Archive for May, 2014

The "Jesus Didn’t Write a Book" Objection

May 30, 2014

Over the years, I’ve noticed a number of objections to accepting the Scriptures as an authority over the church. One of the oddest objections is “Jesus didn’t write a book” (example from David Meyers). Against certain Muslims who think that Jesus wrote a book called “the Injeel,” this might be an important objection. Against Christians, though, this is a very odd objection. Especially since Jesus and the Apostles were so reliant on the Old Testament Scriptures:

Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Luke 24:44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

John 12:16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is the Word of God – the Holy Spirit inspired it. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit according to the will of the Father. As it is written:

Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

Ephesians 3:3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

Galatians 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So, specifically the book of Revelation was a revelation given by Jesus to John (that addresses Meyer’s sub-objection that “we don’t even know if he told his followers to write anything down, and often it seems they dont expect it to be scripture anyway”), and more generally what Paul taught was revealed to him by Jesus. But what about Scripture generally?

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

And not only is it inspired by God, but God is indeed the reason for Scripture’s existence:

2 Peter 1:19-21
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

So, the Scriptures come according to in the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and he speaks what Jesus spoke:

John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Thus, the New Testament is the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, as it is written:

Hebrews 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

I’d love to write more, but hopefully this answers the objection thoroughly – Jesus in his humanity did not write a book, but he sent the Holy Spirit by whose inspiration his oral teachings were brought to remembrance and memorialized in Scripture:

Luke 1:1-4
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

John 20:30-31
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.


Conchita Wurst – Orthodox Condemnation, Vatican Approbation

May 27, 2014

It was interesting to read a report of responses to the victory of Conchita Wurst in the Eurovision competition (link).  Amongst the reactions:

“This [flood] is not a coincidence, but a warning,” Patriarch Amfilohije of Montenegro said, according to “God sent the rains as a reminder that people should not join the wild side.”

And likewise:

Patriarch Irinej, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Serbs, reportedly said the floods were “divine punishment for their vices” and that “God is thus washing Serbia of its sins”.

And again:

The Russian Orthodox Church has previously described Conchita as an “abomination” and that his victory was “one more step in the rejection of the Christian identity of European culture”.

Interestingly, by contrast, on the Vatican website one finds this:

Die Gesellschaft in ganz Europa wird immer mehr bereit, Menschen zu akzeptieren und zu respektieren, so wie sie sind: Das ist für den Bad Mitterndorfer Pfarrer Michael Unger die durchaus frohe Botschaft nach dem Erfolg des aus dem Ort stammenden Tom Neuwirth. Dieser hat als bärtige „Conchita Wurst“ den Eurovisions-Songcontest gewonnen. Die Gemeinde im steirischen Salzkammergut und gerade auch die Pfarrgemeinde hätten sich nach dem Sensationssieg riesig gefreut, zumal Tom/Conchita dort bestens bekannt sei: Mehrere Jahre lang sei der „schon damals sehr selbstbewusste“ Wirtsleute-Spross als Sternsinger von Haus zu Haus gegangen und habe sein offenkundiges Talent für kirchliche Entwicklungshilfeprojekte eingesetzt, so Pfarrer Unger. Das deutliche Ergebnis habe klargestellt, dass Europa auf Vielfalt setzt, und den Vertretern von Uniformität eine Absage erteilt. (kap)

(source)The segment from Vatican radio talks about how this is an illustration of how diverse and tolerant Europe has become. You can see “Pfarrer” (Father) Michael Unger meeting with “Conchita” here (link).


Garry Wills on Augustine and the Real Presence

May 27, 2014

Garry Wills is the author of “Why I am a Catholic,” but also of “Why Priests?” and “Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit.”  His “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won a Pulitzer Prize.  He also wrote a biography of Augustine, St. Augustine (a Penguin Lives Biography).  So, it might be good for folks to pay attention when he says (Why Priests, p. 16):

Indeed, Eucharist (“Thanksgiving”) in its later sense, of sharing bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, is never used in the New Testament, not even in the Letter to Hebrews, which alone calls Jesus a priest. Even when the term “Eucharist” came in, as with the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, it was still, as in Paul, simply a celebration of the people’s oneness at the “one altar.” That meaning for the “body of Christ” would persist as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, in Augustine’s denial of the real presence of Jesus in the elements of the meal.
What you see passes away, but what is invisibly symbolized does not pass away. It perdures. The visible is received, eaten, and digested. But can the body of Christ be digested? Can the church of Christ be digested? Can Christ’s limbs be digested? Of course not. [[Augustine, Sermon 227]]
If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle [Paul] tells believers: “You are Christ’s body, and his limbs” [1 Cor 12.27]. If, then, you are Christ’s body and his limbs, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord’s altar–what you receive is a symbol of yourselves. When you say “Amen,” and you must be the body of Christ to make that “Amen” take effect. And why are you bread? Hear again the Apostle, speaking of this very symbol: “We are one bread, one body, many as we are” [1 Cor 10.17].[[Augustine, Sermon 272]]
Believers recognize the body of Christ when they take care to be the body of Christ. They should be the body of Christ if they want to draw life from the spirit of Christ. No life comes to the body of Christ but from the spirit of Christ.[[Augustine, In Joannem Tractatus 26.13]]
There are more quotations that could be added to the above, but those are certainly three of the key quotations that establish Wills point.

Michuta on the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas

May 26, 2014

Gary Michuta tries to argue that the (pseudographic) Epistle of Barnabas quotes from the apocryphal/deuterocanonical book of the Wisdom of Solomon (also pseudonymous).  At pages 59-60, he writes:

The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. AD 70)

The title of this work is something of a misnomer; modern scholars do not consider The Epistle of Barnabas to have been written by the great companion of St. Paul (largely because of marked differences in viewpoint). Nevertheless, the letter is very ancient, and it was highly regarded in the early Church; so highly, in fact, that many ancient writers considered it canonical New Testament book. Its author and place of composition are unknown; it may have originated in Alexandria, Palestine, or even Syria.

Are there Deuterocanonical references in 1 Clement — in a work so highly honored in early Christianity that the famous Codex Sinaiticus included it right after the Book of Revelation? Yes. Barnabas 6:7 appears to be quoting Wisdom 2:12; as if Wisdom were part of Isaiah 3:9-10. If this identification is correct, then the intermixing of the two prophecies from Wisdom and Isaiah would strongly suggest that the author understood them both to be divine and prophetic in origin.[fn70]

FN70: The relationship between these two texts is disputed. Oesterley sees an intermingling of Ws 2:12 and Is 3:9-10 indicating that both were of equal authority. (Oesterley, Introduction, 125). Similarly, the [sic] The Ante Nicene Fathers, edited by Roberts and Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishers) acknowledges both passages. See ANF 1.140, FN. 19. Likewise, Migne, Muilenburg, Kraft, Goodspeed, Lake, and Sparks confirms this connection as does Brabban, who calls it a “loose paraphrase” (Brabban, “Use of the Apocrypha,” 358-59). Westcott (Westcott, 84), Beckwith (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 427, FN. 208) and Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie’s Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), 161) and others dispute this connection.

Readers of this blog may recall a rebuttal of this and related errors (link to previous post).  In summary, relevant to this particular point:

The Epistle of Barnabas 6:7 states:

Forasmuch then as He was about to be manifested in the flesh and to suffer, His suffering was manifested beforehand. For the prophet saith concerning Israel; Woe unto their soul, for they have counseled evil counsel against themselves saying, Let us bind the righteous one, for he is unprofitable for us.

ἐν σαρκὶ οὖν αὐτοῦ μέλλοντος φανεροῦσθαι καὶ πάσχειν, προεφανερώθη τὸ πάθος. λέγει γὰρ ὁ προφήτης ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραήλ· Οὐαὶ τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτῶν, ὅτι βεβούλευνται βουλὴν πονηρὰν καθ’ ἑαυτῶν, εἰπόντες· Δήσωμεν τὸν δίκαιον, ὅτι δύσχρηστος ἡμῖν ἐστίν.

Septuagint Isaiah 3:9-10 states:

Wherefore now their glory has been brought low, and the shame of their countenance has withstood them, and they have proclaimed their sin as Sodom, and made it manifest. Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us bind the just, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works.

καὶ ἡ αἰσχύνη τοῦ προσώπου αὐτῶν ἀντέστη αὐτοῖς· τὴν δὲ ἁμαρτίαν αὐτῶν ὡς Σοδομων ἀνήγγειλαν καὶ ἐνεφάνισαν. οὐαὶ τῇ ψυχῇ αὐτῶν, διότι βεβούλευνται βουλὴν πονηρὰν καθ᾽ ἑαυτῶν εἰπόντες Δήσωμεν τὸν δίκαιον, ὅτι δύσχρηστος ἡμῖν ἐστιν· τοίνυν τὰ γενήματα τῶν ἔργων αὐτῶν φάγονται. 

The difference between the language of Barnabas 6:7 and the language of Septuagint Isaiah 3:9-10 is literally two letters of one word out of eighteen consecutive words. 

By contrast, Septuagint Wisdom of Solomon 2:12 states:

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education.

ἐνεδρεύσωμεν τὸν δίκαιον, ὅτι δύσχρηστος ἡμῖν ἐστιν καὶ ἐναντιοῦται τοῖς ἔργοις ἡμῶν καὶ ὀνειδίζει ἡμῖν ἁμαρτήματα νόμου καὶ ἐπιφημίζει ἡμῖν ἁμαρτήματα παιδείας ἡμῶν·

Thus, Wisdom (probably drawing from Isaiah) does have six of the eighteen words, and these do not include the one word that slightly differs between Barnabas and LXX Isaiah.

Thus, Michuta has undersold the degree of controversy over this erroneous assertion that Barnabas is “mixing” the text of Wisdom into that of Isaiah.  The presumable basis for this error is the use of a shorter rescension of Isaiah, such as that found in the Masoretic text, in Jerome’s Vulgate, or in most English translations.

In short, it’s definitely LXX Isaiah, not Wisdom, that the author of Barnabas is relying on.


N.B. As for the date of Barnabas, A.D. 80-120 is probably a more accurate range than A.D. 70.

Michuta on the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals in 1 Clement

May 26, 2014

Beginning around page 56, Michuta tries to argue that “the earliest Christians considered the Deuterocanonical books to be divinely inspired.”  His first example is 1 Clement – a book whose authorship is unknown, but is sometimes ascribed to Clement of Rome.

Michuta argues that 1 Clement 3:4 “quotes Wisdom 2:24.” (p. 57)

1 Clement 3:4
For this cause righteousness and peace stand aloof, while each man hath forsaken the fear of the Lord and become purblind in the faith of Him, neither walketh in the ordinances of His commandments nor liveth according to that which becometh Christ, but each goeth after the lusts of his evil heart, seeing that they have conceived an unrighteous and ungodly jealousy, through which also death entered into the world.

Wisdom 2:24 states: “Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.” While Wisdom 2:24 is a possible reference here, a more obvious one is 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:”

Likewise, James 4:1-3 states: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

Indeed, the very next verses of 1 Clement provide a canonical basis for the jealousy argument, for it continues (vs. 4 is the last verse of 1 Clement 3):

1 Clement 4:1-7
For so it is written, And it came to pass after certain days that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice unto God, and Abel he also brought of the firstlings of the sheep and of their fatness. And God looked upon Abel and upon his gifts, but unto Cain and unto his sacrifices He gave no heed. And Cain sorrowed exceedingly, and his countenance fell. And God said unto Cain, Wherefore art thou very sorrowful and wherefore did thy countenance fall? If thou hast offered aright and hast not divided aright, didst thou not sin? Hold thy peace. Unto thee shall he turn, and thou shalt rule over him. {This last phrase has also been translated: Be at peace: thine offering returns to thyself, and thou shalt again possess it.} And Cain said unto Abel his brother, Let us go over unto the plain. And it came to pass, while they Were in the plain, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. Ye see, brethren, jealousy and envy wrought a brother’s murder.

Thus, it is a stretch to say that 1 Clement 3:4 “quotes” from Wisdom 2:24, even if a few identical words can be be found there.

Michuta further asserts that 1 Clement 27:5-7 “is a quote from (or at least an allusion to) Wisdom 11:21 or 12:12.” (p. 57)

1 Clement 27:5
Who shall say unto Him, What hast thou done? or who shall resist the might of His strength? When He listeth, and as He listeth, He will do all things; and nothing shall pass away of those things that He hath decreed. All things are in His sight, and nothing escapeth His counsel, seeing that The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaimeth His handiwork. Day uttereth word unto day, and night proclaimeth knowledge unto night; and there are neither words nor speeches, whose voices are not heard.

Wisdom 11:21 states: “For thou canst shew thy great strength at all times when thou wilt; and who may withstand the power of thine arm?” and Wisdom 12: 12 states “For who shall say, What hast thou done? or who shall withstand thy judgment? or who shall accuse thee for the nations that perish, whom thou made? or who shall come to stand against thee, to be revenged for the unrighteous men?

But again, the canonical books have similar statements (in fact, Wisdom is probably based on the canonical books to a significant extent):

 Job 9:12 “If he would take away, who shall turn him back? or who shall say to him, What hast thou done?” Job 9:19 “For indeed he is strong in power: who then shall resist his judgment? Daniel 4:32 “and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and there is none who shall withstand his power, and say to him, What has thou done?” Isaiah 46:10 “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” Acts 1:7 “And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” Psalm 148:6 “He has established them for ever, even for ever and ever: he has made an ordinance, and it shall not pass away.” Romans 9:18-19 “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” Matthew 5:11 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Job 34:21 “For he surveys the works of men, and nothing of what they do has escaped him.Psalm 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day to day utters speech, and night to night proclaims knowledge. There are no speeches or words, in which their voices are not heard.

Michuta further points out that 1 Clement 55:2-6 makes reference to the person Judith. (pp. 58-59) Michuta also points out that the author of 1 Clement uses Judith as a first example and Esther as a second example. These are just used as historical examples of “Many women being strengthened through the grace of God have performed many manly deeds.” (1 Clement 55:3).  These examples come after the author’s reference to pagan examples: “But, to bring forward examples of Gentiles also; many kings and rulers, when some season of pestilence pressed upon them, being taught by oracles have delivered themselves over to death, that they might rescue their fellow citizens through their own blood. Many have retired from their own cities, that they might have no more seditions.” (1 Clement 55:1)

While we definitely hold Esther to be canonical, we do not know whether the author of 1 Clement had the same view, as Esther was the least well received of the canonical Old Testament books.  In other words, the pairing of Judith with Esther may be a double-edged sword – but in any case, the book is not cited as Scripture.

– TurretinFan

N.B. In this post, generally the Old Testament quotations are taken from Lancelot Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint, since it is unlikely that the author of 1 Clement would have had access to the Hebrew originals.

Michuta on Augustine on the Canon – Some Mistakes Corrected

May 25, 2014

One of the faults of Gary Michuta’s “Why are Catholic Bibles Bigger,” is its apparent uncritical reliance on a number of secondary sources, especially Breen’s “General and Critical Introduction,” (here is one problem that came from that) and Gigot’s “General Introduction.” In the section on Augustine, Michuta seems to draw mostly from Charles J. Costello’s “St. Augustine’s Doctrine on the Inspiration and Canonicity of Scripture.”  Unfortunately, it seems that Michuta did not dig deep enough into Augustine in preparing to write his book.

Michuta – evidently relying on Costello – states: “Augustine calls Sirach ‘Holy Scripture’ and states plainly that the book contains the words of a prophet.” (p. 158)  Unfortunately for Michuta (and perhaps also for Costello), Augustine took back this particular claim, later in his life.

Moreover, I do not seem to have correctly called prophetic the words in this passage: “Why is earth and ashes proud?” [Sirach 10:9] for the book in which this is read is not the work of one whom we can be certain that he should be called a prophet. 

Augustine, Retractions, Section 3 of the Retractions regarding On Genesis Against the Manicheans, p. 43, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 60, Sister M. Inez Bogan, R.S.M. translator.(as previously posted here)

Keep in mind that Augustine’s Retractions were written around 426-27 – over thirty years after the famous Council of Hippo that identified Sirach as canonical (in some sense).  It’s unclear what this change of position on Augustine’s part is based on mature reflection, Jerome’s influence, or other factors.  You may recall that Augustine had recognized the conflict between the Jewish canon and the Christian canon in City of God, Book 18, Chapter 36:

After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all. For by consulting the Gospel we learn that Christ is the Truth. From this time, when the temple was rebuilt, down to the time of Aristobulus, the Jews had not kings but princes; and the reckoning of their dates is found, not in the Holy Scriptures which are called canonical, but in others, among which are also the books of the Maccabees. These are held as canonical, not by the Jews, but by the Church, on account of the extreme and wonderful sufferings of certain martyrs, who, before Christ had come in the flesh, contended for the law of God even unto death, and endured most grievous and horrible evils.

It is interesting to note that Michuta quotes only the sentence beginning “These are held as canonical,” without providing the preceding sentence (whether due to his reliance on Costello is unclear).  Regardless of his reasons for omitting that sentence, the sentence does suggest that Augustine is distinguishing between books that are edifying reading and books that are actually inspired.  After all, it would be hard to have an inspired book without a prophet.

Moreover, in the next chapter, Augustine clearly adopts the Jewish view of cessation of prophecy after Ezra (Esdras) (Book 18, Chapter 37):

In the time of our prophets, then, whose writings had already come to the knowledge of almost all nations, the philosophers of the nations had not yet arisen—at least, not those who were called by that name, which originated with Pythagoras the Samian, who was becoming famous at the time when the Jewish captivity ended. Much more, then, are the other philosophers found to be later than the prophets. For even Socrates the Athenian, the master of all who were then most famous, holding the pre-eminence in that department that is called the moral or active, is found after Esdras in the chronicles. Plato also was born not much later, who far out went the other disciples of Socrates.

Similarly, Augustine provides more clues in the next chapter (Book 18, Chapter 38):

What of Enoch, the seventh from Adam? Does not the canonical epistle of the Apostle Jude declare that he prophesied? [Jude 14] But the writings of these men could not be held as authoritative either among the Jews or us, on account of their too great antiquity, which made it seem needful to regard them with suspicion, lest false things should be set forth instead of true. … But the purity of the canon has not admitted these writings, not because the authority of these men who pleased God is rejected, but because they are not believed to be theirs. Nor ought it to appear strange if writings for which so great antiquity is claimed are held in suspicion, seeing that in the very history of the kings of Judah and Israel containing their acts, which we believe to belong to the canonical Scripture, very many things are mentioned which are not explained there, but are said to be found in other books which the prophets wrote, the very names of these prophets being sometimes given, and yet they are not found in the canon which the people of God received. Now I confess the reason of this is hidden from me; only I think that even those men, to whom certainly the Holy Spirit revealed those things which ought to be held as of religious authority, might write some things as men by historical diligence, and others as prophets by divine inspiration; and these things were so distinct, that it was judged that the former should be ascribed to themselves, but the latter to God speaking through them: and so the one pertained to the abundance of knowledge, the other to the authority of religion. In that authority the canon is guarded. So that, if any writings outside of it are now brought forward under the name of the ancient prophets, they cannot serve even as an aid to knowledge, because it is uncertain whether they are genuine; and on this account they are not trusted, especially those of them in which some things are found that are even contrary to the truth of the canonical books, so that it is quite apparent they do not belong to them.

Notice that Augustine apparently has room for certain books as canonical books that lack prophetic authority but are an “aid to knowledge.” 

We see some questions in Augustine’s head even back in 396 when he wrote “On Christian Doctrine.”  In discussing the canon (book 2, chapter 8, section 13) he wrote: 

For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative.

Still, even this list – coming after the council of Hippo – is presented with the following caveat (book 2, chapter 8, sections 12-13):

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.

13. Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:

Augustine is still asserting – after Hippo – that the individual must exercise judgment, despite the fact that Augustine believes that the individual should weigh the testimony of the churches (plural) in making the judgment.

There’s another puzzle in considering Augustine’s canon.  In On Christian Doctrine, at Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 13, Augustine lists within his canon: “the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles.”  While such a description is not unambiguous, it would be a good description of LXX Esdras A (aka “the Book of Esdras” or “the First Book of Esdras” ).  That book begins with an excerpt from 2 Chronicles, adds material from Ezra and Nehemiah, reordering some of the Ezra material, and adding a small amount of unique material.

I say, “unique material,” because the material is not canonical.  The material, however, is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica this way: “The only new material is the “Tale of the Three Guardsmen,” a Persian folk story that was slightly altered to fit a Jewish context.”

Michuta does have an interesting section on The Book of Esdras (pp. 238-42) in which he remarkably argues that the Roman Catholic canon is still open with respect to this book.  Michuta fails to apprise the reader of the source of the distinguishable material. He notes that “A few Church Fathers may have used Esdras as a canonical book, but this usage disappeared around the fifth century, although it remained in the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint” (emphasis Michuta’s).  Michuta does not note there – or in the Augustine section – that Augustine is one of those fathers.

In particular, in City of God, at book 18, chapter 36, quoted at more length above, Augustine wrote:

After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all.

This passage is Book of Esdras, chapters 3 and 4, the “unique” material from that book.  This seems to be pretty clear evidence that Augustine (and by extension, probably also the North African bishops who met in council at Hippo and Carthage) viewed the Book of Esdras as one of the two canonical books (rather than considering Ezra and Nehemiah as separate books).

I don’t mean to suggest for a second that we should adopt the Book of Esdras as canonical on Augustine’s say-so. I do think Augustine was wise to retract his error regarding Sirach (and presumably Wisdom as well, as he ascribes both of those writings to the same author, not to Solomon).  Likewise, I do not mean to suggest that we should hold the canon as tentatively as Augustine did or that we need to use precisely the same methods he did to come to the conclusions to which he came.  The point is, instead, to clear up some misinformation about Augustine – and to provide some important nuance regarding Augustine’s use of the term “canonical,” as not always implying that the books in question are inspired.


Right to Life – but No Right to Support?

May 23, 2014

One of the arguments proposed by advocates of permitting intentional abortion is that even if a fetus or embryo has a “right to life” (by virtue of being a separate human being), that right does not include a right to insist on another person’s assistance.  For example, if you need blood transfusions to live, that does not mean you have a right to demand blood from another person, nor to demand continued blood transfusions from someone who has begun to volunteer.

One possible response to this argument is to say that humans do have a duty to preserve the lives of others, and if your neighbor needs a blood transfusion to live, you do have a moral duty to provide that transfusion.  The Westminster Standards, and Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan, suggest that such a duty exists – not as a “right to life” but as a duty to preserve life.  That response really should suffice.

Suppose that we are wrong on this counter argument and that there is no general moral duty to inconvenience oneself to preserve one’s neighbor’s life.  Still, there are clearly cases everyone accepts in which a person has a moral duty to support the life of someone else.  We may be able to convince our friendly opponents of this with several examples:

1. The case of the car accident victim.  Suppose you crash into another person and they are dying unless you act to save their life.  In that case, I think most people would agree that you have some duty to try to save their life, even if it is inconvenient for you.  This is somewhat analogous to the embryo or fetus, because the person is in the womb of his mother due to something his mother did.  Therefore, she has a duty to save his life, even if it is inconvenient for her.

2. The case of paternal child support.  Suppose you father a child out of wedlock.  Most people seem to agree that the father has some duty to (at least) financially support the child, even if the child’s life itself does not absolutely require such support.  The justification seems to be either that the father acted by begetting the child and/or that the father has paternal duties toward the child. Much more so, a mother likewise acted, has maternal duties, and should minimally be required to save the child’s life for a few months.

3. The case of a young infant.  Suppose the fetus is born and consequently becomes designated an “infant.” If a mother were simply to refuse to nurse (or otherwise feed) the child, we would view this as neglect and as murder if the child died from it.  The same would be true if a single father refused to feed the infant.  The justification here is pretty clearly parental duty.

Thus, in short, a general answer to this argument is that (a) we do have a general duty to preserve life and (b) that general duty is heightened in the case of parents with respect to their offspring.  The only thing that remains to be seen is whether such a duty applies to offspring who have not yet offsprung.

But surely the duty is one that is based on the helplessness (or negative maturity) of the child, not on the self-sufficiency or maturity of the child.  This can be seen from the fact that failure to feed a 30 year old son is not neglect, unless that son has a serious disability such that he cannot feed himself.  An embryo or fetus is much more helpless and immature than an infant.  Thus, the parental duty of support should be much greater for a fetus or embryo than for an infant.


Garry Wills on the Title "Holy Father"

May 20, 2014

Garry Wills (self-identified Catholic, but rejecter of the papacy and transubstantiation), in “Why Priests?” has this interesting comment (p. 12):

Jesus is telling his Followers not to be like the Sadducees and Pharisees who seek the “first places”:
Everything they do is done to impress people. They enlarge their tefillins and lengthen their tassels. They like the most important place at meals, and the chairs of honor in their synagogues, and to be cheered on the street, and to be called by people “Rabbi.” You, however, must not be addressed as “Rabbi,” since you have only one Teacher, and you are brothers to each other. Do not address any man on earth as father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. And you must not be addressed as leaders, since you have only one Leader, the Messiah. The greater among you will be your servant. For whoever boosts himself up will be lowered, and whoever lowers himself down will be boosted up. (Mt. 23.5-12)
What could be more against this teaching than popes who adopt the title “Holy Father”?
Wills is exactly right.  While the “call no man father” command does not mean we can never in any way refer to other men as fathers, the kind of behavior it does prohibit is precisely the behavior of Roman Catholics, in elevating a single man above all others.
Wills continues (p. 12):

Thus the post-Gospel literature of the Jesus movement introduces people in administrative roles–Servants, Elders, Overseers. These are not charisms bestowed by the Spirit, but offices to which people are appointed by their fellow human beings–and once more the priesthood is missing from the list.

Wills is right again.  He goes on to explain what “Servants” (deacons), “Elders” (presbyters), and “Overseers” (bishops).  Wills notes that Paul, in his letters, uses the plural term “episkopoi” once (at Philippians 1:1).  Luke, in Acts, similarly reports Paul as using the plural term.
In Philippians 1:1, Paul and Timothy greet, as Wills explains (p. 13) “(1) God’s people, (2) the Overseers, (3) the Servants.”  These are the overseers, plural, for the church at Philippi.  Similarly, at Acts 20:28, Paul speaks to the overseers, again plural, of the church at Ephesus.
In two other cases, the singular form is used, but even there the occurs in conjunction with elders (presbyteroi plural) or board of elders (presbyterion – which implies a plurality of people).
I would, naturally, disagree with Wills’ suggestion (p. 14) that these possibly later singular usages point towards a development of the monarchical episcopate, such as argued-for by the letters of Ignatius.  Nevertheless, Wills historical points that Paul’s usage suggests that the leadership of the church is not a leadership by one, but by plurality of more or less equals.
Furthermore, Wills is right in noting the fundamental distinction and discontinuity between the apostles (whose gift was a charism of the Holy Spirit) and the elders/bishops that followed them, whose appointment was by men, even those who were appointed by the apostles themselves.  Even though these offices of deacon and elder are divinely authorized offices, they are divinely authorized in a different way from the apostolic office.
Significantly – both for Wills and us – none of this pointed to a priest or high priest over the local assembly.  The apostles themselves were not priests, and they did not even set up a human office of priest.
– TurretinFan

Responses to Miscellaneous Canon Questions and Objections

May 17, 2014
1) What is the canon? Is it an “authoritative list of books”?
It’s better to think of the canon as the list of authoritative books. An official canon may itself be in some sense authoritative, but in that case it is an authoritative list of authoritative books. Even before any “authority” pronounces what the list is, the books have authority and are to be included in the list because of their authority, not because of the authority of the person or group making the list.  Thus, a canon list can be wrong.
2) Were the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of ben Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and 1 & 2 Maccabees as well as the parts of books such as Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Azarias, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and six additional chapters in Esther, part of the Jewish canon? 
No.  The evidence is that they were not.  That’s especially true of the Wisdom of Solomon, which wasn’t even written in Hebrew or Aramaic.
3) Were they only excluded in the 2nd century A.D. in reaction to Christian usage of the Old Testament? 
a) It’s hard to argue that the Samaritans excluded them on that ground.  They apparently only viewed the Pentateuch as canonical.  Some have asserted that the Saducees agreed with them.
b) Likewise, it’s hard to explain the first century Pharisees’ exclusion of them on that ground.
c) In fact, what is the supposed documentation? Is it just that they were rejected together with the New Testament books?
4) Was the Old Testament canon closed in the 1st century?
It may not have been closed in the sense of not being open to future additions, but it was closed in the sense of having an identifiable group of already-written books associated with the word “Scripture.”  When Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures,” the Pharisees didn’t say “and what books are those?”
5) Objection: “There’s no list closing the canon, before Christ.”
Even if no such list exists, what difference does that make?  The argument seems to presuppose that one needs to have an authoritative list, in order for the canon to have definite shape.
6) Objection: “The three-fold division (in Sirach and in the NT) just refers to three stages of canon development and the ‘the writings’ category was an open one”
This argument hinges on the assertion that the “writings” category was still open, but where is the documentation to support this assertion?  On the contrary, the usage in Sirach and the New Testament seems to point to a fixed body of known works.
7) Objection: “Although the deutero-canonicals are not cited as Scripture in the New Testament there is reliance on them and some of the proto-canonicals are also not cited.”
a) This, incidentally, is an undercutting argument with respect to item (3) above, about the reason for Jewish rejection being Christian acceptance.
b) It’s just one evidence that the deuteros are not canonical.  It’s not in itself the definitive proof.
c) There are good reason for including the unquoted protocanonicals.
8) Objection: “Hebrews 11 mentions martyrs of 2 Mac. 7”
Even assuming it does refer to them, there is no particular reason to infer canonicity of an historical account of those people’s life.
9) Did Athanasius accept the Deuterocanonical books as inspired?  Did he just use the term “canon” differently?
His Festal Letter 39 puts that debate to rest (source):

4. There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.
5. Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.
6. These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.’ And He reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.’
7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.

Notice that Athanasius treats Esther as Deuterocanonical and that Athanasius thinks that Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah were parts of Jeremiah.  So, Athanasius’ canon is not exactly the same as our canon.  It is interesting to note that we see a reckoning of 22 books here.  Others in the West have suggested the enumeration was 24 (link to discussion).  While the lists don’t all agree with one another exactly, the Deuterocanonicals and Esther are the books that tend to be omitted from the list.  We have good reasons to keep Esther, but we don’t have good reasons to the Deuterocanonicals.

Ergun Caner and "Assistant Rabbi" Peter Hirsch

May 17, 2014

Ergun Caner has several times complained about a post-9/11 ecumenical prayer gathering (sorry, I don’t have the speeches and timestamps available).  I think that’s why I was surprised to read an account from the Fort-Worth Star Telegram (apparently dated May 3, 2002), reporting Caner’s participation in a National Day of Prayer group event (link to article).  The article states:

Ergun Caner, whose family is Turkish, grew up a devout Muslim before converting to Christianity.
“For the first half of my life, I assumed I was supposed to hate you. … But through the faith and hope of other Christians, they did not return the hate I had for them,” said Caner, an assistant professor at The Criswell College. “Pray for the capacity, ability and tenacity to love those who don’t love you back.”
During the closing blessing, Peter Hirsch, assistant rabbi of the Baruch Ha Shem synagogue, embraced Caner to the cheers of the crowd and said, “Where else can [we], committed Jews, and Dr. Caner, who grew up a committed Muslim, come together and show love for each other?”

a) Unfortunately, the article is not illustrated with a photo of this ecumenical embrace.
b) While Caner’s father is from Turkey, his mother is from Sweden.
c) Considering his grandmother (who helped raise him) was apparently a Swedish Lutheran, this allegation of hatred seems implausible.
d) The idea that Caner was “devout” seems implausible in light of his making mistakes like thinking that Ramadan is 40 days long.
e) Oh, and I checked out this “assistant rabbi.”  The “Baruch HaShem Synagogue” calls themselves a “Messianic” Jewish synagogue (you can read more about their vision here).


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