Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Bible - Why Do Christians Have Different Old Testaments?

Every great once in awhile you will see me quote from books that are excluded from non-Catholic (and non-Eastern Orthodox) editions of the Bible. Non-Catholic brothers and sisters refer to these writings (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Baruch, 1 & 2 Maccabees, an additional 107 verses to the Book of Esther and two chapters to the Book of Daniel) as the Apocrypha, while we Catholics refer to them as the “Deutero-canonicals.” Initially I came to accept their inspiration because of the resonance I found between them, as a group, and the rest of Scripture. Most convincing was a passage I had “happened upon” in Wisdomthe most explicit prophecy of Christ I had seen.  I couldn’t ignore such prophetic precision. I was grateful to the Holy Spirit for letting me find this and wanted to understand why Christians disagreed over the Old Testament.
Through reading and talking with others I learned several interesting facts. First, that the Protestant Old Testament matches that of today’s Jewish community; the Protestant Reformers considered it to be more authentic. Second, that St. Jerome, probably the greatest biblical scholar of the first three centuries, chose to distinguish these books from the rest of the Old Testament in his Latin translation, labeling them “ecclesiastical” as opposed to “canonical.” These things would seem to argue against the deutero-canonicals acceptance, but there’s another side to consider.

So far as the Jewish canon of Scripture goes, it was not decided until close to 200 A.D. (See Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders, The Canon Debate, p. 146-162.) All of this took place after the fall of Jerusalem and the expulsion of Christians from the Synagogue. Prior to the that time the Old Testament canon was not “set in stone” and was larger than today’s; this was the Old Testament used by the Apostles and the early Church. The Anglican scholar, J.N.D. Kelly writes,
 … the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the ... books of the Hebrew Bible of Palestinian Judaism ... It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha, or deutero-canonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament which passed in the first instance into the hands of Christians was not the original Hebrew version, but the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.
The Greek translation, begun about 250 B.C., and which included the deutero-canonicals, was what the Church used in her worship and study; after all, Christians were predominately Greek-speaking. When the Apostles quoted from the Old Testament in their epistles the Septuagint was generally what they used, “Of the 350 quotations of the Old Testament found in the New Testament, 300 are taken directly from the Greek Septuagint Bible” as opposed to the Hebrew.[2] Thus, the Christian Church had been making use of an Old Testament containing these books for some sixty years before the Jewish rabbis officially excluded them. 

It must be recalled that at the time the rabbis set their canon they were no longer the world’s teachers; that role had been passed to the Apostles and their successors. When Jerome expressed doubts about the canonicity of the deutero-canonicals a few centuries later, he did so as a scholar living in Bethlehem and performing his translation of the Old Testament alongside rabbis; as such he was susceptible to their opinions. Jerome was free to ask these questions; for although the books had come down to the Church from apostolic times, a formal Church statement (from Peter’s successor or an Ecumenical Council) had never been made regarding the Old Testament canon. The local councils of Hippo (393 A.D.) and Carthage (419 A.D.), the latter presided over by St. Augustine, declared the deutero-canonicals to be part of the Old Testament. The decrees of the Council of Carthage received a “semi-binding” status in the minds of most Christians when Pope Boniface gave them his approval.[3] 

Now one last objection which I have heard from Protestant brothers and sisters to the Apocrypha is that Jesus did not quote from it as He did the rest of the Old Testament. This objection has two large holes in it, however. First, if quotation from Jesus, or the Apostles after him, as recorded in the New Testament, were our criteria for including books in the Old Testament then all Christians would have to slim their Bibles. They would no longer contain Ecclesiastes, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, or Nahum.[4] Second, I maintain that Jesus and the Apostles did draw from the deutero-canonicals and have included many of the parallels in Appendix IV of The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center. In addition, fragments of Sirach in Hebrew and Tobit in both Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as Baruch in Greek, were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls - evidencing their use in the Palestine of Jesus' day.

UPDATED:  Did you know that there was a danger of Christians having a different New Testament as well?  To read more, scroll to the second half of this post.

[2]Rumble, Leslie and Charles M. Carty, Bible Quizzes To A Street Preacher,(Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers Inc., 1976), p.4
[3] Graham, Henry G., Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church ( Rockford, Illinois: Tan Publishers), p.37.
[4] Shea, Mark P., By What Authority? : An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition, (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1996), p.62.

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