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!
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