Tough Questions with RC Sproul - Saturday, June 1, 2013
We talk of the Bible as being the inspired Word of God. Would the men who chose the books to be included in the Bible also have been inspired by God?
This is one important point of dispute between historic Roman Catholic theology and classical Protestant theology. The Roman Catholic Church has gone on record, particularly at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, to declare that not only were the individual authors inspired in the writing of the individual books but that the church operated and functioned infallibly in the sifting and sorting process by which the canon of the New Testament, for example, was established.
To put it briefly, Rome believes that the New Testament is an infallible collection of infallible books. That's one perspective. Modern critical scholarship, which rejects the infallibility of the individual volumes of Scripture and likewise the whole of Scripture, would say that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of fallible books.
The historic Protestant position shared by Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on, has been that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books. This is the reasoning: At the time of the Reformation, one of the most important issues in the sixteenth century was the issue of authority. We've seen the central issue of justification by faith alone, which was captured by the slogan the Reformers used: sola fide, "by faith alone [we are justified]." Also there was the issue of authority, and the principle that emerged among Protestants was that of sola scriptura, which means that Scripture alone has the authority to bind our conscience. Scripture alone is infallible because God is infallible. The church receives the Scripture as God's Word, and the church is not infallible. That is the view of all Protestant churches.
The church has a rich tradition, and we respect the church fathers and even our creed. However, we grant the possibility that they may err at various points; we don't believe in the infallibility of the church. I will say that there are some Protestants who believe that there was a special work of divine providence and a special work of the Holy Spirit that protected the Canon and the sorting process from mistakes. I don't hold that position myself. I think it's possible that wrong books could have been selected, but I don't believe for a minute that that's the case. I think that the task the church faced and did was remarkably well done and that we have every book that should be in the New Testament.