Many, many thanks to the Catholic blogging Dream Team of Owen Swain, Russ Rentler and GEORGE SIPE for helping me through my recent technical difficulties (providing vigilance, prayer support and computer savvy by the boatload!) If any of you guys would like me to knit you a tie or something, just say the word!
This is Part Two of my series on the canon of Scripture; Part One is here. Please note these terms – it will make following along so much easier:
Canon of Scripture – A list of books considered to be Holy Scripture by a particular religious group. The Protestant canon of Scripture contains 66 books. The Catholic canon of Scripture contains those 66 books (with extra material in some of them), plus 7 more Old Testament books, giving Catholics a 73-book canon.
Apocrypha – The Protestant term for the extra books included in the Catholic Bible.
Deuterocanonical – The Catholic term for the extra books. Catholic Bibles contain 7 deuterocanonical books: Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch.
In Part One, our Protestant protagonist found discrepancies on the websites and in the books he consulted concerning just how many books there are in the Apocrypha, and has decided to keep investigating the issue till he gets to the bottom of the story….
Well, might as well begin at the beginning – what books exactly are included in the Apocrypha? Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism lists them:
The First Book of Esdras
The Second Book of Esdras
The additions to the book of Esther
The Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
The Letter of Jeremiah
The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
Bell and the Dragon
The Prayer of Manasseh
The First Book of Maccabees
The Second Book of Maccabees
But try as you might, you can only find Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and I and II Maccabees in the Bible your great-aunt left you. What are these other books – I and 2 Esdras, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Manasseh, Susanna….?
You decide to check in one of your favorite Bible reference books, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, to see if you can find any information there. After all, back when you first became a Christian, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict helped you sort through some pretty tough issues; maybe it can clear things up for you now. Really, how hard can it be to find out exactly which books the Catholics have added to their Bible?
Josh McDowell comes through for you: he lists and even gives a summary of each of the Apocryphal books. His list agrees with Boettner’s, and you realize that many of these “14 or 15 books that the Roman Catholic Church adds to the Bible” aren’t books at all – they are extra chapters or verses in books that are already a part of the Protestant Bible. But again, try as you might, you still can’t find I or 2 Esdras in your great-aunt’s Bible, or the Prayer of Manasseh (Psalm 151). This is getting irritating.
Okay, this has turned into more trouble than you bargained for, but never having been one to back away from a challenge, you drive down to your local library. Good thing you have the day off! If the resources you have available at your fingertips can’t even help you sort out the question of which books the Catholics added to their Bible, you’re going to be in big trouble when you investigate deeper issues like how many times (if at all) the Apostles alluded to those books in the New Testament! An hour at the library ought to settle things one way or the other.
At the library you find all the help you need, several Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, Bruce Metzger’s Introduction to the Apocrypha, F. F. Bruce’s The Canon of Scripture, B. F. Westcott’s The Bible in the Church, and… The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Hmm…. you’ve never heard of this one before, obviously Catholic propaganda. But there’s nothing like going to the source to find out where the error originated, right? Finally, it’s time to dig deeper!
You check in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see if it says anything about the books in question. You track the subject down in the index under “Scripture, Sacred” and turn to the page where “The Canon of Scripture” is discussed. The New Testament books listed are the same ones you read in your Protestant Bible. The Old Testament books are also the same, with additions to the books of Esther and Daniel, and the books of:
– I Maccabees
– II Maccabees
– Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
– Baruch (the sixth chapter of which is the Letter of Jeremiah)
This is beginning to frustrate you. The books listed in the Catechism are the same ones you find in your great-aunt’s Bible. How did Josh McDowell get other books (I and 2 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh) in his obviously incorrect list? It’s like he didn’t even bother to open a Catholic Bible.
You skim the Catechism for additional information. You can’t find anything that discusses the Apocrypha directly, just the statements that “It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books” and “The Church accepts and venerates as inspired the 46 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New,” but you do read a few tidbits concerning what Catholics believe about the Bible:
“All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”
“The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired they are truly the Word of God.”
“God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them. He thus gives assurance that their writings teach without error his saving truth.”
“‘The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord’: both nourish and govern the whole Christian life. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.'”
Nothing there you can disagree with: “all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ,” “The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and…are truly the Word of God,” “their writings teach without error his saving truth.” That’s all well and good, but still, all this Catholic stuff gives you the willies. After all, how much reverence can anyone who adds or subtracts books from the Bible really have for Scripture? Let’s get back to good old Protestant territory!
You start looking up the books of I and 2 Esdras, as well as the disputed Psalm, in reference books to see if you can settle the issue. You discover that there were originally four books of Esdras, the first two being what we nowadays call Ezra and Nehemiah. Now we’re getting somewhere! Ezra and Nehemiah are safely ensconced in your great-aunt’s Catholic Bible. You read that the second two books, which are nowadays known as I and 2 Esdras, along with the Prayer of Manasseh, “formed no part of the canon of Trent.” Those books were, however, included in the Apocrypha – but not in Catholic Bibles.
Not in Catholic Bibles – okay, that explains why I and 2 Esdras aren’t in your great-aunt’s Bible, ditto for Psalm 151.
Wait just a minute – how could they be included in the Apocrypha, but not in the Catholic Bible? Your eyes widen in surprise as you read that, while not explicitly included by the Council of Trent in the Catholic canon, these books were included “in the Apocrypha section of the 1611 King James Bible.”
On the memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Deo omnis gloria!