Catholics 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.
In case you have not noticed, this is also how my article Protestant Myths About the Deuteroanon began.
What mythbusting will we be doing today? First, we will be disproving that the main motivation behind excising the Deuterocanon was doctrinal, as Catholic Apologists like Joe Heschmeyer claim. Second, we will disprove that these books even contain any controversial doctrines that Protestants would seek to exclude.
- Myth #1: Protestants hate Catholic doctrine so much, they threw out books of the Bible because of it.
What do we make of Catholic claims that the Deuterocanon was excluded chiefly for doctrinal reasons? After all, Calvin wrote, “Add to this, that they provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of the Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints; out of Tobit satisfactions, exorcisms, and what not.”
While this may have been Calvin’s reason, surely it was not for the following list of Catholics in good standing from the middle ages to the Renaissance:
Between this period and the sixteenth century Bishop Cosin in his excellent Scholastic History of the Canon furnishes to this effect a host of quotations from writers of the middle ages including Ven Bede, John of Damascus, Alcuin, Peter Mauritius, Hugh de St Victor, Cardinal Hugo de St Cher, the author of the ordinary Gloss, and Nicholas Lyranus…At the dawn of the Reformation [we] find James Faber of Etaples and Cardinal Cajetan expressing themselves to the same effect and learned Sanctes Pagnini in his translation of Bible from the original languages published Lyons in 1528 the first Bible that contained division into verses with the present figures to Pope Clement VII distinguished ecclesiastical books which he says were not in canon by the term Hagiographa…
Not only did more than a few Catholics before Trent reject the Deuterocanon as equally inspired Scripture, a few afterwards (Bernard Lamy, Loisy, Ubaldi, and Jahn) explicitly claimed that it is not as inspired as the Proto-Canon. Surely, men such as Cardinal Cajetan and Sanctes Pagnini did not reject the Deuterocanon over doctrinal reasons. So, what were their reasons?
Language. Many men during the Renaissance adhered to Jerome’s position in his introduction to First Kings that books not found in Hebrew were not originally Scriptures. John Wycliff, in his translation of the Bible, copiously follows Jerome’s thought and notes, differentiating between the Greek and Hebrew texts of Esther for that reason. Luther in making his translation of the Bible, and the Protestant Confessions which named the books of Scripture, were products of Renaissance Humanist thought in which the study of Greek and Hebrew had new life breathed into them.
Lack of unanimity among the Early Church Fathers. This is a topic far too extensive for me to cover here in a brief space, so I commend you to the writings of the Fathers themselves. Melito of Sardis did not accept any of the Deuterocanon, but like some Jews of the time, neither accepted Esther. Origen copiously followed what the Jews taught, which at his time included the Book of Baruch with Jeremiah–the result being, substantially, the Protestant Old Testament. He specifically said the Books of Maccabees were “outside” the Canon and he lists no other Deuterocanonical book. Athanasius’ Canon followed Melito’s. He likewise lacked Esther, but like Origen he presumed the Book of Baruch was originally part of Jeremiah.
Some Catholics would treat the preceding men as exceptions, expressing their own private opinions. How about Augustine, the major operating force behind the Council of Carthage which deemed the Deuterocanon Canonical? Well, he apparently viewed the Deuterocanon as secondary when compared to the Jewish Scriptures:
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 (City of God, Book 18, Chapter 26).
In the same book, Augustine makes clear that the measure of what constitutes Canon is whether the Jews received it and kept it in the temple:
Let us omit, then, the fables of those scriptures which are called apocryphal, because their obscure origin was unknown to the fathers from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has been transmitted to us by a most certain and well-ascertained succession…[I]t is not without reason that these writings have no place in that canon of Scripture which was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the diligence of successive priests; (City of God, Book 15 Chapter 23).
It stands to reason if the Jews do not accept Maccabees to be Holy Scripture, then Maccabees cannot be in the same sense that a book like Exodus is.
Now, this does not mean Augustine did not 1. ascribe some level of divine qualities to the Dueterocanon or 2. presume that books like Wisdom of Solomon and Baruch (both of which he quotes in settling matters of doctrine) originally existed in Hebrew and were attached to accepted Holy Scriptures by the Jews. However, it is apparent that Augustine viewed such Deuterocanonical books as important, but not equal. We can see this in On the Predestination of the Saints where he writes:
[T]he book of Wisdom ought not to be repudiated, since for so long a course of years that book has deserved to be read in the Church of Christ from the station of the readers of the Church of Christ, and to be heard by all Christians, from bishops downwards, even to the lowest lay believers, penitents, and catechumens, with the veneration paid to divine authority (Chapter 27).
Why would we need to venerate something as if it were divine if it were actually equivalently divine? Being that Augustine’s criteria that it be esteemed is that it is widely seen as useful, it appears Wisdom’s acceptance is based upon pragmatism while the actual prophetic utterances were preserved by the Jews. This betrays a two-tiered system in Augustine’s thinking.
Therefore, just as good US Constitutional scholars should interpret what the Founding Fathers actually intended to communicate in their words by looking at the corpus of their writings, so must we look at the Council of Carthage’s declaration of what is “Canon” by looking at what the men who took part in this Council meant by the term. When we do this, the modern 73-book Catholic Canon is not quite as monolithic as it would seem.
To recap, the Reformers wanted a monolithic Canon and settled upon the books that existed in Hebrew manuscripts as a means to achieve this. They viewed the consistent position of the Fathers that the Jews preserved the Scriptures and their lack of unanimity of what otherwise constituted Canon as their justification for doing so. For example, in the Coverdale Bible’s introduction in its discussion of the Deuterocanon it says: “The books and treatises which among the Fathers of old are not reckoned to be of like authority with the other books of the Bible, neither are they found in the Canon of Hebrew.”
- Myth #2: Deuterocanon contains doctrines contrary to Protestantism.
Catholics claim Protestants rejected the Deuterocanon over certain doctrines those books contain. According to one Catholic:
• Prayers for the dead (Tobit 12:12; 2 Maccabees 12:39-45)
• Purgatory (Wisdom 3:1-7)
• Intercession of saints in heaven (2 Maccabees 15:14)
• Intercession of angels (Tobit 12:12-15)
I’ll also add to the list that Sirach and Wisdom speak of the propitiatory effect of almsgiving and the like. Are these doctrines something that these books teach and Protestants should heed? Let’s find out.
Prayers to the Dead:
So now when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, and likewise whenever you would bury the dead (Tob 12:12).
The angel Raphael is saying he took Tobias’ and Sarah’s prayers to God and took note when Sarah’s husbands were buried. Nowhere does it say that intercessory prayers were made for those husbands.
39 On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen…they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen…they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas…took up a collection…and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection (2 Macc 12:39-43).
Whose sin was blotted out? The dead’s or the whole camp’s, as Achan’s sin in Josh 7 affected the whole army? Further, how did Judas act “well and honorably?” Because intercession is well and honorable, or because of the fact his actions belied a belief in the resurrection? The lingual evidence supports the latter. As we can see, once we peel away Catholic presuppositions, the text hardly teaches efficacious nature of intercessory prayer for the dead.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
3 and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
4 For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
6 like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble (Wis 3:1-7).
Ironically, this passage would teach against purgatory. Those who have faith are accounted as righteous and Wis 3:1 teaches they will not be tormented. That means, no purgatory. Further, verses 5 and 6 closely parallels 1 Pet 1:6-7, which uses such language to describe worldly trials and tribulations. So again, no purgatory.
Intercession of Saints in Heaven:
Then in the same fashion another appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the family of Israel and prays much for the people and the holy city—Jeremiah, the prophet of God.” Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: “Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries” (2 Macc 15:13-16).
Elijah and Moses appeared on the mount of transfiguration too. The martyrs in Revelation prayed to God to bring vengeance against anti-christs on Earth. Sure, saints pray for the Church on Earth. This does not mean saints appearing and handing out swords could be construed as a normative practice.
Intercession of Angels:
We already quoted Tob 12:12, and it mentions that Raphael presented prayers to God. In the book of Revelation, angels present prayers as incense to God. There is hardly anything controversial Protestants would reject.
Propitiatory Effects of Almsgiving and Other Acts
As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sin (Sir 3:30).
[A]lmsgiving delivers from death…[for] all who practice it, [it] is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High (Tob 4:10-11).
First, in Phil 4:18 Paul calls the Philippians’ almsgiving a “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” Second, all sorts of Old Testament sacrifices atone for sin. So did almsgiving in an Old Testament context. As we well know, Christ fulfilled the Law and we fulfill the same Law by faith in Christ. I do not see support for a continued, propitiatory effect of the practice, these things merely served as a shadow of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.
In summation: In both articles I have written about myths that Protestants and Catholics hold, I have shown how both camps have obviously misconstrued history, and the texts themselves, in order to justify certain preconceived notions of theirs. We do not do right in this. We should be making fair judgments based upon the authority of the Scriptures, and not make these blessed books a battleground of competing presuppositions.