Missionaries often claim that the canon of the New Testament was not decided by a Council, and that its authors were guided by God. They also claim that since a Council was not needed and that all of Christendom accepted the books, it is a divine proof from God that Christianity is the truth. How do we respond to this?
This is factually incorrect. The proto-orthodox Church whose canon of scripture later came to be known as the New Testament, did in fact have two Ecumenical (Unity) Councils regarding the canon of their scripture. The Councils of Carthage in 393 and 397 CE respectively, are historically considered to be when the Church ‘confirmed’ the canon. Most Christians seem to be unaware of these Councils and so make this claim that the canon was not decided by any Council, and so the emergence of their scripture is a divine truth. Even if we were to forego these two Councils, this is in itself a poor argument. This argument, is in essence stating that a divine truth does not need a Council to determine beliefs.
However, Christianity’s history is replete with Ecumenical Councils regarding the very basic tenets of their faith, most notably those of Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon. Thus, if the lack of Councils demonstrate divine truth then the very existence of the aforementioned Councils discount Christianity’s most foundational beliefs as divine truths. As absurd as this argument may seem, I myself have experienced it firsthand. I recall an incident some years ago with a group of Jehovas Witnesses came to preach to us and we had a discussion regarding errors in the New Testament. One Elder quipped that the canon was determined by God, and that no human chose their canon. To say the least, that discussion did not last very long once they learned of Carthage.
Interestingly, Islam did not need any Councils to determine our beliefs. Thus, if a missionary was consistent, the lack of Councils in Islamic history to determine our beliefs is an evidence of the divine truth of Islam. This argument actually discounts Christianity as a divine truth and establishes Islam as the truth. Yet, given that so many missionaries use this argument one does have to wonder if they truly ponder what they’re saying before they say it. It’s truly quite a peculiar argument that seems to be extremely common. Unfortunately it’s also quite a bad one.
and God knows best.