Monday, July 13, 2009

On the Formation of the Canon and the Deuterocanonical Books: Part 2

Here is my response to McMahon's second article on the "apocrypha." See also Part 1. I think this second article is substantially weaker than the first article. At least with the first one he tried to engage Catholics on their own terms. With this article, he's basically trying to say that the phrase "the prophets" encompasses the entire OT and since, according to him, none of the deuterocanonical books were written prophets, they don't belong. Pretty silly stuff, as I hope to reveal. Again, like last time, McMahon's words will be indented and mine flush to the left.

  • Syllogism: These apocryphal books were not written by the prophets, therefore they are not canonical. Entire syllogism: All canonical books of the OT were written by prophets: none of the apocryphal books were written by any prophets: therefore they are not canonical.

    The Major premise rests on Scripture: Peter says the OT is the “prophetic word.” (2 Peter 1:19); Paul calls it the “scriptures of the prophets” (Romans 16:26); Zacharias the priest says “As he spake by the mouths of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began.” (Luke 1:70); “They have Moses and the Prophets” as Abraham said (Luke 18:39); Luke wrote, “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scripture the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:24; cf. Rom. 1:2); Heb. 1:1, “God spake in divers manners by the prophets.”; the church is built upon the “apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20); “All things must be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me:” and it follows immediately, “And he opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45); Paul asks Agrippa, “Believest thou the prophets?” – that is the Scriptures. (Acts 26:27); When Paul dealt with the Jews at Rome he tried to convince them “out of the law of Moses and the prophets.” (Acts 28:23). From these we see that the major assertion is true, that the whole OT was given to us by God’s prophets. There is no part of the OT which was not given by the prophets.

    The entire OT canonical Scriptures are deemed in the following way: 1) the prophets; 2) Moses and the prophets; 3) Moses, the prophets, and the psalms.
This entire article is dismantled by the fact that not everything even in the Protestant OT is written by a prophet. When the NT refers to "the prophets" it is not using the term loosely to refer to any OT person who delivered the word of God to the people. Instead, it is referring to a very specific collection of OT writings. John Francis Fenlon explains:
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The Law contained the five books of Moses in the unvarying order of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets comprised the four books of the Former Prophets, in the unvarying order of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings; and the four books of the Latter Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, Minor Prophets (all twelve counted as forming one book). The Writings comprised the remaining eleven books, the poetical works, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the five Megilloth, or Rolls (Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecelesiastes, Esther), and finally Daniel, Esdras, Nehemias, Chronicles -- twenty-four books in all, though perhaps more frequently reckoned as twenty-two by counting Ruth with Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremias.
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If McMahon thinks that "the prophets" refers to every book of the Bible, then he's misusing the phrase. The Jews didn't even understand their own canon in that way. In some of the very passages that McMahon cites as proof that an OT book must be written by a prophet, we see that other books of the OT are actually separate from "the prophets." See, for example:

Lk 16:29 (not 18:39, as McMahon has it) But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'

Lk 24:27 (not 24:24) And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Lk 24:44 Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled."

Acts 28:23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in great numbers. And he expounded the matter to them from morning till evening, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.

"Moses and the prophets": that's two different collections. "The law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms": that's three different collections. That means that "Moses" (which is a reference to the Penteteuch) and "the psalms" are not "the prophets." Does that mean we should reject these books? What about the books that constitute "the Writings"? Should we reject those to?

Once you let "the prophets" mean what it's supposed to mean instead of straining it to encompass the entire Old Testament, then you see that McMahon's argument is destructive to his own canon, not simply the Catholic one.

  • That the apocryphal books were not written by the prophets are clear and certain. All confess that Malachi was the last Jewish prophet. Between Malachi and John the Baptist, no other Jewish prophet arose, but the writers of the apocryphal books lived after Malachi. Even the RCC does not deny this.
Well, we've already established that his rule for determining canonicity here is absurd and self-defeating. But, let's assume that, in some fairy tale land where basic rules of exegesis don't apply, it's actually true that every book must be written by a prophet before it can be considered canonical. This too can be defeated based on the fact that many of the books in question were in fact written by prophets.

As I said in my last extensive reply, all five of the "books of Solomon" (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach) were at one time or another attributed to Solomon, and the last two are deuterocanonical. I'm pretty sure McMahon considers Solomon a prophet. The book of Baruch was written by, well, the the prophet Baruch, who was a disciple of Jeremiah. Even Calvin himself considered Baruch a prophet [emphasis mine]:
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For thus speaks the Prophet, when he would shew that the fountain of life is with God, (Baruch 3:14) — “Learn where there is prudence, where there is virtue, where there is understanding, where there is length of life and food, where there is light to the eyes and peace.” (Psychopannychia, online here).
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He thought the author of Ecclesiasticus (or "Sirach") was a prophet too:
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Almost similar to this [Ps 103:13] is the passage in Ecclesiasticus, “The number of the years of man, as much as a hundred years, have been counted as the drop of water in the sea, and as the sand on the sea shore; but they are few compared with the whole duration of time. Therefore God is patient towards them, and sheds out his mercy upon them.” (Ecclesiasticus 18:8- 10.) Here they must admit that the prophet’s sentiment was very different; from that which they dream, and means that the Lord pitied those whom he knew to stand by his mercy alone, and, who, were he for a little to withdraw his hand, would return to the dust whence they were taken. (Psychopannychia, online here)
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Pretty interesting stuff for any Calvinist who attempts to use "authorship by a prophet" as proof for the canonicity of a book.

  • They were written in another language (Greek – more on this later) rather than the prophetic tongue of Hebrew. The numerous quotations of the fathers affirm this, the RCC does not deny this.
Oh come on, this guy doesn't even know the most basic facts about his subject matter. Two of the books were written in Greek -- Wisdom and 2nd Maccabees -- but the rest of them were written in either Hebrew or Aramaic (which is a very close derivative of Hebrew).

  • Most importantly, if these books had been written by the prophets, Christ would have quoted them and used them as witness to himself, as he did with the others. Christ nor his apostles quoted the apocrypha. It is a useless case to strain the idea that they may have alluded to it. In the witness of Christ, or the apostles for Christ, they never quoted the apocryphal books (more on this later).
This is absolutely not true. I have located at least 31 references to a deuterocanonical book in the Gospels alone:

Mt 4:4 and Wisdom 16:26Mt 6:7 and Sirach 7:14Mt 7:12 and Tobit 4:15Mt 7:16 and Sirach 27:6Mt 8:11 and Baruch 4:37Mt 11:28 and Sirach 24:19Mt 16:18 and Wisdom 16:13Mt 18:10 and Tobit 12:15Mt 22:13 and Wisdom 17:2Mt 26:38 and Sirach 37:2Mt 27:43 and Wisdom 2:13,18-20

Mr 4:5 and Sirach 40:15Mr 9:48 and Judith 16:17

Lk 1:19 and Tobit 12:15Lk 1:42 and Judith 13:18Lk 1:52 and Sirach 10:14Lk 2:29 and Tobit 11:9Lk 2:37 and Judith 8:6Lk 13:29 and Baruch 4:37Lk 14:13 and Tobit 2:2Lk 19:44 and Wisdom 3:7Lk 21:25 and Wisdom 5:22

Jn 1:3 and Wisdom 9:1Jn 3:8 and Sirach 16:21Jn 3:12 and Wisdom 9:16Jn 3:13 and Baruch 3:29Jn 5:18 and Wisdom 2:16Jn 8:44 and Wisdom 2:24Jn 8:53 and Sirach 44:19Jn 14:15 and Wisdom 6:18Jn 17:3 and Wisdom 15:3

Case closed, as far as quotation by a NT book is concerned.

  • These apocryphal books were not received by the church of the Israelites; therefore they are non canonical. Syllogism would be as such: The ancient church of the Hebrews received and approved all the books of the OT; The church did not receive these books; therefore they are not canonical.
They were received by the Greek speaking Jews by way of the Septuagint and they were received by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, who quote from the Septuagint considerably more often than they quote from the Hebrew canon, and who quote from the deuterocanonical books in the examples I have already provided. Of the approximately 300 references in the NT to an OT book, about 2/3 of them came from the Septuagint. The deuterocanonical books were received by the Jews, they were received by Christ and the Apostles, and they were received by the early Church. There's simply no getting around that.

  • Major proposition is easy to show: If the church had removed such a large portion of the “Scriptures”, they would have been thoroughly rebuked by Christ for doing so; or even by the apostles – which they were not. The Jews were blamed for putting wrong senses on the Scriptures (see Christ’s repeated arguments with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes), they would have received a greater and more stern condemning word for removing the “scriptures” altogether; which was never the case. Christ would be negligent not to rebuke and reprove them of this, being the eternal Word, which he never did.
This argument is simply ahistorical. Jesus was not alive to rebuke the Palestinian Jews, when they finally rejected the Septuagint canon, or the Protestants, when they followed suit 1500 years later.

  • Josephus attests to the care and strictness of the Jews who cared for the OT canon, without the inclusion of the apocrypha – see Eusebius, Lib. III. Cap. 10.2.) Augustine and all the fathers accept the truth of this. Also, if the Jews did err in this, not accepting the apocryphal books and excluding them from the canon, then the church erred, and the RCC would never accept that, since there is only one true church.
I accept that the Protestant churches have erred. The Catholic Church has not.

  • For everyone understands and knows that these books were never included in the OT canon, no matter how familiar they may have been to anyone.
Everyone? Good grief, what a sweeping assertion. They were included in the OT canon of the Septuagint. The Palestinian Jews rejected the Septuagint canon at least in part for anti-Christian reasons, because they saw how frequently the Christians were utilizing the Septuagint. Yet now, so many years later, Protestants hold up the Hebrew canon as the rule? I just don't get that.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

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