Dr. Becker’s Ever Shrinking Word of God (Part 2)

Associate editor’s note: In the part 1, we saw Dr. Becker pit Jesus against Scripture and his dismissal of certain biblical books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation), saying that they cannot serve as principal sources or norms for Christian teaching. Here in part 2, we see Dr. Becker further denigrate Scripture.

Contains the Word; Witness to the Word

In his argument, Scripture continues to shrink even smaller than the homologoumena. He combines Liberal Protestantism’s view that the Bible is not the Word of God but only contains the Word along with much error, and Neo-orthodoxy’s view that the Bible is not the Word of God but only a “witness to the Word.” He says the Bible contains a witness to the Word. He says:iStock_000015982382_Small

Only in a qualified way may one refer to the Bible as “the word of God,” and only then because it contains the authoritative apostolic and prophetic witness to the word of God in its varying forms and content.[16]

In other words, there are portions of Scripture that contain the Word of God, and portions that do not. We are left to sift the wheat and the chaff. This overlooks the problem that in this sifting, we are editing, and the power of editing is the power of authorship. By this we make ourselves the authors of Scripture. Canon within the Canon Since the Bible is only a witness to the Word and we have to sift, that leads to the notion of a “canon within the canon.” Under this notion, we could hold a bound volume containing only the homologoumena, and still within that, we would recognize a further shrinkage to which parts of the canon we will deem should be canonical. We will give the canon within the canon authority, and look askance upon the rest. He says,

Once again one must ask, what is meant by the term “Scripture” in this section? The Formula uses the more precise designation “the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments” (FC Epitome, Rule and Norm, 1), which leaves open the question about the OT Apocrypha and the NT antilegomena and it centers upon the “canon within the canon” in the homolegoumena writings, namely, the proper distinction between law and gospel.[17]

He says,

These central apostolic writings , in their witness to the gospel concerning Christ, are the only norm for the church’s total teaching, since the apostles themselves (via their reception of the Holy Spirit promised them by Christ) became organs for God’s self-revelation, and because all subsequent events that happen in the church must be guided and shaped by this revelation.[18]

Among Lutheran theologians in general, this phrase “canon within the canon” is given varying meanings. At various points in Dr. Becker’s writings, he seems to be harkening to some of those meanings. The practical effect, however, is that some of the Gospels and Paul’s writings become the canon, and then within those, further shrinkage will happen because of what is deemed to witness to Christ and what isn’t, particular applications of law-gospel distinction, science, and culture.

Gospel Reductionism

Above we saw that Dr. Becker says “the proper distinction between law and gospel” is the touchstone of the canon with in the canon. This has ready-made appeal to Lutherans because the Lutheran confessions rank the distinction between law and gospel as “a particularly brilliant light.” (Formula of Concord, Article V) During the Reformation, law-gospel distinction was a theological principle among Lutherans, and it became a key piece of Lutheran confessional writings. But it was not the sole principle, and if it ever was a hermeneutical principle, it was not the sole one, and it never was the foundation of Scripture’s authority. “Thus saith the Lord,” still is the foundation of the authority of the Word, and all challenges to the authority of the Word still have the character of the Serpent’s question, “Hath God indeed said?” Dr. Becker not only makes law-gospel distinction a hermeneutical principle, but the only one, and then removes the law as having authority, leaving only the Gospel as having authority, and then founds the authority of Scripture on the Gospel alone, even if the Gospel is not the only word God ever said. In the saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), Paul did not say only the Gospel but all Scripture, and he did not say that the only use was to bring us to salvation but also to reprove, correct, and train in righteousness, and he did not found the authority of the Word on law-gospel distinction but on Scripture being “breathed out by God.” So, when Dr. Becker says, “The Scriptures have authority for the sake of this gospel,”[19] that is true as far as it goes. The Scriptures do have authority for the sake of the Gospel, though not only for the sake of the Gospel. But if he were to carry that further and say, the Scriptures have authority only because of the Gospel, that would be error. He does say:

There is no such thing as “a primary” purpose of Scripture, for the use of that term implies a “secondary” or even a “tertiary” purpose to Scripture. Jesus knows no such level of “purposes.” The sole purpose of the Scriptures is to make people wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”  (John 20:31). “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39). The Scriptures are “rightly used only when they are read from the perspective of justification by faith and the proper distinction between law and gospel” (emphasis added). The Scriptures are rightly used only when they are searched to find in them the gospel, namely, the life, the death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ “for me.” Certainly this “searching” also uncovers divine words of law and judgment, and these words have their rightful say about us sinners and even about Christ, who suffered on the cross as “the world’s greatest sinner” (Luther). Nevertheless, the law is to be rightly distinguished from the gospel so that the gospel receives its greatest clarity in contrast to the law and reveals how the gospel speaks a word against the divine law for the sake of faith in Christ alone.[20]

This gospel reductionism further shrinks the Word of God. By Dr. Becker’s theory, God no longer is allowed to, or if He is allowed, He no longer has any interest in saying anything to his beloved creatures besides the Gospel, even though other things could be beneficial and spoken from kindly generosity. He says:

One may certainly affirm the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the only infallible rule of Christian faith and life, because they teach faithfully and with clarity the truth of the gospel which God wanted recorded for the sake of creating and sustaining faith in Christ, but the entirety of the Bible cannot serve as that infallible rule.[21]

He says:

Not every individual statement or assertion in the Bible is consistent with the gospel. Every reader of the Christian Bible ought to distinguish between what is incidental or peripheral within the Bible and what is essential and central to its overall message and purpose. The gospel about Christ, which is attested in diverse ways within the Scriptures, is the key that unlocks the meaning of the whole of Scripture and allows its individual parts to be understood in relation to that biblical whole.[22]

It is true that the Gospel is a key that unlocks the meaning of the whole Scripture. That is an insufficient basis, however, for concluding that statements inconsistent with the Gospel are not God’s Word and hence not Scripture. The Law is God’s Word, it is Scripture, and it has uses. He says,

Of course sorting out the competing and conflicting claims within the various sources of Christian theology requires careful attention to the issue of the prioritizing of sources and norms within theology and of discerning wherein the truth truly lies. Here the witness of the apostle Paul to “the truth of the gospel” is helpful (Gal. 2.5, 14). He acknowledged that even within the Scriptures themselves not everything is normative for contemporary Christian faith and practice, that even the key apostle of Jesus, namely, Peter, could err in a matter of faithful practice, and that the church itself could become corrupted and act contrary to the truth of the gospel. The gospel promise, then, really is the central focus for Christian theology, and the concern for it will always distinguish a properly conservative theology from those that deny or disregard it. A truly orthodox and conservative theology is concerned for the truth of the gospel and the sound teaching that flows from it; yet such a theology is also properly liberal in that it truly liberates individuals from sin, death, and the power of evil and liberates them for loving service in the world. While Christian , academic theology will take its primary cues from the biblical gospel, it will also be open to other insights, insofar as these overlap with its own proper concerns and goals and assist it in the task of clarifying the truth claims within its subject matter.[23]

The supposed logic of this is that, since the Bible correctly tells us that Peter erred, therefore the Bible errs, and because the Bible correctly tells us that the Church errs, therefore the Bible errs. Further, we can do better than the Bible at avoiding error by judging the Bible using the Gospel. By holding to the Gospel, we can filter the errors out of the Bible. This is what academics produce? He says,

What difference does it make to our salvation from sin and death by faith in Jesus Christ, if the story of Adam and Eve is best understood figuratively, or if the Israelites came out of Egypt on wet ground, or if Moses’ lifting up of the bronze serpent can be understood both symbolically and as an historical event? “Am I really expected to hold that my salvation through Jesus Christ is somehow related to, perhaps even dependent upon, an unequivocal assertion that once there really was salvation through a brazen serpent for the Israelites in the wilderness? If [this] is so, then the historicity and factuality of all matters recorded in the Bible as a necessary tenet of faith antecedes any subsequent distinction between Law and Gospel.” Is the virgin birth of Jesus in and of itself necessary as an element in or presupposition of our salvation? It may well be, and I think it is, but its relation to the gospel is different from the issues in the other questions here. What if some of the miracles of Jesus are also meant to be understood figuratively? Is their “happenedness” the key issue or is not this issue, too, only significant in relation to John’s statement about the sole purpose of Scripture? Even the demons know historical facts. What they lack is faith in Christ.[24]

What difference does it make if Jesus’ miracles were figurative? Let John the Baptist and Jesus tell us.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

John heard about the deeds of the Christ, not figurative stories. Jesus said, tell John what you hear and see, not figurative stories. John was not expected to believe because the figuratively blind received their figurative sight, even though those miracles pointed beyond themselves to the spiritually blind receiving their spiritual sight. Jesus encouraged John to believe because of the Becker-distained “happenedness” of the miracle, the factualness of it. The same is true for the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead being raised. What good could it have done for Jesus to proclaim himself the resurrection and the life if his raising people from the dead had been only figurative? While happenedness is not the key issue, it remains an issue, and it is the basis on which Jesus sustained the faith of the greatest prophet ever while he suffered in prison. Do we have to suffer as much before we come to understand why, for people who do suffer for the faith, happenedness matters? In the name of upholding the Gospel, Gospel reductionism abolishes the Gospel, because even the greatest prophet, John, would be left with nothing supporting his faith in prison. What becomes of the faith if we remove all the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed that make claims of historical and biographical fact, claims of happenedness? Born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, buried. Did the Apostles go into all the world and get themselves martyred for figurative claims, and would the world kill them for figurative claims? Look at the figurative claims the world of that day made for their own, many gods. They had little problem with figurative claims and their pantheons usually had room for one more. No, the factualness and happenedness of Jesus are key parts of what discredited the pantheons and therefore got the Apostles killed. A factual Jesus exposed the fraud of a figurative Zeus. ________________________ [16] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6347-6355). [17] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013). [18] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6621-6623). [19] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013). [20] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013). [21] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 7181-7183). [22] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 7112-7116) [23] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013). [24] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6295-6299).


Dr. Becker’s Ever Shrinking Word of God (Part 2) — 21 Comments

  1. Becker writes, “yet such a theology is also properly liberal in that it truly liberates individuals from sin, death, and the power of evil and liberates them for loving service in the world.”

    Note that he changes Luther’s language from “the power of the devil” to “the power of evil.” If you don’t trust the word of God with respect to how sin and death came into the world, what makes you trust God’s resolution of the same?

  2. it sounds like it is DR. Beckers position is that if something in scripture bothers you then you simply ignore it or declare that it cannot be scripture. pick and choose till you get what you want. that way you can do and believe anything you want. What a truly great system . Dr. Becker has solved the problem of sin without going to the cross. No creation? no problem. no Cross, resurrection, or ascension? No problem. Women Pastors? ok. Homosexual practices? ok.

  3. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks to Mr. Halvorson for part two in this series!

    A statement from the 1973 “Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” is appropriate here:

    Article IV (Scripture), “The Canonical Text of Scripture,”: We therefore reject the following views: . . . 6. That certain canonical materials have greater authority than other canonical materials because of their greater antiquity or because they are allegedly more “genuine” or “authentic.” This can be found here: http://www.lcms.org/doctrine/scripturalprinciples

    An improper distinction between homolegoueman / antilegomena OR a canon within the canon idea can violate point 6 above.

    This demonstrates that these ideas are not new with Dr. Becker, but were circulating in the LCMS and dealt with by its conventions in the 1970s.

    The most important documentation for how the LCMS dealt with these problems was the “Report of the Synodical President,” dated September 1, 1972, also known as the “Blue Book” because of its cover.

    You can read the Blue Book section (5E) relevant to the issues of canon in: Paul A. Zimmerman, A Seminary in Crisis (St Louis: CPH, 2007), pp. 283-284. That book may be ordered here: https://www.cph.org/p-664-a-seminary-in-crisis.aspx (on sale right now, 25% off).

    I hope this helps the readers, especially those unfamiliar with the history behind these controversies in the LCMS.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. @Jack Darnell #3

    Tend to agree. It’s the same old idea of submitting God’s word to my intellect or my reason, and it always ends up in with the same results, which is that Christianity is ultimately jettisoned.

  5. @Martin R. Noland #4

    If this is the case, Dr. Noland, Chemnitz would be brought up on charges in the LCMS. He writes about the distinction between homolegoumena and antilegomena extensively in his Examen and endorses it such that the antilegomena are regarded on the “second rank” and cannot be used to establish matters in controversy, for example. Here is one excerpt:

    “Should then these books be simply rejected and condemned? We by no means seek this. Of what use then is this dispute? I reply: That the rule of faith or of sound doctrine in the church may be sure. For the ancients judged that the authority of confirming the dogmas of the church comes from the canonical books alone, as the testimonies cited above show. The authority of the canonical Scripture alone was judged to be able to establish that which comes into dispute; but the other books, which Cyprian called ecclesiastical and Jerome apocryphal, they indeed wanted to have read in the churches for the edification of the common people, but not as authority for the confirmation of the dogmas of the churches. For they did not want them to be brought forward to confirm the authority of the faith from them. And their authority was judged to be inadequate to establish matters which come into controversy. No dogma ought therefore to be drawn out of these books which does not have reliable and clear foundations and testimonies in other canonical books. Nothing controversial can be proved out of these books, unless there are other proofs and confirmations in the canonical books. But what is said in these books must be explained and understood according to the analogy of those things which are clearly taught in the canonical books. There is no doubt that this is the opinion of antiquity.”

    Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, electronic ed., vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 189.

  6. @Athanasius #6

    But Becker advocates against positions that are clearly spelled out in the homolegoumena books, not the antilegomena ones. What he’s doing comes across as a smokescreen argument to validate his despising of the apostolic writings and the doctrines contained therein.

    Paul’s teachings concerning the ordination of women and the sin of homosexuality are not found in James or Jude or Revelation; they are found in books which clearly are considered homolegoumena, and Dr. Becker refuses to submit to this teaching in the name of human reason and gospel reductionism. To nitpick the first and second tier differences when the position advocated for is clearly found on the first tier is intellectually dishonest and academically unsound.

  7. @J. Dean #7

    That was not my objection. My objection was to using the 1973 Statement to deny the important distinction between homolegoumena and antilegomena. If the 1973 Statement disallows such a distinction — as Dr. Noland claims — then it departs from the Lutheranism of Chemnitz and Luther himself, to say nothing of the early church.

  8. Dear Mr. Athanasius,

    I know what you speak of. I was not disallowing the distinction, but warning about its abuse. See my comment #5 in part one of this series and its reference to the Preus book.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. Dear Mr. Athanasius,

    I believe your quote from Chemnitz in comment refers to the distinction between canonical and apocryphal writings, which disti

  10. Pastor Noland,
    I have a question about the antilegomena.
    If these books are the inspired word of God, how can we put them in a lower rank than the other books? Luther seemed to do this. So seems to have Chemnitz. Were these books seen more like “sermons” of men rather than the inerrant, inspired word of God?

  11. Dr. Noland,

    Chemnitz earlier refers to the works about which he is speaking, and it is the disputed books that Eusebius lists after the homolegoumena including James and Hebrews, for example. Here is a relevant quotation, but the whole section is worth reading:

    “Thus Eusebius, Bk. 3, chs. 3 and 25, distinguishes three classes of writings: The first, those which are neither spurious nor doubtful, but ἀαμφιλέκτως ἐνδιάθηκα, καθολικὰ καὶ ὁμιλογούμενα, that is, “without contradiction testamentary, legitimate, catholic, and according to the witness of all churches certain.” In the second class he places those writings concerning which doubt had been voiced whether they had certainly been written and published by those apostles whose name and title they bear, because they had suffered contradiction, since the testimonies of the primitive church were not in agreement; these were, however, not condemned outright but used and read by many churchmen as not unprofitable. And as the writings of the first class were called canonical and catholic, so those which belong to the second class were called sacred writings, ecclesiastical writings, and by Jerome, apocrypha. This careful distinction was made with wholesome watchfulness, that there might be a sure canon and rule for the dogmas, or faith, in the church: “That they may know,” Cyprian says, “from which fountains they must draw the drink of the Word of God for themselves.” Concerning the apocryphal, or ecclesiastical, writings which belong to the second class, Jerome says: “The church reads these for the edification of the people, not to confirm the authority of the dogmas of the church.” Again: “The authority of these writings is judged to be less suitable for establishing things which are disputed.” Cyprian (unless it is Rufinus) says in the exposition of the Creed: “They wanted these to be read in the churches but not exalted to a position of authority to confirm the faith from them.”

    “Eusebius makes a third class of those writings which are spurious, counterfeit, and false. These were rejected outright, and condemned.”

    Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, electronic ed., vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 179–180.

  12. Dr. Noland,

    In your comment #4, you cite the 1973 Statement where it says: “6. That certain canonical materials have greater authority than other canonical materials because of their greater antiquity or because they are allegedly more “genuine” or “authentic.””

    You then connect this to an “improper” application of the antilegomena / homolegoumena distinction.

    Chemnitz is quite blunt in saying that the antilegomena cannot be used to establish dogma or to settle controversies within the church. They can be used to support dogma drawn from the homolegoumena, but they cannot be the source for that dogma.

    Do you agree with Chemnitz on this?

    Further, do you see Chemnitz’ principle as being in violation of the 1973 Statement?

    If not, what is this “improper distinction between homolegoueman [sic] / antilegomena” about which you speak?

  13. @Athanasius #13

    Dear Mr. Athanasius,

    Sorry for comment #10 – my smartphone got cut off and I couldn’t delete it.

    Thanks for the online article from J.A.O. Preus. I quickly skimmed it and noted that he observes, pp. 15-16: Chemnitz, both in his Loci Theologici, his Examen, as well as in the Formula of Concord of which he was a major author, does not hesitate to quote the antilegomena, even to establish a doctrinal point.

    This would then be the proper use of the antilegomena and homolegoumena distinction, that is, you may use the antilegomena as quotes in theological discussions, even to establish a doctrinal point. If this was an erroneous use, then the Lutheran Confessions would themselves be in error. Just one example here, a quote from the book of Hebrews that establishes Christ being offered only once for all: AC XXIV, 27 (Tappert, p. 59).

    An improper use of the distinction would be to categorically reject the quotation of antilegomena in theological writings or to reject their use in establishing points of doctrine.

    As to the Chemnitz quotes in #6 and #12, I will have to look at those in the original, in context, and that is in my office. Monday is a holiday, but I still have to work, but not in the office, so I’ll look that one up later next week.

    I used to think that you could not use antilegomena at all–which I think is what you are defending–because of what I read in Chemnitz, though it seemed to be a puzzle. Then I read Gerhard’s Loci (now in English), who explained Chemnitz, and it all made sense.

    As to what doctrinal error Becker was charged with, I don’t know. It has not been made public, except through the NID and SID convention resolutions, and they don’t mention this item. I don’t think this particular distinction was the issue, and I don’t think Mr. Halvorson was saying that either.

    Although Chemnitz is quite the authority, his personal theological writings, including the Examen, are not at the level of the norma normata, i.e., the Lutheran Confessions. LCMS pastors and church-workers are pledged to teach in agreement with the Confessions and Scriptures, not with the private writings of Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Walther, etc., though these orthodox Lutherans almost always agree with each other and can almost always be quoted without error or embarrassment (see FC SD Rule and Norm, 9-10; Tappert, 505-506).

    Sorry that I cannot answer your questions until I see Chemnitz in full context and check what Gerhard says about those quotes.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. @Martin R. Noland #15

    Yes, in the article Preus uses Chemnitz’ practice over and against his explicit position regarding the matter. What I really wish he would have done would be to give a citation for the claim, however. I just surveyed the 142 occurrences of “James” in the Examen, for example, and could not find a single location where Chemnitz used James and only James to establish a doctrine. He would appeal to James regarding doctrine, but only if there were also passages from the homolegoumena teaching the same thing. That is, just as he said, he would not establish a doctrine using the antilegomena, but one could use the antilegomena to support a doctrine established by the homolegoumena.

    So Preus’ side comment (“Incidentally…”) lacks support, and my brief survey did not turn up any instances that would support it; to the contrary, it turned up instances proving the point (see below for one). A citation would have been most helpful in the Preus article, but there is none.

    To this point, see also Chemnitz’ critique of the way Trent established extreme unction. Note that this is in the second volume and is far removed from the initial discussion I partially quoted above:

    “Eck indeed judges that it is not absurd to believe that the apostle James instituted this sacrament by the authority of Christ and at the command of the Holy Spirit. But the scholastics themselves confess that the authority to institute sacraments belongs to Him who is able to bestow efficacy on them. To this comes the fact that the Epistle of James does not have so great authority that it can, without other testimonies of the canonical Scriptures, institute a new sacrament for the church. For it is known that Jerome wrote that the ancients judged that this epistle was not written by the apostle James but was published under his name by some other person. Eusebius also says concerning it: “One must know that it is deemed spurious.””

    Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, electronic ed., vol. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 660.

    So here, Chemnitz remains true to the principle that the antilegomena alone cannot establish doctrine. They can be used to support doctrine already established by the homolegoumena, however.

    Going back to the 1973 Statement, while Chemnitz’ Examen is not a confessional document, there is a problem if the 1973 Statement would not allow him to promulgate the view that he sets forth there. At least for those of us who think that we should continue to regard Chemnitz as a true Lutheran.

  15. @Athanasius #16

    Maybe I’m missing it, but it sounds like you and Dr. Noland (and Chemnitz for that matter) are on the same page about this: namely, that a doctrine from the HL books merits reinforcement from the AL books, but a doctrine cannot be drawn from the AL books apart from the HL books.

    And as far as I know, the AL and HL books are still officially distinguished in confessional Lutheranism, at least by the pastors I’ve heard from.

    Interesting side note: even if you take out the AL books, there is still no loss of core doctrine. One could read the HL books only and still come to the same conclusions concerning biblical doctrine (including those points that Dr. Becker finds contrary to his personal and uninspired opinion).

  16. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I grabbed my Chemnitz and Gerhard after church this morning, and reviewed the relevant sections that pertain to the present discussion about the distinctions between canonical and apocryphal, and homolegoumena and antilegomena.

    First, I refer you again to my previous comment here: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2015/05/dr-beckers-ever-shrinking-word-of-god/comment-page-1/#comment-1087879

    Second, I refer you to my comment above here: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2015/05/dr-beckers-ever-shrinking-word-of-god-part-2/comment-page-1/#comment-1087924

    In the latter comment, I stated: An improper distinction between homolegoumena / antilegomena OR a canon within the canon idea can violate point 6 above. So I am not denying the distinction, but warning about its improper use.

    One example of an improper use would be to say that the New Testament antilegomena are “spurious” and non-canonical, cannot be cited, and have no authority in the church. I am not saying that Dr. Becker holds to that position, since I have not read all he has written on the subject.

    As to the position of the Lutheran church, it is now clear, after checking Chemnitz’s Examen, Loci, and Enchiridion that he used the term “apocrypha” to classify the New Testament books we call “antilegomena.” This was because he was using the testimony of the early church to confute the Council of Trent that called down anathemas on anyone who rejected the canonical authority of all books in the old Latin Vulgate.

    Chemintz observes in the Examen how in the early church the terms of classification were not standardized. Augustine used the terms one way, Jerome another. So there has always been some confusion about how to classify the Biblical books, and the confusion persisted in the Lutheran tradition until Gerhard gave a full treatment and solved its problems.

    Chemnitz’s full discussion is worth reading. In the Saint Louis edition, it is in volume one, pages 168-195 (CPH, 1971).

    Gerhard’s treatment is even more thorough, and convincing. In the English version (Saint Louis edition from CPH, 2006) “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture,” it is found in commonplace 1, sections 6-11, i.e., pages 89-281. Gerhard treats in almost two hundred pages what Chemnitz treats in 30 pages, so the data base and argumentation are more impressive, simply because more thorough.

    On page 225, Gerhard asks “Among the books contained in the biblical codex of the New Testament, must we also determine the sort of difference that some be called canonical and some apocryphal? At first glance there appears to be some disagreement on this question among those who departed from the Roman Church, which departure the papists throw up to us hatefully. But with the help of a distinction, we can reconcile this, as we shall see later.” So Gerhard publicly recognizes the disagreements or confusion on this subject before his work was published.

    Then he quotes the relevant passages from the Magdeburg Centuries, Chemnitz, Hunnius, Osiander, Mentzer, Hafenreffer, Schroeder, also a few Calvinists and proto-rationalists.

    Then on pages 228-229 he gives his distinctions. First, there is a necessary distinction between books in the New Testament, because some people in the primitive church spoke against those (“antilegomena”) those books. Second, the term “apocrypha” is not appropriate for the New Testament books, because a) the earliest church had no doubt about the Holy Spirit’s authorship of these books; b) the human authorship was doubtful only to some people, not to all; c) the church fathers who excluded the Old Testament apocryphal books from the canon (Laodicea, canon 59; Origen; Athanasius, Jerome) did not exclude any New Testament ones. Third, the first rank of New Testament books are those about whom there has never been any doubt about their human authorship, the second rank are those “about whose authorship some in the church had doubts at some time.”

    In the latter pages, Gerhard gives specific reasons for considering each New Testament book as canonical.

    If you are confused, or this summary does not answer your questions, you will have to get the Gerhard volume “On the Nature of Doctrine and Scripture” and read it yourself.

    Any further comments from me would belabor the point, distract from other issues raised by Mr. Halvorson’s post, and exhaust the readership.

    Thanks for the opportunity to, hopefully, clarify this matter. If I did not clear up matters, I highly encourage you to read Gerhard. 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  17. @Martin R. Noland #18

    Dr. Noland, I marvel at how adeptly your research zeroes in on relevant and weighty information. And, that’s still another volume of Gerhard I’ll have to get.

    I wonder if anyone has made the more or less definitive list of the persons who spoke against each of the spoken against writings. Possibly we would discover interesting things from that.

    Beyond the issue of the spoken against writings in and of itself is the use of the issue to create a momentum of reduction.

  18. Dr. Noland,

    It looks like we agree that one can remain within the swathe of Lutheran thought and believe and teach that no dogma should be established by the antilegomena alone. The antilegomena can support and give added texture to dogmatic claims that are established by the homolegoumena, but they are themselves insufficient authorities to be the foundation for any dogma.

    Regarding an improper use of the antilegomena, you wrote: “One example of an improper use would be to say that the New Testament antilegomena are “spurious” and non-canonical, cannot be cited, and have no authority in the church.”

    Yes, that would certainly be improper, and I have read nowhere where Dr. Becker has done this.

    However, this would not be a misapplication of the antilegomena / homolegoumena distinction; it would be a denial of it by definition. It would be to move the antilegomena from Eusebius 2nd category to his 3rd and thereby dissolve the distinction altogether.

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