There's been lots of discussion in the previous post about canonicity. Which books are the inspired books that God has given to his church? We want a canon that contains all and only the inspired texts. Only inspired texts, so that we aren't led astray by phonies; all inspired texts, so that we aren't missing something vital.
But, how is the Christian supposed to know which canon is the right one? The Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all have different canons, and that's just mentioning the three most common canons. There are many other professed canons out there. How does the Christian know which to affirm?
What sorts of things could justify the Christian in judging /this/ canon to be all and only God's word? I'm not asking (yet) for the whole story; I'm asking a more general question. What sorts of justification /could/ do the work here?
More below the fold.
One thing I should be clear about is what I'm not asking. I'm not asking the Christian to start with nothing at all and then prove that all and only these books are part of the canon. My question is: given that you are a Christian and are in a relationship with God, what grounds you in choosing /this/ collection of books?
What I'd like to see in the end is a response that doesn't require the Christian to make any bald assumptions. That is, I'm asking for a coherent, consistent position that lacks epistemic danglers.
Here are some types of justification that I don't think work:
1. A book is part of the canon if and only if the canon of scripture claims that the book is part of the canon.
a. This answer presupposes that we already have a canon.
b. No canon has an inspired table of contents.
c. Even if we had a collection of books that contained all and only books that were claimed to be canonical by that collection, that still doesn't prove that we have the canon. I could write two books, each citing the other as canonical, and claim it is the canon of scripture. That doesn't give us a canon.
2. A book is part of the canon if and only if the Holy Spirit moves the individual believer to affirm that the book is part of the canon of scripture.
a. Though it may be that I don't know any real believers, no one I know has had this sort of experience.
b. What I have had is the interior movement of the Holy Spirit in convicting me that an individual text is presenting me with the Gospel of Christ. However, this particular test both allows in too much and too little:
i. It overshoots by allowing too much as scripture. If this were the correct test, there would be more of scripture. For instance, Luther’s commentary on Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch’s seven letters, and the Didache have all moved me deeply, and while reading each I’ve felt the Holy Spirit convicting me of the Gospel of Christ. But, these aren’t part of scripture.
ii. It undershoots by not allowing some scripture into scripture. I have not felt the interior movements of the Holy Spirit convicting me of the Gospel of Christ while reading, say, Philemon, or the Levitical law.
c. I have felt the interior instigation of the Holy Spirit convicting me of the Gospel of Christ while reading 2 Maccabees. However, no protestants do, I take it, since none of them affirm it as in the canon of Scripture. Which is it – in or out?
It seems to me that one can have reasons for accepting a particular canon of scripture that come from 1) the scripture itself, 2) something internal to oneself, 3) something external to oneself [I’m not sure this is exhaustive]. Now, I think having reasons that come from scripture itself is doomed to failure. Scripture can’t justify the acceptance of scripture, for reasons given above. Reasons internal to oneself, like the natural light of reason, or the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit don’t seem to work either. Reason alone can’t determine which books are canonical. Reason alone falls short of such a task. The internal testimony may do it for some believers, but I’ve never had such a private testimony. Neither has any other believer I’ve talked to about this (but, that said, I may just not know a single true Christian). So, it looks to me that something external to myself and to scripture has to do the work of giving me reasons to affirm a subset of the purportedly revealed texts.
But, what external thing?