Thursday, February 12, 2015

Did Jesus define the OT canon in Mt 23:35?

The short answer is no. Let me explain why; the explanation is important because the truth is important. This post is written in response to an old high school friend and pastor, Justin Evans, who has a genuine heart for God and a passionate love for the truth. I hope a little bit of Justin rubbed off on me and anyone to whom he has ministered, because he’s a real blessing.

Justin posted a link to an article he recommended by Brian Edwards, called ‘Why 66?’ Overall, it is a fairly good summary of how we arrived at a biblical canon, though not without a few serious flaws (the kind of revisionism that ruined the NIV).

Some background 
As an Anglican, our bible is larger than the Protestant bible, which has fewer books in the Old Testament. The books we call the Apocrypha were put into a section at the end of the Old Testament in the authorized Anglican translation, known in America as “the King James Version.” (Can’t find the Apocrypha in your KJV? I’ll get to that.)
 These “extra” books (and parts of books) in the Apocrypha are a part of the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament in circulation at the time of Jesus. This was the Bible used by the early church (remember, the Old Testament was THE Bible before the New Testament was written) and it was the translation used by the writers of the New Testament books. For example, in Matthew 1:23, the Evangelist quotes from the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah (“Behold, a virgin shall conceive”) rather than from the Hebrew version of Isaiah (“Behold, a maiden shall conceive”).

After the destruction of Jerusalem and its glorious temple in AD 70, Judaism had to redefine itself. Part of that process was a determination of what holy books comprised the canon of scripture. Some accepted only the Torah, some all the Hebrews books, and others all the Greek books of the Septuagint. The Sadducees accepted only the Torah. The Septuagint was especially used and accepted by Jews in Alexandria and throughout the Mediterranean world outside of Palestine.

To make a long story short, the Jews settled on only the Hebrew books. Although some of the books in the Apocrypha were originally written in Hebrew, only the Greek translation survived. The Septuagint was also becoming more and more associated with those heretical Jews known as Christians. A purging of the last remaining Christians in the synagogues accompanied a purging of the “Christian Bible” as well. It is telling that Ethiopian Jews, who were cut off from mainstream Palestinian Judaism, retained the official use of the Septuagint.

Reading the article ‘Why 66?’ 
Of course, with the title ‘Why 66?’, I was not surprised to find the assertion that the Bible has only 66 books (the Hebrew Bible, plus the Christian New Testament). But one thing that really caught my attention when I was reading through ‘Why 66?’ was this line: “Whether or not the Septuagint also contained the Apocrypha is impossible to say for certain, since although the earliest copies of the Septuagint available today do include the Apocrypha—placed at the end—these are dated in the fifth century and therefore cannot be relied upon to tell us what was common half a millennium earlier.”

This statement is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, there is a problem of logic. You can’t make an argument from ignorance. You could equally say, “Whether or not the Septuagint contained Isaiah is impossible to say for certain, since although the earliest copies of the Septuagint available today do include Isaiah, these are dated in the fifth century and therefore cannot be relied upon to tell us what was common half a millennium earlier.” You could plug just about anything into that sentence and it would make the same sense (which is to say, no sense).

Second, Edwards claims in the article, “Nothing else, certainly not the Apocrypha, is given the same [canonical] status” in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). This statement is highly misleading. It leads one to believe that no books of the Apocrypha were found in the caves at Qumran, which is simply not the case. Copies of Tobit, Sirach (aka, Ecclesiasticus), and the Letter of Jeremiah were found in Cave 4, which generally housed biblical texts. There are also thousands of fragments from the DSS still waiting to be examined and identified, so who knows what might still be found.

You also have to remember that these were libraries of biblical and non-biblical material—literally, rooms with scrolls in them. There was no box labeled “Bible only.” Of course, at least two scrolls from the Apocrypha are unlikely to be found there. The sect at Qumran was anti-Hasmonean (the dynasty that the Maccabees had founded), so they probably did not want to keep copies of the chronicles of the Maccabees.
A fragment from the Book of Tobit of the Apocrypha found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The great significance of the DSS is that it advances our oldest copies of the Bible about 1,000 years into the past. Comparing the DSS with the Masoretic Text show a remarkable consistency. Which is to say, the Jewish communities which copied and preserved these sacred books went to great lengths to ensure that they remained faithful and unchanged. Neither the Hebrew nor Greek Bibles were arbitrarily added to or deleted from.

The discovery of Hebrew scrolls from the Apocrypha also showed that these books were not necessarily rejected even in “Hebrew only” Palestine. One scholar noted: “Up until recently it was assumed that ‘apocryphal’ additions found in the books of the LXX represented later augmentations in the Greek to the Hebrew texts. In connection with this, the Masoretic text (MT) established by the rabbis in the medieval period has been accepted as the faithful witness to the Hebrew Bible of the 1st century. Yet, this presupposition is now being challenged in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (Michael Barber, Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament, Part 1).

So how did these books disappear from Protestant Bibles? 
To keep costs down and thus facilitate the widespread distribution and use of the Bible, the printing costs were underwritten by Bible societies. In the 19th Century, there began to be increasing complaints made by Protestant members of American Bible Society (ABS) that their funds were used for Bibles printed with the Apocrypha. By the turn of the century, the ABS had defunded all publications of Bibles that included the Apocrypha, thus virtually all Bibles in the United States during most of the 20th Century were printed without the Apocrypha. The ABS lifted restrictions on the publication of Bibles with the Apocrypha in 1964, and most modern translations (except the NIV) have been available with the option of the Apocrypha included.

It is important to understand that the church never added any books to the Old Testament, rather the Reformers took them out. All of the Christian councils (which represent not the view of just one person, but the Christian consensus) that list the canonical books of the Old Testament, from the earliest centuries up to the Reformation, include the books of the Apocrypha. But don’t just take my word for it; listen to the experts.

The Anglican priest and patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly wrote: "It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the [Hebrew Bible] . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha or deuterocanonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament which passed in the first instance into the hands of Christians was . . . the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. . . . most of the Scriptural quotations found in the New Testament are based upon it rather than the Hebrew.. . . In the first two centuries . . . the Church seems to have accept all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement and Barnabas. . . Polycarp cites Tobit, and the Didache [cites] Ecclesiasticus. Irenaeus refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon [i.e., the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel], and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary" (J. N. D. Kelley, Early Christian Doctrines, pp 53-54).

Luther removed these books from the Old Testament in his German Bible. He still printed them in a separate section, with the heading: “Apocrypha: these are books which are not held equal to the sacred scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading.” But what you may not know is that Luther also wanted to remove books from the New Testament—James (an “epistle of straw” which he wished to “throw into the fire”), 2 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation. On what basis? Only on his own judgment. Like 2 Maccabees, they had verses which presented difficulties for his theology.

His fellow reformers thought Luther had gone too far in wanting to remove books from the New Testament, and he was persuaded not to. But he was able to make one addition to the New Testament instead to bolster his theological claims. He added the word “alone” to his German translation of Romans 3:28—a word that was not in the Greek original. As to why he could make this alteration of sacred scripture, Luther replied in a letter to his critics, “If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola [‘allein’ or ‘alone’], say this to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so . . .’ . . . Here in Romans 3, I knew very well that the word solum [‘allein’ or ‘alone’] is not in the Latin or the Greek text . . . it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous” (Luther’s Works, Volume 35, Page 182-198). Yet, somehow the word does not occur in other German translations of the same passage. It’s odd that the same person who proclaimed “Sola Scriptura!” wanted to tinker with the Bible so much, at least those parts that didn’t agree with him.

Coming back to Matthew 23:35
Seeing some of the misrepresentations in Edwards’ article ‘Why 66?’ and knowing how we really got down to 66 books, I couldn’t help but comment, “The only way to get to 66 is to start tossing out books. And we don't have the authority to do that.” To which Justin responded, “We don't have any authority period. But a responsibility to acknowledge what Christ has put His stamp of approval on. The 39 and 27 are the only ones that stand up to that scrutiny.”
The “39” are the books of the Protestant Old Testament and the “27” are the books of the New Testament, but what is Justin referring to here as Christ’s “stamp of approval”? In regard to the 27, it is a little less clear. Probably he means the authenticity of the works themselves that resonated with the early church (filled with people who knew Jesus and his apostles personally) and led to their being copied, collected, circulated, and received as divinely inspired writings. This process was well described by Edwards in ‘Why 66?”. In regard to the 39, it is most likely Matthew 23:35 (with a parallel passage in Luke 11:51) which is used as a proof-text to show that Jesus accepted the books of the Hebrew Bible (and by implication no other books in the Septuagint) as divinely inspired and canonical. What I hope to show is that this is not the case.

Jesus does define or at least mention the canon several times in the gospels. For example, in Matthew 5:17, he said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” That phrase “the law and the prophets” represent two sections of the Old Testament—the Torah and the Nevi’im. We also find this phrase in Mt 7:12; 22:40; Lk 16:16; Acts 13:15; Rm 3:21; as well as in Sirach 1:1; 2 Maccabees 15:9 and 4 Maccabees 18:10. There is also a third section called the Kituvim, or the “Writings” (which is to say, “everything else”). Jesus may be referring to this third section when he said, “Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus could be using “The Psalms” as title of that third section because the Psalter is the first and largest book in the Kituvim or because there are so many Messianic prophecies in the Psalms. If the books of the Apocrypha are canonical, they fall into the section of “the Writings.”

Matthew 23:35 is a little different. Starting in verse 34, Jesus said, “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” What does this have to do with the canon of the Bible?

The books of the Hebrew Bible are in a different order from the English (which follows the Septuagint, ironically). In the Hebrew, the last book of the Bible is not Malachi (which belongs in that middle section called the Nevi’im) but the Book of Chronicles (which is two books in English Bibles). The argument is that Jesus is using a euphemism for “the Bible” here when he says “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” since Abel was the first person murdered in the first book of the Bible (Genesis) and Zechariah was the last person murdered in the last book of the Bible (Chronicles). Is that the case?

There’s no trouble identifying Abel (see Genesis 4:1-16); it’s Zechariah that is the problem. Those supporting the theory identify him with the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, which reads: “Then the Spirit of God took possession of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said to them, ‘Thus says God, “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.”’ But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord.”

But there’s a problem with that. Jesus doesn’t say “Zechariah, son of Jehoiada,” he says, “Zechariah, the son of Barachiah.” Well, who is that? He’s the Zechariah the Prophet, mentioned in the book bearing his name, and who did not meet a violent death as far as we know. That book begins, “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, the prophet . . .” (Zechariah 1:1). Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (c. 800 BC) lived roughly three centuries earlier than Zechariah the son of Barachiah (c. 520 BC).

Sometimes it is answered that Barachiah could have been the grandfather of the earlier Zechariah. Zechariah ben Barachiah would be still be a correct description of him in Jewish culture, but since he was referred to as Zechariah ben Jehoiada in 2 Chronicles, why would Jesus refer to him by a different name than the one people would have been familiar with from the Bible? In fact, another article at Answers in Genesis argues that Jesus cannot be referring to Zechariah ben Jehoiada in Matthew 23:35. On the other hand, Calvin argues in his commentary that Jesus is referring to Zechariah ben Jehoiada, despite the discrepancy in name, theorizing that Barachiah is a kind of honorific title.

There are other possibilities for identifying the Zechariah Jesus mentions. One early Christian writing called the Protoevangelium of James identifies him with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who was a priest in the temple. It records that he was murdered during the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem. Another Zechariah is mentioned by Josephus who was murdered in the temple courts in AD 68 during Titus’ siege of Jerusalem. But this took place after Jesus spoke these words, so that identification doesn’t make sense.

The truth is that we don’t exactly know what Zechariah Jesus is referring to here. But that’s okay because we don’t need to know; it doesn’t affect his meaning. What Jesus is getting at is that “You ungrateful Jews have killed all the holy people that God has given you,” with the implication that Jesus knows he is next on the list. Jesus does not comment on the canon in this passage. In fact, there is no reason that he would include the holy Maccabean martyrs (see Hebrews 11:35 and 2 Maccabees 7) in this list because unlike the others, they were killed by Greeks for being faithful to the Law of Moses, not killed by the Jews out of rebellion toward God.

Why is it important? 
The Bible tells us that “The words of the Lord are pure words” (Psalm 12:6) Not only would we be losing a great treasure if we tossed books out of the Bible, we would also be in rebellion against God. The reason is that we simply don’t have that authority. The role of the Church is to acknowledge the Lord’s word, not to decide (and certainly not to go back on the acknowledgment we already made centuries ago). Despite attempts to remove the Apocrypha, they used to be familiar works even among Protestants. Even Luther still bound them in his German Bible, even if he denounced their status. The truth is that these books are a part of the Septuagint which was the Christian Bible, used by the early Church, the apostles and the writers of the New Testament, and by Christ himself.

While it is true that the New Testament never directly quotes the Apocrypha with the type of explicit formula that Matthew uses (“this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Prophet x who said y), yet the New Testament does in fact quote from the Apocrypha. The language of these books are sprinkled all throughout the New Testament just as are the other books of the Old Testament. The article notes, “The Apocrypha is entirely absent in [New Testament] writing.” Yet, this is utterly false.

In your Bible, you will notice the small print cross-references printed next to the biblical text, citing passages that quote or otherwise relate to one another. The total number of references to the Apocrypha in the margins of the Old and New Testaments of the King James Version as printed in 1611 is 113. Of this number, 102 are in the Old Testament, and 11 in the New. The New Testament passages with references to the Apocrypha in the King James Version are as follows:
Mt 6:7     Ecclesiasticus 7:14
Mt 23:37     2 Esdras 1:30
Mt 27:43     Wisdom 2:15-16
Lk 6:31     Tobit 4:15
Lk 14:13     Tobit 4:7
Jn 10:22     1 Maccabees 4:59
Rom 9:21     Wisdom 15:7
Rom 11:34     Wisdom 9:13
2 Cor 9:7     Ecclesiasticus 35:9
Heb 1:3     Wisdom 7:26
Heb 11:35     2 Maccabees 7:7

Want more? Consider these other cross-references from the gospels alone:
Mt 2:16 - Herod's decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in Wisdom 11:7 - slaying the holy innocents.
Mt 6:19-20 - Jesus' statement about laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven follows Sirach 29:11 - lay up your treasure.
Mt 7:12 - Jesus' golden rule "do unto others" is the converse of Tobit 4:15 - what you hate, do not do to others.
Mt 7:16,20 - Jesus' statement "you will know them by their fruits" follows Sirach 27:6 - the fruit discloses the cultivation.
Mt 9:36 - the people were "like sheep without a shepherd" is same as Judith 11:19 - sheep without a shepherd.
Mt 11:25 - Jesus' description "Lord of heaven and earth" is the same as Tobit 7:18 - Lord of heaven and earth.
Mt 12:42 - Jesus refers to the Wisdom of Solomon which was the title of a book in the Greek Bible.
Mt 16:18 - Jesus' reference to the "power of death" and "gates of Hades" references Wisdom 16:13.
Mt 22:25; Mk 12:20; Lk 20:29 - Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.
Mt 24:15 - the "desolating sacrilege" Jesus refers to is also taken from 1 Maccabees 1:54 and 2 Maccabees 8:17.
Mt 24:16 - let those "flee to the mountains" is taken from 1 Maccabees 2:28.
Mt 27:43 - if He is God's Son, let God deliver him from His adversaries follows Wisdom 2:18.
Mk 4:5,16-17 - Jesus' description of seeds falling on rocky ground and having no root follows Sirach 40:15.
Mk 9:48 - description of hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched references Judith 16:17.
Lk 1:42 - Elizabeth's declaration of Mary's blessedness above all women follows Uzziah's declaration in Judith 13:18.
Lk 1:52 - Mary's magnificat addressing the mighty falling from their thrones and replaced by lowly follows Sirach 10:14.
Lk 2:29 - Simeon's declaration that he is ready to die after seeing the Child Jesus follows Tobit 11:9.
Lk 13:29 - the Lord's description of men coming from east and west to rejoice in God follows Baruch 4:37.
Lk 21:24 - Jesus' usage of "fall by the edge of the sword" follows Sirach 28:18.
Lk 24:4 and Acts 1:10 - Luke's description of the two men in dazzling apparel reminds us of 2 Maccabees 3:26.
Jn 1:3 - all things were made through Him, the Word, follows Wisdom 9:1.
Jn 3:13 - who has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven references Baruch 3:29.
Jn 4:48; Acts 5:12; 15:12; 2 Cor 12:12 - Jesus', Luke's and Paul's usage of "signs and wonders" follows Wisdom 8:8.
Jn 5:18 - Jesus claiming that God is His Father follows Wisdom 2:16.
Jn 6:35-59 - Jesus' Eucharistic discourse is foreshadowed in Sirach 24:21.
Jn 10:22 - the identification of the feast of the dedication is taken from 1 Maccabees 4:59.
Jn 10:36 – Jesus accepts the inspiration of Maccabees as he analogizes the Hanukkah consecration to his own consecration to the Father in 1 Maccabees 4:36.
Jn 15:6 - branches that don't bear fruit and are cut down follows Wis. 4:5 where branches are broken off.

And this is a small sampling of cross-references. For a more exhaustive list with the rest of the New Testament and early Church fathers, see this page.

Okay, so the New Testament quotes passages from the Apocrypha. Still not convinced of it’s divine inspiration? After all, lots of non-biblical references are made in the Bible. Well, what if the Apocrypha actually quoted the New Testament?

St. Augustine of Hippo formulated in the well known axiom: “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.” One of the most powerful and convincing testimonies to the spiritual reliability of the Bible is the Old Testament witness about Christ—a testimony given before the events even happened. Jesus told others about how the Old Testament spoke prophetically of himself. He said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). This includes the Old Testament books in the Apocrypha. There are what I like to call “Four Gospels of the Old Testament.” They are the Gospels according to Moses, to David, to Solomon, and to Isaiah. The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha, composed about 100 BC, tells vivid details about the crucifixion of Jesus many years before it even happened in the second chapter.

Wisdom 2:12“Let us lie in wait for the righteous man . . . 16We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. 17Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. 20Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” 21Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, 22and they did not know the secret purposes of God.”

One of the most powerful and convincing testimonies to the spiritual reliability of the Bible is the Old Testament witness about Christ—a testimony given before the events occured. "All scripture is inspired by God [not just the parts that the Reformers agreed with] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Only the Word of God speaks prophetically about the Word made flesh. 

As a great man once said, “Confirm everything, never take your pastor's word for anything. Rather, be noble-minded, search the Scriptures for yourself.” The truth will make you free. As I stated earlier, the only way to get to 66 books in the Bible is to start tossing out books. And we don't have the authority to do that.

For some excellent further reading:
Defending the Deutero-canonicals
Who Decides? Unraveling the Mystery of the Old Testament Canon 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Praying "in Christ"

I came across a delightful passage this afternoon from a book called Liturgy for the Layman by Luwig Winterswyl that I just had to share:

"The Christian who prays through Christ to God the Father is not just calling upon Christ but is, as it were, placing himself beside Christ who as Man is our brother. Furthermore, when he prays, he enters Christ, he prays from within Christ of whom he is a member by baptism. Prayer through Christ is true Christian prayer and through Christ this prayer is sure to reach the Father. For Christ our Mediator lives and reigns with the Father, one God for ever and ever. And therefore prayer through Christ leads the Christian straight to the Heart of God, to the Holy Trinity in which the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit are united from all eternity in the fullness of divine life and love."