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???
On the memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus
Deo omnis gloria!