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.

Are the Apocrypha Cited As Scripture?

Judah Maccabee as depicted in an 1860 illustrated Bible

Judah Maccabee as depicted in an 1860 illustrated Bible

Using Merril C. Tenny’s definition of a citation as being “almost exact verbally and which are definitely referred to a given author”, there are virtually no direct citations of the Old Testament Apocrypha in the New Testament.[1] Many quotations, but no citations. This is not really a problem, for the New Testament quotes and alludes to the Old Testament often, but cites rarely. The New Testament was written by people with such familiarity with the Old Testament scriptures that they evidently did not feel the need to give exact citations. Moreover, the writers of the New Testament were not preparing academic papers, and the Chicago Manual of Style did not exist. So they used quotations and allusions freely, assuming a degree of scriptural familiarity on the part of their readers.

Jude is one of two books that cites a source outside the Protestant canon.

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 1:14-15)

This citation of the book of Enoch was one reason why the canonicity of Jude was a matter of dispute among the early church. In the fifth century, the Syriac Church settled on a 22 book canon that does not contain the book of Jude, along with other disputed books (II Peter, II & III John, and Revelation.)[2]This canon is still in use today among the Nestorians.

The books of James and Romans also cite a source outside the Protestant canon. The citation from James is particularly compelling.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:21-23)

James cites as scripture a passage found in the first book of Maccabees. “Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness?” (1 Macc 2:52) This is a direct quotation, which should put to rest the Protestant argument against their being no quotations from the Apocrypha that cite them as Scripture. The apostle Paul also cites the same passage from 1 Maccabees in his extended argument regarding Abraham’s faith. (Rom 4:13-22)

Game, set, match.


Endnotes

[1] (Tenney 1963, 301)

[2] (Lieuwen, The Emergence of the New Testament Canon 1995)


Bibliography

Lieuwen, Daniel F. “The Emergence of the New Testament Canon.” St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney (Dallas area) Texas. 1995. http://www.orthodox.net/faq/canon.htm#267 (accessed January 15, 2014).

Tenney, Merrill C. “The Old Testament and the Fourth Gospel.” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary), no. 120 (October 1963): 300-308.

The Septuagint and the Canon

Psalm 90 from the Septuagint

Psalm 90 from the Septuagint

The Septuagint is a version of the Hebrew Scriptures that was translated into Greek. At a minimum, the Pentateuch (also known as the five books of Moses), were translated sometime between 285-240 BC, and for sure the rest of the books were translated by 130 BC.  (Gentry 2009, 24) This translation was in widespread use among the Jewish diaspora, who for the most part no longer spoke Hebrew. Even in the Holy Land, most people spoke Greek and Aramaic instead of Hebrew, so the Septuagint was in use even in Jerusalem.

Many people find it curious that when the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, the quotations often don’t match. The reason is that the Masoretic Text, which is the primary source material for English language translations, did not exist at the time of Christ. It is possible to trace the Masoretic Text back to some text contained within the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the Masoretic Text itself is an edited text, a fixation of a particular strain of Jewish interpretation.  (Clarke 1833, iii)

The Septuagint was the Bible for the earliest Christians. This presents all manner of difficulties for conservative Protestants, who have a marked preference for the Masoretic Text, and a formal, literal, word for word translation. The Septuagint, by contrast, represents a grab bag of translation techniques. Bruce Metzger informs us the translators “avoided literalistic renderings of phrases congenial to another age and another language.” (Metzger 2001, Kindle Locations 266-267) Peter J. Gentry, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, describes the translation styles as follows.

Individual books [of the Septuagint] vary in character and quality of translation and exhibit a full spectrum from extreme formal correspondence and literal translation to dynamic and functional translation and even paraphrase. (Gentry 2009, 24)

We therefore have to deal with the fact that the early church, and indeed Christ Himself, used a bible that not only was based on different texts than ours, but was translated using a variety of methods that would not pass muster with most people today. And yet, the Septuagint was referred to by the New Testament writers as Scripture, and was the Bible for the early church.

When I was still a Lutheran, I raised the question of why we didn’t use the Septuagint instead of using the Masoretic text as the basis for our Bible — to which one pastor replied: “Which Septuagint?” Not a bad question, since the Septuagint is not a book in the modern sense, but instead an amorphous collection of scrolls. (In this way it is similar to the Hebrew Scriptures, which also consisted of a similar collection of scrolls.) In fact, given the rather fluid condition of Judaism at the time of Christ, it can be argued that until the destruction of Jerusalem, Judaism existed in multiple sects, using multiple and somewhat undefined canons. Instead of asking “Which Septuagint”, one might as well ask “Which Bible”, as even today there are multiple canons in use amongst the different Christian communities.


Bibliography

Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible: containing the Old and New Testaments, with a commentary and critical notes. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition. Vol. I. New York: B. Waugh and T. Maxon, 1833.

Gentry, Peter J. “The Text of the Old Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological 52, no. 1 (2009): 19-45.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Bible in Translation. Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2001.

 

 

The Development of the NT Canon

The Supposed Timeline of the New Testament Canon

The Supposed Timeline of the New Testament Canon

The modern conception of canon as a list first began with the dispute between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, each of whom made the issue of the canon part of their dispute. But as there has never been a Reformation among the Orthodox, the issues of canon and canonicity are of no dogmatic importance in the East. Any splits among the Orthodox, including the Great Schism between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, were about Christology, not the Canon; each collection of authoritative writings arose by common consent among the different groups, rather than as part of a formal dogmatic stance.

The Ecumenical Councils were generally uninterested in the issues of canon and canonicity. Dr. Constantinou writes:

By that time, certain books were unquestioned, while most apocryphal works were recognized as such and universally rejected. But individual churches and bishops exercised their own discretion among disputed works. Clearly the issue was not resolved at Nicea because no pressing need to create a definitive canon was perceived: the question of the canon was simply not a divisive issue. This lack of concern among the participants of the Nicene council with respect to the canon indicates that opinions about the canon were not essentially dogmatic. Two persons could disagree about the canon and both could be entirely orthodox in doctrine. (Constantinou 2008, 38)

So how were the limits of our current canon determined? Initially, while Christian writings were shared between the churches, the title of Scripture was reserved only for the Old Testament, while the boundaries of the Old Testament were somewhat undefined. (McDonald 2007, 22) Dr. Eugenia Constantinou writes:

Until the end of the second century, the term “Scriptures,” referred exclusively to the Jewish scriptures. Just as they had been the sole Scriptures for Christ and the apostles they remained the only Holy Scripture of the Church for many decades. Christ himself had quoted them, appealed to them, interpreted them and, most of all, fulfilled them. The Law and the Prophets had been normative for so long that it was difficult to conceive of any other writings achieving such high status. Although it appears that Christian documents were read within the context of Christian worship services by the early second century, another hundred years passed before they were recognized as possessing a level of authority that placed them on par with the Old Testament. (Constantinou 2008, 32)

Over time, certain writings from the New Testament period were considered to be Scripture by various churches, but sometimes that status was granted and then taken away. Lee McDonald writes:

When a particular writing was acknowledged by a religious community to be divinely inspired and authoritative, it was elevated to the status of Scripture, even if the writing was not yet called “Scripture” and even if that status was only temporary. For example, the noncanonical writings Eldad and Modad, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, and the letters of Ignatius were initially given this status in the church, but in time that practice ceased. There was limited discussion or agreement in the early church on such matters, and in the first two centuries only selective agreement on books acknowledged as Scripture took place. (McDonald 2007, 23-24)

Even the four Gospels were not considered to be Scripture, on par with the Old Testament, until the end of the 2nd Century. Evidence for this is shown by the heretic Marcion, who rejected the gospels with the exception of Luke, and who produced a redacted version of Luke. Then there was Tatian the Assyrian, whose Diatesseron harmonized the four gospels into a single book, a book which replaced the four Gospels in the Syriac churches until the 5th century. Eusebious reports that Tatian also attempted to rewrite the gospels, which itself is a testament to their not being considered on par with Scripture. (Constantinou 2008, 32-35)

The canon of Scripture gradually coalesced around a common core of books, but a number of books remained in dispute, with different bishops and regional councils weighing in on the issue. Constantinou writes:

It can only be said that by the end of the fourth century a consensus existed in both the East and West for the core of the canon: our present fourfold gospel corpus, Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of PauL, 1 John and 1 Peter. However, Hebrews, James, 2 and 3 John, Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation remained disputed at least to the extent that they were not universally accepted. (Constantinou 2008, 39)

The Book of Revelation is unique among the New Testament books, both for its claim to divine inspiration, and to its strange canonical history. In the 2nd century, Revelation was widely accepted as authoritative on the basis of its authorship and apostolicity; however, by the 4th century it had fallen out of favor — primarily because of the influence of the Montanist heresy. Constantinou writes:

Montanist prophecy was primarily eschatological in orientation. The message contained chiliastic and apocalyptic expectations which were associated with the Revelation of John, such the promise of a New Jerusalem. The three prophets proclaimed the imminent coming of the end of the world and professed to be the divinely appointed agents sent to warn Christians that the second coming of Christ was at hand. (Constantinou 2008, 65)

The Montanist heresy was so pervasive as to have drawn away the founder of Latin Christianity, Tertullian. The response to the Montanists was an attempt to discredit the writings that had been used by the Montanists — in particular, the Book of Revelation. (Constantinou 2008, 68-71)

Another reason why Revelation lost its canonical appeal was that the symbolism was mysterious and no longer understood. Revelation was written to the seven churches of Asia Minor, who presumably understood its cryptic imagery due to their familiarity with the author. But later generations did not have that intimate connection with the author’s meaning, and it was easily misinterpreted. In addition, the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation arose from a Jewish apocalyptic tradition, a tradition which was foreign to the increasingly gentile Church. (Constantinou 2008, 72-73)

Around 332 A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine the Great commissioned Eusebius to provide fifty copies of the scriptures for the churches in Constantinople. Unfortunately, none of these copies exist today, and Eusebius does not tell us which books were included. Some authorities contend they only contained the gospels; others think they would have contained only the books Eusebius considered canonical, which would have excluded the book of Revelation. (Constantinou 2008, 92) F. F. Bruce believes it would have contained our current 27 book canon, including Revelation. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture 2010, 204) However, Bruce fails to mention that the canonicity of Hebrews was disputed in the west (due to its unknown author) for at least another hundred years. (Constantinou 2008, 92) Moreover, Bruce fails to provide convincing evidence for the inclusion of the Revelation, supposing that it would have been included because emperor Constantine the Great used its imagery as “imperial propaganda.” (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture 2010, 204) However, since the Byzantine lectionary (or cycle of bible readings) dates to the 4th century and did not include the book of Revelation, an argument can be made for its not being part of the bibles produced by Eusebius.

Some point to the works such as the Synod of Laodicea (363 A.D.), the festal letter of Athanasius (367 A.D.), or the Third Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) as evidence that the canon of the New Testament was closed, when in fact what this shows is the matter was in some dispute, leading various bishops and regional councils to weigh in on the issue. The Council of Trullo (692 A.D.), known as the Quinisext Ecumenical Council, ratified the conflicting canons of the previous councils and apostolic fathers, yet failed to settle the issue. Eugenia Constantinou writes:

With regard to the canon of Scripture, rather than creating clarification, the Council of Trullo only compounded the confusion. The question of the New Testament canon of the East remained hopelessly muddled and even contradictory because the Quinisext synod did not compose its own list of canonical Scripture but only ratified earlier decisions, ignoring the fact that the canons of Scripture enumerated by earlier councils and various Fathers were not in agreement, especially with respect to Revelation. For example, Athanasius, Basil the Great and the Synod of Carthage accepted Revelation, while the Council at Laodicea and the 85 Apostolic Canons rejected it. They ratified Aniphilochios’ canon, but it is unclear whether he accepted or rejected Revelation or the catholic epistles. On the other hand, the   85 Apostolic Canons accepted 1 and 2 Clement as Scripture, something which earlier synods and the ratified Fathers did not. All of these synodal decisions and patristic canons of Scripture were ratified at Trullo. (Constantinou 2008, 107)

Unlike what many of us were taught, and what seemed reasonable (given the Protestant understanding of the canon), the development of the list of New Testament books occurred over some time, in fits and starts. The early church had the regula fidei, the rule of faith, as their guide. This rule of faith led them to gradually accept certain books as scripture, and reject others as either not consistent with the rule of faith, or not rising to the level of scripture. I was taught that the New Testament canon was closed with the death of the apostle John, who before his death was able to grant his apostolic seal of approval to all the New Testament books. But the historical evidence does not support this idea. Instead, what we see is the process of the Church gradually coming to a consensus on the limits of the New Testament canon, a process guided by the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Constantinou, Eugenia Scarvelis. Andrew of Caesarea And The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation. Translated by Eugenia Scarvelis Contantinou. Laval: Faculté des études supérieures de l’Université Laval, 2008.

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. 3rd. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

 

 

Merrill F. Unger and the Protestant Canon

Unger's Bible Dictionary

Unger’s Bible Dictionary

The late Merrill F. Unger, former professor of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, provides a series of arguments for the Protestant’s shorter canon. Although I once accepted these arguments without question, they now seem quite odd.

They abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms. (Unger 1966, 70)

This is a most curious argument, given that the Sacred Scriptures are full of seeming inconsistencies, contradictions, pre-scientific descriptions, anthropomorphisms, and even what some might call actual errors of fact. If the arguments for inerrancy apply to the Protestant canon, why would they not apply to the Apocrypha? But as we shall see in Part II, the existence of supposed errors is not an argument against inspiration, for the Bible never claims to be inerrant.

They teach doctrines which are false and foster practices which are at variance with inspired Scripture. (Unger 1966, 70)

The argument here seems to be that of Martin Luther, who desired to exclude from the canon any books that disagreed with his interpretation of Scripture. The reasoning is that as we do not hold to certain doctrines, we cannot accept as canonical those books which teach doctrines contrary to ours. It is circular reasoning at best.

They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture. (Unger 1966, 70)

This is a curious statement, given that the bulk of the New Testament consists of letters, Gospels, an apocalypse (Revelation), and a theological treatise (Hebrews), literature not found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The only historical book is Acts; the only wisdom literature is the book of James. The Old Testament does not contain an apocalypse, a style of writing that was in fashion from the time of the Maccabees until the destruction of Jerusalem, but absent from the Old Testament.[i] So basically, nearly all of the New Testament is made up of “literary types” and contains “subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture” — at least depending on your point of view.

They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling. (Unger 1966, 70)

I’m sorry, professor Unger, but this is not only completely subjective, but utter nonsense as well.[ii] First, let us examine Unger’s critique that the Apocrypha lack prophetic power. In his book “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, Alfred Edersheim points to the almost hypostatic conception of the Logos in the Apocrypha, “especially the Book of Wisdom — following up the Old Testament typical truth concerning ‘Wisdom’ (as specially set forth in the Book of Proverbs) almost arrived so far as to present ‘Wisdom’ as a special ‘Subsistence’ (hypostatising it).” (Edersheim 1993, 32) The book of Barach takes this even further, going so far as to hint at the Incarnation of the Logos (something we will mention again in Part IV).

Hear, Israel, the commandments of life: give ear to understand wisdom. …Thou hast forsaken the fountain of wisdom. For if thou hadst walked in the way of God, thou shouldest have dwelled in peace for ever. …O Israel, how great is the house of God! and how large is the place of his possession! Great, and hath none end; high, and unmeasurable. …Who hath gone up into heaven, and taken her, and brought her down from the clouds? …This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him. He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he show himself upon earth, and conversed with men [emphasis added](Baruch 3:9, 12-13, 24-25, 29, 35-37).

As for “poetic and religious feeling,” let us read the supplicatory prayer of Judith, which will hold up to anything in the Hebrew Scriptures.

For, behold, the Assyrians are multiplied in their power; they are exalted with horse and man; they glory in the strength of their footmen; they trust in shield, and spear, and bow, and sling; and know not that thou art the Lord that breakest the battles: the Lord is thy name. Throw down their strength in thy power, and bring down their force in thy wrath: for they have purposed to defile thy sanctuary, and to pollute the tabernacle where thy glorious name resteth, and to cast down with sword the horn of thy altar (Judith 9:7-8).

And again this, from Judith’s song of rejoicing:

I will sing unto the Lord a new song: O Lord, thou art great and glorious, wonderful in strength, and invincible. Let all creatures serve thee: for thou spakest, and they were made, thou didst send forth thy spirit, and it created them, and there is none that can resist thy voice. For the mountains shall be moved from their foundations with the waters, the rocks shall melt as wax at thy presence: yet thou art merciful to them that fear thee. For all sacrifice is too little for a sweet savor unto thee, and all the fat is not sufficient for thy burnt offering: but he that feareth the Lord is great at all times (Judith 16:13-16).

As we can see, none of Merrill F. Unger’s reasonings stand up to scrutiny. Therefore, it would appear that his opposition to the Apocrypha being in the canon is ultimately subjective, based on unstated and perhaps unwarranted assumptions.


Bibliography

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Edition. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Third Edition. Chicago: Moody Press, 1966.

 


Endnotes

[i] Even though the New Testament contains an apocalypse, many in the ancient church rejected the Revelation of St. John precisely because of its mysterious symbolism and apocalyptic character — something the heretics were able to twist to their advantage.

[ii] I do not wish to be too hard on Mr. Unger, whose book was written before the implications of the Dead Sea Scrolls were widely known. Still, he lived until 1980 and never updated this portion of his Bible Dictionary.

The Closed Canon?

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

The Four Evangelists, by Rubens

F. F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture”, writes approvingly of the canon of Sacred Scripture being closed.

The words ‘to which nothing can be added … and from which nothing can be taken away’, whatever they precisely meant in this context, seem certainly to imply the principle of a closed canon. There are some scholars who maintain that the word ‘canon’ should be used only where the list of specially authoritative books has been closed; and there is much to be said in favour of this restrictive use of the word (a more flexible word might be used for the collection in process of formation), although it would be pedantic to insist on it invariably. (F. Bruce 2010, 22)

The idea of nothing can be added and nothing taken away comes from a variety of sources. F. F. Bruce cites from the Old Testament (Deut 4:2; cf 12:32), the New Testament (Rev 22:18 f.), the Didache, and Josephus. Of all these citations, Bruce says: “This language can scarcely signify anything other than a closed canon.” (F. Bruce 2010, 23) The impression is given that these citations apply to the Word of God as text, rather than the doctrinal substance of the books. Certainly in the case of Josephus this is a reasonable interpretation, but the other citations are more problematic.

In Deuteronomy we read: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). If this implies a closed canon, how are we to account for the remainder of the Old Testament since, apart from the book of Job, none of it had been written yet? Equally important for we Christians, how are we to account for the New Testament, given that it not only speaks of the fulfillment of the law of Moses in the person of Jesus Christ, but also reveals the Triune God, something never made explicit in the Old Testament, and not even made implicit apart from the reading of Christ back into the Old Testament

Historically, the canon of the Old Testament was accepted by the Christian Church up until time of the Reformation. 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.” [emphasis added] (Wace 1811, xxxvi)

There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church (such as the “ruling of St. Jerome), lists similar to that used by Protestants today, but these were not authoritative in the wider church. It should be noted that the Bible texts created prior to the Protestant Reformation included what Protestants call the Apocrypha. The Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 both contained the Apocrypha, and versions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are available today (although printed versions are quite rare in the United States).

But the situation is more complicated when we discuss the lectionaries, the appointed Scripture readings for the Church year. The King James Bible with Commentary contains, in its introduction, a history of the gradual elimination of the Apocrypha from the Common Lectionary of the Anglican Church. Originally the Lectionary included the Apocrypha with the exception of the books of the Maccabees. Henry Wace notes: “Among the Puritan complaints in the reign of Elizabeth, objections to the public reading of the Apocrypha had no prominent part.” (Wace 1811, xxxvi) Various redactions were made over the years, and while the revised lectionary of 1867 contained readings from the Apocrypha only on weekdays, readings from the Apocrypha were reduced from two months to only three weeks. Of the Anglican Lectionary of 1867, Wace writes:

So small a portion of the apocryphal books has been retained in the present Lectionary that the retention of any would seem intended for little more than an assertion of the Church’s right to use these books if she pleases in public reading. This is still more true of the American Church, which entirely discontinued the use of lessons from the Apocrypha on ordinary week-days ; but still uses such lessons on two or three holy days. The Irish Church on its last revision of the Lectionary has not even retained so much as this. (Wace 1811, xxxviii)

The complete elimination of the Apocrypha from the life of the Protestant Church turns out to be a relatively recent innovation, one which would not have been acceptable to the Reformers.

Bibliography

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Wace, Henry. Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Henry Wace. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1811.

 

 

Canonical Development and the Self-Authenticating Scriptures

Timeline of New Testament Canon

Timeline of New Testament Canon
www.purifiedbyfaith.com/

A problem exists with the nature of canonicity — the principle (or principles) by which the scope of the canon of Scripture 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) This is a fancy way of describing the difference between books being deemed as part of the canon because the Church placed them on the list, and books being deemed as canonical because they are inspired.

Peckham’s explanation of the Intrinsic-Canon approach allows for the community’s recognition of certain texts as authoritative. Why? Because an inspired scripture is of no use to anyone if it is not identified as such. The Holy Spirit bears witness to the inspiration of the writing, and this witness of the Holy Spirit takes place within the community of believers — the Church. Actually, the definition of the Community-Canon approach is incorrect; books are not canonical because they are placed on the communities list of authoritative books, but the community places books on the list because it recognizes their intrinsic authority (inspiration). Thus, in practice, the two approaches to canonicity are simply different ways of discussing the same process.

The pure Intrinsic-Canon approach (which is another way of defining the Self-Authenticating  Scriptures) has a number of problems, the most important of which is that the community does create certain guidelines or standards to judge whether a book is canonical or not. According to F.F. Bruce, the community decided “the teaching of the apostles in the Acts and Epistles was regarded as vested with His [Christ’s] authority.” (Bruce 2008) This, then, was the standard used to judge against the disputed books of Hebrews, II Peter, and II & III John, of which the authorship was unknown or in dispute. Eventually the community recognized the disputed books as authoritative and inspired despite their not meeting the community’s initial guidelines.

Another example of a community-based standards for canonicity is the argument that the canon of the Old Testament was closed around 400 B.C., and that any work written between then and the New Testament books is therefore not canonical. This argument was made by Flavius Josephus, as we will see in the next chapter. The argument is repeated by any number of Protestants when they write about the issues surrounding the canon of the Old Testament, but this canonical standard is wholly arbitrary. The argument seems to be that no canonical books were written after 400 B.C., so any book written after 400 B.C. is not canonical, which is a circular argument at best.

Another way of stating the previous argument is that Malachi was the last prophet, ushering in the intertestamental period. Even people who argue for this position recognize its weaknesses. Rabbi Hayyim Angel, writes:

Even if Malachi were the last of the biblical prophets, there is no statement at the end of his book or anywhere else in the Bible stating categorically that prophecy had ceased. For example, Nehemiah battled false prophets (Neh. 6:5–7, 11–13) but did not negate the existence of prophecy in principle. (Angel 2011)

Still, Rabbi Angel, along with Protestants in general, assume a definite end to the prophetic era after the prophet Malachi; Protestants say this prophetic silence ended with the coming of John the Baptist. We have mentioned this argument in a previous post discussing the Lutheran scholastic Johann Gerhard. For now it is enough to mention the argument I heard as a youth — that the intertestamental period was typologically connected to the period prior to the coming of Samuel the Prophet. This is a rather weak argument, as analogies do not constitute evidence, let alone proof.

The inclusion of the community into the recognition of an authoritative collection of documents creates another problem: which community, using which criteria? John C. Peckham 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)

Let us take a moment to examine the development of the New Testament canon. It might surprise you to know that the recognition of the New Testament scriptures occurred gradually. For several centuries there were multiple canons in use, and various bishops published their own canons for the churches under their authority. Other church fathers published their own lists, and despite the argument that the canon was firmly fixed in the fourth century, there continued to be different lists published into the eighth century, of which the following is a representative list.

  1. The Muratorian Fragment (c. 170)
  2. Melito (c. 170)
  3. Origen (c. 240)
  4. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 324)
  5. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350)
  6. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 360)
  7. The Cheltenham List (c. 360)
  8. Council of Laodicea (c. 363)
  9. Letter of Athanasius (367)
  10. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 380)
  11. Amphilocius of Iconium (c. 380)
  12. The “Apostolic Canons” (c. 380)
  13. Epiphanius (c. 385)
  14. Jerome (c. 390)
  15. Augustine (c. 397)
  16. Third Council of Carthage (397)
  17. Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 400)
  18. Codex Claromontanus (c. 400)
  19. Letter of Innocent I (405)
  20. Decree of Gelasius (c. 550)
  21. Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae (c. 550)
  22. John of Damascus (c. 730)
    (Marlowe, Ancient Canon Lists n.d.)

These lists differ with each other as the makeup of the canon. As late as 730 A.D., St. John of Damascus included the Canons of the Holy Apostles, by Clement in his list of New Testament Scripture. The first list of the New Testament canon as we know it today was in the 367 A.D. Easter Letter of St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, but unlike what many say, was authoritative only for the Alexandrian see. (Schaff, NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters 1892, 1126) In the west, Canon 36 of the Third Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) is often cited as fixing the complete canon of the New Testament. This is problematic for two reasons: first, because this council was only authoritative for the African Church; and second, because the canon of Sacred Scripture began with the Old Testament, including what the Protestants now refer to as the Apocrypha. It would be hard to accept the one without accepting the other. The text of Canon 36 is as follows:

It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings [I & II Samuel; I & II Kings], 3 two books of Paraleipomena (Chronicles], 4 Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus], 5 the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras [Ezra and Nehemiah], 6 two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John. Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon, because we have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church. Let it also be allowed that the Passions of Martyrs be read when their festivals are kept. (Marlowe, Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) n.d.)

Between the apostolic era and the fixing of the New Testament canon, there were controversies over which books were inspired and which were not. Revelation was rejected by some because of the propensity of the heretics to weave apocalyptic fantasies from its strange imagery. Hebrews was rejected because no one knew who wrote it; Pauline authorship was often asserted, but could not be proven. Jude was rejected because it quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch. II Peter was rejected because it was thought to be spurious, as were II and III John. James was always in the canon of Alexandria, but was not widely known outside that jurisdiction. The late fourth century Codex Siniaticus includes the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The early fifth Century Codex Alexandrius contains I and II Clement. (Lieuwen, The Emergence of the New Testament Canon 1995) So you see, the idea of the self-authenticating Scriptures doesn’t square with the history of the New Testament canon.

Bibliography

Angel, Hayyim. “The End of Prophecy: Malachi’s Position in the Spiritual Development of Israel.” Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. February 25, 2011. http://www.jewishideas.org/articles/end-prophecy-malachis-position-spiritual-developmen (accessed January 16, 2014).

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).

Lieuwen, Daniel F. “The Emergence of the New Testament Canon.” St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney (Dallas area) Texas. 1995. http://www.orthodox.net/faq/canon.htm (accessed January 15, 2014).

Marlowe, Michael D. “Ancient Canon Lists.” Bible Research. n.d. http://www.bible-researcher.com/canon8.html (accessed January 16, 2014).

—. “Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397).” Bible Research. n.d. http://www.bible-researcher.com/carthage.html (accessed January 15, 2014).

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

Schaff, Philip. NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Edited by Philip Schaff. Vol. 4. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Copyright Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1892.

 

 

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)

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.