Did the Church Decide Which Books Made It into the Bible?
The church did not create the canon but rather reacted to what was already there. You might say it was like a thermometer that reliably responded to God’s Word. In this brief clip, Michael Kruger uses a helpful analogy from everyday life to demonstrate the Protestant view of the canon. Learn more in his new teaching series, The New Testament Canon, available now from the Ligonier store.
When I say the church is a reliable guide to canonicity, we’re not saying that because we think the church is infallible. We’re not saying that because we think the church creates the canon or constitutes the canon. No, not at all. We’re saying that simply because we think the church with the Spirit in it is going to reliably react to what God is doing is these books. It’s going to respond to what God has already done.
Sort of as an analogy of this, I think that’s really helpful, is the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. Okay? The difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. The difference between those two things really captures the difference between the Protestant view of the church and the Roman Catholic view of the church. See, the Roman Catholic view of the church is that it creates the canon. It makes the canon what it is. The Protestant view of the church is, no, the church simply responds to the canon. It responds to what’s already there, right? And it reliably responds because of the Spirit’s help, so we can look to the church as a guide, but it doesn’t create the canon.
And a thermostat and thermometer are the same, same idea. Let’s imagine you’re in your house, and you go into the hallway, and you look at that little box on the wall, right? It’s got two numbers on it. One is a thermometer that tells you what the temperature actually is, and then one’s a thermostat. That’s what you want the temperature to be, right? Think about the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat. A thermometer simply responds or reacts to the temperature in the room. A thermostat, in contrast, tries to control and create and cause the temperature in the room, right? One responds to temperature; one causes temperature. That is the difference between our view of the canon and the Roman Catholic view of the canon.
Our view of the canon is that the church merely reacts to what is already objectively there, just like a thermometer responds to temperature. It’s reliable. I could look at a thermometer, and that can tell me what temperature’s in the room. Why, because the thermometer created the temperature? No. It just reacts to it. That’s exactly what we’re arguing here. Why is it that the consensus of the church is a reliable guide? Because God’s at work in her.