Here is Part 29 of my series on the canon of Holy Scripture – Part One started way back here! Our Protestant hero has waded through the history of the Reformation, and gone back to the time of Jesus in his search for the correct canon of Scripture. He is now researching the beliefs of the 2nd-, 3rd-, and 4th-century Christians as regards the canon….
Of special interest to you is the fact, made mention of in many reference books that you consult, that the first Christians seem to have expressed no doubt about the canonicity of the deuterocanonicals until the end of the second century. After this point, you note certain individuals in the Christian church expressing their belief that there are 22 or 24 books in the Old Testament (to get this number, they have to combine many books that are separate in your Bible). Patristic scholar H.B. Swete in his Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek makes an interesting point:
There can be little doubt that, notwithstanding the strict adherence of the Eastern lists to the number of the Hebrew books, the Old Latin canon truly represents the collection of Greek sacred books which came into the hands of the early Christian communities at Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. When Origen and the Greek fathers who follow him fix the number of the books at twenty-two or twenty-four, they follow, not the earlier tradition of the Church, but the corrected estimate of Christian scholars who had learned it from Jewish teachers. An earlier tradition is represented by the line of Christian writers, beginning with Clement of Rome, who quoted the ‘Apocryphal’ books apparently without suspecting that they were not part of the Canon.
Swete admits that it was the Old Latin canon with its deuterocanonical books that originally “came into the hands of the early Christian communities at Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome” – any claim that Christians in the East had the Hebrew canon handed down to them from the apostles as the correct one is just not true. He believes that the early Christians got it wrong when it came to the Old Testament canon, and needed “the corrected estimate” provided to them by non-Christians! Swete is clearly assuming that the Hebrew canon was the right one – something you now find quite questionable.
In fact, there appears to be a great deal of “assumption” going on in the Protestant argument. You note David Dunbar’s confident assertion:
That a wider range of books than those of the Hebrew canon came to be included in the Septuagint was due in part to the increasing ignorance among Gentile Christians of Jewish views on the subject.
Could it be that the post-Resurrection Jewish leadership which established the Hebrew canon knew something that the early Christians didn’t? Maybe God told the Jewish leadership something that He never mentioned to the apostles? Something absolutely crucial to our faith that was never passed down to the men that they ordained?
And in fact, Dr. Dunbar reverses himself when talking about the canon of the New Testament:
Moreover, the Christian community of the second century was in a better position than the church of the later centuries to acknowledge the documents that de facto constituted the ground of its existence…. The determining factor was usage, that is, the church’s recognition of its own origins.
So the second-century Christians were IN A BETTER POSITION to discern the New Testament canon, but, according to this author, not as capable of discerning the canon of the Old Testament? That makes them simultaneously supremely qualified and abysmally ignorant concerning what was and was not Holy Scripture! The Old Testament, after all, was the written material upon which the first Christians based their beliefs! The second-century Christian community believed the deuterocanonicals to be Scripture. And wasn’t that supposed to be part of the ‘selection process’ touted by the popular authors? “The bottom line, of course, is that the books of the Bible were recognized as authoritative by the people of God” – which the deuterocanonicals surely were!
Sheesh! All of these various arguments seem to cancel each other out!
You read that a 3rd-century Church Father named Origen made a very convincing argument against the suggestion that the Jews had the correct canon of Scripture:
And, forsooth, when we notice such things [like the story of Susanna not being found in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament], we are forthwith to reject as spurious the copies in use in our churches, and enjoin the brotherhood to put away the sacred books current among them, and to coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with, and free from forgery? Are we to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures has ministered to the edification of all the churches of Christ, had no thought for those bought with a price, for whom Christ died; whom, although His Son, God who is love spared not, but gave Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things? In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, ‘Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.
Origen obviously found it impossible to believe that the Jews of his time possessed knowledge essential to the Christian faith which God had not given to the Christian Church itself!
But that’s exactly what the popular authors are asking you to believe!
On the memorial of St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Deo omnis gloria!