Monday, March 06, 2006

Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament (Part 2)

by Michael Barber © 2006
(Please read Part 1 first)

In the second part of this essay I want to deal with the issue of the use of the “apocryphal” or “deuterocanonical” books in the early church. In the last section we mentioned several unhistorical assumptions often made about the Hebrew scriptures of the Second Temple period—e.g., that there was a universally recognized canon within Judaism, that canonical status was determined at a council of rabbis at Jamnia, that there was only one Hebrew text tradition in the first century and that this tradition was transmitted solely through the MT, etc. In this section, I want to deal with some of the misconceptions regarding the use of the apocrypha in the early Church.

Jesus’ Citations of the Old Testament
When looking at any question regarding the Christian faith it is of course important to turn first to Jesus. In looking at the Old Testament canon debate the question inevitably arises: which books did the New Testament authors recognize? Which books do they report Jesus used? In close connection with this, it is often deemed important to ascertain whether or not Jesus quoted from the MT or the LXX. While there are many issues here we could discuss (e.g., the New Testament authors do not give us the ipsissima verba of Jesus), the underlying assumption often made here is that the two textual traditions preserve two rival canons in use during Jesus’ day: a “Palestinian canon” used by Jews in Jerusalem, that contained only the “proto-canonical books” and an “Alexandrian canon” that, it is said, included the apocrypha, which was accepted by Jews in the diaspora. Jesus’ support of the LXX would therefore imply his recognition of the apocrypha. However, this line of reasoning is full of historical misconceptions.

First of all, as we saw earlier, it is quite clear that there was no normative canon in Palestinian Judaism in Jesus day—the notion of a universally accepted “Palestinian canon” is a myth and flies in the face of all the historical evidence. Secondly, we have no reason to think that Jews in the diaspora were any more united on the matter than their Palestinian counterparts. There is practically no reason to think that Jews in the diaspora had a uniform opinion regarding which books were to be read. The most famous “Alexandrian Jew” of them all, Philo, never once cites from the apocrypha.

Finally, while it is abundantly clear that the apocrypha were included in the LXX of the later centuries, we have very little data about the LXX used in Jesus’ day. As mentioned in Part 1, the Old Testament books were assimilated into the LXX over a period of time—beginning with the Pentateuch.[1] Even if it could be established that Jesus used the LXX, it would not necessarily follow that Jesus accepted the deuterocanonical books.

The whole question is moot though because the citations found in the New Testament do not universally conform to the MT or the LXX. This is not really surprising. As we saw in Part 1, there were variant textual traditions in Jesus’ day even beyond the classic LXX/MT division. The Qumran library evidences both “proto-Masoretic” and “proto-Septuagintal” Hebrew texts as well as manuscripts similar to neither the MT nor the LXX.[2] It should not be surprising therefore that some of Jesus’ citations agree with the MT text (e. g., Mk 4:26-29=MT Joel 4:13; Mt. 11:29=MT Jer. 6:16), some with the LXX (e.g., Mark 7:6-7=LXX Isa 29:13; Mark 10:8=LXX Gen ; Luke 23:46=LXX Ps 31:5) and others with Aramaic versions similar to neither (e.g., Mark 4:12= Targum Isa 6:9-10).[3]

One other typical line of thought that I want to mention is the one which argues the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books should not be seen as canonical because they are not cited by the New Testament. This criterion, however, would force us to discard many of the canonical books since not all of them are directly quoted.[4] Moreover, it should be noted that though Jesus and the New Testament writers do not explicitly quote from the deuterocanonical works, scholars now recognize many allusions to them.[5] In the end, however, let us be clear: canonical status for the Christian church could not simply be resolved on the basis of New Testament usage since, for example, Jude clearly quotes from the book of Enoch and Paul is even portrayed as citing pagan writers.[6]

Early Christian Sources
From the very earliest times Christians used the apocrypha with the other scriptures. It is not uncommon at all to find the very earliest Christian sources directly quoting from the apocrypha. Outside of the New Testament, the letter of Clement to the Corinthians, (circa. 97 C. E.) is probably the earliest Christian work. It alludes to Wisdom 2:24, making no distinction between it and the other Old Testament books he quotes (1 Corinthians 27).[8] 1 Clement also mentions Judith alongside Esther (1 Clement 55).[9] Many of the other earliest works also cite the apocrypha, oftentimes weaving them together with Old Testament citations (e.g., Didache,[10] Epistle of Barnabas,[11] Polycarp [12], Irenaeus,[14] Hippolytus,[15] Cyprian of Carthage[16]). There is no evidence that these sources had any misgivings about the apocrypha.

Yet there are other patristic writers who seemed uncertain about the use of the deuterocanonical books. The first list of Old Testament books complied by a Christian source is given to us by the fourth century historian Eusebius. Eusebius describes the collection of a second century bishop, Melito.[13] His list seems to follow the order of the books presented in the LXX, yet he excludes the apocrypha as well as the book of Esther.

While Melito's list clearly excludes certain books, other sources are not so clear about which books are accepted/not accepted. In sum, although there was a certain degree of hesitation on the part some regarding the acceptance of apocrypha, early Christian writers often cited as figures who opposed the apocrypha/deuterocanonical books are actually often unclear or inconsistent on the matter. Furthermore, many of those who are hesitant to accept the apocrypha also follow Melito in rejecting Esther. Here I want to look at some of those critical sources.

Eusebius gives us the list of canonical books listed by Origen (d. circa. 254 C. E.).[17] Origen begins his list with the words, “The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following…” However, it is possible that Origen intends to relate, not necessarily those books accepted by the Christians, but those counted by the Jews.[18] After all, it was Origen who famously laid out the various textual traditions of the Old Testament books in his Hexapla. Indeed, Origen seems to imply that he often restricted himself to the Jewish canon whenever he debated Jewish scholars, though he personally accepted a different “Christian” canon:
“And I make it my endeavuor [sic] not to be ignorant of their various readings, lest in my controversies with the Jews I should quote to them what is not found in their copies, and that I may make some use of what is found there, even although it should not be in our Scriptures.”[19]
Whatever his meaning here, one must also recognize that Origen’s other writings clearly indicate that he accepted the apocrypha.

Origen defends the scriptural status of the apocryphal story of Susanna.[20] Moreover, in his refutation of Celsus, Origen refers to the book of Sirach as “Scripture.”[21] In addition, notwithstanding the omission of the books of Maccabees in the list from Origen cited above, in other places he does actually cite them as part of the “holy Scripture”: “But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed…”[22] From this it is clear that Origen’s presentation of the “canon” as found in Eusebius did not represent what he considered the exhaustive list of “scriptural” books. While Origen was aware that the Jews excluded the apocrypha, he also seems to have recognized them himself.[23] For Origen, while there may be a differentiation between the books of the Hebrew Bible and the books received by the Christians, they were all considered “scripture.”

In his thirty-ninth Festal Letter, Athanasius (d. circa. 373 C. E.) gives us his list of the books of scripture. This list may be divided into three sections. First, Athanasius lists the books of the Old Testament, which includes the books of the Hebrew Bible and (like Melito) excludes the apocrypha and Esther. [24] Notably, the Letter of Jeremiah is included in this list. Next, he describes the books of the “New Testament,” including all twenty-seven books acknowledged as canonical today.[25] Finally, he describes other books also read in the Church, including Wisdom, Sirach, Esther, Judith, Esther and Tobit.[26] The Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas are described as “apocryphal.” He is silent regarding the books of Maccabees. In summary, then, Athanasius’ list consists of the “Old Testament,” the “New Testament” and the “Ecclesiastical books.”

When one looks at Athanasius' works, it is clear that he consistently used the apocrypha as scripture in his writings. He cites the story of Susanna with the rest of the scriptures.[27] Similarly, the so-called “apocryphal” story of the three young men is quoted with the other canonical works.[28] Still also, the story of Bel and the Dragon, also considered part of the “apocrypha” today, is cited along with the canonical books.[29]

Cyril of Jerusalem
Like Josephus and Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem (d. circa. 385 C. E.) limits the number of the “Old Testament” books to "twenty-two". Cyril includes the book of Baruch in his list as well as the Letter of Jeremiah. He then urges his readers to “read the two and twenty books, but have nothing to do with the apocryphal writings.”[30]

However, despite his warning to believers to stay away from the apocrypha, Cyril used them along with the Old Testament books in his own works! One of the most striking instances occurs in his defense of the doctrine of the ascension of Christ into heaven, where he quotes from the apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon, citing it with other Old Testament passages.[31] Likewise, to defend the unity of God, Cyril cites Sirach with the books of Psalms and Job—making no canonical distinction between them.[32] In yet another place the book of Wisdom is cited as support for Jesus’ divine nature.[33]

Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nazianzus[34] (d. circa. 367 C. E.) includes a list of the biblical books in one of his poems.[35] Gregory’s list contains only the books of the Hebrew Old Testament, again excluding the apocrypha and Esther. Yet, like many of the fathers mentioned above, Gregory frequently quotes from the apocrypha and uses them in his writings making no distinction between them and the books he recognized as canonical. For example, in his Orations, Sirach and Wisdom are used along with Proverbs and Psalms.[36] Gregory also seems to use the phrase “as it is written” (a term used for Scripture) in connection with the book of Wisdom in his Second Theological Oration.[37]

Amphilochius of Iconium
Another list is found in a poem attributed to Amphilochius of Iconium (Iambics for Seleucus). His list excludes the apocrypha and Esther. Again, Esther is dismissed with the deuterocanonical books.

Epiphanius lists twenty-two Old Testament books, and then says,
"There are also two other books near to them in substance, the Wisdom of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, besides some other apocryphal books. All these holy books also taught Judaism the things kept by the law until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Panarion 8.6).
He goes on to relate the status of Wisdom and Sirach to that of the New Testament books, calling them all "divine writings" (Panarion, 76).

Apostolic Constitutions
This document is dated by most scholars to the end of the fourth century. In it certain books of the apocrypha are included (Maccabees, Judith, and Sirach). The list also excludes the Apocalypse and includes the letters of Clement in the New Testament.

Rufinus (d. circa. 406 C. E.) gives us a canonical list that includes all of the Old Testament books. He then mentions a separate collection, the “Ecclesiastical books,” that includes the apocrypha. In this, Rufinus' list is much like Athanasius'.

JeromeJerome, had studied with the Rabbis in Palestine and was persuaded by them that the Christian LXX was inferior to the Hebrew Bible.[38] As a result, he argued that the apocrypha should be included as a separate collection. Setting them aside as a separate collection, he wrote in his preface:
“As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.”[39]
However, Jerome later changed his mind on the matter. This is often overlooked by historians. He writes:
"What sin have I committed in following the judgment of the churches? But when I repeat what the Jews say against the Story of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Children, and the fables of Bel and the Dragon, which are not contained in the Hebrew Bible, the man who makes this a charge against me proves himself to be a
fool and a slanderer; for I explained not what I thought but what they commonly say against us. I did not reply to their opinion in the Preface, because I was studying brevity, and feared that I should seem to be writing not a Preface but a book.”[40]
So while it is true that Jerome was once suspicious of the apocrypha, he later did view them as “Scripture.” This is clear from his epistles. For example, in the letter to Eustochium, dated to 404 C. E., Jerome quotes Sirach 13:2: “…for does not the scripture say: ‘Burden not thyself above thy power?’”

The usual explanation of the history of the canon usually describes two sets of Old Testament books, the protocanonical and the deuterocanonical books. According to the way the story is often told, certain fathers accepted the inclusion of the apocryphal books based on usage in the LXX, while others disputed their status and did not receive them as scripture. As we have seen, this reconstruction is grossly inaccurate.

As we have seen, many of the fathers who gave us lists excluding the apocrypha also excluded Esther. Origen is an exception in that, in his list, he excludes the apocrypha and includes Esther. Notably, Esther was viewed with a greater amount of suspicion than is normally recognized. The simple distinction between a well recognized set of "protocanonical" books which includes Esther and a second set known as "deuterocanonical" fails to represent the complexity of the issue.

Likewise, many of the fathers who excluded the books from their official list of twenty-two went on to use them and cite them as Scripture. Cyril even uses the apocrypha in establishing Christian doctrine! Again, the issue of the use of the apocrypha is more complex than is often admitted.

In addition, we should recognize something else regarding the term "deuterocanonical." The phrase "deuterocanonical" is applied to books of the Old Testament which were not universally accepted. Shouldn't the same phrase, however, be used of New Testament books like Revelation or 2 Peter, which were also disputed in many circles?

In summary, then, the case against the apocrypha is, I believe, overstated. What can be said of the apocrypha can also be said of many of the books now universally recognized as also part of the Christian canon of scripture. Was there debate about their inclusion? Yes. Was there an overwhelming consensus as to their canonical status in the first three centuries? No. Was there an overwhelming consensus as to the status after the first three centuries? There certainly seems to be.

Oftentimes the jump is simply made from the early Church to the age of the Reformation as if the opinion and usage of the Christians for 1200 years has no bearing on the question. Why should the question of consensus only be relevant in the first three centuries and then post-Reformation? That will be the topic of the next installment.

(Read Part 3.)

(For full bibliographic information see Part 1)
[1] See Hengel, The Septuagint, 19-101.
[2] Tov, “The Status of the Masoretic Text in Modern Editions of the Bible,” The Canon Debate, 244.
[3] France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 259-63; Evans, “The Scriptures of Jesus,” 191-195.
[4] Sunberg argues that had New Testament citation been the standard for canonicity the following canonical books, not explicitly cited, must also be excluded: Joshua, Judges, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Nathum. Sunberg, “The Protestant Old Testament Canon: Should It Be Re-examined?,” 200.
[5] Here we can list only a few examples. See T. Francis Glasson, “Colossians 1, 18, 15 and Sirach XXIV,” in Novum Testamentum 11 (1969): 154-156; Catherine Cory, “Wisdom’s Rescue: A New Reading of the Tabernacles Discourse (John 7:1-8:59) in JBL 116 (1997): 95-116; William Kurz, “Intertextual Use of Sirach 48:1-16 in Plotting Luke-Acts,” in The Gospels and the Scriptures of Israel (ed. C. Evans and W. R. Stegner; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994): 308-324. Also see Fitzmeyer’s discussion of the relationship between Wisdom 13:1-19 and 14:22-31 with Romans 1:8-32. Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 272. One might also look at Paul Ellingworth’s conclusion that the author of Hebrews uses Wisdom 7 in Hebrews 1:3. Paul Ellingworth, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle To The Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1993), 98-99.
[6] Tertullian did seem to accept Enoch as an inspired book. However, there is very little evidence that it gained widespread support. For discussion on the early Church’s opinion of Enoch see Hengel, The Septuagint, 55.
[7] See Bruce, The Canon, 84-87.
[8] For text click here.
[9] He here seems to refer to Judith 8:30.
[10] In Didache 3:10 we read, “The workings that befall thee receive as good, knowing that apart from God nothing cometh to pass.” This has been rightly identified as an allusion to Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) 2:4. Another reference to Sirach occurs in 4:5, which advises, “Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give.” (Sir 4:31). For text, click here.
[11] Epistle of Barnabas 6 conflates a passage in Isaiah with one from the Wisdom of Solomon: “For the prophet speaks against Israel, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counseled an evil counsel against themselves [Is. 3:9] saying, ‘Let us bind the just one, because he is displeasing to us [Wis. 2:12]’”
[12] Epistle to the Philadelphians 10 cites Tobit 12:9: ““When you can do good, defer it not, because ‘alms delivers from death’”
[13] Ecclesiastical History 4.26:12-14.
[14] Irenaeus quotes from the “apocryphal” story of Susanna, included in the LXX version of Daniel (Against Heresies, 4:5:2). See Translator n 51.
Likewise, Irenaeus cites from Baruch 4:36-5:9, which was read as part of the book of Jeremiah (Agaisnt Heresies 5.31.1).
[15] Commentary on Daniel 6 citing the apocrypha portion of Daniel as well as Tobit 3:17; Against the Jews 6 citing Wisdom 2; Against Noetus 2 citing Baruch 3:25-38. For texts click [16] Treatises, 12:3:4 citing 2 Macc 9:12 and 1 Macc 2:62,63; Treatises, 12:3:15 citing Wisdom 3:4-8; Epistle 51/55:22 citing Wis 1:13; Treatise 4.8 citing apocrypha story of the three youths [Dan 3:51]; Treatise 4.32 citing Tob 12:8; Treatise 7,9 citing Sir 2:5.
[17] Ecclesiastical History, 6:25:2.
[18] “To be sure, this learned list is not meant simply to reproduce the Old Testament books used in the church; Origen was much too aware of tradition for this.” Hengel, The Septuagint, 63.
[19] Origen, Letter to Africanus, 5. Origen goes on to say, “For if we are so prepared for them in our discussions, they will not, as is their manner, scornfully laugh at Gentile believers for their ignorance of the true reading as they have them.” It is clear, however, that Origen believed he could show that the story of Susanna was rightfully part of the Scriptures, as he says later in the same letter: “What I have said is, I think, sufficient to prove that it would be nothing wonderful if this history were true, and the licentious and cruel attack was actually made on Susanna by those who were at that time elders, and written down by the wisdom of the Spirit, but removed by these rulers of Sodom, as the Spirit would call them” (Letter to Africanus, 9).
[20] See note above.
[21] Against Celsus, 7:12.
[22] De Principiis, 2:1:5.
[23] At one point, he even accepted the book of Enoch as Scripture. However, he apparently later changed his mind. William Adler, “The Pseudepigrapha in the Early Church,” in The Canon Debate, 218.
[24] Thirty-ninth Festal Letter, 4.
[25] Thirty-ninth Festal Letter, 5.
[26] Thirty-ninth Festal Letter, 7.
[27] Discourse Against the Arians, 1:4:12.
[28] Discourse Against the Arians, 2:71.
[29] Discourse Against the Arians, 3:26:30.
[30] Catechetical Lecture, 4:35.
[31] Catechetical Lectures, 14:25. He also cites from the story of Susanna, another portion of Daniel considered to be part of the apocrypha (Catechetical Lectures, 16:31)
[32] Catechetical Lectures, 6:4.
[33] Catechetical Lectures, 9:2,3.
[34] Also known as Gregory “the Theologian”.
[35] The excerpt of the poem can be found in the Appendix included in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. XIV.
[36] Oration II, 50, 116; Oration IV, 1, 14.
[37] Second Theological Oration, 8.
[38] Jerome believed that the differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text of the rabbis were the result of Christ additions. See Jerome’s Letter to Augustine, Letter LXXV: V, 19. Of course, Jerome did not have the benefit of the Dead Sea Scrolls which indicates a Hebrew vorlage for the LXX variants.
[39] From Jerome’s Preface to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. Cited in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. VI.
[40] Against Rufinus 2:33.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Man, Michael, thanks for doing your homework on this issue. Excellent and helpful posts.