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Apocrypha Article 1 – It is Not Scripture – Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

The Apocrypha should not be added into the canon of the Holy Scriptures because the church fathers say so, or councils that contradict one another say so.

The RCC has but one real argument for the inclusion of the apocryphal books into Holy Scripture, which is derived from certain councils and fathers. They allege the 3rd Council of Carthage (in which Augustine attended) canon 47.4, where it is shown that all these apocryphal books are seen as canonical. Though many object that this council is provincial, the RCC deems it general for all. They base this by Pope Leo IV. Confirmation (Dist. 20. C. de Libellis), and also by the 6th general council held by Constantinople, which is called Trullan, (canon 2.) They say, though Carthage may not be, of itself, strong enough to assert the books canonical, the Pope and council mentioned prove the point to be true nonetheless. They also adduce the council of Florence under Eugenius IV. (see Epistol. Ad Armenos), that of Trent under Paul III. (session 4), and pope Gelasius with a council of seventy bishops (Vide infra, T. VIII p. 146). Of fathers they cite Innocent I, Augustine (Lib. II. C. 8. De Doctrina Christiana), Isidore of Seville (Etymolog., Lib. VI. C. 1.). So the RCC argument is this: these councils and these fathers affirm these books to belong to the sacred canon, therefore these books are canonical. This has been the official position since Trent’s dogmas.

In order to make this argument valid, we must use this proposition: whatsoever these councils and fathers determine is to be received is without dispute. Otherwise the very foundation of the argument the RCC has for the apocryphal books is invalid immediately, and they recognize this since we could then dispute them. We may then add to this proposition: But these councils and these fathers receive these books as canonical; therefore these books are truly canonical and divine. (Otherwise the entire proposition in the start does not make sense and the RCC has nothing to say on these things.)

I deny the whole of the major premise by the RCC for a variety of reasons.

1) We must never state that fathers and councils speak the truth simply based on what they deem to be true since the Scriptures themselves must stand the test in and of themselves and account for their own veracity (which the Apocrypha will never pass as a test based on its veracity alone)

2) Trent was no general council, though the RCC esteems it as such. However, Akanus Copus (in Dialog Quint. C. 16.) states that there were fewer bishops at this council that at any other. And the total of those in attendance was less than fifty. If this is a provincial council, fine. But a general ecclesiastical council I in no way accept, nor do many RCC fathers.

3) The council of Carthage was provincial and composed of a few bishops; there is no authority in them, by themselves, to make a judgment of this kind having been provincial and not general. Even in their own canons at that council (canon 26.2) states “the bishop of the chief see shall not be called high priest, or chief of the priests, or by any such title.” They cannot bind those by the authority they refuse upon themselves.

4) The RCC says the Trullan council of Constantinople (which was a general council) approved the Carthaginian council. But if the decree of the number of canonical books was legitimately approved, then that also concerning the title of high priest was confirmed by the same sanction, which they will never concede, and shows their authority to be false. How will they divide these things? I acknowledge the Trullan council as ecumenical, but the RCC themselves doubt what should be determined of the authority of the canons which are attributed to the council (as I agree with Whitaker). Pighius, in his own writing calls this council “spurious, and by no means genuine.” Melchior Canus too (Lib. V. cap. Ult.) declares the council to have no ecclesiastical authority. There are some things in the canons which they do not approve of – that the bishop of Constantinople is equal with the Roman, canon 36; that priests and deacons are not to be separated from their wives, canon 13, etc. It is a strong objection to the credit and authority of these canons, that the 85 canons of the apostles are approved and received in them (canon 2) – but Pope Gelasius (Gratian, Dist. 15. C. Romana Ecclesia) declares the book of the apostolic canons apocryphal. And Gratian (Dist. 16.5) says, that there are only 50 canons of the apostles, and they are apocryphal, upon the authority of Isidore who says they were composed by heretics under the name of the apostles (and he said there were only 60). More this can be cited, but I stop at wearying you to show you the point that their inconsistencies within the councils are numerous and contradictory to one another, for: If these are true and genuine canons of the apostles, then the RCC is refuted in their opinion of the number of canonical books of the OT and NT by the authority of the canons of the apostles. If they be not, as it is plain that they are not, then the synod of Constantinople erred, when it approved them as apostolical. Yet the RCC denies that a general council can err in its decrees respecting matters of faith. How will the RCC reconcile this except by denial and side stepping?

5) Thus, I can judge what force and authority is to be allowed to the canon of this council of Constantinople; and what sort of persons the RCC are to deal with, who both deny that these canons have any legitimate authority, and yet confirm the sentence of the Council of Carthage by the authority of these very canons. Canus (Lib. II. Cap. 9) proves the authority of the council of Carthage, in enumerating the number of books because of Trullan, yet the same man in Lib. V. cap. 6. ad argument. 6., makes light of the authority of these canons, and brings many arguments to break them down. Consistency?

6) Gelasius in his council with 70 bishops receive 1st Maccabees, and one Esdras, rejecting 2nd Maccabees (which is apocryphal) and Nehemiah, which is canonical.

7) Before the RCC can press all men with the authority of these councils, they should themselves determine, as Whitaker says, whether it is at all in the power of any council to determine what books should or should not be received (which they have not done consistently). For this is doubted among many RCs, as Canus confesses in Lib. II. C. 8. The major premise stated as the RCC proposition does not hold.

In minor premise I will agree that Carthage, Gelasius and his 70 bishops, Innocent, Augustine, and Isidore call these books canonical. But I hope to show you that their meaning was not to place the apocrypha upon the same grounds as Holy Scripture accepted in the protestant Bible. I will show this to be true by Augustine’s own words, from antiquity, and from the RCs themselves.

8) If the books were to be widely accepted, the RCC and their theologians, fathers and councils would not have dissented by there inclusion of the canon; but dissent they did, and in great numbers, which will be seen later. There is no ground to say that the Church publicly and widely received them as Scripture; both Eastern and Western Churches.

9) Secondly, Augustine plainly indicates that he did not consider them as equal with the Scriptures. “Now with respect to the canonical Scriptures, let him follow the greater number of catholic churches’ amongst which those indeed are to be found with merited to posses the chairs of the apostles, and to receive epistles from them. He will hold this, therefore, as a rule in dealing with the canonical scriptures, to prefer those which are received by all catholic churches to those which only some receive. But, with respect to those which are not received by all, he will prefer such as the more and more dignified churches receive, to such as are held by fewer churches, or churches of less authority.” Then he says, “Now the whole canon of scripture, in which we hath consideration….etc.” He does not include the lesser received but rather, the whole canon. Jerome, and many other father deny the apocryphal books as canonical. Do they differ in opinion – no. Why? Jerome takes their word “canonical” in one sense while Augustine, Innocent and the fathers of Carthage as another. Jerome calls only those books canonical, which the church always held for canonical, the rest of the apocrypha he banishes from the canon. Augustine classifies the books, and uses varies ideologies within the word “canon.” He prefers some to others, makes distribution of them in this sense and classifies them. If he thought they were all equal, as with the Scriptures, he would never have done this. Augustine himself says less reliance should be placed on anything not included in the canon of the Hebrew OT which did not include the apocryphal books (which will be belabored in another email.) (de Civit. Dei, Lib. XVII. C. 20.) (He says literally Sed adversus contradictores non tanta firmitate roferuntur quae scripta non sunt in canone Judaeorum (Aug. Opp. T. VII. 766. A.))

10) Let it also be noted that Carthage deemed 5 books of Solomon where only 3 are Solomon’s. Augustine once thought the book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus was Solomon but later retracted this. “Learned men have no doubt that they are not Solomon’s; (Ubi supra, 765.) He also testifies they were not received in all the churches (De Civit. Dei. Lib. XVII. C. 20.)

11) The RCC should understand that if so many agreed, then Augustine would never have disagree with their inclusion after the councils were held, which he did.

12) Cajetan, the Jesuit, a champion of the RCC who was sent to rebuff Luther, says, “Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the OT. For the rest (that is Judith Tobit, and the books of Macabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed among the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Pologus Galeatus. Not be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldst find any where, either in sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. According to his judgment…these books (and any other like books in the canon of the Bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith.” (See his commentary on the History of the OT)

13) See from Cajetan himself that Jerome is the final word on these books, and Jerome counted them as apocryphal and not Scriptural. (Which will be seen in greater depth in another email)

14) There are two kinds of “canonical” books – some contain both the rule of faith and morals; these are properly called Scripture – canonical in the strict sense. Others are helpful by way of moral alone, but no rules. Any book I read which spiritually edifies my soul is helpful as far as morality is concerned, but does not bind my conscience. The Scripture is Porto-canonical, the apocrypha may be deemed Deutero canonical because they do not combine both a bind upon faith and morals. Here Jerome stands, as well a Cajetan. The RCC is greatly angered by these men and their view – but they are Rome’s champions.

15) Thus, the arguments so far are weak at best, crumbling to the ground based on the history of the RCC alone, its contradictory councils and its own theologians.

I shall write next on why the apocryphal books cannot be included because they have not been written by any prophet, and show the importance of this.

Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind