The Canon Controversy

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” JFK

As an Evangelical, I grew up believing in a group of “first Christians” who believed and taught everything that my Wesleyan Methodist church taught. These folks read their Bibles exactly the way we did, and it was them that we were seeking to emulate as we proclaimed to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we understood it, which was to say – as THEY understood it. When I began attending an nondenominational church, and my mother started taking me with her to charismatic assemblies, my belief in this group of “first Christians” did not change, nor did my belief that they had understood Holy Scripture exactly the way I understood it. Later in life when I joined a Baptist church, I still believed that my doctrinal understanding and that of the “first Christians” were identical, despite the obvious unlikelihood that my by-now Baptimethodopentecostanondenom beliefs would be shared in their entirety by much of anybody, let alone by folks who lived 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world. I KNEW that the first Christians had believed as I did. Proof? Well, I had none – but if the first Christians, being God-loving, Spirit-filled, sincere Christians, had held beliefs other than those that I, an equally God-loving, Spirit-filled, sincere Christian, held… well, it just wasn’t possible. It was an obvious truth.

It was a myth. Of course, the first Christians weren’t a myth – they were very real men and woman, many of whom were martyred for the faith they professed. But the faith that they professed was very, very different from the mythical faith that my “first Christians” professed, very different. My “first Christians” were a myth propagated by Evangelical churches everywhere in an effort to establish legitimacy for doctrines invented 1500 years after the real first Christians lived and died.

Sensitized to the existence of this myth, I began to notice other Protestant myths – the myth that the Bible teaches “sola Scriptura,” for example, and the myth that God sent a godly man named Martin Luther to “scrape the barnacles” off the S.S. Christianity 1500 years after she first set sail, putting her back on course by restoring the true Gospel of “faith ALONE!”

But one myth was buried very deep in the foundation of the house of Protestantism, so deep that I did not discover it for quite some time, but continued to accept it as a given – the myth of the 66-book canon of Holy Scripture. To question that myth seemed almost tantamount to questioning the Bible itself, the inerrancy of Scripture, the inspiration of the word of God. Could it be possible that the 66-book canon is the stuff of Protestant myth?

Today I am starting a series on the canon of Scripture, told from the point of view of a Protestant who has no reason to believe that Tobit, Judith, I and II Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch – the deuterocanonical books of Scripture – are anything but apocryphal. Fortunately, though, this person has an inquiring mind and seeks to tie up the loose ends of the Protestant argument, instead of just believing everything he reads. Rather than swallowing the Protestant version of events whole, he feels compelled to ask Just One More Question….

Chapter One – How It All Began

Perhaps it all began for you when you inherited a Bible from your great-aunt Lorraine, a Bible which looked suspiciously different from your good old KJV. Casually flipping through it, you paged through Nehemiah and came to Tobit.

Tobit?

“Oh my gosh, this must be one of those Bibles that contain additional books,” you think to yourself, “books that were added by the Catholics to prove their false doctrines, like the Mormons added their Book of Mormon to their ‘Scriptures’.” You slam the Bible shut, wondering how you should dispose of it.

You go online and search for more information on the Apocrypha, as those spurious books are known in Protestant circles. The information you find at Protestant websites does not look good. The Apocrypha was apparently added to the canon (the books which make up the Bible) by the Catholic Church. The evidence against the Apocryphal books (also known as the deuterocanonicals) looks overwhelming. Various and sundry Protestant websites all tell the same tale:

The books of the Apocrypha abound in doctrinal, ethical, and historical errors.

Some books of the Apocrypha promote unbiblical concepts.

The Jews never did (and still don’t) accept these books as inspired on par with the rest of the OT Scripture.

The Jews were meticulous in preserving the Old Testament Scriptures, and they had few controversies over what parts belong or do not belong. The Roman Catholic Apocrypha did not measure up and fell outside of the definition of Scripture, and has never been accepted by the Jews.

The nation of Israel treated the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books with respect, but never accepted them as true books of the Hebrew Bible. The early Christian church debated the status of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals, but few early Christians believed they belonged in the canon of Scripture. The New Testament quotes from the Old Testament hundreds of times, but nowhere quotes or alludes to any of the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books.

The Apocrypha itself never claims to be the Word of God.

… no Apocryphal book claims to be written by a prophet and there is no predictive prophecy in the Apocrypha. Not once is an Apocryphal book cited authoritatively by a prophetic book written after it, nor is there any supernatural confirmation of the writers of the Apocrypha as there is for prophets who wrote the canon.

There are in the New Testament about 260 direct quotations from and about 370 allusions to passages in the Old Testament; yet among all of those there is not a single reference either by Christ or any of the apostles to the Apocryphal writings. They quote from every major book of the Old Testament and from all but four of the smaller ones…. it is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.

The apostles only allude to the Apocrypha in two places (2 Peter?, Jude), but not as authoritative canon.

… no direct quotations from any Apocryphal books appear in the NT. Now there are allusions to Apocryphal events and statements, such 1Maccabees being alluded to in Hebrews 11:37. But none of these allusions rise to the apostles using the Apocrypha as an authoritative source.

The Reformers were also forced to face the canon issue. After the Reformation the books of the canon were widely agreed on. Instead of the authority of the Church, Luther and the Reformers focused on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

Consultation with the books in your small theological collection confirms your worst fears concerning the Apocrypha:

“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.”
Geisler and Nix – A General Introduction to the Bible

You leaf through Loraine Boettner’s classic, Roman Catholicism. He explains the presence of the book of Tobit in your great-aunt’s Bible:

“The 14 or 15 books that the Roman Catholic Church adds to the Bible and pronounces equally inspired and authoritative are known as the Apocrypha. These are printed as a part of the Bible and must be accepted by all Roman Catholics as genuine under penalty of mortal sin.”

“They are listed as follows”:

The First Book of Esdras

The Second Book of Esdras

Tobit

Judith

The additions to the book of Esther

The Wisdom of Solomon

Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach

Baruch

The Letter of Jeremiah

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men

Susanna

Bell and the Dragon

The Prayer of Manasseh

The First Book of Maccabees

The Second Book of Maccabees

Boettner points out a damning fact:

“Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent – 1546”

Pretty convincing stuff. Add to these facts what you already know from Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32 and Revelation 22:18–19 concerning adding to or subtracting from God’s word, and the case seems airtight. The Apocrypha is a human invention added to Scripture in an attempt to adulterate the pure word of God.

Well, that pretty much settles it, wouldn’t you say? It couldn’t get much clearer. All sources agree that the canon of the Protestant Bible contains the books left to us by Jesus and the apostles, and the Catholic canon contains additional man-made books not inspired by God. So that leaves the 14 or 15 books of the Catholic Apocrypha out in the cold!

Wait… there seems to be one small discrepancy here. 14 or 15 books? Boettner lists 15, but says there are 14 OR 15. One of the websites you referenced lists 11 added books. That’s odd. Who’s right? You pick up the copy of your great-aunt’s Catholic Bible that you tossed aside and flip back to that strange book of Tobit, then to Judith, I and II Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, then to Baruch….

Hmm… that’s ever odder! You count 7 added books that you can find in your great-aunt’s Catholic Bible. Boettner says there are 14 OR 15 – he doesn’t seem to be terribly certain! The website listed 11. You count 7. Odder and odder….

Flipping back through your notes taken from the online sites, you compare citations that originally seemed to be confirming each other, only now you begin to notice tiny discrepancies there, too….

One of your online sources mentions “the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha,” like the “14 or 15” listed by Boettner. That same source states that “it is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.

So far so good. And yet in your notes taken from the information on another website, “The apostles only allude to the Apocrypha in two places (2 Peter?, Jude), but not as authoritative canon.”

Well, which is it? Did the apostles allude to the Apocrypha or didn’t they, in 2 Peter, in Jude?

And, my gosh, a third Protestant website says that Hebrews 11: 37 may also be an allusion to the Apocrypha!

Hmmm… weird….

Just small discrepancies, really, not worth mentioning. The gist of the message from the websites and the books in your collection is that the Apocrypha (all 7, 11, 14 or 15 books of it) was not (or maybe was, once or a couple of times) alluded to by the apostles in two or three places (or not at all), and was added by the Catholic Church to their Bible in the 16th century. Enough said.

Well, maybe it’s because you have an inquiring mind. Or maybe you’ve just been watching too many Columbo reruns lately. Anyway, those tiny little discrepancies have started to gnaw at you. It’s like an old episode of a detective series….

Just One More Question…. Or, The Case of the Missing Books

So, what are you going to do? You could just let it slide, but there’s a mystery here. Things just don’t add up. You want to tie up the loose ends. Who knows, amateur theologian that you are, you may even make your own website to warn others about the dangers of the Apocrypha. But first, you need to straighten out these stories and get your facts straight. There’s nothing more embarrassing than not knowing what you’re talking about! So you plunge in headfirst….

For Part Two please click here

 

On the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Deo omnis gloria!

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