Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roger Olson: Catholic and Evangelical Dialogue Part:1

"I have outstanding Catholic colleagues in the university. I admire them very much and have no trouble embracing them as equally Christians with Protestants. That doesn’t mean I agree with their theology on every point; I don’t. And I could never myself be a Catholic, but none of that means I consider them less than authentically and fully Christian. No church or tradition has a corner on truth."
 Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Augustine and Jerome: The OT Biblical Canon (Conclusion)

Indeed there is still disagreement on what belongs in the Old Testament in the church today. Christian denominations have settled on what is clearly canonical and what is not, but the church as a whole is in disagreement and reasons for canonical certainty become confused with group identification and blind adherence to convention. Today we may live in a fractured church, but the past is no ideal to strive back to. Augustine and Jerome had their own challenges and contexts to consider and they also lived with canonical confusions in their own time some of which can be thought of as obvious mistakes only today. 

The aim of this paper, after being clear on what is meant by canonical, was to examine Augustine and Jerome in their disagreement over which books were to be considered part of the Old Testament canon and then to consider their reasons and influences before deciding which was closer to something the church today should accept. 

Throughout this study it has become evident that Jerome’s approach is to be preferred. Context is everything and it is easy to get so locked into ones own denomination and era that questions and circumstances unique to the era in question are filtered out. Jerome did a better job at becoming acquainted with the people charged with the divine oracles from the old covenant, including the Old Testament and the period of time closer to the apostles.  Both Augustine and Jerome believed in apostolic authority, which is something the church today should also take as authoritative since the apostles are the key witnesses to Christ. When the question of accepting the additional books comes into view, the apostles themselves should be listened to and it has been found that the apostolic testimony seems to favor going back to the Jewish source and it was concluded that the relevant Jewish group did probably have a limited canon much like the Hebrew and Protestant canon today. Not all questions were resolved though such as the book of Enoch being used authoritatively and lingering questions surrounding the book of Esther might still remain. However, as new evidence and insight become evident it is up to the church to look at the evidence charitably and honestly and be willing to challenge preconceived notions that get in the way of a better understanding of God’s revealed Word.


Augustine. "Christian Doctrine." Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series I Vol II. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

______________. “City of God.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series I Vol.II. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

______________. “Reply to Faustus the Manichaean.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series I Vol. IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Beckwith, Roger. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church: and its Background in Early Judaism. Oregon: Wipf and Stock Pub, 1985.

Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Cain, Andrew. The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Charles, Canon. The Apocalypse of Baruch and the Assumption of Moses. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929.

Ellis, Earle. The Old Testament in Early Christianity. Tubingen: J.C. B. Mohr, 1991. 

Harkas, Stanley. Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 2003.

Hengel, Martin, The Septuagint As Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Jerome. “Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series II Vol 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

_________. “Preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series II Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993).

Jobes, Karen; Silva, Moises.  Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005),

McDonald, Lee. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Peabody: Hendrickson Pub Inc, 2007), 38.

White, Caroline. The Correspondance (394-419) Between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990.

Williams, Megan. The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Augustine and Jerome: Authority and the OT Biblical Canon (My Reasons and Conclusions Alongside Theirs)

Apostolic Authority
After looking at the reasons and motivating factors behind Augustine and Jerome’s separate conclusions on the Old Testament canon, it is time to consider their reasons and motivations and decide which is something closer to what we should adopt. Both men used apostolic authority as one of their most important criteria and this should also be one of ours. After all, if we believe the New Testament writers are inspired, then naturally what they deem as authoritative should be readily accepted. It is true that the apostles quoted the Septuagint in an authoritative manner. Does this mean we should accept the whole Septuagint and all its additions and deletions uncritically? Jerome has already alerted us to the fact that the Septuagint omits parts of the Old Testament that Christ and the apostles appeal to as authoritative and so we already have good reason to be wary of giving the Septuagint priority over the Hebrew. Also, it should be understood that the New Testament writers (or “apostolic men”) do not authoritatively quote from any books that are additional to the Hebrew canon, but do extensively quote from books in the Hebrew canon in an authoritative manner. The only book that comes close to being an exception to this is the book of Enoch (from Jude 1:14-15), which is not in anyone’s canon except officially[1] in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Further, mere usage of a work by a New Testament writer does not guarantee the writer sees it as canonical in any sense since even pagan sources are sometimes used in the New Testament.[2] Finally, since the word of “apostolic men” weighs heavily with us, we should take heed to Paul’s word when he says in Romans 3:2 that the Jews were “entrusted with the oracles of God.” If this is the case, then our Old Testament is inherited from them from at least the time where Christ himself lists the major categories of canonical books since God Himself had entrusted the Old Testament to them.[3] One can only wonder if this is why there is complete agreement on the New Testament among all the Christian churches, but not in regards to the Old Testament.

Another part of apostolic authority Augustine thought key was the church's agreement in the form of apostolic succession, bishops and councils. Unfortunately, there was no unanimous agreement in his time and there isn’t in ours either. In fact, even within those churches claiming to still be within apostolic succession (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) there is disagreement when it comes to their Old Testament canon. Still, the reason why councils, apostolic succession, and bishops were appealed to was to get at the words and thoughts of the apostles. Jerome’s ad fontes approach seems most reasonable in this case as he not only uses the concept to go back to the Jewish source, but gives the apostles themselves priority. If we already have their words and thoughts and they are sufficiently clear (for instance telling us that God entrusted the Jews with the oracles), it seems more prudent to go with what the apostles themselves have said especially if certain ideas otherwise known to be false are accepted merely “by force of habit.”

The Authority of the Seventy
Additional books should not be considered canonical on the basis of the legend of the Seventy or the fact that certain books contained in the “Septuagint” are present there. Today it is believed that the Letter of Aristeas was written “not at a time contemporaneous with the events it describes, but in the second century B.C.E.” (a hundred years later)[4]in order to get certain Jews on board with a Greek version of their Scriptures. While it is generally agreed upon that the first five books were translated for the Alexandrian Jews the rest is uncertain and could have been translated from anywhere by anyone.  “Writers subsequent to the Letter of Aristeas add little information of substance”[5] and much embellishment. The term Septuagint itself is used to refer to more than was translated into Greek for the Alexandrians and this use of terminology often causes confusion as some would appeal to the “Septuagint” as a collection as proof of the canonicity of apocryphal literature even if the legend itself is no longer widely appealed to. When making a case for the canonical status of apocryphal books in his book Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible, Stanley Samuel Harakas says,
These ten books are found together in the first translation ever made of the Hebrew Bible in the version known as the Septuagint Old Testament. It represents what Jews believed their Scriptures to be about a century before the time of Christ. It was not until after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, toward the end of the first Christian century, that these books were excluded by Jews because they were written in Greek.[6]
The Septuagint is a collection of writings and not representative of the Hebrew canon. At one point, only the five books of Moses were translated and only later were other books added, some of which the question of where the books were translated and by whom they were translated is unknown.[7] Even the term Septuagint can be confusing since it “gives the inaccurate impression that this document is a homogeneous unit….Strictly speaking, there is really no such thing as the Septuagint…which was produced by many people unknown to us, over two or three centuries, and almost certainly in more than one location.”[8]Besides, it is not unreasonable to assume that books highly prized, but not considered canonical by Jews such as Josephus would want these other works translated eventually as well. So, it is a big mistake for Stanley Harakas to say that the content of Septuagint copies “represents what Jews believed their Scriptures to be about a century before the time of Christ” since it betrays a lack of knowledge over what the Septuagint actually is as well as its process of coming together.

A Unique Interpretive Authority?
Augustine thought the Septuagint had a unique interpretive authority and so did Jerome. Their difference was in the kind of interpretive authority. Augustine thought it was prophetic and sourced in the Holy Spirit and Jerome moved away from that sort of thinking, but still seemed to ascribe a spiritual or allegorical authority to the Septuagint. Is this something we should accept? Reliance on the legend of the Seventy and their inspiration is not under consideration here and was addressed earlier.  The question is more over whether or not there is something to the idea of assigning a unique interpretive authority to the Septuagint. I don’t think we should accept its authority in an inspired sense. It is certainly an interpretation, but an infallible authority? Maybe only in so much as it can tell us how other people interpreted certain texts as they translated and give us insight into a possible different version of the Hebrew text. Still, this idea may be useful when applied to the apostolic use of the Septuagint. If we take the Septuagint as not just a translation, but an interpretation or additional insight appropriated by inspired men, then this may resolve the tension of believing the Hebrew to be over all more authoritative, but allowing for very specific exceptions. Admittedly, this understanding relies on the presupposition of apostolic authority being the highest authority and indicates that it is because they are using it and the way they are using it that the Septuagint passage has authority. Authority is not intrinsic to the Septuagint itself. This understanding also veers away from supposing all the additional books contained under the umbrella of Septuagint also have authority along with other idiosyncratic additions and omissions.

The One vs the Many and Force of Habit
Initially, I was uncertain about how to address Augustine’s “one verses many” argument and wondered if it really was an argument at all. Maybe it is better thought of as a setup that bothers him. Still, it appears important to Augustine. He simply could not believe that so many Latin and Greek authorities could be wrong or that the sheer number of the Seventy translators could be challenged by Jerome. Such a setup is difficult to answer because it is not as much cognitive as it is emotional. Perhaps it is best to acknowledge that all those authorities Augustine could not believe were mistaken in fact were. In hindsight, it is easier to acknowledge the mistakes of the past, but it wasn’t so easy then and this can serve as a lesson to some of the doctrines and views we hold today that may not be true, but that we cannot imagine being anything but true. There are many ideas and misconceptions we hold to by force of habit, and perhaps cling to no matter what evidence or criticisms are put forward because to believe otherwise might cause a rift between us and our church or cause further division within the church’s if certain ideas became more wide spread or maybe we think it will give critics of the church a foothold. Still, we are presented with the choice of accepting the truth and its consequences or leaving it for later generations to discover and sort through.

Going Back to the Jewish Source
If we are already convinced we should go back to the Jewish source, the next question arising is which Jewish source and what books the Jews accepted in their canon. Many are quick to point out the different groups within Judaism and competing canons of each. Which Jews should be take as authoritative? The Pharisees? Essenes? Samaritans? The most likely place to look would be the context of Jesus when He gave the major categories of the canonical books and the majority of the apostles— and that would take us to the Palestinian Pharisaic canon. Since we do not have sources that are contemporary with Jesus that spell out a canon for us, we must rely on sources that are close to His time. There are several reasons to think the canon the Jews and Protestants hold to now was more similar t0 the canon of Christ and His apostles.

First, there is the “centuries of silence” to consider. We saw earlier that even Augustine was aware that the prophetic voice had stopped until the advent of Christ beginning with the father of John the Baptist. The Jews also believed this. For instance, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus who has been key to our modern understanding of the political, social, and intellectual context of the Bible proves helpful to us in this instance. Josephus tells us how many books were in the Jewish canon, somewhat the content, the nature of other historical books, and the existence of the silent period. When it comes to the centuries of silence, Josephus says, “It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time (emphasis mine).”[9]This tells us the time frame of the centuries of silence and mentions the resulting lack of inspired books during these centuries. Even 1 Macc 9:27 says, “So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them (emphasis mine).”[10] Those in the Maccabean period acknowledged prophecy had ceased and were distressed by it. This agrees with Josephus’ account as does several others.
Also, in 2 Baruch 85:1-3 it is said,
Know ye, moreover, that in former times and in the generations of old those our fathers had helpers, righteous men and holy prophets; nay, more, we were in our own land, and they helped us when we sinned and they interceded for us to Him Who made us, because they trusted in their works, and the Mighty One heard their prayer and forgave us. But now the righteous have been gathered, and the prophets have fallen asleep, and we also have gone forth from the land, and Zion hath been taken from us; and we have nothing now save the Mighty One and His Law (emphasis mine). [11]
If there was no prophetic voice at the time the apocryphal books were composed and we do not buy into Augustine’s reasons for the apocryphal books having apostolic authority behind them, then we cannot accept them as inspired works. There are other reasons for thinking the Pharisaic Jewish canon was limited to what we have now as well. Josephus even tells us his canon is limited “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine.”[12] Afterwards he also mentions there are other books that are highly prized, but not to die for. Knowledge that there were other Jewish books read often and considered important, but not canonical explains how the later gentile Christian community could have become confused later as to which books belonged to the Old Testament and which ones did not. It was not so much a conspiracy to suppress books on the part of the Jews as it was that they never held those books to be canonical to begin with.

Jubillees, a book widely known in the earlier Christian Church and reflected in Christian literature in the mid second century, supports Josephus’ claims. The quotation reads something like: God, as it says, created (22) works in the six days, wherefore also there are 22 letters among the Hebrews and 22 books, and 22 founding fathers from Adam to Jacob”[13] The number twenty-two has shown up again and, is continually mentioned as to assume the contents were well known.[14] The number matches what Jerome who claimed to be informed of Jewish practices also said of the number of their books. The number rules out many apocryphal additions.  Another source indicating an earlier canon comes from Melito, bishop of Sardis who gives a list around 170AD. He presents a list of Old Testament books in the form of a letter to his friend, Onesimus. He had made a journey to consult the Jews in order to clear up the confusion in his region over the number of books when reports both the name and number of books. His list likely has all of the books in the Protestant canon except for Esther. Melito informs us:
…When I came to the East and reached the place where these things were preached and done, and learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, I set down the facts… These are their names: Of Moses five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Joshua Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four of kingdoms, two of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve [Minor Prophets] in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras.[15]
In this list, Samuel is put in with Kings, Lamentations in Jeremiah, Ezra-Nehemiah are put as Esdras[16] and “Solomon’s Proverbs of Wisdom” are most likely another name for Proverbs if we follow the labels of Eusebius, Hegesippus and Irenaeus.[17] The book count will still differ (from the 22) because Samuel and Kings are counted as four, Judges and Ruth as two and the same for Chronicles. This way of numbering gives us a count of 25 books which is due to the books being kept on scrolls. In all, Melito’s account helps us understand not only what the Jews considered authoritative, but the problem the earlier Christian communities were having with the Old Testament when they first started becoming confused about which books were canonical and witch ones were merely good for reading.

Lastly, there is the source widely used by Jerome, Origen (AD 185-254). Origen embarked on a major project representing the Old Testament in six columns. His work is known as the Hexapla. He did this so that people could be aware of the different textual traditions and make comparisons. He noted where the Septuagint omits or adds to parts of the Hebrew text. His count for the Old Testament books accepted by the Jews is similar to the others numbering at 22.[18] He also gives lists of the books with the Hebrew alongside the Greek and Esther is included.[19]

[1] When I visited Ethiopia and spoke to many of the Orthodox members it became clear that most of them did not even use the book in every day reading or worship. Many did not even know there was a book of Enoch.
[2] One example is Paul’s use of hymns originally directed to Zeus in Acts 17.
[3] We can assume he listed categories with the understanding that the Jews actually knew what content made up those categories at the time.
[4] Karen Jobes, Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 34.
[5] Ibid., 36.
[6] Stanley Samuel Harkas. Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 2003) 46-47
[7] Martin Hengel, 19-20,25.
[8] Jobes and Silva, 29-30.
[9] Josephus , Against Apion, 1:41.
[10] Also see Macc4:46 and 14:41.
[11] Rev. Canon R. H. Charles. The Apocalypse of Baruch and the Assumption of Moses (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929) 94.
[12] Josephus, Against Apion ,1 8:38.
[13] Roger Beckwith, 236.
[14] Jesus also seems to assume common knowledge of the canonical books when He mentions the Law, Prophets and Psalms in Luke 24:44. Dr. Lee McDonald on p93-100 in The Biblical Canon gives probably one of the best critiques along with two other widely used passages: Luke 11:48-51 and Matthew 23:34-35.
[15]F.F. Bruce. The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988) 71.
[16] Earle Ellis, The Old Testament in Early Christianity (Tubingen: J.C. B. Mohr, 1991) 10.
[17] Bruce, 71.
[18] Bruce, 73.
[19] 1 and 2 Esdras are Ezra-Nehemiah according to Jerome’s Vulgate. See Bruce 74.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Augustine and Jerome: Authority and the OT Biblical Canon (Jerome)


Jerome came to a different conclusion on the content of the Old Testament. He limited his list to the canon the Jews accepted consisting in 22 or 24 books (the same as our 39). The reason for this is that Jerome approached the question of the Old Testament canon from a different vantage point than Augustine. He had “retired to the Holy Land in 386 to devote himself to his work on the Bible and its exegesis—textual revision, translation and commentaries. His interests were primarily literary and philological rather than philosophical.”[1] Jerome’s advantage over Augustine was being immersed in the original language of the Old Testament, Judaism, and working with diverging Hebrew and Greek manuscripts when making translations of various Old Testament books. Augustine on the other hand did not even know Hebrew.

Today it may seem a given that a text should be analyzed in its original language and context, but this was not always the case. “In the late fourth century however, the climate could not have been more different. The leading Latin biblical scholars of the day looked askance at ‘Hebrew verity’ as a working hermeneutical concept.”[2] In many ways, Jerome went against the grain in declaring that one should give priority to the Hebrew text even though notable predecessors (and Augustine inconsistently) held to the principle of going back to the original for insight.[3]

A major difference contributing to Jerome favoring the Hebrew text over the Septuagint (and by extension the having a different canon list) was his understanding of the Septuagint itself. As Jerome worked with the Septuagint, he began to realize “how problematic the Septuagint text was; not only was there a wide divergency between different versions of the Septuagint, but the Septuagint, on which all Latin translations were based, differed in many points from the Hebrew one wich had become the official one.”[4] In other words, he discovered the Septuagint differed among its own versions and with the Hebrew! If the Septuagint as a whole was supposed to be authoritative in the way Augustine thought it was, it made no sense that it diverged from the Hebrew and even among its own copies.

Jerome’s reasoning for going back to the Jewish source was not at odds with apostolic authority. In fact, “one of his chief arguments to his fellow Christians was that he had found that the Septuagint omits certain passages which are quoted from the Old Testament by Christ and the apostles…Jerome felt it was shocking that such errors should be accepted through force of habbit.”[5] When writing an apology for himself against Rufinus he maintains:

I do not condemn, I do not censure the Seventy, but I am bold enough to prefer the Apostles to them all. It is the Apostle through whose mouth I hear the voice of Christ, and I read that in the classification of spiritual gifts they are placed before prophets (1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11), while interpreters occupy almost the lowest place.[6]

But I was encouraged above all by the authoritative publications of the Evangelists and Apostles, in which we read much taken from the Old Testament which is not found in our manuscripts. For example, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son’ (Matt. ii. 15): ‘For he shall be called a Nazarene’ (Ibid. 23): and ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’ (John xix. 37): and ‘Rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly’ (John vii. 38): and ‘Things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. ii. 9), and many other passages which lack their proper context. Let us ask our opponents then where these things are written, and when they are unable to tell, let us produce them from the Hebrew. The first passage is in Hosea, (xi. 1), the second in Isaiah (xi. 1), the third in Zechariah (xii. 10), the fourth in Proverbs (xviii. 4), the fifth also in Isaiah (lxiv. 4). Being ignorant of all this many follow the ravings of the Apocrypha, and prefer to the inspired books the melancholy trash which comes to us from Spain.[7]

What Jerome resisted in his mind was certainly not apostolicity. In fact, he took this as extremely weighty since one of his main arguments depended on the Septuagint leaving out passages the apostles quoted. His annoyance stems more from many in the church accepting flawed copies because they were accustomed to. Even Augustine displayed this tendency when he told Jerome:

To be honest, I would prefer you to translate the canonical books of Scripture for us from the Greek text which is known as the Septuagint. I feel that many problems would arise if your translation began to be read regularly in many churches, because the Latin churches would be out of step with the Greek ones, especially as anyone who puts forward objections will easily be proved wrong when the Greek text is produced, for Greek is the language almost universally known…it would be almost impossible to get hold of the Hebrew texts to use in defence of the point which he objected [emphasis mine].[8]

Still, could it be there is a problem for Jerome when it comes to apostolic authority? It was mentioned earlier that Jerome acknowledged to Augustine that the apostles often used the Greek text over the Hebrew and yet Jerome prioritized the Hebrew. How was he able to reconcile this with his appeal to the apostles referring to passages that do not appear in the Septuagint? Is it consistent to follow apostolic use in one instance and not the other? Jerome’s understanding is further complicated when in some places Jerome rejects the basis for the Septuagint’s authority (the legend of the seventy) as a lie, says the Septuagint has errors and explicitly defends his prioritizing of the Hebrew while in other places he appears shocked that it would be suggested that he is undermining the Septuagint’s authority!

Earlier in Jerome’s career, Martin Hengel acknowledges that Jerome had taken a milder stance towards the legend of the seventy. Jerome thought the differences in the text could have been due to style or that “[the translators] must not necessarily have been ‘inspired’, although he still refers positively here to the translators ‘who translated filled with the Holy Spirit, for that they certainly were’. Later he is much more reserved on this point.”[9] It is this kind of discrepancy that has led scholars to disagree on whether or not Jerome actually denied the authority of the LXX. Still, the following shows that later Jerome did not see the translators as prophetic and thought the legend itself was a fraud:

I do not know whose false imagination led him to invent the story of the seventy cells at Alexandria, in which, though separated from each other, the translators were said to have written the same words. Aristeas, the champion of that same Ptolemy, and Josephus, long after, relate nothing of the kind; their account is that the Seventy assembled in one basilica consulted together, and did not prophesy. For it is one thing to be a prophet, another to be a translator. The former through the Spirit, foretells things to come; the latter must use his learning and facility in speech to translate what he understands…I do not condemn, I do not censure the Seventy, but I am bold enough to prefer the Apostles to them all. It is the Apostle through whose mouth I hear the voice of Christ, and I read that in the classification of spiritual gifts they are placed before prophets (1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11), while interpreters occupy almost the lowest place.[10]

It should be further noted “Jerome is also the only author in the early church who repeatedly emphasizes that the Seventy did not translate all of the Hebrew Scriptures of the prophets, but only the five books of Moses.”[11]

Add to this that Josephus, who gives the story of the Seventy Translators, reports them as translating only the five books of Moses; and we also acknowledge that these are more in harmony with the Hebrew than the rest. And, further, those who afterward came into the field as translators—I mean Aquila and Symmachus and Theodotion—give a version very different from that which we use.[12]

Did this mean Jerome thought the LXX had absolutely no authority? It is probably best to view Jerome’s understanding of the Septuagint as a different kind of authority. Hints of this are revealed when we notice Jerome is not only enraged over the idea that he himself would retract the value of his work from the Hebrew in a letter, but the thought that he would try to undermine the Septuagint is unimaginable.

It is this same man, then, who wrote this fictitious letter of retractation in my name, making out that my translation of the Hebrew books was bad, who, we now hear, accuses me of having translated the Holy Scriptures with a view to disparage the Septuagint…Am I likely to have said anything derogatory to the seventy translators, whose work I carefully purged from corruptions and gave to Latin readers many years ago, and daily expound it at our conventual gatherings; whose version of the Psalms has so long been the subject of my meditation and my song? Was I so foolish as to wish to forget in old age what I learned in youth? All my treatises have been woven out of statements warranted by their version. My commentaries on the twelve prophets are an explanation of their version as well as my own…[13]

We are indeed left confused if we understand the Septuagint to be authoritative to Jerome in only one possible way (as inspiration or prophecy). It would look as though Jerome was undermining the Septuagint’s authority and should be unable to deliver his defense in good conscience. He is unwaveringly in support of his translation from the Hebrew and unapologetic in regards to correcting the errors from the Septuagint, and earlier we saw that he rejected the basis for the Septuagint’s authority in the legend of the seventy, and yet he wants to show he is in support of the Septuagint and its authority? If all of this is to be taken as true, then a different understanding of the Septuagint’s authority must be in view.

In The Monk and the Book, Megan Williams discusses two sections in Jerome’s commentaries on the Prophets that are valuable in helping us see what kind of authority Jerome saw the Septuagint as having. “First, Jerome discusses the literal and historical sense of the passage under exegesis, then its allegorical or spiritual meaning.” She goes on to explain that to Jerome these are separate exegetical traditions where the literal and historical sense is derived from the Hebrew and the allegorical from the Septuagint. “The elucidation of the literal and historical sense provides the necessary preconditions for allegorical interpretation.”[14] Jerome uses the Hebrew as the main authoritative text that limits the range of interpretation. In sum, the Septuagint was subordinate, but not without authority in so far as it was rightly used by the church or depended on the apostles in interpretation.

The meanings that Jerome…considered most valuable were those extracted by the Alexandrian tradition of allegory. Only such imaginative transpositions of the biblical text to the situation of the church, or the individual Christian soul, could give life to material that on its surface seemed obsessed with the events of the distant past.[15]

Understanding the authority of the Septuagint as being in the allegorical interpretive role, alongside his affirmation of apostolic authority, explains why Jerome was able to maintain the Septuagint had errors and was often inaccurate without being open to the critique of holding a double standard when it came to appealing to the apostles. He rejected parts of the Septuagint because the apostles did, and could easily accept apostolic use in other areas. However, elsewhere it is apparent that he wrongly thinks the “apostolic men” only quoted from the LXX when it was not at odds with the Hebrew text. That is, if Jerome means to say that where the Hebrew text and the Septuagint differ they do not use the Septuagint, he is incorrect. Although, it could be that Jerome is aware of the apostles using the Septuagint where there are literal textual differences, but thinks there is an implicit allegorical or spiritual interpretive meaning present that the apostles utilized in interpretation. If this is the case, then Jerome is not as blatantly incorrect after all and is instead acknowledging the apostolic (as opposed to the translators’) inspired prerogative to bring out additional or already contained allegorical meaning in a text. This is not to say he does not think he or others in the church can identify allegorical meanings in the text (as we already have seen, he believes they can), but he does not assign the church, the translators and himself the same level of authority as an inspired prophet or apostle.

When Jerome’s understanding of the authority of the Septuagint and the Hebrew is applied to the question of why Jerome was able to accept only the books in the Hebrew canon and not those he deemed apocryphal, his reasoning can be summed up as follows: 1) The apostles did not accept the whole Septuagint as authoritative (even though the apostles specifically quote from parts of it[16]) and only used what was also found in the Hebrew. There is no reason coming from the apostles to accept more than what the Jews already have. 2) He did not believe in the legend supporting the Septuagint’s authority and so he did not need to understand them as prophetic or inspired and thus having the same sort of claim on his conscience as an apostle would. 3) He knew there were no books composed beyond the first five books of Moses. So, even if the Seventy did have unique inspiration, they would not have translated the apocryphal books. 4) The apostles included Christological material that the Septuagint copies the church used did not. This undermined the foundation of the Septuagint’s authority as literal and historical and by extension other parts of it. Finally, 5) Jerome understood that the real reason many in the church accepted the Septuagint, its additions and detractions was through force of habit and despite any historical or factual claims to the contrary.

[1] Caroline White, The Correspondance (394-419) Between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 2.

[2] Andrew Cain, The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) 64-65.

[3] Jerome. “Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series II Vol 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 1.13.

[4] Caronline White, 36.

[5] Ibid., 37.

[6] Jerome, Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus, 2.24.

[7] Ibid., 2.25.

[8] Augustine, Ep.92, Edited by Caroline White, 92.

[9] Hengel, 48-49.

[10] Jerome, Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus, 2.24.

[11] Hengel, 49.

[12] Jerome. “Preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series II Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993).

[13] Jerome, Jerome’s Apology for Himself Against the Books of Rufinus, 2.24.

[14] Megan Hale Williams, The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 114-120.

[15] Ibid., 128.

[16] The New Testament writers do not quote from the apocryphal books even though the books from the Hebrew canon are, with the possible exception of Enoch. However, there are occasions when the New Testament writers will allude to these other books as well as pagan works on occasion.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Augustine and Jerome: Authority and the OT Biblical Canon (Augustine))


In his book On Christian Doctrine, Augustine gives the following list for the books of the Old Testament canon:

Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:—Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings, and two of Chronicles—these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, That is, Ezra and Nehemiah which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one another, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as follows:—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testamentis contained within the limits of these forty-four books.[1]

All of the books accepted by the Jews are included (Lamentations is often put as part of Jeremiah and 1 and 2 Esdras with Ezra and Nehemiah) along with those not found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tobias, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, possibly Esdras, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus). In contrast, Jerome was the first to refer to these books as “apocryphal” and accepted a canon very close to the Hebrew. This brings us to wonder what Augustine’s reasons for his list might have been.

Interestingly, Augustine differentiates the additional books, Judith excepted, from the others in that no prophet was present to have written them. This is gathered from his City of God when he talks about the prophetic voices that were around before the time of Christ. He ends the prophetic voice at Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra and then resumes it on the eve of the nativity, beginning with the father of John the Baptist:

But in that whole time after they returned from Babylon, after Malachi, Haggai, and Zechariah, who then prophesied, and Ezra, they had no prophets down to the time of the Saviour’s advent except…when the nativity of Christ was already close at hand; and when He was already born…But even the reprobate Jews hold Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra as the last received into canonical authority.[2]

This rules out the possibility for a prophetic authorship for his additional books.

At another point, Augustine speaks of the church’s acceptance of Maccabees, not because of prophetic authorship, but on account of the martyrdom of certain Jews before Christ.

From this time, when the temple was rebuilt, down to the time of Aristobulus, the Jews had not kings but princes; and the reckoning of their dates is found, not in the Holy Scriptures which are called canonical, but in others, among which are also the books of the Maccabees. These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils.[3]

On the surface, Jewish martyrdom is a strange canonical criterion. Still, this statement is said in the wider context of Augustine’s understanding of authority. Prophetic authorship was not a determinant in this case, and he did not accept the limited Jewish canon. Clearly, he did not base his decision on a commitment for going back to the source—or perhaps he conceived of going back to a different source: apostolic authority, giving it the ability to recognize significance in inspired works that are not valued for prophetic reasons, but for others such as martyrdom. In this interpretation of Augustine, martyrdom is not a foundational criterion, but apostolic authority is, with martyrdom as simply part of the rational ones with authority have for recognition. With this understood, what is meant when it is said that Augustine uses apostolic authority as foundational? What is apostolic authority?

In a letter to Jerome, Augustine requests Jerome explain why the Hebrew is preferred over the Greek text. He asks this as he appeals to the fact that the apostles use the Greek over the Hebrew, a fact even acknowledged by Jerome who still prefered the Hebrew.

Would you be so kind as to explain what you believe to be the reason why, in many cases, the authority of the Hebrew manuscripts differs from that of the Greek text, known as the Septuagint? For this text is of great importance, seeing that it was so widely diffused and was used by the apostles—a fact which is proved not only by the text itself but which I remember you also confirmed.[4]

This is a significant point. If the apostles themselves used the Septuagint authoritatively, why depend on Jewish sources instead? In a response to Faustus, Augustine further shows us how he understands apostolic authority and its significance.

Will he take our apostles as witnesses? Unless he can find some apostles in life, he must read their writings…Or if he produces his own manuscripts of the apostolic writings, he must also obtain for them the authority of the churches founded by the apostles themselves, by showing that they have been preserved and transmitted with their sanction. It will be difficult for a man to make me believe him on the evidence of writings which derive all their authority from his own word, which I do not believe…The authority of our books, which is confirmed by the agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you. Your books have no authority, for it is an authority maintained by only a few, and these the worshippers of an untruthful God and Christ. [5]

Augustine is responding to a claim that Manichaeus was an apostle of Christ. After showing that one only knows of Christ from the Jews and the fulfillment of prophecy, he moves on to apostolic witness as he considers the possibility of a heretical sect producing its own “apostolic writings.” In the previous quote we saw that Augustine thinks apostolic use of the Septuagint is key in deciding its authority. In this response to Faustus we see he believes apostolic authority extends beyond only what they wrote to their witness contained in the churches they founded. This apostolic truth is seen in the form of the church’s agreement supported by apostolic succession, bishops and counsels. This leads us into the other reason Augustine had for accepting the Septuagint, and by extension, additional books. When talking about what method one should use when deciding which books are canonical, he appeals to the church’s usage probably based in it being founded by the apostles and remaining within the line of succession.

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.[6]

Here Augustine is explaining how someone in his time should judge which books should be considered canonical (canon 1). Earlier, he had mentioned an authority based off of agreement, but really there was no clear agreement on which books of the Old Testament were authoritative in a fixed sense yet. This didn’t happen until the council of Trent, which utilized earlier councils Augustine had contributed to. Under the criteria Augustine gives here, the books Jerome accepts would be accepted since those in the Hebrew canon were more or less accepted by the entire church. What about books that were not accepted by the entire church? In that case, one was to defer to those with the greatest authority. Augustine did not conceive of a situation where those with the greater authority were at odds with the majority, but in such a case the two were to be seen as equally valid in making a decision.

Church usage is a problem for Augustine’s view since there wasn’t a clear agreement on which books were canonical and mere church usage of certain books was inconsistent since there was no “agreement between the codices which of the Apocrypha to include.”[7] Different Septuagint copies contained different books. Roger Beckwith points out that even though Origen himself thought the additional books were inspired, as far as the authenticity of the texts went he could only appeal to “the uniform usage of the church, and on the question of the canonicity of the Apocrypha the usage of the church was not uniform. All that was agreed was that the Apocrypha were to be read and esteemed, not that they were to be treated as Scripture.”[8] As an example, the book of Wisdom (one of Augustine’s accepted texts) is put forward. In De Principiis 4.33, Origen is clear that not everyone considers Wisdom authoritative. He makes a claim with the same implicit consequence when it comes to Tobit too. If in Augustine’s day there was no consensus on which books were even read (depending on which Septuagint copy they had) in addition to which were inspired, then appealing to wider church usage and authoritative church usage may not be helpful depending on how widespread the problem was.

One of the biggest reasons Augustine had for accepting the authority of the Septuagint was his dedication to the spurious legend of the seventy. Augustine’s version of the legend says that Ptolemy of Egypt asked the high priest Eleazar to send him the Scriptures and then translators. Seventy(2) translators were sent from the twelve tribes and their Greek translation ended up being called the Septuagint. The more legendary material can be found when he elaborates:

It is reported, indeed, that there was an agreement in their words so wonderful, stupendous, and plainly divine, that when they had sat at this work, each one apart (for so it pleased Ptolemy to test their fidelity), they differed from each other in no word which had the same meaning and force, or, in the order of the words; but, as if the translators had been one, so what all had translated was one, because in very deed the one Spirit had been in them all. And they received so wonderful a gift of God, in order that the authority of these Scriptures might be commended not as human but divine, as indeed it was, for the benefit of the nations who should at some time believe, as we now see them doing.[9]

Earlier it was mentioned that Augustine admitted there were no prophets until the advent of Christ, starting with the father of John the Baptist. Now it is evident he ascribes divine authority to the seventy-two Jewish translators. In the next chapter he even calls them prophetic “For the same Spirit who was in the prophets when they spoke these things was also in the seventy men …so that assuredly they could also say something else, just as if the prophet himself had said both, because it would be the same Spirit who said both”. This appears to be either a blatant contradiction with what was said in book XVII of City of God, or a sudden change of mind. “Basically, the only difference between prophets and translators consists in the fact that the former prophesied earlier.”[10] Then again, it may be more reasonable to qualify Augustine as having the understanding that the Seventy translators had a prophetic interpretative authority so as to distinguish them from those who provided completely new revelation.

Augustine prizes the idea that the translators miraculously came up with the same meaning by divine power—a divine power that could not possibly be in error. When the Jews and Jerome pointed out several errors in the Septuagint, Augustine made appeals to the legend itself by the authority of the church’s reception of it! After all, “no one should be preferred to the authority of so many men”.[11] Jerome is singled out, charitably, as “a man most learned, and skilled in all three languages, who translated these same Scriptures into the Latin speech, not from the Greek, but from the Hebrew” and yet, in the end, it is the legend that is accepted by the church that holds weight with Augustine and not the understanding of a single scholar or the complaints of the Jews. And yet, the legend accepted by Augustine and the church–was just a legend and only true as far as a translation in Greek was probably delivered to Egypt—though not even of any books beyond the first five books of Moses were translated.

Augustine could not get beyond the authority of “so many men” and told Jerome of his unflinching support of the Seventy translators in a letter along with his disbelief in the idea that “so many Latin and Greek authorities” could be wrong.[12] Jerome was not impressed. After revealing his annoyance over Augustine’s misunderstanding about the critical marks in his translation from the Greek (indicating where it diverged from the Hebrew), he attacks Augustine’s appeal to the work of the Seventy by pointing out that Augustine was not even privy to their work untainted and so he could not even know what was truly correct and so was not in a place to discount the work of Hebrew scholars like himself. After all, according to Jerome, if Augustine was consistent and truly devoted to the Septuagint, he would not be reading the Septuagint copy “corrupted by Origen…a Christian, especially when he has removed those additions which came from the edition of a Jew and a blasphemer after Christ’s passion” and further, Augustine should take precautions and “not read what is preceded by an asterisk—in fact [he] should delete such passages from [his] copy”[13] since they would only serve to obscure the authority of the Seventy.

Having already been ever so graciously confronted by Jerome about the differences between the Hebrew and Greek text, Augustine was faced with a dilemma. He could admit there were errors in the Septuagint and turn his back on the legend received by many in the church, or somehow reconcile the differences, some of which seemed to exclude the other in plain meaning. To resolve the difficulty, Augustine chose to believe in a dual inspiration without denying the legend of the Seventy.

…Whatever is found in both editions, that one and the same Spirit willed to say through both, but so as that the former preceded in prophesying, and the latter followed in prophetically interpreting them; because, as the one Spirit of peace was in the former when they spoke true and concordant words, so the selfsame one Spirit hath appeared in the latter, when, without mutual conference they yet interpreted all things as if with one mouth.[14]

This understanding in isolation allows for the Spirit to say something new through the Seventy or enable an interpretation by the translators that went beyond the literal sense contained in the Hebrew. In order to read Augustine’s statement about there being no prophets until the father of John the Baptist and accept his words on the “prophetic” translating power of the Seventy consistently, one would have to understand his statement as referring to the Seventy as having a uniqueinterpretive prophetic authority and not that they were each prophets in their own right delivering new revelation.

Augustine’s resolution presupposes the truthfulness of the legendary account and seeks to explain the discrepancies between the Greek and Hebrew. One could say he seeks to make his pre-established dedication to the Septuagint internally consistent. In the end, “the Bishop of Hippo paid little attention to the historical objections of the scholar from Bethlehem, i.e. that the Seventy translated only the Pentateuch and not all the Scriptures, or that they were only translators and not inspired…”[15]

Augustine’s reasons for accepting additional books to Jerome can be summarized as follows: 1) He bases his understanding in apostolic authority which can be understood through the writings of the apostles as well as the collective understanding and agreement of the church (apostolic succession, bishops, councils and probably an informal, yet evident, majority agreement). Through the writings of the apostles Augustine noticed that they often quoted from the Septuagint authoritatively and so it seemed reasonable that the Septuagint had apostolic sanction and by extension all the additional books contained in it. As far as a collective agreement on canonical lists is concerned, there was none and so he devised a practical way an individual in his time could decide which books to ascribe authority to. The inquisitor ought to accept the books that are considered authoritative by the most number of churches and those church’s with the most authority (perhaps referring to their antiquity). 2) He believed the legend of the Seventy translators was true, and that they were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit when it came to interpretation. Since this was the case, differences between the Hebrew and Greek were explained as the Holy Spirit further interpreting what the prophets of long ago were inspired to say in their time. He could easily accept additional books to the Hebrew as inspired by them since he also did not accept Jerome’s understanding that not all the books were translated. Finally, 3) Augustine could not comprehend the thought that so many learned authorities used within the church including the Seventy themselves could all be mistaken and that one man, Jerome and the Jews could be right.

[1] Augustine. “Christian Doctrine.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series 1 Vol. II (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 2.8.13.

[2] Augustine. “City of God.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series I Vol. II (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 17.24.

[3] Ibid.,18. 36.

[4] Augustine. “Ep.71” Edited by Caroline White. In The Correspondance (394-419) Between Jerome and Augustine of Hippo (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 93.

[5] Augustine. “Reply to Faustus the Manichaean.” Edited by Philip Schaff. In A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Series IVol. IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 13.4-5.

[6] Augustine, Christian Doctrine, 2.8.12-13.

[7] Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church: and its Background in Early Judaism (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Pub, 1985), 383.

[8] Ibid., 394.

[9] Augustine, City of God, 16.42.

[10]Martin Hengel, The Septuagint As Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of its Canon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 53.

[11] Augustine, City of God, 16.43.

[12] Augustine, Ep.71, Edited by Caroline White, 92.

[13] Jerome, Ep.112, Edited by Caroline White, 133-134.

[14] Augustine, City of God, 16.43.

[15] Hengel, 52.