication. The reason I looked this up is simple: you stopped me in my tracks when you mentioned this, not because I questioned the validity of my objection to self-authentication, but because I was not knowledgeable about the evidentiary rules.

For the whole long and detailed argument, click here.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

CJ Phaedrus January 9, 2019 at 2:17 PM

Thank you for sharing this work.

Jacob January 11, 2019 at 12:13 AM

A minor footnote to all this, but relevant nonetheless: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord …. for their works accompany them” — Rev. 14:13 — (whether you translate it as deeds or works, the Greek is the same in these kinds of places). Needless to say, for this and other Catholic reasons, Luther himself said that he did not see the Holy Spirit in this book, just as saw the Letter of James as a letter of straw. Dropping them would have been the equivalent of “politically incorrect” so he was stuck with them, unlike the O.T. case where he handed the case over to the discernment of the Jews as to the evidence of the Spirit. How do we see all that as an example of “self-authenticating” as opposed to tampering with the evidence for the Catholic tradition?

Peter Aiello January 14, 2019 at 2:30 PM

Aside from the theological debate as to whether they are self-authenticating or not, I found my spirituality or mysticism in the pages of Scripture which taught me to cast all of my care on the Lord and to be anxious for nothing (see 1Peter 5:5-7 and Philippians 4:6-7). This opened me up to the inner peace and strength that I can carry with me everywhere. I had never heard of this during my Catholic upbringing when I was growing up. This is why I value Scripture above all else.

STEVE RAY HERE: Peter, I am very happy for you. It is my favorite thing to do as well. I love Scripture and always have. It is sad that you were not taught this in the past. It was a serious flaw in your early formation. The Church has always taught since St. Jerome said it, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Catholic teaching is to love, study and live the Word of God in Scripture. God bless you!

R.C. January 15, 2019 at 9:33 AM


Something is odd with the numbering system of the excerpt you’ve posted here; Item 1 in the list happens over and over again. I’m sure folks get the overall idea, but you might want to jump in and correct that.

Steve Ray January 15, 2019 at 9:42 AM

Thanks R.C. It is a quirk of Microsoft Word and I have no idea how to correct it. Sorry.

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