Apocrypha Article 3 - Church Fathers and Councils Reject It - Dr. C. Matthew McMahonThe Apocrypha and Apologetics
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From the testimonies of the fathers and of church councils, the apocrypha is seen as non-canonical in the strict sense already laid forth. Though this be a human argument, it is worthy since the RCC bases their inclusion of these works from human argument.
The synod of Laodicea (canon 59.1) forbids the reading of any non-canonical books in the church, and allows only the “canonical books of the old and new Testaments” to be used for that purpose. Then those books are enumerated as canonical – which all protestant churches accept; not Tobit, not Judith, nor the rest. It is the judgment of the council that Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom and the two books of Macabees are not canonical. The objection by the RCC is that at that time the canon was not yet settled. But who is going to settle the truth of the matter that the OT canon was already defined 400 years before Christ. The fathers during that time and council knew very well the books to include and exclude. (which will be shown shortly). Besides, the council of Carthage could not determine anything about the canon of Scripture since it was only a provincial one.
It will be said that the universal Trullan synod determined that these books should be included in the canon and defined by these authorities – namely Laodicea and Carthage. However in approving Carthage and Laodicea they fumble. If the canon, therefore, of the Trullan be genuine, the Laodicean and Cartaginian decrees concerning the canonical books do not contradict one another (they cannot since the church does not err). Consequently, although these books are called in some sense canonical in Carthage, they were deemed uncanonical by Laodicea. But if the judgments of these councils be contradictory, the Trullan synod failed in prudence when it approved the acts of both, which we see as the case.
The Trullan council was held 600 years after Christ. Now was the canon unknown until that time? Who in their right sense would affirm this? Not even the RCC will affirm this as we will see.
The fathers agree that the apocrypha is non-canonical and should not be included in the canon. Melito of Sardis, (Eusebius – Lib. IV. Cap. 26.) testifies he knew the OT canon. He took great pains in research, as we are told by Eusebius, and comes to the exact number of books as the protestants and Jews do. Origen (Eus. Lib. VI c. 25) acknowledges the same books as the protestants as canonical., and says that the number of them are two and twenty according to the Hebrew alphabet. (Remembering the combination of 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, etc.) Athanasius says “Our whole scripture is divinely inspired and hath books not infinite in number, but finite and comprehended in a certain canon.” There was, therefore a certain canon by the late 300’s. He then enumerates this, “The canonical books of the OT are two and twenty. Equal to the number as the Hebrew alphabet.” Then he says, “But besides these, there are also other non canonical books of the OT which are only read to the catechumens.” Then he lists the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, the fragments of Esther, Judith, Tobit and the like. “These” he says “are the non-canonical books of the OT.” (Athanas. Opp. Ii. 126. sqq. Ed. Bened.) Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, says, “The law of the OT is considered as divided into twenty-two books, so as to correspond to the number of letters.” Nazianzen fixes the same number. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his 4th catechetical discourse says much, “Do thou learn carefully from the church what are the books of the OT, Read the divine Scriptures, the two and twenty books. (Cyril. Hiersol. Catech. IV. 33. p. 67. ed Tuttei.) Epiphanius counts twenty seven, or by the Hebrew doubling, twenty two, “delivered by God to the Jews.” And he says of the apocryphal books, “They are indeed useful books, but are not included in the canon, and were not deposited in the ark of the covenant.” Ruffinus, in his exposition of the Apostle’s Creed, says “But I should be known that there are other books also, which were called by the ancients not canonical but ecclesiastical, the Wisdom of Solomon and of Sirach, the book of Tobit, Judith, Macabees. These they would have to be read in the churches, but that nothing should be advanced from them for the confirming the authority of faith.” (Symb. Apost. In Appendix ad Cyprian. Ed. Fell. P. 26). (As with any good book.) Jerome plainly rejects all the apocryphal books from the canon. In his Prologus Galeatus he says “As there are twenty and two letters, so there are counted twenty and two books. Therefore the Wisdom of Solomon, and Jesus, and Judith, and Tobit, are not in the canon.” (See the introduction to the Vulgate in his own hand.) Gregory the Great, in his commentaries on Job, (Lib. XIX. Cap. 16.) expressly writes that the books of Macabees is not canonical, as well as the rest. Josephus also agrees. In his first book against Apion the grammaritan “We have not innumerable books, inconsistent and conflicting with each other, but two and twenty books alone, containing the series of our whole history, and justly deemed worthy of our highest credit.” (Contra Apion. L. I. C. 8.)
Two objections are brought by the RCC: 1) these fathers spoke of the Jewish not the Christian canon. 2) the canon was not yet fixed. Both of these are nonsense.
Of the first objection, the councils and father were speaking of the Christian canon, not just the Jewish. It is ludicrous to assume they would exclude the OT from the Christian’s Bible. The synod of Laodicea prescribed the books which were to be accepted in the churches. Melito did not desire to find out what these books were for the Jew’s sake, but his own. Athanasius said the apocrypha was read by the catechumens, meaning those raised up in the church – Christian catechumens. Cyril forbids reading the apocrypha saying that the apostles rejected them. Ruffinus is speaking concerning the church, saying those books are not canonical but ecclesiastical – proving he spoke of the church. Jerome, writing to Paulinus (a Christian Bishop), makes none others canonical than the protestants. He acknowledges no other canon than I do now. He writes in his preface to the book of Chronicles, “The church knows nothing of the apocryphal writings; we must therefore have recourse to the Hebrews, from whose text the Lord speaks, and his disciples chose their examples. What is not extant in them is to be flung away from us.” (Preface to Ezra and Nehemiah) In his preface to the books of Solomon, “As therefore the church, while it reads Judith and Tobit and the book of Maccabees, yet receives them not among the canonical Scriptures; so she may read these two volumes (Wisdom and Sirach) for the edification of the people, not for affirming the authority of faith.” They are absurd who imagine a double canon. Jerome calls the Pelagians heretics (rightly so) for citing testimonies of the Apocrypha while attempting to prove something of heaven.
What shall the RCC then produce? Trullan? Except the Trullan council, the RCC has nothing at all to stand on. And this Trullan does not precisely affirm the Apocrypha canonical, but attributes the sanction of Carthage, which is no consequence since they also sanctioned Laodicea. And the RCC denies all credit to the Trullan canons themselves. Thus they are left without defense on any side.
Isidore, who lived in those times almost, (Lib. Isad. De Eccl. Offic. Lib. 1. c. 12.) says that the OT was settled by Ezra in two and twenty books, “that the books might correspond by the number of the letters.” John Damascus says (Lib. IV. C. 18) “It must be known that there are only two and twenty books of the OT, according to the alphabet of the Hebrew language.” So also Nicephorus, “There are two and twenty books of the OT.” Leotinus says in his book of Sects (act. 2.) that there are no more than twenty two canonical books as the churches receive. Rabanus Maurus (De. Institutes. Cler. C. 54) says that the whole OT was distributed by Ezra in two and twenty books, “that there may be as many in the law as in the letters.” Radalphus (Lib. XIV. in Lev. c. 1.), “Tobit, Judith and the Macabees, although they be read for instruction in the church, yet have they not authority.” They are not canonical. Hugo S. Victoris (Prolog. Lib. I. De Sacram. C. 7.) says “that these books are read indeed, but not written in the body of the text or in the authoritative canon; that is, such as the book of Tobit, Judith, Macabees, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus.” And again in Didascal. Lib. IV. C. 8., “As there are twenty two alphabetic letters, by mean of which we write in Hebrew, and speak of what we have to say, and the compass of the human voice is included in their elementary sounds; so twenty-two books are reckoned, by means of which being the alphabets and doctrine of God…” Also the opinion of Richard de S. Victore (Exception. Lib. II. C. 9), Lyra (prolog. In Libros Aprocryph.) Dionysius Carthusianus (Comment in Gen. in Princip.) , Abulensis (in Matt. c. 1), Antonius (3 p. Tit. XVIII. C. 5.), Cardinal Hugo (Prologue to Joshua) says the apocryphal books are not a rule for faith. Cardinal Cajetan and Erasmus both declare the canon glossed by the apocryphal books being included in it in their time. (See Leo’s Epistle “Dilecto Filio Erasmo Roterd.” Prefixed to Erasmus’ Greek NT, Basil, 1535). Even Arius Montanus, who was himself present in the synod at Trent, and published vast biblical work, and called by Gregory XIII his “son”, in addition to the Hebrew Bible with an interlinear version declares that the orthodox church follows the canon of the Hebrews, and reckons apocryphal the books of the “OT” written in Greek: all those apocryphal books we have mentioned so far.
Thus, if these books either were canonical, or so declared and defined by any legitimate public judgment of the church, then these so numerous fathers, ancient and at the time of Trent, could not have been ignorant of it, nor would have dissented. However, they openly stated these books as apocryphal, and in no way included them in the canon. I reject these books in the same manner and in the same way. Satisfy my desire of retracting each and every one of these statements, reconcile the problems with the synod’s own canons and statements. But how shall the RCC change history?
The next shall deal with each individual book of the apocrypha, their inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities, showing by their own testimony that they ought not to be included in the canon as the divinely inspired, perfect, inerrant, infallible and holy Word of God, as the other books of the true canon show.