Over the course of the last five centuries there has been a debate over the Biblical canon. This debate primarily revolves around the Old Testament canon. If one looks at the Old Testament in, say, the King James Version, and
compares it to a Catholic version, one will notice that the Catholic Old Testament canon is a bit longer. Why is that?
The Catholic Old Testament contains seven books that the Protestant Old Testament does not, and extra chapters in both Daniel and Esther. I wish to discuss how this difference came about. I will also post a link for further information. If you click this link, you can see that even St. Jerome accepted the authority of these books.
The books I refer to are known to Protestants as the “Apocrypha”. Catholics call them the “Deutero-canonicals”. Deutero-canonical is Greek for “second canon”. These books are considered inspired, but they were only secondarily submitted in the canon. Much debate surrounded them. The Protestants do not have the deutero-canonicals, because Martin Luther refused to recognize their authority. After all, weren’t these books rejected by the Jews?
While the Jews did reject the deutero-canonicals, this only came about at the Jewish Council of Jamnia (c. A.D. 90-100). Before then there were several different canons floating around. There was the Pharisaic/Hebrew canon, the Saddusaic/Samaritan canon, the Q’umran canon, and the Alexandrian/Septuagint canon (abbreviated as LXX). This last canon was the one recognized and used by Jesus and His Apostles. We know this, because the Septuagint translation is different from the others, and that is the one Christ and His Apostles tended to use.
Before the Council of Jamnia, different sects of Judaism had different bibles. It was only after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, and the surge in converts to Christianity that was occurring, that the Jews decided to unify their bibles. The criteria used was simple. They wanted books written in Hebrew; in Palestine; before about 400 B.C. The deutero-canonicals did not meet these criteria. Thus, although they are still respected, they are not in the Jewish canon.
The Apostles always rejected this decision. Though there was no official canon for Christians until the late fourth century, Christians continued to use the Septuagint translation in debate and quotations. Besides, the Jews had lost their authority by their rejection of Jesus. Why would the Christians care what they said on anything?
There are those who would say that the Septuagint did not contain the deutero-canonicals. This stems from the fact that the earliest extant copy of the Septuagint dies not contain the deutero-canonicals. Yet, the letters of St. Jerome and Origen bear out that there were earlier copies, no longer extant, that did contain the deutero-canonicals. So we must assume that this was the version of the Old Testament accepted by Jesus and the Apostles. In fact, the Church Fathers prove this point.
Martin Luther and the other reformers rejected the deutero-canonicals based on two facts. First, the Jews rejected them. We have seen what a poor argument this is for Christians accepting or rejecting anything. The Jews also reject the idea that Jesus is the Messiah!
The main reason Luther rejected the deutero-canonicals is that he felt they lied on historical issues; presented angels as telling lies; and taught false doctrines. Are these claims really true? If so, why would the Apostles (or Jesus, for that matter) accept these books?
The charge that the deutero-canonicals lie about historical circumstances is unfair. If one reads the deutero-canonicals, one can see that they are not historical works. Their main purpose is the teaching of certain moral principles. Even in those books that are somewhat historical in nature, history is not generally the main point. The Bible is much more concerned with faith and morals. Job is a great example.
Most scholars agree that, while Job may be loosely based on actual events, the story as we have it is not literally true. Indeed, there is no evidence that it is. Therefore, it would be unfair to criticize the work for its lack of historical accuracy. The same is true for the deutero-canonicals. We can not judge them by modern historical standards. First of all, no ancient historical work was really objective. They were not intended to be so. They were meant more as works of propaganda, than as works of historical accuracy. Second of all, we can not judge a book by historical standards when it is not making a true attempt at recounting history.
Luther’s charge that the deutero-canonicals depict angels as telling lies is equally ridiculous. This charge stems primarily from the Book of Tobit. Here the Archangel Raphael disguises himself as a human, only to reveal his true identity at the end of the story.
To reject Tobit on the grounds Luther did is sheer ignorance. First, there is the fact that we have examples even in Genesis of angels disguising themselves as human. Are we then going to reject Genesis? Second, Raphael was making no attempt to deceive. He was guiding Tobias without revealing his true identity to test Tobias’ faith. Would Tobias be willing to be led by a stranger? Would he put his faith in God? Would he trust God would protect and guide him on his way?
To reject the deutero-canonicals on this charge that they lie is beyond ridiculous. Is telling your kids about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus lying? No, parents are not attempting to deceive their children. They merely wish to add an element of fun and mystery to their holidays. It also allows the parents to do something good for their children annonymously. Heck, Jesus disguises Himself on the road to Emmaus! Are to reject Him for this? I mean, did He not lie by not revealing Himself? Surely no.one is so stupid to make this argument!
Second, it should be remembered that Raphael does eventually reveal his true identity. It was necessary to disguise himself, at first. Once Tobias has accomplished his goal, and passed the test, Raphael may reveal himself.
Luther’s charge that the deutero-canonicals teach false doctrines is pure hogwash. This charge is primarily directed at 2 Maccabees, because it depicts Judas Maccabeus and his Jewish followers praying for the dead. Martin Luther did not believe in Purgatory, hence, He saw no need to pray for the dead. This is, in part, why he rejected 2 Maccabees. I would simply point out that there are places in the New Testament that speak of Purgatory, and yet, Luther accepted those. Probably because these passages were easier to distort.
In any case, it is evident that there are very good reasons why the Catholic Church has retained the deutero-canonicals. The charge often leveled against us that we added these books later holds no water. Jesus and the Apostles had always accepted the deutero-canonicals. The Church simply continued this Tradition. Further, I would also mention that there are deutero-canonical books in the New Testament.
There was much debate over books such as 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, and Jude. There were those who did not want these books included in the New Testament.The argument primarily centered around the authorship of these books. Some were just not sure these works were written by the person they were attributed to. Authorship, however, was not the main point. These books were found to contain the actual Teachings of the Apostles. They were also known to be old, even by the late fourth century. Their content and antiquity justified admitting them into the canon.
For the Old Testament deutero-canonicals, the Church Fathers understood their antiquity. They understood that these works were not meant to be works of history, but their intent was to teach a moral. It was understood that what these books taught had always been believed by the Church. Lastly, the Church Fathers realized that the Apostles, and Jesus Himself, recognized the legitimacy of the deutero-canonicals. Based on these factors, I see no reason to reject them.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity