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

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.


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. CJ Phaedrus

    Thank you for sharing this work.

  2. Jacob

    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?

  3. Peter Aiello

    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!

  4. R.C.


    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.

    1. Steve Ray

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

  5. R.C.

    STEVE RAY HERE: R.C. Good stuff, insightful. Thanks for sharing!!!

    An article you might appreciate Questions for Bible Christians

    No problem, Steve!

    I wanted to mention some other problems with Sola Scriptura that seem overlooked even by most Catholic apologists. Various Catholic apologists, including yourself, have dealt pretty thoroughly with such things as:

    1. One can't authoritatively know the canon without an authoritative pronouncement either from God Himself (from whom all earthly authority derives) or a human person to whom God has delegated authority to speak on such matters;

    2. One can't authoritatively derive the canon from any "list of canonical books" found in one of the (hopefully) canonical texts, because until that first text is demonstrated to be canonical, whatever list it provides is suspect;

    3. One can't authoritatively derive the canon from any "principle for discerning canonicity" found in one of the (hopefully) canonical texts, because until that first text is demonstrated to be canonical, whatever principle it provides is suspect;

    4. Anyway, the Bible doesn't contain either a canon-list or a principle for determining the canonicity of a text;

    5. Moreover, the Bible contains no verses claiming that Scripture Alone can be sufficient for knowing all the required-and-vital doctrines of the Christian religion in an unambiguous way;

    6. Furthermore, the Bible contains a verse in which Peter specifically states that parts Paul's writings are complex and easy to misunderstand, suggesting if one doesn't already know most of the faith ahead of time, one is likely to derive false conclusions from them;

    …and those are all important to know.

    But there are other things that are not so-often mentioned, which make Sola Scriptura even more obviously false:

    7. While the canon was still being assembled, nobody could have used Sola Scriptura to derive the full content of the Christian religion, because they didn't have "Scriptura" yet; or at least not all of it. So long as they were lacking even one book, they could have no well-founded reason to think they knew the faith, for any missing book might contain passages leading ambiguous passages in other books to be interpreted in radically different ways.

    8. The history of the attempt to use Sola Scriptura to know the content of the Christian religion is a history of well-trained scholars with holy lives, begging the Holy Spirit to protect them from error, coming to utterly different interpretations. This proves that the Holy Spirit has decided not to protect Sola Scriptura adherents from error. But in that case no Sola Scriptura adherent, surveying the wide disparity of opinions on ambiguous passages, can have well-founded reason for confidence that his own interpretation is correct. And if, after recognizing this, we continue to hold that Jesus intended us to know the content of His religion by means of Sola Scriptura, we must conclude either that He isn't God, or else He is a perverse god who insists on our living according to truths He refuses to make available to us. That obviously isn't right.

    9. The average plumber or auto-mechanic hears different opinions about the content of the Christian religion according to which denomination's preaching he finds himself hearing when he first begins to try to learn the faith deeply. He assumes that what he's being taught is "real Christianity" because it's the only version he's ever heard; he has no idea of the areas where his own preacher teaches one thing, and the preacher at the church down the road teaches another.

    These competing opinions contradict, so they aren't all correct. Only one (at most) can be correct. But what hope has our plumber or auto-mechanic — a guy working two jobs, perhaps without a college degree — of teasing out which Bible scholars are offering bogus arguments, and which ones are arguing soundly? To put it mildly, that isn't his skill-set. Are ALL human persons required to become professional exegetes? Or, at least, wise-and-discerning critics of the work of professional exegetes?

    10. Presume for the sake of argument you somehow-or-other obtained the canon, and that Jesus intends for you to derive the content of the Christian religion from it, without recourse to anything outside it.

    Fine; but you can't begin interpreting it until you know which hermeneutical principles Jesus intended you to use.

    Also, on what basis are you confident that it's inerrant? (Remember: You can't rely on any claim of inerrancy found in the text itself, because if the text isn't inerrant, that very claim of inerrancy would be one of the parts that was in error.)

    Also, what FORM of inerrancy did Jesus intend you to assume when reading the Bible? Inerrancy in all things, including geography and biology and astronomy? Inerrancy only in matters pertaining to salvation? Something in-between?

    The fact is that the longer one looks at Sola Scriptura, the more convinced one will become that it is an unworkable illogical mess which only a fallible man could invent.

Comments are closed.