Saturday, April 19, 2008

Closed Canon--Extra-Biblical?

Catholic and Protestant doctrines teach that the culminating revelation was Jesus Christ himself. After his coming, the need for revelation has ceased. All truth necessary for salvation is found in the Bile and the scriptural canon is closed. The Catholics, ironically, reluctantly admit that the revelation given thus far "has not been made completely explicit" (see below).

On the other hand, LDS believe that there can be no salvation without current revelation, that the canon of scripture will always be open (at least in mortality), and the Bible does not contain every essential word spoken by God. Further, the Bible cannot replace modern revelation.

Catholic Doctrine

" ' new revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Yet even if revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries....Christian faith cannot accept 'revelations' that claim to surpass or correct the revelations of which Christ is the fulfillment, as in the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such 'revelations.' " (Catechism of the Catholic Church. [New York: Doubleday, 1995], pp. 27-28 paragraphs 66-67).

In other words, it took time "over the course of the centuries" to develop "Christian faith" since the completed revelation of ancient prophets and apostles "has not been made completely explicit." However, there will be no more revelation to clarify this confusion. Therefore, beware of any claiming to have more revelation (like the LDS)!

Protestant Doctrine

"Since the completion of the biblical books, there is no further divine inspiration for the writing of Scripture....Jesus Christ has done all that he can do in his redemptive purposes until his return to the earth. And in the available canon we have all the truths necessary to acceptance with God and for an abundant life. All the noncontradictory teachings of alleged recent revelations together do no add anything significant to scriptural teachings on God, mankind, sin, salvation, the church, and things to come. The commission of the apostles was unique and norepeatable...All the alleged revelations of spiritists, Latter-Day Saints, Christian Scientists, and others put together do not add anything significant to the teaching of Scripture...What people need nos is not more revelations but more faithfulness to the Spirit-illumined applications of biblical principles to specific situations" (Lewis, Gordon R., & Demarest, Bruce A., Integrative Theology. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan]. 1:116-117).

These authors would have us believe that:

1. There can be no more apostles.
2. There can be no more scripture other than what is in the Bible.
3. Jesus Christ can do no more for man's salvation than what he has already done.
4. LDS revelation does not add "anything significant" to our understanding of God.
5. et cetera

The message is clear: We are not to expect God to speak anymore to lead us to salvation. We have "scholars" who can do that for Him based on their interpretation of the Bible.

Mormon Doctrine

"From what we can draw from the Scriptures relative to the teaching of heaven, we are induced to think that much instruction has been given to man since the beginning which we do not possess now. This may not agree with the opinions of some of our friends who are bold to say that we have everything written in the Bible which God ever spoke to man since the world began, and that if He had ever said anything more we should certainly have received it. But we ask, does it remain for a people who never had faith enough to call down one scrap of revelation from heaven, and for all they have now are indebted to the faith of another people who lived hundreds and thousands of years before them, does it remain for them to say how much God has spoken and how much He has not spoken? We have what we have, and the Bible contains what it does contain: but to say that God never said anything more to man than is there recorded would be saying at once that we have at least received a revelation: for it must require one to advance thus far, because it is nowhere said in that volume by the mouth of God, that He would not, after giving what is there contained, speak again; and if any man has found out for a fact that the Bible contains all that God ever revealed to man he has ascertained it by an immediate revelation, other than has been previously written by the prophets and apostles" (Joseph Smith, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], pp 61-62).

"Now I will give my testimony. I care not for man. I speak boldly and faithfully and with authority. How is it with the kingdom of God? Where did the kingdom of God begin? Where there is no kingdom of God there is no salvation. What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives his oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not...The plea of many in this day is, that we have no right to receive revelations; but if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; and if they have not the oracles of God, they are not the people of God. But say you, What will become of the world, or the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation and the oracles of God as continued in His Church in all ages of the world, when He has a people on earth? I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, they will be damned; and when you get into the eternal world, you will find it will be so, they cannot escape the damnation of hell" (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], p. 271).

The irony is obvious. The idea of a closed canon, i.e. all necessary truth is already found in the Bible, is extra-Biblical. Logically, if a person proclaims that doctrine and belief must be derived from the Bible alone (sola scriptura), shouldn't the Bible say so? Further, if revelation was supposed to cease, how shall we know it without a revelation saying so?

Final Thoughts

This is clearly one of the biggest differences, if not the biggest difference, between LDS and mainstream Christian beliefs. I must here admit, I have never found any arguments against modern revelation or a closed canon convincing. While it is one thing to argue that Joseph Smith didn't receive true revelations (in actuality), it is another to argue that he couldn't have received revelation (in theory).

Further Reading

For those who are interested, I recommend:

1. Elder Holland's recent General Conference talk: "My Words...Never Cease"
2. 2 Nephi 28:3-6, 26-31
3. 2 Nephi 29:6-11
4. Joseph Smith--History 1:12

PS. I'm going to be out of town until next Saturday. I don't think I'll be by here in during the interlude. However, feel free to comment.


JayFlow22 said...

I think you hit the key to this when you said,
"We have 'scholars' who can do that for Him based on their interpretation of the Bible."
If the Bible was alone sufficient for doctrine, then Church service must only consist of reading the Bible -- adding no personal testimony or sermon after.
If the Bible alone is what was needed, then Christian bookstores should be empty save copies of the Bible.
However, we have pastors who give sermons, authors who give opinion, translators who believe they can word the Greek texts better, etc.
You can either let men add to the Bible, or let God.

SOB said...

"We are not to expect God to speak anymore to lead us to salvation. We have "scholars" who can do that for Him based on their interpretation of the Bible"

No, God speaks to us through his Word (scripture) and his Holy Spirit. Pastors and Christians hopefully are fullfilling the 'Great Commission' to spread the gospel. It is the message of the gospel alone, not any man, book, scholar, or pastor... which speak to man's heart via the Holy Ghost turning hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.

I'm not here to defend popular Christianity. I am a Christian who disagrees with much of what popular 'Feel Good' Christianity professes. But I do believe God's Word shines through even the most flawed presentation. Just as in marriage, a wife is to trust that God will work through her fallable husband to lead her home, God leads his church through fallible men. The gospel message penetrates the heart no matter how bad the presentation. This is because it is God who penetrates the heart, not the messenger.

Andrew Miller said...


Thanks for your comments! I'm back from vacation and while be posting again shortly.

Sob, welcome! Your perspective is appreciated here.