This is Part Thirty-One of my series on the canon of Scripture. If you’d like to find out how all this got started, begin here.
Are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch Holy Scripture? What did the early Christians have to say about this?
The Canon of the Bible makes an interesting comment on the various canons that the popular authors list as “proof” that the Fathers rejected the deuterocanonical books:
It is sometimes said that the history of the canon should be sought from definite catalogues, not from isolated quotations. The latter are supposed to be of slight value, the former to be the result of deliberate judgment. This remark is more specious than solid. In relation to the Old Testament, the catalogues given by the fathers, as by Melito and Origen, rest solely on the tradition of the Jews; apart from which they have no independent authority. As none except Jerome and Origen knew Hebrew, their lists of the Old Testament books are simply a reflexion of what they learned from others. If they deviate in practice from their masters by quoting as Scripture other than the canonical books, they show their judgment over-riding an external theory. The very men who give a list of the Jewish books evince an inclination to the Christian and enlarged canon. So Origen says, in his Epistle to Africanus, that “the churches use Tobit.” In explaining the prophet Isaiah, Jerome employs Sirach vi. 6, in proof of his view, remarking that the apocryphal work is in the Christian catalogue. In like manner Epiphanius, in a passage against Aetius, after referring to the books of Scripture, adds, “as well as the books of Wisdom, i.e., the Wisdom of Solomon and of Jesus son of Sirach; finally, all the other books of Scripture.” In another place he gives the canon of the Jews historically, and excludes the apocryphal Greek books; here he includes some of the latter. We also learn from Jerome that Judith was in the number of the books reckoned up by the Nicene Council. Thus the fathers who give catalogues of the Old Testament shew the existence of a Jewish and a Christian canon in relation to the Old Testament; the latter wider than the former; their private opinion being more favourable to the one, though the other was historically transmitted.
“The very men who give a list of the Jewish books evince an inclination to the Christian and enlarged canon.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia agrees with this:
All these declarations, more or less unfavorable to the Apocrypha, lose much of their importance from the fact that the men who excluded them from the canon use them in an impartial manner as though canonical; so Athanasius, Cyril, Epiphanius, and even Jerome who in spite of his theory is not afraid to quote Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] as “Sacred Scripture.”
Boy, there’s something you’ll never hear from the popular authors! The evidence is piling up on the side of the deuteros….
On the side of those who appear to have expressed serious doubts concerning the status of the deuterocanonicals, you find FIVE:
– Julius Africanus (his doubts concerning the story of Susanna, mentioned above, are the first documented objection of an orthodox Christian to a deuterocanonical book – and he writes at the beginning of the third century! It is when Julius expressed those doubts that Origen heaped scorn upon the idea that the Jews have the correct canon of the Old Testament and that Christians need to follow their lead. How Africanus felt about the other deuterocanonical books or the disputed books of the New Testament we do not know.)
– Amphilochius of Iconium (who rejected 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation, and took a “maybe, maybe not” attitude towards Esther, and yet states concerning his proposed canon: ‘This is the most unerring canon of the divinely inspired Scriptures’!)
– Epiphanius (he compiled several different lists of the canon, none of which agree. In one partial list Epiphanius names calls Wisdom and Sirach “divine writings,” in another list he names Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah among the books of the Bible. In his writings he quotes from Maccabees and the deuterocanonical passages of Daniel with the formula “It is written….” It is very hard to pin Epiphanius down one way or another.)
– Theodore of Mopsuestia (who apparently rejected the books of Job, Song of Solomon, Chronicles and the New Testament book of James along with the deuterocanonical books. F.F. Bruce warns that “some of his views on the canonicity of Old Testament books were regarded as dangerously radical.” )
– Jerome (the first writer – writing at the end of the 4th century! – to refer to the deuterocanonical books as Apocrypha. Jerome believed that the Christian church ought to follow the canon of the Jews of his day, yet he still referred to Baruch as a “prophet” and to the book of Sirach as “Scripture,” and stated that “Ruth, Esther and Judith have been given the great honor of conferring their names on sacred volumes.”)
Adding this up, it would seem to you that the great majority of the Church Fathers believed the deuterocanonicals belonged in the Bible! In fact, J.N.D. Kelly says exactly that:
For the great majority, however, the deutero-canonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.
The General Introduction to the Bible points out that “many” Fathers “vehemently opposed” the deuterocanonical books – the authors don’t bother to let you know that “for the great majority, however,” the deuterocanonical books “ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.” Kind of misleading!!
So, what does all this prove? If you had to sum it up, you would admit that all that this proves is that each Church Father had his own opinion as to what the canon should look like – no two canons seem to agree. The majority of the Fathers, though, apparently believed the Bible rightly contained the deuterocanonical books. You shake you head as you remember what you read on one website:
The early Christian church debated the status of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals, but few early Christians believed they belonged in the canon of Scripture.”
Oh, right! You count 29 Fathers to 5 – that’s a ratio of nearly 6:1 in favor of the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books! Are they implying that there was some great “silent majority” out there that believed otherwise?
Proof, please? You can find none….
On the memorial of Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen
Deo omnis gloria!