This is my series on the discernment of the canon of Scripture.
Sixty-Six or Seventy-Three? (Introduction)
Have you ever sat down and thought about where our Bible came from? I mean, we all know that God inspired men to write Holy Scripture, but how were those writings recognized as Scripture? Obviously, anybody can say, “God inspired me to write this – this is Holy Scripture!” That doesn’t make it so!
But what does make it so?
Where did our Bible come from?
The Canon Controversy (Part One)
As an Evangelical, I grew up believing in a group of “first Christians” who believed and taught everything that my Wesleyan Methodist church taught. These folks read their Bibles exactly the way we did, and it was them that we were seeking to emulate as we proclaimed to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we understood it, which was to say – as THEY understood it. When I began attending an nondenominational church, and my mother started taking me with her to charismatic assemblies, my belief in this group of “first Christians” did not change, nor did my belief that they had understood Holy Scripture exactly the way I understood it. Later in life when I joined a Baptist church, I still believed that my doctrinal understanding and that of the “first Christians” were identical, despite the obvious unlikelihood that my by-now Baptimethodopentecostanondenom beliefs would be shared in their entirety by much of anybody, let alone by folks who lived 2,000 years ago on the other side of the world. I KNEW that the first Christians had believed as I did. Proof? Well, I had none – but if the first Christians, being God-loving, Spirit-filled, sincere Christians, had held beliefs other than those that I, an equally God-loving, Spirit-filled, sincere Christian, held… well, it just wasn’t possible. It was an obvious truth.
It was a myth.
The Apocrypha (Part Two)
This is Part Two of my series on the canon of Scripture. Please note these terms – it will make following along so much easier:
Canon of Scripture – A list of books considered to be Holy Scripture by a particular religious group. The Protestant canon of Scripture contains 66 books. The Catholic canon of Scripture contains those 66 books (with extra material in some of them), plus 7 more Old Testament books, giving Catholics a 73-book canon.
Apocrypha – The Protestant term for the extra books included in the Catholic Bible.
Deuterocanonical – The Catholic term for the extra books. Catholic Bibles contain 7 deuterocanonical books: Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch.
In Part One, our Protestant protagonist found discrepancies on the websites and in the books he consulted concerning just how many books there are in the Apocrypha, and has decided to keep investigating the issue till he gets to the bottom of the story….
Endangering the Souls of Men (Part Three)
In Part Two, our hero took his quest for information about the Apocrypha to the library, since his Protestant reference books contain several apparent errors. At the library he has discovered, to his great surprise, that two of the Apocryphal books and a Psalm mentioned in many lists are not in the Catholic Bible – they were, however, a part of the Apocrypha section in the 1611 King James Version.
The Infallible and Undeceivable Word of God (Part Four)
When I was a child, my mother kept a Protestant Revised Standard Version of the Bible in a cabinet in the living room. It contained the Apocrypha, and when I read some of the stories in it (I would read anything), I felt vaguely guilty – for here were additional books placed between the Old and New Testament that weren’t inspired Scripture! Why were they in the Bible??? I couldn’t imagine the reasoning that led to their placement between the covers of God’s Word, and my mother didn’t know why they were there…. It was a mystery.
Something Very, Very Strange (Part Five)
I was born and raised a Protestant. One question I never asked myself was “Where did the Bible come from?” I mean, I knew that God inspired men to write historical accounts, songs and letters that have been collected together in the Book that we call the Bible. But what was the collection process like? Who did the collecting, and how did they know which books belonged in the Bible, and which did not? I just never bothered my pretty little head about it….
This is Part Five of my series on the canon of Scripture, and fortunately our hero has a better head on his shoulders than I did as a Protestant! In his search for the answers, he has come across some very disturbing information concerning the presence of the Apocrypha in early Protestant Bibles….
The True Touchstone (Part Six)
Few Protestants have been made aware of the fact that the Great Reformer, Martin Luther, actually ADDED a word to his translation of Holy Scripture to make a point. When heretical groups commit this gross SIN, Christians are rightly appalled. Martin Luther, however, has inexplicably gotten a historical free pass from his fellow Protestants….
Our Protestant protagonist is understandably shaken when he learns about the insertion of the extra word “alone” into Luther’s Bible translation, but his original questions remain: Where did the Apocrypha come from? Why were those books added to Catholic Bibles? And why were they in the first Protestant Bibles?? What does Martin Luther have to do with all this?
Outside the Canon and Judged Apocryphal (Part Seven)
Protestants have propagated many myths concerning the canon – our protagonist has just shattered Major Myth #1: “The Catholic Church ADDED 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.” As our hero has discovered, John Wycliffe included the Apocrypha (with even more books than in the Catholic Bible) in his English translation of Holy Scripture 150 years BEFORE the Council of Trent supposedly added the books to the Catholic Bible. Was this a one-off? Hardly – Martin Luther insisted on including the Apocrypha in his Bible translation, although he placed those books in a special section at the end of the Old Testament, just as he placed Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation in a special section at the end of the New Testament!
ALL the early Protestant Bibles included the Apocrypha – pretty strange if those books were added to the Bible by the Catholic Church in 1546 as many Protestants claim.
Thus far, our hero has attempted to determine why the books of the Apocrypha were included in a section behind the Old Testament in all the 16th-century Protestant English Bibles, and why some of those same Bibles shunted Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to a section behind the New Testament. His quest has led him to Martin Luther, who initiated these practices, and started a trend that others continued and expanded upon….
Methinketh (Part Eight)
The popular Protestant authors almost never take up the question of the presence of the Apocrypha in all the early Protestant Bibles; from their point of view, the less said about that, the better! But when one of them does face this question, he will claim that those books were there for “historical reasons,” to “provide historical background….” This explanation is obviously tremendously weak. Why, for Heaven’s sake, include books IN YOUR BIBLE which are not Holy Scripture? Those books will provide the average reader with no meaningful “historical background” (read them and see what you think!) – they will merely serve to confuse him by blurring the line between God’s Word and these “other books” rubbing shoulders with the “real thing”! The Protestant “Edinburgh Committee,” which finally forced the removal of the Apocrypha from the KJV, said as much!
No, there is a concrete historical reason why the early Protestant Bible translators – Wycliffe, Luther, the translators of the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, all the early Protestant Bible translators – refused to exclude the Apocrypha….
May This Bible Please You (Part Nine)
Major Myth #1 concerning the canon of Scripture has already been shot down: “The Catholic Church ADDED 7 books to the Bible at the Council of Trent.” How could the Church have ADDED books to the Bible which were already there? Our Protestant protagonist has also watched the corollary to Major Myth #1 crash and burn – the notion that the Protestant Reformers KNEW which books belonged in the Bible and therefore confidently proclaimed to the world the 66-book Protestant canon of Scripture as opposed to the Catholic canon with its “additional” books.
Our protagonist was appalled when he learned that Martin Luther set himself up as a judge of which books belong in the canon of Scripture, shunting Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to a section at the end of the New Testament because he considered them less “biblical” than other New Testament books. But now our hero has discovered that many of the Reformers had issues with SEVEN books of the New Testament, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation, declaring them to be substandard and warning against their use in the formation of doctrinal principles. The New Testament canon was literally up in the air during the Protestant Reformation. How could the Reformers take it upon themselves to rethink the canon of Holy Scripture?? What was the cause of all this confusion over the canon??
Coming Up for Air (Recap of Parts 1-9)
Shopping Cart (Part Ten)
Our hero, in his quest to determine why the Reformers included the Apocrypha in their translations of Holy Scripture, has discovered to his shock and dismay that every extant Bible manuscript of the Old Testament down through the centuries contains the Apocrypha….
At Your Wits’ End (Part Eleven)
Are there 66 books in the Bible, as Protestants contend, or are there 73 as the Catholic Church maintains? Can Protestants say with certainty which books belong in their Bible, or must they concede that their 66 books are just a “fallible collection of infallible books”?
Reevaluating the Evidence (Part Twelve)
Sit down with our Protestant hero as he investigates the Apocrypha from a new angle. What did the early Christians believe about the Apocrypha? But first, he reviews the importance of having trustworthy, reliable sources when doing research!
Somewhat Bulkier and More Comprehensive (Part Thirteen)
What’s the big deal about the canon of Holy Scripture? The truth about Protestantism is not pretty – men like Martin Luther who saw a need to reform the Church Jesus established (i.e., the Catholic Church) decided to break away from that Church and begin their own doctrinal systems. These Reformers rejected the teaching of the Catholic Church on various issues, but could not agree with one another, either – and thus the various Protestant denominations were born, despite St. Paul’s warning against “denominations” (1 Cor 1:11-13). As the years passed, a “mythology” sprang up to cover up the ugliness of the split from the Holy Catholic Church, a mythology upon which Protestants rely to give them a reason to continue in good conscience their separation from the Church that Jesus established.
WWJC? (Part Fourteen)
In this part of the series, the Protestant protagonist is investigating the beliefs of the 1st-century Christians concerning the Apocrypha. He is using the writings of Protestant scholars, Protestant Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias in his research. Some of the sources he is relying upon are the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (the product of scholars from the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion), the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (originally produced under the general editorship of James Orr, Presbyterian minister), the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by scholars affiliated with Oxford University), and the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (based upon the encyclopedia by German Reformed minister J.J. Herzog). All of these are mainstream, broadly acceptable Protestant reference materials.
Our Protestant protagonist, bewildered by the Reformation confusion over the canon of Scripture, has decided to investigate what the early Christians believed about the Bible. He has learned from scholarly sources that the early Christians relied on something called the Septuagint (also known as the LXX). This was a version of the Old Testament Scriptures translated into Greek in the 3rd century B.C., necessary because many Jews of that era spoke Greek rather than Hebrew. Protestant scholars such as J.N.D. Kelly (professor, Oxford University), W.O.E. Oesterley (professor, King’s College, London), and Arthur Patzia (professor, Fuller Theological Seminary), as well as Bible commentaries such as the above-mentioned New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia and the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, claim that the Septuagint contained the Apocrypha, which the early Christians accepted as Holy Scripture.
An Almost Total Lack of Evidence (Part Fifteen)
Our Protestant hero is contrasting the information he gets from popular authors like Loraine Boettner, Norman Geisler, Josh McDowell, Erwin Lutzer, and from online sources who parrot them, with works of contemporary conservative Protestant scholarship – and he is finding some discrepancies. Among the books our protagonist is relying upon are Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature by the Rev. Lee Martin McDonald (President Emeritus of Acadia Divinity College) and Dr. Stanley E. Porter (President of McMaster Divinity College), as well as Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, edited by Dr. D.A. Carson and Dr. John D. Woodbridge (both Research Professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). In other words, this is not liberal, Bible-doubting “fringe” that he is consulting. These are works of contemporary conservative Protestant scholarship.
Our hero is wading through all the Protestant claims concerning why Catholic Bibles contain 7 books, the Apocrypha, that are not found in Protestant Bibles. His search has led him to investigate the canon of the first Christians, which has in turn led him to ask, “When was the canon of the Old Testament discerned, and by whom?” He has learned thus far that different Jewish groups of Jesus’ time had different canons of Scripture. This point is very important – this illustrates the fact that, in Jesus’ day, the canon of the Old Testament had not yet been decided. Notice how this conflicts with what some popular Protestant literature and websites want you to believe….
Who’s In Charge Here? (Part Sixteen)
Although authors of Protestant popular literature promote the notion that the Old Testament canon was closed before the time of Jesus, or at least by the end of the first century, the information our hero has gathered from Protestant Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and scholarly works tells a different tale – as one respected Protestant source puts it, there is “almost a total lack of evidence” for any date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. Second-century Jewish scholars were still arguing over whether Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Esther were canonical. Thus, the Jewish Old Testament canon may not have been settled until the second century A.D. or later, making it extremely hard to believe that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a settled canon of Scripture.
Our Protestant protagonist has encountered the “Council of Jamnia” – a meeting of Pharisees at the end of the first century. While it is doubtful that the Old Testament canon was settled by the Pharisees at Jamnia (since there is no actual record of that event), the rabbis did officially reject the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint in an effort to put the brakes on Christian evangelization of the Jews. Popular authors make a big deal over the supposed “Council of Jamnia” – the evidence for their premise that the Jewish leadership officially closed the canon of the Old Testament is so skimpy that they need an event like Jamnia to bolster their claims. However, the fact that Jamnia took place at the end of the 1st century A.D., nearly 70 years after the Resurrection, poses some serious problems for their contentions….
Unheeded By the Church (Part Seventeen)
As we have seen, many popular Protestant authors claim that the Apocrypha can’t possibly be Scripture because the Hebrew canon was discerned long before the time of Christ, and it did not contain the Apocrypha. These folks use Scripture to try to prove that in Jesus’ day the Old Testament canon was already settled. “Luke 24:44, Luke 11:49-51, and Romans 3:2 prove that the Jews had already closed their canon,” they say. But as we have already learned from the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible: “It is important to note that Jesus and the earliest Christians referred only to ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matt 5:17; Luke 16:29), ‘the scriptures’ (Mark 12:24; Gal 4:30; Rom 1:2; 3:21), or ‘the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms’ (Luke 24:44; Acts 1:16). That is, the NT books themselves contain evidence that the Hebrew scriptures were not yet finally and fully defined; the Torah and the Prophets were canonized, but the Writings were still in the process of being so until the end of the first century C.E.”
Why do many popular Protestant authors insist in the face of all evidence to the contrary that the Old Testament canon was settled BEFORE the time of Jesus? This position grants them the “high ground” – the Old Testament canon was OBVIOUSLY closed by the Jewish people, they can say, and then the books of the Apocrypha were ADDED to it, books which most certainly did not belong in there! This story was the standard Protestant position until recently. However, modern-day conservative Protestant scholarship is honestly advertising the historical evidence that the Old Testament canon was STILL OPEN in Jesus’ time, and that there is no certain date of its closure by the Jewish rabbis.
Another One Bites the Dust (recap of Parts 11-17)
Our Protestant protagonist has debunked yet another major myth concerning the deuterocanonical books! Let’s take this opportunity to review what his research has uncovered thus far:
In the first section of this series (Parts 2-9) our hero discovered the flaws in Major Myth #1: “The Catholic Church added 7 books to the canon of Scripture at the Council of Trent in 1546.”
In the second section (Parts 14-17) the protagonist researched the question of the canon of the Jews, and debunked Major Myth #2: “The Jews closed the canon of the Old Testament, and they never accepted the canonicity of the 7 additional books.”
Our protagonist has already seen the scholarly response (Part 13) to Major Myth #3: “The first Christians possessed a 66-book canon of Scripture, the same one Protestants use to this day. A few early Christians got confused and believed that the 7 additional books were Holy Scripture, but on the whole nobody was fooled.” The Septuagint was the Old Testament of the first Christians, who believed all the books in the Septuagint to be Holy Scripture. The debate in the first two centuries of Christianity raged not around the books of the Old Testament, but around the books of the New.
Information Manipulation (Part Eighteen)
Our Protestant hero is searching for historical proof that Jesus and His apostles rejected the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament.
Two of the scholars whose works are consulted by our protagonist are F.F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger. The late Dr. F.F. Bruce was a highly respected conservative Bible scholar. His book, The Canon of Scripture, quoted here, won the Christianity Today Award for Theology and Doctrine. Dr. Bruce was head of the Department of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield, and later Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester. Bruce Metzger was a Presbyterian minister and professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, as well as the chairman of the Revised Standard Version Bible Committee. Dr. Metzger was recognized as one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century.
Our hero has decided to go to the source – he is investigating the canon that Jesus and the apostles used….
Cross-Referencing (Part Nineteen)
Our Protestant hero is trying to sort out myth from fact regarding the Apocryphal books of Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, Judith and the Maccabees. He is discovering that the explanation of the discernment of the canon of the Old Testament given by popular Protestant authors is basically a myth, a myth which conflicts with Protestant scholarship. He has watched Major Myth #2 disintegrate: “The Jews closed the canon of the Old Testament, and they never accepted the canonicity of the 7 additional books.” The date of the closure of the Old Testament canon is not known, and despite the insistence of the popular authors, Protestant scholars believe that the canon of Scripture was NOT closed before the Resurrection of Christ. If the canon was closed by the Jewish leadership after the Resurrection, their decision was NOT binding on Christians, and indeed Protestant historians concede that the early Christians did not abide by the Hebrew canon; they considered the deuterocanonical books to be Holy Scripture. All of the reasons given by the popular authors as to why the deuterocanonical books cannot possibly be Holy Scripture fall apart upon closer examination….
Let Us See Whether His Words Be True (Part Twenty)
The information contained in this post is, in my opinion, material that must be presented when talking to someone who supports the 66-book Protestant canon – it is very, very hard to refute, and it haunts you…. Like the earthquake that occurred at the moment of Christ’s death, it could be some kind of coincidence – NOT!
Our Protestant hero has pieced together the evidence that shows that the New Testament is overflowing with allusions to the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament, so much so that the King James Version of the Bible originally contained cross-references to these many allusions. This is another nail in the coffin of the popular Protestant authors’ argument against the possibility of the Apocryphal books being Holy Scripture….
Strange Inconsistencies (Part 21)
Our Protestant hero, shaken by the eerie correspondence between Matthew 27:43 and Wisdom 2:18, is continuing his search to determine how the canon was originally discerned by the first Christians. He is now examining so-called “proofs” which Protestant apologists claim rule the deuterocanonical books out of the Bible. The problem is, none of these “proofs” hold up to scrutiny….
To Look For Hope From God (Part 22)
Our Protestant hero is knee-deep in the list of “criteria” which, according to Protestant apologists, the first Christians supposedly used to determine which books were canonical and which weren’t. To his dismay, he is discovering that by consistently applying these supposed criteria, he can rule the books of Job, Ecclesiastes and Esther right out of the Bible!
Shots In the Dark (Part 23)
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!
A Custom-Made Canon (Part 24)
According to popular Protestant authors, the first Christians used various “criteria” to determine whether certain books were actually Scripture or not. It was through this process, they will tell you, that the canon of Scripture was discerned.
Indeed? Proof, please? This claim is really somewhat vague! WHICH early Christians subjected wannabe books to these infallible criteria? WHEN did these Christians live? Was there an OFFICIAL process culminating in some sort of an announcement, or did consensus develop gradually? Hopefully the decision was reached pretty early on – after all, Bible-only, sola Scriptura Christians of the first and second century HAD TO, by definition, have a Bible – otherwise, how’s sola Scriptura gonna work?! So where’s the historical documentation of this discernment process that resulted in the 66-book Protestant canon?
Catholic apologist Steve Ray, in the story of his conversion called Crossing the Tiber, gives a priceless example:
“Anti-Catholic tract author Norman Olson writes [concerning the books of the New Testament] in Church Fathers and Scripture, ‘Canonists also determined which books belonged to the Scriptures, as people were confused concerning which writings were valid and which ones were not.’ I wrote Mr. Olson a letter, to which I never received an answer. I asked him, ‘Can you tell me who these canonists were and what Church they belonged to? Also, were they part of some organization that had the authority to make such a profound determination? Did they write down the determination and decisions, and, if so, where would I be able to get a copy? What criteria did they use to pick the twenty-seven books? Why do we accept their determination as binding on us today? How do we know they were right?’”
I think you can see why Steve never received an answer to his letter! The Protestant version of events is as vague as all get-out, for a very good reason! To admit the historical facts is to admit that the bishops of the Holy Catholic Church discerned the canon of the New Testament as well as the Old, and Protestants are short seven books of Scripture!
What Has Been Given Through the Apostles (Part 25)
Our Protestant hero is investigating what the Christians of the first and second centuries believed about the canon. So far he has learned that the Christians of the first two centuries accepted the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, but were unclear as to which books made up the New Testament.
The late Rev. Dr. Herman Ridderbos, quoted below, was a Dutch Reformed scholar and professor at the Theological University of the Reformed Churches in Kampen (the Netherlands). He was a very influential Protestant New Testament theologian.
The Authentic Tradition Received From the Apostles (Part 26)
I want to avoid the appearance of claiming that the Protestant scholars whose work is quoted in this series somehow advocate a 73-book canon. They do not. Those historians and theologians recognize a great deal of the historical truth behind the discernment of the canon, but having begun with the assumption that the Protestant canon is, of course, the correct one, they do not take this evidence to its logical conclusion. Herman Ridderbos, for example, who wrote so eloquently on the subject of “tradition,” (as does David Dunbar in his chapter in Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, cited below) believed that while this “tradition” was both oral and written, in accord with 2 Thessalonians 2:15, once the New Testament books had been written and recognized as Holy Scripture, oral tradition lost its value and gave place to written tradition (the “written fixation of the tradition” as Ridderbos called it), i.e., sola Scriptura. Thus, Ridderbos would not have admitted that what the Church calls “Sacred Tradition” played a role in the discernment of the canon of Scripture. Likewise, scholars such as McDonald and Porter, who recognize that the Old Testament canon simply was not closed before the Resurrection, are amenable to the incomprehensible suggestion that the Pharisees at Jamnia, after the Resurrection, after Pentecost, after St. Paul said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles,” after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, somehow still had the God-given authority to decide for the bride of Christ which books belonged in her Bible. While recognizing that Church Fathers like St. Irenaeus set great store by apostolic succession and believed that those successors to the apostles faithfully preserved the good deposit, they would never agree that those successors (Catholic bishops!) had the authority to discern the Old Testament canon. Lutheran theologian Albert C. Sundberg, Jr. is one of the few to explore the reality that the Protestant Old Testament canon may be seriously deficient, perhaps enabled in this by the fact that he is Lutheran (the Lutheran denomination has not, to this day, decided on a canon of Scripture). Popular Protestant authors such as Geisler and Nix, McDowell, and Lutzer avoid all these difficulties by claiming doggedly that the Old Testament canon was closed centuries before the time of Jesus, and by steadfastly ignoring the fact that the early Christians placed their faith in oral Tradition (just as St. Paul urged them to) as well as in written Scripture. The picture they paint of a happy, proto-Protestant world filled with Bible-only Christians, with a settled, pre-Resurrection Old Testament canon and an almost complete absence of controversy concerning the books of the New Testament canon, is decidedly ahistorical, a fact which does not seem to affect the sales of their books.
If the Apostles Themselves Had Not Left Us Writings (Part 27)
Our Protestant hero has discovered the writings of a second-century bishop named Irenaeus of Lyons, who suggests that consultation with “the most ancient churches” will be an aid in answering questions that are not addressed in Holy Scripture. Might that help with discerning the canon of Scripture?
The Power of Judging Scripture (Part 28)
Our Protestant hero has discovered the concept of Holy Tradition in the writings of the early Christians. Believing, as they did, that the Church was the ‘pillar and foundation of the truth,’ those early Christians relied on their leaders to faithfully preserve and hand down the doctrine taught by the apostles. How does this tie into the eventual discernment of the canon of Scripture?
Are We to Suppose? (Part 29)
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….
In Regard to the Canonical Scriptures (Part 30)
We are examining the views of the 3rd- and 4th-century Christians as regards the canon. While the Christians of the 1st and 2nd century had no qualms about calling the deuterocanonicals Holy Scripture, 3rd and 4th century Christians had begun to question the discrepancy between the Hebrew canon and the Christian canon. Several Church Fathers of this era call the deuterocanonical books “ecclesiastical” rather than “canonical.” However, Church Fathers who suggest that the deuterocanonicals should be counted among the ecclesiastical (Church) books are not saying that they are not inspired Scripture (see the quotation from Rufinus below) – they are merely recognizing that while these books are not found in the Hebrew canon, they ARE found in the Christian canon. The arguments of the popular authors on this subject are very misleading.
The previously quoted assurance by Origen that God would never leave His Church in the lurch really says it all: “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?”
The entire Protestant argument is based on the insistence that Origen was wrong – that God did allow Christians, for hundreds of years, to use a Bible that had been “tampered with” and was full of “forgeries.” They insist that, yes, we are to suppose that that Providence which in the sacred Scriptures 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!
Like Origen, I don’t buy that….
Scripture in the Fullest Sense (Part 31)
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….”
A Very Lumpy Rug (Part 32)
We are approaching the moment of truth – the discernment of the canon by Catholic bishops at the end of the fourth century A.D. There are still some loose ends to tie up before that. As you may have noticed, when counting up votes in favor of the 66-book canon, popular Protestant authors have an awful lot to ignore. Take St. Athanasius as an example. Protestants often cite his 39th Festal Letter as proof that he rejected the deuterocanonical books:
“There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second 1 being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth 2 as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second 3 are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the Twelve [minor prophets] being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations and the Epistle, one book; afterwards Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.”
As you can see, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah are included with the book of Jeremiah, a discrepancy from the Protestant canon. A minor detail, the popular authors will tell you. As they try to hurry you along, you might ask them where the book of Esther went – it’s not in Athanasius’ list. In fact, Esther is lumped in with the deuterocanonical books. Athanasius writes:
But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings.
Notice what he said – the deuterocanonicals are NOT Apocrypha!
Standing Alone (Part 33)
As proof that the 66-book canon is the correct one, most Protestant apologists will point to St. Jerome. They feel that his supposedly clear-headed, unequivocal rejection of the deuterocanonical books proves what Protestants contend, i.e., that the Hebrew canon is the correct one, and that the Christian church finally woke up to that fact in the late 4th century. There are a few difficulties with that theory….
A Formal Pronouncement on the Canon (Part 34)
Drumroll, please! The moment we have all been waiting for: the discernment of the canon….
God As Their Author (Part 35)
One reason Protestants think their version of “how we got our Bible” sounds reasonable is because they envision a very different early church than the one described in historical accounts. Many Protestants think of the early Christians as being very, very loosely organized. When they hear that the first Christians met in house churches, they imagine a Protestant kind of house church, i.e., me, my brother Louie, his wife and kids, their neighbor Roxanne and her dog – no pastor, no one who actually leads the “congregation,” just a group of believers who interpret the 66-book Bible according to their own lights. To imagine that people like this very quickly became confused about the Old Testament canon of Scripture is pretty easy (Louie isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed), and so the fiction that the Church stupidly embraced the Septuagint, despite the fact that their Jewish contemporaries could have set them straight if they’d just asked, seems plausible. Thank God Jerome came along and rectified things!
The historical reality looks very different. Christians had leaders from the very beginning. Jesus commissioned the apostles. We see in the book of Acts that the apostles appointed deacons to help them with their workload. The apostles also set about training other men to lead the churches they established. Grab a copy of a King James version of the Bible, and read the footnote at the very end of 2 Timothy: “The second epistle unto Timotheus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians…” Read the footnote at the end of the book of Titus: “It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians….” Check out Philippians 1:1: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons“.
So? So those house churches weren’t made up of groups of believers who split off from other groups of believers because they couldn’t agree on doctrine, as so many Protestant start-ups are. Hear the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred circa 107 A.D….
That Principle is Tradition (Part 36)
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….
Untenable Judgments (Part 37)
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!”
The Burden of Proof (Part 38)
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….
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 are interested in reading more on the subject of the canon, may I recommend these absolutely wonderful books?