Here is Part 12 of my series on the canon of Scripture; Part One can be found here. Sit down with our Protestant hero as he investigates the Apocrypha from a new angle. What did the early Christians believe about the Apocrypha? But first, he reviews the importance of having trustworthy, reliable sources when doing research!
You can hear the old hoot owl calling from your neighbor’s shed as you spread your research material out all over your dining room table. You place a large amount of paper within arm’s reach of your chair, and you sharpen several pencils. “Alrighty!” you think to yourself, “Time to find out what the first Christians believed.”
You survey all the books at your disposal, trying to decide where to begin. Loraine Boettner’s book, one of the first you checked when researching the Apocrypha, lies near your left hand. You frown. The material in Boettner’s book was not exactly helpful, you recall. It was Boettner’s crack about the “14 or 15 books” of the Apocrypha that started the whole mess. Boettner lists I and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Azariah as Apocryphal books which were not included in Catholic Bibles – he, however, includes the Prayer of Manasseh as if he believes that book is in the Catholic version of the Bible (it was included in Luther’s Apocrypha – it was apparently one of Luther’s favorite prayers – but it was left out of the Catholic Bible). Boettner even manages to misspell “Bel” in the Apocryphal “book” of “Bell (sic) and the Dragon!”
But The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict let you down as well. Josh McDowell doesn’t seem to have researched the subject of the Apocrypha very thoroughly – which upsets you since you have only spent one afternoon on the subject yourself, and yet apparently you already know more than he does. McDowell’s list of Apocryphal books includes I and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, not mentioning anywhere that while these are not included in Catholic Bibles, they were included in many Protestant Bibles. Does McDowell even know that? He embarrasses himself when writing about the canonization of the New Testament books:
Since this time (the fourth century A.D.) there has been no serious questioning of the twenty-seven accepted books of the New Testament by either Roman Catholics, Protestants, or the Eastern Orthodox Church.
No serious questioning??? No serious questioning??? There was over one hundred years of serious questioning! Bibles were printed that labeled certain books of Scripture “Apocryphal NT”!!! It’s hard to find a single major Reformer whose opinion of the canon of the New Testament agrees with the canon we have today!
McDowell also cites Geisler and Nix’s General Introduction to the Bible as a source for his information. You know Geisler and Nix as the authors of an assertion which now seems highly questionable:
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.
The addition of books??? How exactly, you ask yourself, can the Catholics be accused of adding books to their Bible when those books were already in every Bible from the fourth century on down to the time of Luther??? No way – the truth is, the Reformers (eventually) removed those books from their Bibles. You can prove that! Really, it’s not like you’re pro-Catholic or anything, but fair’s fair! For over a thousand years the world had a Bible that included the Apocryphal books intermingled among the real ones! Then Luther came along and segregated them. They were finally removed from English Bibles much later.
You read in W.O.E Oesterley’s Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha that Trent added no books to the Bible, but rather:
It was when the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha, that the Council of Trent re-affirmed the canonicity of the books, and added the anathema clause to their decree.
Loraine Boettner said basically the same thing as Geisler and Nix, didn’t he? “Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent – 1546.” That’s another strike against him. You note that Boettner, when discussing the “Protestant Attitude Toward the Bible” mentions not one word about the mind-boggling confusion over the disputed books of the New Testament. The Reformers, as far as Boettner is concerned, could do no wrong. He seems far more interested in painting the “Romanists” with a black brush. Flipping through his book, it seems to be something of an extended rant…. You set Boettner’s book aside – surely you can find something more balanced.
Gee, how can an author not even get the basic subject matter down correctly? It’s sad to think that so-called “experts” can be refuted by a layperson who has spent one afternoon in a library with a bunch of Bible encyclopedias! In fact, you are feeling a little disgruntled about the whole “cover-up” of the Protestant use of the Apocrypha and disagreement over the New Testament books. Okay, maybe not exactly a cover-up – you can find the whole history of it in Bible encyclopedias, but it sure is hard to find any mention of it at Protestant websites or in the popular literature that you buy at the local Christian bookstore! Everyone acts as if it never happened, leaving the average Protestant with the impression that Protestants at the time of the Reformation just “knew” which books belonged in the canon and which didn’t, and that it was the benighted Catholics who added spurious books to their Bible. You’ve even found a website online where you can view an English translation of Luther’s Bible – with the Apocryphal books nowhere to be found! And yet you read in your reference books that the printing of Luther’s Old Testament was actually delayed because he was ill and had not yet finished translating the Apocryphal books! The Hebrew version of the Old Testament that Luther used for translation purposes did not include the Apocryphal books, but apparently Martin Luther did not consider his Bible to be complete without them, even if he did think of them as second-class reading.
It’s really irritating when you find out that someone you were counting on didn’t do their homework! From now on you’ll view the “popular authors” and websites with a jaundiced eye….
So, what can you find out about the subject of the Bible of the early Christians? Is there anything in all those books on your table that would help?
On the memorial of St. John Bosco
Deo omnis gloria!