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.
On the memorial of St. Bernadette of Lourdes
Deo omnis gloria!