Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lesson 2: Biblical Inerrancy (Part 5)

(This is based on John Gerstner’s Primer on Biblical Inerrancy from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.)

The Old Testament Canon

Examining the table of contents of a Protestant and Catholic bible, we find that the Catholic bible contains seven extra books known as the Apocrypha: These are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. In addition, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel.

These books date from the period in between the old and new testaments.

These books are called “Apocryphal” not because the authors are unknown (for there are some canonical books whose authors are unknown) but probably, as Augustine says, because they are of an uncertain and obscure origin.

Why does the Catholic bible include the Apocrypha, while the Protestant bible includes only the part called “The Law (of Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings (Wisdom Books)?”

The answer comes from looking at the difference between two old testament canons that existed at the time of Christ: the Palestinian canon and the Alexandrian canon. The Palestinian canon did not include the Apocrypha; the Alexandrian canon used by that region’s Hellenized Jews did include the extra books.

So the question is: which of these two Jewish canons should we receive as the Old Testament?

The Reformers rejected the Apocrypha because they were persuaded that it was the Palestinian canon that was recognized by the Jews of Palestine during Christ’s time—and so Jesus himself, in his education and ministry, would have used a canon that did not contain the Apocrypha.

The reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687—he is described by Gerstner as “the most precise theologian in the Calvinistic tradition”) wrote:
The Jewish church, to which the oracles of God were committed (Rom 3:2) never considered [the Apocrypha] as canonical, but held the same canon as us (as is admitted by Josephus, Against Apion 1.39-41)… They are never quoted as canonical by Christ and the apostles like the others. And Christ, by dividing all the books of the Old Testa¬ment into three classes (the law, the Psalms and the prophets, Luke 24:44), clearly approves of the canon of the Jews and excludes from it those books which are not embraced in these classes. The Christian church for four hundred years rec¬ognized with us the same and no other canonical books… The authors were neither prophets and inspired men, since they wrote after Malachi (the last of the prophets); nor were their books written in the Hebrew language (as those of the Old Testament), but in Greek. Hence Josephus (in the passage referred to above) acknowledges that those things which were written by his people after the time of Artaxerxes were not equally credible and authoritative with those which preceded "on account of there not being an indisputable succession of prophets"
Turretin’s reference to Christ’s words is worth examining:
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44)
Thus, Turretin argues, Christ specifically mentions the three sections which we receive as canonical and omits the Apocrypha.

Next: A look at the topic of Sola Scriptura.

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