Monthly Archives: January 2013

Here is Part 12 of my series on the canon of Scripture; Part One can be found here. Sit down with our Protestant hero as he investigates the Apocrypha from a new angle. What did the early Christians believe about the Apocrypha? But first, he reviews the importance of having trustworthy, reliable sources when doing research!

You can hear the old hoot owl calling from your neighbor’s shed as you spread your research material out all over your dining room table. You place a large amount of paper within arm’s reach of your chair, and you sharpen several pencils. “Alrighty!” you think to yourself, “Time to find out what the first Christians believed.”

You survey all the books at your disposal, trying to decide where to begin. Loraine Boettner’s book, one of the first you checked when researching the Apocrypha, lies near your left hand. You frown. The material in Boettner’s book was not exactly helpful, you recall. It was Boettner’s crack about the “14 or 15 books” of the Apocrypha that started the whole mess. Boettner lists I and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Azariah as Apocryphal books which were not included in Catholic Bibles – he, however, includes the Prayer of Manasseh as if he believes that book is in the Catholic version of the Bible (it was included in Luther’s Apocrypha – it was apparently one of Luther’s favorite prayers – but it was left out of the Catholic Bible). Boettner even manages to misspell “Bel” in the Apocryphal “book” of “Bell (sic) and the Dragon!”

But The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict let you down as well. Josh McDowell doesn’t seem to have researched the subject of the Apocrypha very thoroughly – which upsets you since you have only spent one afternoon on the subject yourself, and yet apparently you already know more than he does. McDowell’s list of Apocryphal books includes I and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, not mentioning anywhere that while these are not included in Catholic Bibles, they were included in many Protestant Bibles. Does McDowell even know that? He embarrasses himself when writing about the canonization of the New Testament books:

Since this time (the fourth century A.D.) there has been no serious questioning of the twenty-seven accepted books of the New Testament by either Roman Catholics, Protestants, or the Eastern Orthodox Church.

No serious questioning??? No serious questioning??? There was over one hundred years of serious questioning! Bibles were printed that labeled certain books of Scripture “Apocryphal NT”!!! It’s hard to find a single major Reformer whose opinion of the canon of the New Testament agrees with the canon we have today!

What nonsense!

McDowell also cites Geisler and Nix’s General Introduction to the Bible as a source for his information. You know Geisler and Nix as the authors of an assertion which now seems highly questionable:

The Council of Trent was the first official proclamation of the Roman Catholic Church on the Apocrypha, and it came a millennium and a half after the books were written, in an obvious polemical action against Protestantism. Furthermore, the addition of books that support ‘salvation by works’ and ‘prayers for the dead’ at this time (1546), only twenty-nine years after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, is highly suspect.

The addition of books??? How exactly, you ask yourself, can the Catholics be accused of adding books to their Bible when those books were already in every Bible from the fourth century on down to the time of Luther??? No way – the truth is, the Reformers (eventually) removed those books from their Bibles. You can prove that! Really, it’s not like you’re pro-Catholic or anything, but fair’s fair! For over a thousand years the world had a Bible that included the Apocryphal books intermingled among the real ones! Then Luther came along and segregated them. They were finally removed from English Bibles much later.

You read in W.O.E Oesterley’s Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha that Trent added no books to the Bible, but rather:

It was when the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha, that the Council of Trent re-affirmed the canonicity of the books, and added the anathema clause to their decree.

Loraine Boettner said basically the same thing as Geisler and Nix, didn’t he? “Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent – 1546.” That’s another strike against him. You note that Boettner, when discussing the “Protestant Attitude Toward the Bible” mentions not one word about the mind-boggling confusion over the disputed books of the New Testament. The Reformers, as far as Boettner is concerned, could do no wrong. He seems far more interested in painting the “Romanists” with a black brush. Flipping through his book, it seems to be something of an extended rant…. You set Boettner’s book aside – surely you can find something more balanced.

Gee, how can an author not even get the basic subject matter down correctly? It’s sad to think that so-called “experts” can be refuted by a layperson who has spent one afternoon in a library with a bunch of Bible encyclopedias! In fact, you are feeling a little disgruntled about the whole “cover-up” of the Protestant use of the Apocrypha and disagreement over the New Testament books. Okay, maybe not exactly a cover-up – you can find the whole history of it in Bible encyclopedias, but it sure is hard to find any mention of it at Protestant websites or in the popular literature that you buy at the local Christian bookstore! Everyone acts as if it never happened, leaving the average Protestant with the impression that Protestants at the time of the Reformation just “knew” which books belonged in the canon and which didn’t, and that it was the benighted Catholics who added spurious books to their Bible. You’ve even found a website online where you can view an English translation of Luther’s Bible – with the Apocryphal books nowhere to be found! And yet you read in your reference books that the printing of Luther’s Old Testament was actually delayed because he was ill and had not yet finished translating the Apocryphal books! The Hebrew version of the Old Testament that Luther used for translation purposes did not include the Apocryphal books, but apparently Martin Luther did not consider his Bible to be complete without them, even if he did think of them as second-class reading.

It’s really irritating when you find out that someone you were counting on didn’t do their homework! From now on you’ll view the “popular authors” and websites with a jaundiced eye….

So, what can you find out about the subject of the Bible of the early Christians? Is there anything in all those books on your table that would help?

For Part Thirteen please click here


On the memorial of St. John Bosco

Deo omnis gloria!

Here you have Part Eleven of my series on the canon of Scripture. You’ll want to begin HERE if you are new to the series, or if you’d just like to review. Are there 66 books in the Bible, as Protestants contend, or are there 73 as the Catholic Church maintains? Can Protestants say with certainty which books belong in their Bible, or must they concede that their 66 books are just a “fallible collection of infallible books”? Read on….

You lurch through the front door of your home and deposit the final armload of books on your dining room table. It has been an awful day, and the evening isn’t looking too good, either. The simple issue of “Which books make up the Apocrypha?” has mushroomed into an ugly question of “Which books belong in the canon of Holy Scripture”! Your pastor’s remark rang in your ears all the way home from church, reverberating with every slap of the windshield wipers. You have always admired Dr. R.C. Sproul, and now your pastor claims that Sproul believes that the Protestant canon is fallible? Fallible?? As in, possibly in error???

You grab a quick cup of coffee (it’s going to be a long night!) and seat yourself at the table. Where are those notes? You review what you discovered in the library this afternoon:

The earliest Bible manuscripts that we have date from the 4th century A.D. Some manuscripts down through the centuries contained only the New Testament, or are a collection of the Psalms, or a translation of this book or that book. But in every manuscript that contains the Old Testament books, the Apocryphal books are there, not separated or singled out from the other books, but mingled among them. This explains, of course, why Wycliffe (who translated the Bible into English over 100 years before Luther translated the Bible into German) included the Apocryphal books in his translation without separating them into a special section; he was just doing what every manuscript and translation had done for 1000 years.

Martin Luther started the ball rolling. He felt that some books simply did not measure up when compared to others and felt compelled to rank them according to his personal perception of their worth, citing also the fact that the “ancients” had their doubts about these books (although the “ancients” seem to have had their doubts about 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John as well, which apparently didn’t bother Luther…). While he did not actually delete any books from the Bible, he segregated many of them, telling readers of his German translation to go ahead and read those books if they wanted to – perhaps they could get something out of them, but he couldn’t. Fortunately, Luther added no books to the Bible, although he did allow himself the luxury of adding the word “alone” to Holy Scripture to strengthen his argument for justification by faith alone.

The Reformers included the Apocryphal books in their translations, placing them in a special section after the Old Testament books. Over the next 100 or so years there were many variations in content of the Apocryphal sections, so that it is hard to find two different translations with all the same Apocryphal books in them. Still, the Reformers felt compelled to include them, apparently because every Bible manuscript for 1100 years had included them.

Several editions of the King James Version of the Bible contained the Apocrypha (with three more books than in the Catholic Bible!), as did many Protestant Bible versions in Europe. In 1827 the Edinburgh Committee finally demanded that the funding for these be stopped on the grounds that the inclusion of the Apocrypha was obviously liable to give people the idea that those books were really Holy Scripture!

The poor New Testament fared no better than the Old. Many New Testament books after the Reformation were given exactly the same treatment as the Old Testament Apocrypha; they were placed in a special section after the New Testament books. Some versions demoted Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to an appendix; many Reformers thought 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John deserved to be added to that list. Some versions declare the segregated books to be flat-out Apocryphal. A few versions of the Protestant New Testament, including editions of Wycliffe’s famous translation, included the book of “Laodiceans” as a legitimate New Testament book. Again, confusion reigned.

John Calvin was very wrong in his belief that “These books, called Apocrypha, have always been distinguished from the writings which were without difficulty called Holy Scripture.” As you have verified, these books were never placed in a separate section of the Bible until Martin Luther came along. Average people down through the ages, from (at least) the fourth century to the fifteenth, apparently lived and died without realizing that the Apocryphal books were somehow any different from any other books they heard read to them in church.

Neither the Lutheran system of “what preaches Christ” as a standard for deciding which books should be considered “chief,” or the Calvinist system of “the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which enables us to distinguish [the Apocrypha] from other ecclesiastical books” works in practice. After all, didn’t both Luther and Calvin err in their beliefs concerning the canonicity of various New Testament books, and didn’t they disagree with each other on this subject? If the “testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit” couldn’t lead Luther and Calvin, the twin suns of the Protestant Reformation, to the same conclusion concerning the New Testament, then no one can claim to know by using this system which books belong in the Bible and which don’t.

Tyndale’s “methinketh” was at least honest….

A remark made by Reformed theologian Philip Schaff, the 19th-century author of The History of the Christian Church, has been gnawing at you since you read it this afternoon in the library. Schaff noted the refusal of Luther and Zwingli to recognize the book of Revelation as inspired Scripture, and opined sagely:

Zwingli and Luther were both wrong in their unfavorable judgment of the Revelation of ‘the Son of Thunder’.

SAYS WHO??? How do we KNOW that Luther and Zwingli were wrong about Revelation, and Philip Schaff was right??? Do we base our certainty on the fact that everyone else in this day and age agrees with us? That no reputable Protestant theologian questions the 66-book canon? Do we just “know because we know”???

You are at your wits’ end. How do we KNOW which books belong in the Bible and which don’t??? Do we know? R.C. Sproul’s “fallible collection of infallible books” would imply that we don’t, but you just can’t accept that. The face of a coworker drifts through your mind. He once challenged you on why you didn’t accept ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ as Holy Scripture. “There are five Gospels!” he told you, “your Bible is one short!” Fortunately, good old Josh McDowell came to your rescue again. Following his lead, you explained to your coworker that in the years after the writing of the New Testament books there were many counterfeits circulating, and the early Christians sorted out what was what based on their knowledge of the teachings of the apostles.

Wait – that’s it!
What did the early Christians believe about the Apocryphal books? Oh, for heaven’s sake, why have you been wasting so much time on the Reformers? You need to begin at the beginning! The Reformers who came 1500 years after the time of Jesus were obviously in no position to determine which books were Holy Scripture and which weren’t – they proved that by utterly messing up their canons! No, you’ve got to find out what was in the Bible back when the first Christians read it.

You feel better than you have all day!

For Part Twelve please click here


On the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas

Deo omnis gloria!

This is Part Ten of my series on the deuterocanonical books, or the “Apocrypha,” as Protestants call it. Part One is here, and I strongly suggest that you read the story in order! Our hero, in his quest to determine why the Reformers included the Apocrypha in their translations of Holy Scripture, has discovered to his shock and dismay that every extant Bible manuscript of the Old Testament down through the centuries contains the Apocrypha….

You leave the library with a veritable armload of books, so many, in fact, that you drop one in the parking lot and have a devil of a time picking it up without dropping all the others. You have a headache, eye strain and a sour stomach after devoting your free afternoon to the uncomfortable subject of the Apocrypha. When the library finally turned out the lights, you gathered up all the books you could carry (the encyclopedias had to be left behind) and staggered up to the circulation desk to check them out. The librarian chuckled slyly that perhaps next time you ought to bring a shopping chart with you.

“A shopping cart,” you mutter grimly as you pull slowly out of the parking lot – a fitting but unpleasant metaphor for what you have discovered in your afternoon’s worth of research: the Reformers’ various shopping carts filled with different books of the Bible. Everyone took home what they liked and left the rest behind, with apparently no better justification than “I don’t believe that THAT book is Holy Scripture, but THIS one agrees with my theology – I think I’ll keep this one!”

You had no idea that the Reformation had been the occasion of such utter chaos. Your pastor, in his Reformation Sunday sermon, had said that the Reformers had quarreled among themselves over various doctrines, this being the beginning of all the different denominations that we have nowadays, but it never, ever occurred to you that they couldn’t even agree on which books should be in the Bible! I mean, everyone KNOWS which books are in the Bible!

You pause to consider this. You certainly know which books are in the Bible – you just look in the index and there they are!

But who is responsible for that collection of books in your Bible? The spiritual descendants of the Reformers, after a hundred years or so, apparently finally agreed on the 66 books that you now know and love. Case closed!

That tiny warning bell is ringing in the back of your mind as you drive towards your church, but in your exhaustion you choose to ignore it. It begins to drizzle, and as you flick on your wipers you pass a church with a signboard on the front lawn – “Your friendly neighborhood Bible-believing church!” it advertises. You smile weakly. That description would fit your church as well: friendly, Bible-believing….

And a prerequisite of being “Bible-believing” is knowing what the Bible is, and what it is not!

You drive a little farther, and pull into your own church’s parking lot on the off chance that you can still get inside. You’d like to take a few of the books in the small church library home with you if you can….

Fortunately you meet your pastor coming out the front door. You apologize for dropping by so late in the day, and you explain that you’ve become really, really interested in the canon of Scripture. The pastor smiles warmly.

“You’ve come to the right place! We had to stock up on books that address that question several years ago; I think it was before you started attending here. A family in our church was quite upset about R.C. Sproul’s famous remark about Protestantism’s “fallible collection of infallible books.” They were distressed to think that we might not know definitively which books belong in the Bible and which don’t. You probably never met them; they don’t attend here anymore. But the books we stocked up on have been very helpful to many. You can borrow any or all of them that you’re interested in.”

You follow your pastor down the dark hallway to the little room that serves as your church library. Your pastor points to a section on one shelf.

“I’ll take ’em all,” you mumble. He loads the books into your arms.

“You read these tonight, and I’ve no doubt you’ll come to church tomorrow morning with all your questions answered. In fact, you’ll probably be able to preach the sermon!” he jokes.

You smile wanly, and numbly make your way back down the dark corridor to the exit, as his offhand remark echoes ominously through the corridors of your mind.

Fallible collection of infallible books???

For Part Eleven, please click here


On the memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus

Deo omnis gloria!

Let’s take a breather here at this critical juncture in our hero’s search for the truth concerning the canon of Scripture. He’s been through a lot!

First of all, he was confronted with Major Myth #1 concerning the Catholic canon of Scripture, a myth that most Protestants internalize and never question: The Catholic Church added 7 books to the canon of Scripture at the Council of Trent in 1546. That has a downright diabolical ring to it, because only a fiendish organization would fiddle with the word of God! Adding and/or subtracting anything to or from Holy Scripture is unthinkable – any Protestant worth his salt can direct you to the prohibitions in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, and Revelation 22:18–19! Fortunately, our Protestant hero has done his homework, and has discovered that the Catholic Church did not add the “Apocrypha” to the Bible in 1546 – those books have been there since the fourth century! To his dismay, however, our hero has also discovered that Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, ADDED a word to his German translation of the Bible, causing Romans 3:28 to read “We hold that a man is justified without the works of the law, by faith ALONE.” Thus, every good, Bible-loving Protestant in Luther’s Germany could answer a Catholic’s objections by insisting “THE BIBLE SAYS that we are justified by faith ALONE,” when in actuality, the only place in Holy Scripture where the words “faith” and “alone” occur next to each other is in James 2:24, which reads, “You see that a man is justified by works and NOT by faith alone.”

Pretty slick! What were those prohibitions against adding anything to the word of God again?

Our protagonist confronted the corollary to Major Myth #1 which states that the Protestant Reformers KNEW which books belonged in the Bible, and therefore KNEW that the Apocrypha did not belong there. The incredible confusion over the canon of the New Testament belies that argument! When the Reformers separated themselves from the Catholic Church, they left much behind. Dismissing the authority of the Church to discern the canon, the Reformers needed to come up with their own “tests” and their own justifications for the canons they chose to use, tests and justifications which ended up being subjective in the extreme – along the lines of “The book of Revelation does not belong in the canon of Scripture because… well, I read that Cyril of Jerusalem didn’t like it, and, well, because… because I can’t get anything out of it, and it just seems like a dumb book to me, and how can a dumb book be Holy Scripture? What’s with that “mark of the beast” stuff, anyway??
Revelation can’t be Scripture!

This subjectivity, of course, led to many different views among the Reformers on the correct canon of Scripture, with John Calvin’s “it was through a device of Satan that some have questioned the authority of the book of Hebrews” standing out as the epitome of hubris. How did Calvin know that HE had correctly discerned the canon, and that Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, Andreas Karlstadt, Johannes Brenz, Andreas Osiander and other Reformers were wrong about the canonicity of the book of Hebrews? Again, Calvin’s test for canonicity was completely subjective: “Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste,” thus, a true Christian will receive “the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit” and will just “know” which books are Holy Scripture and which aren’t! And that’s why all the Reformers had the same canon of Scripture!

Oh, wait – no, they didn’t….

Calvin, Luther and all the Reformers rejected the only objective standard of canonicity – the authority of the Church – and thus all of their tests were of necessity subjective and very fallible. Because of this, 7 books – the deuterocanonicals – ended up being REMOVED from the Bible after the Protestant Reformation. Do we need to go over those Biblical prohibitions against SUBTRACTING anything from the word of God?

And the popular Protestant authors, whose books are read by contemporary American Christians, have followed in the footsteps of the Reformers; they too reject the authority of the Church to discern the canon. How then can they explain to 21st-century Protestants how the 66-book canon was discerned? The question admittedly doesn’t come up too often – the canon is taken as a given, as if the King James Bible fell leatherbound from Heaven. Many Evangelicals have conflated the belief that the canon contains 66 books with the belief that Scripture is inerrant, and think that to question the number of books in the canon is to question the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture, something which of course they would never do. But when the question of the canon does arise, the popular Protestant authors have a plan of action to keep the inevitable inquiries from getting out of hand:

First, they propagate the myth that Catholics ADDED the 7 deuterocanonical books to the canon. Since the Council of Trent did REAFFIRM the canonicity of those books in 1546 (something that the Church first affirmed in the 4th century), it’s fairly easy to confuse the not-too-terribly-discriminating reader into believing the prevailing Protestant myth. Many Protestant accounts manage to slip in a sly mention of the fact that “Not coincidentally, these extra books shore up the Catholic doctrines of purgatory and faith plus works” to convince the reader that it was all a PLOT to discredit the doctrines preached by the Reformers. Of course, the canons of the various Reformers are NOT discussed – that would open a very nasty can of worms. Best to let Protestants think that the canon has always contained 66 books, and that it was the perfidious Catholics who tried to tamper with it….

But some people do want to know exactly how the books of the canon were discerned. The French Confession of 1559 (“the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit”) may be trotted out, although it generally fails to satisfy an inquiring mind. So, the popular authors (and the websites which derive their information from them) have propagated several other myths generally accepted by Protestants:

Major Myth #2: The Jews closed the canon of the Old Testament, and they never accepted the canonicity of the 7 additional books.

Major Myth #3: The first Christians possessed a 66-book canon of Scripture, the same one Protestants use to this day. A few early Christians
got confused and believed that the 7 additional books were Holy Scripture, but on the whole nobody was fooled.

And the corollary to Major Myth #3: True Christians weren’t fooled by the 7 additional books because they could see that the apostles never quoted from them in the books of the New Testament, and almost never even alluded to them.

Sounds like an airtight case! Then the popular authors begin listing the “criteria” which the first Christians used in discerning which books were Holy Scripture and which weren’t, like the above-mentioned “quotation and allusion” criterion. What they don’t tell you is that these “criteria” were MADE UP by Protestants AFTER THE FACT in an attempt to explain a discernment process that was nothing like what they want you to believe….

Of course, there are Protestants who don’t rely on the popular authors. They read more scholarly works, and when it becomes evident to them that Major Myths 1, 2 and 3 are just that, MYTHS, they may come to a pretty scary conclusion – a conclusion which our protagonist confronts in the next installment of our “Mystery of the Missing Books.”

Try to remember everything our hero has learned thus far, so that you’ll be able to keep up with him as he begins to investigate the 1st-century Bible! He is faithfully seeking the truth concerning the canon of Scripture.

Let’s see what he finds out!


For Part Ten, please click here

On the memorial of the conversion of St. Paul

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credit: The crew of the NASA/NOAA NEEMO 11 undersea exploration mission, courtesy of NASA


Codex Toletanus from the collection of the National Museum of Spain

This is Part Nine of my series on the canon of Scripture.  Please begin here; the series will be incomprehensible to you if you don’t begin at the beginning.  This is a history mystery, so pay careful attention to all the clues scattered about.  Note the index to the left: listed are the books of the Old Testament in a 9th-century Bible manuscript.  They are in Latin, but you can make out (in the second column) the names of the deuterocanonical books.

Major Myth #1 concerning the canon of Scripture has already been shot down: “The Catholic Church ADDED 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.” How could the Church have ADDED books to the Bible which were already there? Our Protestant protagonist has also watched the corollary to Major Myth #1 crash and burn – the notion that the Protestant Reformers KNEW which books belonged in the Bible and therefore confidently proclaimed to the world the 66-book Protestant canon of Scripture as opposed to the Catholic canon with its “additional” books.

Our protagonist was appalled when he learned that Martin Luther set himself up as a judge of which books belong in the canon of Scripture, shunting Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to a section at the end of the New Testament because he considered them less “biblical” than other New Testament books. But now our hero has discovered that many of the Reformers had issues with SEVEN books of the New Testament, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation, declaring them to be substandard and warning against their use in the formation of doctrinal principles. The New Testament canon was literally up in the air during the Protestant Reformation. How could the Reformers take it upon themselves to rethink the canon of Holy Scripture?? What was the cause of all this confusion over the canon??

You try to determine the root of all this confusion. It is obvious that Wycliffe, whose Bible mixed the Apocrypha in with inspired Scripture rather than segregating those books from the rest of the Old Testament, must have used a substandard manuscript when translating – that would explain where he got the idea that the Apocrypha belonged in the Bible. That must be where all this confusion began. If you can find older, more reliable manuscripts, you will have the answer to your question right there – you will be able to pinpoint the beginning of the confusion concerning the Apocrypha.

You scramble to finish this up before the library closes. You remember that Wycliffe depended on the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible for his English translation. “Wait, that’s where he went wrong!” you whisper to yourself. The Vulgate – isn’t that a Catholic Bible? No wonder the books of the Apocrypha were mixed in with the real books! Now, if you can just find manuscripts that list the real books of the Bible, without all these Catholic accretions, you will have solved your problem. Finally!!

You search through any references you can find to the contents of Bible manuscripts that would have been around at the time of Luther or before. You make a list with two columns, one for the Bible manuscripts that contained Apocryphal books, and one for the manuscripts that excluded them. The first list fills up rather quickly:

The printer responsible for the famous Gutenberg Bible, published nearly 100 years before Luther’s translation, mixed the Old Testament Apocrypha in with the real books. You also find a reference to a Polish translation from the 15th century which does the same.

Wycliffe’s translation from 14th-century England also does this.

The Spanish Biblia Alfonsina of the 13th century has Apocryphal books in the Old Testament.

The Lambeth Bible, a beautifully illuminated 12th-century manuscript from England, contains the Apocrypha mixed in among the books of the Old Testament. Wisdom and the first half of Sirach are in the manuscripts of the Bible of a heretical group, the Waldenses. These manuscripts are dated by some scholars to the 12th century. There are marginal notes referring to the books of Judith, Tobit, 4 Esdras, Wisdom, Sirach and Susanna.

Good King Aelfric of 11th-century England tells of how he translated the Apocryphal books of Maccabees and Judith into English, apparently on the understanding that they were Holy Scripture.

The 10th-century Codex Cavensis and the 9th-century Codex Toletanus, two Bible manuscripts, both contain the Apocryphal books mixed with those you know to be Holy Scripture.

A 9th-century French manuscript of the first Bible of Charles the Bald contains dedicatory verses listing the books included in that Bible:

“O blessed King Charles, may this Bible please you, for it contains the two Testaments that should be read again and again…. For here is the fount, here the powerful teaching, here the overflowing streams of the holy church whiter than snow, that is, the five joined volumes of high-singing Moses shine; they sing up until the death of that man. The leader Joshua rises up mighty in arms, leads the people into [their] homeland, [and] the law takes hold of that place. Behold, the seventh book proclaims the name of the judges, under whose power the Hebrew host lived. The deeds, descent, times, places, wars and victories of these people were inserted in it with their deserved distinction. There was one noble woman, Ruth, associated with them, whom Job, a man of outstanding faith follows. It is pleasing to imitate this man, since he possessed outstanding patience and was a great model for us. Four books of Kings [come] before sixteen books of Prophets, to which the hymnifier David is joined; David, who sang the rhythmical songs of the Psalms, often speaks of the many mysteries of Christ. From his royal seed the Virgin Mary came forth; this blessed Virgin gave birth to God. Peaceful Solomon [comes next], and then [the Book of] Wisdom. The third book following them is Jesus [ben Sirach]. After comes Chronicles, then Ezra or Nehemiah, and at this point Esther, Judith and Tobit also sing. Then the renowned Maccabean battles on behalf of the law, the land, and the salvation given [them] thunder forth. Indeed, this old Scripture stands briefly recalled [here], although in a meager and rather rustic style. The teachings of the New Testament begin….”

A Slavonic translation of Scripture from the 9th century also has the Apocryphal books mingling with the real books.

Four codices of the 8th century, the Basilano-Vaticanus and Venetus, the Amiatinus, the Paulinus, and the Statinus tell the same story – genuine books side-by-side with Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Codex Ambrosianus from the 6th and 7th century contains the Apocrypha. The Codex Marchalianus, a 6th-century Greek Bible manuscript, contains the 12 minor prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, and Daniel with the additions of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon.

The Old Ethiopic translation dates from the 5th or 6th century, and there are those Apocryphal books. Also from the 5th century, both the Armenian translation and the Georgian translation of the Bible contain the Apocrypha in with the books you recognize as Holy Scripture, as do the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus.

The 4th-century Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Claromontanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, contemporary with the Vulgate version of the Bible, follow this setup, as do the translations into Gothic and Coptic. Earlier than the 4th century the writings of the earliest Christians cite the Vetus Italia, or Old Latin version of the Scriptures, and guess what – there are those Apocryphal books….

Gee, your first column has really filled up fast! A lot of Old Testament manuscripts down through the centuries throughout the Christian world certainly seem to have included the Apocryphal books in with Holy Scripture….

Quite a lot… In fact, perhaps most….

Perhaps ALL???


For a summary of the first nine parts, please click here

On the memorial of St. Marianne Cope

Deo omnis gloria!

Here’s Part Eight of my series on the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, or the “Apocrypha” as Protestants call them. The series began here, and I strongly suggest that you begin at the beginning!

The popular Protestant authors almost never take up the question of the presence of the Apocrypha in all the early Protestant Bibles; from their point of view, the less said about that, the better! But when one of them does face this question, he will claim that those books were there for “historical reasons,” to “provide historical background….” This explanation is obviously tremendously weak. Why, for Heaven’s sake, include books IN YOUR BIBLE which are not Holy Scripture? Those books will provide the average reader with no meaningful “historical background” (read them and see what you think!) – they will merely serve to confuse him by blurring the line between God’s Word and these “other books” rubbing shoulders with the “real thing”! The Protestant “Edinburgh Committee,” which finally forced the removal of the Apocrypha from the KJV, said as much!

No, there is a concrete historical reason why the early Protestant Bible translators – Wycliffe, Luther, the translators of the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, all the early Protestant Bible translators – refused to exclude the Apocrypha! Can you figure it out before our hero does?

You now have to examine the attitude of the rest of the Reformers concerning the canon of Scripture. You check your watch to see how much time you have left. The library closes in an hour. For heaven’s sake, you’ve spent the whole afternoon here just trying to find out which books constitute the Apocrypha, and you’re really no closer to the answer than you were when you came in! You have learned, however, that Martin Luther placed books of both the Old and New Testament in “special sections” of his Bible. Based on his very subjective assessment of which books preached the Gospel (as he understood it), he rated some books as “more canonical” than others. According to his system, books like Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation just don’t make the grade. They are good books, he states, but not to be considered among the “chief books” of the Bible from which we take our doctrine. So Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were banished to an “apocryphal” section in the back of New Testament, just as Luther placed the books that you are so worried about, the “Apocrypha,” in the back of the Old Testament while still considering them “useful and good to be read.” You have learned that the Reformers after Luther had a field day with the canon of Scripture, adding and subtracting books in a bewildering whirl of conflicting Bible versions.

So how did the other Reformers justify their innovations? How did they decide which books were really inspired Holy Scripture, and which failed the test? What was the test? Did they follow Luther’s obviously unworkable system of which books “preached Christ”?

Tyndale, the great English Bible translator of the 16th century, gave this explanation of why he rejected the rejection of the book of James:

Though [the Epistle of St. James] were refused in old time, and denied of many to be the Epistle of a very Apostle, and though also it lay not the foundation of the faith of Christ… methinketh it ought of right to be taken for Holy Scripture.

Methinketh??? So over and against Luther’s thundering objection that James was “really an epistle of straw” that contained “not a syllable about Christ,” we have Tyndale’s timorous “methinketh”???

The Dutch Arminian leader, Grotius, remarked on the book of James, saying:

Those who have rejected the Epistle of James… had reasons, but not good reasons, for they saw that it was opposed to their views….

You would certainly agree with that – “it was opposed to their views!” Removing the book of James (or segregating it in the back of the Bible) just because you don’t like what it says is terribly wrong. We conform our theology to Holy Scripture, not our canon of Scripture to our theology!!

The Frenchman John Calvin was another great leader of the Reformation, and you have read that he apparently had problems with 2 and 3 John, calling 1 John THE epistle of John.

Unlike Luther, Calvin insists that Hebrews is “without doubt among the Apostolic Epistles; nor do I doubt but that it was through a device of Satan that some have questioned its authority.” (Take that, Martin Luther!)

But you read that Martin Luther said that “A Christian soon smells from afar which is God’s and which is human teaching.” Hmm… so, one of these guys must have lost his sense of smell as far as the book of Hebrews goes….

Calvin, like Luther, put the Old Testament Apocrypha in a special section of his Bible, with this justification:

These books, called Apocrypha, have always been distinguished from the writings which were without difficulty called Holy Scripture. For the Church Fathers wished to avoid the danger of mixing profane books with those which were certainly brought forth by the Holy Spirit. That is why they made a list, which they called a canon. The word means that everything which belongs to it was a firm rule to which one should hold…. It is true that the Apocrypha is not to be despised, insofar as it contains good and useful teaching.

There’s that phrase again, “good and useful teaching,” like Luther’s “useful and good to be read.” But the question comes to mind: if the Old Testament Apocrypha “have always been distinguished from the writings which were without difficulty called Holy Scripture” as Calvin claims, where did Wycliffe get a hold of a manuscript that mingled the Apocrypha with the real books of the Old Testament? You’ve read that the Wycliffe Bible, in its Prologue to the Old Testament, notes that some books ‘shall be set among apocrypha, that is, without authority of belief,” but those books were not then separated out as they were in Luther’s Bible – they mingled with the books of Holy Scripture, just as they do in your great-aunt’s Catholic Bible! Something like that definitely gives the reader the impression that those books are Holy Scripture!

A little bell starts ringing in the back of your mind… a quote you read from a Protestant archbishop, John Whitgift. When it was suggested in 1589 that the Apocrypha be removed from English Bibles, Whitgift retorted:

Who ever separated the Apocrypha from the rest of the Bible from the beginning of Christianity to that day?

The archbishop was apparently laboring under the delusion that Bibles had always contained the Apocrypha “from the beginning of Christianity…!”

That’s very odd….

Calvin, in disputing the Roman Catholic canon of Scripture, cites the Catholic reasoning behind the decision to include seven Apocryphal books in Catholic Bibles:

They allege an old catalogue, which they call the Canon, and say that it originated in a decision of the Church. But I again ask, In what council was that Canon published? Here they must be dumb. Besides, I wish to know what they believe that Canon to be. For I see that the ancients are little agreed with regard to it.

Calvin utterly rejected the Catholic claim that the Church could definitively determine which books were Holy Scripture, writing:

Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends.

So, Calvin insists that the Apocryphal books “have always been distinguished from the writings which were without difficulty called Holy Scripture,” and yet at the same time “the ancients are little agreed” on which books constitute the canon! It’s hard to see how that worked out in practice….

According to Calvin, it’s OBVIOUS to real Christians which books are inspired Holy Scripture and which are the Apocrypha – it’s the witness of the Holy Spirit that makes all the difference.

As to their question – How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? – it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.

The French Confession of 1559 elaborates on Calvin’s method:

We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the church as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books.

At this point you are about ready to throw in the towel. So, the “testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit” is what we must rely on to distinguish inspired Scripture from man-made books. Just read a book like Tobit or Baruch or Hebrews or Revelation, and you’ll be able to distinguish Holy Scripture from the writings of men! It sounds great – it sounds really great! Except for one tiny problem:

Martin Luther, who according to this system proposed by Calvinists must either have been:

  1. Completely devoid of any leading by the Holy Spirit (after all, he questioned the authority of the book of Hebrews – an act which according to Calvin was occasioned “through a device of Satan!”)
  2. Deliberately disobedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit (not really what you’d like to think about the man who spearheaded the entire Reformation.)
  3. Hard of hearing as far as the promptings of the Holy Spirit were concerned in this instance.

None of those options appeal to you, and the third option has an aspect that is especially thorny – who is to say that it was Luther who was spiritually “hard of hearing” in this instance? Perhaps it was Calvin who wasn’t following the promptings of the Holy Spirit? How to judge rightly between all the different Reformers and all their different canons of the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries? Doesn’t every single argument put forward in favor of this particular canon or that particular canon simply boil down to subjective opinion? Down to “this book is Scripture because I say it is”??? After all, Zwingli declared the book of Revelation to be noncanonical after he had a quotation from it used against him in a dispute! What better way to win your argument than declaring objectionable texts to be noncanonical?!

And where does that leave you and your original question? How many books are there in the Apocrypha? Where did they come from? Why were they ever included in the Bible at all?

For Part Nine please click here


On the memorial of St. Agnes

Deo omnis gloria!

Reformers at Marburg

This is Part 7 of my series on the canon of Scripture. In order to follow this mystery story, you need to begin here.

Protestants have propagated many myths concerning the canon – our protagonist has just shattered Major Myth #1: “The Catholic Church ADDED 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.” As our hero has discovered, John Wycliffe included the Apocrypha (with even more books than in the Catholic Bible) in his English translation of Holy Scripture 150 years BEFORE the Council of Trent supposedly added the books to the Catholic Bible. Was this a one-off? Hardly – Martin Luther insisted on including the Apocrypha in his Bible translation, although he placed those books in a special section at the end of the Old Testament, just as he placed Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation in a special section at the end of the New Testament!
ALL the early Protestant Bibles included the Apocrypha – pretty strange
if those books were added to the Bible by the Catholic Church in 1546 as many Protestants claim.

Thus far, our hero has attempted to determine why the books of the Apocrypha were included in a section behind the Old Testament in all the 16th-century Protestant English Bibles, and why some of those same Bibles shunted Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to a section behind the New Testament. His quest has led him to Martin Luther, who initiated these practices, and started a trend that others continued and expanded upon….

Delving deeper, you determine that Wycliffe apparently translated the Scriptures into English from the Vulgate version of the Bible. Luther, on the other hand, translated the Old Testament into German from the Soncino Hebrew Bible used by the Jews of his day – the Apocryphal books were not in that version, and they had to be translated from the Septuagint (a Greek manuscript) and the Vulgate (a Latin translation). But why did Luther see fit to drag the Apocryphal books into his Bible at all??

The common explanation of the presence of the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles (when you can find mention made of this at all!) seems to be that those books were there for “historical reasons,” to “provide historical background….” In the Geneva Bible you find the statement that the Apocrypha is included “as books proceeding from godly men” which “were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history and for the instruction of godly manners, etc.” But you can’t find that “historical background” reasoning in other versions, for example, in Luther’s German Bible which predates the Geneva. Why exactly would Martin Luther go out of his way to include the Apocrypha in his German Old Testament when those books weren’t present in the Hebrew text from which he translated the canonical books? He said that he included the Apocrypha because it was “useful and good to be read.” Okay, that could be said about a lot of books… but why include them between the covers of the Holy Bible???

You find that various 16th– and 17th-century Bibles give differing reasons for the presence of the Apocrypha between their covers:

The Apocrypha was included in the Zurich Bible “so that no one may complain of lacking anything, and each may find what is to his taste” (which sounds to you like the smorgasbord approach to Bible publishing!)

The 1551 French de Tournes edition of the Scriptures puts the Apocrypha in a separate section, à la Luther. It goes on to inform the reader that these books are rejected by the Jews. No matter, the editor assures us: “Wherefore, reader, seeing that from all flowers the fly may draw liquor to make honey, without regarding where it is planted, whether in the field or in the garden, so from all books thou shalt be able to draw matter suitable to thy salvation without being guided by the Jews. …. Since, therefore, all have the same source and wholesome root, in spite of any
pruning the
Jews may have made on them, do not fail to read them and to take from them doctrine and edification.”

Becke’s Bible seems to indicate that the Apocryphal books are inferior to canonical books simply because they were written in the wrong language: “And although these books be not found in the Hebrew nor in the Chaldean and for that do not take of so great authority as be the other books of the Holy Bible, yet have the holy fathers always so esteemed them and worthily they call them … books of the church, or books mete to be read among the whole congregation namely for that they do agree with the other books of the Holy Bible and contain most godly examples and precepts of the fear and love of God and our neighbor. Wherefore they are diligently to be read, and the learning in them earnestly to be followed that by our good example of living our Heavenly Father throughout all nations may be praised and glorified….”

Coverdale, in his preface to the Apocrypha, states that in his opinion the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men do not belong in the Bible; “Nevertheless, both because of those that be weak and scrupulous, and for their sakes also that love such sweet songs of thanksgiving, I have not left them out, to the intent that the one should have no cause to complain, and that the other also might have the more occasion to give thanks unto God in adversity, as the three children did in the fire.”

The 1611 KJV included the Apocrypha with no comment at all concerning why it was there.

The fifth edition of the Great Bible calls the books, not Apocrypha, but merely “the fourth part of the Bible.”

Apparently the memo that the Apocrypha was being included to provide “historical background” hadn’t reached everyone yet!

So Luther was in essence a “trendsetter” – he had two “special” sections in his German translation, one in the Old Testament (for the 7 books you know are Apocrypha) and one in the New (for the 4 books you know and love as Holy Scripture!). Now you understand the references concerning “Luther’s arrangement of the New Testament canon” that you read in connection with the old English Bibles – some of the English were following Martin Luther’s lead in shunting Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to the back of the Bible. Luther’s example started the ball rolling. In fact, the reference books tell you that low German Bibles around the year 1600 actually went so far as to label Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation “apocryphal” or even “noncanonical,” “that is, books which are not held equal to other holy Scripture.” The Swedish Gustavus Adolphus Bible of 1618 does the same, calling those books “Apocr(yphal) N.T.” The Canon of the New Testament tells you that this “threefold division of the New Testament: ‘Gospels and Acts’, ‘Epistles and Holy Apostles’, and ‘Apocryphal New Testament,” was “an arrangement that persisted for nearly a century in half a dozen or more printings.”

That’s horrible! How could such a thing be allowed to happen? Four books of inspired Scripture were presented to a generation of Bible-readers as “apocryphal,” all because Luther felt that they were somehow substandard. Who was he to sit in judgment of Holy Scripture, anyway?

Dismayed, you read on concerning the other Reformers to see if their beliefs on the NT canon were any more orthodox than Luther’s! You find that:

John Calvin called 1 John “THE Epistle of John,” and did not write commentary on the other two epistles of John the Apostle.

Ulrich Zwingli declared concerning Revelation: “With the Apocalypse we have no concern, for it is not a Biblical book” after it was used in a debate against him to support the invocation of angels. (This sounds a great deal like Luther and his rejection of 2 Maccabees!)

Luther’s colleague from Wittenburg, Andreas Karlstadt, thought that SEVEN New Testament books (Hebrews, James, II Peter, II John, III John, Jude and Revelation) were questionable, adding that there was really very little reason to include Revelation in the canon. He declared both the Epistle to the Laodiceans and the ending of the Gospel of Mark (Mk 16:9-20) to be apocryphal. He also divided the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament into two categories, declaring Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, and I and II Maccabees to be “holy writings,” while 1 and 2 Esdras, Baruch, Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel were “obviously apocryphal.”

“The second Martin,” Martin Chemnitz, also declared the books of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation to be disputed, insisting that they be used “for edification,” but that “no dogma ought to be drawn out of these books which does not have reliable and clear foundations in other canonical books.”

Johannes Brenz calls the seven books “apocryphal,” asking by what right they should be put on the same level as the canonical Scriptures. He considered them, however, “valuable for reading.”

Mathias Haffenreffer, in speaking of the seven disputed New Testament books, said, “These apocryphal books, although they do not have canonical authority in judging of doctrine, yet because they make for instruction and edification, contain many things and can be read privately and publicly recited in the church with usefulness and profit.”

Andreas Osiander insisted that the seven books “do not have in themselves value for establishing doctrine.”

Johannes Oecolampadius had no problem with Hebrews, but stated that “we do not compare the Apocalypse, the Epistles of James and Jude, and 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John with the rest.”

Aegidius Hunnius remarked that the seven disputed NT books “are outside the Canon and are judged apocryphal.”

Heinrich Bullinger was the first major Reformer to write a commentary on the book of Revelation as other Reformers considered the book to be either substandard or outright unbiblical. (Calvin’s position on Revelation is unclear – he may simply have died before he could write any commentary on it, or he may have concurred with other Reformers and considered it apocryphal.)

In the years following the Reformation, various individuals questioned the presence of the Song of Solomon, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Luke, and Acts in their Bibles….

And you note that several German Bible editions of the 16th century included the “Epistle to the Laodiceans” in their New Testament, as did editions of Wycliffe’s translation, as well as Czech Bibles….

You cradle your aching head in your hands. You don’t even know who some of those guys were, but you get the main idea: the Reformers had no more of a clue concerning what was Scripture (and what wasn’t) than Wycliffe and Luther did. So many of them treated Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation as if they were Apocrypha – placing them in a “special” section, with no “canonical authority in judging of doctrine” but “valuable for reading,” just like Luther’s “useful and good to be read.” How did they justify this unholy nonsense?

Luther used his “true touchstone,” his system of which books “preached Christ” to determine which New Testament books to segregate, a rather subjective system that seems pretty dangerous to you. It seems obvious that Luther decided his doctrine FIRST based on his understanding of “the just shall live by faith,” then looked for it in the books of the New Testament. Whenever he couldn’t find this doctrine explained as clearly as he would have liked in certain books, he declared them deficient, perhaps not even really Scripture. In fact, the Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, in discussing Luther’s system, says as much:

Thus the doctrine of justification by faith is not accepted because it is found in the Bible; but the Bible is accepted because it contains this doctrine.

You shake your head. This is backwards – we don’t form our theology first and then pick and choose among the books of Scripture! That makes US the final arbiter of truth, doesn’t it? Let’s say you started pondering New Testament truths such as Jesus’ statement “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you,” and then began noticing Old Testament passages which seemed to preach a different message. If you went into your church on Sunday and announced to the pastor that you had decided, based on your reading of the Gospels, that God is love and therefore the Old Testament is obviously not really Scripture – after all, it presents God as telling Israel to wipe the Canaanites off the face of the earth! Your pastor would sit you down and have “a little talk” with you! We do not sit in judgment of the Scriptures, he would insist – we allow Scripture to teach us! If sections of Scripture seem to be in conflict with each other, there are whole reference books devoted to harmonizing them! Once we know that a book is Holy Scripture, we must acknowledge that any discrepancies or “errors” in that book can be reconciled with what we find in the rest of Scripture. That is apparently what Protestants who lived after the Reformation eventually did; ignoring Luther’s qualms, they reconciled James’ insistence that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” with Paul’s “we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” because both of these books are Holy Scripture!!!

Why did the Reformers feel the need to fiddle with Scripture???

The question remains, did the other Reformers follow Luther’s “true touchstone,” his odd justification for cutting and pasting books of the Bible into his own little arrangement using the criterion of how well a given book “preached Christ,” or did they have their own justifications for cobbling together their custom-made canons?

Do you really want to know?

For Part Eight, please click here


On the memorial of St. Anthony of Egypt

Deo omnis gloria!