Where We Got the Bible: The Development of the Canon

Michael Barber, Ph.D. / John Paul the Great Catholic University © 2012 www.TheSacredPage.com / www.JPCatholic.com

Taking God at His Word
1. St. Paul: “All Scripture is inspired” (Gk. theopneustos)—“God-breathed”
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

2. But what exactly is the Bible? 3. Questions: a. Where did we get it? b. How do Catholics look at the Bible? c. Will more books be added to it?

The Library of Scripture
1. 2. 3. 4. The Bible is not just a single book More like a library! Books written (and edited) by different men over a long period of time (centuries) Written in different languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek

Which Books?
1. Jewish Bibles: 24 (39) books 2. Christian Bibles: OT and NT a. Protestant Bibles: OT=39, NT=27 b. Catholic Bibles: OT=46, NT=27 3. Didn’t Catholics “add” these books? 4. What about books that didn’t make it into the Bible? (Lost Gospels, Dead Sea Scrolls)

Origin of the OT
1. Ancient authoritative texts a. Moses i. Reads to Israel from the Book of the Covenant (Exod 24:7) ii. Wrote the Law (Deut 31:9–13, 24–26) b. Other figures associated with writing books i. Joshua (Josh 24:26) ii. Samuel (1 Kgs 10:25) iii. David (2 Chr 29:30) iv. Ezra (Neh 8:1–8) v. The Library of Nehemiah (2 Macc 2:13–15) 2. Authoritative writings & key events a. The “Book of the Law” found in the Temple in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22–23; 2 Chr 34) b. Ezra reads from the “book of the law” to the returning exiles (Neh 8:18) c. “Book of Moses” read when Nehemiah re-dedicates the Temple (Neh. 13:1ff) d. Judas Maccabeus “collected all the books” (2 Macc. 2:14) 3. Inspiration as a Jewish belief in the Second Century
With us it is not open to everybody to write the records, and... there is no discrepancy in what is written; seeing that, on the contrary, the prophets alone had this privilege, obtaining their knowledge of the most remote and ancient history


through the inspiration which they owed to God, and committing to writing a clear account of the events of their time just as they occurred. . . It follows, I say, that we do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. . . For although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them. (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.37–43)

No Agreement on the “Canon” in Jesus’ Day
1. Pharisees: 22 books: 2 missing books, i.e., Esther? (Josephus) “Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these
five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. . . [T]he prophets subsequent to Moses wrote the history of the events of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.37–43)

2. Sadducees: Only the five books of Moses (Josephus, Origen)
“But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of anything besides what the law enjoins them.” (Ant. 18.16) “But although the Samaritans and Sadducees, who receive the books of Moses alone, would say that there were contained in them predictions regarding the Messiah, yet certainly not in Jerusalem, which is not even mentioned in the times of Moses. . .” (Origen, Against Celsus 1.49; ANF 4.418).

3. The Dead Sea Scrolls: a. Found in 1947 b. 350–931 scrolls found in 11 caves c. Biblical books, other Jewish works and sectarian writings alongside each other d. No copies of New Testament books e. Many non-biblical texts apparently read alongside what became “canonical” 4. 4 Ezra: 24 Public books plus 70 “secret books” (other Jewish writings)
[God] answered me [Ezra] and said, “Go and gather the people, and tell them not to seek you for forty days. But prepare for yourself many writing tablets, and take with you Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ethanus, and Asiel—these five, who are trained to write rapidly; and you shall come here, and I will light in your heart the lamp of understanding... So during the forty days, ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them, but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I did so. (4 Ezra 14:23–48)

5. “Secret Books” a. “Apocrypha”: “hidden writings” b. Pseudepigraphical books: “false writings”

Legend of the “Council of Jamnia”
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Heinrich Graetz (1871): Theorized that rabbis solved the question in A.D. 90 at “Council of Jamnia” Jamnia theory made popular by H. E. Ryle Ryle stated as fact Only evidence cited: Passage in Mishna relating controversy over Ecclesiastes (m. Eduyoth 5:3) Yet passage reveals Rabbis still debating canon in A.D. 200! Babylonian Talmud (finished 5th cent.!) cites Sirach as Scripture (b. B. Qam. 92b; b. Ḥag. 13a)! No official Jewish Bible in Jesus’ day!


The “Extra Seven” Books
1. Later rabbis disputed a. Books not found in Hebrew (but some found in Dead Sea Scrolls, e.g., Sirach) b. Prophecy ceased after (than you must reject Jesus!) 2. Included in Greek Version of Old Testament (Septuagint) 3. Jerome (4th cent.) a. Called upon to translate Latin Bible (Vulgate) b. Studied with rabbis—hesitant to accept c. Ends up changing his mind (cites Sirach as Scripture)(see Letter to Eustochium, A.D. 404)

The “New Testament” Books
1. Dates: Written sometime between A.D. 50–100 2. 4 basic categories: a. Gospels b. Acts (Church History) c. Letters (e.g., Paul, James, Peter, John, Jude) d. Book of Revelation 3. “Testament” as “covenant”: Linked to Eucharistic celebration (New Covenant) 4. Many attributed to Paul—apparently recognized as “Scripture” early on
“So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Pet 3:15–16)

The “New Testament” Apocrypha
1. 2. 3. 4. Lost Gospels: Gnostic Gospels Written Later Jesus portrayed in Greek not Jewish terminology Condemned by early Church fathers

Debate about the Canon
“We receive also the Apocalypse of John and that of Peter, though some among us will not have this latter read in the church.”―Muratorian Fragment (c. A.D. 170 [?]) “Peter. . . left one epistle of acknowledged authenticity. Perhaps we can allow that he left a second. However, this is doubtful. . . John, who left on Gospel. . . also left an epistle of very few lines. Perhaps he also wrote a second and a third. However, not everyone declares those to be genuine.””—Origen, Commentary on John 5.3 (c. A.D. 228) “[Concerning Peter’s letters]. . . only one of which I know to be genuine and acknowledged by the ancient elders. . . [I]n the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, has made mention among others of Hermas, to whom the book called The Shepherd is ascribed, it should be observed that this too has been disputed by some, and on their account cannot be placed among the acknowledged books; while by others it is considered quite indispensable, especially to those who need instruction in the elements of the faith. Hence, as we know, it has been publicly read in churches, and I have found that some of the most ancient writers used it.”—Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.3.3–6 (c. A.D. 324)


How Would You Decide which are “Inspired”?
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The books with no error? (Why not include a math textbook?) The books that correspond with the teaching of inspired books? (Depends on how you define them!) The books written by Peter, Paul and other recognized figures? (Not all were preserve as Scripture!) The books cited by the New Testament? (Esther is not cited and others cited are pagan, e.g., Epimenides!) How did the early Church decide?

Apostolic Succession
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1–2) In those days Peter stood up among the brethren . . . and said, 16 “Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas. . . 17 For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. . . 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’ . . .” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15–26)

Early Church Fathers
The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. . . Our Apostles too were given to understand by our Lord Jesus Christ that the office of the bishop would give rise to intrigues. For this reason, equipped as they were with perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the men shall succeed to their sacred ministry. Thus, we deem it an injustice to eject from the sacred ministry the persons who were appointed by them, or later, with the consent of the whole Church, by other men in high repute” —Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 42:1–4; 44:1–3 (A.D. 96). "It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition".—Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:3:1–2 (c. A.D. 189) "Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down 4

through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.” (Origen, The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 (A.D. 225)

The Councils That Put the Bible Together
1. Rome (380) 2. Hippo (393) 3. Carthage III (397) “Let this be sent to our brother and fellow bishop, Boniface, and to the other bishops of those parts, that they may confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.”

What about the Seven Extra Books?
1. Councils accept as Scripture: No differentiation! (mixed in with others) 2. Guttenberg Bible: Includes 7 books 3. Martin Luther a. Disliked purgatory b. Rejected Books of Maccabees as biblical
“For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc 12:44–45)

4. Not cited by NT (so what?) 5. Growing acceptance of the Apocrypha (Hartmut Gese, Albert Sunberg, Jr., Martin Hengel1)


Albert C. Sunberg, “The Protestant Old Testament Canon: Should It Be Re-examined?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (2001): 194–203; Martin Hengel, The Septuagint As Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon (trans. M. E. Biddle; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002). See also Gary G. Mishuta, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible (Wixom, MI: The Grotto Press, 2007). For an audio treatment, see the excellent series on CD, The Origin of the Bible, by Brant Pitre, Ph.D., available from http://www.catholic-productions.com/


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