Friday, May 9, 2008

The NT and Apocryphal Works

The NT and Apocryphal Works
Another argument put forward for the canonical status of the Apocryphal books is their citation by the New Testament writers. This, however, is not sufficient to establish the canonical status of these books. If this line of reasoning is followed by Eastern Orthodox apologists, they open themselves up to the same critique leveled against the Protestant of not having all the inspired books in their canon.

It may be true that many apocryphal works are cited, especially by Paul, but this says nothing about their inspirational status. Simply using or quoting from a source does not necessarily lead to inspiration. After all, even pagan sources are sometimes used in the New Testament. Clearly, these pagan sources are not to be viewed as canonical and neither should the Apocryphal writings on the grounds of being used or quoted from.

The non-canonical work that comes the closest to being cited as Scripture, and termed by scholar Dr. Lee McDonald as "a troubling exception", is the book of Enoch. In Jude 1:14-15, Enoch is named as one who “prophesied.” The problem this poses will have to be saved for another time, but for now, it is important to note that this “problem” belongs to both Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians alike. If it is going to be argued that the Protestant is lacking in their canon because of the use of apocryphal texts, those arguing along these lines better be ready to explain why the best candidate for inspiration doesn’t show up in their own canon.

More Info:
1. One example of Paul’s use of hymns originally directed to Zeus can be found in Acts 17.
2. Enoch is present in the Ethiopian canon.
3. Interestingly, the place where Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally places it’s infallible authority (The Seven Ecumenical Councils) does not have a sufficient canon list. The closest is Athanasias’ list which is far from what is needed.

1. Translated by Richard Laurence: "The Book of Enoch the Prophet"
2. "The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority" Lee Martin McDonald

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Misuderstandings Surrounding Jamnia & the LXX

There are many in the Eastern Orthodox church who would have us believe that the Jews had a more diverse collection of canonical books as represented in the Septuagint before limiting their canon at the synod of Jamnia in response to the Christian threat. This new canon list was supposedly picked up later by Martian Luther and the question is posed at the Protestant: "Why are you only using the books in the Hebrew canon and not the Bible of the early Church?"

Briefly, there are several things wrong with this setup. First, to say that the LXX was the early Church's Bible oversteps for several reasons. We must keep in mind that the early Church did not have one "Bible" as we do today. That is, all of the writings were not kept neatly in one book. Rather, there were a collection of writings. Also, the presence of what we call Apocryphal books in the LXX is easily explained by the high value the Jews placed on these writings at the exclusion of inspiration. It would make sense for them to want these writings translated as well.

Second, calling the LXX the early Church‘s Bible oversimplifies the problem. What is now called the LXX was at first only the first five books of Moses (Pentateuch) which were translated into Greek under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246) and at the latest, toward the end of the middle of the third century.

The name "LXX" was first applied by a Christian when he was referring to the 7(2) translators to indicate what was at first a Jewish collection of writings. The scope of the writings were not yet fully established. Later, the designation LXX was applied to the entire Greek Old Testament. The actual translation of the historical and prophetic books came about gradually over 300 years and into the end of the first century AD. Some of the writings are not even translations at all, but were written in Greek from the beginning.

So, the LXX was not the early Church's "Bible" as we might think of it today. The LXX was a collection of writings and not a 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.

Lastly, the idea that the Jews limited their canon in response to the Christian movement lacks proof. Absolutely none of the Apocryphal books were discussed at Jamnia, probably because there was no conflict over inspiration, and any previous dispute one would expect to see over the attempted removal of inspired books is just not present. One only needs to look at the fuss made at Jamnia over the question of five canonical books to see how rabbinic tradition was not quick to forget or overlook such disputes.

Further, there is still the question of why other books were not thrown out as well. After all, if there is going to be a canon conspiracy against the Christian movement, why not take out the more significant books such as Isaiah or Jeremiah? And why exclude books or appendages that were not used widely by Christians? The most reasonable explanation in light of what was mentioned earlier, is that it was all a matter of date. The Apocryphal writings were written during the centuries of silence and therefore excluded.

Without Jamnia being all our Catholic and Orthodox brothers wish it were, we are left with a lack of evidence leading us to believe the Jews limited their canon in response to the Christian movement. Rather, we find that the canonicity of the Apocryphal books was never in question because they were never thought to be inspired by the majority of Jews.

If the evidence for Jamnia being the deciding point for the Hebrew canon and the clear existence of the Apocryphal books in the early Church's "Bible" is not existent, then why are so many Orthodox and Catholics speaking of these as fact? In his book Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible, Stanley Samuel Harakas, the Archbishop of Iakovos and professor of Orthodox theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology 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" (46-7).

Here the Archbishop is defending the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. Notice how he appeals to "the first translation." His statement is misleading to those who do not know of the differences in translation and content. “We possess maybe two, three, or more versions of several of the books that are starkly divergent”(Hengel). At that, there are significant problems with the translation. For instance, the Jeremiah text is drastically abbreviated to an eighth and Job by about twenty percent with an added appendix placing Job as the Edomite king Jobab. In other words, while it is true that the LXX can be referred to as the first "translation," this does little to tell us about which books the Jews thought were canonical and, as will be explained, whether the New Testament writers treated the Apocryphal works as inspired.

Random Personal Note:
I've tried very hard to find some good scholarly Eastern Orthodox sources that use this story. After asking an Eastern Orthodox professor (who simply gave me a handout repeating the story without backup), Orthodox friends of mine who are "into" this sort of thing, searching Link Plus, ATLA and EEBO databases, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, St. Vladimir's Quarterly and exhausting my Westminster friend's library and databases, I have decided that maybe, just maybe there aren't any. I say "maybe" because I am still paranoid that I might find a source somewhere. However, although frustrated, I am not perfect and probably missed something... still, in all likelihood, I am not addressing a scholarly argument, merely a common story circulating around.

Sad Day. :(


1. Martin Hengel "The Septuagint as Christian Scripture"
2. Roger Beckwith "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church"
3. Stanley Samuel Harkas "Orthodox Christian Beliefs About the Bible"

More Info:

1. The collection of writings in the LXX are diverse and not all of the Apocryphal books are in some of the copies. See Karen H. Jobes and Moises Silvia’s "Invitation to the Septuagint" as well as Martin Hengel’s "The Septuagint As Christian Scripture".