Here you have Part 23 of my series on the canon of Holy Scripture. Part One is where you should begin if you haven’t been following along! Our Protestant hero has been examining the “criteria” and “objections” which the popular Protestant authors claim were the determining factor in the discernment of the canon of Scripture. He is discovering just how selectively those “criteria” and “objections” have to be applied to make Protestant assumptions work!
You review once again the “criteria” supposedly used by the first Christians to determine which books were really Holy Scripture:
The book had to have “the ring of self-vindicating authority.”
The book had to be written by a prophet, and the prophet’s authenticity needed to be confirmed by “acts of God.” (Apostolic authorship fit this bill as far as the New Testament books were concerned).
The message had to be consistent with previous revelation.
Inspired books “enjoyed immediate acceptance.”
Inspired books had the power to change lives.
“The bottom line, of course, is that the books of the Bible were recognized as authoritative by the people of God.”
Does the book of Esther meet any of the above criteria?
Self-vindicating authority? Since the book of Esther never once mentions God’s name (except in the deuterocanonical addition to Esther), it was felt by some to be no more than a nice story.
Written by a prophet? Hmmm…. who wrote Esther, anyway?
Consistent with previous revelation? The enemies of the Jews were fair game after the king turned on them, and the Jews killed 75,000 of their enemies – consistent with previous revelation perhaps, but not exactly consistent with our Christian “turn the other cheek” ethic!
Enjoyed immediate acceptance? HAH!
Had the power to change lives? Well, you would think so, but the fact that God’s name isn’t mentioned has always been considered a real strike against it – as if people would read it and assume that Esther just acted on her own instead of in reliance on almighty God….
Recognized as authoritative by the people of God? Esther was finally accepted as part of the Hebrew canon in the 2nd century, but “recognized as authoritative by the people of God” is pretty lame as far as criteria go – after all, isn’t it the same as saying “Well, it’s in the Bible, isn’t it? Therefore it was accepted – right? It MUST be canonical!”
In fact, Josh McDowell lists four objections against the Apocrypha (taken from Unger’s Bible Dictionary) – all of which would serve to disqualify the book of Esther!
Objection #1: [The Apocryphal books] abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms.” Your pastor told you once that Esther’s historicity has been hotly disputed among Bible scholars. He pointed out, though, that critics have many such quibbles against “Bible inaccuracies.” Jesus Himself proclaimed that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds – an “inaccuracy” that you as a Christian have learned how to defend. And you have read that the “historical and geographical inaccuracies” in the deuterocanonical book of Judith were defended by none other than Martin Luther! While he did not consider Judith to be Holy Scripture, it was not because of any inaccuracies. Instead, he actually praised the style as deliberately including “errors of time and name”:
“Some people think this is not an account of historical events but rather a beautiful religious fiction by a holy and ingenious man who wanted to sketch and depict therein the fortunes of the whole Jewish people and the victory God always miraculously granted them over all their enemies.”
Luther goes on to describe how this same approach was taken by the authors of Holy Scripture in the Song of Solomon, the book of Revelation and the book of Daniel, and adds that “Christ our Lord himself likes to make use of parables and fictions like this in the gospel.” He finishes by stating that:
“Such an interpretation strikes my fancy, and I think that the poet deliberately and painstakingly inserted the errors of time and name in order to remind the reader that the book should be taken and understood as that kind of a sacred, religious composition.”
And while we’re on this subject, you note that McDowell, in Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask, which he wrote with Don Stewart, addresses supposed discrepancies in Scripture. The authors appeal to Aristotle’s admonition: “[the] benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.” They urge readers to use ‘additional reference sources’ as aids in reconciling ‘Bible difficulties.’ “One of the things for which we appeal with regard to possible contradictions is fairness” they state. Fairness – good thinking! But why should this appeal for “fairness” only apply to books that these authors consider canonical –
why can’t it rightly be extended to the discussion of the deuterocanonicals?
Objection #2: [The Apocryphal books] teach doctrines that are false and foster practices that are at variance with inspired Scripture.
Well, Esther has been criticized as a book that promotes “Jewish nationalism” rather than a reliance on Almighty God, and the Jewish slaughter of their enemies at the end of the tale sounds decidedly “at variance” with “Love thy neighbor”! But we who accept Esther as canonical Scripture take that all into account and harmonize it with the rest of Christian doctrine. By the same token, if Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I and 2 Maccabees and the additional portions of Esther and Daniel are inspired Scripture, then it’s not these books which are deficient – maybe it’s our doctrines which are deficient. We must FIRST find out which books are Scripture, THEN we derive our doctrines from those books. Martin Luther found fault with the book of James and relegated it to second-best status, because he felt that it taught doctrines that are false – doctrines like “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” – James 2:24! Removing books from the canon to justify our doctrine is NOT the way to go!
Objection #3: [The Apocryphal books] resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with the rest of Scripture.
So you don’t like the style of the writing in the book of Esther – or any other book? This objection to “style” is purely subjective – after all, Augustine in his pre-Christian days was ‘turned off’ by the writing style of the Scriptures, stating “they seemed to me to be unworthy to be compared with the majesty of Cicero”! One of the beauties of Scripture is that God used many different human authors who wrote in different languages and different styles – and different readers are attracted to different styles of writing. Martin Luther himself wrote that Tobit was “the work of a gifted poet” and that I Maccabees “in its style, language and words” “closely resembles the rest of the books of Scripture.”
Objection #4: [The Apocryphal books] lack the distinctive elements that give genuine Scripture its divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling. Since the book of Esther never mentions God, it was seen as definitely lacking in “prophetic power” and “religious feeling”. This objection resembles one of the first claims you found online: “The Apocrypha itself never claims to be the Word of God.” But W.O.E. Oesterley states flat out:
That Ben-Sira reckoned his book [Sirach] as Scripture is clear from his words: “And I, last of all, came as one that gleaneth after the grape-gatherers. By the blessing of the Lord I made progress, and, as a grape-gatherer, filled my winepress. Consider that I laboured not for myself alone, but for all who seek instruction. Hearken unto me, ye great ones of the people; and ye rulers of the congregation, give ear to me” (Ecclus.xxi.16-18).”
And if the deuterocanonical books are so deficient in “prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling,” how come the Edinburgh Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society hotly denounced their inclusion in Protestant Bibles with the claim that:
Great indeed is the demerit of that book which contradicts the revealed will of God; but its demerit is unspeakably aggravated when… it adds the blasphemous assumption of being itself a revelation of God’s will. Now such is the Apocrypha. It pretends to a divine original….
So plainly does it affect to have the sanction of heaven, that it actually apes the phraseology of inspiration. It contains messages to mankind which are sometimes represented as proceeding immediately from God himself, and sometimes as conveyed through the medium of angels. And frequently its declarations are introduced with that most awful and authoritative of all sanctions, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
The gentlemen of the Edinburgh Committee apparently disagreed vehemently with the proposition that “the Apocrypha itself never claims to be the Word of God”!
The comments of William H. Daubney, Anglican clergyman of the 19th century, pretty well sum up how you feel about these “objections”:
The fact is that in some quarters the Apocrypha has not met with fair treatment, or anything approaching to it. … in most cases the accusations brought against the Apocrypha (when they are not mere captious fault-finding) arise from judging it by too high a standard – a standard so unattainably high that the canonical books themselves in many cases will hardly reach it. Indeed, many of the shortcomings alleged against the Apocrypha might with equal facility be brought against the books of the Canon, as in fact by unbelievers they often are.
The so-called “Apocrypha” cannot be ruled out when these “objections” are applied fairly. Using these “criteria,” you can subjectively rule out the Apocrypha – and the book of Esther as well! So much for the “criteria” and “objections” supposedly used in the selection process! They’re useless!
And where’s the historical evidence that these “criteria” and “objections,” so dear to the hearts of Protestant apologists, were the basis upon which the first Christians discerned the canon? Is there any evidence?? Or are the popular Protestant authors just taking shots in the dark???
On the memorial of St. Katherine Drexel
Deo omnis gloria!