Monday, September 18, 2017

Old Testament Canon (modified)

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 seven books 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 that Jesus himself would have used a canon that did not contain the Apocrypha.

It is something like an "it was good enough for Jesus so it's good enough for me" argument. But not completely.

The reformed theologian Francis Turretin (1623-1687—he is described by John 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 Testament into three classes (the law, the Psalms and the prophets, Lk. 24:44), clearly approves of the canon of the Jews and excludes from it those books which are not embraced in these classes. (3) 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 24:24)
As an aside, sometimes the debate over "the law" of the Old Testament is more confused than necessary because when a New Testament reference is made to "the Law" it not be referring to, say, the Ten Commandments but rather to the books written by Moses.

Thus, Turretin argues, Christ specifically mentions the three sections which we receive as canonical and omits the Apocrypha.

We also pay attention to Turretin's argument:
The authors (of the Apocryphal books) were neither prophets and inspired men, since they wrote after Malachi (the last of the prophets);
This is important. The first requirement for inclusion in the New Testament was that the writer was an apostle or carried the imprimatur of an apostle. (Exceptions to this rule not withstanding.) What applied to the apostles in the New Testament applied to the prophets in the Old Testament. The role of prophet in the Old Testament morphed into the role of apostle in the new. Prophets mentioned in the New Testament, in Acts, were given some future knowledge but were not at the level of prophets of old--they did not self-validate their visions with "thus safety the Lord."

So in summary: the Reformers arguments for excluding the Apocrypha are: 1) The Old Testament used by Jesus in Palestine would not have contained them, and he never quoted from them and 2) They were not written by a prophet.

Of course this does not mean that the Protestant view is that these books are garbage. On the contrary, they both interesting and informative. This is not like when formulating the New Testament canon when utter nonsense like The Gospel of Thomas was excluded--the Apocrypha were judged by the Reformers to be non-canonical, but not to be nonsense.

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