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.
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.
[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.