Portrait of Jean Miélot (after 1456), by Jean Le Tavernier (d. 1462) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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(8 December 2004)
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
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I. Standard Protestant Church History Sources: the Early Church and the “Apocrypha”
II. Did Any Jews Accept the Canonicity of the “Apocrypha”? Are Ancient Jewish Beliefs on the Canon Certain?
III. F.F. Bruce: New Testament Allusions to the “Apocrypha” and Pseudepigrapha
IV. Miscellany and Some Good-Natured Bantering Back and Forth
V. “Demonstrable, Disqualifying Errors” in the “Apocrypha”? / Errors in Protestant Logic
VI. “Universal Jewish Rejection” of the “Apocrypha”?
VII. Does the New Testament Ever Cite the “Apocrypha” as an “Authority”?
VIII. Clarification on the Catholic Meaning of the Term Deuterocanonical Books
IX. Epistemological Difficulties for Protestants / Luther’s Peculiar Views
X. Misunderstandings About the Catholic Church & Holy Scripture & More Hard Questions For Protestants About the Canon
XI. “Canon Shot”: Penetrating Insights & Challenges to Protestants From Cardinal Newman
The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute does some great work against the cults and other false teachings. But – as so often with such Protestant groups – it fails and commits intellectual suicide in its classification of Catholicism as a non-Christian belief system. A while back (while searching for something else on Google), I discovered that Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon had responded to a small portion of my 1995 letter to them regarding anti-Catholicism, in their paper, The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon (Part 2)
. I have found four of six parts of this paper online. The other sections appear to be unavailable. Some time ago I critiqued a book of theirs
, which afforded me an opportunity to make a general critique of several major facets of anti-Catholicism. Ankerberg’s and Weldon’s words will be in blue
I. Standard Protestant Church History Sources: the Early Church and the “Apocrypha”
Unfortunately, someone who reads only casually on the subject may easily be misled and conclude that the early church accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture and that the modern church is confused on the issue.
Indeed they would think that, since it is true, as I have previously demonstrated, and will again presently.
Neither conclusion would be true.
It is this statement, I submit, that is untrue.
Consider the kinds of statements one may find in various sources. “Down to the 4th century the church generally accepted all the books of the Septuagint as canonical . . .”;1 [footnote 1: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 70.] or, “the church of the first centuries made no essential difference between the writings of the Hebrew canon and the so-called Apocrypha.” [footnote 2: The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 1, p. 214].
Well, yes, what would a Protestant (one who rejects the deuterocanonical books as biblical books) make of statements such as these? Are we to conclude that both of these Protestant sources are all wet and don’t have the slightest idea of what they are writing about? That would be a fascinating position to take . . . Here’s another citation from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:
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 . . .
Even church historian J. N. D. Kelly, author of Early Christian Doctrines and Early Christian Creeds, comments, incorrectly, that, “For the great majority [of early fathers]…the deuterocanonical writings [the apocrypha] ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.” [footnote 3: In Norman L. Geisler, Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), p. 162]
Oh I see; so the well-known patristics scholar, whose main field of study is the theological beliefs of the early Christians and Fathers, got this wrong, but Ankerberg and Weldon know the real truth and we should trust them over against Kelly and other historians? I must confess that I find this absurd already, but I am willing to entertain their arguments for this extraordinary position that they have taken about factual historical matters which can be verified by history. Since Anglican historian Kelly was brought up (and he is an excellent, often-used scholarly source for such matters), let us quote him at greater length:
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. (Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper, revised edition of 1978, 53-54)
After noting some disagreement on the matter of Eastern Fathers in the third and fourth centuries, Kelly notes that:
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, and also in the famous letter which Pope Innocent I despatched to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, in 405. (Ibid., 55-56)
Here’s another standard Protestant reference source, which mentioned:
The Jews in the early Christian centuries had really two Bibles: (1) There was the Hebrew Bible which does not include the Apocrypha and which circulated in Palestine and Babylon; (2) there was the Greek version (LXX [the Septuagint]) used by Greek-speaking Jews everywhere. Until in quite early times, instigated by the use made of it by Christians against themselves, the Jews condemned this version and made the Hebrew canon their Bible, thus rejecting the books of the Apocrypha from their list of canonical writings, and departing from
. . . 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)
Citing statements such as this, former evangelical turned Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong wrote us at The John Ankerberg Show in defense of Catholic views generally. He began by quoting The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, which declared, as we just quoted,
Down to the 4th century, the Church generally accepted all the books of the Septuagint as canonical. Greek and Latin writers alike (e.g., Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian) cite both classes of Books without distinction . . . With few exceptions [St. Jerome and St. Hilary] . . . Western writers (esp. Augustine) continued to consider all as equally canonical . . . At the Reformation, Protestant leaders, ignoring the traditional acceptance of all the Books of the Septuagint in the early church… refused the status of inspired Scripture [to the Apocrypha] . . .”
But what The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church also stated about the Apocrypha is this:
The Biblical Books received by the early Church as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, but not included in the Hebrew Bible, being excluded by the non-Hellenistic Jews from their Canon. Their position in Christian usage has been somewhat ambiguous…. In the E. Church opinion varied, and for some centuries the Books continued to be widely accepted; but at the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 it was decided that Tobit, Judith, Ecclus., and Wisd. alone were to be regarded as canonical. Opinion in the W. was also not unanimous, some authorities considering certain books uncanonical; . . . [footnote 4: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pp. 70-71]
This gives us a somewhat different picture of things. Note that the non-Hellenistic Jews, who determined their Old Testament canon, rejected the Apocrypha.
To which I reply:
1) They also (along with the Hellenistic Jews as a whole) rejected Jesus as their Messiah, so why is it so casually assumed that a Christian has to accept everything that “non-Hellenistic Jews” believe, as if this decides the question, or has some crucial, decisive impact upon it?
2) Note that Ankerberg and Weldon deny (over against Kelly’s opinion – see the words cited above, responding to Kelly as mentioned in Norman Geisler’s book) even that the Church of the first two centuries accepted these books as Scripture. The above entry deals with all of Church history, so we must distinguish between that claim about difference of opinions (which is true) and the separate question of what the Church in the first two centuries believed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states that this “general acceptance” applied up to the 4th century, or some 300 years (two citations above), and comments on how the early Protestants ignored this fact.
3) The fact that the East also accepted some of these books as canonical (and differed as to some with the West) does not resolve the Protestant dilemma of its own authoritative determination of canonicity. It is only Protestants (and not even all of them) who deny the canonicity of all seven deuterocanonical books. I want to know why, and why anyone should accept Protestant authority on this, rather than that of the earliest Christians and the councils of Hippo and Carthage.
4) The fact that western opinion was not absolutely unanimous, is not troubling at all to the Catholic, since we don’t expect every individual Father to get everything right. We don’t determine truth by majority vote (though consensus is highly important), but by the authority of councils and popes, in harmony with Holy Scripture. But in this instance, Scripture itself cannot determine its own parameters. Some human authority has to do that, since the Bible was written, collected, and canonized by very human processes. Christians aren’t like Muslims, who claim to have received the Koran whole and entire from Allah. We can’t simply accept everything the Jews passed down to us, since they disagreed amongst themselves, and rejected the central Christian message and the gospel. This is a Christian problem, and one intrinsically involving Tradition. It can’t be resolved by Scripture Alone, in the very nature of the case. And that creates an enormous difficulty indeed for Protestantism, in deciding the true canon. That difficulty, and the constant (desperate) use of circular argument (for lack of anything better) will become very apparent, as I continue to critique this article.
II. Did Any Jews Accept the Canonicity of the “Apocrypha”? Are Ancient Jewish Beliefs on the Canon Certain?
We must also observe that there is no evidence that the Hellenistic or Alexandrian Jews regarded the Apocrypha as Scripture, despite their preservation of it in the Septuagint [LXX]. It is crucial to note that the Jews themselves never accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture and yet they were the very ones trained to recognize divine authorship. They had carefully done so with 39 other books, rejecting as spurious scores of false texts. Why then did they reject the Apocrypha if it was so clearly scriptural?
This is an unfounded exaggeration (particularly the strong, unsubstantiated word, “never”). It is much more advisable to take an agnostic position, since we don’t have enough definitive evidence to resolve the question of the canon for all Jews at all times. The fact remains that the Jewish canon wasn’t closed until after the New Testament was written. Thus, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church informs us:
In date of writing, the Books of the Apocrypha derive mostly from the period 300 B.C. – A.D. 100 approx., and mostly from 200 B.C/ – A.D. 70 . . . In this period, though the Canon of the Jewish Scriptures was closed as far as the ‘Law’ and the ‘Prophets’ were concerned, it was still possible for works which came to be known technically as ‘Writings’ to claim the status of Scripture . . . (Ibid., 70)
In the long article (104 large pages), “Biblical Literature and Its Critical Interpretation,” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1985 edition, vol. 14, 754-858), the extent and acceptance of the Alexandrian canon is discussed (p. 758):
It should be noted that the contents and form of the inferred original Alexandrian Jewish canon cannot be ascertained with certainty because all extant Greek Bibles are of Christian origin. The Jews of Alexandria may themselves have extended the canon they received from Palestine, or they may have inherited their traditions from Palestinian circles in which the additional books had already been regarded as canonical.
The article then notes that the famous Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran contained:
. . . no lists of canonical works and no codices (manuscript volumes), only individual scrolls. For these reasons nothing can be known with certainty about the contents and sequence of the canon of the Qumran sectarians . . . fragments of all the books of the Hebrew Bible (except Esther) have been found . . . The situation is complicated by the presence in Qumran of extracanonical works – some already known from the Apocrypha [note the begged question, but this shows that the article is a “hostile witness” in favor of what I am arguing: viz., that we don’t know enough] . . . Some or all of these additional works may have been considered canonical by the members of the sect.
The great Protestant biblical scholar F.F. Bruce, no friend of the “Apocrypha,” is forced to agree, given the data we possess. Commenting on the Dead Sea Scrolls, he writes:
[T]he men of Qumran have left no statement indicating precisely which of the books represented in their library ranked as holy scripture in their estimation, and which did not . . . what of Tobit, Jubileese and Enoch, fragments of which were also found at Qumran? These were in due course to be reckoned canonical by certain religious groups; were they reckoned canonical by the Qumran community? There is no evidence which would justify the answer ‘Yes’; on the other hand, we do not know enough to return the answer ‘No’. (The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 39-40)
Likewise, R.K. Harrison, professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, concurs as to uncertainty and possible wider Jewish canonicity in his article, “The Canon of the Old Testament,” reprinted at the end of my copy of Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979; article originally from 1964):
2. Apocrypha, Septuagint, and patristic sources
It seems highly improbable that there was ever any specific enumeration of the books of the canon in Jewish literature generally . . .
From the evidence presented by the Qumran texts it would seem probable that there were several different forms of the canon in existence by the first century of the Christian era, which is in harmony with the rather fluid picture of the pre-Masoretic text as indicated by the Qumran scrolls.
Perhaps then, some in the early church were wrong and the issue is not as clear as others would have us think.
Perhaps, then, Protestants are wrong and the issue is indeed as clear as Catholics would have us think. But this rests on the same fallacy; that is: this casually-assumed notion that the early Church was bound to Jewish opinion on the canon of Old Testament Scripture. The Jews disagreed amongst themselves (as just demonstrated), and they hadn’t closed their own canon yet. Therefore, even if Christians were bound absolutely to their opinion on this, these two factors would make any certainty on those grounds alone unattainable.
In his letter, Mr. Armstrong proceeded with the following argument in defense of the Apocrypha:
As for the Apostles and Jesus, everyone agrees that they used and cited the Septuagint, which contained the Apocrypha. The earliest Greek manuscripts contain the Apocryphal books interspersed with (not separate from) the others, proving they were part of the early Christian Bible. The Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) listed the Apocrypha as canonical, along with the other 39 that Protestants accept. Who are Protestants to decide 1100 years later that these Councils erred on some books but not others? The only reason you have the Bible you do is because you inconsistently accept the authority of these Councils as to the Canon (except for the Apocrypha). The late Protestant rejection of these books is largely based on inadequate and arbitrary grounds, as usual: the clear teaching in some of prayers for the dead and the intercession of saints and angels, which had been unbroken Christian (and Jewish) Tradition. This is the same rationale that caused Luther nearly to toss out James and other books, based on his personal aversion to their (Catholic) teachings. Thus, Protestants have “subtracted” from the Bible, rather than Catholics “adding” to it. Yours is the radical and novel innovation (i.e., corruption) not ours. The practice of separating the Apocryphal books from the others dates back no further than 1520, according to The New English Bible (Oxford, 1976, “Introduction to the Apocrypha,” p. iii). And, of course, the original KJV contained it, too. So, again, you are refuted entirely from Protestant sources and the indisputable facts of church history. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.[footnote 5: Letter of Dave Armstrong to John Weldon, August 20, 1995]
Mr. Armstrong has, unfortunately, as many Catholic apologists do, oversimplified the issues and failed to answer the real questions.
I don’t think so. I believe it is evident that Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon, not I, are overlooking a host of difficult but crucial questions. They disagree? Then let them come reply to this, and let’s all see why they disagree, and how well they can back up their contentions.
For example, the mere fact that Jesus and the apostles used the Septuagint says nothing about the canonical status of the Apocrypha.
Strictly speaking, I agree; however, this is not inconsistent with a belief that all the books in the Septuagint are biblical, and regarded as such by the early Church. We have a lot of direct evidence for this, and if the early Church took that position so widely, it is not implausible or unreasonable to assume that the apostles did also.
Certainly, they used Hebrew Manuscripts or compilations that did not contain the Apocrypha as well.
Yes, but that doesn’t resolve our dispute one way or the other.
Also, what proof exists that the Septuagint of the first century contained the Apocrypha?
Apparently there exists no absolute manuscript proof from before the advent of Christianity. But this is no disproof of Catholic claims, either, because we lack absolute proof for all of the Protestant 39 books, too, since the Jews were still disputing it at the time (or at least had not finally established a canon), and due to the lack of comprehensive evidence from the NT. F.F. Bruce states about the NT evidence of the canonized OT books (by the somewhat incomplete data of citation):
When we think of Jesus and his Palestinian apostles . . . We cannot say confidently that they accepted Esther, Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs as scripture, because evidence is not available. We can argue only from probability, and arguments from probability are weighed differently by different judges.
We cannot say with absolute certainty, for example, if Paul treated Esther or the Song of Songs as scripture any more than we can say if those books belonged to the Bible which Jesus knew and used.
(Bruce, ibid., 41, 50)
III. F.F. Bruce: New Testament Allusions to the “Apocrypha” and Pseudepigrapha
Bruce goes on to detail NT allusions to (from the Protestant perspective, and sometimes that of all Christians) non-canonical works. He felt that the book of Hebrews “probably” was referring to the martyrologies of 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:41 when he wrote of hardships endured for the faith in Hebrews 11:35-38) and that Jude 14 ff. was “recognizably from the apocalyptic book of Enoch (1 Enoch 1:9),” and that “the account of Michael’s dispute with the devil over the body of Moses may refer to a work called the Assumption of Moses or Ascension of Moses” (p. 51). Even more fascinating (and troublesome for the Protestant position not only against the deuterocanon, but also authoritative extra-biblical Tradition) are his following words:
There are, however, several quotations in the New Testament which are introduced as though they were taken from holy scripture, but their source can no longer be identified. For instance, the words ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’, quoted in Matthew 2:23 as ‘what was spoken by the prophets’, stand in that form in no known prophetical book . . . Again in John 7:38 ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ is introduced by the words ‘as the scripture has said’ – but which scripture is referred to? . . . there can be no certainty. (Ibid., 51-52)
He gives other examples of similar texts, as well: 1 Cor 2:9, Eph 5:14, 2 Tim 3:8, James 4:5. The argument of OT canon construction from NT citations alone, is, therefore, quite dubious and inconclusive. It may seem to “work” if circular reasoning is utilized, but not when all the hard facts are considered. Bruce is honest enough to admit this, even though he himself rejects the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books, or so-called “Apocrypha.” Evidence is evidence, after all, and wishing it away or into existence does not resolve the problem. Bruce’s conclusion, then, would seem to contradict that of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
Everything depends upon the manner in which the quotation is made. In no case is an Apocryphal book cited by NT authors as “Scripture,” or as the work of the Holy Spirit. (Orr, ibid., 558-559)
Bruce (and the evidence fairly considered, I think) also contradicts OT scholar R.K. Harrison (as cited by Ankerberg and Weldon):
[T]here is no instance in the New Testament where any of the writers cited an Apocryphal composition as though they recognized it as inspired Scripture or as in any way connected with matters of spiritual authority. (An Introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, 1186)
Strictly speaking, if we restrict “Apocryphal” to the seven books in the Catholic Bible, this is true. However, Bruce demonstrated that such an introduction was given to works even beyond that, which all regard as non-biblical “pseudepigrapha.” That is even more damaging to the Protestant claim, since it shows a remarkable fluidity in the conception of “canon” in the NT apostolic era.
IV. Miscellany and Some Good-Natured Bantering Back and Forth
Does the fact that apocryphal books were included in some Greek manuscripts prove the early church considered them Scripture?
No, but that’s not the argument, which is based, rather, on the early Church’s own firsthand report of what it regarded as Scripture.
Are the decrees of all church councils infallible?
No, only those accepted by the pope, according to Catholic ecclesiology. Have my Protestant friends never heard of, for example, the famous “Robber Council” of 449?
Is it really the Protestants who removed Scripture or have Catholics decreed noncanonical writings into Scripture?
The former, as the early Church (first two or three centuries) clearly accepted them as canonical.
And is the Protestant view “refuted entirely from Protestant sources and the indisputable facts of church history” so that Protestants should be ashamed of what they have done?
Insofar as they attempt to falsify facts of Church history, yes. It would be much more honest to simply admit that they don’t care what the earliest Christians taught on this (or anything else), and openly argue that they will construct their own canon despite the early consensus. The dilemma is that Protestants are fond of a certain mythology, whereby they supposedly “reformed” the Church back to its original pristine purity of the first age after the apostles. This myth, unfortunately, dies the death of a thousand qualifications, as Church history is more and more known. Thus, we see Ankerberg and Weldon flat-out denying the contentions of Church historians like Kelly. They do that because they are trying to maintain the “myth of origins” and the lofty description of “Reformation.”
A “reformation” (as opposed to a “revolution”) goes back to what was before. So if they find that some things in the early Church were simply not like proto-Protestantism, and much more like Catholicism, then they have a huge problem. They must either become a-historical altogether and cease arguing their case based on the early Church, or pretend that the early Christians were not what they were. My opponents have chosen the latter course, with regard to the first two centuries, in the face of strong historical evidence (provided by non-Catholic historians and references) to the contrary. There are also other logical and epistemological problems and conundrums of proper authority, as related to this question of the canon, which will be explored in due course also.
Or is Mr. Armstrong just being a good Catholic apologist?
I hope so! I think I am being a “good enough” one to virtually guarantee that my opponents will not counter-reply. I challenge them to prove my expectation of a non-response to be incorrect. Otherwise, I believe I have shown and will continue to demonstrate that their case cannot stand scrutiny and is quite (even woefully) insufficient to establish the Protestant canon and overthrow the Catholic canon.
Let’s see just where “the facts of church history” take us.
Yes, let’s. That would be nice for a change, if the Protestants who make these historical arguments would ever stick around long enough to accomplish anything.
V. “Demonstrable, Disqualifying Errors” in the “Apocrypha”? / Errors in Protestant Logic
Before we proceed, let us supply a few pertinent questions and comments to introduce our subject. We will then return to these points and others in more detail. First, how can the Apocrypha possibly be considered God’s Word when everyone, Protestant and Catholic, agree it contains demonstrable errors? This thoroughly undermines the crucial doctrines of divine inspiration and inerrancy. To our way of thinking, this single fact alone forever disqualifies the Apocrypha from canonical status.
I’m sure some Catholics can be found who believe so, but they would tend to take a liberal view of the other Scriptures, too. Orthodox Catholic Bible scholars would not believe this. Secondly, a Protestant seeing doctrinal error in the Apocrypha is another discussion in and of itself. Oftentimes, this would merely be circular reasoning. For example, the prayers for the dead in Maccabees are said to be proof that this is not a biblical book. But a strong case can be made that St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus, a dead man (2 Tim 1:16-18); our Lord Jesus definitely prayed for the dead man Lazarus (Jn 11:41-42), as did St. Peter for the dead disciple Tabitha (Acts 9:36-41). So this argument from “error” collapses. Thirdly, there are a host of suggested or not totally-explained “errors” in the books that Protestants do accept, that have no easy solutions. Hence we have a huge book like Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Every complex field of study of belief system has such “problems” to work through. Why should the Deuterocanon be any different? Hermeneutics and exegesis is an ongoing task, and no one knows everything about it.
As for “historical and geographical errors,” Catholic apologist Mark Shea adds some illuminating insights:
[B]oth Judith and Tobit have a number of historical and geographical errors, not because they’re presenting bad history and erroneous geography, but because they’re first-rate pious stories that don’t pretend to be remotely interested with teaching history or geography, any more than the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels are interested in astronomy. Indeed, the author of Tobit goes out of his way to make clear that his hero is fictional. He makes Tobit the uncle of Ahiqar, a figure in ancient Semitic folklore like “Jack the Giant Killer” or “Aladdin.” Just as one wouldn’t wave a medieval history textbook around and complain about a tale that begins “once upon a time when King Arthur ruled the land,” so Catholics are not reading Tobit and Judith to get a history lesson. (Envoy Magazine article, “5 Myths about 7 Books”, March / April 1997)
Second, the argument from tradition, which Catholics rely so heavily upon, is irrelevant. The councils or statements of church tradition are not inerrant, nor are they to be placed in the same category as Scripture, despite Catholic claims. Indeed, it would hardly matter if every church father, council, etc., officially declared the Apocrypha was Scripture—because, again, what proves the claim to divine inspiration of the Apocrypha false is the presence of errors.
This again relies on circular reasoning. It’s not even an argument. It simply assumes a position and baldly declares it (perhaps it is fleshed out later in the long article; we’ll see). But even if we grant this typical, garden variety Protestant argument against Catholic authority, the problem is not at all resolved for Protestants with regard to the canon. And the reason for that is because Protestants simply create their own (ultimately arbitrary) tradition(s) to replace the Catholic ones. It’s unavoidable. It can’t be otherwise. So now we have a relatively recent Protestant tradition versus an older one. How does one choose? Weldon and Ankerberg assume errors in the Deuterocanon based on their preconceived theology. They presuppose errors in various councils on the same basis. But why accept their authority or even their judgment?
I don’t care how one approaches this question: at some point we ALL (including Protestants) have to accept some tradition and authority to resolve it, because the Bible does not – cannot – do so on its own. So which authority do we choose? Christians will disagree (just as the fathers had differences about Scripture, and none came up with even the exact books of the NT until St. Athanasius in 367). It’s very easy for us to sit here in the year 2004 and look down our noses at these early Christians who couldn’t seem to agree as to what constituted Scripture, and had all sorts of discrepancies and differences. We “know” today what Scripture is and what it isn’t, because we’re so superior and have the benefit of hindsight. We think we can “prove it” by simple declarative statements and so forth. This is not only empty-headed and out to sea, but a severe insult to the earliest generations of Christians who accepted books which are now regarded as “obviously” non-canonical, or even some books which no major Christian body today accepts as biblical. And it is also a fact that some books like Revelation and James were hotly disputed all the way till the mid-fourth century. We can say with reasonable assurance, then, that the question is not so simple and straightforward as Weldon and Ankerberg would like to have us believe. Nor is the Catholic view so immediately dismissible.
. . . By the time the full Canon was universally recognized, the Apocrypha was notconsidered part of Scripture.
This is simply untrue. The same councils which declared the canon in 393 and 397, included these books. If they authoritatively declared it, then Protestants have to explain why they accept the verdict for 39 books, but not the other seven.
To argue that the Apocrypha was accepted implicitly or explicitly by the church as Scripture up until the time of the Protestant Reformation and then thrown out by the Reformers, for whatever reason, is not true. It was very carefully reasoned arguments, based on full and complete trust in our 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, that forced the church to reject the Apocrypha.
First of all, one has to define “church.” This assumes what it is trying to prove, by assuming that the “church” was Protestantism to the exclusion of Catholicism and the Orthodox tradition. The early Church, between the time of the Councils of Nicaea (325) and the Council of Chalcedon (451) – widely revered and accepted by Protestants, made this determination. Why should this be overruled by the Protestants 100 years later? And by what criteria are we to regard Protestantism as the new “church”? I’ve been asking this for 14 years now and have never yet received an adequate answer, or even any attempted answer at all.
Unfortunately, it is the Catholics who refuse to look objectively at the facts of church history and the logical implications of the content of the Apocrypha. Again, if the Apocrypha contains errors and doctrines that deny biblical teaching, how can it possibly be inspired by God?
More circular reasoning . . . unless this is demonstrated, it proves nothing. I could just as easily demonstrate that various distinctive Protestant teaching contradicts those biblical books which both camps accept as inspired and divine revelation.
The illogic of the Catholic Church on this point is the fault of the Catholic Church, not the canon of Scripture. To argue that Protestant rejection of the Apocrypha is “based on inadequate and arbitrary grounds” is simply false.
Great; show me why, then . . .
Finally, the fact that Bibles such as the Septuagint and the King James Version included the Apocrypha as relevant historical materials says no more about their inspired status than the inclusion of historical introductions in modern study Bibles says about their inspired status.
That’s correct. But it does show that there was at least far more respect for these books than there are today among most Protestants, who would rather mock and deride the books, rather than have them included in their own Bibles (i.e., as a collection of books within one cover).
In essence, the fact that some in the early church accepted the Apocrypha, that some books were included in some canonical lists and manuscripts, that the Catholic church officially declared it Scripture in the mid 1500’s or that many Protestant versions contained the Apocrypha are still not proof that the Apocrypha was divinely inspired.
In terms of absolute proof, I agree. The Catholic believes in faith, that God protects His Church from error; therefore there can be such things as infallible decrees by councils and popes. But the question inevitably comes down to one of authority. We have a certain notion of that, and the Protestant, it seems to me, has to defend his own version relative to the canon question.
. . . We will show why it is impossible for any thinking person committed to the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture to regard the Apocrypha as the Word of God.
I see. This is a very interesting assertion. And from this, it follows that St. Augustine was not a “thinking person” nor committed to “the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture.” Is that not ridiculous enough to dismiss this particular assertion? I sure think so.
VI. “Universal Jewish Rejection” of the “Apocrypha”?
That concludes my response to Part 2
of this article that I found on the Internet. In moving on to Part 3
, I wanted to clarify that I am not attempting to make a full-fledged defense
of the Catholic position on inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books as Scriptural. That has been done elsewhere by scholars far more qualified than I am to undertake such a task. I am a lay apologist, and oftentimes (as presently) my task is to “remove roadblocks” that are thrown up as objections to some Catholic tenet or other. So what I think I am accomplishing in this paper is to show that:
1) Ankerberg and Weldon’s arguments are not sufficient to overthrow or disprove the Catholic position, due to their many and serious deficiencies and inadequacies as demonstrated above and below.
2) Their arguments do not establish the Protestant position or show that it is superior and more defensible than the Catholic belief.
3) Their arguments do not alleviate the logical, epistemological, and “authority” difficulties of the Protestant position. I have already alluded to a number of internal inconsistencies (such as, e.g., the appeal to NT citations as “proof” of the OT canon) along these lines.
That said, I proceed on to Part 3
. . . there was universal Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha.
This has not been shown; in fact, quite the contrary. As we have seen, no definite conclusions that can be drawn. It seems fairly clear that there was such a thing as the Septuagint, which included these books, believed to be Scripture by some of the Hellenistic or Alexandrian Jews. That is enough to refute an assertion of “universal rejection.” Unless one wants to believe that the early Church simply came up with these books out of thin air and added them to the Bible (which I find an utterly fantastic, fanciful scenario), then there is some history behind the tradition of canonicity for these books, at least for some non-Palestinian Jews. Ankerberg and Weldon cite F.F. Bruce in support of this contention. But I have already cited him saying that we cannot know for sure even what the Qumran community (producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls) thought about the canon. The ignorance and uincertainty is so widespread, in fact, that the above-mentioned article from the Encyclopaedia Britannica stated:
The history of canonization.
Because no explicit or reliable traditions concerning the criteria of canonicity, the canonizing authorities, the periods in which they lived, or the procedure adopted have been preserved, no more than a plausible reconstruction of the successive stages involved can be provided.
(Vol. 14, p. 757; this citation, and the one above from the same article, were written by Nahum M. Sama, professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University; presumably Jewish)
Likewise, a standard source for information about Judaism for non-Jews, agrees, in a plain statement:
It was also at Jabneh [aka Jamnia] that the process of canonization, about which there is much uncertainty, but which by every indication began centuries before the Babylonian exile, was brought to completion by the acceptance of the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Esther (or their retention) within the Canon.
(Judaism, Isidore Epstein, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1959, 117)
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia takes a clear Protestant stand against the Deuterocanonical books, yet it repeatedly bears witness to the great uncertainty about the Jewish canon:
The Jews in the early Christian centuries had really two Bibles: (1) There was the Hebrew Bible which does not include the Apocrypha and which circulated in Palestine and Babylon; (2) there was the Greek version (LXX [the Septuagint]) used by Greek-speaking Jews everywhere. Until in quite early times, instigated by the use made of it by Christians against themselves, the Jews condemned this version and made the Hebrew canon their Bible, thus rejecting the books of the Apocrypha from their list of canonical writings, . . . (Orr, ibid., Vol. 1, “Apocrypha,” 182)
This motif is continued in its article, “Canon of the Old Testament”:
How the ancient Hebrews expressed the conception of canonicity is not known.
. . . the OT does not tell us anything about the process of its own canonization.
. . . when the translation of the OT into Greek was made in Alexandria, the process of canonization was still incomplete . . . Our necessary conclusion, therefore, is that the work of canonization was probably going on in Palestine while the work of translation was proceeding in Alexandria. (Ibid., 554-555, 557)
ISBE, in a fascinating aside, discusses the sort of doubts that the Jews entertained and discussed, regarding certain books, even as late as the early second century A.D. (a date after the writing of the NT):
During the 2d century A.D., doubts arose in Jewish minds concerning four books, Proverbs, The Canticle of Canticles [i.e., Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon], Ecclesiastes, and Esther. In a certain Talmudic tractate it is related that an attempt was made to withdraw . . . the Book of Proverbs on account of contradictions which were found in it (cf. 26: 4-5) . . . the protestations were much stronger against Ecclesiastes. In one tractate it is stated: “The wise men desired to hide it because its language was often self-contradictory (cf. Ecc 7:3 and 2:2; 4:2 and 9:4) . . . Likewise Esther was vigorously disputed by both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Gemaras, because the name of God was not found in it . . . (Ibid., 560)
The Gemara was the commentary portion of the Talmud; the other portion being called the Mishnah, or core text. The fact that the canonicity of Esther was “vigorously disputed” in these rabbinic texts which are central to NT-era and post-Christian Judaism, shows very clearly that the canon was not yet closed. Three other books were also disputed, as we observe above.
Another complex factor which is connected with canonicity, was the Jewish reverence for Oral Law or Oral Tradition. ISBE mentions this:
When among the Jews there arose a literature of oral tradition it was natural to apply to this last the Greek notion of esoteric, especially as this class of literature was more highly esteemed in many Jewish circles than the OT Scriptures themselves. (Ibid., 180)
F.F. Bruce adds another related observation:
There is no evidence of any authoritative delimitation of the Greek canon among Alexandrian Jews. (New Testament History, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1969, reprinted in 1980, 150; footnote 68)
Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin informs us that this statement does not even hold true for all Jews in our own time:
. . . today most Jews accept the canon of Javneh [or, Jamnia]. However, some Jews, such as those from Ethiopia, follow a different canon which is identical to the Catholic Old Testament and includes the seven deuterocanonical books (cf. Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 6, p. 1147).
Needless to say, the Church disregarded the results of Javneh. First, a Jewish council after the time of Christ is not binding on the followers of Christ. Second, Javneh rejected precisely those documents which are foundational for the Christian Church – the Gospels and the other documents of the New Testament. Third, by rejecting the deuterocanonicals, Javneh rejected books which had been used by Jesus and the apostles and which were in the edition of the Bible that the apostles used in everyday life – the Septuagint. (Internet article, “Defending the Deuterocanonicals”
The canon of the Jews (limited to the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament) was clearly the canon Jesus and the apostles accepted. This means that Jesus and the apostles never accepted the Apocrypha as God’s word . . .
Such a conclusion is inadequately documented, as shown in several ways above, from Protestant scholars such as F.F. Bruce, and the ISBE. It is simply an overconfident assertion of what is already believed, without sufficient proof. As we have seen again and again, there was fluidity in Jewish conceptions of the canon in NT times. For example, the Sadducees. Mark Shea gives us a little history lesson about their peculiar canon:
The deuterocanonical books are not found in the Hebrew Bible. They were added by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent after Luther rejected it.
The background to this theory goes like this: Jesus and the Apostles, being Jews, used the same Bible Jews use today. However, after they passed from the scene, muddled hierarchs started adding books to the Bible either out of ignorance or because such books helped back up various wacky Catholic traditions that were added to the gospel. In the 16th century, when the Reformation came along, the first Protestants, finally able to read their Bibles without ecclesial propaganda from Rome, noticed that the Jewish and Catholic Old Testaments differed, recognized this medieval addition for what it was and scraped it off the Word of God like so many barnacles off a diamond. Rome, ever ornery, reacted by officially adding the deuterocanonical books at the Council of Trent (1564-1565) and started telling Catholics “they had always been there.”
This is a fine theory. The problem is that its basis in history is gossamer thin. As we’ll see in a moment, accepting this myth leads to some remarkable dilemmas a little further on.
The problems with this theory are first, it relies on the incorrect notion that the modern Jewish Bible is identical to the Bible used by Jesus and the Apostles. This is false. In fact, the Old Testament was still very much in flux in the time of Christ and there was no fixed canon of Scripture in the apostolic period. Some people will tell you that there must have been since, they say, Jesus held people accountable to obey the Scriptures. But this is also untrue. For in fact, Jesus held people accountable to obey their conscience and therefore, to obey Scripture insofar as they were able to grasp what constituted “Scripture.”
Consider the Sadducees. They only regarded the first five books of the Old Testament as inspired and canonical. The rest of the Old Testament was regarded by them in much the same way the deuterocanon is regarded by Protestant Christians today: nice, but not the inspired Word of God. This was precisely why the Sadducees argued with Jesus against the reality of the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33: they couldn’t see it in the five books of Moses and they did not regard the later books of Scripture which spoke of it explicitly (such as Isaiah and 2 Maccabees) to be inspired and canonical. Does Jesus say to them “You do greatly err, not knowing Isaiah and 2 Maccabees”? Does He bind them to acknowledge these books as canonical? No. He doesn’t try to drag the Sadducees kicking and screaming into an expanded Old Testament. He simply holds the Sadducees accountable to take seriously the portion of Scripture they do acknowledge: that is, He argues for the resurrection based on the five books of the Law. But of course, this doesn’t mean Jesus commits Himself to the Sadducees’ whittled-down canon. (Shea, ibid.)
VII. Does the New Testament Ever Cite the “Apocrypha” as an “Authority”?
In confirmation, we may observe that the New Testament never cites the Apocrypha as an authority, if it even cites it at all. Neither Jesus nor the New Testament authors ever quoted from it by way of the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This is so in spite of their quoting from 35 of the 39 Old Testament books. Indeed, directly or indirectly the New Testament quotes the Old Testament over 600 times, but an apocryphal book is not cited by name even once. This speaks volumes as to the New Testament authors’ view of the Apocrypha. Because the Jews, Jesus and the Apostles clearly rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture, the burden of proof must be met by Catholics to show that the reasons for its rejection were spurious and that it deserved canonization. This is something the Catholic Church can never do.
Again, there is much indirect evidence. It is true that there is no direct citations, stated as such, but there is virtual citation, due to a high degree of similarity. F.F. Bruce noted several instances of this in a citation above (2 Maccabees 6:18-7:41 seemingly in mind in Hebrews 11:35-38, and Jude 14 ff. as “recognizably from the apocalyptic book of Enoch” [1 Enoch 1:9] – a work of Jewish apocalypticism which is not even one of the so-called apocryphal books). You be the judge of the following comparisons. I’ve listed Bruce’s, plus two more which show striking parallels:
Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.
2 Maccabees 7:29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. [a mother speaking to her son: see 7:25-26]
Revelation 1:4 Grace to you . . . from the seven spirits who are before his throne. [see also 3:1, 4:5, 5:6]
Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. [see also Revelation 5:8]
Tobit 12:15 I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.
1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
2 Maccabees 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
As F.F. Bruce noted:
The Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament (1979) has an index of Old Testament texts cited or alluded to in the New Testament, followed by an index of allusions not only to the ‘Septuagintal plus’ but also to several other works not included in the Septuagint. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, ibid., 51)
I get a lot of requests for a list of the references the New Testament makes to the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, giving a list is not such a simple affair since it is not always obvious whether something is a genuine reference. Hebrews 11:35 is an indisputable reference to 2 Maccabees 7, but many are not so clear as there may be only a single phrase that echoes one in a deuterocanonical book (and this may not be obvious in the translation, but only the original languages). This is the same with New Testament references to the protocanonical books of the Old Testament. How many New Testament references there are to the Old Testament depends in large measure on what you are going to count as a reference. As a result, many scholarly works simply give an enormous catalogue of all proposed references and leave it to the individual interpreter to decide whether a given reference is actual or not.
Mark Shea provides a few representative examples of such NT quotations:
Christ and the Apostles frequently quoted Old Testament Scripture as their authority, but they never quoted from the deuterocanonical books, nor did they even mention them. Clearly, if these books were part of Scripture, the Lord would have cited them.
. . . Wisdom 2:12-20, reads in part, “For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”
This passage was clearly in the minds of the Synoptic Gospel writers in their accounts of the Crucifixion: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, I am the Son of God'” (cf. Matthew 27:42-43).
. . . And more than once, Christ Himself drew on the text of Sirach 27:6, which reads: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does a man’s speech disclose the bent of his mind.” Notice too that the Lord and His Apostles observed the Jewish feast of Hanukkah (cf. John 10:22-36). But the divine establishment of this key feast day is recorded only in the deuterocanonical books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. It is nowhere discussed in any other book of the Old Testament. In light of this, consider the importance of Christ’s words on the occasion of this feast: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came – and the Scripture cannot be broken – what about the One Whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world?” Jesus, standing near the Temple during the feast of Hanukkah, speaks of His being “set apart,” just as Judas Maccabeus “set apart” (ie. consecrated) the Temple in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59 and 2 Maccabees 10:1-8. In other words, our Lord made a connection that was unmistakable to His Jewish hearers by treating the Feast of Hanukkah and the account of it in the books of the Maccabees as an image or type of His own consecration by the Father. That is, He treats the Feast of Hanukkah from the so-called “apocryphal” books of 1 and 2 Maccabees exactly as He treats accounts of the manna (John 6:32-33; Exodus 16:4), the Bronze Serpent (John 3:14; Numbers 21:4-9), and Jacob’s Ladder (John 1:51; Genesis 28:12) – as inspired, prophetic, scriptural images of Himself. We see this pattern throughout the New Testament. There is no distinction made by Christ or the Apostles between the deuterocanonical books and the rest of the Old Testament. (Shea, ibid.)
Furthermore, Akin points out:
The Christian acceptance of the deuterocanonical books was logical because the deuterocanonicals were also included in the Septuagint, the Greek edition of the Old Testament which the apostles used to evangelize the world. Two thirds of the Old Testament quotations in the New are from the Septuagint. Yet the apostles nowhere told their converts to avoid seven books of it. Like the Jews all over the world who used the Septuagint, the early Christians accepted the books they found in it. They knew that the apostles would not mislead them and endanger their souls by putting false scriptures in their hands – especially without warning them against them. (Akin, ibid.)
And Mark Shea notes that there were several of the Protestant 39 OT books which are never directly cited in the NT:
[T]he Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations and Nahum. Not one of these Old Testament books is ever quoted or alluded to by Christ or the Apostles in the New Testament. (Shea, ibid.)
Protestant apologist Norman L. Geisler, in his book about canonicity, even states that the “authenticity” of Jude and its canonicity were questioned by some on the basis that it cited non-biblical books:
Most of the dispute centered around the references to the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15) and a possible reference to the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9). Origen hints at this problem in his day (Commentary on Matthew 18:30) and Jerome specifically declares this to be the problem . . . (From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible, co-authored with William E. Nix, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, 119)
VIII. Clarification on the Catholic Meaning of the Term Deuterocanonical Books
Even Catholics, by their use of the term “deuterocanonical,” as applied to the Apocrypha, agree at this point that the Jews rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture. In other words, the term implies the Apocrypha is a second canon added to the one the Jews accepted. Dr. Bruce also points out that Jerome’s distinction between the books that were authenticated by the Hebrews and the books that were to be read only for edification is maintained by Roman Catholic scholars:
As for the status of the books which Jerome called apocryphal [i.e., those to be excluded from the canon but which could be used for edification], there is generally agreement among Roman Catholic scholars today (as among their colleagues of other Christian traditions) to call them “deuterocanonical” . . . Jerome’s distinction is thus maintained in practice, even if it does not enjoy conciliar support. [Footnote 4: Bruce, ibid., 105; “generally” is a mis-citation of the original, which has “general”]
First of all, Ankerberg and Weldon conveniently omit in their ellipses (. . .) Bruce’s note, “(a term first used, it appears, in the sixteenth century).” Bruce in his footnote 17 on the same page points out that a scholar, F.J. Crehan located the first use of the term by a converted Jew, Sixtus of Siena (1520-1569). It is also true that the separation of these books into a distinct, self-contained entity (rather than interspersed with the other biblical books) also first occurred in the 16th century (1520, to be exact). This is confirmed by, for example, the Protestant New English Bible (Oxford University Press, 1976), in its “Introduction to the Apocrypha,” (p.iii).
Secondly, St. Jerome, the great Bible scholar had his own opinion, which has been milked to death by Protestants in their polemics against these seven books. But Catholics have always believed that individual Fathers were not infallible. St. Jerome, a good Catholic, recognized this himself, and submitted his opinion to that of the Catholic Church, just as any loyal son of the Church would do. The Catholic Church is not governed by a “priesthood of scholars,” as it seems so often that Protestantism is. We don’t derive our dogmatic beliefs by counting up heads of scholarly opinions. But Ankerberg and Weldon do not give the whole picture, either, and in some ways distort Jerome’s opinion. Mark Shea clarifies the “Jerome argument”:
In his later years St. Jerome did indeed accept the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. In fact, he wound up strenuously defending their status as inspired Scripture, writing, “What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susanna, the Son of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume (ie. canon), proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I wasn’t relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us” (Against Rufinus 11:33 [A.D. 402]). In earlier correspondence with Pope Damasus, Jerome did not call the deuterocanonical books unscriptural, he simply said that Jews he knew did not regard them as canonical. But for himself, he acknowledged the authority of the Church in defining the canon. When Pope Damasus and the Councils of Carthage and Hippo included the deuterocanon in Scripture, that was good enough for St. Jerome. He “followed the judgment of the churches.”
Thirdly, the rhetoric about Catholic use of the term “deuterocanonical” (besides the fact that it is a late-arriving term unknown to Jerome) and what we supposedly believe or grant by that usage, is sheer nonsense. The Catholic Encyclopedia
(1910), in its article, “Canon of the Holy Scriptures”
makes this abundantly clear:
The terms protocanonical and deuterocanonical, of frequent usage among Catholic theologians and exegetes, require a word of caution. They are not felicitous, and it would be wrong to infer from them that the Church successively possessed two distinct Biblical Canons. Only in a partial and restricted way may we speak of a first and second Canon. Protocanonical (protos, “first”) is a conventional word denoting those sacred writings which have been always received by Christendom without dispute. The protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants. The deuterocanonical (deuteros, “second”) are those whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters, but which long ago gained a secure footing in the Bible of the Catholic Church, though those of the Old Testament are classed by Protestants as the “Apocrypha”. These consist of seven books: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Machabees; also certain additions to Esther and Daniel. Some portions of the New Testament whose canonicity was formerly contested are sometimes styled the deuterocanonicals of the N.T. These are the Epistle to the Hebrews, those of St. James and Jude, the Second of St. Peter, the Second and Third of John, that of St. Jude, and the Apocalypse; also a few portions of books . . . Protocanonical and deuterocanonical are modern terms, not having been used before the sixteenth century. (Volume III, 267)
Virtually the same distinction that Catholics make (using different terminology) is made by Norman L. Geisler, in describing NT books which were disputed for several hundred years. He calls them antilegomena – “books disputed by some” (as opposed to homologoumena – “books accepted by all”:
According to the historian Eusebius, there were seven books whose genuineness was disputed by some church fathers and which had not yet gained universal recognition by the early fourth century. The books questioned were Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
. . . The fact that these books had not gained universal recognition by the beginning of the fourth century does not mean that they did not have an initial recognition by the apostolic and subapostolic communities. On the contrary, these books are cited as inspired by a number of the earliest sources . . . Nor does the fact that they were once disputed by some in the church indicate that their present place in the canon is any less firm than other books. (Geisler & Nix, ibid., 117; emphasis added)
The second paragraph would fit exactly as a description of the Catholic view of the Deuterocanonical books. So if Protestants can understand this distinction with regard to their own view of the NT books, then it follows that they can comprehend a Catholic view of the same nature with regard to OT books, rather than pretending (through terminological obfuscation) that orthodox Catholics (scholars or not) implicitly accept their own view (or approximate it in some way) when they do not.
Geisler’s antilegomena is precisely what the Catholic means by deuterocanonical, and his homologoumena is the equivalent of protocanonical. Neither term is intended by the user to denote an inherent inferiority or sub-canonicity; only that these books were (wrongly) disputed by some, whereas other books were not so disputed.
In fact, Ankerberg and Weldon themselves use this same terminology in Part 5
of their lengthy paper on the Deuterocanonical books:
1) The early church used four basic classifications to gauge the great variety of literature that comprised or surrounded the Bible: the homologoumena, antilegomena, pseudepigrapha and apocrypha. The first class is called the homologoumena. This term refers to those biblical books that, once accepted into the canon, were never questioned or disputed. In other words, from the start, these books have maintained their canonical status to the present day. This includes approximately 87 percent of the Protestant Old Testament.
2) The second category is called the antilegomena. It refers to books that were first accepted but later disputed by some. This includes 13 percent of the Old Testament books.
3) . . . almost 90 percent of the Protestant Old Testament canon was never disputed once accepted . . .
4) Thus, the antilegomena was originally accepted into the canon; it was only subsequently disputed by some rabbis. So the real issue for the antilegomena is whether or not the later arguments for exclusion had any validity. They did not.
(numbering added for reference purposes in the next section)
Again, we see that the same dynamic holds for the “Deuterocanon” or antilegomena of the New Testament. The NT homologoumena constitute an even lower percentage (1) / (2) – above – than the OT books in the same class (85%, or 23 out of 27). Catholics haven’t disputed them, but Martin Luther (the founder of Protestantism) decided to question four books, on grounds that they weren’t apostolic (see below). He even listed them separately in his Bible, at the end, without number, like the others (just as some Protestants do with the Deuterocanon).
Before formal canonization, there was far more dispute regarding New Testament books than seems to be the case with the Jews and their canon in the intertestamental period. In the earliest days of the Church (up till around 150 A.D.), only the four gospels and the Pauline corpus were virtually undisputed at all. That is a mere 17 out of 27 books later accepted, or 63% of the final total. In the next hundred years (up till about 250), only gradual acceptance occurred for books like Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude, and Revelation. Even some of Paul’s writings were not accepted by some prominent Fathers. St. Clement of Alexandria rejected 2 Timothy. Philemon wasn’t accepted by St. Irenaeus, Origin, Tertullian, and St. Clement of Alexandria. On the other hand, the Muratorian canon of c. 190 excluded Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter, while including The Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon. Even as late as the last quarter of the fourth century, the Codex Sinaiticus included the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and 1 and 2 Clement as part of its canon. Obviously, strong authority was needed to settle all these honestly-held disagreements. If more or less spontaneous consensus is an indication of canonicity, then the books of the New Testament fare far less well than the OT books. Yet with the inestimable benefit hindsight, many Protestants think they can look back at all this today with a wink and a knowing nod of esoteric “knowledge,” and act as if they have a full certainty as to why certain books are in the Bible, and others not.
As for (3), if we apply this to the Catholic canon of 73 books, we find that it was accepted for over 1100 years: between 393 (official canonization) and the 16th century, when Protestants rejected these seven books. So we find about as much consensus, judged by common agreement, and lack of dissent (in terms of official stances of the Church), as was the case for the Hebrew canon of 39 books for half this time (roughly from 400 B.C. to 150 A.D.)
Regarding (4), I have shown that the OT Deuterocanon was indeed accepted by the earliest Church and was only substantially disputed in the mid-third to early fourth century. Thus, the analogy to the OT books which were later disputed (e.g., Song of Solomon, Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), leads one to believe that the Deuterocanon is likewise part of the Bible, and that “the later arguments for exclusion” lacked “any validity.” The same holds for the NT, with Luther disputing four books much later, and even at least one OT book (Esther). Luther made his arguments against these books, just as Protestants do against the Deuterocanon, and as dissenting Jews did against the four books listed above.
“Two can play at this game.” The tables can be turned at almost every important point, by analogical analysis. By these sort of “sociological” criteria alone, nothing whatsoever is proven for the Protestant case. In fact, it is weakened.
Further corroborating evidence on this point (with some very interesting additional observations) is found in a classic work on the NT canon, by Brooke Foss Westcott:
Seven books of the New Testament, as is well known, have been received into the Canon on evidence less complete than that by which the others are supported. In the controversy which has been raised about their claims to Apostolic authority much stress has been laid on their internal character. But such a method of reasoning is commonly inconclusive, and inferences are drawn on both sides with equal confidence. In every instance the result will be influenced by preconceived notions of the state of the early Church . . .
The idea of forming the disputed books into a Deutero-canon of the New Testament (advocated by many Roman Catholics in spite of the Council of Trent, and by many of the early reformers) . . . is evidently either a mere confession that the question is incapable of solution, or a re-statement of it in other words . . . It involves a manifest confusion of ideas to compensate for a deficiency of historical proof by a lower standard of Canonicity. The extent of the divine authority of a book cannot be made to vary with the completeness of the proof of its genuineness. The genuineness must be admitted before the authority can have any positive value, which from its nature cannot admit of degrees; and till the genuineness be established the authority remains in abeyance.
(A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1980 of the 6th edition of 1889, 351-353; emphasis added)
Also, we see another parallel in the word Deuteronomy (lit., “second law”), the name of the fifth book of the Old Testament and of the Jewish Torah. The description of “second canon” no more implies that it is in contradiction to the “first canon” (i.e., that accepted by all), than “second law” implies that Deuteronomy contradicts, or is lesser than the other books in the Torah.
IX. Epistemological Difficulties for Protestants / Luther’s Peculiar Views
When all is said and done, the question remains for Protestants: “how does one determine what the canon consists of, from a Protestant standpoint? If various criteria (such as Geisler’s “propheticity”) are applied, one may immediately ask: “on what authoritative grounds do you make this a criterion for canonicity in the first place?” Ultimately this approach is arbitrary and circular and thus inconclusive (as Westcott noted). Martin Luther simply made his own subjective judgment the standard, leading to many ridiculous and presumptuous assertions on his part about Holy Scripture. He was the one who came up with a “canon within a canon” in the New Testament. It was Martin Luther who wanted to reopen the question of the canonicity of James, in writing remarks about it in his 1545 Preface to James and Jude such as the following:
. . . I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle, . . .
. . . this James does nothing more than drive to the law and its works.
. . . I cannot include him among the chief books . . .
(see my paper above for any further documentation of any of these citations of Luther)
Jude gets the same treatment: “this letter does not seem to have been written by the real apostle” (introduction to sermons on Jude). Hebrews is likewise sub-apostolic, according to Luther: “we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles”. The book of Esther shouldn’t be in the Bible at all: “Esther . . . which despite their [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical.” B. F. Westcott condemns this presumption as well as any Catholic could:
Such judgments rest on no definite external evidence. They cannot be justified by the ordinary rule and measure of criticism or dogma. No Church could rest on a theory which makes private feeling the supreme authority as to doctrine and the source of doctrine. (Westcott, ibid., 483-484)
Now, if this subjective criteria of canonicity is regarded as unworkable and unacceptable, then the Protestant necessarily falls back on some species of Church Tradition. That essentially boils down to the choice of Orthodoxy or Catholicism (both of which accept “apocryphal” books as canonical). The same councils and popes who authoritatively declared the canonicity of the 27 NT books also declared the canonicity of the seven disputed OT books. Protestants accept the authority of the former but not the latter. On what basis? They can come up with all sorts of theories and explanations why, but they will contradict each other, just as they do regarding almost all doctrines except those which they hold in common with Catholics in the first place. In the final analysis, however, they will accept these 27 NT books and 39 OT books (excluding the seven from the Deuterocanon) simply because that is their own tradition, and the books as they see them listed in their Bibles. This is circular reasoning, and can never be conclusive. Protestants can never offer a compelling reason to reject Catholic tradition regarding the canon which does not backfire against their own chosen tradition, because the latter can always be shown to be far more arbitrary and non-binding than the former.
X. Misunderstandings About the Catholic Church & Holy Scripture & More Hard Questions for Protestants About the Canon
In Part Six
, which is basically a capsule summary of preceding sections, Ankerberg and Weldon pointedly opine:
A final argument for inclusion concerns the authority of Rome. For Rome, as far as interpreting Scripture is concerned, the issue is not what the text of Scripture itself declares . . .
And what, pray tell, does it declare about the content of its own books? Exactly nothing, so it is passing strange that this statement was made in this context. It only highlights the ultimate bankruptcy and logically circular nature of the Protestant argument.
. . . but what the Catholic Church, claiming divine guidance, claims it declares.
Actually, this is inaccurate and a widely misunderstood aspect of Catholic authority (but it sounds great, and most damaging, so it is often used in Protestant polemics). Binding interpretations of particular verses are very few indeed: less than ten. The Church is much more concerned with providing an overall framework of dogma, beyond which biblical interpretation cannot go. This being understood, it is seen that the essential principle of dogma and “orthodoxy” is no different than similar guidelines of any Protestant denomination. A Calvinist exegete will not (and may not, in his Reformed domain) interpret Scripture in a way that will contradict TULIP. A conservative Lutheran will interpret certain verses as teaching baptismal regeneration, and a Baptist will produce others which he thinks prove adult, believer’s baptism. If they start doing otherwise, their status as a teacher in their group will be severely questioned, and they may lose their denominational or educational position as a result. So it really isn’t fair to act as if only the Catholic Church has limitations on how far someone may go in their theology, to “stretch the limits of orthodoxy.” All Christian groups which have any creed or confession at all do this (even those who don’t, as they will always have an “unwritten tradition” anyway). It is only a matter of degree. Yes, Catholicism has more dogmas and more “authoritarianism,” but it is only a matter of degree, not principle.
This is also the thrust of the Roman Catholic apologetic for the Apocrypha. The Catholic canon of the Old Testament is correct because the Catholic Church, claiming divine guidance, declares it to be correct. This ends all discussion.
The Catholic Church is forced to argue in such a manner because it has no biblical or other evidence in support of its view of the divine authority of the Apocrypha. In the end, evidence is irrelevant because, in the final analysis, it does not really matter. Since Rome is the final interpreter of everything, she must be the final interpreter of evidence as well. And for those who aren’t convinced by this line of reasoning, it is their problem, not that of the Catholic Church. It is the spiritual problem of the critic, who refuses to submit to the authority of “Christ’s church.”
Ankerberg and Weldon unfortunately descend to a belittling, typical anti-Catholic presentation of Catholic authority. This is not the place to launch into a full-fledged defense of same. I’ve done that many times elsewhere. Instead, I will simply turn it around, and grant the objection for the sake of argument. And then I’ll ask any Protestant (yeah, you out there reading this!): “if you object to the authority of the Catholic Church in declaring what is in fact inherently Scripture [not merely because we declare it so; it already was what it is, as Vatican I and II both make very clear], and what is not, then by all means offer us an alternative. How does one decide the canon on an objective (not subjective, individual) basis?” Or, “how does a religious view which bases itself on Scripture alone as the final and only infallible authority, determine what that same Scripture consists of, seeing that it never lists its own books?”
How is this not circular reasoning, in a vicious circle, since it not only is based on nothing at all (no relevant information is included in the Bible), but on a huge self-contradiction: that is, “Scripture must determine what it cannot determine – by the nature of the case – because we have made Scripture our only infallible authority, and at the same time, we can’t even say for sure what Scripture is, because that is the very question at hand: the canon – so we can’t even begin the process under these assumptions; everything is so illogical and chaotic” (!!!). How does a Protestant resolve this? This is far worse than choosing the chicken or the egg, because that is not a contradiction: only a tricky choice. Here, there is massive contradiction and incoherence whichever choice one makes. I don’t see any way out, according to Protestant epistemological principles. Nothing but Scripture is infallible; therefore, in determining what Scripture is, one is forced to rely on mere “tradition” – that which sola Scriptura is designed to override and trounce and to keep at bay, to even arrive at a certain set of biblical books. One must adopt tradition. So the question becomes: “which one?” Some Protestant (R.C. Sproul, if I recall correctly) asked: “how can you have a fallible list of infallible books?”
If, on the other hand, the Protestant refuses to do this, because it violates his own principle, then he is forced back on himself to decide the question. But then he has an even bigger problem of subjectivity and profound arbitrariness. Do Protestants who accept this “hard choice” think that they will reach more consensus than the Church Fathers did before the canon was finalized in 397? I can’t imagine that they would, if they reflected upon it very long. Essentially then, the choice is between forsaking of fundamental Protestant principle or adopting sheer theological relativism and ultimately absurd, almost entirely arbitrary subjectivism and “self-as-pope.” The first is, quite obviously, what Protestants have opted to do, though they inconsistently reject seven selected books which were accepted by the same tradition that alone makes sense as a guideline for the whole determination of the canon.
I would love to learn how a Protestant can consistently overcome this dilemma, as I see it, and to be shown where I have gone astray in my analysis. I don’t have to frame the debate or question in terms of “spiritual problems” of those who refuse to “submit” to the catholic Church (as Ankerberg and Weldon cynically present it) – not at all – rather, I can argue it strictly in terms of the bankruptcy and incoherence of the alternative. It’s a logical and historical problem, and a difficulty of internal consistency of sola Scriptura as a means to determine all theological truth, not necessarily of obedience or spiritual deficiency (though it certainly maybe that; only God knows for sure; that’s His job, not mine, as a lay apologist and not a priest or pastor who gauges spiritual health or sickness).
Ankerberg and Weldon go from bad to worse in their gross misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, as they approach the triumphalistic conclusion of their paper:
Not unexpectedly, Rome teaches that the church has priority over the Scripture. As the argument goes, the Church came first and then the Scripture came from the Church, therefore, the Church is above the Scripture. This is the exact opposite of the position of Protestantism . . . it is a church based on the teachings of Roman Catholic tradition. This is exactly the problem; the ecclesiology of Rome irreparably damages its bibliology both in hermeneutics and in canon.
Clearly, there was never a time when the church was without Scripture. Because the Old Testament was the Bible of the New Testament church, the Scriptures pre-existed the church and the argument of Rome is false. Further, even for the New Testament, the church was founded during the time when New Testament revelation was being received. So it cannot be logically argued that the Church preceded the Scripture and therefore has authority over the Scripture.
They give no documentation for such an alleged view. I will do so, for our actual viewpoint:
For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.
(Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum] from Vatican II: 1962-1965; emphases added)
These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because . . . they were afterward approved by her authority . . . but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.
(Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II from Vatican I: 1870; emphasis added)
XI. “Canon Shot”: Penetrating Insights & Challenges to Protestants From Cardinal Newman
Aren’t accuracy and documentation wonderful things? I shall conclude by citing my favorite Catholic teacher, Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. As always, he is a difficult read, but whoever follows his reasoning carefully (I would advise anyone to read slowly and to go back if it is felt that something crucial in the thought-process was missed), will receive a rich reward and a feast for the mind (and/or a challenge to one’s own position, as the case may be):
I say, it is our blessedness, if we have no doubts about the Canon of Scripture, as it is our blessedness to have no doubts about the Catholic Creed. And this is at present actually our blessedness as regards the Canon; we have no doubts. Even those persons who unhappily have doubts about the Church system, have no doubts about the Canon,- by a happy inconsistency, I say. They ought to have doubts on their principles; . . .
Now to follow them into particulars as far as the first head; viz., as to the evidence itself, which is offered in behalf of the divinity and inspiration of the separate books.
For instance; the first Father who expressly mentions Commemorations for the Dead in Christ (such as we still have in substance at the end of the prayer for the Church Militant, where it was happily restored in 1662, having been omitted a century earlier), is Tertullian, about a hundred years after St. John’s death. This, it is said, is not authority early enough to prove that that Ordinance is Apostolical, though succeeding Fathers, Origen, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, etc., bear witness to it ever so strongly. “Errors might have crept in by that time; mistakes might have been made; Tertullian is but one man, and confessedly not sound in many of his opinions; we ought to have clearer and more decisive evidence.” Well, supposing it: suppose Tertullian, a hundred years after St. John, is the first that mentions it, yet Tertullian is also the first who refers to St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, and even he without quoting or naming it. He is followed by two writers; one of Rome, Caius, whose work is not extant, but is referred to by Eusebius, who, speaking of thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, and as excluding the Hebrews, by implication includes that to Philemon; and the other, Origen, who quotes the fourteenth verse of the Epistle, and elsewhere speaks of fourteen Epistles of St. Paul. Next, at the end of the third century, follows Eusebius. Further, St. Jerome observes, that in his time some persons doubted whether it was St. Paul’s (just as Aerius about that time questioned the Commemorations for the Dead), or at least whether it was canonical, and that from internal evidence; to which he opposes the general consent of external testimony as a sufficient answer. Now, I ask, why do we receive the Epistle to Philemon as St. Paul’s, and not the Commemorations for the faithful departed as Apostolical also? Ever after indeed the date of St. Jerome, the Epistle to Philemon was accounted St. Paul’s, and so too ever after the same date the Commemorations which I have spoken of are acknowledged on all hands to have been observed as a religious duty, down to three hundred years ago. If it be said that from historical records we have good reasons for thinking that the Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon, with his other Epistles, was read from time immemorial in Church, which is a witness independent of particular testimonies in the Fathers, I answer, no evidence can be more satisfactory and conclusive to a well-judging mind; but then it is a moral evidence, resting on very little formal and producible proof; and quite as much evidence can be given for the solemn Commemorations of the Dead in the Holy Eucharist which I speak of. They too were in use in the Church from time immemorial. Persons, then, who have the heart to give up and annul the Ordinance, will not, if they are consistent, scruple much at the Epistle. If in the sixteenth century the innovators on religion had struck the Epistle to Philemon out of Scripture, they would have had just as much right to do it as to abolish these Commemorations; and those who wished to defend such innovation as regards the Epistle to Philemon, would have had just as much to say in its behalf as those had who put an end to the Commemorations.
If it be said they found nothing on the subject of such Commemorations in Scripture, even granting this for argument’s sake, yet I wonder where they found in Scripture that the Epistle to Philemon was written by St. Paul, except indeed in the Epistle itself. Nowhere; yet they kept the one, they abolished the other – as far, that is, as human tyranny could abolish it. Let us be thankful that they did not also say, “The Epistle to Philemon is of a private nature, and has no marks of inspiration about it. It is not mentioned by name or quoted by any writer till Origen, who flourished at a time when mistakes had begun, in the third century, and who actually thinks St. Barnabas wrote the Epistle which goes under his name; and he too, after all, just mentions it once, but not as inspired or canonical, and also just happens to speak elsewhere of St. Paul’s fourteen Epistles. In the beginning of the fourth century, Eusebius, without anywhere naming this Epistle,” (as far as I can discover,) “also speaks of fourteen Epistles, and speaks of a writer one hundred years earlier, who in like manner enumerated thirteen besides the Hebrews. All this is very unsatisfactory. We will have nothing but the pure word of God; we will only admit what has the clearest proof. It is impossible that God should require us to believe a book to come from Him without authenticating it with the highest and most cogent evidence.”
Again: the early Church with one voice testifies in favour of Episcopacy, as an ordinance especially pleasing to God. Ignatius, the very disciple of the Apostles, speaks in the clearest and strongest terms; and those who follow fully corroborate his statements for three or four hundred years. And besides this, we know the fact, that a succession of Bishops from the Apostles did exist in all the Churches all that time. At the end of that time, one Father, St. Jerome, in writing controversially, had some strong expressions against the divine origin of the ordinance. And this is all that can be said in favour of any other regimen. Now, on the other hand, what is the case as regards the Epistle to the Hebrews? Though received in the East, it was not received in the Latin Churches, till that same St. Jerome’s time. St. Irenaeus either does not affirm or actually denies that it is St. Paul’s. Tertullian ascribes it to St. Barnabas. Caius excluded it from his list. St. Hippolytus does not receive it. St. Cyprian is silent about it. It is doubtful whether St. Optatus received it. Now, that this important Epistle is part of the inspired word of God, there is no doubt. But why? Because the testimony of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christians were at leisure to examine the question thoroughly, is altogether in its favour. I know of no other reason, and I consider this to be quite sufficient: but with what consistency do persons receive this Epistle as inspired, yet deny that Episcopacy is a divinely ordained means of grace?
Again: the Epistles to the Thessalonians are quoted by six writers in the first two hundred years from St. John’s death; first, at the end of the first hundred, by three Fathers, Irenaeus, Clement, and Tertullian; and are by implication acknowledged in the lost work of Caius, at the same time, and are in Origen’s list some years after. On the other hand, the Lord’s table is always called an Altar, and is called a Table only in one single passage of a single Father, during the first three centuries. It is called Altar in four out of the seven Epistles of St. Ignatius. It is called Altar by St. Clement of Rome, by St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen, Eusebius, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Optatus, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and St. Austin [Note 2]. It is once called Table by St. Dionysius of Alexandria. (Johnson’s U. S., vol. i., p. 306.) I do not know on what ground we admit the Epistles to the Thessalonians to be the writing of St. Paul, yet deny that the use of Altars is Apostolic.
Again: that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice is declared or implied by St. Clement of Rome, St. Paul’s companion, by St. Justin, by St. Irenaeus, by Tertullian, by St. Cyprian, and others. On the other hand, the Acts of the Apostles are perhaps alluded to by St. Polycarp, but are first distinctly noticed by St. Irenaeus, then by three writers who came soon after (St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the Letter from the Church of Lyons), and then not till the end of the two hundred years from St. John’s death. Which has the best evidence, the Book of Acts, or the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice?
[to summarize Newman’s argument in simple logical form:
1. Commemorations for the dead have more patristic evidence in its support than the book of Philemon. So on what grounds is the latter accepted – strictly on the basis of attestation in the Fathers – but not the former?
2. Episcopacy has more patristic evidence in its support than the book of Hebrews. So (again, in the same manner) on what grounds is the latter accepted – strictly on the basis of attestation in the Fathers – but not the former?
3. The same line of reasoning is applied to 1 and 2 Thessalonians compared to the evidence for altars, and the book of Acts in relation to the notion of the eucharistic sacrifice. Why accept the books on the grounds of testimony when the same patristic testimony is much greater with regard to doctrines which most Protestants reject?
4. Newman thus strongly insinuates that this particular chain of reasoning by Protestants is thoroughly inconsistent. They ought to accept these doctrines that they don’t accept, on the same basis that they accept the biblical books cited. Or they should reject the books in question, in order to become consistent in their rationales for why they accept or reject things. Since they do neither, they are caught on the horns of a dilemma, based on documented history and logic. Newman (p. 213): “It seems, then, that the objections which can be made to the evidence for the Church doctrines are such as also lie against the Canon of Scripture; so that if they avail against the one, they avail against both.”]
Again: much stress, as I have said, is laid by objectors on the fact that there is so little evidence concerning Catholic doctrine in the very first years of Christianity. Now, how does this objection stand, as regards the Canon of the New Testament? The New Testament consists of twenty-seven books in all, though of varying importance. Of these, fourteen are not mentioned at all till from eighty to one hundred years after St. John’s death, in which number are the Acts, the Second to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Colossians, the Two to the Thessalonians, and St. James. Of the other thirteen, five, viz., St. John’s Gospel, the Philippians, the First of Timothy, the Hebrews, and the First of John, are quoted but by one writer during the same period. Lastly, St. Irenarus, at the close of the second century, quotes all the books of the New Testament but five, and deservedly stands very high as a witness. Now, why may not so learned and holy a man, and so close on the Apostles, stand also as a witness of some doctrines which he takes for granted, as the invisible but real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, the use of Catholic tradition in ascertaining revealed truth, and the powers committed to the Church?
If men then will indulge that eclectic spirit which chooses part and rejects part of the primitive Church system, I do not see what is to keep them from choosing part and rejecting part of the Canon of Scripture.
(Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects
, “Lecture 6. External Difficulties of the Canon and the Catholic Creed, compared,” London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1872, 201, 203-209; bolded emphases added, italics are Newman’s own – as also below)
Newman then makes another very interesting analogical argument (his specialty, and a method which has had a great influence on my own apologetics, reasoning, and methodology), by comparing the revulsion many non-Catholics have to Catholic teaching, and showing how they ought (consistently) to have the same reaction to many elements in Scripture (heavily abridged for purposes of concision and compact argumentation). Since they don’t, they are quite inconsistent. Theological liberals are consistent but dead wrong in rejecting the veracity and inspiration of Scripture, and hence, traditional Christian doctrine. More “conservative” Protestants are inconsistent insofar as they reject Catholic distinctives, but somehow (again, partially inconsistently, and ultimately contrary to their own rule of faith, as shown above) accept the canonicity of 66 out of 73 books of the Bible, which rest on the same principle of authority: broad patristic consensus and the authoritative proclamations of the ancient Catholic Church. It is an analogical argument utilizing hypotheticals and plausibilities in imagining a situation that is logically and conceptually prior to our present one (where canonicity is accepted as a matter of course with far less critical engagement than we bring to other matters):
Perhaps the main objection taken to the Church system, is the dislike which men feel of its doctrines. They call them the work of priestcraft, and in that word is summed up all that they hate in them. Priestcraft is the art of gaining power over men by appeals to their consciences; its instrument is mystery; its subject-matter, superstitious feeling. “Now the Church doctrines,” it is urged, “invest a certain number of indifferent things with a new and extraordinary power, beyond sense, beyond reason, beyond nature, a power over the soul; and they put the exclusive possessions and use of the things thus distinguished into the hands of the Clergy. Such, for instance, is the Creed; some mysterious benefit is supposed to result from holding it, even though with but a partial comprehension, and the Clergy are practically its sole expounders. Such still more are the Sacraments, which the Clergy only administer, and which are supposed to effect some supernatural change in the soul, and to convey some supernatural gift.” This then is the antecedent exception taken against the Catholic doctrines, that they are mysterious, tending to superstition, and to dependence on a particular set of men. And this object is urged, not merely as a reason for demanding fair proof of what is advanced, but as a reason for refusing to listen to any proof whatever, as if it fairly created an insurmountable presumption against the said doctrines.
Now I say, in like manner, were it not for our happy reverence for the Canon of Scripture, we should take like exception to many things in Scripture; and, since we do not, neither ought we, consistently, to take this exception to the Catholic system; but if we do take such grounds against that system, there is nothing but the strength of habit, good feeling, and our Lord’s controlling grace, to keep us from using them against Scripture also. This I shall now attempt to show, and with that view, shall cite various passages in Scripture which, to most men of this generation, will appear at first sight strange, superstitious, incredible, and extreme. If then, in spite of these, Scripture is nevertheless from God, so again, in spite of similar apparent difficulties, the Catholic system may be from Him also; and what the argument comes to is this, that the minds of none of us are in such a true state, as to warrant us in judging peremptorily in every case what is from God and what is not. We shrink from the utterances of His providence with offence, as if they were not His, in consequence of our inward ears being attuned to false harmonies. Now for some instances of what I mean . . .
I conceive, were we not used to the Scripture narrative, that we should be startled at the accounts there given us of demoniacs . . . . the common way with objectors is at once and before examination to charge on the narrators of such accounts childish superstition and credulity . . .
If we were not used to the narrative, I conceive we should be very unwilling to receive the account of the serpent speaking to Eve, or its being inhabited by an evil spirit; or, again, of the devils being sent into the swine. We should scoff at such narratives, as fanciful and extravagant . . . should we have felt less distrust in the history of Balaam’s ass speaking? Should we have been reconciled to the account of the Holy Ghost appearing in a bodily shape, and that apparently the shape of an irrational animal, a dove? . . . If Balaam’s ass instructed Balaam, what is there fairly to startle us in the Church’s doctrine, that the water of Baptism cleanses from sin, that eating the consecrated Bread is eating His Body, or that oil may be blessed for spiritual purposes, as is still done in our Church in the case of a coronation? Of this I feel sure, that those who consider the doctrines of the Church incredible, will soon, if they turn their thoughts steadily that way, feel a difficulty in the serpent that tempted Eve, and the ass that admonished Balaam . . .
Or again: to refer to the Old Testament. I conceive that the history of the Deluge, the ark, and its inhabitants, will appear to men of modern tempers more and more incredible, the longer and more minutely it is dwelt upon. Or, again, the narrative of Jonah and the whale.