A reader e-mailed me a few questions regarding arguments raised by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, in their book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. It’s a good example of how important it is to check out the facts of those people trying to disprove Catholicism. For example, they start out their argument for the Protestant Bible (and against the Catholic Deuterocanon) by saying, on page 52:
The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven books of the New Testament graciously preserved by God in the Bible are the inspired Word of God. The church recognized that these books constitute the complete canon inspired by God and received them as uniquely authoritative because they are God speaking to his people. F.F. Bruce says:One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa – at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 – but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.
The idea that the Councils of Carthage and Hippo codified the Protestant canon is just staggeringly wrong. While those Councils laid out which Books were in the Bible, they explicitly declared the Catholic Bible as the correct canon of Scripture. Here’s what the Council of Carthage said, in its own words:
It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings [that is, First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings], two books of Paraleipomena [that is, First and Second Chronicles], Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, [that is, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus] the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John. Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon. because we have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church. Let it also be allowed that the Passions of Martyrs be read when their festivals are kept.
The Catholic Deuterocanon, those Books we think are Scripture which Protestants usually don’t, includes Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch (including the Epistle of Jeremy, a.k.a., Baruch 6), 1 and 2 Maccabees, and the the longer versions of Esther and Daniel. So every Book of the Catholic Bible is listed as being Divine Scripture.
This means that when Driscoll and Breshears claim that the Protestant “thirty-nine books of the Old Testament” were recognized as the appropriate Old Testament canon at Carthage, they apparently haven’t done even basic research before writing a book on the subject. Had they, they would have realized that both Hippo and Carthage support the Catholic Bible… the very Bible they’re trying to discredit.
Now, not only does the Council of Carthage support the Catholic Bible. It also supports things like:
- Holding Masses for dead Saints (you see reference to it in the section I underlined);
- The priesthood (to call Pope Boniface a “fellow-priest,” you must first recognize the validity of the priesthood);
- Submission to the pope. After all, as F.F. Bruce noted above, this was a North African regional Council, yet they (a) submitted their canons to Pope Boniface, and (b) referred to him as a “fellow-priest.” If you’re not familiar, “fellow-priest” is a Petrine title: it’s how the first pope, Peter, describes himself in 1 Peter 5:1. So this is a nod that Boniface is the successor to Peter.
And all that’s just in the short passage I quoted. The Council of Carthage is no enemy of the Catholic Church, and Protestants who (a) rely upon it for their canon, or (b) try and claim it supports Protestantism, should probably read its canons first. The Synod of Hippo fares no better: its decrees were ratified by the Council of Carthage (in Canon 34), and Hippo’s bishop was St. Augustine, a well known defender of the Deuterocanonical Books.
This is worse than sloppy. Driscoll and Breshears are actually leading people astray by making wildly untrue claims about history — facts which would take perhaps a few minutes to check in the digital age. Many Protestants believe in the Protestant Bible precisely because of such falsehoods. Frankly, I can understand your average Christian not diving into the canons of the Council of Carthage to find out for himself what they say: that’s completely reasonable. But that puts all the more responsibility on apologists and scholars to get their facts right: people are trusting them on something as foundational as which Bible is correct.
And regardless of the topic, shouldn’t someone writing a book on a subject check their basic facts first? After all, Marc Driscoll is a high-profile pastor whose views carry a lot of weight, and Gerry Breshears is a seminary professor. If the people teaching this stuff aren’t checking basic facts, who is? And for the record, I checked, and a Google search for the phrase “Council of Carthage” would have corrected this error at once (either of the top two results).
It wasn’t as if this was an incidental detail: their major argument is that the early Church believed in the Protestant canon, and their support is simply non-existent. Their facts don’t get better as they go along, either. On the next page (pg. 53), they write:
Beginning two hundred and fifty years before Christ, Greek-speaking Jews living in Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek, calling it the Septuagint. For some unknown reason, they changed the content of several books, added many books, and rearranged the order of the books.Early Christians followed Jesus and used the same books as found in the Hebrew Bible today. But as the center of Christianity moved away from Jerusalem and Christians read and worshiped more in Greek than Hebrew, there was more openness to the books of the Septuagint . There was a long and complicated debate about the validity and status of these books. Eventually the Roman Catholic Church adopted many of the books of the Septuagint into its Latin version, called the Vulgate. They referred to them as deuterocanonical, meaning they were canonized later.
I’m pleased that they at least realized that the Greek version of the Bible which existed at the time of Christ included the Deuterocanonical Books. But they get basically everything else wrong:
- The Jews at the time of Christ weren’t uniform in regards to the canon of Scripture. Driscoll and Breshears claim that, for no apparent reason, the Hellenists simply added some Books and rearranged the Scriptures. In fact, the Sadducees, Pharisees, Hellenists, and Qumran community each used different Bibles, and even within the factions of the Pharisees and Hellenists, there were multiple canons of Scripture. I’ve written more on this subject here, here, and here (the first two are about the Sadducees, the third is about the Qumran community- the Jews who gave us the Dead Sea scrolls). Also, I was involved in a debate on this topic, starting around comment # 260 here.
- Jesus used the Greek Version of the Bible. This is the version that Driscoll and Breshears as some bizarre aberration from the Jewish It seems as if the Savior of the World was okay with the Catholic Bible. I’ve written more on that here.
- Deuterocanonical doesn’t mean “canonized later.” It means “secondary canon.” I’ll explain that momentarily.
- No early Christian used the Protestant Bible. Not a single early Christian that we know of used the Protestant Bible. More on that here.