Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Did The Jews And Church Fathers Accept The Apocrypha As Canonical?
-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 its canonicity being rejected by the Jews and certain church fathers. Following are excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:
"Melito’s list of the Old Testament books lacks the deuterocanonicals, but this is not surprising given that many second-century Jews rejected the deuterocanonical books. The Protestant citation of Melito only helps their case if Melito was listing the Christian canon of the Old Testament. But because Melito was composing a defense of Christ from sources Jews would accept, we would expect Melito’s canon in his Extracts to reflect what Jews in his time accepted. In Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory, Edmon Gallagher says, “Most scholars have been willing to attribute [Melito’s] list ultimately to Jewish Sources.”
This argument made by Trent Horn that these canon lists were Jewish rather than Christian backfires, since Christians accepted the Jewish canon. The Jews were entrusted with the "oracles of God" (Romans 3:1-2). Those writings are quoted as Scripture in the New Testament. Jesus Christ and the apostles appealed to the Old Testament in debating Jewish opponents. The very first Christians were Jews who worshiped in the synagogues.
"The fact that Melito went all the way to Israel (or the “eastern place”) instead of asking the Jews in Sardis about the Old Testament canon shows, as we noted earlier, that there was not a consensus among second-century Jews about the canon of the Hebrew Bible. McDonald says, “Not all Josephus scholars agree with Josephus’s account that all Jews everywhere both know and would die for these twenty-two sacred books. . . Why did [Melito] not go across the street and talk to the nearest Jew to find out, if the matter was well known long before his time?”
It is possible that a situation required Melito of Sardis to travel that we know not of. Why doubt his integrity? Did the apocrypha ever have widespread acceptance as canonical amongst the Jews? Was there no consensus about the Old Testament canon at all? Paul himself alluded to a body of writings that were accorded a special status in his own day when he made statements such as "according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-6) and "the Holy Scriptures" (2 Timothy 3:15).
"Another point to mention is that if being present in either Melito’s or Origen’s lists were necessary for canonicity, then Esther and Lamentations would be disqualified since they are absent from both lists."
If that proves anything at all, then it would only mean some books of the Old Testament have stronger attestation than others. Even if we did remove a book from the Protestant Old Testament canon, that is not going to somehow justify adding the apocrypha. Further, a person does not have to provide a complete list of books of the Old Testament canon in order to have relevant information about its structure. That certain canon lists fail to include books like Esther is not the only criterion that we have for canonicity.
One reason that the authenticity of the Book of Esther has been challenged is that it nowhere mentions the name of God. However, a few points of consideration can be made to mitigate this problem: 1.) He works through circumstance to reverse certain destruction on the Jewish people., 2.) The writer may have left out the name of God to convey his own belief that the Jews who did not return to Israel from Persia were severed from covenant blessings. It would be a way of saying that God was not present amongst the exiles., and 3.) The author may have written in such a way to help foreigners in Persia understand the reasoning behind the Jews observing Purim. He would narrow in on details of the king and write about the Jews without any tone of emotional involvement or interest. That could account for the Book of Esther not mentioning God.
"Regarding Cyril, he divided the Old Testament Scripture into three groups: the protocanonical works that catechumens should read, books of “secondary rank” that catechumens should avoid, and books “not read in Churches”— that catechumens should also avoid. The fact that Cyril wanted those who were new to the faith to avoid the deutero-canonical books does not prove they were noncanonical. According to Gallagher, “Cyril himself uses and cites Wisdom and Sirach. Cyril’s canon list was written for catechumens, and so he may have intended his prohibition to apply to them alone, as those who are unable to properly separate the wheat from the chaff.
Even though Cyril of Jerusalem did not consider the deuterocanonical books to be apocryphal, he clearly thought they had a secondary degree of authority and importance in comparison to the Old Testament Scriptures. His position on the canonicity of the apocrypha is not identical with the modern day Roman Catholic position, which makes no such distinction between them.
"Athanasius uses the same division in his festal letter and even places Baruch alongside protocanonical books like Jeremiah. He did not reject the inspiration of the deuterocanonical books, because, as we’ve seen, he called them “Scripture” and used the book of Wisdom in his defense of orthodox Christology. Athanasius recognized that these books were disputed by the Jews of his time but still said those who seek further catechesis should read them."
Athanasius rejected the books of Tobit, Judith, and Maccabees as inspired. Baruch was viewed as being a part of the Book of Jeremiah.
"Since Jerome was mistaken about the reliability and textual tradition of the Septuagint, this refutes his claim that the true Hebrew canon could be found only in manuscripts that lacked the deuterocanonical books. It also refutes Protestant apologists who cite later medieval theologians, along with biblical commentaries, that rejected the deuterocanonical books simply because they followed Jerome’s erroneous argument about the Hebrew text."
That claim is based on Roman Catholic tradition so as to keep those non-canonical books. Jerome was correct in following the original Hebrew canon, which excluded the apocrypha.