Archive for January, 2013

Golden Calves vs. Baal – Response to a Counterpoint

January 31, 2013

There are a limited number of possible verses that seem to possibly associate the golden calves and Baal worship. One example is the passage below:

2 Kings 17:16-17
And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

Here the golden calves and Baal are placed quite close to each other in a list of the wrong-doings of Israel. But, while they are placed close together, there is no strong indication that the grove worship was directly connected with the calves or with Baal. Moreover, the child sacrifice is more associated with Molech worship:

Leviticus 18:21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Moreover, the divinations are also seemingly a separate but related category. Recall:

Deuteronomy 18:9-12
When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Moreover, while Baal and passing one’s children through the fire are mentioned in close proximity elsewhere, in that place (as in Leviticus above) it is connected with the cult of Molech:

Jeremiah 32:35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

It is interesting to note that in this instance, the sentence structure, in English, is such that there seems to be a connection between the high places of Baal and the child sacrifice to Molech. It is possible that “Baal” here is a generic reference.

– TurretinFan

Sin, Satan, and Satan’s Fall

January 30, 2013

I was recently directed to some questions about Sin, Satan, and Satan’s fall.

Did Satan exist before Adam and Eve? How and when did he fall?

The Scriptures do not specify when God created the angels or when specifically Satan fell.

Jude 6 states: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”

2 Peter 2:4 stats: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;”

Job 4:18 states: “Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly:”

Thus, we know that some of the angels did fall and that this was due to some foolishness and sin on their part. But the exact timing of their creation is not specified.

Isaiah 14 has sometimes been interpreted as referring to the fall of Satan. There are a few reasons that this view has some weaknesses – particularly in that verse 16 speaks about kingdoms, but it is clear that at the latest Satan fell when only Adam and Eve lived.

Nevertheless, vss. 12-15 may be a reference to the fall of Satan, and may be a comparison between that fall and the fall of the king of Babylon (see vs. 4). In other words, God may be comparing the fall of the king of Babylon to the fall of Satan.

We may speculate that Satan and other angels (who are described as having wings) were created with the winged fowl on the 4th day, or that Satan and the other angels being heavenly bodies (and compared to stars) were created with the stars on the 3rd day, or that the angels were created on the first day when God created the heavens and the earth, or that they were created on the 6th day since Satan is described as a serpent. But all this is speculation, since God does not say.

All we know is that all things were made by God in the space of six days (Exodus 20:11), and therefore the angels were created in this time period.

Did sin exist before Adam and Eve?

It seems sin did not exist before the end of the sixth day, because on the sixth day God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good (Genesis 1:1). How could God say that if there was already sin?

Of course, “sin” is not a thing that has its own existence. Rather it is any lack of conformity to (or violation of) God’s law.

It seems clear that Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden of Eve and by her of Adam was sinful and an act of rebellion on Satan’s part.

After all, Satan is clearly identified as the serpent in Revelation 20:2 “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,” and Revelation 12:9 “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Moreover, his sins of lying and murdering were there:

John 8:44
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

After all, because of Satan’s lie, Eve was deceived and came under judgment of death, making Satan both liar and simultaneously murderer.

Some people may speculate that it was in this very act that Satan fell – namely that the fall of Satan is timed as immediately before the fall of man. Whether this is the case or not, we simply do not know, because Scripture does not say. One reason to think this is that the Serpent is cursed specifically together with Adam and Eve, but prior to the curse of the earth for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:14).

The only remaining question is how there could be sin before Adam’s sin, when Scripture states:

Romans 5:12
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

But just as this does not exclude Eve’s sin before Adam’s sin, so also it does not exclude Satan’s sin before Eve’s sin. For Adam was made the head of the physical creation. In Adam (not in Eve or in Satan) all mankind fell, and that in context is what Paul is describing.

Scripture tells all we need to know. John assures us that we can read the gospel of John and believe and have eternal life (John 20:31) and the Scriptures teach us that they thoroughly equip us for living the Christian life (2 Timothy 3:17). Nevertheless Scripture does not promise to answer every question we may have about everything. Some things we simply cannot be dogmatic about. We should, therefore, cease to be dogmatic where Scripture ceases revelation.

– TurretinFan

Darryl Hart and a Heretical Pope

January 29, 2013

Darryl Hart points out how Pope John XXII (c. 1244 – 1334) was forced by the Parisian Faculty of Theology to recant his heretical views regarding the Beatific Vision (link). It’s an example of the messiness of the medieval papacy and particularly its relationship to France and the French theologians.

The work from which Hart quotes is “The Mortgage of the Past,” by Francis Oakley. That same work documents a number of issues that the folks at Called to Communion (a Roman communion blog) are unlikely to feature. For example, endnote 50 at page 269 highlights the fact that previous generations (i.e. before Vatican I) have been more open to the idea that the pope may fall into heresy:

Decretum, D. 40. c. 6; ed. Friedberg, 1879-81. 1:146. Tierney, 1964, 119, notes that even the high papalist decretist Alanus Anglicus [fl. A.D. 1190-1215] conceded that deposition would be called for in the case of papal heresy. The more moderate decretist Huguccio [of Pisa] went further, and envisaged any notorious papal crime as cause sufficient for the imposition of that penalty. For a full synoptic treatment of the origin and destiny of such notions, see Oakley, 2003b.

Oakley endorses the idea that “no other pope was as important for edging papal monarch toward absolutism” as Innoncent III (A.D. 1198-1216), quoting Kenneth Pennington, The Pope and the Bishops: the Papal Monarchy in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), p. 58.

– TurretinFan

Textual "Corruption" of the Quran

January 28, 2013

A very impressive presentation on the corruption of Quran may be found at this link (link to beginning of relevant section). This was much more detailed than any similar presentation I had seen before. The following is a brief outline:

1. Preservation of the Bible

[I will omit these points, which were things I already knew, but which are important.]

2. Preservation of the Qur’an
a. Hadith Demonstrates variation (Bukhari, v. 6, b. 60, n. 468; see also 6.60.467 and Muslim 4.1799-1802).
b. al-NAdim’s catalog of books (4th Islamic century) included early literature on the discrepencies among Quranic manuscripts (the presentation lists 7 books from the catalog).
c. Uthman’s destruction of the other Qurans (Bukhari, 6.61.510) and Abdullah ibn Masud’s resistance.
d. Four common versions of the Qur’an: The Qur’an According to Imam Hafs, The Qur’an According to Imam Warsh, The Qur’an According to Imam Qulan, and The Qur’an According to Imam al-Duri.
e. Example of difference between Warsh and Hafs at 21:4 (“Say …” vs. “He said …”)
f. Example of difference between Warsh and Hafs at 3:146 (“fought” vs. “was killed”)
g. Quran showing the differences among the ten major versions in the margin.
h. Between two versions of the Quran (he didn’t specify which two), there are 1354 differences.
i. The Bismallah – Hafs says it is a verse of the Quran, but Warsh says it is just part of the title (appears 113 times, and has 4 words, for a total of 452 words difference).
j. Analysis of the Chain of Narration (Isnad) for the Hafs Quran, but that chain is not historically possible, because Abdullah ibn Masud rejected the Uthman Qur’an.

3. The Qur’an’s testimony to the Bible

[Some good points that I had heard before about how the Qur’an testifies to the reliability of the Bible.]

If anyone has Samuel Green’s written version of his presentation and his permission to post it on-line, I would love to be able to repost it here. Unfortunately, I do not know how to contact Mr. Green.


Major Innovations of Vatican II as to its New Ecclesiology

January 28, 2013

One expects to hear of Vatican II’s major innovations either from the traditionalist critics or “ordain a lady” type liberals, but it was interesting to read this report from the Vatican Information System, which described Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s discussion of the relationship between the 1983 code of canon law (which replaced the 1917 code of canon law) and the Vatican II council:

Cardinal Coccopalmerio began his address with the recollection that Blessed John XXIII, in his speech convening Vatican Council II in 1959, explained that the Council’s legal scope was to bring about the awaited revision of the 1917 Code. “In his broad perspective, the Pope saw clearly that the revision of the Code had to be guided by the new ecclesiology that emerged from an ecumenical and a global summit such as the Council.” Blessed John Paul II, under whose pontificate the Code was promulgated, also repeated that “the council’s ecclesiological structure clearly required a renewed formulation of its laws”.

“As John Paul II emphasized at the beginning of the Apostolic Constitution ‘Sacrae disciplinae leges’, the reason for the close relationship between Vatican Council II and the Code of Canon Law was that the 1983 Code was the culmination of Vatican II … in two ways: on the one hand, it embraces the Council, solemnly reproposing fundamental institutions and major innovations and, on the other, establishing positive norms for implementing the Council.”

(VIS, 22 January 2013)

Acknowledging “major innovations” and a “new ecclesiology” is remarkably more candid than the line we hear from the “Called to Communion” folks, who sometimes seem to act as though Rome’s ecclesiology is something divine.


Hart on the Lord’s Day and the NFL

January 25, 2013

Darryl Hart points out the rules that churches who decide to show the Superbowl at church must abide by, but notes that a better incentive might be provided by pointing out the 4th commandment (3rd for the Papalists).  It’s also provides an opportunity for pointing out the changing attitude of Rome toward’s the Lord’s Day (and other “holy” days) building on Hart’s other post (mentioned here).

The Catechism of the Council of Trent states:

Third Part of this Commandment
The third part of the Commandment comes next to be explained. It points out, to a certain extent, the manner in which we are to keep holy the Sabbath day, and explains particularly what we are forbidden to do on that day.
Works Forbidden
Thou shalt do no work on it, says the Lord, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.
These words teach us, in the first place, to avoid whatever may interfere with the worship of God. Hence it is not difficult to perceive that all servile works are forbidden, not because they are improper or evil in themselves, but because they withdraw the attention from the worship of God, which is the great end of the Commandment.
The faithful should be still more careful to avoid sin, which not only withdraws the mind from the contemplation of divine things, but entirely alienates us from the love of God.
Works Permitted
But whatever regards the celebration of divine worship, such as the decoration of the altar or church on occasion of some festival, and the like, although servile works, are not prohibited; and hence our Lord says: The priests in the temple break the sabbath, and are without blame.
Neither are we to suppose that this Commandment forbids attention to those things on a feast day, which, if neglected, will be lost; for this is expressly permitted by the sacred canons.
There are many other things which our Lord in the Gospel declares lawful on festivals and which may be seen by the pastor in St. Matthew and St. John.

The Baltimore Catechism (Papalist) states:

238. What is forbidden by the third commandment of God?
By the third commandment of God all unnecessary servile work on Sunday is forbidden.

Six days shall you do work; in the seventh day is the sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord. (Exodus 31:15)

239. What is servile work?
Servile work is that which requires labor of body rather than of mind.

240. When is servile work allowed on Sunday?
Servile work is allowed on Sunday when the honor of God, our own need, or that of our neighbor requires it.

While I’m sure there is a mental aspect to NFL, I think it’s safe to say it is more labor of body than of mind.  I’m not sure I accept the RC distinction, which seems to permit white collar work while forbidding blue collar work, but of the two being a linebacker seems plainly to be more about muscle.

Of course, these days the CCC states:

2187 Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.


Hart Documents Vatican II Watershed

January 25, 2013

Darryl Hart has posted an interesting item on the effect of Vatican II (link to post).  It is a point others have observed, but his documentation on the question of justification in Roman Catholic encyclopedias is especially eye-opening.  Hat’s off to DGH for this good post.


God "has chosen to teach [orthodoxy and orthopraxy] by the Holy Scriptures" – A Hippolytian Response to Mr. Alt

January 25, 2013

Mr. Scott Alt was kind enough to respond to the recent Dividing Line episode (and associated post) in which Dr. White and I responded to his previous set of questions.  Unfortunately, there is very limited interaction with any of the substance of points we raised.  In fact, I will skip over Section I of his response and go right to Section II, where Mr. Alt attempts to address Hippolytus and our comments about Hippolytus.

Mr. Alt states:

Hippolytus draws an analogy here between the man who attains his wisdom from “the dog​mas of the philoso​phers,” and the man who attains his piety from “the oracles of God.” But look at the claim: “Those who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God.” Leaving aside for the moment the fact that Hippolytus does not say that “the oracles of God” are to be found only in Scrip​ture, all he claims in this pas​sage is that one may derive the practice of piety from Scripture. But the claim of sola scrip​tura is that Scripture alone contains all that a Christian must believe and all that a Christian must practice in his worship. It claims nothing about where piousness is to be derived.

Mr. Alt’s analysis is wrong on a variety of points.

1. While Hippolytus does not explicitly state “the oracles of God are Scripture alone,” when he says “oracles of God” he means the Scriptures. I’m not sure what proof would satisfy Mr. Alt of this rather obvious fact. The same phrase “oracles of God” is found in Hippolytus’ work “On Christ and Antichrist,” where he uses it to refer to Scripture (Specifically Daniel in sections 31 and 51). It’s a Biblical term used in Romans 3:2 to refer to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Question for Mr. Alt: What do you think Hippolytus means by “oracles of God” if not “Scripture,” and why do you think that?

2. Mr. Alt’s argument mistakenly identifies what “practice piety” entails. To practice piety is live in accordance with orthodox doctrine. Obviously, Hippolytus does not spell this out in those exact words, but that’s what Hippolytus means.

Question for Mr. Alt: What do you think that Hippolytus means by “practice piety” if not “live in accordance with orthodox doctrine,” and why do you think that?

3. Mr. Alt’s assertion that “It claims nothing about where piousness is to be derived,” seems to have an even more fundamental problem. “Piousness” is not a tool used in practicing piety, but rather it is the outcome of practicing piety. Thus, if Scriptures teach us how to practice piety, they teach us how to “derive” or more precisely “produce” piousness. It’s not like “practice the fiddle,” where one is practicing use of the fiddle, but the fiddle itself is sold separately. Rather it’s liking practicing love, self-control, or any other virtue, where self-control, love, and so forth are the result of the practice.

Question to Mr. Alt: How could Scripture possibly teach the practice of piety without teaching what constitutes piousness?

4. Mr. Alt’s claim that “all he claims in this pas​sage is that one may derive the practice of piety from Scripture,” is patently false, even after we take into account the true meaning of “practice of piety.” After all, just as Hippolytus says that the knowledge of God is obtained “from the Holy Scriptures and no other source,” so likewise Hippolytus says that the practice of piety is not learned from “any other quarter than the oracles of God.” In short, the exclusive claim for the Scriptures is repeated in both the broad initial statement and the narrower clarifying comment.

Question to Mr. Alt: Do you deny that Hippolytus twice repeats his exclusive claim?

5. Mr. Alt fails to note that what constitutes the “practice of piety” is spelled out through the following sentences in which Hippolytus explains:

Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us took; and
whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and
as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and
as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and
as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him.
Not according to our own will,
nor according to our own mind,
nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but
even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.

Those are the categories that Hippolytus subsumes on the description of “practice piety.”  They are teaching the knowledge and worship of the Trinity.

Question to Mr. Alt: Do you deny that Hippolytus is explaining that both doctrine (orthodoxy) and worship (orthopraxy) are to be derived from Scripture? and do you acknowledge that this is the “knowledge of God” referred to in the first sentence and the “practice of piety” referred to in the second sentence?

Mr. Alt goes on to accuse of “playing a shell game with sola scriptura.”  I think his analogy is inappropriate (for a variety of reasons), but more importantly his accusation is premised on (among other things) his faulty reasoning regarding what Hippolytus says.

Mr. Alt then expresses some confusion as to the relevance of a passage where Hippolytus corrects the attempts of Noetus’ disciples to make an argument from Scripture through proper exegesis of Scripture.   Before going on to acknowledge that two more quotations from Hippolytus evidence his approach of refuting his opponents from Scripture, Mr. Alt provides a statement that is more significant than he probably realizes:

Hippolytus is addressing him​self to errors that have been made in exegesis. His opponents are attempting to derive their doctrine, denying the Trinity, from Scripture. Hippolytus argues back that “the Scriptures do not set forth the matter in this manner.” Their interpretation is incorrect, but–take careful note here–both Hippolytus and his opponents are arguing from the Scripture. There is no question that his opponents are attempting to derive their doctrine else​where. They truly believe that their denial of the Trinity is biblical. Apart from the fact that Hippolytus could hardly argue this question apart from scriptural exegesis, one could very easily claim that this pas​sage high​lights one of the key difficulties with sola scriptura that Catholic apologists constantly point out: Unless one has an interpretive authority who is under​stood to be infallible, you can argue about the proper exegesis of Scripture until the sun goes down, it’s possible that your interpretation is wrong, and you have no way to know that. Hippolytus’ opponents believed they were arguing soundly from Scripture. But they weren’t.

Before getting to the significance of Mr. Alt’s comments, let’s dismiss his “no question” point.  Hippolytus plainly does not give Noetus or his disciples the credit that Mr. Alt gives him. Hippolytus suggests that Noetus (and/or his disciples) used his own will and his own mind to do violence to Scripture (“mutilate the Scriptures” section 4), rather than being instructed from Scripture, as can be seen from the colored passage above.

Check out how Hippolytus characterizes it (section 1 of the work):

Some others are secretly introducing another doctrine, who have become disciples of one Noetus, who was a native of Smyrna, (and) lived not very long ago. This person was greatly puffed up and inflated with pride, being inspired by the conceit of a strange spirit. He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died. You see what pride of heart and what a strange inflated spirit had insinuated themselves into him. From his other actions, then, the proof is already given us that he spoke not with a pure spirit; for he who blasphemes against the Holy Ghost is cast out from the holy inheritance. He alleged that he was himself Moses, and that Aaron was his brother. When the blessed presbyters heard this, they summoned him before the Church, and examined him. But he denied at first that he held such opinions. Afterwards, however, taking shelter among some, and having gathered round him some others who had embraced the same error, he wished thereafter to uphold his dogma openly as correct. And the blessed presbyters called him again before them, and examined him. But he stood out against them, saying, What evil, then, am I doing in glorifying Christ? And the presbyters replied to him, We too know in truth one God; we know Christ; we know that the Son suffered even as He suffered, and died even as He died, and rose again on the third day, and is at the right hand of the Father, and comes to judge the living and the dead. And these things which we have learned we allege. Then, after examining him, they expelled him from the Church. And he was carried to such a pitch of pride, that he established a school.

Hippolytus does not view Noetus as someone who honestly thought that Scriptures taught that Jesus is the Father.  No, Hippolytus thought Noetus was (to paraphrase) a demoniac nutcase, who thought he was Moses.  Noetus and his disciples may have appealed to Scripture, but Hippolytus does not chalk this up to an honest misunderstanding.  In fact, Hippolytus accuses them of selectively quoting one class of passages from Scripture, rather than treating Scripture as a whole (Section 3).  We will come back to that point shortly, I think.

The more significant part of Mr. Alt’s comment is this:

Apart from the fact that Hippolytus could hardly argue this question apart from scriptural exegesis, one could very easily claim that this pas​sage high​lights one of the key difficulties with sola scriptura that Catholic apologists constantly point out: Unless one has an interpretive authority who is under​stood to be infallible, you can argue about the proper exegesis of Scripture until the sun goes down, it’s possible that your interpretation is wrong, and you have no way to know that. Hippolytus’ opponents believed they were arguing soundly from Scripture. But they weren’t.

What’s significant is that Hippolytus shows absolutely no awareness of this supposed “key difficulty.”  Hippolytus (like us) thinks that Scripture interprets Scripture.  For example, he states: “The Scriptures speak what is right; but Noetus is of a different mind from them. Yet, though Noetus does not understand the truth, the Scriptures are not at once to be repudiated.” (Section 3)

It’s not the fault of Scriptures that Noetus was wrong, as though Scripture needs some external infallible interpreter.  Rather it is Noetus’ fault, for ignore one class of Scripture texts.  Hippolytus explains (section 3):

In this way, then, they choose to set forth these things, and they make use only of one class of passages; just in the same one-sided manner that Theodotus employed when he sought to prove that Christ was a mere man. But neither has the one party nor the other understood the matter rightly, as the Scriptures themselves confute their senselessness, and attest the truth

Rather than appealing to some external supposedly infallible interpreter, Hippolytus claims that Scriptures themselves confute the senselessness of the heretics, whether they deny the fact that Christ is God but not the Father, or they affirm that Christ is not God because he is not the Father.

Hippolytus didn’t think that appeals to Scripture are moot appeals that settle nothing.  He thought that  Scripture itself decided the question.

“Within this section, Mr. Alt concludes with the following claims:

But in neither of these does Hippolytus claim what Tur​ret​inFan wants him to. Hippolytus refutes his opponents from Scripture, but nowhere does he make the claim that only Scripture is capable of refuting the​o​log​i​cal error. There is, as I’ve pointed out, an exclusivity that Reformed apologists make for Scripture when it comes to the​o​log​i​cal doctrine. And nowhere in any of these pas​sages does Hippolytus make such a claim. Sola scriptura cannot be defended merely because a particular Church Father used the Scripture to refute a the​o​log​i​cal error. The Catholic Church has no difficulty with the​o​log​i​cal error being refuted from the Bible.

First, of course, even Sola Scriptura does not deny that one can use reason to refute internally inconsistent arguments. But second, Hippolytus does identify Scripture as the sole source for infallible theological dogma, as we discussed above.

Mr. Alt’s characterization of “merely because a particular Church Father used the Scripture to refute a the​o​log​i​cal error,” is just wrong. That’s not the limit of our claim. It is true that appeals to Scripture are not really consistent with the idea that the listener is unable to reliably understand what Scripture says without an infallible external interpreter. But it would be possible for the fathers to make the same inconsistent appeals to Scripture that modern Roman apologists make. It would be possible if they thought there were some other infallible dogmatic source of authority, or if they thought private persons were unable to judge teachers, because they lacked interpretive authority.

But that hypothesis is not supported by the evidence. Rather, consistently the major fathers in case after case only describe Scripture as infallible and make the kind of exclusive claims for its authority that we have observed in Hippolytus above.

The fathers may have been inconsistent on a variety of things, but Hippolytus was not being inconsistent as Benedict XVI sometimes is. When he said, “no other source” and “unable to learn its practice from any other quarter” he described Scripture in the exclusive terms that Mr. Alt is demanding we produce.

We don’t agree that this is really necessary to demonstrate Sola Scriptura.  It’s sufficient to simply affirm the sufficiency of Scripture and not to offer any other infallible sources of authority.  It’s not necessary to make the universal negative claim – it’s enough to make the positive claims of sufficiency, and not to offer or accept any equal.

Lord willing, we will consider another section of Mr. Alt’s post in an upcoming reply.


What a Tangled Web is Woven to Defend Tobit!

January 23, 2013

Over at the “National Catholic Register,” Mark Shea provided a piece responding to a reader’s concerns about the apocryphal book of Tobit, which is included within the canon of Scripture by the Council of Trent. I’m afraid the reader of Shea’s response has been seriously disserviced by Shea’s misleading answer.

Mark Shea wrote: “I’m of the opinion (perfectly acceptable, though not, of course, mandatory for Catholics) that Tobit is a work of fiction.”  I suppose people may differ over what is “perfectly acceptable.” In Denzinger’s “Sources of Catholic Dogma” the “Decree of Damasus” supposedly from a Council of Rome of 382 lists the book (consistently referred to as Tobias in Denzinger) within the list of “histories” together with Job, Esther, Esdras A & B, Judith, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. (p. 34)  Likewise in a letter to Exuperius, Innocent I categories the book within the “histories” category, additionally including 1 & 2 Chronicles in the same category. (p. 42) Trent, Session IV, does not explicitly state whether Tobit is historical, but places it amongst the historical works, after Nehemiah, but before Judith, Esther, and Job.

Likewise John Paul II refers to it as historical:

1. The Liturgy of Lauds has gathered among its Canticles a fragment of a hymn, that is placed as a seal on the history narrated in the biblical Book of Tobit: to which we listened a few moments ago. The rather long and solemn hymn is an expression typical of Judaic prayer and spirituality, which draws on other texts in the Bible.

(General Audience, August 13, 2003)

Where is any tradition that it is fiction?

Yes, the version of the Bible approved by the U.S. Council of Bishops (NABRE) in its notes does identify the book as historical fiction, but then again it also says the same thing about Judith and Esther: “The inspired author of the book used the literary form of religious novel (as in Esther and Judith) for the purpose of instruction and edification. The seemingly historical data, names of kings, cities, etc., are used as vivid details not only to create interest and charm, but also to illustrate the negative side of the theory of retribution: the wicked are indeed punished.” (source) But who before the 20th century believed such a thing?

Luther himself was on the fence about the matter (as quoted by Fitzmyer in Tobit (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature), p. 31).  Who before Luther appreciated that the book might be fiction?

Mark Shea stated: “The clues in the text strongly suggest this, as when Tobit is named as the uncle of Ahiqar, a figure out of ancient mideast folklore.” On the one hand, we may believe that Ahiqar (and the work, “The Story of Ahiqar”) is fictional. On the other hand, it is not clear that the author of Tobit or that author’s immediate audience were aware of the fact that Ahiqar was fictional.

Indeed, Roman Catholic historian Joseph A. Fitzmyer, in his commentary on Tobit, asserts that Ahiqar “may well have been a historical figure” (p. 37).  So, while Shea may be right that the person is a character in middle eastern folklore, folklore grows up around historical figures (the cherry tree story about George Washington comes to mind – or the story of the Assumption of Mary).

Mark Shea continued: “If you want to get a feel for how that sounded to the original audience, imagine telling a tale to an English speaker that announces its hero as the uncle of Jack the Giant Killer. Your audience instantly knows from such a cue what sort of story it is hearing and interprets it accordingly.”  What is missing is any documentation at all from Mr. Shea that anyone at all had that perception of the Story of Ahiqar during the inter-testamental period when Tobit was written. While the Story of Ahiqar (as it has come down to us in various fragments) may have epic qualities, it’s not like “Jack and the Beanstalk” in terms of making reference to magic, for example.  Indeed, clearly Fitzmyer (who is an actual historian) doesn’t think that Ahiqar is a virtual Jack the Giant slayer.

Mark Shea continued:

That said, I guess I see no reason why God could not inspire a folk tale that begins “Once upon a time”. Jesus told fictional stories all the time. There was not really a Prodigal Son. There was not really an unjust judge, or a man who found a pearl of great price, or Good Samaritan. What’s wrong with an Old Testament author doing likewise and obeying the conventions of a good “entertaining angels unaware’ yarn in order to show virtue triumphing over evil through patient endurance?

One obvious difference between Tobit and Jesus’ parables is that Jesus’ parables are – you know – described as parables. Tobit, on the other hand, is provided with lots of supposedly historical details that are actually garbled and erroneous (not just claiming that the main character is a relative of fictional Ahiqar, but a number of other issues).

Mark Shea again: “Not, I repeat, that you have to think Tobit is fiction. Lots of people in antiquity took it for a factual story. I don’t think it matters.”  First, if it’s a “factual story” then it matters if one of the main characters claims to be related to a fictional character or if the book is riddled with (other) historical inaccuracies (and it is).  As Fitzmyer concedes, “the vast majority of modern commentators” acknowledge it is not historical, even though there were some attempts to defend its historicity at the beginning of the 20th century (p. 31).  The reason that they acknowledge it, is that the book has so many historical blunders (depending on which recension you follow).

Second, who in antiquity did not take it for a factual story? Can Shea name even one?  Even the authors who allegorized it did not argue that it was allegory as distinct from history.

Mark Shea yet again: “And the people who took it for a factual story don’t seem to have spent a lot of time worrying about it.” This might be significant if anyone at all had “worried” about it. Shea doesn’t (probably because he cannot) point to any author before the Reformation who “worried” about whether Tobit was a purportedly historical work or whether it was an historical novel.

Rather, as noted above, the few “sources of Catholic dogma” that address the matter unanimously describe it as historical.  And we could add to that the writings of people like Origen who treated the work as historical in his Letter to Africanus, at section 13 (link).

Mark Shea once more: “The Fathers of the Church who comment on Tobit are not, as is their custom, super-concerned with whether it is factual.” What “Fathers” does Shea have in mind? Who besides Bede the Venerable (who died in the 8th century) provided a commentary on Tobit?  Who before the 15th century took any serious in the book besides Bede and Ambrose?

As Geoffrey David Miller explains in “Marriage in the Book of Tobit” (p. 14):

Christians have read the Book of Tobit for centuries, but scholarly interest in the book is a relatively recent phenomenon. Ambrose of Milan (339-97) wrote a commentary on Tobit in the fourth century entitled De Tobia, but it was a condemnation of usury rather than an analysis of the story. The eighth-century commentary of Bede (673-735) focused on the actual story of Tobit but only in a superficial manner, offering a mere summary of the book while Christologizing it (For example, Tobiah’s victory over the fish in 6:3-4 represents Christ’s victory over Satan). 

Mark Shea again: “What they are interested in is what God is saying to us through the story and so they mine it for its moral teaching (primarily) and (secondarily) for its allegorical meaning concerning Christ.”  Which, as far as it goes, is true, with Ambrose being an example of the former, and Bede being an example of the latter.

After a quotation from Reardon (who uses the term “historical” in describing the work, repeatedly, without ever acknowledging that Tobit is historically inaccurate, either in that article or the follow-up) that we can pass over for now, Shea concludes:

As to why the Pope keeps it in the Bible, it’s not the Pope’s Bible to fiddle with.  The Pope is bound by apostolic tradition.  The apostles accepted and used the canon of books found in the Septuagint (including Tobit).  So the Pope accepted it as Scripture because the apostles taught him to.  Once the canon of Scripture is defined, the Pope has no authority to contradict what the Holy Spirit has spoken through Holy Church.  Nor do we.  Scripture is not there to affirm our aesthetic choices, but to reveal divine truth to us on God’s terms, not ours.  The healthy approach to Tobit is therefore to let it challenge you, rather than for you to ignore it.  Why not try a decent commentary on Tobit that draws on the Catholic tradition to see what the great saints and thinkers of the Church have mined from it?

First, the “canon of the Septuagint” depends on what century you look at.  Suffice to observe that Trent did not adopt Septuagint Esdras A (see discussion here) or a variety of other “Septuagint” books, such as 3 and 4 Maccabees or 1 Enoch.

Second, the idea that the Apostles used Tobit (as Scripture) is not historically supportable.  The historical evidence is that the Jews of the 1st century did not view Tobit as Scripture, just as the Jews of the patristic era did not(see Origen’s letter to Africanus, linked above, for evidence of that from the first half of the 3rd century), and just as modern Jews do not.  We have Josephus’ testimony regarding what 1st century Jews accepted as authoritative.

Third, the same “tradition” that supposedly passed down to Trent that Tobit is canonical also passed down that it was historical (as shown above).  Moreover, Trent did not depart from the arrangement of Florence and left Tobit and Judith amongst the historical works.

Finally, if Tobit were inspired Scripture, Mark Shea’s last few lines might make some sense.  The problem is that Tobit is not Scripture.  It’s an uninspired work of historical fiction that was passed off for centuries as though it were an historical work.  While it may have some useful teachings, so may the Story of Ahiqar – so may many other uninspired writings.

– TurretinFan

P.S. It’s interesting to note that a statistically insignificant sample of readers at Catholic Answers Forums voted by a simple majority (14 out of 27) that Tobit is entirely true (link).

Twenty-Four Elders – Twenty-Four Books

January 23, 2013

People sometimes see what they want in allegory. If a modern Protestant sees the number 66 in an allegory, he naturally thinks of the 66 books of the Bible.  If the chapter divisions in Isaiah were original, we would be tempted to place significance on that point.  If a modern Protestant sees 27 or 39 he might (less obviously) see the number of books in the New and Old Testaments respectively.

The book of Revelation has a reference to “twenty-four elders” as well as “four beasts” or “four living creatures.” A very ancient tradition (dating back at least to Irenaeus) links those four beasts to the four gospels. What is interesting to discover is that there is a very old Western tradition associating the twenty-four elders with the twenty-four books of the Old Testament.

Why 24 instead of 39? There were different ways of numbering the books then. For example, the 12 minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) were counted as a single book.  See some more discussion by Jerome, below.

The earliest Greek commentators on Revelation that I found did not make any mention of this twenty-four elder to twenty-four Old Testament books correspondence, possibly because in the East, the way of counting the Old Testament books was twenty-two, not twenty-four (due to making a couple less combinations).

The earliest Latin commentators, however, provide the correspondence.

Victorinus of Petovium (died c. A.D. 303):

The four animals are the four Gospels. “The first,” he says, “was similar to a lion, the second similar to a calf, the third similar to a man and the fourth similar to an eagle in flight. And they had six wings all around and eyes within and without, and they did not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.'” And there were twenty-four elders who had twenty-four tribunals. These are the books of the prophets and of the law, which give the testimonies of the judgment. However, these twenty-four fathers are also the twelve apostles and the twelve patriarchs.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 4 at section 4, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 7)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: The four living creatures are the four Gospels. “The first living creature was like to a lion, and the second was like to a calf, and the third had a face like to a man, and the fourth was like to a flying eagle; and they had six wings, and round about and within they were full of eyes; and they had no rest, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord Omnipotent. And the four and twenty elders, falling down before the throne, adored God.” The four and twenty elders are the twenty-four books of the prophets and of the law, which give testimonies of the judgment. Moreover, also, they are the twenty-four fathers—twelve apostles and twelve patriarchs.”)

The wings [the six wings each of the four beasts] are the testimonies of the Old Testament, that is, of the twenty-four books, the same number as the elders on the tribunals. For just as an animal cannot fly unless it has wings, neither can the preaching of the New Testament acquire faith unless its testimony is seen to correspond to those foretold in the Old Testament, through which it rises from the earth and flies.

The books of the Old Testament that are received are those twenty-four that we find in the epitomes of Theodore. However, as we have said, the twenty-four elders are the patriarchs and apostles who will judge the people.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 4 at section 5, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 8)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: “Six wings.” These are the testimonies of the books of the Old Testament. Thus, twenty and four make as many as there are elders sitting upon the thrones. But as an animal cannot fly unless it have wings, so, too, the announcement of the New Testament gains no faith unless it have the fore-announced testimonies of the Old Testament, by which it is lifted from the earth, and flies.

And the books of the Old Testament that are received are twenty-four, which you will find in the epitomes of Theodore. But, moreover (as we have said), four and twenty elders, patriarchs and apostles, are to judge His people.)

“The twenty-four elders and the four animals had harps and bowls and were singing a new song.” The preaching of the Old Testament joined with the New reveals the Christian people singing a new song, that is, the proclaiming of their public confession.

(Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on Revelation 5 at section 3, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 10)

(Alternative translation from ANF07: “Twenty-four elders and four living creatures, having harps and phials, and singing a new song.”] The proclamation of the Old Testament associated with the New, points out the Christian people singing a new song, that is, bearing their confession publicly.)

Apringius of Beja (6th Century):

He says that he had seen this Lamb in the midst of the throne, that is, in power and in divine majesty. “And among the four living creatures.” This is because he is known in the fourfold order of the Gospels. “And among the elders.” By this he indicates the chorus of the law and the prophets, or of the apostles.

(Apringus of Beja, Explanation of the Revelation at Revelation 5:6, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 44)

Caesarius of Arles (c. A.D. 470 – 542):

“Each of the living creatures had six wings all around.” In the living creatures we recognize also the twenty-four elders, for the total of six wings on each of the four creatures is twenty-four wings. Moreover, he say the living creatures around the throne, where he said that he had seen the elders. But how can a creature with six wings be similar to an eagle that has two wings, unless the four creatures, who have twenty-four wings and in whom we recognize the twenty-four elders, are one creature, that is, the church, which is like an eagle? We may also interpret the six wings to be the testimonies of the Old Testament. For just as a creature cannot fly unless it has wings, so also the preaching of the New Testament cannot produce faith unless it has the prophetic witness of the Old Testament by which it rises from the earth and flies.

“And they never rest.” The living creatures are the church that never rests but praises God without ceasing. We may also interpret the twenty-four elders to be either the books of the Old Testament or the patriarchs and the apostles.

(Caesarius of Arles, Exposition of the Apocalypse, Homily 3, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 70)

Bede the Venerable (c. A.D. 673 – 735):

And each of them had six wings. The wings lift the church into the heights by the perfection of their doctrine. The number six is said to be perfect, because it is the first number to be completed by the sum of its parts. For the number one is one-sixth of six; the number two is one-third of six; and the number three is one-half of six,; and together they make six. There is another interpretation. The six wings of the four living creatures make twenty-four wings, the same number as there are books in the Old Testament, by which the authority of the Evangelists is supported and the truth of the Evangelists is verified.

(Bede the Venerable, Exposition of the Apocalypse, at Revelation 4:8, in Latin Commentaries on Revelation, Weinrech trns., p. 126)(there is, I believe, a new translation of this work forthcoming)

Primasius (died. c. 560):

In one way, fore and aft, because the Church everywhere bearing fruit is broadened; it walks in the light of the face of God, and, his face revealed, gazes on the glory of God. In another way, fore and aft, he implies that the six-fold wings, which number twenty-four, are the books of the Old Testament, which we take up on canonical authority of the same number, just as there are twenty-four elders sitting above the thrones.

(Primasius, Commentary on the Apocalypse of John, Book I, Chapter IV. Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame)

Ambrose Autpert (c. A.D. 730 – 784):

The Church can be signified in the twenty-four elders under a different interpretation on account of the perfection of six which is completed in the four books of the holy Gospel. For the number six is held as perfect, for this reason that in six days God is thought to have completed all his works and in the sixth age of the world it is told that he reformed man. And so since the Church fulfills the works of the Fathers of the Old and New Testaments completed in the six ages of the world, just as in six days, and the four books of the holy Gospel, it is all correctly described in twenty-four elders. For four times six makes twenty-four. Or certainly, since it uses twenty-four books of the older Testament which it accepts with canonical authority in which it also recognizes that the New Testament was revealed, the Church is therefore figured in twenty-four elders. For this reason, the preaching of the New Testament is fruitful since strengthened from the Old, just as the Church takes the number from these same [books], by which it is perfected in sanctity.

(Ambrose Autpert, Expositionis in Apocalypsin, Libri III (4, 4). Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

This Western patristic view continued in the West throughout the middle ages:

Haymo of Halberstadt (died c. 853):

The same Church could also, according to another interpretation, be figured in the twenty-four elders. For this number is composed of the number six and the number four, because four sixes make twenty-four. The number six refers to works, because Almighty God completed His work in six days, and on the sixth day, at the sixth hour, redeemed man. The number four, however, refers to the four books of the Gospels. Because, however, the Holy Church, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, recalls and venerates the works of God, and preserves the books of the Holy Gospels, it [i.e. the Church] is also rightly understood in the twenty-four elders, or certainly according to the twenty-four books of the Old Testament, which are used according to canonical authority, in which the New Testament, and those things that are brought to fulfillment in it are acknowledged to be foretold. Whence also the Evangelist says of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ: this was done, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which says, ‘And he was classed among the wicked…’

And each of the four animals had six wings. The wings of the animals signify the two Testaments, by which the Church is carried up to the Heavens. However, while there are two Testaments, the spiritual wings of the same Church, on account of this twin testament, which is found in the twelve tribes of Israel, or in the twelve apostles, these wings are multiplied, two by twelve, and they give twenty-four wings. For two twelves are twenty-four. In another way, the number twelve consists of the parts of the number seven, that is, of the number three and the number four. We can say either four threes or three fours make twelve, which is a sacred number, the number of the twelve Apostles. In the number three, faith in the Holy Trinity is understood, and in the number four, the four parts of the world. Twelve is thus multiplied by two, and we get twenty-four. The number of the elect is expressed in terms of this number, by whose preaching the faith of the Holy Trinity is spread to the four corners of the world, and the whole world is raised to Heaven. We can also understand these wings in another way. The natural law is understood in the first wing, the Law of Moses in the second wing, in the third the prophets, in the fourth the Gospels, in the fifth the Epistles of the Apostles, in the sixth Canonical authority, or the doctrine of Catholic men such as Jerome, Augustine and other holy Fathers.

(Haymo of Halberstadt, Exposition of the Apocalypse of S. John, Book 7, Book I, Chapter IV. PL 117:1007, 1010. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, University of Notre Dame).

Rupert, Abbot of Deutz (c. 1075–1129):

Around the throne are twenty-four thrones and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders dressed in robes with golden crowns on their heads. Just as on the seat the kingdom of God, so on these seats we understand the judicial power of the saints, about which is has been written, the saints will judge the nations. But why are the elders sitting on the seats shown to be twenty-four in number? On this matter the explanations of the Fathers diverge. For some (of whom St. Jerome is one and the most notable) wish the elders displayed throughout here to be understood as the twenty-four books of the old law. Some others understand in these same elders the Church born through the twin testaments of the patriarchs and the apostles, or certainly those who brought about the work’s perfection, which is commended to six-fold number, by clear preaching of the Gospel. For four times six makes twenty-four. But we judging neither interpretation to be useless, nevertheless dare to bring forth something certain from the majesty of the scriptures.

(Commentary of Rupert, Abbot of Deutz, On the Apocalypse of John, Book III, Chapter IV. Translation by Benjamin Panciera, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

Peter Cellensis (c. 1115-1183):

And so, concerning the field of the belly of Jesus, in which all storehouses of wisdom and knowledge have been hidden, just as from a mound of wheat surrounded by lilies, twenty-four loaves (according to the number of twenty-four elders standing in the sight of the Lamb) in order to curb all hunger, cleanse all disease, and remove all weakness, with however much care I have been able to gather in this little book by breaking asunder the battle lines of overflowing cares. For this number both of the sons of Jacob and of the apostles of Christ signifies twice the number twelve. And so under this number are contained the books of the Old Testament. And so the complete instruction of souls is offered from this number of books and no less full refreshment is taken from this number of loaves. And so running from the east and west and north and south to the sign of Abraham that they not fail on the way, they refresh themselves from the loaves of the compassion of the Lord and they show the perpetual refreshment to their flaws.

(Peter Cellensis, De Panibus. Cap 2, PL 202:935-936).

Peter Blensensis (c. 1130 – 1203):

The Old Testament is so called because with the coming of the New, it ceased, which the Apostle also recalls, saying, ‘Certain things passed away, and behold! All things were made new.’ So the New Testament was so named because it makes new. For those who made this statement were none other than men called out of the Old [dispensation] by grace, and belonging now to the New Testament, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Hebrews accept the Old Testament as authorized by God in twenty-two books, according to the number of their letters, dividing them into three orders, that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Holy Writings…Five and eight added to nine make twenty-two, as is understood from the above. Some also add Ruth and Cinoth, which is called in Latin the Lamentations of Jeremiah, to the Hagiographies. These make twenty-four volumes of the Old Testament, just like the twenty-four elders who sit before the Face of God. The fourth [order?] is of those books accepted by us in the order of the Old Testament which are not in the Canon of the Hebrews. The first of them is the Book of Wisdom, the second Ecclesiasticus, the third Tobias, the fourth Judith, the fifth and sixth the Books of the Maccabees. The Church of Christ proclaims these and honors them as divine books, even though the Jews separate them as Apocrypha…The Book of Wisdom is found nowhere among the Hebrews, as a result of which it is far more redolent of Greek style than of Hebrew eloquence. The Jews affirm this to be Babylonian. Therefore they call it Wisdom, for in it the coming of Christ, who is the Wisdom of the Father, and His Passion, is evidently expressed. Now the Book of Ecclesiasticus was definitely composed by Jesus, son of Sirach and grandson of the great priest (high priest) Jesu, which Zacharias also mentions. This book is mainly known among the Latins by this title on account of its similarity to the sayings of Solomon. Indeed the statement of Ecclesiasticus is to be studied with great care, for it deals with the discipline of the whole Church and of religious discourse. This book is found among the Hebrews, but as Apocrypha. Judith, however, Tobias and the books of the Maccabees which were written by their author are the least established. They take their names from those whose deeds they describe…These are the writers of the holy books, who speaking by the Holy Spirit, have written in collaboration with him the rule to be believed and the precepts to be lived by for our erudition. Beyond these, other books are called Apocrypha, for ‘apocrypha’ are sayings, that is, secret sayings, which are doubtful. For the origin of them is hidden, nor does it appear to the Fathers, from whom the authority of the truth of Scriptures comes down to us in most clear and certain succession. Although some truth is found in these apocrypha, a great deal is false, nothing in them has canonical authority, and they are rightly judged by the wise not to be among those things to be believed, for a great deal is put out by heretics in the name of the Prophets, and more recently is the name of the Apostles. All that is called apocrypha has been removed following the diligent examination of canonical authority.

(Tractatus Quales sunt. De Divisone Et Scriptoribus Sacrorum Librorum. PL 207:1051B-1056. Translation by Catherine Kavanaugh, The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame).

Glossa Ordinaria published 1498:

There are, then, twenty-two canonical books of the old testament, corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as Eusebius reports, in book six of Ecclesiastical History, that Origen writes on the first Psalm; and Jerome says the same thing more fully and distinctly in his Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings: All the books are divided into three parts by the Jews: into the law, which contains the five books of Moses; into the eight prophets; and into the nine hagiographa. This will be more clearly seen shortly. Some, however, separate the book of Ruth from the book of Judges, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah from Jeremiah, and count them among the hagiographa in order to make twenty-four books, corresponding to the twenty-four elders whom the Apocalypse presents as adoring the lamb. These are the books that are in the canon, as blessed Jerome writes at greater length in the Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings.
In the first place are the five books of Moses, which are called the law, first of which is Genesis, second Exodus, third Leviticus, fourth Numbers, fifth Deuteronomy. Secondly follow the eight prophetic books, first of which is Joshua, second the book of Judges together with Ruth, third Samuel, i.e. first and second Kings, fourth Malachim, i.e. third and fourth Kings, fifth Isaiah, sixth Jeremiah with Lamentations, seventh Ezekiel, eighth the book of twelve prophets, first of which is Hosea, second Joel, third Amos, fourth Obadiah, fifth Jonah, sixth Micah, seventh Nahum, eighth Habakkuk, ninth Zephaniah, tenth Haggai, eleventh Zechariah, twelfth Malachi. Thirdly follow the nine hagiographa, first of which is Job, second Psalms, third Solomon’s Proverbs, fourth his Ecclesiastes, fifth his Song of Songs, sixth Daniel, seventh Paralipomenon, which is one book, not two, among the Jews, eighth Ezra with Nehemiah (for it is all one book), ninth Esther. And whatever is outside of these (I speak of the Old Testament), as Jerome says, should be placed in the apocrypha. 

(Biblia cum glosa ordinaria et expositione Lyre litterali et morali. Basel: Petri & Froben, 1498. British Museum IB.37895, vol. 1. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward. See also Walafrid Strabo, Glossa ordinaria, De Canonicis et Non Canonicis Libris. PL 113:19-24).

William Webster also identified Richard of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, and Alphonsi Tostati, who identified the number of books of the Old Testament as twenty-four, apparently apart from a discussion of Revelation.

But of course, the key witness in the Western tradition is the great patristic advocate for excluding the apocrypha, Jerome (c. 347 – 420):

The first of these books is called Bresith, to which we give the name Genesis. The second, Elle Smoth, which bears the name Exodus; the third, Vaiecra, that is Leviticus; the fourth, Vaiedabber, which we call Numbers; the fifth, Elle Addabarim, which is entitled Deuteronomy. These are the five books of Moses, which they properly call Thorath, that is law.
The second class is composed of the Prophets, and they begin with Jesus the son of Nave, who among them is called Joshua the son of Nun. Next in the series is Spohtim,that is the book of Judges; and in the same book they include Ruth, because the events narrated occurred in the days of the Judges. Then comes Samuel, which we call First and Second Kings. The fourth is Malachim, that is, Kings, which is contained in the third and fourth volumes of Kings. And it is far better to say Malachim, that is Kings, than Malachoth, that is Kingdoms. For the author does not describe the Kingdoms of many nations, but that of one people, the people of Israel, which is comprised in the twelve tribes. The fifth is Isaiah, the sixth Jeremiah, the seventh Ezekiel, the eighth is the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called among the Jews Thare Asra.
To the third class belong the Hariographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dabre Aiamim, that is, Words of Days, which we may more expressively call a chronicle of the whole of the sacred history, the book that amongst us is called First and Second Chronicles; the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Esther.
And so there are also twenty-two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty-four book of the old law. And these the Apocalypse of John represents by the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb, and with downcast looks offer their crowns, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice crying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, and art, and art to come.
This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a ‘helmeted’ introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so, I beseech you, my reader, not to think that my labors are in any sense intended to disparage the old translators. For the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can; some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and purple and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goats hair. 

(NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, The Books of Samuel and Kings, pp. 489-490).

(see also this summary of the work of William Webster regarding the canon)

How comprehensive is the survey above?   Francis X. Gumerlock has identified 21 patristic era (i.e. 2nd to 8th centuries) commentaries on Revelation. We have cited seven of the authors of the list namely Victorinus (3rd), Jerome (4th), Caesarius (8th), Primasius (9th), Apringius (10th), Bede (17th), and Ambrose Autpert (18th).

Additionally, we have reviewed the commentaries of Andrew of Caesarea and Oecumenius, whose commentaries does not make the association between the twenty-four elders and the twenty-four books (possibly because of the twenty-two book tradition).

Thus, within the 21 extant commentaries we have found seven that favor the 24 elders representing the Old Testament, and two that do not make any mention of this view.

If Hippolytus’ works originally had any interpretation of the significance of the twenty-four elders, it seems that they have been lost. The single mention he makes in his commentary on Daniel is too vague to say that he’s making any numerical association. Moreover the fragments of his commentary in Andrew of Caesarea do not pertain to this particular section of the text.

The main work attributed to Origen is not his, but a compilation of the works of other (later) authors. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming publication and translation of this work by Dr. Panayiotis Tzamalikos, who is the premiere authority on these scholia, which have sometimes been mistakenly attributed to Origen.

Didymus the Blind’s commentary is in fragments, and should be included with the Scholia mentioned above.  Dr. Tzamalikos has kindly informed me that the Scholia do not directly analyze the question of who the twenty-four elders are, but that contextually they seem to be “the saints” in general in Scholion 29.  I look forward to the publication of this work (the oldest commentary on Revelation) hopefully in April of this year (2013).

The only fragments of Tyconius I found translated are in the Revelation volume of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture collection, at pages 60, 66, and 136. In each of the fragments, he refers the 24 elders as corresponding to the whole church. The fragments are taken from Primasius, however, whose view we have discussed above. Moreover the second fragment appears to connect the twenty-four wings with the twenty-four elders and also with Scripture. Some of the difficulties in identifying Tyconius in Primasius are hinted at in the discussion of recovering Tyconius at page xxx of that same volume.

I have not checked Cassiodorus PL 70:1405-1418, which is basically a brief abstract. Cassiodorus’ use of the passage in the psalms (at psalms 24 and 117) does not make any mention of twenty-four books.

I have not checked Pseudo-Jerome, Pseudo-Isidore, and the other unknown patristic era authors that .Gumerlock identified.  I suspect that when review of the extant commentaries are complete, we will find that the Western authors for the most part favor the teachings of Victorinus and Jerome in making the association, whereas the Eastern authors will have no such tradition, particularly since the number of books in the Eastern canon was twenty-two.  Jerome provides a bridge between the two sides, in that he recognizes and approves of both ways of counting and reconciles them, as noted above.

As a final note, there are a number of additional commentaries on Revelation from the medieval period.  Joachim of Fiore, for example, produced a significant and controversial Exposition of the Apocalypse, which I briefly skimmed without finding any discussion of a relationship between the twenty-four elders and the twenty-four books.


P.S. A few more notes:

1. Obviously, this is one of many strands of Western tradition that Trent broke in treating the Apocrypha as Deuterocanonical.  I’m not aware of any evidence that Trent considered this issue or addressed it.  Certainly, Trent’s canons and decrees do not explain the appropriate interpretation of the twenty-four elders.

2. I’m not adopting this western tradition regarding the twenty-four elders.  While it is an interesting view, and one of several meanings assigned to the text in the West, I doubt that the 24-book enumeration goes all the way back to the 1st century (the 22-book enumeration does, as evidenced by Josephus).  Therefore, I doubt that the 24-book association was one that was originally intended.

3. Nevertheless, if one trusts in the reliability of tradition when it comes to interpretation of Scripture, one cannot really accept Trent.  Or, alternatively, if one can cast off a venerable and widespread Western tradition dating to the 3rd century simply because Trent says something that conflicts with it (without any explanation or discussion of the matter), what’s the point of calling tradition an authority?

4. Furthermore, compare this tradition in terms of weight and popularity with the novel interpretations of the woman of Revelation 11 as some kind of evidence for a bodily assumption.  This tradition is widespread and nearly universal amongst early Western commentators on Revelation, whereas the interpretation of the woman of Revelation 11 as evidence of a bodily assumption is something Mr. Albrecht couldn’t identify even one instance of in the history of the church up to the Reformation.

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