Subsequent to Dr. Francis Beckwith’s recent “conversion” to Roman Catholicism and his resignation from the ETS presidency and as an ETS member there has been a good amount of discussion as to whether or not Roman Catholics can sign the ETS doctrinal statement while remaining true to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Scripture and divine revelation. To shed light on this matter I decided to get some insight from Dr. Gregg Allison, a former missionary to Italy, professor of Systematic Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and an expert in Roman Catholic theology. Below is my query and Gregg’s response.
I am writing to see if you can clear up an issue for me about which there seems to be some confusion out there in the aftermath of Dr. Francis Beckwith’s departure from the ETS. Some have repeatedly made the argument in recent days that Roman Catholics could sign the ETS statement because, while they may hold to other sources of authority besides the Bible, they, too, only consider “the Bible alone” as “the word of God written.” In my view this may be true with regard to the Magisterium and ex cathedra statements, but not with the Apocrypha. Assuming that “the Bible” spoken of in the ETS doctrinal base is the 66 books of the Protestant canon, would it not be true that the reference to “the Bible alone” would rule out Roman Catholics since they consider other books besides the 66 books (i.e. the Apocrypha) to be the Word of God written? I would greatly appreciate it if you could shed any further light on this.
Response from Gregg Allison:
I am including in this e-mail the entire second chapter of the Vatican II document entitled “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (Dei Verbum, November 18, 1965). [NOTE: instead of including the second chapter here, a link to Dei Verbum is provided below.] This is the authoritative Roman Catholic statement on divine revelation, and chapter 2 addresses the issue at hand.
In my opinion, we should not assume that Roman Catholics can readily affirm the expression in our doctrinal basis that “the Bible alone … is the Word of God written,” because such an expression is not how Roman Catholics view this issue. They affirm that the Word of God is Tradition and Scripture.
Note the following (with my emphases): “Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God, committed to the Church” (section 10).
Again (from section 10): “But the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on. …”
The reason for this intimate union of Tradition and Scripture is spelled out in section 9: “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the Word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.”
In my opinion, Roman Catholics should find the wording of the ETS doctrinal basis strange at least, for it does not view the Word of God as consisting of both Tradition and Scripture. The statement “the Bible alone … is the Word of God written” is a woefully inadequate statement about what Roman Catholics believe about the Word of God, and I would seriously doubt that informed Roman Catholics would sign it.
On your second point – the canon of Scripture – I think you are right on target. Certainly, the founding theologians and biblical scholars of the Evangelical Theological Society, and those who formulated the doctrinal basis of our Society, were Protestant evangelicals who, when they made the statement about “the Bible,” made reference to the Protestant Bible that contains sixty-six books and does not contain the apocryphal writings.
If authors’ intent means anything, then the ETS statement concerning “the Bible” means that those sixty-six books constitute “the Word of God written.” Roman Catholics cannot agree with this, because for them “the Bible” refers to the seventy-three books (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees are included) with expanded editions of Esther and Daniel.
Thus, that to which the ETS statement concerning “the Bible” refers, and that to which Roman Catholics refer when they use that term, are different matters. This is a second reason that I would seriously doubt that informed Roman Catholics would sign the ETS doctrinal basis.
I hope this helps.