Deuterocanonical Miscellany

Here’s the next installment in the ongoing dialogue with Reese Currie (click the tag below for the backstory). Since the next three points are short, I figured I’d do them all as one point. Lucky you! As always, he’s in red, I’m the rest:

4) Minor point, but it’s a bit unfair to say the apocryphal books are “discarded” by the Protestants. Calvin held that it was worthy of reading, and quite edifying, but that doctrine should not be derived from it based on the questionability of its inspiration. The Anglican King James Version contained it (though Anglicanism is a bit between Catholicism and Protestantism). I don’t honestly know if the Geneva Bible contained it but I’m quite sure the Bishops’ Bible did. I know Luther’s did not include it and that he totally rejected it (plus a few NT books the rest of us, including modern Lutherans, accept). But not all Protestants consider it valueless. Even though I personally doubt its inspiration, a night spent with Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus) is a night well spent.

Protestants on the whole have discarded the Deuterocanon, even though the original (particularly the magisterial) Reformers did not totally. You would be hard pressed to stumble upon a Protestant Bible today containing these books, unless you were actively seeking it out. The NET Bible, one of the free downloadable Bibles I use, includes the Deuterocanon, but doesn’t mention it in the Table of Contents (which makes it almost impossible to access – you have to search for a word used in one of the books to find it: it’s quite annoying, in fact), and has a lengthy disclaimer about how the Deuterocanon is obviously uninspired. What’s strange about this is that prior to the 16th Century, it was a rare soul who questioned the universally accepted fact that the Deuterocanon was inspired. Now, it’s taken as an infallible truth that it’s uninspired, and yet there’s not a single Church Council or Apostolic authority arriving at this conclusion. This isn’t just questioning whether the Holy Spirit was at work in the councils He inspired: it’s declaring as a matter of assumed fact that of course He wasn’t, without appealing to any institutional decision by the Church saying as much.

To my knowledge, the closest thing that Protestants can point to as institutional authority for the proposition that the Bible absolutely does not contain the Deuterocanon is an 1827 vote by the British and Foreign Bible Society to omit the Deuterocanon entirely. This wasn’t a group of bishops and elders (those authorized to participate in Holy Spirit guided councils in Acts 15), but a group of self-ordained missionaries, led by one Mari Jones. And we can gauge their infallibility by the fact that the 1827 vote was a reversal of their original policy (of including the Deuterocanon as an Apocrypha).

As for your phrase, “a night spent with Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus) is a night well spent,” I can only say that it’s wonderful that you feel this way, and I wish more Catholics shared the same passion. Protestant zeal for the Bible plus a full Catholic Bible, that’s all I ask for.

5) Just as an aside, interestingly the King James Version of the Bible replaces the LXX quotations in the NT with quotations from the Hebrew, because at the time one of the criticisms of NT Scripture was the OT quotations “weren’t quite right.” On that basis one can understand why the Roman Catholic Church rejected the KJV and continues to. I only learned that very recently–a couple of weeks ago I suppose. I thought it had been done in the “Received Text” but it had not, only in the KJV.

Tinkering with the Bible is shockingly arrogant, in my opinion, and I can only hope you misheard. Obviously, translators sometimes change words around to better capture the description, but to change what the original inspired writers said to better suit your doctrinal purposes must be viewed as terribly sinful.

6) All that having been said I’m fascinated by your witness of Tobit. I mentioned having read the Deuterocanonical books and Tobit was one of those that had me deeply concerned–frankly I thought it was the most obviously fictional–but your witness certainly makes me pause. Perhaps there’s a link between that and Luther’s rejection of Revelation.

Three points on this. First, I think you should read Tobit as if it were inspired, and see if that doesn’t get you further in understanding its value. Certainly, using fish organs to get rid of a demon is weird (Tobit 6:6-8), but not really that much weirder than using spit to cure blindness (Mark 8:22-25) and deafness (Mark 7:32-35). What is magic to a skeptic is miraculous to a believer. Second, Tobit may well be religious fiction: in other words, a parable. There are certain clues: many of the names are allegorical, and one of the figures is a recurring figure from Jewish folklore [although, then again, this could be the reverse: Moses and Abraham became recurring figures in Jewish folklore, precisely because of their real life stories]. So it’s possible that Tobit, like the Prodigal Son, never existed. But like the Prodigal Son, the story is still inspired. Third, the fact that Tobit has echoes in Revelation either means that the Holy Spirit who inspired Revelation is confirming the inspiration of Tobit, or means that the hoaxster who made up Revelation tried to pass it off as genuine by citing to something regarded as canonical (Raphael’s description of the inner sanctum of Heaven in Tobit). So at the least it shows that the Deuterocanon was accepted as inspired by the early Church (as in, the Church at the time Revelation was written, which was the late 1st century), but if Revelation is inspired (which I think we agree upon), I think it proves much more than that.

To try and accept Revelation as inspired, and not the prophesies which Revelation reveals to be true would be an unsustainable position, in my opinion. For starters, why would the Holy Spirit allow a hoax book to accurately predict something which the Bible would later prove to be true? Why make it appear that Tobit is inspired if it isn’t?

1 Comment

  1. “I know Luther’s did not include it and that he totally rejected it”

    NOT TRUE! Bruce Metzger’s “Introduction to the Apocrypha” and the “Oxford Annotated Apocrypha” (the older RSV version one) both say that Luther included the Apocrypha between the OT and NT. Furthermore, I know for a fact that Luther wrote in praise of Sirach, because I’ve read his comments on it before. ALSO, Luther quotes from Sirach 15 in his debate with Erasmus on free-will, ironically trying to prove from a passage that literally teaches free-will that there is no free-will!

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