The Broad and Truncated Canons of the Old Testament

The Books called Apocrypha

The Books called Apocrypha

The Christian Church accepted the broader canon of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) until the time of the Reformation. The Anglican Henry Wace, in his commentary on the King James Version, admits as much when he writes:

When the Reformers denied the inspired authority of the books of the Apocrypha, it was by no means their intention to exclude them from use either in public or in private reading. The Articles of the Church of England quote with approbation the ruling of St. Jerome, that though the Church does not use these books for establishment of doctrine, it reads them for example of life and instruction of manners.[1]

Having already truncated their canon, some Protestants look back to the ancient church for support, citing this or that authority who seemingly support their position. There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church, such as the listing called the “ruling of St. Jerome.” These lists are occasionally similar to the canon used by Protestants today, but these individual lists were not authoritative in the wider church. Even where the lists of Old Testament books matched those of the Protestant canon, these lists wouldn’t match the New Testament books — and vice versa. (We will provide more detail on this later). St. Jerome was not a bishop, and the ‘ruling of St. Jerome’ was not authoritative anywhere. St. Jerome ultimately accepted the ruling of his bishop, something noted by Martin Hengel: “Jerome himself, who was not only a great and combative scholar but also a smooth diplomat, largely abandoned any effort to defend the Hebrew original in the Apocrypha question.”[2]

St. Athanasius (c. 296-373) is widely cited as having provided the first complete listing of the 27 books of the New Testament. Matt Slick, the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), cites Festal Letter 39 (c. 367 A.D.) as proof that Athanasius condemns the Apocrypha.[3] This is only partially correct. First of all, St. Athanasius was speaking for his own diocese, not the entire Church. Second, there were many different lists being advanced for centuries afterwards.

While St. Athanasius did not approve of all the so-called Apocrypha, his festal letter approved several of them. For example, his list contains “the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book”; “Jeremiah with Baruch”; “Lamentations, and the epistle, one book”; Esther; and Daniel. Baruch is one of the so-called Apocrypha, as is the Epistle of Jeremiah. The versions of 2 Chronicles, Esther, and Daniel judged by St. Athanasius as genuine contain material Protestants judge to be Apocryphal.[4] In the unabridged King James Version, these are called “The Prayer of Manassas” (placed at the end of 2 Chronicles); “The rest of Esther” (material found throughout Esther in the Septuagint); “The History of Susanna” (comes before Daniel chapter 1); “The Song of the Three Holy Children” (comes in the middle of Daniel chap. 3); and “Bel and the Dragon” (comes after Daniel chap. 12). To be honest, if Protestants want to claim Festal Letter 39 of St. Athanasius as sealing the canon of the New Testament, they should also be prepared to accept all the Old Testament Apocrypha cited by Athanasius.

In his book The Divine Names, the author known today as Pseudo-Dionysius (late 5th to early 6th century) quotes from the Wisdom of Solomon, describing it as “introductory Scriptures.”[5] We might be tempted towards thinking this supports the general Protestant view. Paul Rorem and John Lamoreaux say the term “introductory Scripture” merely means that the Old Testament was an introduction to the New; in other words, the entire Old Testament could be termed “introductory Scripture.”[6] The question, then, is how extensive that introduction is.

Among early Protestants, there was substantial disagreement and confusion as to the extent of the Old Testament. For example, John Wycliffe’s Bible translation, first hand-printed in 1382 A.D., contains 48 Old Testament books, as opposed to the 39 contained in the Protestant Old Testament.[7]  We should note the Bibles printed following the Protestant Reformation also include what Protestants call the Apocrypha.[8] For example, Martin Luther’s German translation of 1522 contained the Apocrypha. The English Language Matthew-Tyndale Bible, published by John Rogers in 1537, contained the Apocrypha.[9] Both the Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 contained the Apocrypha. Unabridged editions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are still available today, although printed versions are rare in the United States.[10]

Abridged Bibles without the Apocrypha are an American invention. The Continental Congress approved and funded the printing of Bibles without the Apocrypha. Rev. Dr. Will Gafney writes:

Many are unaware that the shorter Protestant bible was created in the new America, during the revolutionary war when a printer took it upon himself without the authority of a church council to print a bible whose contents he chose. That bible, The Aitken Bible[11] is also significant for having been printed with the authority of the Continental Congress.[12]

Modern Protestants use a truncated canon whose origins and history they are unaware of. Moreover, they misread the canonical history of the Old Testament. This does not mean Protestants cannot be saved, of course. What it does mean is that Protestants lack the fullness of the faith.

Endnotes

[1] (Wace 1811, xxxvi) The ruling of St. Jerome was his private theological opinion, was contrary to the practice of the wider Christian Church, and was not accepted as dogma anywhere.

[2] (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 49-50)

[3] (Slick 2014)

[4] The Masoretic text favored by many conservative Protestant scholars did not exist at this time. The favored text in the Church was the Septuagint (see chap. 4.)

[5] (Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite 1987, 81)

[6] (Rorem and Lamoreaux 1998, 48)

[7] The various eBooks and online sources like Bible Gateway only reproduce the part of Wycliffe’s translation that are acceptable to the Protestants. Wycliffe’s complete Old Testament contained the following books considered unacceptable after the Reformation: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), Syrach (Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), Preier of Jeremiah (Epistle of Jeremiah), Baruk (Baruch), along with 1 Machabeis & 2 Machabeis (1st and 2nd Maccabees). John Wycliffe’s New Testament also contains Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans, a contested document found in no generally accepted version or translation. (Wycliffe 2008)

[8] When asked if The Online Bible (www.onlinebible.net) would be providing a copy of the original King James Version with the Apocrypha,   Larry Pierce, (the founder) responded: “We have no intention of mixing Jewish fables with the infallible Word of God.” (Pierce 2014) Pierce is quoting Titus 1:14 here, equating Paul’s reference to ‘Jewish fables’ with the Apocrypha, an interpretation that cannot be found in the text. Pierce chooses to use an abridged version of the King James Version rather than provide it as it was originally printed. In an email to Pastor EJ Hill, Larry Pierce admitted to redacting and editing other people’s work when they do not agree with his theology (such as Thayer’s 1889 Greek-English Lexicon.) (Hill 2012)

[9] The Matthew-Tyndale Bible, generally known as the Matthew Bible, contains the following books not found in the Protestant Bible: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 3 Holy Children, Suzanna, Bel & the Dragon, Prayer of Mannesah, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. (Rogers and Coverdale 1537)

[10] An excellent resource is the Official King James version online which contains the American truncation of the King James Version, the Apocrypha, and the original 1611 version with the apocrypha. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Apocrypha-Books/

[11] http://www.theworldsgreatbooks.com/Aitken Bible.htm

[12] (Gafney 2013)

Bibliography

Gafney, W. C. (2013, March 17). Jesus’ Bible and the History Channel’s Bible. Retrieved December 7, 2014, from The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.: http://www.wilgafney.com/2013/03/17/jesus-bible-and-the-history-channels-bible/

Hengel, M. (2002). The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Hill, E. (2012). Did Larry Pierce abridge Thayer’s Lexicon? The Online Bible Forum. Winterbourne: Online Bible.

Pierce, L. (2014, May 5). “email conversation”. Online Bible Tech Support. Winterbourne: Online Bible.

Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite. (1987). Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. (C. Luibheid, Trans.) New York: Paulist Press.

Rogers, J., & Coverdale, M. (1537). 1537 Matthew’s Bible. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from Bibles-Online.net: http://www.bibles-online.net/1537/

Rorem, P., & Lamoreaux, J. C. (1998). John of Scythopolis and the Dionysian Corpus: Annotating the Areopagite. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Slick, M. (2014, November 1). Apocrypha. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from CARM: http://carm.org/early-church-fathers-apocrypha

Wace, H. (1811). Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). (Vol. 1). (H. Wace, Ed.) London: John Murray.