I knew John Frame was busy writing a book called Doctrine of the Word of God, so I thought he might be able to help me with my canon problem (see yesterday's post). It was vexing me: How do we know for sure that we have the right Scripture canon? What unknown oddities or political shenanigans, now shrouded in the mists of history, may have coughed up the present fixed compendium of books?
Frame sent me Chapter 22 of the not-yet-published book. He did not approach the subject at all as I had expected. I was hunkering down for an exhaustive survey of the history of theological opinion on the subject of canon, a debate addressing every detail of every scholarly debunking of the certainty of our 66-book authority. I expected Frame to say, with all the other theologians on the block, that this was a formidably difficult task.
Instead, he said that while such a ponderous inductive study certainly yields interesting facts, he is "inclined to think that such a study is unfruitful. . . . [I]nductive study alone is unlikely to show us with certainty which books God has given to the church." Frame's plan was rather "to present the teachings of Scripture itself relevant to the doctrine of the word of God, and now relevant to the specific question of canonicity."
Can you do that! Can you let the Scripture speak for itself about a matter in which we are examining the Scripture? I mean, who is going to evaluate the claims of Scripture? Don't we need an outside arbiter of truth? (Whoa! An outside arbiter of truth? Listen to what we're saying!) Frame writes:
"The problem with much current literature on the canon is that it does not take account of God's expressed intentions [He is referring to God's pervasively passionate intention to speak personally to his church throughout history.] It seeks, rather, through autonomous reasoning . . . to determine if any first century books deserve canonical status, and using that method it arrives at conclusions that are uncertain at best. But once we understand God's use of a canon from the time of Moses, we just approach our present problem with a presupposition: that God will not let his people walk in darkness, that he will provide for us the words we need to have, within our reach."
How was the canon's final form congealed, when the dust settled? Frame answers this with statements such as these:
"What happened? Jesus' sheep heard his voice (John 10:27). . . . How can we be sure that the voice is God? . . . [O]ur assurance is supernatural. When God speaks, he at the same time assures us that he is speaking. . . ."
This kind of writing will never fly at a conference of modern secular biblical theologians. What I am wondering is if it will even fly at a conference of self-styled orthodox theologians, who may have become just a little too eager to be loved by their Enlightenment colleagues than is good for them.
Frame knows a lot of stuff. He could show off if he wanted. But he ends up satisfying me on the question of canon, not by dashing mano a mano against every over-educated seminary skeptic to come down the pike, but by laying out the internal evidences of the Bible, and by presuppositional biblical reasoning. It is reasoning in a circle---as all reasoning is. The only difference is that, as Frame knows, we Christians have the better circle.
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