Monthly Archives: April 2013

Back in the month of March, I passed a milestone in my life. The odometer rolled over to the Double Nickel – I am now 55. While I have up to now tried to ignore worldly concerns such as age, I have finally been forced to accept the fact that I am entering the second half of my life, and need to prepare accordingly. From what I’ve heard, things can get a little bumpy from this point on.

I take it on faith that advancing age must be a good thing. After all, the Bible tells us so. The same Holy Scriptures that tell us that children are a gift and a reward also tell us that the faithful will be BLESSED with long life – so living another 55 years must by rights be viewed as a blessing from God. The problem is, as any mother of 9 screaming little wonders can tell you, these things can be a MIXED blessing. I recently received a video of my mother at her skilled care home out in Arizona. A kind volunteer is belting out “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” on the accordion, and my mom, with the assistance of an aide, is dancing to the music. I can see her lips moving to the words – the woman who can no longer remember my name still knows the words to that dumb song. My mind jumps ahead to my nursing home experience 30 years from now, as the kind accordion player belts out “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Will I dance along? Will I still know the words? Will I know anything else?

That’s the kind of thing that will keep you awake at night if you let it….

And that is exactly why I believe that old age is a blessing – because old age will speak the truth, and I need to hear the truth, even if it scares me. And the truth is that a large number of professing Christians who believe that they love God actually love the fringe benefits of being associated with God. Being a 21st-century American, I number myself among these confused souls. This state of delusion is dangerous to my spiritual health, and the sooner I can clear the fog from my brain, the better….

So, let’s try a little experiment. For six weeks, do without the comforts of life. I know, I know – Lent’s over! Okay, wait till after the Easter season, but then give this a try. For American Christians, doing without the comforts of life would begin with food (since gluttony is pretty much the only totally acceptable sin in Christian culture). For six weeks, don’t eat anything you actually like. Buy the brands you’ve never cared for. Eat slightly less than you’d like. Overcook what you do eat, or let it set before you eat it so it gets cold. Adjust the temperature in your home so that it is not warm enough or not cool enough, depending on the season. Remember, the point of the experiment is not to kill yourself – it’s to induce constant discomfort. Avoid the pastimes you enjoy. Put music you’ve really never liked on in the background and play it for the six-week period, over and over. Stay inside on Saturdays and scrub the walls. Stop using fabric softener. Set your alarm to awaken you in the middle of the night so that you can pray. Sleep on the floor. Wear clothes that make you look fat. Don’t use make-up. Don’t spend time with people you like. Spend all your free time (when you’re not scrubbing the walls) with people you usually avoid. Keep a pebble in your shoe. Drive to work only on roads which are currently under construction. Snack on Grape Nuts.

And after the six-week experiment, tell me how much you love God.

I think for most of us, one or two weeks of this stuff would be enough to cause us to “lose our religion,” as the saying goes. We are so comfortable, and so used to being comfortable, that we have somehow conflated our love of the good life and our gratitude for it with our love for the Almighty who is the Giver of all good things. Any constant source of irritation for any period of time is enough to cause us to snap (which is why most of us undertake such wimpy Lenten penances – we wouldn’t want to hurt anybody!) The only way for us to know if, and how much, we really love God is to lose these “perks”. If we were Christians in a country where persecution was to be expected, we wouldn’t labor under this delusion, but living in the States I think it just comes with the territory. Some of us are saved from this nonsense by chronic poor health, or by real financial misfortune or family tragedy, but for most of us – our “love of God” may be somewhat hypothetical.

Enter the phenomenon known as “old age.” This, in 21st-century America, is what finally separates the men from the boys, or in my case, the dowagers from the maids. I’ve observed that there’s nothing pretty about getting old. You start to ache, you tire more easily, your friends start dying, you acquire a string of diagnoses, you start bathroom-mapping, you can’t sleep, you become forgetful, you become superfluous, you become dependent, you become boring…. the fun never ends. So what’s our typical 21st-century American Christian response to all that? Let’s bail!! Anything that looks like it might hurt (or even be uncomfortable) can’t possibly be God’s will for my life! After all, I know God wants me to be happy!! And old age doesn’t look like it’s going to make me happy at all!

Poor vaunt of life indeed,

Were man but formed to feed

On joy, to solely seek and find and feast…

This is the fruit of having preached verses like “All things work together for good…” and “I know the plans I have for you…” all these years without asking folks to read the Biblical fine print. “God loves you” to us means that we’re going to get what we want. We are so afraid of suffering that for most of us the avoidance of suffering has become the main goal of our existence. Just like unbelievers, our hope, our REAL hope, is in our 401K, our facelift, our favorite TV programs, our eventual retirement, and in the continued existence of the Starbucks franchise. This obsession with “having nice things” bodes ill. We would do well to spend a little more time pondering the life of Christ. The difference between the conditions that He chose to live in and the conditions we live in is vast. I suspect He was trying to tell us something. If we are such modern-day wusses that we can’t even “do without” without becoming uncharitable, how do we ever propose to do what we have been commanded to do, to take up our cross and follow Him?

So again, the only way for us to know if, and how much, we really love God is to lose the “perks” that we believe come with His employ. Old age pretty much sets the stage for that, doesn’t it? Do we believe that we somehow don’t need to have this supposed “love of God” of ours tested? Do we believe that we’re doing just fine spiritually the way we are now? Have we swallowed the modern-day nonsense that “Jesus suffered, so I don’t have to?” Is the servant greater than his Master? Jesus had no place to lay His head – I have Sealy Posturepedic. Lucky me….

Not once beat “Praise be Thine!

I see the whole design,

I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:

Perfect I call Thy plan:

Thanks that I was a man!

   Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou shalt do!

But I want to be healthy and vigorous and sound of mind so that I can serve the Lord! The source of much of our objection to old age is that perversion of doctrine that insists that only certain activities are “God’s work.” As Catholics we believe that when we become God’s children through baptism, everything we do according to the will of God becomes God’s work, our rising and our lying down, our eating, drinking, reading, driving, changing diapers, because it is Christ in us who works to do the will of God. Buying into the nonsense that only Bible reading, church attendance, prayer and evangelization are “God’s work” necessarily leads us to question the actions of God when He allows an old lady to dodder on for 20 years after what we consider to be her expiration date, i.e., the moment she “outlives her usefulness to the Lord!” How profoundly unchristian! We are all called to do God’s work in this world, and His work is whatever lies before us in the place He has put us. This extends as well to our “work” of aging. If it is God’s will that I become feeble, then I am doing God’s work as I push my walker up to the altar at Mass and receive my Lord in Holy Communion. If it is God’s will that I lose my memory, then I am doing God’s work as I struggle hopefully to remember your name. If it is God’s will that I become incapacitated, then I am doing God’s work as I lie in bed receiving I.V. fluids – if I with a heart full of gratitude offer this up to His glory! Every circumstance for the Christian is a GIFT
from our loving Father, and infirmity is the real setting in which this gem is showcased. When we can accept our “crown of thorns” from Jesus’ hands, we will be on the way to understanding how much He loves us. Old age truly separates the believers from the wannabe’s – if all our comforts can be taken away from us, comforts like our sight, our hearing, our digestion, our sense of balance, our independence, our control of bodily functions – and we can still breathe out a determined “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” then, like Job, we are no longer spiritual dilettantes. We won’t love Him for what He has given us, because when it’s all been taken away from us, there will only be one thing left for us to love:

So, take and use Thy work:

Amend what flaws may lurk,

What strain o’ the stuff, what warpings past the aim!

My times be in Thy hand!

Perfect the cup as planned!

Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

When I can embrace the circumstances of the last years of my life with the enthusiasm of childlike faith, I can claim to see the beginning of wisdom in my heart. God helping me, I will hear His loving voice whispering in my dark night:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

Who saith “A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

Old age? With the assurance that God will supply His grace commensurate to my necessity, I pray with confidence:
Bring it on, Lord! Bring it on!

On the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Elderly people of the town in a social event by Enramada

Poetry excerpts from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi ben Ezra”

Did you ever wake up to some bad news about yourself? You know, you’re tootling along thinking you’re pretty okay, and then you wake up one morning to a few inconvenient truths. During Lent, I received a distressing insight concerning myself and my motivations. Simply put, I discovered that all of my life I have been a student of the Scarlett O’Hara School of Devotion.

For those of you who have not read Gone With the Wind in donkey’s years, permit me to refresh your memory….


My role model

My role model

Scarlett O’Hara loved Ashley Wilkes from the afternoon he first appeared on her porch.  It was puppy love, and she was smitten.  Never mind that she and Ashley were ill-suited for one another, a fact which character after character in the book pointed out to Scarlett.  She was obsessed, and was sure that only Ashley would make her happy.   Alas, Ashley marries his childhood sweetheart, Melanie, a woman with attitudes and interests similar to his – a good match.  Scarlett marries Melanie’s brother in a fit of pique; after he dies, she marries a man much older than herself because she needs his money.  And when he dies, Scarlett marries husband #3 – Rhett Butler.  

Rhett is to Scarlett what Melanie is to Ashley – a good match. Rhett understands Scarlett and can give her everything she needs. Unfortunately, Scarlett does not understand herself. Scarlett believes that what she really needs is Ashley. It is only when she finally obtains him, upon Melanie’s death, that Scarlett realizes what everyone else has known all along – Ashley could never make her happy. Unfortunately, by this point husband #3 has had it with Scarlett and her cheating heart, and famously announces that he no longer gives a good galldurn what she does –he’s leaving.

And this woman is the genius after whose life I have patterned my own….

I was raised as a Christian; I took my beliefs and my relationship with God very seriously. But all my life I have been a second Scarlett – “married” to the right man, yet giving my heart to another. My “Ashley” has always been the concerns of this world: my longing for human affection, financial success and physical comfort. God, who has been wooing me since He created me, has had to take a back seat to my real interests. And He knows it….

It would really help if my Ashley would obligingly kick the bucket….

Strange to say, but a saint, namely St. Paul, actually suggested that we do old Ashley in! Apparently Paul of Tarsus had his own problems with Ashley, and the no-nonsense saint started kicking the useless twit around a little. He confessed to the Corinthians that he tried buffeting Ashley mercilessly, but it apparently wasn’t enough. Ashley, though useless, is a tough old bird. To the Romans the saint complained that Ashley just wasn’t dying fast enough. It was then that he wrote his famous “no more St. Nice Guy!” declaration to the Colossians – in which he proposes murdering Ashley in cold blood!

…those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature. (Col 3:5)

“Whatever belongs to your earthly nature” – that’s Ashley, all right. Christians are urged to try starving Ashley into submission, wresting his possessions from his grasp and handing them over to the poor, clothing him in sackcloth and ashes, and if that isn’t enough (and it is never enough) – laying Ashley’s head gently down on a concrete block and taking a few well-aimed swings at it with a blunt instrument. And you thought Christianity was all soppy love and forgiveness! Think again! The Founder Himself straightforwardly advocated the torture of the likes of Ashley Wilkes:

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

But Scarlett, Duck Dynasty is on at 9!

But Scarlett, Duck Dynasty is on at 9!

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t as if the skunk is utterly devoid of redeeming qualities. No, Ashley is respectable. No one is going to think less of me if I work on Sundays to get ahead financially. Ashley needs a new suit! Contracept so that I can maintain my privileged rugrat-free lifestyle? Ashley is allergic to children, and besides, birth control is the responsible choice! Devote my evenings to fasting and prayer for an end to abortion? What? And miss Duck Dynasty??? It’s Ashley’s favorite show!!

All the more reason to sharpen the knife….

But Ashley is a wily one. Even as I measure his size 14 feet for the concrete booties which I hope will sink him to the bottom of the sea, he bats his long, golden eyelashes at me, and I swoon. Sheesh! my heart whispers. Give the weasel a break! What did he ever do??

Oh, not much. He’s just the one thing standing between me and True Love, eternal happiness, all that stuff. Ashley isn’t just being clingy and controlling. He is literally hell-bent on sweet-talking me into spending eternity together with him. Hell-bent. As long as Ashley holds me in his thrall, my eternal happiness is in very real jeopardy. For a sick, enabling co-dependent like me, that’s seriously bad news. The Lover of my soul knows this. The One Who has relentlessly pursued me from all eternity won’t let me go without a fight – but I have to fight with Him. As St. Paul, who knew a thing or two about old Ashley, put it:

…if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Dire straits call for dire measures.

The self-denial St. Paul was constantly preaching is the key here because, of course, my cravings for human affection, financial success and physical comfort are self-love. Ashley isn’t just my paramour – he is literally a part of me. That’s why it hurts so much to let him go. That’s why it’s so hard to watch him die. I must stop my ears to his pleas, thrust him out of my heart, bar the door, change the locks, and call the Police if he ever so much as dares to set foot on the property again.

Or, I could take the easy road and just poison his grits….

Christians are enjoined to get just a little bit mean… make that seriously antagonistic… okay, actually out-and-out bloodthirsty towards the object of our mislaid affections. Because Ashley, the jerk, is ruining my chance at REAL love, God has told me I must take matters into my own hands.

So be it!

Die, Ashley, die!

On the memorial of St. Mark the Evangelist

Deo omnis gloria!

Not to say that there aren’t many good things about our astonishing new Pontiff, but this is one really Good Thing that has made a difference in my scrawny little neck of the woods….

I like to tell people that central Virginia may not be the buckle of the Bible Belt, but folks in this area are certainly doing their fair share to hold up the pants of Protestantism! This Good Thing about Pope Francis is in relationship to the Evangelical population in my area, as well as across the country.

They have noticed him.

That may not sound like much to you, but let me explain. I wrote a post last year about the sad fact that, as an Evangelical, I managed to ignore nearly the entire pontificate of Blessed John Paul II. He was elected when I was in college, so it’s not as if I wasn’t old enough to know what was going on. I was unimpressed. So the Catholics have got a new pope. Big whoop.

I moved to (West) Germany. While I was living there, two well-known figures were the targets of assassination attempts: Ronald Reagan and John Paul II. Believe me, I was far more concerned about Reagan. I don’t recall even praying for the pope’s recovery. I managed to ignore my way through John Paul’s pontificate, until I by the grace of God began to investigate the teachings of the Church. Only then did that dear man become someone I was interested in. I entered the Church in 2003; he left us in 2005.

I know that I as a Protestant was not alone in this folly, for Marcus Grodi, founder of the Coming Home Network, told a similar story of his Protestant indifference to the pope. He was living in Boston in 1979 when John Paul II paid the city a visit.

On one particular day, I was off of work and looking forward to relaxing in front of the television and later a long jog along the Charles River. In passing I had heard and read that Boston was being granted the great “privilege” of a visit by the new Catholic pope, John Paul II. The Boston Globe, in my view, had wasted far too many pages discussing the papal visit —articles which, of course, I’d never read.

And yes indeed, as the day progressed, the crowds came. Thousands of people filled the street and the Garden, but I didn’t so much as poke my head out the door. Why should I? Why should I have any more interest in a Catholic pope than if, say, the head of the Unification Church were passing by? And besides, I hate crowds.

So, I escaped by the alley door for an afternoon jog along the Charles, “far from the madding crowd”.

Grodi was that close to Blessed John Paul, but didn’t pay any attention to the papal visit because… well, because Grodi at that time was Protestant and just couldn’t be bothered. He missed John Paul’s impassioned “Follow Christ” discourse that day, because he just didn’t care. He had more important things to attend to. Yet, had he bothered, had he taken the time to listen, Grodi would have heard words decidedly “Evangelical” in their import, as the pope challenged Christians and indeed the world to follow the Savior!

Grodi wasn’t listening.

Neither was I.

Why couldn’t John Paul II get through to him, or to me?

It has been said that Evangelicals are the teenagers of Christianity. They are loud and full of energy. They think that their ideas are great, and yours are stupid. Their first reaction to anything foreign to their belief system is “This is stupid.” They know everything. You can’t tell them anything, because they’re sure they already know what you’re going to say. When you talk, their brains slide into sleep mode and their eyes glaze over. Especially if you are Catholic.

Double especially if you are the pope.

Yet, they are hearing Pope Francis, and they are reacting to him.

The difference? How can they hear him??

They can hear him because he’s not communicating with them in words, but in deeds.

When Evangelicals see some old guy come out on that balcony at St. Peter’s wearing the red cape and embroidered papal stole, they already know what the deal is. They think, “I’ve got his number. This is the same-old-papal-same-old.” And in the three seconds it takes to think that, they write him off. That’s all the chance the pope gets to win a hearing with them – three seconds. First impressions are all that count. And on March 13th, 2013, leaping through that three-second window of Evangelical opportunity came Francis.

He has managed to keep his foot in that window, too, so to speak, by doing what Evangelicals don’t expect him to do. When he kept his rooms in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, when he got out of the popemobile to bless pilgrims, when he went to prison to wash feet, Evangelicals kept listening. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, actually felt it necessary early on to remind Baptists of the evils of the papacy and of Catholicism in general, something which wouldn’t really be necessary if Baptists weren’t paying any attention at all to this new pope.

Perhaps Dr. Mohler remembers how Mother Teresa snuck in under the anti-Catholic radar in the same fashion. This does not guarantee success (when she died, I was told by an Evangelical friend that it was doubtful that she went to Heaven, seeing as how she was trusting in her works instead of in Jesus), but it is a good start to gain an opportunity for a hearing. I believe many Evangelicals who formerly doubted that Catholics were really Christians may have changed their thinking because of Blessed Teresa. I hope so, anyway.

So, as I said, one Really Good Thing about our new pope.

You’ll hear the predictable comments from Evangelicals about Pope Francis having “learned from Protestantism” when he does what he does. Not understanding Catholicism, and having been taught that Catholics do not know Christ, many Protestants are stymied by words or actions that originate with Catholics but resonate in the hearts of the descendants of the Reformers. They will imagine that they like Francis because he is one step closer than other popes to toning down Catholic doctrines and bringing them into conformity with Protestant theology. In the “First Thoughts” column of First Things Magazine, deputy editor Matthew Schmitz deftly tweaks that notion back to rights:

Protestants see one of their own in the new pope, which might prompt a Catholic to say that much of what we see as Protestant can be found more fully realized and rightly oriented in the heart of the Church.

Yes, indeed. May God use Pope Francis to help Evangelicals realize just that.


On the memorial of St. George

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credit: Photo derived from “Pope Francis with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner,” attribution

Tobias and Raphael

Okay, folks! Close your books and put your notes away! Get out a piece of paper and a pencil – did I mention that there was going to be a pop quiz at the end of this series?

Not really a test, just a chance to try out what you’ve learned about the canon on some real-life apologetic examples. The quotes below are from Protestant popular authors, the kind of books your next-door neighbor might point to as proof that the Catholic canon is bogus. The quotes are shot through with errors – how many can you spot? What would your well-reasoned response to these assertions be? And if you’d like to post a few (or all) of your answers in the combox, I would love to read what you come up with! (As an aid, I’ve linked to the posts in my series where these issues were discussed – feel free to take a peek if you need to!) Pay special attention to #9 – the subject was mentioned only peripherally in the series, but this kind of objection occurs often in the popular literature, and is easily defused.

Have at it!

1.It was not until 1546, at the Council of Trent, that the Roman Catholic Church officially declared the Apocrypha to be part of the canon (with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh). It is significant that the Council of Trent was the response of the Roman Catholic Church to the teachings of Martin Luther and the rapidly spreading Protestant Reformation, and the books of the Apocrypha contain support for the Catholic teachings of prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works, not by faith alone. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine)

2. The Apocryphal books were written in Greek after the close of the Old Testament canon. Jewish scholars agree that chronologically Malachi was the last book of the Old Testament canon. The books of the Apocrypha were evidently written about 200 B.C. and occur only in Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament. Since Christ accepted only the books we have in our Old Testament today, we have no reason to add to their number. (Erwin Lutzer, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians)

3. Roman Catholics typically argue that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that predates the time of Christ) contained the Apocrypha. This must mean, they reason, that the Apocrypha belongs in the canon. Church fathers such as Iraneaus [sic], Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria also used the apocryphal books in public worship and accepted them as Scripture. Further, it is argued, the great theologian St. Augustine viewed these books as inspired. (Protestants respond, however, that since all these facts were already known in the early centuries of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church’s delay until the sixteenth century to declare the apocryphal books as canonical depletes these arguments of significant force.) Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures With Catholics

4. In order for a book to be canonical, it must satisfy the tests of canonicity:

a. Was it written by a “prophet” of God? There is neither claim and/or proof that [the deuterocanonicals] were.

b. Did it come with the authority of God? No! There is a striking absence of the ring of authority in the Apocrypha. A step from the canon to the Apocrypha is like leaving the natural sunlight of God for the artificial candlelight of man, which at times becomes very dim indeed.

c. Did it have the power of God? There is nothing transforming about the Apocrypha. Its truth is not exhilarating, except as it is a repetition of canonical books in other books.

d. Did it tell the truth about God, man, etc.? As was mentioned above, there are contradictions, errors, and even heresies in the Apocrypha. It does not stand the test of canonical truth.

e. Was it accepted by the people of God? It is this final question upon which the Apocrypha takes the final and fatal fall. (Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible)

5. The evidence clearly supports the theory that the Hebrew canon was established well before the late first century A.D., more than likely as early as the fourth century B.C. and certainly no later than 150 B.C. A major reason for this conclusion comes from the Jews themselves, who from the fourth century B.C. onwards were convinced that “the voice of God had ceased to speak directly.” (Ewert, ATMT, 69) In other words, the prophetic voices had been stilled. No word from God meant no new Word of God. Without prophets, there can be no scriptural revelation. (Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict)

6. Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity… In fact the entire Protestant Old Testament was considered prophetic. Moses, who wrote the first five books, was a prophet (Deut. 18:15.) The rest of the Old Testament books were known as the “the Prophets” (Matt. 5:17) since these two sections are called “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). The “apostles and [New Testament] prophets” (Eph. 3:5) composed the entire New Testament. Hence, the whole Bible is a prophetic book, including the final book (cf. Rev. 20:7, 9-10). As we will see, this cannot be said for the apocryphal books. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is a test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon. (Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences)

7. Except for certain interesting historical information (especially in 1 Maccabees) and a few beautiful moral thoughts (e.g., Wisdom of Solomon), these books contain absurd legends and platitudes, and historical, geographical and chronological errors, as well as manifestly heretical doctrines; they even recommend immoral acts (Judith 9:10,13) (René Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture)

8. What then shall be said about the Apocrypha, the collection of books included in the canon by the Roman Catholic Church but excluded from the canon by Protestantism? These books were never accepted by the Jews as Scripture, but throughout the early history of the church there was a divided opinion on whether they should be part of Scripture or not. In fact, the earliest Christian evidence is decidedly against viewing the Apocrypha as Scripture, but the use of the Apocrypha gradually increased in some parts of the church until the time of the Reformation. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine)

9. For instance, the earliest Christian list of Old Testament books that exists today is by Melito, bishop of Sardis, writing about A.D. 170: “When I came to the east and reached the place where these things were preached and done, and learnt accurately the books of the Old Testament, and set down the facts and sent them to you. These are their names: Five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth; four books of Kingdoms; two books of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job; the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah; the Twelve in a single book; Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra.” It is noteworthy here that Melito names none of the books of the Apocrypha, but he includes all of our present Old Testament books except Esther. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine)

10. The fact that the Roman Catholic church, since the 16th century, considers the Old Testament to contain seven additional books which Protestants reject, does not affect this conclusion [concerning the limits of the canon]. The people of God to whom the Old Testament was given were Jews. At the time of Christ all groups of Jews agreed on the contents of the Old Testament. The New Testament was given to the Christians, who took over the Old Testament from the Jews. Among the Christians unanimity regarding the books of the New Testament came into being within a few centuries, and has continued ever since. (Allan MacRae, “The Canon of Scripture: Can We Be Sure Which Books Are Inspired by God?” in John Warwick Montgomery (ed.), Evidence for Faith: Deciding the God Question)

And if you are interested in reading more on the subject of the canon, may I recommend these absolutely wonderful books?

Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible by Gary G. Michuta – the gold standard when it comes to books on the Catholic canon.

By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition by Mark P. Shea – the book that sealed the deal for me when I was considering becoming Catholic. Holy Tradition can be something of a “slippery fish” for Protestants to grasp. Mr. Shea nails that fish to the carving board and slices it up so that non-Catholics can partake of its benefits!

Below is a bibliography of the sources used in this series on the canon:

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000.

Abegg, Martin, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. HarperCollins, 1999.

Boettner, Loraine, Roman Catholicism. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962.

Bruce, F.F, The Canon of Scripture. Intervarsity Press, 1988.

Cross, F.L. and E.A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2. ed., Oxford University Press, 1983.

Daubney, W.H., The Use of the Apocrypha in the Christian Church, London: C.J. Clay & Sons, Cambridge University Press Warehouse, 1900.

Davidson, Samuel, The Canon of the Bible: Its Formation, History, And Fluctuations, From the Third Revised and Enlarged Edition, New York, Peter Eckler Publishing Co., 1877.

Geisler, Norman L., and Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1968.

Hastings, James, Hastings Dictionary of the Bible. Hendrikson Publishers, 1909.

Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, ed. D.A. Carson, John D. Woodbridge, Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1995.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Geoffrey William Bromiley, et al., Grand Rapids Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 1988-1990.

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978.

Luther, Martin, Table Talk of Martin Luther, “Of God’s Word,” XXIV. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society.

Lutzer, Erwin W., The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. Kregel Publications, 1998.

Metzger, Bruce, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1957.

Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament, Clarendon Press, 1992.

Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Watson E. Mills, et al., Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, 1990.

McDonald, Lee Martin, and Stanley E. Porter, Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature, Peabody, Mass. : Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

McDowell, Josh, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson, 1999.

McDowell, Josh, and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask about the Christian Faith, Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc., 1980.

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker, 1949-50.

Oesterley, W.O.E., An Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha, New York, Macmillan, 1935.

Patzia, Arthur, The Making of the New Testament, IVP Academic, 1995.

Reuss, Edward W., History of the Canon of the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Church, James Gemmell, George IV. Bridge, 1890.

Ridderbos, The Authority of the New Testament Scriptures, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963.

Schaff, Philip, The History of the Christian Church, Baker Book House, 1889.

Swete, H.B., Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, New York, KTAV Pub. House, 1968.

Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago : Moody Press, 1966.

Westcott, Brooke Foss, The Bible in the Church, Macmillan and Co., 1887.

I thank all of you who read along. The series began on New Year’s Day and ran through the third week of Easter, lasting considerably longer than any of my other New Year’s resolutions!

On the memorial of St Agnes of Montepulciano

Deo omnis gloria!

Judith with the head of Holofernes

This is Part 38 in my series on the canon of Scripture. I would like to thank everyone who has hiked with me through the Protestant Mountains of Disinformation to expose the 39-book Old Testament canon for what it is – the personal opinion of the people who rejected the authority of the Church Jesus established. The burden of proof lies with those who rejected the deuterocanonicals, and proof that their canon is correct is the one thing they lack….

You run over in your mind one last time the two possible explanations for the canon. First, there is the story that runs along these lines:

The writers of the New Testament based whole chapters of their writings on allusions to deuterocanonical books (this can be verified with a copy of the New Testament, a copy of the deuterocanonicals, and a list of references to those allusions found in the original KJV and Metzger’s Canon of the New Testament).

The 1st- and 2nd-century Christians wholeheartedly embraced the deuterocanonicals as Holy Scripture (this is verifiable with a copy of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, a copy of the deuterocanonicals, and a list of references to the quotations they made from the deuteros).

For the first four centuries of Christendom, there was no consensus as to which books constituted Holy Scripture, either the Old Testament or the New, with books like Esther, Hebrews, 2 Peter and Revelation being rejected by individual Church Fathers (this is historically verifiable by referencing the various canons put forward by individuals in the early church). The canonicity of various deuterocanonical books, however, was not called into question until after the second century A.D.

At Hippo in 393 A.D. the bishops meeting in council used the principle set forth by several Church Fathers, that of trusting the Holy Spirit to guide the leadership of the Church in guarding the deposit of faith (as promised in 2 Timothy 1:14). They discerned a canon of Scripture containing 27 New Testament books and 46 Old Testament books, including the deuterocanonical books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and the additional portions of Esther and Daniel. The Council of Carthage four years later approved the same list of canonical books and sent it to Rome for ratification, as did another Council of Carthage in the year 419 A.D. (all of this is historically verifiable in Protestant reference material).

From this date on you can find individuals who question whether the deuterocanonical books should be viewed as equal to other books of Scripture, but no extant Bible manuscript from the fourth century on down excludes the deuterocanonical books (this is historically verifiable). The Reformers saw fit to “rank” the books of the Bible, questioning the canonicity of seven New Testament books just as they questioned the deuterocanonicals. They ended up shunting the deuterocanonicals to an appendix (where they had never been before this is historically verifiable) and their descendants very eventually removed them from the Bible altogether.

The Council of Trent in 1546 declared the canon that had been accepted and ratified by councils down through eleven centuries to be the canon of Holy Scripture. It did not add any books to this canon, which was the same one discerned at the councils of Hippo and Carthage,
as well as being the same one promulgated by the Council of Florence years before Martin Luther’s birth (this is historically verifiable).

Then there is that other possible explanation for the canon, which runs along the lines of:

The Jews utterly rejected the deuterocanonicals and never considered them to be Holy Scripture (“Many other books that did not later become a part of the Hebrew Bible… were also acknowledged as authoritative literature both among Jews of the first century and among Christians, e.g., the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach” according to McDonald and Porter, and many Protestant Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias give instances of Jewish use of the deuterocanonicals, including three citations from the book of Sirach in the Talmud which address that book as “Scripture.” And who can forget the reference to the book of Wisdom used by the chief priests at the Crucifixion?!).

The Jewish canon was closed before the time of Christ and included only the books in the Protestant Old Testament (the popular authors write as if this were an established historical fact. The credibility of their whole hypothesis relies on the notion of a pre-Christian closed Hebrew canon. And yet Protestant scholars admit, as one author puts it, that the ‘how,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ ‘who’ or ‘why’ of this hypothetical canon cannot be historically established. You can find a great deal of evidence that the Jewish canon was not closed until after the time of Christ, by the rabbis whose right to “bind and loose” had been handed over by God to the Christian church).

Jesus and His apostles never had anything to do with material from the deuterocanonical books (and yet Jesus stationed Himself at the Temple during the Festival of Lights to proclaim Himself “the one whom the Father set apart” in an apparent reference to the “setting apart” of the Temple in the books of Maccabees. As for the apostles, Paul and James both base several sizeable passages of their work on material taken from deuterocanonical sources, and the author of Hebrews lists the martyrs of the book of 2 Maccabees in his ‘roll call of faith.’

A few in the early church were fooled by deuterocanonical writings, but most were not, because the inspired books of Holy Scripture were self-evidencing, and real Christians recognized them immediately
(this is in stark contrast to the historical evidence – many books of the New Testament as well as the Old were hotly disputed for nearly 400 years – while the majority, not the minority, of the Church Fathers considered the deuterocanonical books to be Holy Scripture).

The Bible of the first Christians contained 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books (you can find no record of any such canon promoted by anyone until Jerome at the end of the 4th century). Over the centuries the Catholic Church junked up the canon with unbiblical additions
(this cannot be verified – it, in fact, stands in direct contrast to the historical record).
The Reformers, with their knowledge of what the original canon looked like, weeded the deuterocanonicals out while leaving the real books safely ensconced in their proper place in Scripture (You have read pages and pages dedicated to the Reformers’ incredible confusion as to what constituted Holy Scripture and what did not. What you cannot find is any definite date when the actual Protestant canon was definitively determined, and by whom, and by what authority!
In fact, the Lutheran church to this day has not definitively declared a canon of Holy Scripture….)

How did the Protestant canon really take shape? Luther consulted with Jewish scholars as he worked on his Old Testament translation. From them he learned that the Hebrew canon lacked the deuterocanonical books. This made sense to him, since he was familiar with Jerome’s Prologues in Latin. It was easy for him and for the other Reformers to assume that the Hebrew canon had been decided long before the time of Christ, and that it was the canon of Jesus. They felt justified in claiming the Hebrew canon as their own. Conveniently, they were thereby able to do away with the deuterocanonical witness to the practice of praying for the dead, as well as the necessity of faith and works – both of which conflicted with the emerging Protestant doctrinal stances. Luther wanted to go further – he tried to discredit the book of James because he could not reconcile its message that “A man is justified by his works, and NOT by faith alone” with his “faith alone” theology. He removed James, Hebrews, Jude and Revelation to the back of his Bible translation. Other Reformers followed suit and went even further – some felt that 2 Peter as well as 2 and 3 John should go. The Reformation confusion concerning the New Testament eventually subsided when Protestants accepted the decision of the councils of Hippo and Carthage, but Protestants drew the line at the Deuterocanon. When the Catholic Church objected that she knew, in accordance with Holy Tradition and the authority vested in her by her Divine Spouse, that the Old Testament consisted of 46 books, the Reformers smirked and smugly insisted that history was on their side….

Nowadays Protestant scholars just don’t have the bliss of that ignorance.

And because of the utter lack of proof that the Protestant canon is correct, the distinguished Dr. R.C. Sproul has admitted that the canon of your Protestant Bible is a “fallible collection of infallible books.”)

Since the Protestants deviated from the canon that was accepted for over a millennium, doesn’t the burden of proof lie with them? And historical proof is what they don’t seem to have on their side….

So… where does that leave you?

Well, right now you’re going to take a nice, long, hot shower. Then about 8:30 you’re going to return those books that your pastor kindly loaned you, and then you’re going to worship God for an hour or so. And after church is over, you’re going to ask your pastor if he has time to answer a few questions about the canon….

And after you’ve listened to his answers, you’re going to ask him if he has double-checked those answers of his with the evidence of the historical record! And when he asks you why that’s so important to you – why you don’t just take the accounts of the popular Protestant authors on faith – you’ll point him to a Bible verse that has taken on a whole new meaning for you in the past 24 hours:

“… the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”

1 Timothy 3:15

To test yourself against some real-life Protestant objections to the Catholic canon, click here.


On the memorial of St. Pedro de San José Betancur

Deo omnis gloria!


Here is Part 37 of my series on the canon of Holy Scripture. Part One began way back here. Our Protestant hero is reflecting on the “motives and standards” of the popular Protestant authors, and on the double standard they must employ when comparing the 7 deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament with the 7 disputed books (Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation) of the New Testament.

‘Subjective’ seems to be the operative word here – every ‘test’ suggested by the popular authors for the discernment of the canon, and every decision made by the Reformers, seems to have been utterly subjective – simply a “well, this looks good to me!” or Tyndale’s handy-dandy “methinketh!”

And that includes the Protestant decision to accept the discernment of the Catholic bishops at the councils of Hippo and Carthage as far as the New Testament books are concerned, but to throw out the deuterocanonicals based on…. well, what exactly was that decision based on?

You remember with a chuckle the reason that King James gave for placing the deuterocanonical books in an appendix: “As to the Apocriphe bookes, I omit them because I am no Papist.”

At least the man was honest!

Bruce Metzger points this out:

It must be admitted that attempts at the time of the Reformation to set aside certain books that proved to be awkward or embarrassing in ecclesiastical controversy should make us exceedingly wary in assessing our own motives and standards in evaluating the canonical status of the several books in the New Testament. How easily an individual can err in these matters is shown by the untenable judgements of Luther on the Epistles of James, of Jude, to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse – judgements that originated in his inability to appreciate the Christian message conveyed by these books and in his one-sided preference for others.

“How easily an individual can err in these matters….” What goes for Luther’s erroneous judgment concerning the New Testament books must certainly also be applied to the Protestant discernment of the Old Testament canon, which relies so very heavily on the opinion of one man, Jerome, who against the protests of the Christian church of his day decided to adhere to the Hebrew canon, as if the Holy Spirit had for four centuries abandoned the Christian church to the errors of the Apocrypha! As Metzger said, the debacle concerning the Reformers’ discernment of the canon “should make us exceedingly wary in assessing our own motives and standards….”

You feel forced to question the “motives and standards” of the popular authors’ presentation of evidence against the deuterocanonical books! As Anglican William H. Daubney complained:

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.

Take, for example, the popular argument for the acceptance/rejection of books in the Old Testament vs. the argument for the acceptance/rejection of books in the New Testament – what a double standard! Josh McDowell actually writes that the deuterocanonical books don’t belong in the Bible because no church council recognized them as inspired for nearly 4 centuries.

But how in the world does this disqualify the deuterocanonical books?
The Bible in the Church specifically states:

The sacred books generally had been received from the first. Common consent had allowed their authority. Tertullian appears to allude once to synodal discussions on the Canon, but with that doubtful exception there is nothing to show that the subject was ever debated by churches.

And isn’t the exact same thing true of the books of the New Testament? No council recognized the disputed books of the New Testament as inspired for nearly four centuries!

Come to think of it, one Protestant objection to the deuterocanonical books is the fact that their status was disputed by ‘many’ in the early church – exactly as was the status of certain New Testament books! In McDowell’s discussion of the accuracy of the New Testament manuscripts he makes a big deal of “patristic citation of Scripture” – that is, of the fact that the early Church Fathers quoted from the New Testament books. He gives a long list of early Christian Fathers who quoted from the books of the New Testament. When discussing the deuterocanonical books, however, McDowell apparently can’t bring himself to point out that Clement of Rome, Polycarp, the author of Barnabas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen – Greek and Latin Fathers – the same folks he cites as quoting from the disputed books of the New Testament – all quoted from the deuterocanonical books as well!

And New Evidence somehow leaves out the fact that 2 Peter was never mentioned, let alone quoted from, by any Christian writer until Origen in the third century, who mentions 2 Peter only to say that it is “doubtful!” If the argument of “quotation by the early Christian Fathers” is to be considered a valid point in establishing the canonicity of the books of the New Testament, it is even more valid for the deuterocanonical books – they were all quoted from by Christian writers as early as the second century A.D.

In other words, the objections of the popular authors to the deuterocanonical books crumble in light of their defense of the disputed New Testament books! The deuterocanonicals were disputed by various individuals until the end of the fourth century – so were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation! When the Council of Trent felt the need to finally close the canon, to ‘put its foot down’ over a millennium after the first councils began the discernment process, insisting that there were 46 books in the Old Testament, the Council also declared that there were 27 books in the New Testament, a fact that was hotly disputed among the Reformers of that time! Second-generation Reformer Martin Chemnitz wrote a scathing denunciation of the Council of Trent for daring to proclaim Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and Revelation, along with the deuterocanonicals, Holy Scripture, misunderstanding the Council’s argument (he believed the Council claimed for itself the right to make “true books out of false ones, or false out of true, out of uncertain and dubious books certain, canonical and legitimate ones, without any documentation which is required for such a thing”), and declaring almost hysterically that “There is no longer any doubt who it is that, sitting in the temple of God, exalts himself above everything that is called God!” The Council, despite the Reformers’ insistence to the contrary, made no arbitrary decision, but relied on the list of books handed down for over 1000 years – modern-day Protestants just take it for granted that the Council got it right as far as the New Testament goes….

Please, folks, no more excuses…. Actually, a lot of these ‘good reasons’ for rejecting the deuterocanonical books seem to boil down more or less to the same reason King James gave. Protestants just KNOW that the deuterocanonicals aren’t Scripture – no matter what the historical record says. They can point to no recorded moment when this insight was declared official. Even the gentlemen of the Edinburgh Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, who insisted so vehemently that the deuterocanonicals must be removed from the King James Version, did not explain how they KNEW that the Deuterocanon did not belong in the Bible – according to them, it just didn’t.

But as you can see now, it apparently DOES.

For Part 38 please click here


On the memorial of St. Bernadette of Lourdes

Deo omnis gloria!

Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes

Here is Part Thirty-Six of my series on the canon of Scripture. You can begin at the beginning, or just jump in here as we begin to wrap it all up!

A new day begins for our Protestant protagonist. As he lays his books and notes aside, he mentally runs through his conclusions concerning the canon of Scripture. He recognizes that for a Bible-only Christian, the prospect of a fallible canon is an unimaginable disaster….

You are standing in your living room with a cup of coffee in one hand and a piece of toast in the other, watching the dawn illuminate the eastern sky. You were up all night, but you know it was worth it. All the research that you have put into this subject of the deuterocanonical books and the canon of Scripture has made clear to you that there are two basic approaches to this question among Protestants:

First of all, there is the assertion by R.C. Sproul that Protestants must content themselves with a “fallible collection of infallible books.” When you first heard your pastor say that, you nearly keeled over! But now it has become clear to you why Dr. Sproul insists that this is the best that Protestants can hope for.

You understand now that the question of the canon boils down to the issue of authority. Who has the authority to discern which books are inspired Scripture and to proclaim that discernment? In order to preserve the Reformation pillar of ‘sola Scriptura’ (that is, Scripture and only Scripture is the authoritative basis for all our beliefs), Dr. Sproul feels that Christians must admit that there is no way we can claim to know for sure that our canon is infallible! Think about it – if Scripture alone is the only infallible, authoritative source of our beliefs, then in order for us to have an infallible canon, Scripture would have to include an inspired ‘table of contents’ (something along the lines of some extra verses at the end of the Gospel of John perhaps that read “And Jesus said unto his disciples, ‘Verily, these shall be the books which ye shall regard as Holy Scripture, namely, ….'”). Since we have no such thing, Dr. Sproul logically concludes that we will never know for sure.

So, in order to keep the principle of sola Scriptura in working order – you have to resort to the “fallible collection of infallible books” assumption! If your ‘life verse’ is Revelation 1:5, you just have to say “I’m hoping and praying with all my heart that Luther and Zwingli were wrong – that the book of Revelation and this verse upon which I’ve based my Christian walk are actually, really and truly Holy Scripture!

After all, the belief that there are 66 and only 66 books in the Bible is an extra-Biblical belief!

That’s not good enough for you. A lot of folks who believe that we cannot know that the 66-book canon is the correct one then go on to state that they derive a sense of security from ‘providence’ – in other words, the idea that God could not leave His church adrift in a foggy sea of ignorance, so OF COURSE the Protestant canon must be the right one – we just can’t ‘prove’ that!

But isn’t that what this whole Apocrypha question is about? Did God leave His church adrift in a foggy sea of ignorance for 1500 years after the Resurrection, until the Reformers came along to straighten things out?? The argument from “providence” runs into one great big difficulty: either the canon that included the Apocrypha for 1500 years was right, and the Protestant canon of the past 500 years is wrong, or the canon that included the Apocrypha for 1500 years was wrong, and the Protestant canon of the past 500 years is right. God either abandoned His church to the errors of the Apocrypha for hundreds and hundreds of years, or Protestants have been limping along with amputated Bibles since the Reformation! Unless you’re willing to say that there were NO Christians on earth for 1500 years before the Reformation, you’re claiming that God did leave His church adrift with a bungled canon for centuries and centuries….

Does it matter? It most certainly does! Everything Protestants believe hinges on the testimony of Holy Scripture, and on the answer to the central question which reverberates down through the ages: “Who do you say that I am?” There is simply no way to answer Jesus’ question with anything approaching certainty if we cannot say that we know that the books we consider to be Holy Scripture actually are Holy Scripture, and that we can be certain that no books of Scripture somehow got left out of that catalogue. Whether Protestants proclaim that Jesus is (in the words of C.S. Lewis) a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord, we must do so based on the evidence presented in the Scriptures, with the confidence that there are no other books of Scripture out there which would cause us to modify our position! The same goes for every other doctrine we place our faith in – we can be fully assured of the correctness of our beliefs only when we are fully assured that there is no other ‘Scripture’ out there which would cause us to change our mind! We can’t cut our canon to fit our theological bed! Our ‘Scriptures’ cannot be determined by our pre-existing convictions – if all our beliefs have to come from the Scriptures, it is ESSENTIAL that we know which books are in the Bible.

So, if the ‘fallible canon’ proposition isn’t good enough for you (and it’s apparently not good enough for many Christians), then you fall back on the second Protestant option: the urban legend (propagated by the popular authors) of a mythical land where all the Christians woke up one morning and just KNEW which books were Holy Scripture – no Church council told them this, because there is no authority for the Christian other than the authority of Holy Scripture! These Christians unanimously accepted the Hebrew canon, and rejected the deuterocanonical books. Christians spontaneously recognized New Testament Scripture when they heard it read to them in their churches and rejected anything spurious. “We can discern which books are Scripture by relying on the theology that we get from the books we have decided are Scripture!!” is the motto of this happy land – a land which can be found nowhere in the historical record….

Then, of course, there’s the inconvenient issue of the confusion among the Reformers concerning the canon. That has to be MAJORLY downplayed to make it sound like it was just a few minor questions that troubled a few folks for a few years, rather than over 100 years of ‘every man for himself’ as far as which books belonged in the Bible. According to this part of the fable, the spiritual descendants of the Reformers apparently just woke up one morning and KNEW which books belonged in the Bible– just as the first Christians had.

At that point, of course, you have to start making up criteria to explain the inclusion or exclusion of books, criteria like “was the book written by a prophet of God?” or “was the writer confirmed by acts of God?” Criteria such as these look so convincing at first glance, and yet upon further examination they prove to be completely unworkable. You have noticed that many different Protestant scholars point out the logical inconsistencies inherent in these ‘tests of canonicity.’ They note the heavy reliance on assumption. There is no way to know, they stress, if these criteria were actually consciously employed by the folks who determined the canon since there is no documentation of these criteria in the historical record. The well-respected Herman Ridderbos writes about this:

As their artificiality indicates, these arguments are a posteriori in character. To hold that the church was led to accept these writings by such criteria, in fact to even speak here of a criteria canonicitatis is to go too far. It is rather clear that we here have to do with more or less successful attempts to cover with arguments what had already been fixed for a long time and for the fixation of which such reasoning or such a criterion had never been employed.

In plain English, these ‘criteria’ are all after-the-fact attempts at explaining something that can’t be explained otherwise, at least not unless you are willing to admit that the first Christians devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles which were preserved in the ‘tradition’ – and reliance on this ‘tradition’ broke the stalemate of “the doctrine I read in the book of Romans appears to conflict with the doctrine I read in the book of James, so one of these books has got to go!” The Christian church didn’t solve this conundrum using ‘criteria’. Relying on the deposit of faith, they realized that both Romans and James agreed with the doctrine of the apostles, that is, with the tradition handed down from the apostles to the leadership of the church, and therefore both could be recognized as Holy Scripture.

Some popular authors go so far as to claim that Augustine used the criterion “of extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs” to prove that 2 Maccabees was canonical. But Augustine didn’t rely on such ‘criteria’ – as you have noted, Augustine declared that if you wanted to know which books were in the canon, you needed to rely on the judgment of the churches (which was informed by the tradition handed down to them from the apostles!) Lutheran scholar Édouard
Reuss, in his History of the Canon of the Holy Scriptures in the Christian Church, admits:

Whatever merit there may be otherwise in these remarks, they will do good in reminding our Protestant theologians that in any case the collection has been formed in accordance with a principle foreign to our church. That principle is tradition, the succession and authority of the bishops…. Thus, at all periods, under all regimes, for discipline as for dogma, hence also for the canon which is connected with both, tradition ruled the Church, inspired the doctors, opposed the strongest bulwark to heresy; tradition also undertook the task of directing the choice of the holy books. This choice, though its results have not been always and everywhere the same, may have been excellent, at least as good as was possible with the means and material at its disposal; but Protestant theology, which has no desire to elevate tradition, and professes in every other respect to insist on having it first verified, is bound to do the same with regard to the canon of Scripture; it is bound to seek out some other standard than the process which is the very thing to be verified.

“Tradition ruled the church, inspired the doctors, opposed the strongest bulwark to heresy; tradition also undertook the task of directing the choice of the holy books” – not the ‘traditions of men’ but “the tradition which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” You have found quotes from the Church Fathers showing that they believed the promise made by the apostle Paul that the Holy Spirit would “guard the good deposit” through the leaders of the church. Irenaeus’ guiding principle from the second century still rings true: “Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important questions among us…. Should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?… Would it not be necessary to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the churches?” Rufinus, following this reasoning, insisted that the “divine record” had been “handed down to the churches by the apostles and the deposit of the Holy Spirit.” Origen was sure that the Jewish leadership had no right to determine the canon for Christians – the Christians lacked for nothing that was necessary for their salvation, he wrote, and that included the knowledge of the canon of Scripture! In fact, he insisted that “as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved,
that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition.” Athanasius, too, followed the principle of reliance on the tradition handed down from the apostles: “But beyond these sayings [of the Bible], let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the catholic church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the church is founded, and he who should fall away from it should not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called.” Augustine stated that the bishops of the Christian churches, and most especially the bishops of the churches founded by the apostles, could unite and discern what was God-breathed Scripture, and what wasn’t, based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the tradition that had been handed down from bishop to bishop to bishop…. And you note that down through the ages following the councils of Hippo and Carthage, council after council ratified the decision of Hippo and Carthage, which is – there are 46 books in the Old Testament.

Since Protestants have rejected that possibility, all of these ‘criteria’ had to be invented to explain something that just can’t be explained otherwise….

For Part 37 please click here


On the third Sunday of Easter

Deo omnis gloria!