The Infallible and Undeceivable Word of God

John Wycliffe at work

When I was a child, my mother kept a Protestant Revised Standard Version of the Bible in a cabinet in the living room. It contained the Apocrypha, and when I read some of the stories in it (I would read anything), I felt vaguely guilty – for here were additional books placed between the Old and New Testament that weren’t inspired Scripture! Why were they in the Bible??? I couldn’t imagine the reasoning that led to their placement between the covers of God’s Word, and my mother didn’t know why they were there…. It was a mystery.

Here’s Part Four of my series on the canon of Scripture – it all begins here. Remember, this is a mystery, so make sure you stay alert so you don’t miss any clues along the way! Our Protestant hero has just discovered that the King James Bible for 200 years contained the Apocrypha, which was only eventually removed because of strenuous protests claiming that these books are so similar to inspired Scripture that people might be fooled into “adopting some of the errors of Popery….”

The more you research, the worse it gets – it wasn’t just the King James version which contained the books of the Apocrypha. It seems that publishing the deuterocanonical books in English Bibles was de rigueur from the beginning! Wycliffe (the “Morning Star of the Reformation”) included the Apocrypha in his 1384 translation of the Bible into English! Tyndale was not able to complete his Old Testament, but his Lections from the Old Testament included lessons from Sirach and Wisdom! Coverdale’s version of the Bible included the Apocryphal books. Matthew’s Bible, Taverner’s Bible, Becke’s Bible, the early Geneva Bible editions (the Bible of the Puritans), and the Bishops Bible – all included the Apocrypha! You cannot find any English translation of the Bible from 1384 to 1600 that does not contain the Apocrypha, and yet all of these are PROTESTANT translations of Holy Scripture. What were they thinking??

One author points out that in 1615 the Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury declared that no Bibles were to be sold without the Apocrypha – the punishment would be a year’s imprisonment! And oddly enough, the preface to the First Prayer Book of (Protestant) Edward VI (1549) makes the startling claim that:

…here you have an order for prayer (as touching the reading of holy scripture) much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers, and a great deal more profitable and commodious, than that which of late was used. It is more profitable, because here are left out many things, whereof some be untrue, some uncertain, some vain and superstitious: and is ordained nothing to be read, but the very pure word of God, the holy scriptures, or that which is evidently grounded upon the same…”

Yet the Old Testament readings in the months of October and November are taken predominantly from the Apocrypha – something which was still evident in the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer! And the “Second Book of Homilies” (a set of sermons) of the Church of England calls the book of Wisdom the “infallible and undeceivable word of God”!!!

It certainly appears that the Protestants of 14th-, 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century England were somewhat confused about the Apocryphal books. So were the French Huguenots – their Bibles in the 1550’s and 60’s contained the Apocrypha, and the first Protestant version of the Spanish Reina Bible included the Apocryphal books among the books of the Old Testament….

How did these English, French and Spanish Protestants ever get the idea that the Apocryphal books belonged in their Bibles?

In examining the lists of Apocryphal books contained within early English Protestant Bibles, you realize that practically no two lists of books agree:

Wycliffe’s Bible (1384) contained I Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, and the additions to Daniel.

Coverdale’s Bible (1535) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, and the additions to Daniel.

Matthew’s Bible (1537) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel.

Taverner’s Bible (1539) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel.

Becke’s Bible (1549-1551) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I, II & III Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel.

The early Geneva editions (1560) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, and the additions to Daniel. The Prayer of Manasseh is not included in the Apocryphal section, but is found between II Chronicles and the book of Ezra!

The Bishops Bible (1568) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I, II & III Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel.

The King James Bible (1611) contained I & II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom, Sirach, I & II Maccabees, the Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the additions to Daniel.

Then you notice something even scarier – the list of New Testament books in early English Protestant Bibles:

Multiple editions of Wycliffe’s New Testament translation included the 27 books that we all know and love, PLUS the “Letter of St. Paul to the Laodiceans”!!!

Tyndale’s 1525 New Testament detached the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the rest of the books and put them in a separate section at the end, as if they weren’t really Scripture!

Coverdale’s did the same!

So did Matthew’s Bible!

Ditto for Taverner’s Bible!

Didn’t anybody back in those days know what the Bible was???

You notice that many reference books mention “Luther’s arrangement of the New Testament canon.” You surmise that somehow this separation of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation into their own little section must have something to do with him. The inclusion of the “Letter of St. Paul to the Laodiceans” in Wycliffe’s translation is something you cannot account for. How did things come to this state of affairs??? Why did no one in jolly old England seem to have any idea which books belonged in the Bible and which didn’t?

Maybe Martin Luther can straighten this out….

 

For Part Five, please click here

On the memorial of St. Léonie Aviat

Deo omnis gloria!

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