Because I Love the Bible

Here is a reason that answers the question posed by this blog daily that I’ve never written about yet. So here goes: I love the Bible. Well, duh, Frank you may be thinking, of course you do. Well, let me be more specific. I love the entire Bible and every single book therein, including all the books that Martin Luther tossed out during the Protestant Reformation.

I have some mechanical ability, which I have written about in this space once or twice. And I know a thing or two about removing parts from a motor, or adding them, for example. To make a long story short, you don’t remove parts from an engine, leave them off, and expect the motor to work. Remove a turbocharger from a diesel engine, for example, and you will have a motor than runs, but it will run like a sick dog with absolutely no torque. What’s the point of that?

Of course, the other possibility is that you can add parts to a motor in an effort to make it stronger. “Soup it up,” so to speak. Usually this results in some additional power and fun, but at the expense of the longevity of the motor. In other words, you might make more power, but you will probably wind up grenading the motor as well. Oops.

So when I was coming around to the idea of converting, see, I wanted to know what was the scoop on these “extra” books in the Bible. Like a mechanic, I was wondering if the Catholic Church had decided to throw some aftermarket parts onto the motor, if you follow me. You know, like adding a supercharger to a motor that was already strong.

So I grabbed my souvenir Catholic Bible, from my first failed attempt at RCIA class,  and I started looking at these mysterious books. As a result, I discovered some wonderful passages from books that were in the Bible that I had never heard of. Like the one from the first reading from Mass yesterday:

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29

My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength, search not. The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise. Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins.

Um, not very scary, is it? As a matter of fact, don’t those verses make all kinds of sense? And there are 50 more chapters of this book to sink your teeth into.  Then I found these verses from the first chapter of the book entitled Wisdom,

Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the LORD in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. For perverse counsels separate a man from God, and his power, put to the proof, rebukes the foolhardy; because into a soul that plots evil wisdom enters not, nor dwells she in a body under debt of sin. For the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels; and when injustice occurs it is rebuked.

Wow, I thought. Seek the Lord,  just like it says in Psalm 105, but with a twist for clarity.

For wisdom is a kindly spirit, yet she acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips; because God is the witness of his inmost self and the sure observer of his heart and the listener to his tongue. For the spirit of the LORD fills the world, is all-embracing, and knows what man says. Therefore no one who utters wicked things can go unnoticed, nor will chastising condemnation pass him by.

Of course! God knows all, sees all. GPS has got nothing on God. It says so right there in 1 Samuel 16:7.

For the devices of the wicked man shall be scrutinized, and the sound of his words shall reach the LORD, for the chastisement of his transgressions; because a jealous ear hearkens to everything, and discordant grumblings are no secret. Therefore guard against profitless grumbling, and from calumny withhold your tongues; for a stealthy utterance does not go unpunished, and a lying mouth slays the soul.

Again, there is nothing strange here. There was a lot of “grumbling” going on in Numbers(14:27), for example, remember? And the command to not lie? That’s right there in the Ten Commandments.

Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands. Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the nether world on earth, for justice is undying.

I remember clearly thinking to myself after reading this particular passage, “where has this book been all my life?” No wonder I feel immortal, because, gulp (!) I was created to be immortal.  And then I realized there are 18 more chapters in this book too?

And so it goes, as I explored, and continue to marvel at, the wonders of Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. The passage in the New Testament that sealed the deal for me was when these verses in Hebrews chapter 11:32-35,

What more shall I say? I have not time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, did what was righteous, obtained the promises; they closed the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped the devouring sword; out of weakness they were made powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders. Women received back their dead through resurrection. Some were tortured and would not accept deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection.

could only seem to be understood by referring to 2 Maccabees chapter 7:1, 13-14. Take a look,

It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.

After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way. When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”

And then I learned that all of these books had been in the Bible since the beginning of Christianity. They had been in the Old Testament, but got tossed when Luther decided to toss them. At this point, I had to concede three things. 1) I’m not a biblical scholar; 2) The Catholic Church, the institution that assembled the Bible, is the Authority, and further, it has the Authority to decide what books belong in the Bible and what books don’t; 3) These allegedly disputed books were in the Septuagint, which happened to be the authoritative Old Testament Canon in place while Our Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth.

At Mass today, for example, the gospel reading is from Luke and begins like this,

Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.(Luke 4:16-17)

What the passage doesn’t say, of course, is that He could possibly, on a different day of the week, or on a different day of the liturgical calendar, have been handed a scroll from Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom, Baruch, or 1 & 2 Maccabees. These books were in the scrolls too, when God walked upon the earth. I don’t know for sure, but like I said, I’m not a biblical scholar. Which is why I rely, again, on the authority of the Church.

So the mechanic in me was left with only one question to consider. As a Christian, did I want to go along with a stripped version of the motor, the one missing a few parts, with all of the pitfalls associated with that, or go along with the original version of the motor; the one that has all of the original parts, all in the proper place.

It really was not a difficult choice to make for me. Especially after I learned that Luther didn’t like the book of James or Revelation either. Lucky us, he left those in because leaving those “parts” out would have been like forgetting the oil sump pump and the oil pan.

I’ll share something on interpretation of scripture shortly.

  • Shannon

    Well, close… but not exactly correct. There were at least TWO lists of "Scripture" for the Jews during Jesus' time and shortly thereafter.One list was a collection of books written originally in Hebrew.The second list was books that were written-in-Hebrew-and-translated-to-Greek, along with seven books that were originally written in Greek.Both lists were accepted by different groups of Jews. And the lists, while generally congruent, were still fluid for a number of centuries.Early Christians, who didn't stick around Jerusalem but headed out to places where Jews had been scattered (by the Babylonians and later the Greeks) mostly used books-in-Greek version because that's what those people were familiar with.Martin Luther went on a "back to the basics" campaign and figured Hebrew was the ultimate original (much like some like to think that Latin was the original…).Easy mnemonic for remembering the 7 books? TJ MacWeb.

  • Frank

    The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, decided, carefully, and over a considerable amount of time, that these books belong. Nice mnemonic! There is plenty to chew on at Catholic Answers on this subject, for those who are interested.

  • Allison

    I recommend the book "Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger" by Gary Michuta. OUr parish book club read this. Here is a product description: In this fascinating book, Gary Michuta takes the reader on a journey through history to find out what happened to these books of Scripture. Michuta traces the path of the Deuterocanon (apocrypha) from it pre-Christian roots through the Protestant Reformation to the nineteenth century and definitively settles the question of whether the Council of Trent added books to Scripture in reaction to Protestantism. Not since 1897 has their been a book, written by a Catholic, on the topic of the Old Testament. Many commonly held myths are exposed while uncovering many little known and surprising information concerning these lost books of the Protestant bible.

  • Andy

    The scroll from which Jesus read was probably a targum, or Aramaic interpretation. This is how most Aramaic speakers in the first century would have read the bible. What is interesting is that the Talmud explicitly denies the existence of official targumim for the kethuvim, or "writings" portion of the bible (i.e. anything other than the Torah and the Prophets) because these books were not used liturgically. All of our Deuterocanonical books are in this category, along with Protocanonical books like Job, Esther, and Proverbs. In fact it was not until the end of the first century, after the destruction of the temple, that the Jews came to an agreement on what books should actually be in the kethuvim. They excluded the Deuterocanon (likely due to its foreign textuality), and Martin Luther used this as the standard for his Old Testament, expecting the Jews of Germany to convert to Lutheranism once they saw his "pure" bible translated into the common language (n.b. it didn't happen).But in the time of Jesus, the inclusion of deuterocanonical books in the kethuvim was the least of worries for Jewish theologians. The Sanhedrin was split between the Saducees, who followed only the Torah, and the Pharisees, whose doctrine was based not only on the entire Tanakh–Torah, Neviim (prophets), and Kethuvim (including the deuterocanon)–but also on the Talmudic commentary on it. Finally there were the desert Essenes, whose unique apocalyptic writings can be found in the Dead Sea scrolls.It is noteworthy that Jesus did not comment on which group followed the correct bible. While his doctrines regarding the resurrection of the dead and the ministry of angels are closer to the Pharisees, he antagonized both parties when he arrived in Jerusalem. St. Paul quotes from the Septuagint (which contains the Deuterocanon), but only directly from the Protocanon. However St. Matthew cites a number of prophecies that are not found in either the Protocanon nor Deuterocanon.It is likely that Greek speakers in the early Catholic church read from the entire Septuagint, while Aramaic speakers did not read the Deuterocanonical books. Again, this was not enough of an issue to be noted in any of the Pauline or catholic epistles of the New Testament. What concerned the apostles more was the issue of circumcision and dietary and marital laws. One would think that when St. Peter wrote that all scriptures are "God-breathed", he would indicate which "scriptures" he was talking about!But the confusion hasn't ended yet. The twelve apostles weren't the only ones claiming to preach the gospel of Jesus. St. Paul warns against "super-apostles" who claim to have secret knowledge of Jesus, and these Gnostics produced a number of gospels professing their belief that Jesus was not incarnate but only an apparition, and that one could sin freely in the flesh while being sanctified in the spirit. For over a century the Catholic (i.e. Universal, v.s. Gnostic or "having secret knowledge") church fought to establish its gospels in opposition to the Gnostics. Many Catholic communities had only one or two of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) until all three were universally recognized, and at the end of the second century St. Irenaeus promulgated the gospel of John in opposition to the Gnostics.So the Old Testament is very much a product of the Jewish religion, and the New Testament is very much a product of the Catholic religion. You cannot trust either text without trusting the institution that produced it. Because my Lutheran parents raised me to be intimately engaged with the New Testament… that is why I'm Catholic.

  • Shannon

    Allison, any idea what this sentence means??>>Not since 1897 has their been a book, written by a Catholic, on the topic of the Old Testament.<

  • Allison

    Andy: Thank you for that detailed and cogent explication. Shannon: Other than the misspelling, no. I do recommend the book, as well as Andy's summation. He knows his stuff.

  • Wine in the Water

    Shannon,The "or shortly thereafter" is an important part. Whether at an actual "Council of Yavneh" or not, we see several motivators for the solidification of the Jewish canon of scripture in the century or so after the destruction of the temple. Among attempts to preserve the Hebrew language/identity and seek historical antiquity, one of the motivations was to purge post-Temple Judaism of the "Nazarene heresy." Considering Luther's antisemitism – which was somewhat pronounced even for his era – it seems that eliminating scriptural support for the doctrine of purgatory was more of a motivation for removing the deuterocanon than getting "back to the basics."In the whole affair, I think the most telling factor is Jerome. After studying Hebrew in Palestine and re-translating the OT into Latin from the Hebrew instead of Greek as he originally did, Jerome wanted to exclude the deuterocanonical books. Among other things, he felt they would be an obstacle to evangelizing Jews. However, the Church ultimately retained those books and so did Jerome.

  • Frank

    Taylor Marshall has a post out today about the Douay Rheims translation of the Bible. Check it out here.

  • Shannon

    My confusion is about the comment that no Catholic has written about the Old Testament since 1897. Which is hardly true in the general sense… lots of books written by Catholic scholars on the Old Testament in the last 115 years…Or does the author mean, "no Catholic has written about the listing of books in the Old Testament since 1897"? Very confusing.

  • Frank

    Some additional links for those who are interested.The Septuagint.Deuterocanonical OT books.

  • Richard

    To Andy, that was a great read. Thank you.