Deuterocanon: Reply to Protestant Apologist Gavin Ortlund

Deuterocanon: Reply to Protestant Apologist Gavin Ortlund February 26, 2024

Dr. Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, scholar, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the very popular YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog.

In my opinion, he is currently the best and most influential popular-level Protestant apologist, who (especially) interacts with and offers thoughtful critiques of Catholic positions, from a refreshing ecumenical (not anti-Catholic), but nevertheless solidly Protestant perspective. That’s what I want to interact with, so I have issued many replies to Gavin and will continue to do so. I use RSV for all Bible passages unless otherwise specified.

All of my replies to Gavin are collected in one place on my Calvinism & General Protestantism web page, near the top in the section, “Replies to Reformed Baptist Gavin Ortlund.” Gavin’s words will be in blue.

This is my 23rd reply to his material.

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I’m responding to the biblical canon portions of Gavin’s video, “Defending My Views on the Canon and Icons” (5-16-23). I already replied to Gavin with regard to icons on 5-19-22.

10:26 for a lot of these early Eastern fathers the deuterocanonical books are inspired in some sense but they’re not at the same level as the first tier canon.

I’d have to see actual examples. It seems to me that if you categorize a passage as “Scripture,” that you are acknowledging that it is inspired and canonical, and there was plenty of that in the writings of the Eastern fathers. I compiled patristic quotations in my book, The Quotable Eastern Church Fathers: Distinctively Catholic Elements in Their Theology (July 2013, 303 pages). The section on the Deuterocanon took up a little over seven pages.

10:48  I was responding to George Farmer’s comments which give the impression that there were twelve centuries of one view of the canon, that the church decided, and then the Protestants came along and took books out of the Bible. I was trying to show [that] that’s way off; there’s a lot of diversity about the canon in the early and medieval church, as I pointed out, all the way up to the very decades prior to the Council of Trent . . . you don’t have just one canon for twelve centuries and then the Protestants coming along to take books out of the Bible.

I agree about the early Protestants, since I have documented that both Martin Luther and John Calvin cited the deuterocanon as Scripture rather widely. I don’t think — from my own studies — that the above statement is a correct generalization of the situation from the late fourth century until Trent. Protestant scholarly sources bear witness to this stated opinion of mine, as regards the first four centuries:

Down to the 4th century the church generally accepted all the books of the Septuagint as canonical . . . (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., edited by F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 70)

In post-NT times, the Christian Fathers down to the later 4th cent. almost all regarded the LXX as the standard form of the OT . . . (Ibid., 1260)

It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha, or deutero-canonical books . . . In the first two centuries at any rate the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper, revised edition of 1978, 53-54)

The West, as a whole, was inclined to form a much more favourable estimate of the Apocrypha . . . For the great majority, however, the deutero-canonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense. Augustine, for example, whose influence in the West was decisive, made no distinction between them and the rest of the Old Testament . . . The same inclusive attitude to the Apocrypha was authoritatively displayed at the synods of Hippo and Carthage in 393 and 397 respectively, . . . (Ibid., 55-56; he also noted some disagreement of Eastern fathers in the third and fourth centuries)

. . . the custom of Christian churches which continued with isolated remonstrances to make the Greek OT canon, with which the Vulgate agrees almost completely, their standard. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, General editor: James Orr, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1939, five volumes, Vol. 1, “Apocrypha,” 182)

The great Protestant evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce notes that the Council of Hippo in 393 (“along the lines approved by Augustine”) and the Third Council of Carthage in 397, and the belief of the Christian Church in “the following centuries”:

[Hippo and Carthage] appear to have been the first church councils to make a formal pronouncement on the canon. When they did so, they did not impose any innovation on the churches; they simply endorsed what had become the general consensus of the churches in the west and of the greater part of the east . . . The Sixth Council of Carthage (419) re-enacted the ruling of the Third Council, again with the inclusion of the apocryphal books . . . Throughout the following centuries most users of the Bible made no distinction between the apocryphal books and the others: all alike were handed down as part of the Vulgate . . . The two Wycliffite versions of the complete Bible in English (1384, 1395) included the apocryphal books as a matter of course. (The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 97, 99-100)

Compare:

A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the ‘Gelasian Decree’ because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 232)

The list from 382 — which The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church deemed as “identical with the list given at Trent” — includes: Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Baruch was included as part of Jeremiah, as in St. Athanasius’ list of 15 years previously. This is indeed identical with the Tridentine list, and comprises the seven “extra” deuterocanonical books in Catholic Bibles which Protestants reject from the canon as “apocryphal.” Nevertheless, there they are in the Council of 382.

The Council of Carthage accepted the same list, as detailed by Brooke Foss Westcott (A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980, rep. from 6th ed. of 1889, 440). Bruce questioned the authenticity of the Gelasian Decree, but note that he did not question the fact that the “Sixth Council of Carthage (419) re-enacted the ruling of the Third Council [Carthage, 397], again with the inclusion of the apocryphal books.”

The renowned Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff concurs about the intervening centuries between the councils of Carthage and Trent:

This canon [of Carthage — see above citation] remained undisturbed till the sixteenth century, and was sanctioned by the council of Trent at its fourth session. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974 [orig. 1910], 609-610)

All of the above sources are Protestant. My entire case can be strongly made by them, without even having to cite Catholic scholars; and they obviously can’t be accused of having a Catholic bias.

My good friend and fellow Michigander, Gary Michuta is the biggest expert on the deuterocanon among Catholic apologists (having written two books on the topic). In his book, The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments (2015), in chapter nine, from pages 112 to 137, he provides 209 examples of many Church fathers (including many Eastern ones) citing deuterocanonical books, describing them as “Scripture” or “the words of God” or “spoken by the Holy Spirit,” etc. Then he spends the next 84 pages (138-221) helpfully providing 235 patristic quotations where a Church father cited a deuterocanonical book in order to prove the truthfulness of a doctrine.

Michuta notes (p. 138) that the latter evidence contradicted St. Jerome’s claim (echoed by Protestants)  that the Deuterocanon was used — by consensus in the early Church — only as “edifying” material, as opposed to “support[ing] ecclesiastical doctrine.” Michuta continues his marvelous juggernaut of deuterocanonical patristic proofs, by providing (pp. 222-231) 120 more examples where Church fathers cited in an unqualified way, deuterocanical books alongside protocanonical books. Then he summarizes:

[A] broad [patristic] consensus emerges that Deuterocanon is Scripture in its fullest sense . . . with only Julius Africanus, Jerome, Rufinus, and an unknown semi-Pelagian doubting or opposing it . . . In light of this data, one can conclude that Jerome and Rufinus did not represent the common opinion of the ancient Church. Quite the opposite. (p. 245)

Here are a few examples from my own aforementioned book:

St. John Chrysostom calls Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) part of the “Old Testament” (Homily X on Acts 4:1; Homily XIX on Ephesians, v. 5:18-21)    and “Scripture” (Homily XXIX on Acts 13:16-17; Homily XLIX on Acts 23:6-8; Homily XV on 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 10, v. 5:7; Homily IV on Ephesians, v. 2:10; Homily XX on Ephesians, v. 5:26-27; Homily XLVIII on John, v. 7:8; Homily IX on Hebrews, v. 6:4-5). He cites Wisdom alongside 2 Samuel, Proverbs, and two NT passages (Homily XV on Ephesians, v. 4:31) and calls it “Scripture” (Homily VII on Hebrews, v. 4:16).

St. Cyril of Jerusalem includes Baruch in the “Old Testament” (Fourth Catechetical Lecture, 35). St. Cyril of Alexandria describes the same book as “Divine-uttering” (Tomes Against Nestorius: III, 4).

St. Athanasius calls Wisdom “Scripture” (On the Opinion of Dionysius, 9 [cf. 15]; Four Discourses Against the Arians, II, 42), and also Baruch (ibid., II, 49), Sirach (ibid., II, 79), and Bel and the Dragon (ibid., III, 30). He cites Tobit as recording the words of God, alongside Matthew and Isaiah (Apology to the Emperor Constantius, 17). Gary Michuta, in his other book on the topic, Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger (Port Huron, Michigan: Grotto Press, 2007), discusses St. Athanasius’ somewhat complex views:

Athanasius quotes both Baruch and Susanna right along passages from Isaiah, Psalms, Romans, and Hebrews; he makes no distinction or qualification between them [1]. Wisdom also is used as an authentic portion of sacred Scripture . . .:

But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, ‘The devising of idols, as the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life . . .’ [Ws 14:12] [2]

And later in the same work:

For since they were endeavouring to invest with what Scripture calls the incommunicable name . . . [3]

This reference to the “incommunicable name” comes from Wisdom 14:21 . . .

Athanasius quotes another passage from Wisdom as constituting the teachings of Christ, the Word of God. He undoubtedly uses it to confirm doctrine. [4] In another argument against Arians, he calls both the Protocanonical Proverbs and the Deuterocanonical Wisdom “holy Scripture” . . . [5] . . .Athanasius also quotes the book of Sirach without distinction or qualification, in the midst of several other scriptural quotations. [6] . . . Athanasius calls the Book of Judith Scripture. [7] Tobit is cited right along with several Protocanonical quotations [8] , and even introduced with the solemn formula “it is written.” [9]

[1] Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1.12.
[2] Against the Heathen, 11.1. Emphasis added.
[3] Against the Heathen, 1, 17.3.
[4] On the Incarnate Word, 4.6; 5.2.
[5] Defense Against Arius, 1, 3.
[6] Life of Anthony, 28 and Apology Against the Arians, 66.
[7] Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 2.35 . . .
[8] Defense of Constantius, 17. Tobit is cited after Matthew and Isaiah.
[9] Defense Against Arius, Part 1, 11. (pp. 110-112; footnote numbering my own)

The great Protestant Bible scholar F. F. Bruce confirms Michuta’s analysis:

As Athanasius includes Baruch and the ‘Letter of Jeremiah’ in one book with Jeremiah and Lamentations [in his list of the OT canon], so he probably includes the Greek additions to Daniel in the canonical book of that name, and the additions to Esther in the book of that name which he recommends for reading in church [but doesn’t list as a canonical book] . . .

In practice Athanasius appears to have paid little attention to the formal distinction between those books which he listed in the canon and those which were suitable for instruction of new Christians. He was familiar with the text of all, and quoted from them freely, often with the same introductory formula — ‘as it is written’, ‘as the scripture says’, etc. (Ibid., 79-80; my bracketed comments, based on the larger context of Bruce’s analysis)

Catholic apologist “Matt1618” produced a magnificent treatise, “Did Some Church Fathers Reject the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture?” In it, he stated about Origen (182-254):

[H]e does put Baruch and the two Maccabees books in the canon. . . . he speaks approvingly of the Septuagint, which contains all the Deuterocanonical books. . . . Origen defends the use of the passage in Daniel 3 that Catholics have, the Song of the 3 children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon, as found in Daniel 13 and 14 of the Catholic Bible. He says that Bel and the Dragon and Susanna, Daniel 13 and 14 and only found in the Catholic Bible, is found in every single Church of Christ. Origen himself acknowledges that all Churches use these books. And in which way? He notes that he refers to them as Scripture. His opponent said it was a forgery. He corrects his opponent. It is not a forgery, but he notes his own use of them as Scripture. [To Africanus, 5]

Origen protests the fact that  that these portions of Daniel now found only in Catholic Bibles, were “removed from the Scriptures.” [To Africanus, 9]  Here are more relevant passages from Origen:

But he ought to know that those who wish to live according to the teaching of Sacred Scripture understand the saying, ‘The knowledge of the unwise is as talk without sense,’ [Sirach 21:18] and have learnt “to be ready always to give an answer to everyone that asketh us a reason for the hope that is in us.” [1 Pt 3:15]  [Against Celsus, 7:12]

[A]s is written in the book of Tobit: ‘It is good to keep close the secret of a king, but honourable to reveal the works of God,’ [Tobit 12:7]–in a way consistent with truth and God’s glory, and so as to be to the advantage of the multitude.” [Against Celsus, 5:19]

“Matt1618” comments: “He uses the phrase, ‘As is written’, in reference to Tobit. The phrase ‘It is written’ always is a reference to Scripture, both in Scripture itself as well as its use by the Fathers. Thus, Origen sees Tobit as Scripture.”

Tobias [Tobit] (as also Judith), we ought to notice, the Jews do not use. They are not even found in the Hebrew Apocrypha, as I learned from the Jews themselves.” However, since the Churches use Tobias, you must know that even in the captivity some of the captives were rich and well to do. Tobias himself says, “Because I remembered God with all my heart; and the Most High gave me grace and beauty in the eyes of Nemessarus, and I was his purveyor; and I went into Media, and left in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabrias, at Ragi, a city of Media, ten talents of silver” (Tobias, 1:12-14). [To Africanus, 13]

But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, ‘ ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.’ [2 Maccabees 7:28]” [Fundamental Principles, 2:2]

And that which is written about wisdom, you may apply also to faith, and to the virtues specifically, so as to make a precept of this kind, “If any one be perfect in wisdom among the sons of men, and the power that comes from Thee be wanting, he will be reckoned as nothing ” or “If any one be perfect in self-control, so far as is possible for the sons of men, and the control that is from Thee be wanting, he will be reckoned as nothing; (Wisdom 9:6) [Commentary on Matthew, 4]

“Matt1618” summarizes: “Thus, the Protestant apologists who argue that Origen spoke against the Books and did not view the Deuterocanonical books as Scripture, are wrong. Though it is true that some of these books (only some of these books, as some are canonical) are not termed ‘canonical’, that is irrelevant. The question is whether he saw these books as Scripture. Origen clearly terms these books as Scripture, according to Origen himself. He also uses these books to teach doctrine.”

As the second American President John Adams rightly stated:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

At 12:38 Gavin cites St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Fourth Catechetical Lecture, 35) mentioning “twenty-two” Old Testament books. Oddly, St. Cyril also stated in the near context (sec. 33): “Read the Divine Scriptures, the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, these that have been translated by the Seventy-two Interpreters.” The “72” refers to the 72 translators of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) from the third century BC (as his section 34 makes clear beyond all doubt). But it included precisely the extra books or sections that Catholics accept (1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, and additions to Esther and Daniel).

If Cyril was recommending the reading of the books in the Septuaguint, they included the entire (Catholic) deuterocanon. Earlier in this section 33, he referred to “the divinely-inspired Scriptures” and he didn’t differentiate the deuterocanon. Then in section 34, after recounting the translation of the Septuagint, he wrote, “the translation of Old Testament, spoken by the Holy Ghost, was of the Holy Ghost accomplished.”

Therefore, according to Cyril, all of LXX is inspired Scripture (the Old Testament), and he refers to these as “the twenty-two books of the Old Testament” in section 33 in the last sentence. It seems to me, then, that when he states in section 35, “Of these read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings” he’s not referring to the deuterocanonical books, which were included in these 22 in LXX, but rather, to other writings beyond the Catholic Old Testament.

Cyril of Jerusalem seems to be either confused or self-contradictory as to the deuterocanon. But in any event, we know for sure that he indisputably includes Baruch in the canon (section 35 that Gavin cites). And Gary Michuta documents on page 174 of his book, The Case for the Deuterocanon, that St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures, VI, 4, cited Sirach 3:21-22 on the incomprehensibility of God.

In that work (IX, 2) he also brought up Wisdom 13:5 to illustrate that “from the works, which are Divine, it is possible to attain to some conception of His power.” And in XI, 15, St. Cyril cited Baruch 3:14-15 as evidence for the incarnation and deity of Christ. In XI, 19, Cyril also cited Sirach 3:22 authoritatively, as related to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

But if indeed Cyril was wrong about the Deuterocanon, from the Catholic perspective, this shouldn’t surprise or trouble any Catholic, especially in light of the fact that he excluded the book of Revelation from the canon of the NT, as can be seen in section 36 of this same treatise. St. John Chrysostom  and St. Gregory Nazianzen also excluded it at about the same time. Individual Church fathers can be wrong in particulars. It’s no disproof of the Catholic position at all; no “difficulty” for us when this is shown.

Protestant apologists often seek out anomalies among the fathers and (oddly) act as if that proves there was no consensus against the anomalies. I would call that sort of a “backwards” methodology. If one is looking to determine what most Church fathers believed, one wouldn’t focus on the few who were “dissenters” from the overall consensus. The patristic consensus was exemplified by the councils of Carthage and Hippo, shortly after Cyril died in 387. They both included the deuterocanon. The consensus was as this Protestant reference work stated:

The church of the first centuries made no essential difference between the writings of the Hebrew canon and the so-called Apocrypha. (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 1, 214)

So Cyril of Jerusalem (well, possibly) and Jerome disagreed? So what? Of what significance is that, in determining overall patristic consensus? Very little at all. They were exceptions to the rule, and one can always find those (just as there were exceptions among certain fathers concerning biblical books all agree on, and some accepted books as canonical that no one today thinks are that). It proves nothing except that, well, there were exceptions (which we can already be pretty sure will exist in any collective).

14:34  Cyril’s view is representative of the East.

Some Eastern fathers dissented from the consensus, as I have already noted. The question is: why should that matter? The overall patristic view strongly lines up with the Catholic position on the deuterocanon.

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Photo credit: Gary Michuta’s book, The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments (2015); image of the cover from an eBay page.

Summary: Protestant apologist Gavin Ortlund argues that the Church fathers support the Protestant rejection of the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. I disagree & explain why.

 

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