Sunday, July 25, 2021
Does The Roman Catholic Apocrypha Contain Historical And Theological Errors?
-The purpose of this article is to rebut a handful of claims made by Roman Catholic apologist Trent Horn in defense of the apocrypha against charges of it being historically and theologically unsound. Following are excerpts from the author along with a critique:
"Protestant apologist James McCarthy says the claim that these books are inspired must be rejected because “the author of 2 Maccabees says that his work is the abridgement of another man’s work (2 Macc. 2:23). He concludes the book by saying, ‘If it is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do’ (2 Macc. 15:38, NAB).”- But by McCarthy’s standard the Gospel of Luke would not be inspired, because it admits to being an adaptation of earlier sources (Lk 1:1-3). First Corinthians would likewise be uninspired, because Paul says he can’t remember whom he baptized (1:15). These passages only demonstrate the humility of the Bible’s human authors—not any lack of divine inspiration in their writings."
Nowhere do the authors of the biblical books write concerning the quality of their writing, "I have done my best in writing this and hope you do not find it to be lacking." That language is not the product of somebody being moved by the Holy Spirit. It cannot simply be explained away as being human characteristics of Scripture. Furthermore, the words in the Book of Maccabees can readily be contrasted with passages of Scripture that pertain to divine inspiration of revelation (Matthew 10:19-20; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 12-13; 14:37).
"Moreover, the alleged errors in the deuterocanonical books, such as Judith identifying Nebuchadnezzar as the king of Assyria instead of as the king of Babylon (Jud 1:1), Tobit being described as having lived for more than 150 years (Tob 14:11), can be explained. Specifically, these statements are only errors if the author was asserting a literal description of history, but even Protestant scholars agree that the authors of Judith and Tobit were not writing in the genre of literal history."
The problem with this argument is that the church fathers considered these kind of writings to not be mythical but historical. If the authors of the apocryphal books intended them to be understood in the same way, then that means they are in error and therefore disqualify themselves from the Old Testament canon.
"Claims that the deuterocanonical books contradict theological truths in the protocanonical books also fall flat. One example is the claim that the teaching that honoring one’s father and almsgiving can atone for sin (Sir 3:3; Tob 4:11) contradicts the New Testament’s teaching that only Christ can atone for our sins. But the book of Proverbs teaches that “by loyalty and faithfulness [or what many Protestants would call ‘works’] iniquity is atoned for” (16:6). First Peter says that “love covers a multitude of sin” (4:8), and Acts records an angel saying to the Gentile Cornelius, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (10:4)."
The text from Proverbs speaks of us being merciful to others and faithfully serving God. The text from Acts speaks of God not passing over Cornelius because of his charity and prayer. He was searching for God with an earnest heart. The text from 1 Peter speaks of love covering sins in the sense of not holding wrongdoings against other people. We ought to forgive because we have been forgiven by God. These passages of Scripture have nothing to do with people performing good deeds in order that atonement be made for their own sins.
"Other claims of theological contradiction are circular, such as the claim that Second Maccabees is not inspired because it records the “unbiblical practice” of praying for the dead. But Protestants only say the practice is “unbiblical” because they do not regard Second Maccabees as part of the Bible. If Second Maccabees is inspired, however, then praying for the dead is a biblical practice even if it is only described in one book of the Bible. To make a comparison, the Gospel of Matthew is the only book in the Bible that records a Trinitarian baptismal command (28:19), but that doesn’t make such a command unbiblical."
The accusation is not circular reasoning if it can be shown that the practice of praying to the dead is inconsistent with biblical witness on the matter. Does the Roman Catholic Church accept the inspiration of 2 Maccabees in order to justify its dogmas? That seems like a fair question to ask. 2 Esdras 7:105 is an apocryphal text that expressly contradicts the idea of prayers for the dead. Why did that not end up being included in the Roman Catholic canon?
"Finally, some Protestant apologists say the deuterocanonical books are not inspired because they are inferior in style to the protocanonical books of Scripture. Raymond Surburg writes, “When a comparison is instituted of the style of the Apocrypha with the style of the Biblical Hebrew Old Testament writings, there is a considerable inferiority, shown by the stiffness, lack of originality and artificiality of expression characterizing the apocryphal books.”— But this is a wholly subjective criterion that, if taken seriously, would put Shakespeare in the Bible and take books like Numbers or Philemon out of it."
Literary criticism alone is not sufficient to either confirm or deny the canonicity of any books of the Bible. Even so, Trent Horn's statement about adding Shakespeare or removing any text from the Bible upon deeming extra-biblical texts to be of inferior quality does not follow. It is the product of an extremely skeptical approach which, if taken seriously, would render impossible the analysis of any written text. We cannot come to conclusions about anything without subjectively using our powers of reason to weigh evidence in ruling out competing truth claims.