Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Canon

The Baker Book House Blog, run by Louis, always provides interesting articles/posts that concern all of Christianity. He recently posted an article called What Was in the “Canon” of the First Four Centuries? It is definitely worth a look, particularly the fascinating quotes from the various Protestant authors he cites.

And if you didn't know, Baker Book House is a wonderful Christian bookstore that is located in Grand Rapids.  I have ordered from them in the past, but plan to stop by in person one of these days when life is less hectic. 


Biblical Catholic said...

Well...I'll give the guy he's responding to credit for realizing that acceptance of the so called 'apocrypha' goes back at least as far as the 4th century, most critics I read think that these books were not accepted until the Council oF Trent. They were accepted before the 4th century, but at least he's willing to back as far as the 4th century.

Dwight said...

I couldn't help but dip my toe in the water of their comments section. :)

Biblical Catholic said...

The first commentator says what I said above, namely that the 'apocrypha' wasn't accepted until Trent...that is at best a half truth....Trent was the first formal dogmatic definition of the canon of the Old Testament, but that is quite different from saying that there was no canon However what Protestants making this claim are not generally willing to admit is that it was also the first formal dogmatic definition of the canon of the New Testament...so if the Old Testament canon was 'up for grabs' before Trent (which it wasn't) then so was the New Testament canon, so if this proves anything then it proves more than they want.

Deep South Reader said...

I commented as well. Awaiting consideration:

"Offtopic: I’ve always found it interesting that Protestants will cite to Jerome and his opinion regarding the Canon as supporting the position that the deuteron-canonical do not belong in the OT. However, Protestants certainly don’t look to Jerome regarding his faith regarding the Eucharist, Baptism, the Authority of the Papacy, or really anything else.

There is also focus on the “Council of Jamnia”, a supposed POST-Ascension council of…non-Christian Jews. My question is, since when did any Christian look to non-Christian opinion as to what is authoritative for Christians?"

Biblical Catholic said...

The thing that Protestants always miss when citing Jerome's alleged hostility to the Deuterocanon is that the reason why he included it in his translation is because the Pope told him to do so...the conversation was basically...

Jerome: 'I don't want to make a Latin Bible'

Pope: 'Do it anyway'

Jerome: 'Okay boss....but I don't want to include these Deuterocanonical books'

Pope: 'Do it anyway'

Jerome 'Okay, whatever you say...you're the boss, boss'

Surely the fact that he included books he didn't want to include solely out of obedience to the authority of the Pope is more important than his initial reluctance....yes?

Theophrastus said...

The issue of canon (even when we limit ourselves to the canon of the Roman Church) is fairly complicated; certainly there were both Jewish works and Christian works held in high regard during the Second Temple period and early Christian era which today are regarded as apocryphal by Catholics; e.g., the works included in the appendix to the Clementine Vulgate, other works in some Eastern Orthodox canons but not in the Roman canon, 1 Enoch, many of the books now in the Apostolic Fathers (particularly 1 Clement, Letter of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Didache), etc.

Prior to Trent, and even in its immediate aftermath, there were a variety of opinions about what constituted the canon. Consider for example, the so-called "Catholic Apocrypha" -- 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses. These works reportedly were included in Jerome's version. But more to the point: they appear in the main body of the Old Testament in the the vulgate sponsored by Sixtus V -- which appeared after Trent.

The revision of Sixtine Vulgate, sponsored by Clement VIII, moved those works to an appendix -- but obviously Trent's statement on Canon did not take immediate effect. (Note that these works also appear in two major English Protestant Apocrypha: the Geneva Bible and KJV.)

Even today, there are still disputes over the Roman canon on the fringes. A frequently cited example is Mark 16: is the longer ending to Mark in the canon or not? The traditional view is that the long ending is canonical, but imprimatur has been granted to Bibles that have the short version.

I must say that the variation in some of the Deuterocanonical books is even more extreme (Tim has had discussions about the variations in Sirach, for example.)

Louis said...

Thanks Tim for the link here and thanks to all who have commented. I appreciate the discussion.

Biblical Catholic said...

"Prior to Trent, and even in its immediate aftermath, there were a variety of opinions about what constituted the canon"

You're exaggerating....the issue of the canon was basically a closed issue for a good 1,000 years or so before Trent, it wasn't discussed at all except on the outer fringes of speculative theology.

And when discussing things like the 16th chapter of Mark, that isn't an issue of the canon, it's an issue of textual criticism, those are not the same.

The Church has determined which books are in canon, she has not even attempted to determine which particular recension of any book is the 'official' one.....she leaves this up to Bible scholars critics to determine.

These are separate issues.

Theophrastus said...

Biblical Catholic, thanks for your comments.

I think that you mean to say that the principle of including Deuterocanonical works not in the Hebrew Bible in the Christian Old Testament was generally accepted for over a millennium before Trent -- and that is undeniably true. The actual enumeration of which books to be included though was not clear at all.

Remember, for example that the East-West schism happened within the time period you mention, and Rome and Constantinople ended up with different canons. Remember that the Vatican issued vulgates with works not in Trent's canon. Remember that even as late 1893, Pope Leo XIII was citing 3 Esdras (in Providentissimus Deus).


The question of textual criticism vs canon is not as clear as you indicate. You may be aware that although Ezra & Nehemiah are usually indicated to be two books, (which in the Vulgate are called 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras) they are actually two halves of a single work. In antiquity, some claimants maintained that 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras were continuations of the same work, and at least some of the argument for including them in the canon was based on those claims. Now, I do not know any contemporary Bible scholar who believes that today, but if I were to accept your apparent definition (textual criticism deals with what is in a book; canon lists the books) then I could argue that the question of the inclusion of 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras in the canon was merely an issue of "textual criticism." That is not the way that people ordinarily talk.

I'm going out on a limb here, and predict that within the next century or two, there is a good chance that East and West may reunite, and if that happens, the issue of canon will be re-opened.