Response to Some Standard Protestant Objections to the Deuterocanon
April 11, 2010 1 Comment
A Reformed Protestant apologist recently sent me several objections to the Deuterocanonical Books. These are the books which are included in the Catholic and Orthodox canons, but were removed from Protestant Bibles, originally by Luther. As it stands, his objections are standard, with a couple new ones I had never heard (but which are easily refutable). I decided it would make a good article, since generally, reformed apologists rehash the same tired, old arguments and rely on straw men. One good example is the repeated claim that we think they are canonical because they are cited and alluded to by New Testament authors. This is not true. This is simply a response to the constant Protestant claim that they are never cited, showing it to be false.
Another good example, as will be seen below, is the claim by Protestants on the one hand that citation doesn’t prove canonicity, while turning around and arguing that since Peter quotes Paul, somehow Protestants can magically have a canon without any Church or any Tradition. This contradicts the first claim that citation doesn’t prove canonicity (as all agree), and begs the question, for it assumes apostolic authorship of the said Petrine text, which, like Matthew and other Gospels, cannot be known apart from Patristic Tradition. It’s really quite simple.
Objection 1: the DC is not Scripture because Pope Gregory himself did not consider it canonical.
Reply: My Protestant friend writes with no citations, assuming this is so, from whatever source he derived the notion that Pope St. Gregory the Great did not accept the Deuterocanon. Anyone who has read him (and I have) knows this is completely false. In his famous Pastoral Rule, he writes:
“Hence, then, let the envious consider of how great power is charity, which makes ours without labour works of labour not our own. The envious are therefore to be told that, when they fail to keep themselves from spite, they are being sunk into the old wickedness of the wily foe. For of him it is written, But by envy of the devil death entered into the world Wisdom 2:24.”
Bk. III. 10
Reply: Once again, this is a straw man I have had to explain numerous times to Protestants. He wants the formation of the canon to be some simple issue that is somehow directly beamed by the Holy Spirit into his head, as if it was not a long, complicated process in the early Church. No one has made the argument that liturgy definitively “proves” canonicity, but rather that it was involved in the process. This is admitted by Bishop Wescott and F.F. Bruce, as well as many other scholars, in reference to the pericopes, or liturgical collections of Bible readings for services. Protestants act like if they can show that one of the elements involved was not the ultimate factor, they have disproven the entire DC. Nope: It was part of the process, not the be all, end all.
F.F. Bruce writes in his classic The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? As follows:
“Another very important class of witnesses to the text of the New Testament are the Ancient Versions in other languages, the oldest of which is the Old Syriac and the Old Latin, go back to the latter half of the second century. Valuable help can also be derived from early Church Lectionaries.” (pg. 19)
St. Irenaeus noted:
“2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.” (Citation)
Objection 5: The early Jews never considered the DC as canonical. It is true that many of the early Fathers dismissed this because they considered what the Church thought more important. But it begs the question as to what the church thought. There was not a consensus.
Reply: Diaspora Jews did consider them canonical. I showed this from Protestant scholars in my article of two years ago. My friend again just asserts this, with no reference. Who are the “early Jews” anyway? The Apostles were early Jews and they used a Bible that included them. The Church certainly thought they were canonical, so what authority do Palestinian Jews have? Next, on what basis does he know that we should listen to Palestinian Jews? Does the Bible say anywhere that we are to listen to Palestinian Jews for the canon? No, he arbitrarily asserts it. If he doesn’t want to go to the Church for the canon, where does he propose we go? Christ-rejecting Jews? Notice what he writes above: “they considered what the Church thought more important.” This is amusing and quite telling as to how historical Protestants really are.
Objection 6: The argument that, “The Church gave you the canon, including the DC,” begs the question: which Church? Eastern Orthodox? Rome? Both assume they are the one true church. They constantly commit this fallacy.
Reply: Both of those historic groups agree on the DC being canonical. This is an obvious testimony of all of history against you. It does not beg the question when we examine the other issue of the nature of the Church in the Fathers. We can see there that its Catholic.
The fact that two churches claim to be the true church doesn’t refute the DC anymore than competing Protestant Churches “disprove” the books you accept.
Objection 7: We do not need a council to ratify Scripture because Peter himself considered Paul’s writings as canonical before a council said so.
This is also amusing. The question is, how do you know that St. Peter wrote that–that it’s authentic? How do you know Matthew the disciple wrote Matthew’s Gospel? You don’t, apart from patristic tradition, as Dr. Craig Blomberg and the Reformation Study Bible admit. The fact that one *canonical* text cites another canonical text does not prove canonicity. Remember that you already argued that! Now turn it around on yourself.
Objection continued: This is precisely our argument as Protestants: the Church recognizes through the Holy Spirit those books which are Holy Scripture. The Church always held the DC in doubt; the Hebrew Christians never considered the DC Scripture.”
This was Bahnsen’s laughable response to Matatics. What Church, my friend? The Church from history, or the one that is in your head? The Church in history has recognized them. Your new, 16th century church did not. Thus, any appeal to history by you is impossible, as you are not connected with them in any way. In fact, you just said above: “they [the Fathers] considered what the Church thought more important.” So, you admit you are not connected with the Fathers, and that they were wrong for not following Christ-rejecting Jews who hated the Deuterocanonical books, yet now, you would have us follow some mysterious Church from history? You are confused.
On what grounds do you show us that “Hebrew Christians” tell us what canon we use? It’s your arbitrary assertion, and it’s false to boot. Who does you think used the LXX, if not Christians and diaspora Jews? The Church did not hold it in doubt as you assume, but then again, you are not connected with the Church.
What do renowned Protestant scholars think?
There is evidence that at least some non-canonical books had their origin in the land of Israel and were translated and transported from Israel to Alexandria and probably wherever Jews lived in significant numbers in the Roman Empire . The grandson of Ben Sirach [the writer of the deuteroncanonical book Ecclesiasticus]…lets us know he was translating for the Jews in Alexandria . The NT also has many allusions to some [deuterocanonical] literature found in the LXX, and the oldest Christian collections of OT scriptures contain much of that literature” (page 90).
Objection 8: The DC was never officially considered Scripture by Rome until Trent, although Carthage did mention it, but not fully or finally.
Reply: Yet another manifest error. Cleary my friend has no familiarity with the subject, other than one-liners garnered from some reformed website. We read in Denzinger, under Pope St. Damasus I (no. 84):
“It has been said: Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun.
The order of the Old Testament begins here:Genesis one book, Exodus one book, Leviticus one book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Joshua Nave one book, judges one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon two books, Psalms one book, Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book, likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus one book.
Likewise the order of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Ginoth, that is, with his lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Micheas one book, Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habacuc one book, Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book.
Likewise the order of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books, Esther.”
And this is reaffirmed by Pope St. Gelasius in Denzinger 162:
“Denzinger 162: An enumeration of the canonical books similar to that, which we have placed under DAMASUS[ n. 84] is accustomed in certain codices to be set before the special Decree of GELASIUS. Nevertheless among others it is no longer read in this place.Of John the Apostle one epistle, of the other John the priest two epistles, but, of the Apostle John three epistles [cf. n. 84,92, 96].”
Objectin 9: Even the name “deutero-canon” itself declares that they are “secondary canon”, which is to say not useful for establishing doctrine. But how is this consistent with 2 Tim 3:16: “All Scripture is profitable for doctrine”?
This is something you have imagined. The title of the deuterocanon is not a title of lesser-inspiration, anymore than “Deutero-nomy” is a title of lesser inspiration. And your claim that it does not establish doctrine begs the question, since if it is Scripture, it can establish doctrine. The Fathers cite them frequently to prove doctrine.
As for the “secondary canon,” it wouldn’t matter anyway, if you were right, since St. Paul himself distinguishes levels of importance in even his own writings:
1 Cor. 7:12: “But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her.”
St. Paul clearly says this is his view showing a distinction even in his own writings. Would we conclude from this that chapter 7 of Corinthians is not “inspired” on your line of reasoning?
The Protestant Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, under “Apocrypha” states:
Apocrypha= “…the writings added in the LXX, I and II Esdra, Tobit, Judith, the sequel to Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon…” (page 42)
As I wrote in an earlier article:
“The knowledge of Apostolic Authorship is not and cannot be derived from many of the Gospels and texts themselves. Instead, for Matthean authorship, almost all turn to the following Tradition in Eusebius:
“1. There are extant five books of Papias, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord. Irenæus makes mention of these as the only works written by him, in the following words: “These things are attested by Papias, an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book. For five books have been written by him.” These are the words of Irenæus.
2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.
3. He says: “But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.
4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.” (Bk. III, Chpt. 39)
Anglican Scholar, Bishop Westcott (of the Westcott-Hort Text fame), in his older, The New Testament Canon:
“Words and rites [Liturgy] thus possess a weight and authority quite distinct from the casual references or deliberate judgments of individuals, so far as they convey the judgment of the many….It will be reasonable to conclude that the coincidence [of Scripture and Liturgy] implies a common source: that the written books and the traditional words equally represent the general sum of essential Apostolic teaching: and in proportion as the correspondences are more subtle and intricate, this proof of the authenticity of our books will be more convincing.” (pg. 13)
“Let the insincere hear what is written, He that walks in simplicity walks surely Proverbs 10:9. For indeed simplicity of conduct is an assurance of great security. Let them hear what is said by the mouth of the wise man, The holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit Wisdom 1:5. Let them hear what is again affirmed by the witness of Scripture, His communing is with the simple Proverbs 3:32.”
Bk. III. 11
“Lest they should give something, however little to those on whom they ought to bestow nothing at all, let them hear what is written, Give to the good man, and receive not a sinner: do well to him that is lowly, and give not to the ungodly Sirach 12:4. And again, Set out your bread and wine on the burial of the just, but eat and drink not thereof with sinners Tobit 4:17.”
Bk. III. 20
They are in no way distinguished from the other wisdom texts here.
Objection 2: The DC is not Scriptural because it contains numerous doctrines which are not in accord with the rest of Scripture.
Reply: This is precisely why the Jews excluded the LXX and the early Christians used it–because it pointed to Christ. You can read that fact in Kelly, Pelikan, F.F. Bruce, etc. Second, this begs the question, as anyone might reject a book they deemed “not in accord with the rest of Scripture.” My friend wants to use the method of liberal “scholars” who reject most of what Jesus said, because “it wasn’t in accord with the rest of Scripture.” By what authority does he allow critical exegesis for the Deuterocanon and reject it elsewhere? No arguments are given here either, just assertions. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Furthermore, why did virtually all the Fathers use them as canonical? Why did we have to wait until modern critical exegetes to know that they were “non-inspired”? Did God fail to guide the Church properly until Luther and his demythologizing descendants?
If my friend doubts that they were considered inspired like the other texts by virtually all the Fathers, he can see it clearly here.
Objection 3: The claim that the NT has numerous quotes from the DC does not substantiate the claim that the DC is Scripture because (1) it can be doubted as to whether these quotes are from the DC; (2) many and most of these quotes are actually from the OT, as others have done an excellent job showing; and (3) even if we granted that these were quotes from the DC in the NT, that does not make the DC Scripture, because there are numerous quotes from pagan poets and pagan writings in the NT, but no one would want to affirm that quoting pagans makes the pagan writings canonical.
Reply: My friend says all the arguments for the Deuterocanon are refutable and that he has refuted them. Not only has he never refuted them, my friend has yet to “get” the basic arguments for it. Several times he and other Protestants have responded by saying, “a New Testament citation does not make them canonical,” when I never made that argument. My friend made up a straw man he easily knocked over, and later claimed it was “refuted.”
Next, he just asserts, as he did in the debate, that the NT citations are not from the Deuterocanon. This is laughable. Does he not know most of the Church for the first 3 centuries used the LXX, including the Apostles? Any standard introduction on this work tells you this, and that the LXX contained the Deuterocanon. This means the Apostles are using an OT ”Bible” with the Deuterocanon and this is obviously why there are so many references to DC texts.
But my friend asserts this with no scholarly backup. Baptist textual scholar Lee McDonald, in his book The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, writes:
“It is most likely that these [DB] books were considered by the Jewish community holy or sacred well before the time of Christ, and that they were simply received by the early Christians as part of the sacred collection they inherited from Judaism. There is evidence that at least some non-canonical books had their origin in the land of Israel and were translated and transported from Israel to Alexandria and probably wherever Jews lived in significant numbers in the Roman Empire . The grandson of Ben Sirach [the writer of the deuteroncanonical book Ecclesiasticus]…lets us know he was translating for the Jews in Alexandria . The NT also has many allusions to some [deuterocanonical] literature found in the LXX, and the oldest Christian collections of OT scriptures contain much of that literature” (page 90).
Renowned evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce writes also of this well-known point in his The Canon of Scripture:
“However much the wording of Stephen’s defense in Acts 7 may owe to the narrator, the consistency with which its biblical quotations and allusions are based on is the Septuagint is true to life….As soon as the gospel was carried into the Greek speaking world, the Septuagint came into its own as the sacred text to which preachers appealed. It was used in the Greek-speaking synagogues of throughout the Roman Empire ” (page 49).
Renowned Protestant patristics scholar, J.N.D. Kelly, wrote in his well-known Early Christian Doctrines:
“It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the 22 or 24 books of Hebrew Palestinian Judaism. It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition the so-called Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament which passed in the first instance into the hands of Christians was not the original Hebrew version, but the Greek translation known as the Septuagint…most of the scriptural quotations found in the New Testament are based upon it rather than the Hebrew” (page 53).
The “others” mentioned did no such thing disproving me, but simply said the DC texts were influenced by “goddess worship,” relying on liberal scholars. Second, these others are not scholarly sources. The above scholars I listed undeniably are.
As mentioned above, my friend then makes the same straw man argument that no one has made. No one has claimed they are canonical, simply because they are cited. The only point of showing that they were cited (and this is probably the 5th time I’ve explained this) is to refute the common Protestant assertion that “they are never cited in the NT.” In my article from two years ago found here, I am responding to reformed theologian Dr. Ian Paisley’s claim that they are not cited. Not making an argument that citation proves canonicity, because everyone knows it doesn’t.