Basically, Protestants hold the Books of the Protestant Bible to one set of standards, and the Books of the Deuterocanon (which Catholics accept, and which Protestants reject as Apocrypha) to quite another.
|An 1879 cartoon against literacy tests|
For many decades in the South, Jim Crow reigned supreme. On paper, African-Americans were entitled to the right to vote. In fact, the Constitution guaranteed it (specifically, the Fifteenth Amendment). To get around this, many Southern states set up a series of insurmountable obstacles for eligible black voters. One of the most notorious is the literacy test. Alabama’s literacy test is described here:
In “Part A” the applicant was given a selection of the Constitution to read aloud. The registrar could assign you a long complex section filled with legalese and convoluted sentences, or he could tell you to read a simple one or two sentence section. The Registrar marked each word he thought you mispronounced. In some cases you had to orally interpret the section to the registrar’s satisfaction. You then had to either copy out by hand a section of the Constitution, or write it down from dictation as the registrar spoke (mumbled) it. White applicants usually were allowed to copy, Black applicants usually had to take dictation. The Registrar then judged whether you were able to “read and write,” or if you were “illiterate.”
In other words, beneath the facade of a generally-applicable test, there were really two different tests: a relatively easy one for whites, and a much harder one for blacks. I think we see something similar here. The Books Protestants are used to seeing in their Bibles get a very easy test, while the Deuterocanon is held to a much stricter standard, a standard that much of the Protestant Bible couldn’t meet.
It seems highly probable the writer to the Hebrews alluded to the Apocrypha in chapter 11. The parallels Catholic apologists suggest particularly in verse 35 and 2 Maccabees seem likely. “Others were tortured,” “not accepting their release” and “so that they might obtain a better resurrection” appear to be the closest points of contact with 2 Maccabees. As noted above, other vague points of contact could be inferred, but not with the same level of certitude of these three statements. Within the arena of rhetoric and polemics, the above study demonstrates that Protestant exegetes do not disagree with the possibility of Apocryphal allusions in Hebrews 11. Thus, Protestants are not hiding the fact that 2 Maccabees may be what the writer to the Hebrews has in mind.
And in fact, there are quite a few other references to the Deuterocanon in the New Testament. Now, ordinarily, this would be taken as at least evidence of canonicity. But it seems that the Deuterocanon is treated very differently here.
This standard appears to be wholly arbitrary: a direct quotation confirms something as Scripture, while an allusion is insufficient? Yet CARM’s Matt Slick actually uses this as his lead argument against the Deuterocanon: “First of all, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever quoted from the Apocrypha. There are over 260 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and not one of them is from these books.”
|Enoch and Elijah (17th c.)|
If direct quotation is required, a whole lot of the Bible is in trouble. As Slick concedes, “there are several Old Testament books that are not quoted in the New Testament, i.e., Joshua, Judges, Esther, etc.” And Zuck, in Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, concedes that “Of Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament, it is generally agreed that Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are not explicitly cited. To this list some would add Lamentations, others Chronicles.” Yet Protestants readily accept all of those Books as canonical. Worse, the New Testament directly quotes from the Book of Enoch (Jude 1:14-15), and St. Paul quotes both the pagans Aratus (Acts 17:28) and Epimenides (Titus 1:12), calling the later a “prophet.” And yet neither Catholics nor Protestants have anything by Enoch, Aratus or Epimenides in their Bibles (more on that here).
Finally, there’s a bit of a gray area in determining what constitutes a “direct quotation.” For example, Zuck writes:
At the same time it is commonly asserted that, however many allusions it may have, Revelation exhibits no direct quotations at all. The NIV footnotes rightly disagree, however, by specifying that Revelation 2:27; 19:15 quote Psalm 2:9 in whole or in part and that Revelation 1:13; 14:14 quote the phrase “like a son of man” from Daniel 7:13.
This is the argument that Slick fell back on when his first argument failed, claiming that Romans 3:1-2 means that “Paul tells us that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. This means that they are the ones who understood what inspired Scriptures were and they never accepted the Apocrypha.” But this argument is similarly untrue.
As Zuck notes, “Most of the New Testament citations of the Old Testament are from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation in common use in first-century Palestine.” Swan admits that the LXX contained some or all of the Deuterocanon, but responds:
Excerpt from the Codex Vaticanus
Roman Catholics argue that since the Septuagint contained Apocryphal books, they were considered scripture. This argument fails for a number of reasons. First, it is not certain that simply because an Apocryphal book was found in an LXX that the Jews considered it scripture. Like the early church, the books could have been included to be used for reading and edification but not considered inspired scripture. Second, the extant evidence shows different Apocryphal books are included in different early manuscripts. That is, no early manuscript contains all the apocryphal books argued for by Rome. Some of the early manuscripts actually contain 3 and 4 Maccabees, writings not considered canonical by Rome.
So Swan’s argument boils down to: yes, these Books were found in the early Jewish collections of Scripture, but maybe they weren’t Scripture? Bear in mind that there’s no evidence that the Books were “included to be used for reading and edification but not considered inspired scripture.” He’s just saying it’s possible. And certainly, it’s possible, but we have no reason to think that’s it true. The fact that Heb. 11:35-37 refers to 2 Maccabees 7 reinforces the idea that these Books were considered canonical by the early Jews, since the Epistle to the Hebrews was written to a group of largely-Jewish converts.
At best, the LXX is strong evidence that the Deuterocanonical Books were considered canonical among most first-century Jews (and the New Testament authors). At worst, the first-century Jews had apparently differing canons, and the historical evidence is too fuzzy to form any solid conclusions. Either way, Swan’s claim that the Jews “never accepted the Apocrypha” is completely baseless. More on that argument here.
Slick claims that Jesus referenced the Old Testament as being “from Abel to Zechariah” in Luke 11:51. Based on the Book ordering of the Pharasaic canon, Abel is the first martyr mentioned, and Zechariah is the last (although since the Books weren’t in chronological order, he wasn’t the last to die for the faith). But as Zuck notes, “Most of the New Testament citations of the Old Testament are from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation in common use in first-century Palestine.” This includes various quotations by Christ Himself. Additionally, particularly prophesies fulfilled in the New Testament are only found in the LXX (e.g., Jesus’ use of Psalm 40:6-8 in Hebrews 10:5-7). And in the LXX, Zechariah is not the last martyr mentioned. Plus, the LXX includes most or all of the Deuterocanon (depending on the version).
So given all that, what are some reasons to accept the Deuterocanon? Precisely because there were different theories as to which Books belonged in the Bible, the Church had the right (and perhaps the duty) to settle the question. And She did so. Let’s consider a few things:
|St. Augustine (earliest known portrait)|
- The Third Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. listed the canon of Scripture, and it’s the Catholic canon. While that was a regional council (and thus, not infallible), it was attended by St. Augustine, and widely-accepted. It reflected earlier canons, like the one declared at the Synod of Hippo a few years earlier.
- Shortly after, the pope commissioned the Vulgate, which included the Deuterocanon.
- Readings from the Deuterocanon were (and are) used in Mass.
- The Council of Trent finally defined the canon dogmatically, confirming what was widely known: that the Deuterocanon is Scripture.
- Nearly all of the Church Fathers treated at least some of the Deuterocanonical Books as Scripture, and folks like St. Augustine were quite clear that all of the Deuterocanonical Books were canonical.
- The Deuterocanon is prophetic. Wisdom 2:12-22 prophesies the Death of Christ, and the language tracks with Matthew 27:41-43 closely. Tobit 12:12-15 says that there are seven angels standing before the Throne of God offering up our prayers. This idea, found nowhere else in the Old Testament, is confirmed by Revelation 8:2-5. And of those seven angels, we hear from two of them: Raphael (Tobit 12:15) and Gabriel (Luke 1:19), and they introduce themselves in a nearly-identical ways.
There are plenty of other areas, but when there are distinct prophesies, found only in the Deuterocanon, and those prophesies come true in the New Testament, what further proof do we need?
The Deuterocanon is, by all appearances, as Scriptural as any other part of the Bible. Summarizing the five Protestant tests, we see that: (1) If allusions to a Book suggest that it belong in the canon, then the Deuterocanon is doing alright; (2) if direct quotations are required, a number of Books in the Protestant Bible need to go; (3) if Jewish acceptance is what’s required, the Deuterocanon almost certainly meets this standard; (4) if references by Christ to the Pharasaic canon establish its canonicity, then His references to the LXX canon should establish its canonicity, as well; and (5) if uniform acceptance by the Church Fathers is required, no Bible on earth meets that test, but the Catholic Bible can point to at least broad acceptance by the Church Fathers, while the Protestant Bible can point to no acceptance.
On the other hand, we see that the Deuterocanon was confirmed by the Church Fathers, both individually and in Church councils, ratified by the universal Church at the Council of Trent, and is clearly prophetic. In other words, it’s Scripture, pure and simple, and is only kept out of Protestant Bibles through special pleading.