Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Holy Spirit Told Me To Change The Bible

After listing the new 66 book Protestant canon, the Gallic Confession (1559), co-authored by John Calvin states:
"We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we can not found any articles of faith." (Article IV)

John Calvin, in his work Institutes of the Christian Religion, again gives the same argument:
"Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted." (ch 7, paragraph 3)

Prior to the Reformation, the 73 book Catholic biblical canon had been the undisputed biblical canon for over 1000 years. This new 66 book Protestant canon being defended by John Calvin had never existed before, never having been put forth by any individual or group in the 1500 years prior (even during the first three centuries of the Church during which the canon was a disputed matter). The 16th century self-appointed reformers literally removed books from the universally accepted Bible to create a brand new canon and then justified it by appealing to an "inward illumination of the Holy Spirit".

Would evangelicals accept someone doing the same thing today?

If an influential non-denominational mega-church decided to remove, let's say, the book of Esther from the Old Testament and began printing Bibles with a 65 book canon, and started saying that all those who had more than 65 books in their Bible had added them and were therefore heretics, evangelicals would rightly be in an uproar: 'How dare the the mega-church change the Bible!'

If the mega-church responded that they had made their decision "by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit", would any evangelical be satisfied by that response? Of course not. Evangelicals would probably brand the mega-church as heretical (as was the case in the recent Rob Bell scandal).

Evangelicals might counter that the Holy Spirit wasn't leading them to remove those books. But since there's not necessarily any reason to think that the mega-church is or is not being led by the Holy Spirit any better than other evangelicals, such a counter would be useless in settling the matter (remember, priesthood of all believers).

And since Esther isn't quoted as an authority by any other books of the Bible, there can be no appeal to the other Scriptures (even if it was quoted by another book, the mega-church could just respond that that book must not be canonical as well).

Evangelicals would only be left with an appeal to tradition (again, as with Rob Bell), but such an appeal wouldn't work too well: Esther's canonicity was frequently contested in the early church and only settled when the Catholic Church settled the canon at the end of the 4th century. But when the Catholic Church did that, she established the very 73 book canon that evangelicals themselves follow the Reformers in denying. In other words, evangelicals couldn't appeal to the Catholic Church's establishment of Esther as canonical without also accepting the Church's establishment of Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom as canonical, as well as the Church's authority to settle the canon at all. Since they probably wouldn't do either of those things, evangelicals would be forced to appeal to the mere consensus among the Reformers in the 16th century (only 500 years ago, not very long in the history of Christianity) on the 66 book Protestant canon.

But even that wouldn't solve the problem. The mega-church could make an argument similar to the one made by the Reformers in the 16th century: 'We reject the authority of any church bodies or leaders. We don't follow tradition, councils, confessions, or even common consensus, but instead follow the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which is leading us to our 65 book canon.'

They would have few options left, but I still doubt that many evangelicals would concede the issue.

If evangelicals today wouldn't allow someone to create a new Bible because they felt they were "illumined" to do so by the Holy Spirit, then evangelicals cannot go on using the 66 book Protestant canon that was created on the same grounds.*

*At least according to John Calvin, whom many evangelicals today follow and pattern themselves after


  1. Awesome post, Brantly! Never even crossed my mind to think that the very "foundational father" for the Protestant community did something that today's Protestant community would be appalled by: changing the Bible.
    Quite honestly, I agree with the logic of following the "inward illumination of the Holy Spirit," but disagree in whether or not it has limitations like Calvin seems to have believed (by saying only 66).
    Thanks for pointing this out!

  2. I'm out of this loop, but aren't megachurches non-denom, and thus not subject to any other authority than each church's interpretation of whatever it understands the Bible to be?

  3. kkollwitz,
    'Mega-church' just means big church, regardless of denomination. For example, Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in SoCal would be considered a mega-church, because 1000s of people go there, but it's in the Southern Baptist denomination. You're right though, that a lot of mega churches are nondenominational (Mars Hill in WA, Mars Hill in MI, The Rock in San Diego, etc).

  4. Great post, thanks. Mirrors many things I've often thought, but never quite been able to articulate. I'm starting RCIA in ten days' time, and can't describe my joy at finding the Catholic Church.

    I had a quick question while reading your faith story. When you were still a Protestant and investigating, you said you went to church leaders in the area and asked them why there weren't Catholic. Were there any responses that made you think twice about becoming Catholic?

    And also, were there any Protestant books that made you think twice?

    I ask because I want to make sure I've covered every base (within reason) before I take this step.

  5. OK, so what to do with the OT canon in the Eastern churches, both Orthodox and Catholic? Wiki

    I'm fine with Protestants having a shorter OT canon but I wish they'd reciprocate and accept that I recognize a larger one.

  6. Moonshadow,

    I have heard different things from Orthodox sources on their OTs, ones that conflict with what wikipedia says there. Like, Psalm 151 and the prayer of Manasseh are not held as inspired but are included in some Orthodox Bibles as good books, etc. So I'm not sure if the various flavors of Orthodoxy have a dogmatic stance on the OT canon.

  7. Hey Anon,

    You asked if when I asked various church leaders/professors why they weren't Catholic, did I get any responses that made me think twice. Honestly, no. That is what was so baffling. I was expecting to get some good reasons, some good arguments. Most didn't have any, thought it was fine for me to be Catholic, or were considering it themselves. There was even one protestant pastor that gave me a list of Catholic writers and encouraged me to convert. Only two even really offered reasons why they weren't Catholic, and they seemed very weak to me (or I later discovered them to be historically inaccurate).

    Regarding things that I read, I didn't really read any books that pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic. I just did primary source reading myself (Catechism, Fathers, etc) and talked to people (heck, I was at Wheaton College at the time, so I took advantage of the professors and students there to talk things out). I guess I always just figured that anything that I'd read pro or anti Catholic I couldn't trust because I'd always be worried it was biased.

    As I explained in the page on how I came to the Catholic Church, the big thing came down to apostolic authority. The Church has it, so I've gotta go with the Church. Feel free to email me (email in Contact page) if you want to talk further. God bless your time in RCIA.

  8. Along similar lines, I have asked my protestant friends why, if the Holy Spirit led men to defend taking books out of the canon, is it not likely that the Holy Spirit led Joseph Smith to add books? If people can take books out - supposedly under the leading of the Holy Spirit - why can they not put books in?

    I'm not a biblical scholar, but that always seemed like a fair question.

  9. Hi Brantley, you are absolutely correct in saying that if any megachurch or even Billy Graham himself tried to alter the 66 book canon, heresy would be yelled from the rooftops(or facebook). There's no way it would fly.

    But Luther and Calvin's alteration did fly. People were sold on it and went with it.

    Why? Where was the uproar that you know would happen today, then. Why did the faithful accept the shortened canon?

  10. I have often thought this very same thing. If protestants can re-define morality based on personal interpretations of scripture, why prevents them from re-defining the canon too?

    The elephant in the room is that sola scripturists do ultimately appeal to a higher authority, and thus are not true to themselves. They have to if they accept the canon of the new testament as valid , based on the discernment and work of the very Church many of them refuse to accept is even Christian.

  11. Hey Vuyo,

    The vast majority of Christians did not accept the shortened canon. Catholics still use the centuries-old 73 book canon. The massive uproar was the Church's entire response to the Reformation.

    Even if a majority did, it doesn't matter. Sin clouds our mind and judgement. That's why we need the successors of the apostles, because we know that they have a special gift of the Holy Spirit such that they won't err in teaching. Lay Christians do not necessarily have that gift.

  12. Hiya, i'm a Christian seeking to understand Catholicism better so I really appreciate this blog. I just wanted to mention that I think the reason why we evangelicals have just 66 books is we want to have the same scriptures that Jesus had.
    See this comparison:

    I don't think the arrangement of the books particularly matters as much the words in the books themselves. But for the stickler in me, I wouldn't mind having the Old Testament rearranged to match up with the Hebrew Tanakh.

    Respectfully your sister in Christ, Aurora

  13. Hey Aurora,

    Thanks for the comment. The idea that the 39 book Protestant Old Testament was the canon that Jesus recognized or was the canon of all Jews in the 1st century is a common myth among Protestants. There were many canons used by different Jews in different places. The 7 books that Catholics have that Protestants rejected were in the Septuigant translation, which was the most commonly used translation in Jesus' day.

    The fact of the matter is, and the point of this post, is that the Protestant canon is not the original canon. It is a canon invented in the 16th century for very bad reasons. Catholics use the canon agreed upon by all Christians for centuries before Protestants came around in the 16th century.

  14. There actually IS an evangelical pastor (albeit an extreme fringe one) who advocates taking Esther out of the Bible. However, he does so primarily because he is an anti-Semite and believes it is Jewish propaganda. Here's his rationale for doing so (but only read it if you have a strong stomach).

    1. lol wow, thanks for sharing that, interesting