Monthly Archives: February 2013

The exterior of the Sistine Chapel

As we’ve heard repeatedly since the momentous announcement of February 11, a new pope is soon to be elected by 115 cardinals in a conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Locked outside, the world can only watch and wait for the white smoke that signals an election. Who will it be – Scola? Ouellet? Ravasi? Turkson? Tagle? Scherer? One day in March we will have the answer to that question. There is, however, another question not so easy to answer, one that is sometimes asked, the question of who actually selects the pope. Is it the cardinals who select the pope through the voting process, or is it God Himself? Put another way, does God the Holy Spirit cause the cardinals to elect the man whom God has already chosen to fill the office of Supreme Pontiff?

The latter option, truthfully, is the version I prefer. As cardinals with their own agenda cast ballots for a man whose future actions will obscure rather than magnify the Lord, the Omnipotent One stretches forth His mighty forefinger and stirs the chalice containing the ballots. Another candidate, one more worthy of the office, is elected, and the cardinals are left scratching their heads.I could have sworn our man had a majority…” they grouse. Sorry, cardinals! Yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen….

We know that the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly involved in the election. Blessed John Paul II, in his Universi Dominici Gregis (On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff), said as much. He decreed that the conclave should continue to be held in the Sistine Chapel, where “everything is conducive to an awareness of the presence of God, in whose sight each person will one day be judged” and where “the electors can more easily dispose themselves to accept the interior movements of the Holy Spirit.” According to this statement, God the Holy Spirit is definitely at work during the election. But the question remains: Does God Himself choose the pope?

A prominent German theologian weighed in on this back in the 1990s. A quotation from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has popped up on many blogs over the past two weeks. The interview from which the quote was taken took place in 1998 (not in 1997, as is floating around on the Internet) and was conducted by the late August Everding, German opera director and fervent Catholic, (you can watch the interview here – it is so good to see a much younger Ratzinger laughing and chatting with his fellow German! The passage in question begins at 37:20. The transcript is here – click on “Herunterladen” to download). The translation going around online is a paraphrase, and a very beautiful one at that. Here is my more literal translation as I understand Ratzinger’s words (take this with a grain of salt – I defer to anyone who feels he or she can translate this more competently! I just thought it would be fun to take a crack at translating this.)

Everding asked Cardinal Ratzinger if he really believed that the Holy Spirit was instrumental in the election of the pope. The cardinal answered:

I wouldn’t say that in the sense that the Holy Spirit chooses any particular pope, because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary (he laughs as he says this) – there have been many whom the Holy Spirit quite obviously would not have chosen! But, that He does not altogether relinquish control, but rather like a good trainer keeps us on a very long cord, so to speak, allowing us a great deal of freedom, but never unfastening the cord – that’s how I would put it. It needs to be taken in a very broad sense and not as if He says, “You’ve got to pick this one!” What He allows, however, is limited to that which cannot completely ruin everything.

The pithy, elegant paraphrase puts it thus:

“I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that He dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance He offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.”

Whichever way you like it – THIS IS HUGE. NEWS FLASH:
Fallible human beings are picking the next pope!

Lord, have mercy!

The only assurance is that the thing cannot be totally ruined? Oh, dear….

Yes, of course, the gates of Hell will not prevail, but some of those medieval popes did live as if they believed that Hell HAD prevailed. Certainly no pope, no matter how dissolute, has ever taught error – the Holy Spirit has prevented that as Jesus promised. Jesus, however, never promised that any of us would be prevented from committing sin if we insisted on it, and the sinful lifestyles of those dissolute popes helped to provoke the monumental schism that is still shaping the circumstances of our lives nearly 500 years later! With this in mind, one thing is certain: The election of the next pope matters; it matters desperately. And you, – yes, YOU! – have a role to play in that election.

What we are discussing here is the mystery of prayer. God wants us to have a holy pope, a wise pope, a courageous pope, a pope filled with the Holy Spirit Who is Love. Are we Christians just to assume that, of course, it will be done? On the contrary, God waits for us to pray for this. We have been commanded to pray that it will be done: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

It isn’t automatic.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom: Note the Hand of God at the top of the picture!

Pray. Fast. Offer up your suffering, so that the electors “can more easily dispose themselves to accept the interior movements of the Holy Spirit.” Our cardinals in conclave need wisdom, they need light, they need grace. Long after they have gone to meet the One “in whose sight each person will one day be judged,” the Church will be living under the influence of the man they choose. Pray a novena to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, asking her to add her prayers to ours that the cardinals might be given the grace to choose wisely. Invoke the assistance of Blessed John Paul II, the saint who knows better than any other what it is like to lead the body of Christ on earth in the 21st century!

Pray that God’s will be done in the conclave!

Because when they make that declaration that we’re all waiting for: “HABEMUS PAPUM!” – it isn’t over!

It is just beginning!

On the memorial of St.
Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Exterior of the Sistine Chapel by Maus-Trauden

The Healing of Tobit

Welcome to the twenty-first part of my series on the canon of Scripture! You’ll need to begin with Part One if you’ve come late to the party! Our Protestant hero, shaken by the eerie correspondence between Matthew 27:43 and Wisdom 2:18, is continuing his search to determine how the canon was originally discerned by the first Christians. He is now examining so-called “proofs” which Protestant apologists claim rule the deuterocanonical books out of the Bible. The problem is, none of these “proofs” hold up to scrutiny….

You rub your aching temples as you stare up at the clock. It’s two hours past your bedtime already, but you are determined to settle this before you go to church tomorrow morning. What began as an idle question, something not really even worth worrying about, has turned into a major issue – one that will give you nightmares unless you wrap this up before you go to bed. How do we know that the 66 books of the Bible are all writings that belong in the canon of Holy Scripture, and how do we know that no writings that belonged in the canon were somehow left lying by the side of the road of history somewhere back in time? If someone had asked you this question this morning you would have given them some quick comeback, “We know because these 66 books are the ones that have always been recognized as Scripture!” or “We know because the Holy Spirit Himself witnesses to their inspired nature!” or “We know because the Bible says that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, etc.!” That last one strikes you now as particularly unhelpful – noting the fact that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching hardly helps you sort out whether the books of Esther, I Maccabees, Sirach or James are Scripture! And now that you know that a respected Bible teacher like R.C. Sproul has admitted that we must consider the Bible to be a “fallible collection of infallible books” (which you simply cannot accept), you are pulling out all the stops, searching desperately to find proof that we KNOW which books belong in the Bible and which don’t. So far the “proofs” offered against the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books, what you used to call the Apocrypha, have proved pretty lame. They include:

“Proof”#1: The Apocrypha was written in Greek, not Hebrew, and appeared at a later time. The Dead Sea Scrolls collection contained the books of Sirach and Tobit a century before the birth of Christ – both written in Hebrew. Even if the books of the Apocrypha were not written in Hebrew – who says that this is a criterion for canonicity? Most of the books of the New Testament are believed to have been written in Greek! Many popular authors try to make it sound like there was the “real” Hebrew Bible circulating in Palestine at the time of Jesus, and then there was that “fake” Greek translation, adulterated with the Apocrypha, circulating among the know-nothing Jews outside of Palestine. And yet, the Septuagint was definitely circulating in Palestine before the time of Jesus – fragments from the Septuagint version of Leviticus and Numbers have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls! No one back then, not even a former
Pharisee like the apostle Paul, seems to have observed this cut-and-dried division between the “real” Hebrew Bible and the “wannabe” Greek Old Testament….)

“Proof” #2: It is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered… the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.
Your research has shown
that the New Testament authors did allude to the Apocrypha in many places, and as for the crack about not quoting from it – if the same argument were applied to the books of Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, the canonicity of which was long-disputed, they would be out of the Bible as well!

“Proof” #3: The Jews realized that special revelation ceased with the prophet Malachi (c. 400 B.C.) Tell that to the conservative Protestant Bible scholars on whose writings you are relying! According to them, the Jews as a group never agreed on a canon of Scripture until after the time of Christ, and even then the poor book of Esther was disputed for a long time to come – a Christian bishop named Melito traveled to Palestine to learn the Jewish canon in the second half of the second century A.D., and the canon he brought back to his church in Sardis didn’t include Esther! You are being asked to reject the beliefs of the first Christians! The first Christians, according to the historical evidence, whole-heartedly embraced the deuterocanonical books!

“Proof” #4: The Jews never did (and still don’t) accept these books as inspired on par with the rest of the OT Scripture. You’ve found that the Jews must have had the Apocrypha in their Greek translation of the Old
Testament – what led the first Christians to believe, mistakenly or not, that the deuterocanonical books were to be considered Holy Scripture if they weren’t in the Septuagint? Why would the chief priests, scribes and elders have alluded to the prophecy in the second chapter of Wisdom, taunting Christ with the claim: “He said, ‘I am the Son of God,'” if they considered Wisdom to be outside the canon of Scripture?? Their quote in Matthew 27:43 mixes Psalm 22:8 (definitely Scripture!) with Wisdom 2:18! And who better to know what first-century, pre-Resurrection Jews considered to be Scripture than the chief priests, scribes and elders???

The Reformers followed not the early Christian church, but the post-Resurrection Jewish leadership! Rather than taking their lead from the first Christians (who accepted the deuterocanonicals as Holy Scripture), the Reformers adopted the Hebrew canon which was decided after the Resurrection of Jesus! The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states:

It is known that the Reformers were careful students of the Bible, and that in OT matters they were the pupils of Jewish scholars – there were no other competent teachers of Hebrew. It might therefore have been expected that the OT canon of the Reformers would agree in extent with that of the Jews and not with that of the Greek and Latin Christians.

The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible tells you:

The OT canon recognized by early Christianity came into dispute during the Protestant Reformation when Luther chose to base it on Hebrew originals and thus rejected several writings included in the Greek OT known as the Septuagint.

And the Oxford Dictionary concurs:

At the Reformation, Protestant leaders, ignoring the traditional acceptance of all the Books of the LXX in the early church, and desiring to return to Biblical authority purged of medieval tradition, refused the status of inspired Scripture to those Books of Vulgate not to be found in the Hebrew Canon.

Were the Reformers right to blindly accept the Hebrew canon handed to them by the Jewish scholars of the 16th century? Did they know what they were doing?

And the last “proof” you’ve read against the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books is a doozy:

“Proof” #5: The Reformers were also forced to face the canon issue. After the Reformation the books of the canon were widely agreed on. Instead of the authority of the Church, Luther and the Reformers focused on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Oh, right! – after the Reformation the books of the canon were widely agreed on – after a hundred years of wrangling! All the confusion was due to the fact that Luther and the Reformers focused on their subjective feelings of “I can get nothing out of this book!” and “This book is Scripture because I say so!” and “This book is not Scripture because my opponents are proving my doctrine wrong by quoting from this book!” and the ever-popular “Methinketh…!” Widely agreed on… my foot!!! If you believe this, you’ll believe anything!

Lutheran scholar Edward Reuss put it well when he pointed out that the Reformers’ attempt to determine the canon by the “internal witness of the Holy Spirit” just didn’t work:

Still the conscientious historian cannot help showing that this theory, in spite of its intrinsic truth, its elevated point of view, and its conformity with the essence of the Gospel, has proved to be insufficient in practice, and that those who had formulated it were the first to diverge from it, and to drift into strange inconsistencies.

Evangelical David Dunbar brings up an important point in his commentary on the writings of Lutheran scholar A.C. Sundberg, Jr. According to Dunbar, Sundberg claims that after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, “Judaism and Christianity went their separate ways and thus established the bounds of the canon relatively independently of one another….” Dr. Dunbar admits:

The implications of Sundberg’s position for Protestants are serious. Since the early days of the Reformation, Protestant theologians have supported their more restrictive view of the Old Testament canon by appeal to the presumed canon of Jesus and the Apostles.

Sundberg points out that the Reformers may have had their facts wrong:

It now appears that the bases upon which Luther and subsequent Protestants separated the books of the Apocrypha from the Christian Old Testament are historically inaccurate or misleading. Not only was the so-called Palestinian or Hebrew canon not closed in Jesus’ day, but a de facto Hebrew canon paralleling the later Jamnia canon did not exist either.

Dr. Dunbar then goes on to explain why he disagrees with Dr. Sundberg; he believes that the early Christians most likely accepted the extra books of the Apocrypha due to confusion over which books were really canonical, or as he puts it: “increasing ignorance among Gentile Christians of Jewish views on the subject.” But you note that Dr. Dunbar himself is relying on the assumption that “at least a century before the Christian era, the Jews were conscious that prophecy in its classical form belonged to the past,” meaning that he subscribes to the theory that Sundberg calls “historically inaccurate or misleading,” that the canon was closed before the time of Jesus.

No, that’s out the window as far as you are concerned. The Jewish canon was NOT closed until after the time of Christ, and it was closed at that later time because Christians were using deuterocanonical prophecies like Wisdom 2:12-22 and Baruch 3:37 to prove that Jesus was the Messiah! This pushed the Jewish leadership into ruling against the Christian books of the New Testament as well as the Septuagint version of the Old Testament – they did this to cut Christian evangelization off at the pass!

And you’re being asked to accept the decision of those folks who threw the deuterocanonicals out of the Bible….

For Part 22, please click here

On the memorial of St. Paula Montel Fornés de San José de Calasanz

Deo omnis gloria!

Sarah and Tobias as Raphael binds the demon

This is Part Twenty of my series on the canon of Scripture; Part One is here. The information contained in this post is, in my opinion, material that must be presented when talking to someone who supports the 66-book Protestant canon – it is very, very hard to refute, and it haunts you…. Like the earthquake that occurred at the moment of Christ’s death, it could be some kind of coincidence – NOT!

Our Protestant hero has pieced together the evidence that shows that the New Testament is overflowing with allusions to the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament, so much so that the King James Version of the Bible originally contained cross-references to these many allusions. This is another nail in the coffin of the popular Protestant authors’ argument against the possibility of the Apocryphal books being Holy Scripture….

You reach for your great-aunt Lorraine’s Catholic Bible and cautiously begin looking up some of these supposed allusions. You’ve gotten to the point where you won’t take anyone’s word in this matter – you want to see things for yourself. Where is Sirach, anyway? Finding it, you compare the Matthew 6 allusion to Sirach 7 – none too impressive. Both passages discourage “vain repetition” in prayer, not really a blinding flash of insight….

Matthew’s allusion to Wisdom 2:17-22, however, is mind-boggling.

Matthew 27:41-43 reads:

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the king of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Your Bible’s cross-reference refers you to Psalm 22:7-8:

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Psalm 22 is quite obviously a prophecy of Christ’s suffering, written hundreds of years before the fact, and fulfilled in the book of Matthew – the Psalmist describes how Jesus was mocked and taunted, with the people crying out “Let the Lord rescue him!”

You then read Wisdom 2:12-22 in your great-aunt’s Catholic Bible:

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the Law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. To us he is the censure of our thoughts, merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like other men’s, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blessed the destiny of the just, and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, He will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, ‘God will take care of him.’ These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, And they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

If that is not a prophecy of the suffering of the Son of God, then you’ve never seen one! It is obvious that the chief priests with the scribes and elders were alluding to TWO prophecies when they taunted Jesus: the prophecy in Psalm 22, and the prophecy in chapter 2 of the book of Wisdom where “the just one” is called “the son of God”!

You shiver at the sheer beauty of the correspondence of those passages – and yet one of the passages prophesying the suffering of Christ is from an “Apocryphal” book! No wonder the Pharisees 70 years after the establishment of the church decided to toss the Septuagint version of the Bible out the window! Passages like that one from the book of Wisdom made it all too easy for the Christians to prove that Jesus was the Messiah!!

That’s an old dodge – tossing books out of your canon when opponents quote them to prove you’re wrong…. Zwingli did that with the book of Revelation, and Luther with II Maccabees….

What is the alternative name of the Apocryphal books again? The “deuterocanonical” books – maybe you’ll start thinking of them by that name now. After reading that quote from the book of Wisdom, it’s hard to think of them as “Apocryphal” any more.

In fact, you are beginning to wonder if you should rethink the whole subject of the Apocrypha….

For Part 21, please click here


On the memorial of St. Polycarp

Deo omnis gloria!

Tobias and Sarah are awakened

This is Part 19 of my series on the canon of Scripture – 66 books or 73? Part One is here, and you really should start with Part One. Our Protestant hero is trying to sort out myth from fact regarding the Apocryphal books of Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, Judith and the Maccabees. He is discovering that the explanation of the discernment of the canon of the Old Testament given by popular Protestant authors is basically a myth, a myth which conflicts with Protestant scholarship. He has watched Major Myth #2 disintegrate: “The Jews closed the canon of the Old Testament, and they never accepted the canonicity of the 7 additional books.” The date of the closure of the Old Testament canon is not known, and despite the insistence of the popular authors, Protestant scholars believe that the canon of Scripture was NOT closed before the Resurrection of Christ. If the canon was closed by the Jewish leadership after the Resurrection, their decision was NOT binding on Christians, and indeed Protestant historians concede that the early Christians did not abide by the Hebrew canon; they considered the deuterocanonical books to be Holy Scripture. All of the reasons given by the popular authors as to why the deuterocanonical books cannot possibly be Holy Scripture fall apart upon closer examination….

Remember all the clues that were being dropped back in the early chapters of this mystery? They are going to start coming in handy – you may want to go back to Parts 1-8 to refresh your memory!

You page back through your online notes that so impressed you at the beginning of your study:

There are in the New Testament about 260 direct quotations from and about 370 allusions to passages in the Old Testament; yet among all of those there is not a single reference either by Christ or any of the apostles to the Apocryphal writings. They quote from every major book of the Old Testament and from all but four of the smaller ones…. it is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.

The apostles only allude to the Apocrypha in two places (2 Peter? Jude), but not as authoritative canon.

… no direct quotations from any Apocryphal books appear in the NT. Now there are allusions to Apocryphal events and statements, such 1 Maccabees being alluded to in Hebrews 11:37. But none of these allusions rise to the apostles using the Apocrypha as an authoritative source.

You rub your head wearily. Wasn’t this hodge-podge of confusion what got your research started? The first source refers to the “fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha,” when you know for a fact that there are seven books in the Roman Catholic Apocrypha. The same source then states categorically that the New Testament authors “never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.”

Okay, but the next source concedes that the apostles “allude to the Apocrypha in two places,” while the third source admits that there is probably a third allusion in Hebrews 11:37.

You throw your notes down in disgust. Pick a story, guys! You’re becoming somewhat skeptical, too, of the Protestant apologists who don’t seem to be able to get their facts straight, either. It looks suspiciously like all the popular authors rely on all the other popular authors, and that as a group they make an effort to ignore any evidence that contradicts what they already believe – even when it comes from respected Protestant scholars! Why is it so hard to get a straight, reliable answer out of these guys? What are they trying to prove?

You drag your weary mind back to the question at hand: what can you find out about New Testament references to the Apocrypha?

There’s that quote from The Making of the New Testament you just read:

But given their early composition, their popularity with the Jewish people, the many allusions, parallels and ideas in the New Testament….

That darn little bell in the back of your mind is ringing so loudly that you can hardly think – what was it you read this afternoon in the library about New Testament references to the Apocrypha? You fumble through your notes – something about the exclusion of the Apocrypha from the King James Version….

Even after the Apocryphal books were removed, cross-references that linked verses in the Old and New Testament to verses in the Apocrypha remained for some time.

The Committee demanded that even the “many marginal references to the Apocrypha” be removed because “[t]his we hold to be a recognition of the Apocrypha as an inspired record. It is employed to prove and illustrate divine truth dogmatically, which presupposes it to be a part of the divine revelation.”

Oh, my goodness…. not only did the New Testament writers allude to the Apocrypha, but their allusions were noted in the cross-references of the King James Bible!

You’re starting to see why the popular writers and websites are so silent on the subject of the Apocryphal books in the English translations of the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries – any research into this subject opens up an incredible can of worms!!!

You take a deep breath. All right, which verses in the New Testament did the translators of the King James Version feel were references to the Apocrypha?

– Matthew 6:7 is an allusion to Sirach 7:14.

– Matthew 23:37 is an allusion to II Esdras 1:30.

– Matthew 27:43 is an allusion to Wisdom 2:15-16

– Luke 6:31 is an allusion to Tobit 4:15.

– Luke 14:13 is an allusion to Tobit 4:7.

– John 10:22 is an allusion to I Maccabees 4:59

– Romans 9:21 is an allusion to Wisdom 15:7

– Romans 11:34 is an allusion to Wisdom 9:13

– II Corinthians 9:7 is an allusion to Sirach 35:9

– Hebrews 1:3 is an allusion to Wisdom 7:26

– Hebrews 11:35 is an allusion to II Maccabees 7:7

The Edinburgh Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society objected strenuously to the presence of these cross-references in the KJV for the very good reason that “this we hold to be a recognition of the Apocrypha as an inspired record“!!! For that reason, these cross-references were eventually deleted!

In fact, the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge acknowledges these references:

…it cannot be denied that at least in some writings of the New Testament the Apocrypha are used. This applies particularly to the Epistle of James and that to the Hebrews…. Striking agreements with the Wisdom of Solomon are also found… and there can be no doubt that Paul made use of this book.

Bruce Metzger’s Introduction to the Apocrypha points out something very worthy of note: the correspondence between the book of James and the book of Sirach:

– James 1:5 with Sirach 18:15

– James 1:13 with Sirach 15:11-13

– James 1:19 with Sirach 5:13

– James 3:1-12 with Sirach 19:6-12; 20:5-7, 17-19; 25:5-10; 28:13-26

– James 5:3 with Sirach 12:11

Wow, that’s impressive. Luther’s “favorite” book of James apparently relied heavily on the book of Sirach! Wait, didn’t Luther make some comment along those lines? Back through your notes again…

We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ,
except at the beginning [Jas. 1:1; 2:1]. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did. He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about….He presents a comparison: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’ [Jas. 2:26]. O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is! James compares faith with the body when he should rather have compared faith with the soul! The ancients recognized this, too, and therefore they didn’t acknowledge this letter as one of the catholic epistles.

Apparently Luther was onto something – James (Jewish himself!) did rely heavily on the words of “some Jew” when writing his epistle, namely a Jew named ben Sirach!

Aren’t all these references another nail in the coffin of Dr. Lutzer’s assertion that “There is no evidence that the books [of the Apocrypha] were in the Septuagint as early as the time of Christ”? That’s kind of hard to swallow now that you see how many allusions Paul and James made to Wisdom and Sirach….

For Part 20, please click here


On the memorial of St. Peter Damian

Deo omnis gloria!

Tobit and His Wife

This is Part 18 of my series on the canon of Scripture. You can find Part One here, and I strongly suggest that you begin at the beginning! Our Protestant hero is searching for historical proof that Jesus and His apostles rejected the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament.

Two of the scholars whose works are consulted by our protagonist are F.F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger. The late Dr. F.F. Bruce was a highly respected conservative Bible scholar. His book, The Canon of Scripture, quoted here, won the Christianity Today Award for Theology and Doctrine. Dr. Bruce was head of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield, and later Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester. Bruce Metzger was a Presbyterian minister and professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, as well as the chairman of the Revised Standard Version Bible Committee. Dr. Metzger was recognized as one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century.

Our hero has decided to go to the source – he is investigating the canon that Jesus and the apostles used….

You rest your head in your hands. Where was Jesus in all of this? What was His stance on the Apocrypha?

Well, you know He was familiar with the Greek translation of the Bible – one reference goes out of its way to point out that His quotation in Mark 7:6-8 is from the Septuagint’s version of Isaiah 29:13. It strikes you as kind of hard to believe that Jesus or his apostles would quote from a version of the Bible that contained spurious writings, when they had the option of limiting their quotes to “the real Old Testament,” i.e., the Hebrew canon, which did not contain those writings!

And you know that His disciples must have used the Septuagint. The apostle Paul (a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and a “Pharisee,” according to his own testimony) took most of his Old Testament quotes from the Septuagint rather than from the Hebrew version of Scripture, and so did his traveling companion, Luke. In fact, when Paul visited the synagogue in Thessalonica and disputed with the Jews (in Acts 17:2), he based his arguments on the Septuagint version of Scriptures! If the Pharisees, the folks responsible for “closing” the Hebrew canon of Scripture, believed that the Septuagint contained spurious writings, wouldn’t Paul have set an example in that Greek city by sticking to the “pure” Hebrew version of the Scriptures? Wasn’t he kind of morally obligated to do so, since he had that option?

One of your sources points out that the author of Hebrews quite obviously used the Septuagint when he quoted from the Old Testament, writing in chapter 10 in reference to the Incarnation of Jesus – “a body you have prepared for me.” In the Hebrew version that Old Testament verse reads “ears (!) you have prepared for me.” It sure looks like Jesus’ disciples must have used the Septuagint!

Okay, fine – but so many websites state point-blank that the apostles never quoted from the Apocryphal books in their writings; they only quoted from the books that modern-day Protestants recognize as Holy Scripture. In fact, Josh McDowell lists this criterion of “quotation” as a way of recognizing whether a book is Holy Scripture or not:

Jesus and the New Testament writers never once quote the Apocrypha, although there are hundreds of quotes and references to almost all of the canonical books of the Old Testament.

A website you consulted states flatly:

Does the New Testament quote the Apocrypha? The answer is a categorical no.

Good point, and as you research this it appears to be true – there is not one direct quote from the Apocryphal books in the New Testament. But several authors also make the point that this fact of an absence of quotation was held against books of the Old Testament like Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon when their canonicity was disputed – they are never mentioned or quoted from in the New Testament. If that’s our standard for determining canonicity, then we have a real problem….

You remember an old joke you heard back in the Cold War era – The U.S. and the Soviet Union participated in a two-car race, and the American car won. The following day the Soviet news agency triumphantly proclaimed that “An international car race was held yesterday in which cars from the Soviet Union and the United States participated. The Soviet car came in second. The American car finished next to last.”

You laughed at this back when you heard it, but it now sounds suspiciously like what you’re hearing as an argument against the Apocryphal books. There seems to be some pretty heavy “information manipulation” going on here! “The Apocryphal books aren’t quoted from!” your source gasps, as if this were somehow deeply significant. What the author fails to mention is that a number of Old Testament books were also never quoted from, among them the hotly disputed books of Esther, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. And the reader is left ignorantly believing that the absence of quotation automatically disqualifies the Apocryphal books….

Bible scholar Bruce Metzger points out the deficiencies in this position:

In discussing the subject of parallels and allusions to the Apocrypha found in the New Testament, it is sometimes urged that no passage from the Apocrypha is ever expressly quoted by a New Testament author as proceeding from a sacred authority. This is doubtless true. On the other hand, however, it is also true that nowhere in the New Testament is there a direct quotation from the canonical books of Joshua, Judges, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum….”

According to Metzger, eleven books are never quoted from – eleven out of thirty-nine books – that’s about a quarter of the books of the Old Testament that aren’t quoted from! But Josh McDowell told you that “there are hundreds of quotes and references to almost all of the canonical books of the Old Testament.”

Metzger hit the nail on the head: the popular authors never seem to disclose to you what’s “on the other hand!”

You read the claim that Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon probably weren’t quoted from simply because they really weren’t pertinent to whatever topic the New Testament writers were addressing; after all, you don’t quote from the preamble to the Constitution in a speech on kite building! But why wouldn’t the apostle Paul have been able to use quotations from the Song of Solomon, a book which lends itself so perfectly to his discussion of marriage in Ephesians, and of Christ and His Bride, the church?? That’s kind of hard to swallow….

Dr. Lutzer makes another point:

There is no evidence that the books [of the Apocrypha] were in the Septuagint as early as the time of Christ. Remember, the earliest manuscripts that have them date back to the fourth century A.D.

But you remember reading in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia that

No clear proofs of this from pre-Christian times exist; but the fact that Christians using the Greek Bible received these other writings also makes it highly probable that these belonged to the canon of the Hellenistic Jews. While it may be conceded to the opponents of this view that Hellenistic Jews had no strict conception of a canon, it can not be denied that certain writings were received into the Greek Bible-collection which were foreign to the Hebrew canon.

Dr. Lutzer’s claim is also quite different from what you read in Dr. Patzia’s The Making of the New Testament:

These books, now known to us as the Old Testament Apocrypha, were written during the first and second century B.C. No one is certain, however, when they actually became part of the LXX. But given their early composition, their
popularity with the Jewish people, the
allusions, parallels and ideas in the New Testament, their use by the early church fathers, and their appearance in the best Greek codices of the Bible (such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus and Alexandrinus), one can safely assume that they were a part of the LXX in the first century A.D. and were therefore known to the Greek-speaking Christians and the writers of the New Testament.

And the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article on the Apocrypha states:

…all the evidence goes to show that the LXX and therefore the other great Greek versions included the Apocrypha from the first onward.

So, who’s right? There are those conflicting stories again, but those popular authors like McDowell and Lutzer are looking less and less like they know what they’re talking about! If Jesus and His apostles knew that the Apocrypha wasn’t Scripture, they certainly didn’t act like it….

For Part Nineteen, please click here


On the memorial of St. Mesrop Mashtots

Deo omnis gloria!

Our Protestant protagonist has debunked yet another major myth concerning the deuterocanonical books! Let’s take this opportunity to review what his research has uncovered thus far:

In the first section of this series (Parts 2-9) our hero discovered the flaws in Major Myth #1: “The Catholic Church added 7 books to the canon of Scripture at the Council of Trent in 1546.” Those books, as he discovered, were part and parcel of all Bibles from the 4th century (the earliest extant manuscripts) to the time of the Reformers. The Reformers in their “wisdom” doubted the canonicity of not only the deuterocanonical books, but of many New Testament books as well, and having rejected the Magisterium of the Church which might have guided them on this, suggested that between 4 and 7 books of the New Testament might not really be Holy Scripture. Thus, at the Council of Trent the Catholic Church reaffirmed the canonicity of all 73 books of the canon. No books were added, and none were allowed to slip away.

In the second section (Parts 14-17) the protagonist researched the question of the canon of the Jews, and debunked Major Myth #2: “The Jews closed the canon of the Old Testament, and they never accepted the canonicity of the 7 additional books.” Obviously, some Jews must have accepted the canonicity of the 7 deuterocanonical books, since those books had by the first century found their way into the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament which was heavily relied upon by the authors of the New Testament and was even quoted from by Jesus Himself, as evidenced by Mark 7:6-8 (“…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” in the Septuagint vs. “their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” in the Hebrew) and Matthew 21:16 (“…out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have ordained praise” in the Septuagint vs. “…out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have ordained strength” in the Hebrew). Some Protestant apologists try to make the case that the deuterocanonical books were not even in the Septuagint during Jesus’ lifetime, making it sound as if the Christians of later centuries just got confused over which books belonged in the Old Testament since they were no longer in close contact with the Jews. However, this seems exceedingly unlikely since the deuterocanonical books were accepted as Scripture by the first Christians, a fact to which many Protestant scholars, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias bear witness. Those same sources also inform us that the canon of the Old Testament was still open after the Resurrection of Jesus. If this is true, then it was Christ’s body, the Church, which had the God-given authority to discern which books belong in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New.

Our protagonist has already seen the scholarly response (Part 13) to 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.” The Septuagint was the Old Testament of the first Christians, who believed all the books in the Septuagint to be Holy Scripture. The debate in the first two centuries of Christianity raged not around the books of the Old Testament, but around the books of the New.

Our hero is now gearing up to face 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.” He’s about to go wading in the flood of “criteria” which Protestant apologists claim were used by the first Christians to determine which books were canonical and which weren’t. These “criteria” are notable for two things – they are skewed to rule the deuterocanonical books out (since these apologists are trying to prove that the deuterocanonical books are not Scripture), and they are devoid of historicity; in other words, they were unknown to the early Christians – Protestants made them up out of whole cloth. Our hero is going to read some audacious claims made by these apologists against the deuterocanonical books. As you research along with him, a word to the wise – when confronted with words like “many,” “few,” “always,” or “never,” – do a head count, add things up, just as you would if a snake-oil salesman came to your door offering a great deal on his elixir – one bottle for $11.57, or 3 bottles for the low, low price of $35.00! Do the math!! Don’t take things at face value – do your research. It will be well worth your while!

For Part Eighteen, please click here


On the memorial of St. Onesimus

Deo omnis gloria!

Tobit and Anna await their son’s return

Welcome to Part 17 of my series on the canon of Scripture! Part One began here.

As we have seen, many popular Protestant authors claim that the Apocrypha can’t possibly be Scripture because the Hebrew canon was discerned long before the time of Christ, and it did not contain the Apocrypha. These folks use Scripture to try to prove that in Jesus’ day the Old Testament canon was already settled. “Luke 24:44, Luke 11:49-51, and Romans 3:2 prove that the Jews had already closed their canon,” they say. But as we have already learned from the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible: “It is important to note that Jesus and the earliest Christians referred only to ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matt 5:17; Luke 16:29), ‘the scriptures’ (Mark 12:24; Gal 4:30; Rom 1:2; 3:21), or ‘the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms’ (Luke 24:44; Acts 1:16). That is, the NT books themselves contain evidence that the Hebrew scriptures were not yet finally and fully defined; the Torah and the Prophets were canonized, but the Writings were still in the process of being so until the end of the first century C.E.”

Why do many popular Protestant authors insist in the face of all evidence to the contrary that the Old Testament canon was settled BEFORE the time of Jesus? This position grants them the “high ground” – the Old Testament canon was OBVIOUSLY closed by the Jewish people, they can say, and then the books of the Apocrypha were ADDED to it, books which most certainly did not belong in there! This story was the standard Protestant position until recently. However, modern-day conservative Protestant scholarship is honestly advertising the historical evidence that the Old Testament canon was STILL OPEN in Jesus’ time, and that there is no certain date of its closure by the Jewish rabbis.

Thus some popular authors are now turning away from the “pre-first-century closed canon” story to the “Council of Jamnia” theory, the idea that a Jewish council at the end of the first century A.D. closed the Old Testament canon. Again, there is no evidence for this. As the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states, “The suggestion that a particular synod of Jamnia, held c. 100 A.D., finally settled the limits of the OT canon, was made by H. E. Ryle; though it has had a wide currency, there is no evidence to substantiate it.” The rabbis at Jamnia achieved two objectives- they rejected the Septuagint version of the Bible because the Christians were using it to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, and they rejected the Christian New Testament. According to the popular authors, this “closed” the Old Testament canon. There is, however, historical evidence that the Jewish rabbis were still debating their canon in the second century, asking whether the books of Esther, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon were Holy Scripture. So the rabbis at Jamnia can be said to have “refined” their Old Testament canon, definitively ruling against the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and against the Christian books, declaring them uninspired and outside the canon of Holy Scripture. Remember, to the rabbis, there was no “Old Testament”; there was only “the Scriptures”, and they in their wisdom decided that the writings of the Christians did not belong in the Scriptures.

Why in the world would Protestant authors side with the rabbis who rejected the Gospel? Why would they promote the idea that the Pharisees living 70 years after the Resurrection had the God-given authority to decide the canon of the Old Testament, in light of the fact that Jesus established His Church to make authoritative decisions?? Because for years, the proposition that the Old Testament was “set in stone” centuries before the time of Jesus made the 66-book canon look like a slam-dunk. The legitimacy of the deuterocanonical books did not even need to be debated; according to Protestants, they were obviously apocryphal. As Protestant scholarship has gradually pushed the date of the closing of the Old Testament to the end of the first century A.D. and beyond, Protestant apologists want to stick with the story that has served them so well for so long. These authors are desperate to prove that the canon of the Old Testament was legitimately closed by the Jews who rejected the deuterocanonical books. They therefore have to take the attitude that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In other words, they will agree with anything that discredits the Catholic Church’s authority to definitively discern the canon of Holy Scripture. The fact is that the rabbis at Jamnia rejected the Septuagint because various prophetic passages in that Bible version, including passages in the deuterocanonical books themselves, witnessed to the fact that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah! Of course they rejected this! “Now, the rabbis were wrong when they rejected the New Testament writings” Protestant authors will tell you, “but they had the God-given authority to decide the Old Testament canon!” Seriously? Seventy years after the Resurrection, seventy years after Jesus gave the authority to bind and loose to His apostles, the Jewish leadership had the God-given authority to decide ANYTHING for Christians?? St. Peter, St. Paul, St. James, St. John, all the apostles were just sitting around waiting for the Jewish leadership to close the Old Testament canon?? Where’s the historical evidence for that??

The idea that the Jewish leadership was authorized by God to simultaneously reject the Apocrypha AND the New Testament writings in order to close their canon is pretty close to horrifying, but Protestant authors are willing to embrace it if it makes their 66-book canon look legitimate.

Our Protestant protagonist is feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the proposal that the legitimacy of the 66-book canon relies on a decision made by the Jewish leadership nearly 70 years after the Resurrection, a decision that went “unheeded by the Church”….

You feel slightly sick, and realize that you haven’t had dinner. Wandering into the kitchen, you grab an apple out of the fruit bowl and head back to your notes. Like a planet being sucked into the gravitational field of a black hole you wonder – where is the light? How do we know which books are in the canon? We obviously can’t depend on the Hebrew canon, apparently not decided until long after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. One quote from F.F. Bruce preys on your mind:

‘Greek Judaism’, it has been said, ‘with the Septuagint had ploughed the furrows for the gospel seed in the Western world’; but it was the Christian preachers who sowed the seed. So thoroughly, indeed, did Christians appropriate the Septuagint as their version of the scriptures that the Jews became increasingly disenchanted with it. The time came when one rabbi compared ‘the accursed day on which the seventy elders wrote the Law in Greek for the king’ to the day on which Israel made the golden calf. New Greek versions of the Old Testament were produced for Jewish use…

Fuller Theological Seminary’s Arthur Patzia makes basically the same point:

Once Christians began using the LXX for missionary and apologetic purposes, it began to lose favor with the Jews. Their earlier acceptance of this version waned when they found how consistently and effectively it was used against them in arguments. More and more the LXX became identified as the Old Testament of the Christian church. This led to a Jewish rejection of the LXX in its current form….

You read what the ISBE says about the Jewish rejection of the Septuagint:

The Jews in the early Christian centuries had really two Bibles: (1) There was the Hebrew Bible which does not include the Apocrypha and which circulated in Palestine and Babylon; (2) there was the Greek version (LXX) used by Greek-speaking Jews everywhere. However, instigated by the use made of it by Christians against themselves, the Jews condemned this version and made the Hebrew canon their Bible, thus rejecting the books of the Apocrypha from their list of canonical writings, and departing from the custom of Christian churches which continued with isolated remonstrances to make the Greek OT canon, with which the Vulgate agrees almost completely, their standard.

So this means that at the same time that the Jewish leadership turned sour on the Greek translation of the Bible (because the Christians were using it to prove their doctrines), they also rejected the Apocryphal books. The Jews did away with both the Septuagint and the Apocrypha in an attempt to cut the legs out from under the Christian testimony to Jesus as the Messiah! But their rejection of the Septuagint apparently had no effect on the Christians – The Oxford Dictionary tells you:

The Jewish rejection of certain books c. A.D. 100 was unheeded by the Church, which continued to reckon all books in the Septuagint as Scripture.

Using the Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha doesn’t really prove much; after all, the early Christians were apparently totally unfazed by the Jewish rejection of those books! Looking back at The Doctrines That Divide, another strike against the Apocrypha from Pastor Lutzer bothers you:

Finally and most important, we must remember that the Apocrypha was never part of the Old Testament Hebrew Canon. We have already emphasized that Christ assumed that the Hebrew canon ended with the Hebrew Scriptures. The Apocrypha was written in Greek, not Hebrew, and appeared at a later time.

“The Apocrypha was written in Greek….” Now wait a minute… your pastor gave a sermon once in which he talked about the languages of the books of the Bible. You remember distinctly that he told you that portions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic – several chapters in the book of Daniel, in Ezra, and a verse in Jeremiah. Nobody claims that they aren’t Holy Scripture because they weren’t written in Hebrew! And besides, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible has pointed out to you that copies of Sirach were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, written a century before the time of Christ, written in Hebrew (a fragment of the Letter of Jeremiah was found, written in Greek, and several scrolls containing the book of Tobit written in Aramaic and in Hebrew). You can find a quote from as far back as 1542 by the Reformer Petrus Cholinus stating that Sirach was written in Hebrew, and W.O.E. Oesterley, writing in 1935, points out that some books of the Apocrypha were “translated from Hebrew.” So no matter from what angle you look at it, the objection that these books could not be Scripture because they were “written in Greek, not Hebrew” goes out the window.

And Pastor Lutzer’s assertion that “Christ assumed that the Hebrew canon ended with the Hebrew Scriptures” is something that you cannot verify anywhere.

These popular Protestant authors certainly seem to be out-of-step with Protestant scholars…. It’s almost as if they’ve got something they’ve got to prove….

You rest your head in your hands. All these different stories…. “The Old Testament canon was decided centuries before the birth of Christ!” “No, no, the Old Testament canon was decided at Jamnia 70 years after the Resurrection!” “No, actually, the Old Testament canon was still being debated by Jewish rabbis in the second century!” What a headache!

Where was Jesus in all of this? What was His stance on the Apocrypha? Did He or His apostles ever give any hint of which canon was the right one?

For a summary of Parts 11-17, please click here

For Part 18, please click here


On the memorial of Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Deo omnis gloria!