As part of our Bibliology Primer we now turn to Francis Turretin’s seventh question in which he asks, “Has any canonical book perished? We deny.” He goes on explain that the Scriptures can be spoken of as canonical in two respects: “either for the doctrine divinely reveled or for the sacred books in which it is contained.” In this question Turretin addresses the latter of the two. He does so by offering six arguments which we here at StandardSacredText.com believe are relevant even today in the modern western discussion of text and canon. Turretin’s first argument is as follows,
“Proof is derived. (1) from the testimony of Christ ‘it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail’ (Lk. 16″17; cf. Mt. 5:18).Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec IV.
Note Turretin’s marshalling of Like 16:17 and Matthew 5:18. We are told now-a-days that Jesus was speaking in an oriental hyperbole at this point. He could not have meant that literally. And yet it is the historical orthodox position that Jesus did indeed mean this literally. As asked in other posts, Were the Reformers aware of textual variants? Yes. Where they aware of differing manuscripts? Yep. Even with these facts before them they still took jot and tittle to mean jot and tittle. Turretin goes on to explain,
“But if not even one tittle (or the smallest letter) could fail, how could several canonical books perish.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec IV.
Notice here how he moves from the parts to the whole. This is what we call a synechdochic relationship where the part speaks for the whole and the whole speaks for the part. Here Turretin, because of the testimony of Scripture, is so certain of the part that he is able to make a canonical claim. Who in modern Protestant academia would attempt such a feat? Currently the modern American church is not sure of the parts and that is why they speak in percentages – we are sure of 94% of the Bible or 98% of the Bible or the words of God are either in the text of the apparatus. These claims cannot begin with the parts and then conclude which books are canonical. Rather we live in a time where scholars begin with the canonical books and then tell us we have most of the parts.
Turretin goes on to his second arguments by writing,
“(2) From the declaration of Luke and Paul: neither could Luke have made mention of all the prophets and of all the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27), if any portion of them had perished.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec IV.
He goes on.
“…nor could Paul have asserted that ‘whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning’ (Rom. 15:4), unless they supposed that all the writings of the Old Testament existed.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec IV.
Here we see in both proof one and two that Turretin begins his argument by allowing the Scripture to tell us about itself. He does not first turn to the manuscript evidence of his time or the authority of the academic elites. He simply states what the Bible says and then believes and argues that. Kind of like what we do here at StandardSacredText.com? Note further that Turretin does no seem to be referencing here the LXX, a translation of the Old Testament. Rather it seems that he understands Luke and Paul to be speaking directly of the Hebrew Old Testament.
From the exegetical arguments Turretin then turns to the theological arguments beginning with the providence of God. Turretin writes,
“(3) From the providence of God perpetually keeping watch from the safety of the church (which cannot be conceived to have allowed her to suffer so great a loss).”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec V.
Interestingly enough here Turretin connects the preservation of the canon to the safety of the church. In modern terms, the work of higher and lower textual criticism is not merely a discipline unto itself as if these can be done apart from affecting the safety of the church. Indeed, it cannot. Textual criticism and the safety of the church go hand in hand. The atheist understands this. The Muslim understands this. But it does not appear that many Christian academics understand this. Is the church now safer and healthier because once they have been taught oldest, shortest, and hardest is best or that the CBGM is the answer? The burden of proof rests with the critical camp and they have yet to satisfy that burden.
“(4) From the duty of the church which is religiously to preserve the oracles of God committed to her and to search them diligently.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec V.
All we are doing here is carrying on this centuries long belief that it is Spirit of God by the word of God speaking to the people of God by faith. Here Turretin puts that as God has given the church the duty to religiously preserve the Bible – not scholarship, not the academy, not the publisher. This is a God ordained church duty, a religious duty, a duty which demands theological a prioris. The moment textual criticism became an issue of evidence and manuscript traditions is the moment the discipline of textual criticism strayed from orthodoxy and from the teaching of Scripture (Is. 59:21).
“(5) From the purpose of the Scripture which was committed to writing as a canon of faith and practice even to the consummation of ages which could not be obtained, if (by the loss of some canonical books) a mutilated and defective canon (or rather no canon at all) has been left to the church.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec V.
Here we see the potential catastrophes Turretin would not allow for. For Turretin and for us here at StandardSacredText.com, if the church lost a canonical book or if the canonical books were mutilated or defective then we, the church, could not obtain a canon of faith and practice. So while the missing of whole book would be catastrophic to Christian faith and practice it would be equally as catastrophic to Christian faith and practice if one book of the Christian canon were mutilated or defective i.e., the existence of doctrinally significant errors which average to about 14 per book of the New Testament.
Before moving to the sixth and final argument I think it is good to observe that Turretin here does not begin his presentation with evidence or the manuscript tradition or textual methodology. No, first he begins with what the Bible says about itself and then he moves to theological conclusions. Only after these does he employ historical evidence when he writes,
“(6) From the practice of the Jews; because no more canonical books of the Old Testament were acknowledge by them than by us, nor copied in the Targums, nor translated in the Septuagint.”Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. VII, Sec V.
So here we have six proofs representing the historically orthodox arguments for the present existence of the very books penned by the original penmen: 2 exegetical, 3 theological, and 1 historical/evidential. This looks to be fair balance when discussing what is or is not Scripture, what is or is not canon, what is or is not the words of God.