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….
On the memorial of St. Mesrop Mashtots
Deo omnis gloria!