A few days ago I played a clip of my cross-examination of Gary Michuta on the issue of the canon of Scripture. I had noted that Gary had commented elsewhere that he felt “embarrassed” for me at this point in our debate. I personally think the cross-examination went very well, and exposed some very weak replies. In any case, Michuta is putting out a book, Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible from Grotto Press. I’m sure it will be most interesting. I am hoping it will have the citations from Trent about “passing over in silence” the question of the difference between the LXX and the Vulgate and Esdras.
But, while silence may be golden, we aren’t really into silence around here. So I am very pleased to introduce our “guest blogger,” Bill Webster. You are encouraged to visit Bill’s website, here. Despite many other duties, Bill has taken the time to write a full, lengthy discussion in response to Michuta’s comments But given how full it is, I will need to break it up. So here is part one, but let’s remind ourselves of the context once again:
This DVD available here (#516)
A Response to Gary Michuta
In his debate with Gary Michuta on the canon and the Apocrypha James White brought up an important issue that reveals a discrepancy between the decrees of the North African Councils of Hippo/Carthage (AD 393/397) and the Council of Trent (AD 1546). This issue is important because Roman Catholic apologists have long asserted that the canon of Scripture was authoritatively and definitively defined for the Church by Hippo/Carthage in the 4th century AD. And yet the historical facts reveal that Trent rejected abook received by Hippo/Carthage thus manifesting a contradiction between the North African councils and Trent.
Gary Michuta denies such a contradiction exists and has recently made comments subsequent to the debate that James is misled in his judgment and that which I have written and published is likewise erroneous. I appreciate James giving me this opportunity on his forum to clarify the issues and to set the record straight with the facts of history, for the facts reveal that it is the claims and assertions of Gary Michuta and other Roman Catholic apologists which are erroneous. I will begin by providing the historical background to the issue and then make some concluding remarks regarding Gary Michutas assertions.
The discrepancy between Trent and Hippo/Carthage centers around the Septuagint book of I Esdras. Hippo/Carthage lists the book as canonical while Trent excludes it from canonical status. To understand why there is a discrepancy we need to understand the difference between the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate versions of the Bible. Throughout the first four centuries the primary bible of the church was the Greek Septuagint which was used in the east and the Old Latin which was a translation of the Septuagint which was used in the western church. The original Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Old Testament predating the Christian era. The church then took the Septuagint and simply added the New Testament books as well as other writings to its corpus, such as the writings of the Apocrypha. So the Septuagint manuscripts comprised what later church fathers such as Athanasius called canonical and ecclesiastical books. The ecclesiastical books were profitable to be read in the churches but were not authoritative for the establishing of doctrine. They were not considered canonical in the narrow sense of being inspired and came to be classed as deuterocanonical. As the Western church began to be dominated by the Latin language many different Latin translations of the Septuagint were produced which resulted in great confusion. In the late fourth century, Pope Damasus saw a need for producing a standardized text of the Latin Bible and around AD 382 he commissioned Jerome, the great biblical scholar, to undertake anew Latin translation from the Septuagint for the Old Testament and the New Testament from the best extant Greek manuscripts. Jerome is the only western father in the early Church to be ranked as a true Hebrew scholar. Jerome worked on this translation project from around AD 382 to 405.
Given the many errors in translation of the Old Testament Hebrew found in the Septuagint, Jerome decided to provide a fresh translation directly from the Hebrew for the Latin Church. He received a great deal of criticism because many felt, in undertaking this translation, he was casting aspersion upon the Septuagint which they considered inspired. The finished product of the Old and New Testament translations became known as the Latin Vulgate and became the standard Bible translation used by the Western Church throughout the medieval ages and the postTridentine Roman Catholic Church. Jerome lived in Palestine and consulted with the Jews. As a result he refused to translate the Apocrypha because the books were not part of the Hebrew canon. His position was that of Rufinus and Athanasius. He made it clear that the Church of his day did not grant canonical status to the writings of the Apocrypha as being inspired. While commenting on the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus, Jerome made these statements about the books of Judith, Tobit and Maccabees:
As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two Volumes (Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus) for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church (emphasis mine) (NPNF, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jeromes Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs; Daniel).
Jerome’s convictions about the canon were clearly expressed in numerous places in his writings, in particular, the Prefaces he wrote to the Old Testament books. In these he enumerated the canonical books according to the Hebrew canon, thus rejecting the Apocrypha.1 Some have suggested that Jerome later changed his opinion and included the Apocrypha in the canon of the Vulgate. However, there is no evidence to support this. Jerome continued to write commentaries on the Old Testament books until his death. There is no record that he ever retracted his original statements about the Apocrypha. In his work, Against Rufinus, written in AD 401-402, he reiterated and defended his earlier position on the Apocrypha. His comments come after the North African councils. Though he did not consider the Apocryphal books to be canonical in the strict sense, Jerome quoted from them in accordance with his own convictions, for the purposes of edification. Again, this is the same distinction drawn (between canonical and ecclesiastical books) by Athanasius and Rufinus. Jerome’s views had enormous influence on the Church of subsequent ages even down to our own time.
At the same time that Jerome was engaged in his translation work and writing his prefaces, the North African Councils of Hippo and Carthage met in AD 393 and 397 respectively and issued a decree on the canon which included the works of the Apocrypha. We do not possess the original decrees of Hippo and Carthage but they were later ratified by a subsequent Council in Carthage in AD 419. The decree on the Old Testament reads as follows:
Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read, in the church, under the title of divine writings. The canonical books are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, the two books of Paraleipomena (Chronicles), Job, the Psalms of David, the five books of Solomon, the twelve books of the (Minor) Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, the two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees (Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896), Synod at Hippo, Canon 36, p. 400).
This decree ends with the statement that it was to be submitted to the Bishop of Rome, as well as other bishops of the Western Church for confirmation. It affirms the fact that the books listed are those which have received the sanction of the fathers of the North African churches to be read in the Church:
Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in the church (NPNF2, Volume 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, African Code A.D. 419, Canon XXIV, pp. 453-454).
The decrees were submitted to the Roman Church for confirmation which was forthcoming. It is the common teaching among Roman Catholic apologists that these Councils officially settled the canon for the Church at large. The facts, however, do not support this contention for two major reasons. The first is the nature of the North African Councils and the books they decreed to be canonical. The second is the history and practice of the Church with respect to the Apocrypha subsequent to these Councils and up to the time of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.
(We will continue with Bill’s response over the next few days.)
1The first of these books is called Bresith, to which we give the name Genesis. The second, Elle Smoth, which bears the name Exodus; the third, Vaiecra, that is Leviticus; the fourth, Vaiedabber, which we call Numbers; the fifth, Elle Addabarim, which is entitled Deuteronomy. These are the five books of Moses, which they properly call Thorath, that is law.
The second class is composed of the Prophets, and they begin with Jesus the son of Nave, who among them is called Joshua the son of Nun. Next in the series is Spohtim, that is the book of Judges; and in the same book they include Ruth, because the events narrated occurred in the days of the Judges. Then comes Samuel, which we call First and Second Kings. The fourth is Malachim, that is, Kings, which is contained in the third and fourth volumes of Kings. And it is far better to say Malachim, that is Kings, than Malachoth, that is Kingdoms. For the author does not describe the Kingdoms of many nations, but that of one people, the people of Israel, which is comprised in the twelve tribes. The fifth is Isaiah, the sixth Jeremiah, the seventh Ezekiel, the eighth is the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called among the Jews Thare Asra.
To the third class belong the Hariographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dabre Aiamim, that is, Words of Days, which we may more expressively call a chronicle of the whole of the sacred history, the book that amongst us is called First and Second Chronicles; the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Esther.
And so there are also twenty—two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty—four book of the old law. And these the Apocalypse of John represents by the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb, and with downcast looks offer their crowns, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice crying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, and art, and art to come.
This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a ‘helmeted’ introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so, I beseech you, my reader, not to think that my labors are in any sense intended to disparage the old translators. For the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can; some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and purple and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goats hair (NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, The Books of Samuel and Kings, pp. 489‑490).
Additional comments from Jerome: ‘These instances have been just touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the holy scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to shew you the way…Genesis … Exodus … Leviticus … Numbers … Deuteronomy … Job … Jesus the son of Nave … Judges … Ruth … Samuel … The third and fourth books of Kings … The twelve prophets whose writings are compressed within the narrow limits of a single volume: Hosea … Joel … Amos … Obadiah … Jonah … Micah … Nahum … Habakkuk … Zephaniah … Haggai … Zechariah … Malachi … Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel … Jeremiah also goes four times through the alphabet in different metres (Lamentations)… David…sings of Christ to his lyre; and on a psaltry with ten strings (Psalms) … Solomon, a lover of peace and of the Lord, corrects morals, teaches nature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes), unites Christ and the church, and sings a sweet marriage song to celebrate that holy bridal (Song of Songs) … Esther … Ezra and Nehemiah.
You see how, carried away by my love of the scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter…The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John … The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle – that to the Hebrews – is not generally counted in with the others) … The Acts of the Apostles … The apostles James, Peter, John and Jude have published seven epistles … The apocalypse of John …
I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else (NPNF2, Vol. 6, Volume VI, St. Jerome, Letter LIII.6-10).