Protestants do themselves no favors when they resort to outright lies and historic misrepresentations to prop up certain tenets of their faith. In doing so, they undercut the Gospel, because by ruining their own credibility, they put the Gospel they preach in a bad light.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
One such issue in which Protestants use a lot of lies, distortions, and myths to uphold their position is the issue of Canon. Protestants have a Canon that differs with the much wider Canons of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Ethiopian Orthodoxy (as for the Ethiopians, there isn’t an ancient work that they didn’t like and designate as Canon ;)).
Now, space does not allow me to go into detail here, but the Protestant Canon is mainly the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of how one determines manuscript accuracy during the Renaissance. These Renaissance men reasoned that the contemporary manuscripts of the day in the “original languages” were markedly more accurate than the Greek and Latin translations common to the day, because, heck, they were in the original languages! There is certainly a logic to it–the original ideas of the writers of Scripture can be obscured, if not lost in translation. Further, passages and even whole books alien to the people who still speak those languages must have never been recognized by them, right?!?
When we put this armchair scholar sort of reasoning aside, we can see that the methodological error of the Renaissance writers stems from the fact that they were not nearly as well trained in archaeology and textual criticism as scholars are today. Concerning archaeology, for example, manuscript discoveries have shown that the Septuagint accords much more closely to the earliest Hebrew Manuscripts than the Masoretic Text.
As for textual criticism, scholars now have a much more in-depth way of searching for original renderings of manuscripts. Serious scholars don’t simply stop at the Masoretic Text like the Renaissance men and declare that this is what the Hebrew must have always said. In fact, they make judgments based upon several factors.
For one, they look at the age of manuscripts and try to find out when ancient textual variants arose, the most ancient renderings perhaps being the most accurate. Further, they look at early quotations in the church fathers and from the many translations that exist (Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Vulgate, Old Latin, etcetera). This further helps us trace the history of not only textual variants preserved in each ancient tradition, but also decipher the meanings of words across languages instead of slavishly trusting a medieval Jew’s rendering of a certain word.
In fact, the Masoretic Text might not even be the best place to look for what the Scripture of the ancient Jews looked like. Many scholars actually will look at the Vulgate because the Vulgate preserves, in Latin, an earlier textual Hebrew tradition than the medieval Masoretic Text does.
So, the modern Biblical scholar is much more well rounded in his approach to manuscripts than the Renaissance scholar was. After all, the Renaissance scholar was making it up as he goes because the professional discipline of history did not exist. Today, we have had centuries to see if certain methodologies actually bear themselves out in manuscript discoveries, which gives us greater confidence in scholarly conclusions. This is especially important given the fact that as early as the 2nd century AD (Justin Martyr in Dialogue with Trypho), we had reports of the Jews corrupting Christological passages of the Scripture. Hence, being that we know that corrupt traditions existed as early as the 2nd century, it is incumbent upon us to study textual variants and come to an understanding, assessing for probability, which variants are the most accurate.
So, in retrospect, the Renaissance man’s desire to “go back to the basics” by slavishly relying upon the original languages was really not all that strong of a position, intellectually. In many ways, we persist in Renaissance-era error when we do not at least consider the Deuterocanon on its merits and simply discount it because “the Jews do.”
However, whether or not Protestants are right or wrong on the Deuterocanon is not the subject of this article. Rather, I would like to dispel certain myths that Protestants often parrot in the hope that we can be more truthful in expressing our beliefs.
The following myths are from an article from GotQuestions.org on the subject:
- “A majority of the early church fathers reject[ed] the idea that the Apocrypha belonged in the Bible.”
No. In fact, the majority of early church fathers included at least one Deuterocanonical book, if not more, in their Canons–while on occasion leaving out Canonical books such as Esther. There are some notable exceptions. We have Jerome, Gregory the Great, Victorinus, whomever wrote 2 Esdras 14:45-46, and the curious case of Justin Martyr. To say that the majority of the early church fathers rejected the Deuterocanon when, in fact, most did not comment on it, and when they did they often endorsed specific Deuterocanonical works, is simply dishonest.
- “[U]nder tremendous pressure from Rome, Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate, included the Apocrypha, despite Jerome’s insistence that the Apocrypha did not belong in the Bible.”
The claim here is misleading. It’s not like Jerome did not want to translate the books, as one may infer from the above. Further, he still wrote introductions to the books he translated and passed comment on which books he did not view as Canonical. Further, it did not stop him from calling the Deuterocanon Scripture and quoting them as such in other, later things he has written. So, the adjective “tremendous” and the conspiracy theory about Rome, when he had plenty of opposition from other parts of the Christian world (including Hippo in Africa where Augustine wrote letters to him on the subject), really gives the reader the wrong idea. Jerome gave a minority opinion about the Canon and the Deuterocanon did not bother him enough so as to prevent him from quoting them as Scripture.
- “The Latin Vulgate became the dominant and officially sanctioned Catholic Bible, and remained that way for around 1200 years. Thus, the Apocrypha became a part of the Catholic Bible. The Apocrypha was not formally/officially made a part of the Catholic Bible, though, until the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation.”
This is another myth that needs to be put to rest. Almost the whole Christian world for a thousand years before Trent, much of which did not have Scripture in Latin, accepted the Deuterocanon. It’s not like the Deuterocanon sneaked its way into the Vulgate and due to the persistence of the Vulgate as a popular translation inculcated the minds of many Christians that the Deuterocanon was legit. The Council of Carthage (419 AD) listed the entire Deuterocanon as Canonical.
It would be true to say that before the Council of Trent, that within Roman Catholicism there still was debate concerning the Canonicity of certain books. However, to say that there was no formal understanding before this point is to skip over the fact that most Bishoprics on Earth taught that the Deuterocanon was indeed Canon.
- “The early Protestant Reformers, in agreement with Judaism, determined that the Apocrypha did not belong in the Bible, and therefore removed the Apocrypha from Protestant Bibles.”
The above is not a myth…sadly, it is true. Why Protestants would boast that their Canon agrees with Rabbinic Judaism, a post-Christian religion, is beyond me. For reasons we already discussed, the early Protestant Reformers did adopt a popular “back to the basics” Renaissance view of the Canon. However, archaeology and textual study has long since exposed that their logic was faulty.
- “[T]hey were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2), so that means we ought to always look to the Jews as to what is Scripture.
This is wrong on two counts. First, they are quoting Rom 3:2 out of context. There, Paul is passing comment on the advantage to being Jewish is, which he says “first of all they…” have the Scriptures and as he says later the benefit of the Law is that it makes one aware that he is sinful and in need of a savior. Paul is not passing comment on the idea that the Jews eternally preserve the Scripture.
Second, we know for a fact that the Jews have not properly preserved Scripture. For one, we know that the Masoretic Text has glaring errors. Further, the Jews consider the profoundly anti-Christian Talmud Scripture. Jew FAQ writes, “Orthodox Jews believe G-d taught the Oral Torah to Moses, and he taught it to others, down to the present day. This tradition was maintained only in oral form until about the 2d century C.E., when the oral law was compiled and written down….The Gemara and the Mishnah together are known as the Talmud. This was completed in the 5th century C.E.”
Religion Facts writes, “In Orthodox Judaism, the Oral Torah is accepted as equally sacred, inspired, and authoritative as the Written Torah.”
As Jesus Himself said in reference to the wicked Oral Torah, “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).
So, to claim that medieval Jews by necessity of Rom 3:2 preserved the Scripture in effect turns the Talmud into Scripture as well, as they consider the Talmud the Oral Torah. Obviously, this is not possible and we must reject such an understanding of Rom 3:2.
Concluding Thoughts. Protestants in the end of the day need to take to heart what R.C. Sproul says about the Canon:
Rome believes that the New Testament is an infallible collection of infallible books. That’s one perspective…The historic Protestant position shared by Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on, has been that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books.
So, in other words, we are not 100 percent sure if we are missing a book or two from the Bible. And, if you want to be ultra critical, whether or not Esther really even belongs in the Canon.
“But wait!,” some will object. “Almost every Christian for two thousand years thought Esther was Scripture!”
Of course. And almost just as many would have had a more expansive Old Testament than the one Protestants have today. So, we need to be very gracious with our view of the Scripture, because in the end of the day we don’t have hard facts to go by. We simply know subjectively where we hear God speaking and where we do not hear Him speaking. “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27). That is hardly an iron-clad criteria.
Hence, because Protestants have the minority historical position on Scripture, it is all the more reason that we display humility. Further, we should respect those who hold to the dominant historical position of the Church over the centuries.