I ask this question as a follow-up to For Christians who are skeptical of the writings of the Apostolic & Ante-Nicene Fathers, what is their epistemological basis for trusting a canon?. I highly recommend checking out that question first.
One answer said:
Having said that, if one reads many of these early writers pretty much any contemporary Christian will find much to disagree with. I think a better question would be: who isn't skeptical of various theories and beliefs amongst those early writers? To take one of your examples, 'the deity of Christ', this just seems wrong. The picture of early writers (2nd and 3rd centuries) seems much more complex, where almost all of them would be tossed out of contemporary Trinitarian congregations for one heresy or another related to their theologies or Christologies!
However, you can push on authorship. If you don't trust the early writers, how do you know the Apostles and close associates wrote the Gospels? Isn't that based on testimony of the early writers?
First, the early writers very well may be wrong on all sorts of things, including history. (I'm looking at you, Eusebius!) There are 3 important points here, and I'll illustrate the points with a more contemporary example below.
Accepting the canon doesn't require depending on specific early writers. It depends on tradition in a broader sense.
Accepting specific traditional claims about, say, authorship doesn't mean you accept all the theology or Christology of those writers. Nor does it mean those authors support all of or even the bulk of the evidential basis for that belief.
I would want to hear a good reason for questioning the traditions of attributing authorship - they could be wrong but I haven't heard particularly compelling reasons yet. These are not abstruse theologies that are seemingly being innovated by particular writers, but central, basic traditions.
Later, about a Lord of the Rings analogy:
It would be questionable to think the reason their tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien being the author has been received as it is, is because of SRI's ancient writing. Rather, SRI's writing is symptomatic of the cause, which is a common belief held by many in ancient society, and which was passed through the generations down to our future Lotrs.
In the comments I enquired:
Rather, SRI's writing is symptomatic of the cause, which is a common belief held by many in ancient society, and which was passed through the generations down to our future Lotrs.- can't this argument also be used to argue for the widespread belief in the deity of Christ or the widespread belief in post-mortal consciousness, of which the writings of the early Church Fathers are simply symptomatic?
To which I received the following reply:
The devil's in the details, so to speak. What do you mean by 'deity of Christ'? Did Pope Clement hold to that? Better yet, did Matthew? Luke? Mark? James? It seems reasonable to hold a) no, they didn't, and b) views about the deity of Christ evolved over time. What you can't do is say "Lookie here, Iggy of Antioch said 'our god'" and then impose contemporary Trinitarian interpretations on that text. It's more difficult than authorship attribution, IMO
To the best of my understanding, the main contentions put forward by the referenced answer are:
Contention 1: There is compelling traditional evidence for the authorship attribution of (most of) the books that make up our modern Biblical canon, and in this regard the writings of the Apostolic & Ante-Nicene Fathers on specific books are simply symptomatic (a sample) of this broader traditional evidence. Thus, we have compelling historical evidence to believe that the books that we consider to be inspired were either written by or considered to be inspired by Jesus, the Apostles or their immediate associates (i.e. we can trace back the primary sources with high confidence).
Contention 2: We can't do the same with the belief in the deity of Christ. The historical evidence is not as compelling. We are not able to trace the belief in the deity of Christ back to the primary sources (Jesus & the Apostles) with the same level confidence as we do with claims of authorship attribution about the canon. The evidence from tradition is not as strong, and the writings of the Apostolic & Ante-Nicene Fathers are not conclusive, as many of their theological ideas would be regarded as heretical by contemporary Trinitarian congregations, and views about the deity of Christ seemed to have developed over time.
Do believers in the deity of Christ agree or disagree with the above two contentions?
Is the historical evidence for the deity of Christ as compelling as the historical evidence for the authorship attribution of the Biblical canon?