Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
The Canon According To Augustine
02/05/2008 - James SwanGary Michuta's recent book is entitled, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. Michuta and I have at least one thing in common in regard to the canon. He states, "Any bible-loving Christian will want to make such an examination [of the Deuterocanonical books], surely, rather than run the risk of spurning a set of books which may, in fact, contain God's own holy Word" (p.5). I can appreciate that Gary takes this issue with the seriousness it deserves. I'd like to challenge Mr. Michuta though on the consistency of his point about "spurning a set of books which may, in fact, contain God's own holy Word." That is, I'd like to see if Rome takes this issue with the same seriousness that Gary and I share.
In his book, Michuta points out that Augustine accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture. Gary presents various examples from Augustine quoting the Apocryphal books as Scripture. Gary states,
"Throughout Augustine's works, the disputed books are used as nothing less than inspired canonical Scripture indistinguishable from the other books of the Bible, save only that they are not accepted by the Jews. Augustine's positive viewpoint was later enshrined in the decrees of the councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage I (AD 397) in which he participated" (Michuta, pp. 159-160).
I don't doubt Gary's point about Augustine's influence on Hippo and Carthage. What is interesting, Michuta then refers to a section from Augustine's City of God as a counter-apologetic against any who would argue that Augustine rejected Maccabees as canonical. He quotes Augustine stating, "These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs." I agree with Gary that this remark from Augustine does not "overturn the whole tenor of Augustine's work" (p.160). In context, Augustine does say the Church (not the Jews) accepted Maccabees. However, this particular section from Augustine argues for much more. In this same section, Augustine refers to the Apocryphal book of 1 Esdras (or 3 Esdras):
About Esdras and the Books of the Maccabees.
After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all. For by consulting the Gospel we learn that Christ is the Truth. From this time, when the temple was rebuilt, down to the time of Aristobulus, the Jews had not kings but princes; and the reckoning of their dates is found, not in the Holy Scriptures which are called canonical, but in others, among which are also the books of the Maccabees. These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils" [NPNF1, Vol. 2, Augustin, City of God, Book XVIII. 36].
NPNF1 footnotes the citation of Esdras as "Esdras iii.and iv." Following the methodology put forth by Michuta, Augustine does seem to be using Esdras as canonical Scripture. Augustine includes Esdras with Esther and Maccabees, and even asserts Esdras can possibly be prophesying about Christ. The "Esdras" being referred to is not currently contained in Roman Catholic Bibles among the canonical books. I point this out, because it serves as proof that if, as Michuta holds, Hippo and Carthage followed Augustine, here we have an indication that Augustine accepted the spurious book of 1 Esdras (or 3 Esdras), and therefore these councils did as well. Michuta though later states, "Many things are questionable about Esdras. The Council of Carthage may have included Esdras on its list. We don't know for certain" (p.240). On page 160, Michuta states Carthage followed Augustine's view. On page 240, we don't know if they did or not.
Michuta is in this awkward position because of Trent. If Trent rejected this book, then the earlier councils were in error. Or, perhaps the earlier council was right, and Trent is in error. Gary though argues that Trent did not reject or affirm the canonicity of 1 Esdras (or 3 Esdras). This solution still fails to explain why a book that was Scripture according to Augustine (and probably Hippo and Carthage), was not able to be deemed such (one way or the other) later by Trent. Why wouldn't Trent be worried they were spurning a book which may, in fact, contain God's own holy Word?
Gary points out that Esdras was "passed over in silence" by majority vote at Trent (p.240). He notes three voted against it, eight didn't vote, and forty two voted to pass over it. I find this method of determining truth quite suspect. The very words of God were decided upon by men who could not decide, or chose not to! But this is the Roman Catholic paradigm: truth is determined by voting. Why is this method God's method? Because Rome has decided it is so. Search your Bibles for rules on voting to determine truth. Even if one tries to stretch the Jerusalem Council to work by Rome's rules, Acts 15:25 states, "So we all agreed" in regard to the messengers and letter content sent to Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. If Trent were being led by the same Holy Spirit that led the Jerusalem Council, why couldn't Trent determine the status of Esdras? Michuta states, "Those who claim then, that Trent 'rejected' Esdras are mistaken. It did not. In fact, any rejection or affirmation was purposefully withheld" (p. 241). The question for Gary Michuta is, why? For what purpose?
We've recently given Catholic apologist Gary Michuta a lot to contend with. Dr. White has put together a series of video responses to Mr. Michuta's recent video. I've done a lengthy article on Michuta's presentation of Luther's denial of the Apocrypha. My friend Carrie has been doing some excellent work on the Council of Trent, particularly the canon vote, and Michuta's understanding of it. I don't know the status of any responses Mr. Michuta may provide. Gary can add this entry to his list, as well as the implications of his view I noted months ago here.