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.

 

The Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism

Herod's Rebuilt Second Temple

Herod’s Rebuilt Second Temple

The idea of the canon as a list of authoritative books would have been strange to Jews of the Second Temple period. For them, the Temple was the center of their religion. Lester L. Grabbe, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Hull, England, writes:

It is natural that people often assume that Judaism in the Second Temple period was more or less like contemporary Judaism, in which people meet weekly or even more frequently in synagogues to pray, worship, and hear the Bible read. The written scripture and its reading and study are assumed to be the focus of Judaism at all times. …Yet the Judaism of pre-70 times was formally structured in a quite different way from the Judaism of later times. The main religious institution was the Jerusalem temple, and temple worship went back many centuries in Jewish and Israelite history. …The main activity in the temple was blood sacrifice.[1]

Lester L. Grabbe goes on to discuss the issue of the supposed canon during Second Temple Judaism.

When and how the present canon became finalized is still not known, despite a number of studies on the subject. Some Jewish groups seem to have accepted a different set of books as authoritative compared to other groups.[2]

Jaroslav Pelikan agrees with Grabbe, and writes:

Not only is the use of the word canon as a designation for an authoritative list of sacred books a rather late phenomenon within the history of the Jewish community, but even the idea of a fixed and final list came about only after a long evolution.[3]

Julio Trebolle Barrera notes the idea of a canon was foreign to the Jewish mind. He notes the word canon is a term connected to “New Testament studies,” and Jews did not use it until “the 4th cent. CE.” He writes:

To apply the term «canon» to the Hebrew Bible, therefore, is quite unsuitable. Hebrew has no term which corresponds to Greek «canon». Rabbinic discussions concerning the canonical or apocryphal character of certain biblical books such as Song of Songs and Qoheleth, turn on the expression «defiles the hands». The supposition is that books of which it is said that «they defile the hands» were considered as canonical, whereas books to which this expression was not applied were excluded from the biblical canon. However, the expression «defile the hands» may have no more significance than to refer to ritual purification to be performed after having used such books and before starting any other secular activity.[4]

Saying Hebrew has no term corresponding to the Greek word ‘canon’ is not precisely true. The Greek word ‘canon’ is itself a loan word from the Semitic languages. In Hebrew, the word is קָנֶה (qaneh) meaning ‘tube’ or ‘reed’. The Hebrew word qaneh is related to the Assyrian word qanu and the Arabic word qanah, meaning ‘hollow stick’ or ‘reed’. While the Greeks and Christians used the word canon in the sense of a rule or measuring stick, this idea comes from Greek philosophy.

The concept of canon as the rule of faith is a Christian idea that developed rather late. The Jews eventually used that idea for the Hebrew Scriptures, but such an idea was unknown in Jesus’ day. Jewish groups knew which books they considered to be Scripture, but there were different Jewish groups with competing ideas as to the extent of their scriptures. More importantly, the concept of canon was a gentile concept; as such it would likely not have been used by Jews to delimit their Scriptures to a specific set of books.

The Swiss Protestant theologian Robert Hanhart, writing in the introduction to Martin Hengel’s “The Septuagint as Christian Scripture”, notes that Jesus ben Sirach’s introduction to Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) “assumes the three divisions transmitted by the Masoretes”, and draws a distinction between the material described by these divisions and that of his translation of his grandfather’s commentary on Scripture.[5] He concludes that Second Temple Judaism distinguished between canon and Apocrypha. By stating this, Robert Hanhart is reading the medieval Masoretic traditions back into the Second Temple period, two periods separated by nearly a millennium. Lutheran professor and theologian Emil Schürer differs with Robert Hanhart: “The most ancient testimony to the collocation of both collections with the Thorah [sic] is the prologue to the Book of Wisdom. …We cannot, however, determine from it that the third collection was then already concluded.”[6]

The disagreement between Robert Hanhart and Emil Schürer illustrates the manner in which scholars disagree regarding the boundaries of the Old Testament canon in the second temple period and reflects the wide range of perspectives among Jews of the second temple period. The Baptist Professor Jeff S. Anderson writes about the diversity existing within Second Temple Judaism.

What flourished in the Second Temple Period was not a single, fixed, “normative” Judaism, but a developing, evolving religion… No straight evolutionary line of the Jewish faith emerges. Consequently, it is preferable to speak of multiple Judaisms rather than a monolithic ideology that views one brand of Judaism as orthodox and the rest as “sects.” All Judaisms, consequently, competed for an audience and for the authority that accompanies broad-based acceptance.[7]

Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 310–320 – 403 CE) describes twelve specific sects of the Jews: the Samaritans, the Essenes, the Sebuaeans, the Gorothenes, the Dositheans, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Hemerobaptists, the Nasaraeans, the Ossaeans, and the Herodians.[8] The Jerusalem Talmud (c. 200 – 400 CE) quotes Rabbi Johanan as saying there were twenty-four heretical sects of Judaism in the time of Ezekiel.[9] With different Judaisms competing for acceptance, it is no wonder there was no consensus on the limits of the Hebrew Scriptures.[10] The great Protestant scholar of Second Temple Judaism, Martin Hengel, writes:

We cannot prove the existence of a genuine Jewish, pre-Christian collection of canonical value, unambiguously and clearly delimited, distinguishable through its greater scope from the canon of the Hebrew Bible in the realm of the historical books and wisdom writings and written in Greek. Nor, especially, can it be shown that such a ‘canon’ was already formed in pre-Christian Alexandria. One can only proceed from the fact that the five books of Moses’ Torah, the so-called Pentateuch, were translated into Greek under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246), at the latest toward the middle of the third century [BC].[11]

The picture of Second Temple Judaism is much more complex than is commonly thought. There was the temple cult centered in Jerusalem, and there was the law which Jews agreed was scripture. Most Jews accepted the Prophets as well. Beyond that, we know different branches of Judaism accepted a varying list of writings as authoritative, and possibly as scripture. The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was not settled until well into the Christian era.

Endnotes

  1. (Grabbe 2010, Kindle Locations 536-538; 540-541)
  2. (Grabbe 2010, Kindle Locations 561-562)
  3. (Pelikan 2005, 39)
  4. (Barrera 1998, 148)
  5. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 2-3)
  6. (Schürer, A History of the Jewish People, Second Division, Volume 1 1890, 308)
  7. (Anderson 2002, 5-6)
  8. (Epiphanius of Salamis 2012, Book 1, Section 1, Parts 9-20)
  9. (Bowker 1973, 161) The Jerusalem Talmud was written well into the Christian era, in a period after many of the competing Judaisms had died out. Thus, the reference to them as ‘heretical sects.’
  10. The scholar April D. DeConick writes: “Judaism and Christianity are companion expressions of Second Temple Judaism, sibling religions that developed simultaneously within comparable historical contextures.” (DeConick 2006, 3)
  11. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 19)

Bibliography

  1. Anderson, J. S. (2002). The Internal Diversification of Second Temple Judaism: An Introduction to the Second Temple Period. Lanham: University Press of America, Inc.
  2. Barrera, J. T. (1998). The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible; An Introduction to the History of the Text. (W. G. Watson, Trans.) Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  3. Bowker, J. (1973). Jesus and the Pharisees. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. DeConick, A. D. (2006). What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism? Retrieved August 7, 2017, from Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism: http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/definition.pdf
  5. Epiphanius of Salamis. (2012, April 25). The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: A Treatise Against Eighty Sects in Three Books. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Masseiana Home Page: http://www.masseiana.org/panarion_bk1.htm
  6. Grabbe, L. L. (2010). An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: T&T Clark.
  7. Pelikan, J. (2005). Whose Bible Is It: A Short History of the Scriptures (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: Penguin Group US.
  8. Schürer, E. (1890). A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ (Vols. Second Division, Volume 1). (S. Taylor, & P. Christie, Trans.) Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Johann Gerhard, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (updated)

Johann Gerhard

Johann Gerhard

Johann Gerhard, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Johann Gerhard is the premier Lutheran scholastic, and is considered to be the Lutheran version of Thomas Aquinas. In his 17th century book “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture”, Gerhard writes of the distinction between books in the “codex of the Old Testament” that the papists consider canonical, and those they consider apocryphal.

The apocryphal books of the Old Testament are all the rest contained in the codex of the Old Testament besides the canonical books. We can arrange them in two classes. First, some are apocryphal by confession of the papists themselves, though they are contained in the Greek or Latin Codex of the Bible. …Second, some are considered canonical by the papists, though they are in fact apocryphal. [Emphasis added.] (Gerhard 2006, 91)

Gerhard argues against the Latins regarding both canonicity of any Apocryphal book. Moreover, he provides various reason why some books are considered apocryphal. First, “books whose origin is hidden”; second, “books that contain myths, errors, and lies”; third, because “every canonical book of the Old Testament is written in the Prophetic language, namely, Hebrew.” (Gerhard 2006, 91) Unfortunately, Gerhard’s arguments are flawed.

First Argument

His first argument is that the Apocrypha are not inspired, and therefore not canonical.

  • Every canonical book of the Old Testament was written by a prophet by impulse and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Apocrypha were not written by prophets (and by extension, under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
  • Therefore, the Apocrypha are not canonical.
    (Gerhard 2006, 92)

As we all likely agree to the first and major premise, we need not explore that further. The second, or minor premise, is problematic. Gerhard argues that the last Old Testament prophet was Malachi, and therefore concludes that since the Apocrypha were produced after the prophet Malachi, they were not written by prophets. “Those books we listed were written after the time of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament. From Malachi until John the Baptist one can point out no prophet among the people of Israel; therefore he concludes the prophetic writing of the Old Testament.” (Gerhard 2006, 92) I note that this is a tautology, in that the conclusion of the argument is required by the premise.

From my youth I remember hearing the argument that the line of the prophets ended with the prophet Malachi, ushering in the intertestamental period. The evidence for this point of view was typological. The Scriptures describe the period prior to the prophet Samuel as follows: “And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (1 Sam 3:1) Thus, goes the argument, the period prior to Samuel is the type of which the period prior to John the Baptist is the fulfillment.[1] But this is an argument from two seemingly analogous conditions, rather than from evidence. Gerhard provides an additional argument, which is that Malachi is the seal of the Old Testament, for it was Malachi who prophesied of John the Baptist. (Gerhard 2006, 92)

Second Argument

Gerhard’s second argument is based on the external form of the Old Testament, or the language.

  • Every canonical book of the Old Testament is written in the prophetic language, namely, Hebrew.
  • Those controversial books were not written in Hebrew.
  • Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.]
    (Gerhard 2006, 93)

I note for the record that Johann Gerhard wrote in the seventeenth century, well prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is unfair to find fault with his assumption that the Apocrypha were not written in Hebrew (although how someone could continue to make that claim in the late 20th and early 21st century escapes me.)

Regarding the Apocrypha among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael E. Stone writes of the so-called Apocrypha written in Aramaic and Hebrew, the languages of the Old Testament:

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls were a number of manuscripts of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, including ten manuscripts of the Book of Enoch in the original Aramaic (until then copies were extant only in an Ethiopic translation of a Greek translation of a Semitic original), which were vital to answering many questions about its origins. Dating of the manuscripts by their script shows that certain parts of Enoch are at least as old as the third century BCE. Fragments of Ben Sira in Hebrew, Tobit in Aramaic, the Epistle of Jeremiah in Greek, and others were also found at Qumran.

Gerhard notes that Jerome translated Tobit and Judith from Chaldaic into Latin, but did not consider them to be Canonical. Jerome is an anomaly among the fathers of the early church, in that he preferred the Hebrew text over the Septuagint, the text that was in common use among the early church (which usage even Gerhard admits).

Gerhard’s argument that Hebrew is the “prophetic language” is a problem, in that it argues against the canonicity of the New Testament. Gerhard is not alone in this regard: F.F. Bruce, writing in 1954, shortly after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also cites the then generally accepted claim that the Apocrypha were written in Greek.

The books of the Apocrypha, while they were written in Greek or translated into Greek by Jews, first received canonical recognition from Greek-speaking Christians. The early Greek Fathers acknowledged in theory that these books were not on the same canonical level as the books in the Hebrew Bible, but in practice they made little distinction between the two classes. (Bruce 2008)

Third Argument

Gerhard’s third argument is from the subject matter of the Apocrypha, which he claims is different than that of the Protestant Old Testament.

  • Every canonical book of the Old Testament contains prophecies about Christ, promised in the Old Testament but revealed in the New.
  • Those controversial books do not contain prophecies about Christ.
  • Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.]

With all due respect to Johann Gerhard, but this claim is nonsense, as can be demonstrated by the following list:

  • Mat 2:16 – Herod’s decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in Wis. 11:7 – slaying the holy innocents.
  • Mat 6:19-20 – Jesus’ statement about laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven follows Sirach 29:11 – lay up your treasure.
  • Mat 7:12 – Jesus’ golden rule “do unto others” is the converse of Tobit 4:15 – what you hate, do not do to others.
  • Mat 7:16, 20 – Jesus’ statement “you will know them by their fruits” follows Sirach 27:6 – the fruit discloses the cultivation.
  • Mat 9:36 – the people were “like sheep without a shepherd” is same as Judith 11:19 – sheep without a shepherd.
  • Mat 11:25 – Jesus’ description “Lord of heaven and earth” is the same as Tobit 7:18 – Lord of heaven and earth.
  • Mat 12:42 – Jesus refers to the wisdom of Solomon which was recorded and made part of the so-called deuterocanonical or apocryphal books.
  • Mat 16:18 – Jesus’ reference to the “power of death” and “gates of Hades” references Wisdom 16:13.
  • Mat 22:25; Mar 12:20; Luk 20:29 – Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.
  • Mat 24:15 – the “desolating sacrilege” Jesus refers to is also taken from 1 Macc. 1:54 and 2 Macc. 8:17.
  • Mat 24:16 – let those “flee to the mountains” is taken from 1 Macc. 2:28.
  • Mat 27:43 – if He is God’s Son, let God deliver him from His adversaries follows Wisdom 2:18.
  • Mar 4:5, 16-17 – Jesus’ description of seeds falling on rocky ground and having no root follows Sirach 40:15.
  • Mar 9:48 – description of hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched references Judith 16:17.
  • Luk 1:42 – Elizabeth’s declaration of Mary’s blessedness above all women follows Uzziah’s declaration in Judith 13:18.
  • Luk 1:52 – Mary’s Magnificat addressing the mighty falling from their thrones and replaced by lowly follows Sirach 10:14.
  • Luk 2:29 – Simeon’s declaration that he is ready to die after seeing the Child Jesus follows Tobit 11:9.
  • Luk 13:29 – the Lord’s description of men coming from east and west to rejoice in God follows Baruch 4:37.
  • Luk 21:24 – Jesus’ usage of “fall by the edge of the sword” follows Sirach 28:18.
  • Luk 24:4 and Acts 1:10 – Luke’s description of the two men in dazzling apparel reminds us of 2 Macc. 3:26.
  • Joh 1:3 – all things were made through Him, the Word, follows Wisdom 9:1.
  • Joh 3:13 – who has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven references Baruch 3:29.
  • Joh 4:48; Acts 5:12; 15:12; 2 Cor. 12:12 – Jesus’, Luke’s and Paul’s usage of “signs and wonders” follows Wisdom 8:8.
  • Joh 5:18 – Jesus claiming that God is His Father follows Wisdom 2:16.
  • Joh 6:35-59 – Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse is foreshadowed in Sirach 24:21.
  • Joh 10:22 – the identification of the feast of the dedication is taken from 1 Macc. 4:59.
  • Joh 15:6 – branches that don’t bear fruit and are cut down follows Wis. 4:5 where branches are broken off.
  • Acts 1:15 – Luke’s reference to the 120 may be a reference to 1 Macc. 3:55 – leaders of tens / restoration of the twelve.
  • Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6 – Peter’s and Paul’s statement that God shows no partiality references Sirach 35:12.
  • Acts 17:29 – description of false gods as like gold and silver made by men follows Wisdom 13:10.
  • Rom 1:18-25 – Paul’s teaching on the knowledge of the Creator and the ignorance and sin of idolatry follows Wis. 13:1-10.
  • Rom 1:20 – specifically, God’s existence being evident in nature follows Wis. 13:1.
  • Rom 1:23 – the sin of worshipping mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles follows Wis. 11:15; 12:24-27; 13:10; 14:8; 15:7.
  • Rom 1:24-27 – this idolatry results in all kinds of sexual perversion which follows Wis. 14:12, 24-27.
  • Rom 4:17 – Abraham is a father of many nations follows Sirach 44:19.
  • Rom 5:12 – description of death and sin entering into the world is similar to Wisdom 2:24.
  • Rom 9:21 – usage of the potter and the clay, making two kinds of vessels follows Wisdom 15:7. (The image of the potter is also used in Jeremiah 18:4, but not with the idea of a vessel of honor and a vessel of dishonor.)
  • 1 Cor 2:16 – Paul’s question, “who has known the mind of the Lord?” references Wisdom 9:13.
  • 1 Cor 6:12-13; 10:23-26 – warning that, while all things are good, beware of gluttony, follows Sirach 36:18 and 37:28-30.
  • 1 Cor 8:5-6 – Paul acknowledging many “gods” but one Lord follows Wis. 13:3.
  • 1 Cor 10:1 – Paul’s description of our fathers being under the cloud passing through the sea refers to Wisdom 19:7.
  • 1 Cor 10:20 – what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God refers to Baruch 4:7.
  • 1 Cor 15:29 – if no expectation of resurrection, it would be foolish to be baptized on their behalf follows 2 Macc. 12:43-45.
  • Eph 1:17 – Paul’s prayer for a “spirit of wisdom” follows the prayer for the spirit of wisdom in Wisdom 7:7.
  • Eph 6:14 – Paul describing the breastplate of righteousness is the same as Wis. 5:18. See also Isaiah 59:17 and 1Thess. 5:8.
  • Eph 6:13-17 – in fact, the whole discussion of armor, helmet, breastplate, sword, shield follows Wis. 5:17-20.
  • 1 Tim 6:15 – Paul’s description of God as Sovereign and King of kings is from 2 Macc. 12:15; 13:4.
  • 2 Tim 4:8 – Paul’s description of a crown of righteousness is similar to Wisdom 5:16.
  • Heb 4:12 – Paul’s description of God’s word as a sword is similar to Wisdom 18:15.
  • Heb 11:5 – Enoch being taken up is also referenced in Wis 4:10 and Sir 44:16. See also 2 Kings 2:1-13 & Sir 48:9 regarding Elijah.
  • Heb 11:35 – The author teaches about the martyrdom of the mother and her sons described in 2 Macc. 6:18, 7:1-42.
  • Heb 12:12 – the description “drooping hands” and “weak knees” comes from Sirach 25:23.
  • Jam 1:19 – let every man be quick to hear and slow to respond follows Sirach 5:11.
  • Jam 2:23 – it was reckoned to him as righteousness follows 1 Macc. 2:52 – it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
  • Jam 3:13 – James’ instruction to perform works in meekness follows Sirach 3:17.
  • Jam 5:3 – describing silver which rusts and laying up treasure follows Sirach 29:10-11.
  • Jam 5:6 – condemning and killing the “righteous man” follows Wisdom 2:10-20.
  • 1 Pet 1:6-7 – Peter teaches about testing faith by purgatorial fire as described in Wisdom 3:5-6 and Sirach 2:5.
  • 1 Pet 1:17 – God judging each one according to his deeds refers to Sirach 16:12 – God judges man according to his deeds.
  • 2 Pet 2:7 – God’s rescue of a righteous man (Lot) is also described in Wisdom 10:6.
  • Rev 1:4; 8:3-4 – Discussion of the seven spirits and the prayers ascending as incense before the throne of God, also described in Tobit 12:15.
  • Rev 1:18; Mat 16:18 – power of life over death and gates of Hades follows Wis. 16:13.
  • Rev 2:12 – reference to the two-edged sword is similar to the description of God’s Word in Wisdom 18:16.
  • Rev 5:7 – God is described as seated on His throne, and this is the same description used in Sirach 1:8.
  • Rev 8:3-4 – prayers of the saints presented to God by the hand of an angel follows Tobit 12:12,15.
  • Rev 8:7 – raining of hail and fire to the earth follows Wisdom 16:22 and Sirach 39:29.
  • Rev 9:3 – raining of locusts on the earth follows Wisdom 16:9.
  • Rev 11:19 – the vision of the ark of the covenant (Mary) in a cloud of glory was prophesied in 2 Macc. 2:7.
  • Rev 17:14 – description of God as King of kings follows 2 Macc. 13:4.
  • Rev 19:1 – the cry “Hallelujah” at the coming of the new Jerusalem follows Tobit 13:18.
  • Rev 19:11 – the description of the Lord on a white horse in the heavens follows 2 Macc. 3:25; 11:8.
  • Rev 19:16 – description of our Lord as King of kings is taken from 2 Macc. 13:4.
  • Rev 21:19 – the description of the new Jerusalem filled with precious stones is prophesied in Tobit 13:17.

Fourth Argument

Gerhard’s fourth argument is that the Apocryphal books do not have the witness of the Israelitic Church (by which he means the Jewish people.)

  • The canonical books of the Old Testament have the witness of the Israelitic church.
  • Those controversial books lack the witness of the Israelitic Church.
  • Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.]

We learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was quite fluid in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. (Tigchelaar 2009) Judaism is now understood to have been more accepting of a diverse canon of the Hebrew Scriptures in the time of Christ than it was to become after the Masoretes completed their work.

The Samaritans held that only the five books of Moses were scripture, although their version of the first five books of Moses were slightly different. The Samaritan Pentateuch is a more ancient form of the Torah than the Masoretic text, but also agrees more closely with the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Lieber 2013)

It has been widely (although not universally) understood that the Sadducees considered only the first five books of Moses to be scripture.[2] This view was prevalent among some of the church fathers, but modern scholars think the fathers were conflating the Samaritans and the Sadducees.[3] If the latest scholarship is correct, the canon for both the Sadducees and Pharisees covered what we know today as the Hebrew Scriptures, aka. the Old Testament. By contrast, the Jewish Diaspora, sometimes called the Hellenists, used the Septuagint (LXX) in their synagogues. The canon of the LXX was itself quite fluid, containing numerous books written after the time of Ezra.

Whoever deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls (popularly identified as the Essenes), appears to have used the Septuagint canon, with the possible exception of the book of Esther. The Essenes, who supposedly hid the Dead Sea Scrolls, disappeared following the destruction of Israel in A.D. 70. Likewise the Sadducees, being the party of the temple, disappeared following the destruction of the temple. The only Jewish sects to survive? The Pharisees and the Samaritans, of which only the Pharisees were active among the Jewish Diaspora. Historical evidence suggests the Jews and the Christians each made their own determination as to what was in the canon of scripture. Moreover, it has been suggested that the Hebrew canon was restricted in an attempt to remove support for the Messiahship of Jesus.[4] This process seems to have begun with the school of Jewish law founded by Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai in the city of Jamnia. Late 19th to mid-20th biblical scholarship suggested the existence of a Council of Jamnia which decided on a definitive Jewish canon. F.F. Bruce describes their work as follows:

After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. a new Sanhedrin or council of elders, consisting of Jewish scholars, was constituted at Jamnia in Western Palestine. They reviewed the whole field of Jewish religion and law, and held long discussions on the scope of the Canon of Hebrew Scripture. They debated whether certain books should not be excluded, and whether certain others should not he admitted: but in the end they did not exclude any book which already enjoyed canonical recognition, nor did they admit any book which had not previously received such recognition. (Bruce 2008)

Although F.F. Bruce describes the makeup and work of the Council of Jamnia, it is no longer certain that such a council took place. Moreover, if it took place, the council actually met to look into other matters entirely. We do know that alterations of the text of the Hebrew Scriptures were underway by the time of Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165 AD). From this it is clear that the Christians used the Septuagint as their canon of scripture, while the Jews gradually settled on a more restricted canon.[5]

Gerhard goes on to provide a variety of proofs for his position, all of which are meaningless in the face of what we now know to be true about the state of the Jewish canon during the time of Christ.

Fifth Argument

Gerhard’s fifth argument is that the Apocrypha are not supported as Scripture by the primitive Christian Church.

  • Books that are truly canonical have the supporting testimony of the primitive Christian Church.
  • Those controversial books lack the unanimous witness of the primitive church.
  • Therefore they are not canonical.

It is perhaps unfair to pile on this way, but when a luminary such as Gerhard makes such a bold and unsupported statement, it needs to be refuted. Henceforth, a list of statements regarding the Apocrypha from the Primitive Church through the Post-Nicene era.

  • The Didache (ca. 50-70 A.D.)

    “You shall not waver with regard to your decisions [Sir. 1:28]. Do not be someone who stretches out his hands to receive but withdraws them when it comes to giving [Sir. 4:31]” (Didache 4:5).

    The Letter of Barnabas (ca. 74 A.D.)

    “Since, therefore, [Christ] was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, his suffering was foreshown. For the prophet speaks against evil, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counseled an evil counsel against themselves’ [Is. 3:9], saying, ‘Let us bind the righteous man because he is displeasing to us’ [Wis. 2:12.]” (Letter of Barnabas 6:7).

  • Clement of Rome (ca. 80 A.D.)

    “By the word of his might [God] established all things, and by his word he can overthrow them. ‘Who shall say to him, “What have you done?” or who shall resist the power of his strength?’ [Wis. 12:12]” (Letter to the Corinthians 27:5).

  • Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 135 A.D.)

    “Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood [1 Pet. 2:17].
    . . . When you can do good, defer it not, because ‘alms delivers from death’ [Tob. 4:10, 12:9]. Be all of you subject to one another [1 Pet. 5:5], having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles [1 Pet. 2:12], and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed [Is. 52:5]!” (Letter to the Philadelphians 10).

  • Irenaeus (ca. 189 A.D.)

    “Those . . . who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts and do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt toward others and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat [Mat 23:6] and work evil deeds in secret, saying ‘No man sees us,’ shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance, nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words to be found in Daniel the prophet: ‘O you seed of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust perverted your heart’ [Dan. 13:56]. You that have grown old in wicked days, now your sins which you have committed before have come to light, for you have pronounced false judgments and have been accustomed to condemn the innocent and to let the guilty go free, although the Lord says, ‘You shall not slay the innocent and the righteous’ [Dan. 13:52, citing Ex. 23:7]” (Against Heresies 4:26:3; Daniel 13 is not in the Protestant Bible).

    “Jeremiah the prophet has pointed out that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left on the earth, should both be under the rule of the saints and to minister to this [new] Jerusalem and that [his] kingdom shall be in it, saying, ‘Look around Jerusalem toward the east and behold the joy which comes to you from God himself. Behold, your sons whom you have sent forth shall come: They shall come in a band from the east to the west. . . . God shall go before with you in the light of his splendor, with the mercy and righteousness which proceed from him’ [Bar. 4:36—5:9]” (ibid., 5:35:1; Baruch was often considered part of Jeremiah, as it is here).

  • Hippolytus (ca. 204 A.D.)

    “What is narrated here [in the story of Susannah] happened at a later time, although it is placed at the front of the book [of Daniel], for it was a custom with the writers to narrate many things in an inverted order in their writings. . . . [W]e ought to give heed, beloved, fearing lest anyone be overtaken in any transgression and risk the loss of his soul, knowing as we do that God is the judge of all and the Word himself is the eye which nothing that is done in the world escapes. Therefore, always watchful in heart and pure in life, let us imitate Susannah” (Commentary on Daniel; the story of Susannah [Dan. 13] is not in the Protestant Bible).

  • Cyprian of Carthage (ca.248, 253 A.D.)

    “In Genesis [it says], ‘And God tested Abraham and said to him, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the high land and offer him there as a burnt offering . . .”’ [Gen. 22:1–2]. . . . Of this same thing in the Wisdom of Solomon [it says], ‘Although in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality . . .’ [Wis. 3:4]. Of this same thing in the Maccabees [it says], ‘Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness’ [1 Macc. 2:52; see Jas. 2:21–23]” (Treatises 7:3:15).

    “So Daniel, too, when he was required to worship the idol Bel, which the people and the king then worshipped, in asserting the honor of his God, broke forth with full faith and freedom, saying, ‘I worship nothing but the Lord my God, who created the heaven and the earth’ [Dan. 14:5]” (Letters 55:5; Daniel 14 is not in the Protestant Bible).

  • Council of Rome (ca. 382 A.D.)

    “Now indeed we must treat of the divine scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book; Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Joshua [Son of] Nave, one book; Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; Kings, four books [that is, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings]; Paralipomenon [Chronicles], two books; Psalms, one book; Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book, Ecclesiastes, one book, [and] Canticle of Canticles [Song of Songs], one book; likewise Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], one book . . . . Likewise the order of the historical [books]: Job, one book; Tobit, one book; Esdras, two books [Ezra and Nehemiah]; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; Maccabees, two books” (Decree of Pope Damasus).

  • Council of Hippo (ca. 393 A.D.)

    “[It has been decided] that besides the canonical scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical scriptures are
    as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and a portion of the Psalms], the twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books . . .” (Canon 36).

    Council of Carthage III (ca. 397 A.D.)

    “[It has been decided] that nothing except the canonical scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine scriptures. But the canonical scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon, two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees . . .” (Canon 47).

  • Augustine (ca. 397, 421 A.D.)

    “The whole canon of the scriptures, however, in which we say that consideration is to be applied, is contained in these books: the five of Moses . . . and one book of Joshua [Son of] Nave, one of Judges; one little book which is called Ruth . . . then the four of Kingdoms, and the two of Paralipomenon . . . . [T]here are also others too, of a different order . . . such as Job and Tobit and Esther and Judith and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Esdras . . . . Then there are the prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David, and three of Solomon. . . . But as to those two books, one of which is entitled Wisdom and the other of which is entitled Ecclesiasticus and which are called ‘of Solomon’ because of a certain similarity to his books, it is held most certainly that they were written by Jesus Sirach. They must, however, be accounted among the prophetic books, because of the authority which is deservedly accredited to them” (Christian Instruction 2:8:13).

    “We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3).

  • The Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 400 A.D.)

    “Now women also prophesied. Of old, Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron [Ex. 15:20], and after her, Deborah [Judges. 4:4], and after these Huldah [2 Kgs. 22:14] and Judith [Judith 8], the former under Josiah and the latter under Darius” (Apostolic Constitutions 8:2).

    Jerome (ca. 401 A.D.)

    “What sin have I committed if I follow the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating [in my preface to the book of Daniel] the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susannah [Dan. 13], the Song of the Three Children [Dan. 3:29–68, RSV-CE], and the story of Bel and the Dragon [Dan. 14], which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they are wont to make against us. If I did not reply to their views in my preface, in the interest of brevity, lest it seem that I was composing not a preface, but a book, I believe I added promptly the remark, for I said, ‘This is not the time to discuss such matters’” (Against Rufinius 11:33).

  • Pope Innocent I (ca. 408 A.D.)

    “A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the things of which you desired to be informed verbally: of Moses, five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of Judges, one book, of Kings, four books, and also Ruth, of the prophets, sixteen books, of Solomon, five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job, one book, of Tobit, one book, Esther, one, Judith, one, of the Maccabees, two, of Esdras, two, Paralipomenon, two books . . .” (Letters 7).

A Final Word

I don’t want to pile onto Johann Gerhard, as he was arguing from the knowledge that was available at that time, and in support of a Lutheran orthodoxy in which the canonical issues had been settled. Yet it is remarkable how current Gerhard’s arguments are, despite all the knowledge that has accumulated since his time. Evangelical bible scholars, with all the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls right in front of them, behave like the old comedy trope of the policeman standing in front of some remarkable carnage, yet announcing to the assembled crowd: “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.”


Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. “The Canon of Scripture.” BiblicalStudies.org.uk. Edited by Robert I Bradshaw. Religious & Theological Students Fellowship. March 2008. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/canon_bruce.pdf (accessed January 4, 2014).

Gerhard, Johann. On the Nature of Theology and Scripture. Translated by Richard J. Dinda. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.

Lieber, Chavie. “The Other Torah.” Tablet Magazine. May 14, 2013. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/132004/the-other-torah (accessed December 27, 2013).

Tigchelaar, Eiber. “How did the Qumran Scrolls Transform our Views of the Canonical Process?” Lirias: Home Lirias. 2009. https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/253557/3/tigchelaar-canon.doc (accessed January 02, 2014).


[1] This argument does not appear to be widespread among Protestants; at least I can find no independent verification of it.

[2] Ross, Allen. The Sadducees. 2006. https://bible.org/seriespage/sadducees

[3] The primary difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was not the canon itself, but the use to which they put the canon. The Sadducees were strict literalists; it if couldn’t be found in scripture, it wasn’t part of Judaism. By contrast, the Pharisees had a body of tradition which served to enhance or interpret scripture; some of these regulations were extra-scriptural, in that they could not be traced back to scriptural texts. For this reason, the Sadducees rejected the traditions and regulations of the Pharisees. (Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple. IVP Academic. 2002. pp. 109-111)

[4] For example, Baruch 3 can be interpreted as supporting the identification of Wisdom with Christ, especially as regards the Incarnation.

[5] Justin Martyr argues forcefully that the Jews artificially truncated their canon of Scripture to eliminate passages that demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah. (P. Schaff, ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus 1884, Chapters LXXI and LXXII)

John Calvin, the Church, and the Canon

John Calvin

John Calvin

John Calvin, in his argument against the role of the Church in the canonical process, does discuss the role of the Holy Spirit. However, he seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit works in the individual, but not in and through the Church.

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed—viz. that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 74-75)

Calvin then argues that since the apostles and prophets existed prior to the Church, that the inspiration of the Scriptures is intrinsic apart from the Church.

These ravings are admirably refuted by a single expression of an apostle. Paul testifies that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” (Eph. 2:20). If the doctrine of the apostles and prophets is the foundation of the Church, the former must have had its certainty before the latter began to exist. Nor is there any room for the cavil, that though the Church derives her first beginning from thence, it still remains doubtful what writings are to be attributed to the apostles and prophets, until her Judgment is interposed. For if the Christian Church was founded at first on the writings of the prophets, and the preaching of the apostles, that doctrine, wheresoever it may be found, was certainly ascertained and sanctioned antecedently to the Church, since, but for this, the Church herself never could have existed. Nothings therefore can be more absurd than the fiction, that the power of judging Scripture is in the Church, and that on her nod its certainty depends. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 75)

John Calvin is correct that the inspiration of the Scriptures precedes its recognition by the Church. But if the Church’s determination of the canon is invalid, what does John Calvin offer in its place? Why, the Holy Spirit who enlightens the individual believer’s heart.

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own Judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human Judgment, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God. We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our Judgment, but we subject our intellect and Judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.

Such, then, is a conviction which asks not for reasons; such, a knowledge which accords with the highest reason, namely knowledge in which the mind rests more firmly and securely than in any reasons; such in fine, the conviction which revelation from heaven alone can produce. I say nothing more than every believer experiences in himself, though my words fall far short of the reality. I do not dwell on this subject at present, because we will return to it again: only let us now understand that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals on our hearts. (Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 2005, 78-79)

It is curious that John Calvin reason’s his way to a dismissal of human reason, but instead posits some ephemeral, mystical revelation of inspiration to the individual believer. Of course, John Calvin then modifies this by reference to the “children of the renovated Church” made up of the “elect only”, who “shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13). So Calvin’s argument isn’t so much against the Church bearing witness to the canon of Scripture, but to the Roman Catholic Church bearing said witness.

In essence, John Calvin’s predisposition against the Roman Catholic Church colors his view of canonicity. We can break down his argument like this: 1) The Holy Spirit works within His true church. 2) The Roman Catholics do not constitute a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin makes another argument: 1) The Holy Spirit works upon the hearts of the elect. 2) The Roman Catholic Church contains none of the elect. 3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit does not work within the Roman Catholic Church. And finally, with regard to the canon of Scripture: 1) The Holy Spirit works to reveal the canon of Scripture to His Church. 2) The Roman Catholic Church is not a true Church. 3) Therefore, the Roman Catholic canon of Scripture was not revealed by the Holy Spirit.[1]

Bibliography

Calvin, John. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005.

 

 

 


[1] I may not have constructed these syllogisms correctly, but you get the point.

Inspiration and Canonicity

A scroll of the Book of Esther

A scroll of the Book of Esther

Inspiration and Canonicity

The typical Protestant, if he or she were asked, would likely tell you the scriptures contained 66 books. They might even be able to name them. However, the Latins would tell you Sacred Scripture consisted of 77 books, while the Orthodox would say 81. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church would also say 81, but includes a New Testament canon of 35 books and adds additional books to the Old Testament, while numbering them according to the Hebrew scriptures instead of the Septuagint. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is also unusual in having both a narrow canon and a broader canon, although the difference escapes me. (Cowley 1994) And there are other groups, like the Syriac churches and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which have different canonical criteria. (Halnon n.d.) The group Islamic Awareness has an interesting take on problem, entitled “To Every Church a Canon”. Under that heading they produce eight different canons of scripture: the Anglican Church, the Armenian Church, the Coptic Church, the Ethiopian (Abyssinian) Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Protestant Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Syriac Church. (Islamic Awareness n.d.) How curious that it takes the Muslims to inform us the canon of Scripture is not as settled as we like to think.

Canonicity and the Self-Authenticating Scripture

Protestants are told the scriptures are self-authenticating; because the scriptures are God’s word, they have the power to convince us of their truth. This idea is promoted as a means of determining whether a particular book is canonical or not. However plausible this may sound, this is not a useful principle for determining canonicity. The self-authenticating principle can draw one astray into all manner of enthusiasms, allowing an individual or group to determine their own canon of scripture. This was the error of Marcion, who is the first one to devise a Christian canon that “self-authenticated” his preexisting heresies.

The problem is in the nature of canonicity, which is the principle (or principles) by which the scope of the canon is determined. Scholars debate two different approaches: the Community-Canon approach, and the Intrinsic-Canon approach. John C. Peckham defines the Community-Canon as “a collection of books deemed authoritative by a given community”, and the Intrinsic-Canon as “a collection of authoritative books that are authoritative because God commissioned [inspired] them.” (Peckham 2011) Peckham’s explanation of the Intrinsic-Canon approach allows for the community’s recognition of certain texts as authoritative.

Objections to the pure Community-Canon approach include the hostile reaction of the community of faith to the prophets. Even Jeremiah’s writings were not immediately recognized as scripture. John C. Peckham writes: “The biblical concept of a true prophet refers to one divinely authorized to speak for God (Jer 15:19; Acts 3:18, 21).28 There is then, by definition, a divinely appointed authority belonging to true prophets that is thereby inconsistent with the epistemological primacy of the community.” Peckham raises another interesting question: “What Constitutes a Legitimate and/or Adequate Community?” (Peckham 2011) There were various canons circulating in the early church; seemingly each Bishop had his own opinion. And there were different communities of faith which considered themselves Christian, and considered themselves to have the authority to determine canonical issues. Among these was the heretic Marcion, whose canon did not include the Old Testament, and included only some of the New Testament. The Gnostics had a variety of texts that were rejected by the surviving Christian Community.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the Community-Canon approach is that it uses an epistemological[1] criterion (one determined by propositional knowledge) to determine the suitability of a book for inclusion into the canon. If the Biblical canon is a list of authoritative and inspired books compiled by the Christian community, then only the Christian community can recognize and define that list. If, however, canonicity is an epistemic criterion, then individuals and groups can reason their way towards producing different lists. William Abraham describes the key difference between these two views.

The older way was prepared to leave scripture as both a gift of the Holy Spirit and as subject to the ongoing activity of the Spirit without worrying overmuch about epistemology. In my terms, the older way was content to leave scripture as a means of grace. The new fashion was to give primacy to ideas of revelation and inspiration as applying in some unique fashion to the Bible, and to limit scripture to the Bible. (Abraham 1998)

For us to understand this argument, we must discuss the development of an epistemological role in theology — the foundation, source, and validity of revelatory truth. Richard Foley comments: “For the medievals, religious authority and tradition were seen as repositories of wisdom”. According to Foley, it was the enlightenment views of men like Descartes and Locke who “regarded tradition and authority as potential sources of error and took reason to be the corrective”. (Foley 2001, 13) But interestingly, this view did not originate with Locke and Descartes, but has its roots in the writings of Aquinas. William Abraham develops this thesis following this quote from the French theologian Yves Marie Joseph Cardinal Congar, who claims Thomas Aquinas inherited the following crucial assumption from the Middle Ages:

[T]he practice of including the Fathers, the conciliar canons and even the pontifical decrees and (more rarely) the more outstanding treatises of the theologians, in the Scriptura Sacra, or again, without distinguishing, in the divina pagina [interpretation of scripture].[2] This is a practice of long standing; there seems no doubt but that it arises from the Decretum Gelasianum [Gelasian Decree ][3], which …had passed into canonical collections, and into those chapters which dealt with sources and rules. (Abraham 1998, ix)

For William Abraham, and likely with Protestants in general, the implications are quite startling. “‘Scripture’ was not originally confined to the Bible; it had a much wider frame of reference. …What we see emerging in what follows is a quite different range of sense and reference. Over time, Scripture was cut back to apply materially to the Bible; and its primary function lay in that of operating as an authority.” (Abraham 1998, ix) According to Abraham, via Yves Marie Joseph Cardinal Congar, Aquinas was the first to distinguish the authority of the Bible from that of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. (Abraham 1998, x) Thus it was Thomas Aquinas that laid the foundations for the Reformation’s rejection of the Bible as interpreted by the Father’s and the Councils, and in favor of the Bible as interpreted by Reason and Conscience.

As we have spoken unfavorably of the Community-Canon approach, and particularly with its reliance upon human reason and epistemological criteria, we must now consider the Intrinsic Canon approach. If we deal with the two views atomistically, they seem like alternate and opposing approaches. However, we have already noted that the Intrinsic-Canon approach does not preclude the community’s involvement in recognizing that a particular book is authoritative and inspired. Therefore, in practical terms, the two approaches are much the same.

John C. Peckam’s arguments against the Community-Approach apply to the Intrinsic-Canon approach as well. As previously mentioned, Peckham defines the Intrinsic-Canon approach as “a collection of authoritative books that are authoritative because God commissioned [inspired] them.” There is something important missing here: is a book inspired apart from its being part of a collection of authoritative books? Historically speaking, the answer is yes, because we know that it took time after a book was written before the community began to be use and refer to it as Scripture. Moreover, there is a difference between a book’s being useful within a community and a book’s being viewed as inspired Scripture. In nearly every case (with the possible exception of 1 Tim 5:18 and 2 Pet 3:15-16)[4], what the New Testament authors speak of as Scripture is the Old Testament; only rarely do the New Testament books imply the creation of new Scripture, and the implications are unclear.

Moreover, the inclusion of the community into the recognition of an authoritative collection of documents creates another problem: which community, using which criteria? John C. Peckam writes:

If each community is authoritative to determine their own canon, then since mutually exclusive canons of sacred writings are posited by various communities, the “Christian canon” is not authoritative over and against the canon of any other community but is authoritative only within the community or communities that determine and/or recognize it. This amounts to a canonical relativism that is mutually exclusive to a universally authoritative biblical canon (cf. Matt 24:14; 28:19–20; Acts 17:30; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 3:16). (Peckham 2011)

The question of Community-Canon vs. Intrinsic-Canon is an example of Systematic Theology (or Dogmatics) run amock. The church has a long history of organizing its dogma around various themes, but the Western Church has taken this to extremes. The Western way of doing theology, going back further than Aquinas, has been to reason one’s way to the truth. This tendency increased with the onset of the Protestant Reformation which promoted the primacy of reason and the individual conscience as a means of interpreting Scripture. What began as organization around simple themes has developed into uncountable definitions of terms and increasingly complex theological taxonomies. The question of canonicity is part of that pattern.

Canonicity and the Holy Spirit

One thing that is left out of the previous definitions and discussions regarding canonicity is the role of the Holy Spirit in determining and preserving the canon of Scripture. The concept of the self-authenticating role of the Scripture provides no room for God to act. Apart from providing His authority and power to the canon, God appears to have no role in the canonical process.

If we desire to describe the role of the Holy Spirit in the canonical process, how might we begin? With the idea of Inspiration, as described in the Bible. The apostle Peter writes: “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:21). The Holy Ghost is described in the Old Testament as the breath of God; thus comes the idea of inspiration, or “God-breathed”.[5] Of the inspiration of Scripture, the apostle Paul writes:

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Pet 3:14-17)

All scripture is “given by inspiration of God.” It is the spiration or breath of God, the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The function of scripture is to “make us wise unto salvation”, which salvation comes “through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” This aligns well with Christ’s description of the role of the Holy Spirit: “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (Joh 15:26). Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the person and work of Christ Jesus.

Jesus calls the Comforter “the Spirit of Truth” (Joh 14:17) To the Father, Jesus prays: “Thy word is truth” (Joh 17:17). Of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Joh 14:26).

We see from the New Testament that Holy Spirit who inspired the Hebrew Scriptures is the same as the Holy Spirit who works in and through the Church. Jude writes: “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 19-21). From this we understand that those who separate themselves from the Church separate themselves from the Holy Spirit. As they have not the Spirit, they are unable to pray in the Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, works in and through the Church, which is Christ’s body, just as He works in and through the Scriptures.

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy of the Church: “These things write I unto thee, …that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 14-15). The “church of the living God” is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” We need to unpack this a bit. The pillar and ground both refer to the metaphor of the church as a building made up of living stones, with Christ as the cornerstone and the apostles as the foundation (1 Pet 2:5-7; Eph 2:20). The ground should be understood as providing stability; it does not shift, causing the edifice to collapse (Mat 7:24-27). The ground also refers to the “good ground” that brings forth much fruit (Mat 13:23). (The role of a pillar is to hold up and support the roof, and refers to God’s “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).

Returning to the subject of canonicity, we see the Holy Spirit working in and through the Scripture (the Intrinsic-Canon), just as we see the Holy Spirit working in and through the Church (the Community-Canon). These two explanations of canonicity are not mutually exclusive, but neither makes any sense apart from the Holy Spirit. And how does the Holy Spirit work through Scripture and the Church to produce and maintain the canon? It’s a mystery.

The work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. We can’t define it, we can’t categorize it, and we can’t explain it. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (Joh 3:8). When we try to define, categorize, and explain canonicity apart from the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we are raising human reason to a place of primacy. We are telling God how to do His job. If the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, our job is simply to plug into the truth and let the Holy Spirit do His work without interference from us.

 

Bibliography

Abraham, William J. Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Cowley, R. W. “The Biblical Canon Of The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Today.” Islamic Awareness. 1994. http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ethiopican.html (accessed December 23, 2008).

Foley, Richard. Intellectual Trust in Oneself and Others. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Halnon, Dennis. “Early Christian History.” The Reality of the Biblical Canon. n.d. http://www.earlychristianhistory.info/canon.html (accessed December 23, 2008).

Islamic Awareness. “Canon of the Bible.” Islamic Awareness. n.d. http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ (accessed December 23, 2008).

Peckham, John C. “Intrinsic Canonicity and the Inadequacy of the Community Approach to Canon-Determination.” Themelios 36, no. 2 (August 2011): 203-215.

 

 

 


[1] Epistomology is a philosophical concept having to do with the foundation, scope, and validity of knowledge.

[2] Divina pagina refers to the interpretation of Scripture, (McGinn 1998, 127) and is one of the three early medieval terms used for theology, the other two being sacra doctrina and sacra scriptura (Fiorenza 1991)

[3] Tradition attributes the Decretum Gelasianum [Gelasian Decree ] to Pope Gelasius I, who was Pope from 492-496. The second part of the Decretum Gelasianum is a list of canonical scriptures. The list includes the Old Testament Scriptures which the Protestants consider to be Apocryphal, and the entire New Testament with the exception of 2 Corinthians. The third part discusses the authority of the Bishop of Rome. The fourth part makes the ecumenical councils authoritative and receives the works of a number of the church fathers. Finally, the fifth part contains a list of books compiled or recognized by heretics and schismatics, works which are not received by the church. It is possible that the list of Apocryphal books represents a tradition that can be traced back to Pope Gelasius, but was not actually written by him.

[4] What Peter refers to as “other scriptures” clearly refers to the Old Testament. It is not certain that Peter intends to place Paul’s writings into that category, although this is implied. Nor does Peter say which of Paul’s many epistles were to be considered as Scripture; we know that Paul wrote more letters than just the ones preserved in the New Testament. And just because Peter may have considered Paul’s writings to be Scripture does not mean they were part of the community’s “collection of authoritative books”. Nevertheless, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield makes a cogent argument that Peter was indeed declaring Paul’s epistles to be Scripture. It should be noted that Warfield is in error when he says Paul authenticates Luke’s Gospel; he could just as easily have been authenticating Matthew’s Gospel. Compare Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7, & 1 Timothy 5:18. Also Paul could have been referring only to his first quote from Proverbs as Scripture, as the second quote is little more than the explanation of the first. (Warfield 1882)

[5] Ruach Elohim (Spirit or Breath of God)

Theological issues resolved in the Deuterocanonical Books

Icon of Job the Patriarch

Job the Patriarch

If God is all-powerful, why does evil exist? This is a question that is never directly addressed in the Protestant scriptures. Closely related to the problem of evil is the existence of suffering. On this lesser question the Protestant scriptures do have something to say, although the answer must be teased out. Yet on the larger and more important question of the existence of evil, the Protestant scriptures are silent.

So why do the righteous suffer? The entire book of Job has this as its theme, but does not have a completely satisfactory answer (from our perspective, of course). Ultimately the answer of God to Job comes down to this: “Then the Lord answered Job …Who is this…? Where wast thou…? Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days…? Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? …Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all” (Job 38 2-3, 12, 17-18). What God is saying through Job to us is this: Who do you think you are to even ask that question? After which Job abhors himself and repents (Job 42:6). But God does not leave the question there, as we shall see.

The story of Joseph is instructive on this question. Joseph was the then youngest and most beloved son of his father, who because of the jealousy of his brothers was sold into slavery in Egypt. There he suffered greatly before rising to a position of great power and authority. Many years later, during a famine where his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph revealed himself to them and said: ” But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). And so we see that God allowed Joseph to suffer evil and brought good from it. This is not a situation of God using evil to do good, or even requiring the existence of evil to do good, but rather that although evil exists, God works in the midst of it. Ultimately, however, this does not resolve the main question of why evil exists in the first place.

The corollary to the question of why the righteous suffer is this: Why do the wicked prosper? (Jer 12:1). This question, asked of Jeremiah, finds a partial answer when God pronounces judgment upon those who “touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit. Behold, I will pluck them out of their land…” Jer 12:14. The issue for Jeremiah is the prosperity of wicked Judah, and the prosperity of those who would soon take them into captivity for their many sins.

Because of their sins the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God to judge His people (Hab 1:2-4). When the impending captivity by the Babylonians is revealed to the prophet, he is distraught because the Chaldeans are worse. How can a holy God use that evil nation to punish His chosen people? (Hab 1:13). Interestingly, God does not answer Habakkuk’s question at all. Instead, God pronounces five woes—not only upon the Babylonians, and not only upon Judah, but upon all sinners—for usury & greed (Hab 2:6); coveteousness & pride (Hab 2:9); wrath & murder (Hab 2:12); drunkenness and lust (Hab 2:15); and idolatry (Hab 2:19). Connected to these woes are three pronouncements about God and His people.

The first pronouncement is that the just shall live by his faith (Hab 2:4). That this comes first, even before any of the woes, is significant. It suggests the just live by faith even when evil proliferates, when evil men prosper, and when the righteous suffer. When God pronounces the second woe upon those who build a town by blood and iniquity, He then suggests that the people weary themselves in vain, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14). This brings us out of the consideration of our own troubles. It suggests the apocalyptic end of all evil and the eschatological hope. But God does not suggest all judgment is reserved until the end of time; no, for we finally come to the third woe: “the cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory” (Hab 2:16). But finally the answer to Habakkuk is the same as that given to Job: “[T]he Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).

Asaph too asked this question. In Psalm 73 he says he “was envious at the foolish when he saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psa 73:3). He describes their strength, their prosperity, their pride and violence, their corruption and oppression, and the way they speak out against God and abuse His people. He is so cast down that he begins to think he has “cleansed his heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psa 73:13-14). In great pain and turmoil of soil he comes into the sanctuary, where he finally understands. In light of eternity, the wicked have been set “in slippery places”. This indicates they are about to slip; but then Asaph notes that God has already cast them down into destruction (Psa 73:18). In temporal terms they are about to slip; but in light of eternity they have already been condemned, and “brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors” (Psa 73:19). In light of eternity, Asaph sees he has been ignorant, and his doubts have been foolish. “I am continually with thee: thou has holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa 73:23-24).

Regarding the existence of evil, what in the Protestant scriptures must be painstakingly drawn out is made clear in the Deuterocanonical books. “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it” (Wis 2:23-24). And again: “It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, Because they deserve to be in its possession” (Wis 1:16). And so the problem of evil is clearly explained: sin entered into the world, and death by sin, by means of the devil. Moreover those who are in the grips of the devil are subject to death, deserve death, choose death, pined for death, and made a covenant with death. Thus, although the devil is the source of sin and death, of evil and suffering, mankind chooses death and suffering over life and righteousness.

Now regarding the suffering of the righteous, once again the Apocrypha have an answer. It is the same answer that can be teased out of the Protestant scriptures, but is here made clear and plain, as seen in this excerpt from a much longer dissertation on the hidden counsels of God, regarding suffering, childlessness, and early death.

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. (Wis 3:1-5)

Without what the Protestants call the Apocrypha, and what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books, the scriptures are veiled.

What Have we Learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls?

What Have We Learned From The Dead Sea Scrolls?

Between 1946 and 1952, what became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves near the ancient settlement of Qumran. Since then scholars have differed as to their importance. Many years ago, I asked a bible scholar what we had learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls. His answer? “We learned that we didn’t need them.” By this he meant that the Dead Sea Scrolls had confirmed everything conservative bible scholars had been saying about the reliability and inerrancy of scripture. He was wrong.

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars now had a group of texts that were a thousand years older than the existing Masoretic texts, which date from the 9th and 10th centuries. On the one hand, these texts were passed on relatively unchanged around the time of Christ. However, some theological conservatives — such as Will Varner, writing for ChristianAnswers.net — draw unwarranted conclusions. Varner writes:

Here is a strong example of the tender care which the Jewish scribes down through the centuries took in an effort to accurately copy the sacred Scriptures. We can have confidence that our Old Testament Scriptures faithfully represent the words given to Moses, David and the prophets.[1]

The problem with this is that Moses lived approximately 1100 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. The claim that the scriptures changed little between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic texts provides us no insight into the potential for the development or alteration of the texts in the centuries prior to the coming of Christ. Moreover, the claim that there was little change between the extant Masoretic texts and the texts of the Dead Sea scrolls is just wrong.

Most importantly, the Dead Sea Scrolls were unpointed texts. The ancient Hebrew texts did not contain the vowel points, and had no spacing between the letters. When the Masorites did their work, they added vowel pointing and word spacing, fixing a particular interpretation of the text. The 18th Century Anglican Scholar Adam Clarke, in the Preface to Volume 1 of his Commentary on the Whole Bible, writes the following:

The Mazoretes were the most extensive Jewish Commentators which that nation could ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points, and prosaic and metrical accents, give every word to which they are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state, multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone, add whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the subject of a particular gloss, through its influence.[2]

It should be noted that the Hebrew word from which is derived the term Masoretes, mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת), is a reference to tradition; specifically, the transmission of a tradition. Therefore, the Masoretic text should be understood as fixing a particular understanding of scripture, a particular strain of Jewish thought.

Moreover, it is not just the addition of vowel points and word spacing that differentiates the Masoretic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but that entire texts have been changed. The Book of Psalms, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is quite different, including a number of psalms missing from both the Masoretic text and the LXX.[3] The book of Jeremiah is quite different, and agrees with the Septuagint instead of the Masoretic text. Karel Van Der Toorn, in his book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, writes:

Biblical scholars have long been aware of the fact that the Greek translation of Jeremiah as extant in the Septuagint is shorter by one-seventh than the text in the Hebrew Bible. Its arrangement of the material, moreover, differs at some points from that in the Hebrew text. The most striking instance is the position of the Oracles against the Nations. Whereas the Septuagint places them right after 25:13 (“ And I will bring upon that land all that I have decreed against it, all that is recorded in this book — that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations”), the Hebrew Bible has them at the end of the book (Chapters 46-51). The discoveries in the Judean Desert have yielded a fragment of a Hebrew version of Jeremiah (4QJerb) that agrees with the Septuagint (henceforth JerLXX) against the Hebrew text known from the Masoretic tradition (Henceforth JerMT). Based on this fragment, scholars have concluded that the Greek translation goes back to a Hebrew text of Jeremiah that differs in important respects from the Hebrew Bible. The differences between JerMT and JerLXX are such that they cannot be attributed to scribal errors in the process of transmission. Nor can the Hebrew vorlage[4] of the Septuagint be interpreted as an abbreviated version of the book. In view of their different placement of the Oracles against the Nations, JerMT and JerLXX represent two different editions of the same book. Chronologically, the edition reflected in JerLXX  precedes the one extant in JerMT.[5]

Lawrence Boadt, in his book Reading the Old Testament, confirms this. He writes:

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in text copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: The Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. …Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

These first century rabbis also inaugurated a method of guaranteeing the text from any more glosses and additions, though not completely from copying errors. They counted words, syllables, and sections, and wrote the totals at the end of each book of the Old Testament. …The standard Hebrew text that resulted from the decisions of these early rabbis has become known as the “Masoretic text,” named after a later group of Jewish scholars of the eighth to eleventh centuries A.D., the masoretes, or “interpreters,” who put vowels into the text, and thus “Fixed the words in a definitive form. No longer could a reader be confused by whether the word qtl in the text meant qotel, “the killer,” or qatal, “he killed.”[6]

The problem is this. The 1st century rabbis fixed the text in a form significantly different than that used by the Jewish diaspora for several hundred years. This was a radical emendation of the text which, when coupled by the Masoretic vowel pointing, fixed the interpretation of the text. Thus it is clear that as Judaism underwent substantial changes subsequent to the destruction of the temple, so too did the text used as the basis for their faith.

Additionally, we learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was quite fluid in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem.[7] Judaism is now understood to have been much more diverse in the time of Christ than it was to become. The Samaritans held that only the five books of Moses were scripture, although their version of the first five books of Moses were slightly different.[8] It has been widely (although not universally) understood that the Sadducees considered only the first five books of Moses to be scripture.[9] This view was prevalent among some of the church fathers, but modern scholars think the fathers were conflating the Samaritans and the Sadducees.[10] If the latest scholarship is correct, the canon for both the Sadducees and Pharisees covered what we know today as the Hebrew Scriptures, aka. the Old Testament. The Diaspora, sometimes called the Hellenists, used the Septuagint (LXX) in their synagogues. The canon of the LXX was quite fluid, containing numerous books written after the time of Ezra. The Essenes appear to have used the Septuagint canon, with the possible exception of the book of Esther.[11]

So what does this all mean? Well for one thing, the Dead Sea Scrolls have exposed the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures changed over time, thus calling into question the 20th century theological innovation known as inerrancy. Moreover, the Dead Sea Scrolls have called into question the validity and veracity of the Masoretic text, being examples of the Septuagint textual tradition. This, the Dead Sea Scrolls call into question all translations based upon the Masoretic text.[12] Perhaps this is why conservative evangelical scholars will still tell you that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not needed; to admit otherwise would call into question their entire theological paradigm.

 


[1] Arnett, Will. What is the Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls? 1997. http://christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a023.html

[2] Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Volume 1. 1853. p. iii

[3] Sanders, J. A. Psalms Scroll: Tehillim. http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/deadsea.scrolls.exhibit/Library/psalms.html

[4] Vorlage: a prior version of a text under consideration.

[5] Van der Toorn, Karel. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible.  2007. pp. 199-200

[6] Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. 1984. pp. 73-74

[7] Tigchelaar, Eibert. How did the Qumran Scrolls Transform our Views of the Canonical Process? 2009. https:// lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/253557/3/tigchelaar-canon.doc

[8] Wikipedia. Samaritan Pentateuch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_Pentateuch

[9] Ross, Allen. The Sadducees. 2006. https://bible.org/seriespage/sadducees

[10] The primary difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was not the canon itself, but the use to which they put the canon. The Sadducees were strict literalists; it if couldn’t be found in scripture, it wasn’t part of Judaism. By contrast, the Pharisees had a body of tradition which served to enhance or interpret scripture; some of these regulations were extra-scriptural, in that they could not be traced back to scriptural texts. For this reason, the Sadducees rejected the traditions and regulations of the Pharisees. (Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple. IVP Academic. 2002. pp. 109-111)

[11] This is the popular view, based on archeological digs by a Dominican monk named Roland de Vaux, as interpreted through the translation (by a Polish scholar named Jozef Milik) of a scroll called “The Rule of the Community”. Roland de Vaux’s views were widely accepted in the academic community in the 1970s, and fired the popular imagination. More recent archeology has cast doubt upon the identification of the Qumran community with the Essenes, and suggests that the texts hidden away in the caves of Qumran were deposited by Jews in anticipation of the Roman’s capture of Jerusalem. This view is bolstered by the inclusion of a copper scroll comprising a list of possible second temple treasures hidden away in anticipation of the Roman advance. (Lawler, Andrew. Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? 2010. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Who-Wrote-the-Dead-Sea-Scrolls.html)

[12] I do not say that the Masoretic text is not Scripture; merely that it is not the best available text of scripture. A text need not be perfect to be inspired. Inspiration, as testified to by Sacred Scripture, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness. Clearly the Masoretic text meets that benchmark.

Punctuation, Vowel Pointing, and Lower Criticism

The Divine Name in unpointed Hebrew

The Divine Name in unpointed Hebrew

Punctuation can change the entire meaning of a text. We tend to think of the punctuation of our English texts as part of the text, rather than a commentary or gloss on the text. However, the original texts had no punctuation, no separation between words, and (in the case of Hebrew) no vowels. The problem of punctuating scripture is well known, as illustrated by Lynn Truss in her book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

For example, as Cecil Hartley pointed out in his 1818 ‘Principles of Punctuation: or, The Art of Pointing’, consider the following:

                “Verily, I say unto thee, This day Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

and:

                “Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret this passage, (Luke xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were), and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it. Similarly, it is argued that the Authorised Version of the Bible (and by extension Handel’s Messiah), misleads on the true interpretation of Isaiah xl, 3. Again, consider the difference:

                “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

and:

                “The voice of him that crieth: in the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

Also:

                “Comfort ye my people”
                (please go out and comfort my people)

And

                “Comfort ye, my people”
                (just cheer up, you lot: it might never happen)

Of course, if Hebrew or any of the other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), two thousand years of scriptural exegesis need never have happened, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air. (Truss 2006, 74-75)

It should be noted that our English punctuation may be based upon a best approximation of the mood or case of the original language. The meaning can also be determined from the context. For example:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isa 40:1-5)

From the context alone it should be clear that the second of Lynne Truss’ suggested punctuations is incorrect. The passage is not telling people to cheer up because something bad might not happen, but is stating that the people should be comforted, that their iniquity has been pardoned, that the Lord is coming, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Moreover, none of the Catholic bibles I’ve read (Douay-Rheims and the New American Bible) punctuate the Luke 23:43 passage the way Lynne Truss suggests it can be punctuated.

Nevertheless, the point is valid; the punctuation is not in the original. Likewise, the chapter and verse divisions are also not in the original text. They are artificial devices, serving in some manner as a gloss or commentary on the text. (“Verse” Article, Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature 1880) The same argument can and has been made regarding the separation of the text into individual words, and the addition of vowel points to the Hebrew. The 18th Century Anglican Scholar Adam Clarke, in the Preface to Volume 1 of his Commentary on the Whole Bible, writes the following:

The Mazoretes were the most extensive Jewish Commentators which that nation could ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points, and prosaic and metrical accents, give every word to which they are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state, multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone, add whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the subject of a particular gloss, through its influence. (Clarke 1853, iii)

It should be noted that the Hebrew word mesorah (מסורה, alt. מסורת) is a reference to tradition; specifically, the transmission of a tradition. Therefore, the Masoretic text should be understood as fixing a particular understanding of scripture, a particular strain of Jewish thought.

Karel Van Der Toorn, in his book Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, writes:

Biblical scholars have long been aware of the fact that the Greek translation of Jeremiah as extant in the Septuagint is shorter by one-seventh than the text in the Hebrew Bible. Its arrangement of the material, moreover, differs at some points from that in the Hebrew text. The most striking instance is the position of the Oracles against the Nations. Whereas the Septuagin places them right after 25:13 (“ And I will bring upon that land all that I have decreed against it, all that is recorded in this book — that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations”), the Hebrew Bible has them at the end of the book (Chapters 46-51). The discoveries in the Judean Desert have yielded a fragment of a Hebrew version of Jeremiah (4QJerb) that agrees with the Septuagint (henceforth JerLXX) against the Hebrew text known from the Masoretic tradition (Henceforth JerMT). Based on this fragment, scholars have concluded that the Greek translation goes back to a Hebrew test of Jeremiah that differs in important respects from the Hebrew Bible. The differences between JerMT and JerLXX are such that they cannot be attributed to scribal errors in the process of transmission. Nor can the Hebrew vorlage[i] of the Septuagint be interpreted as an abbreviated version of the book. In view of their different placement of the Oracles against the Nations, JerMT and JerLXX represent two different editions of the same book. Chronologicall, the edition reflected in JerLXX  precedes the one extant in JerMT. (Toorn 2007, 199-200)

Lawrence Boadt, in his book Reading the Old Testament, confirms this. He writes:

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in text copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: The Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. …Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets  Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

These first century rabbis also inaugurated a method of guaranteeing the text from any more glosses and additions, though not completely from copying errors. They counted words, syllables, and sections, and wrote the totals at the end of each book of the Old Testament. …The standard Hebrew text that resulted from the decisions of these early rabbis has become known as the “Masoretic text,” named after a later group of Jewish scholars of the eighth to eleventh centuries A.D., the masoretes, or “interpreters,” who put vowels into the text, and thus “Fixed the words in a definitive form. No longer could a reader be confused by whether the word qtl in the text meant qotel, “the killer,” or qatal, “he killed.”

The problem is this. The 1st century rabbis fixed the text in a form significantly different than that used by the Jewish diaspora for several hundred years. This was a radical emendation of the text which, when coupled by the Masoretic vowel pointing, fixed the interpretation of the text. Thus it is clear that as Judaism underwent substantial changes subsequent to the destruction of the temple, so too did the text used as the basis for their faith.

From this description of Masoretic textual development, you may well argue that any translation would be an interpretation of the text, and you would be correct. Hebrew is a very different language than Greek, reflecting a very different mindset. Hebrew is a language of actions, a language of concrete things. By contrast, Greek is a language that allows for and indeed almost requires a degree of abstraction. Thus when the 70 (or so) Jewish scholars in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (thereby creating the Septuagint), they were converting one mindset and worldview into a language best suited for a very different mindset and worldview, thereby fixing a particular reading and interpretation of the text. It is important to note that the Septuagint was the text used by the Jewish diaspora until the 2nd century A.D. (or CE, for the scholarly inclined); thus this interpretation and text was widely accepted as representing Judaic thought.

The Septuagint was initially completed in the 3rd century B.C. (or BCE), and initially consisted of only the first five books of Moses (the Torah, or Pentateuch.) Further books were added to the Septuagint over the next three centuries; most of them are translations from the Hebrew Scriptures, containing the books in the Protestant Old Testament. Other books were written during what Protestants call the intertestamental period and added to the Septuagint; some of these books were originally written in Hebrew and translated into Greek, while others appear to have been written in Greek. The Septuagint (which is best understood as a loose collection of scrolls rather than a single book) was the authoritative text of the Hebrew Scriptures for several hundred years, well into the Christian era, reflecting a post-exilic, pre-Christian interpretation of Scripture. By contrast, the Masoretic text reflects the rabbinic interpretation of scripture, one hostile to Christianity, and which is at least partially derived from the traditions of the Pharisees.

The growth of Christianity after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ caused a great problem for the Jews. As Oskar Skarsaune notes, “while Judaism was a religio licita, a recognized religion, Christianity was not.” (Skarsaune 2002, 265) The status of the Jews was “vulnerable and fragile”, but nevertheless secured by imperial decree. At first Christianity was viewed as just one of many Jewish sects, covered under imperial decree. It could be argued that Jewish objections to sharing their status led to the persecution of Christians. One notable and early example of this is found in the account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp, where “the multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods.” (P. Schaff, ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus 1884, 70-71) The careful reader will note the resemblance between this account and of Jesus before Pontius Pilate (Luke 23).

One difficulty for the Jews was the new and radically different interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Oskar Skarsaune describes it this way.

In this battle, the Christians were by all objective standards the underdogs. One should keep this in mind when one reads the many harsh and derogatory remarks about the rabbis and rabbinic theology and exegesis in the Christian writers of the second century. Many of the church fathers betray an awareness that the rabbis far excelled them in biblical scholarship; and in later centuries Origin and Jerome were to seek Jewish instructors in order to read the Old Testament in the original text and to understand it better. In the eyes of the Christians, Judaism was not only the elder brother, Judaism was also the mightier and the more learned brother — which no doubt corresponded to the objective facts.

The only thing the Christians had to set against this scholarly superiority was their basic conviction that the rabbis had nevertheless failed to recognize the Messiah when he came, and that therefore their scholarship was combined with a fundamental blindness with regard to the meaning of the Scriptures. What a man like Justin Martyr has to set against rabbinic scholarship is not superior scholarship, but something Justin calls “the grace to understand”. (Skarsaune 2002, 266)

The rabbis held the Christians in disdain because they failed to recognize and acknowledge their superior scholarship and accept their interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Christians held the rabbis in disdain because they had failed to recognize the Christ when He came, thereby calling their scholastic interpretive tradition into question.

After the Masorites completed their work, the Masorites made the decision to destroy the older, alternative, non-Masoretic texts. This fixed the Masoretic interpretation of scripture, ensuring that it alone would survive. This was aided by the Jewish insistence that old and worn out scriptures be destroyed (while Christians, having no such tradition, maintained their older texts.) Thus we have little manuscript evidence of the Hebrew scriptures predating the Masoretic texts, while we have a wealth of textual evidence for the Septuagint. What textual evidence we do have supports the idea that the Septuagint represents the older and more accurate text.

The history of the Masoretic text, combined with its known and relatively obvious gloss on the Hebrew text makes it curious that this text is the preferred text for Protestant translations.

Bibliography

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 1. 6 vols. New York: Ezra Sargeant, 1853.

Schaff, Philip. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1884.

Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002.

Toorn, Karel van der. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2006.



[i] Vorlage: a prior version of a text under consideration.