Sunday, August 23, 2020

On The Completion Of The Old Testament Canon And Apocrypha

  • Discussion:
          -This article serves as a rebuttal to a number of claims set forth by Trent Horn of Catholic Answers regarding whether the apocryphal books belong in the Old Testament canon. Following are excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:

          "The authors of the deuterocanonical books did not believe the Hebrew canon was closed or that there was a set of books called “the Writings,” to which no more could be added. The prologue to Sirach only references “the law and the prophets and the others that followed them” and “the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books.” Second Maccabees describes Judas the Maccabee encouraging his troops only with words “from the law and the prophets” (15:9)."

          This attempt at refutation by Trent Horn is ridiculous and manufactured. The translator of Ecclesiasticus in no uncertain terms distinguishes "these things" (meaning the work that he is translating) from "the law and the prophets and the others that followed them." Thus, he believed that there was a threefold structured collection of sacred books that were accorded a unique status. Even the last of the three divisions of the Hebrew canon is spoken of in this passage as being "of our ancestors." Thus, this process was not going on in the days of the person translating this work or even his grandfather. This description suggests a closed canon. Another text relating to the completion of the Hebrew canon is 2 Esdras 14:45-46. It makes reference to a collection of twenty-four books which are intended to be read by all people. That number is equivalent to the number of books comprising the Jewish canon. These twenty-four writings are distinguished from a different set of seventy in that the later are meant only to be read by those who have wisdom. The seventy books are described as having been "written last" or after the writing of the first set.

          "According to Old Testament scholar Otto Kaiser, the deuterocanonical books “presuppose the validity of the Law and the Prophets and also utilize the Ketubim, or ‘Writings’ collection, which was, at the time, still in the process of formation and not yet closed.” In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain Jewish writings from the years 400 B.C. to A.D. 100, include copies of deuterocanonical books like Sirach, Tobit, and Baruch, which shows they were considered to be part of the Writings."

          Hundreds of manuscripts of non-biblical material have been discovered in the Qumran caves. It was comparable to a library which contains several different genres of literature. So one cannot simply appeal to the Dead Sea Scrolls as grounds for including the apocrypha in the Old Testament canon. These people were educated in the literature of their time and would have known books such as Sirach and Tobit. 

          "Hebrews 11:35 describes people in the Old Testament who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they may rise again to a better life.” These people are only described in 2 Maccabees 7, which describes brothers who accept torture instead of eating pork and violating Jewish law. Since the context of Hebrews 11 includes “the men of old [who] received divine approval” (v. 2), this means the books describing the Maccabean martyrs were part of the Old Testament that was used by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews."

          The author of Hebrews could have referenced the Maccabeean Revolt for the reason this rebellion took place in more recent history and not that he ascribed canonical status to 2 Maccabees. It would make sense for one to consult that work for historical purposes due to that event having a particular significance to an audience with a Jewish background. Furthermore, there could have been multiple sources or family traditions from which the author of Hebrews gathered his information.

          "The idea that the early Church viewed the deuterocanonical books as Scripture is even more evident in the writings of early Church fathers like Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Methodius, Cyprian, and Origen. Moreover, these fathers cited these books as “Scripture” or “holy Scripture,” and none of the pre-Nicene Church fathers ever declares the deuterocanonical books to be uninspired or non-canonical. St. Jerome even tells us that at the Council of Nicaea the deuterocanonical work of Judith was considered to be a part of the canon of Scriptures."

          There were church fathers who were not familiar with the Hebrew canon and so mistakenly thought the deuterocanonicals to be inspired Scripture. A distinction was made between the canonical books of the Old Testament and the deuterocanonicals as early as the second century which lasted until the timing of the Protestant Reformation.

          "The prevailing custom among the Jews was the production of separate volumes for each part of the Hebrew canon…When the codex or leaf-form of book production was adopted, however, it became possible for the first time to include a great number of separate books within the same two covers…For whatever reason the change was instituted, it now became possible for canonical and Apocryphal books to be brought into close physical juxtaposition. Books which heretofore had never been regarded by the Jews as having any more than a certain edifying significance were now placed by Christian scribes in one codex side by side with the acknowledged books of the Hebrew canon. Thus it would happen that what was first a matter of convenience in making such books of secondary status available among Christians became a factor in giving the impression that all of the books within such a codex were to be regarded as authoritative. Furthermore, as the number of Gentile Christians grew, almost none of whom had exact knowledge of the extent of the original Hebrew canon, it became more and more natural for quotations to be made indiscriminately from all the books included with the one Greek codex.” (Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, 177-178)

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