Sunday, January 25, 2009

Understanding of the Church and Canon (2)

Argument “Against” the Eastern Canon
There is good indication that the Christian should accept as Scripture the books agreed by the majority to be canonical. These include the whole New Testament and all of the content of the Old Testament acknowledged by all of the churches. Beyond these, I eagerly acknowledge (as many Church father’s did) what Protestants call Apocryphal books of the Old Testament to be of high value within the Church but not of the same authority.

I approach the canonical question from what is held in common and defend what is held in common. From there I request evidence for and respond to those who would argue that other books have the same authority as those already universally held. The overall case for books held in common can be found in previous posts. My current understanding of what ought to be in the Christian Old Testament operates on the idea that we inherited our OT from the Jews before the New Covenant era. This content was and is more or less known. I am willing to altar this view if it can be shown that the Jews (majority in Palestine) accepted certain apocryphal books as Scripture in the Old Testament era or that the apostles believed them to be.

Some ideas as to why we should accept the additional books into our canon have been addressed in previous posts. Here I will mention a few I have found in the past to be most weighty and only briefly voice my objections to each.

1) The apostles frequently used apocryphal books in the NT
-This is certainly true and for this reason it is a great benefit to have a copy on hand when reading the Scriptures. However, use does not equal Scripture. There are instances where pagan sources are also used and those are certainly not to be regarded as Scripture.
-I do not see that the apocryphal books are used as Scripture by the apostles. Still, admittedly lingering questions remain in regards to 1 Enoch. This however, is not accepted by the majority of the Christian churches.

2)The LXX was the Churches’ Bible.
-The LXX manuscripts are diverse and are a collection of books from different places from different times and the lists of apocryphal books within the collections differ. There was not one translation circulating around. Beyond this, the historical context of its use must be considered along with my reasons for accepting the books not under question.

3) Some Church Fathers quoted parts of the apocrypha as Scripture
-I reject some of the beliefs of the Church fathers on the canon because I look at what was considered canonical by the majority of the Jews in Palestine before the resurrection and operate on the assumption that the apostles followed that pattern unless indication can be given otherwise. Beyond this, a pattern of canonical confusion in the Church that is not found among the Jews becomes evident as the Gentile Church becomes larger. The confusion is evident internally and is also acknowledged as many sought the East for guidance (it is the Eastern Church that showed more concern in this regard).

4)More books are found at Qumran
-The Jews at Qumran were an extreme exception and should be treated according to their wishes. They disassociated themselves from the rest of the Jewish community thinking the temple was corrupt. Many of the books they used were not regarded as Scripture by the Jews in Palestine. Beyond this, they included books from their own communities that were certainly not accepted by the Christian Church at any time and did not have others such as: Judith, Wisdom, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 and 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and 3 and 4 Maccabees.
-There is no way to tell (at least according to Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.) whether the fragments of Proverbs, Qohelet, Sirach, Tobit, Letter of Jeremiah and Psalm 151 are “regarded as authoritative or canonical in any sense.”

In sum, I do not approach the question of canon forcing a Protestant perspective (though that is where I initially started having known nothing of the canon and only knowing the books in ours) and wanting to destroy the Eastern Orthodox canon(s). I now start with what seemed to be the case with the Jews (by extension the apostles) and approach other books on a case by case basis and so far, it seems only the Ethiopian Orthodox might potentially be pleased with one of my findings.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Understanding of the Church and Canon (1)

Unity in Christ
I have been asked to spell out my argument against the Orthodox view of the canon in an upcoming post and will do so here. Before I begin, some clarity is in order for my thoughts and purpose for doing these posts:

It is important to recognize that both East and West have the same New Testament books which attest to our one faith centered on the truth of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in Him our love for one another. This is where our unity is found, and on this account we are brothers and sisters.

With that said, while presently I have Protestant convictions in many respects my loyalty is to Jesus Christ and His Church. God does not change but one’s perception of how He works in human history might and if compelling evidence pulls us towards a particular setup then we must take it. I do not find myself locked in any particular denomination and am willing to change in accordance with the evidence or in more minor ways for the sake of fellowship.

Why the Canon
My present motivations for studying and sharing research on the canon are 1) the joy of discovering the process God used to bring about His Word in writing, 2) understanding the conditions and ideas in the early Church, 3) understanding my brothers and sisters in the past and present, 4) fellowship and 5) correction and challenging my own understanding. While I do believe the content of the Old Testament found in Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches is not ideal, my intent here is not so much one of zealously attacking and destroying a particular view as it is of understanding, questioning, adjusting and informing in hopes of good feedback. My aim lies in learning and ultimately teaching the truth as I trust it is with several reading these blogs as well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Melito and the Eastern Canon (1)

When questions arise over what books were considered canonical in the Christian Church Melito, bishop of Sardis is a good place to go. His OT list, as preserved by Eusebius, is the earliest within the Christian Church. Interestingly, the content of this list is curiously close to the Protestant and Hebrew canon. The presence of the apocryphal books found in the LXX are absent, and only in later lists do we begin to see the addition of recensions to Jeremiah-Lamentations and then later on the addition of the apocryphal books.

The content of this and later lists coupled with earlier indications of what the majority of Jews thought to be canonical help illuminate the earliest tradition of the Old Testament canon in relation to the Christian Church. If a good case for the inclusion of the apocryphal books in the Old Testament canon is lacking in early Christian (NT) and Jewish sources, then the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church is not following the earliest canonical tradition. Assuming the evidence for the Hebrew canon provided elsewhere stands, it is the Jews and Protestants who have been true to the earlier tradition in this regard.

Melito's list and the conditions surrounding it not only give us a window into the minds of those in the Church after the NT but also the Jews. What if Melito’s list did contain what Protestants call an “apocryphal” book? This would not only mean that the earliest Christian list of canonical books of the Old Testament contained one, but that the Jewish canon Melito was influenced by did as well which could potential lead us to consider a wider Jewish canon than first thought. Scholars such as De Wette, Lake and McDonald seem to think the Wisdom of Solomon is included in Melito’s list.

Disagreements center on a phrase in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14 where some scholars take the Wisdom of Solomon to be included and others think “his Wisdom” is just another name for Proverbs. After much consideration I have concluded that the Wisdom of Solomon is an unlikely interpretation (though not impossible) and that Proverbs “the All-Virtuous Wisdom” is what is being referred to here. In the upcoming posts I will do my best to present the argument for the Wisdom of Solomon and why the other translation is a better one.

*This does not pose as great of a problem for the Roman Catholic Church who believes her canon to be established by the infallible Church (though there are problems once one questions her infallibility). It does however pose a problem for Eastern Orthodox Christians wanting canonical stability since their canon is not established in any Ecumenical council except maybe in Athanasius’ list- a great disappointment for those hoping to make a case for apocryphal books in their canon.

*I will tie this series of posts together into a response in the future aimed at an argument that was put forward with the intention of scaring the Protestant into the Eastern Orthodox Church based off of canonical considerations.

*"Melito and the Eastern Canon (1)" has had a few additions made to it for clarity.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Today (Jan 7) Is Canon Day!

According to Dr. Fred Sanders, resident theologian of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, St. Athanasius most likely wrote his famous Easter letter of 367 on January 7th. It is in this letter (almost as a passing thought) that Athanasius nearly defines the Canon as we (Protestants) have it today.

Read Dr. Sanders' article here.

Happy Canon Day!