This week, I want to look at why we have this problem to start with. Why is this debate over the deuterocanon/apocryopha even happening?
Also, I’ve abbreviated it to AC/DC for ApoCrypha/DeuteroCanon (pronounced Acca Dacca) because I’m Australian and I refuse to use long, appropriate words when I could use slang, kitschy, and totally inappropriate ones.
The Jewish Bible
So here’s the deal. The Christian Old Testament is basically the Jewish Bible.
The Jewish Bible is called the Tanakh, an acronym for its three divisions:
- Torah (Law)
- Nevi’im (Prophets)
- Ketuvim (Writings)
(See, acronyms are cool!) It has 24 books. Christians, however, count these books differently and come to a total of 39 books. The contents themselves, however, are the same.
Protestant Old Testaments have these 39 books. Catholic Old Testaments, however, have 46 and Orthodox Bibles 49. The extra books are the deuterocanonical (if you think they’re legit) and apocryphal (if you think they’re dodgy). So why the disagreement?
The debate over the Christian Old Testament comes from the fact that the Jewish Bible wasn’t set at the time of Christ or the beginnings of Christianity.
The Hebrew canon was solidified somewhere between the 2nd Century BC and the 2nd Century AD. For example, at the time of Christ, the Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the Pharisees had roughly the modern Jewish canon, Jews in the Diaspora had a wider canon that included the AC/DC and other groups like the Essenes had different lists of authoritative books too. (I’ll go more into this in later posts.)
To really understand the differences, however, we have to know about the Septuagint and its importance to early Christians.
The Greek Septuagint
At the beginning of this period of canonisation for the Jewish Bible, Jewish scholars in the Diaspora (and possibly the Holy Land as well) translated the Hebrew texts into Koine Greek to create the Septuagint. This translation probably took place from the 3rd Century BC to the 1st Century BC. It is said to have been commissioned by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II and carried out by 70 or 72 Jewish scholars in Alexandria — which is why it’s the Septuagint, meaning seventy. As such, it’s also referred to by it’s Roman numerals LXX. (More acronyms!)
At the time, there were many Jews living in Egypt as part of the Diaspora, as well as throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their lingua franca was Greek and the Septuagint is in Koine Greek, just like the New Testament is.
Importantly, the New Testament almost exclusively quotes from the Septuagint. (It’s why sometimes the quotes OT as quoted in the NT is slightly different from the OT itself.)
The early Christians also used the Septuagint like the New Testament writers did, and Christians kept using it. In fact, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox still use the Septuagint. (Some believe the translation is divinely inspired.)
Canon of the Septuagint
The canon of the Septuagint, however, isn’t identical to the modern Jewish Bible. As well as the 24 books (which were divided up further), there were (give and take) ten “extra” books.
- 1 Esdras (also called Esdras A or 3 Esdras just to confuse everyone – the whole situation with Ezra is rather complicated)
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- 3 Maccabees
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
- Epistle of Jeremiah
There were also additions to Esther, Daniel, and a (sometimes) total of 151 psalms.
The canon of the Septuagint is the same used by Catholics and Orthodox to this day. (The Ethiopian and other Orthodox churches have an even bigger – and stranger – canon but maybe we’ll get to that later.)
But of course, you’ll notice that there are 10 books and I said there were 7 books in the Catholic deuterocanon…
The Problem of Canons
The Septuagint itself wasn’t 100% set and there were variations within its canon too. So while the Orthodox have 49 books in their Old Testament, Catholics have 46.
Catholics have all of the books listed above expect for 1 (or 3) Esdras and 3 Maccabees. We also have 150 psalms and we include the Epistle of Jeremiah in Baruch. So it’s actually a difference of 2 books that because of our counting systems, comes out as 3. These differences come from the different canons of the Septuagint circulating at the time.
There were also quite fluid concepts of what was truly canonical, what was deuterocanonical (and what that meant), and what was apocryphal. If the boundaries of the New Testament were still a little “porous” at the time, that’s nothing compared to the Old Testament.
Sometimes, the Church Fathers quoted from the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, other times they distinguished them from Scripture. Often, the same Church Father would do both – along with occasionally quoting as Scripture other things no one accepts anymore, and even rejecting other things we all agree are Scripture as not Scripture.
It is clear, however, that the AC/DC was always a bit apart from the bulk of the Hebrew Bible and it isn’t as frequently or fulsomely quoted as other parts of the Old Testament.
The Latin Vulgate
For the first few centuries, pretty much all Christians spoke Greek and they used the Septuagint. (As did many Jews.) In the West, however, Greek was no longer the dominant language; Latin was. So in 382, Pope Damascus I commissioned St Jerome to translate the whole Bible into Latin, the vulgar or common tongue of the West (hence, Vulgate).
St Jerome, however, believed that the AC/DC was apocryphal and didn’t belong in the Bible. But he was over-ruled, reflecting the consensus at the time. (St Jerome didn’t use the Septuagint translation itself, just its canon — and actually translated the Vulgate from now extinct Hebrew manuscripts.)
Anyway, the Vulgate with AC/DC was the Latin Bible used in Western Christianity for a millennium. Between the Septuagint and Vulgate, the vast bulk of Christians for the first 1,500 years had Bibles with the AC/DC in them.
The Protestant Old Testament
Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, and these “extra” books were “removed” from Protestant Old Testaments.
This is because they weren’t in the Jewish canon.
As mentioned above, the Jewish canon was finally set around the 2nd Century AD — and a good two centuries after the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the biblical canon of Rabbinical Judaism, which emerged as the Judaism after the destruction of the temple and the rise of Christianity.
Protestants were also able (and willing) to remove the deuterocanon because it has such a sketchy history. (See above!) It also wasn’t in the Masoretic Text, a 7th to 10th Century AD Jewish “standardisation” of the Hebrew texts, which the Protestant Reformers believed was more reliable than the Latin Vulgate. It didn’t help that the apocrypha contained several key verses supporting Catholic doctrines like praying for the dead.
So Protestants re-classified the deuterocanon as apocrypha, and that’s how we find ourselves in the mess we’re in today.
Basically, Protestants and Catholics disagree over the Old Testament canon because the canon of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, was still pretty fluid at the time of Christ. To simplify, Catholics and Orthodox follow the canon of the Septuagint, the translation used by the New Testament writers and early Christians, while Protestants follow the canon of Rabbinical Judaism.
Next Week, we get into the real arguments and look at Does the New Testament Quote the Deuterocanon & Does it Matter?