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August 14, 2007 / vivator

Origen and Canon of Old Testament

Origen (c. 185 to 251 AD) was teacher, theologian and prolific author who wrote commentaries of almost every book of the Bible, homilies as well as other books.   According to Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (page 835) he wrote around 2000 works, of which only fragments survive today.  Origen wrote a list of Old Testament books, which is recorded in Church History, written by Eusebius (c. 260 to 339 AD), bishop of Caesarea.

Farther on he [Origen] says: “The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following: That which is called by us Genesis, but by the Hebrews, from the beginning of the book, Bresith, which means, `In the beginning’; Exodus, Welesmoth, that is, `These are the names’; Leviticus, Wikra, `And he called`; Numbers, Ammesphekodeim; Deuteronomy, Eleaddebareim, `These are the words’; Jesus, the son of Nave, Josoue ben Noun; Judges and Ruth, among them in one book, Saphateim; the First and Second of Kings, among them one, Samouel, that is, `The called of God’; the Third and Fourth of Kings in one, Wammelch David, that is, `The kingdom of David’; of the Chronicles, the First and Second in one, Dabreïamein, that is, `Records of days’; Esdras, First and Second in one, Ezra, that is, `An assistant’; the book of Psalms, Spharthelleim; the Proverbs of Solomon, Meloth; Ecclesiastes, Koelth; the Song of Songs (not, as some suppose, Songs of Songs), Sir Hassirim; Isaiah, Jessia; Jeremiah, with Lamentations and the epistle in one, Jeremia; Daniel, Daniel; Ezekiel, Jezekiel; Job, Job; Esther, Esther. And besides these there are the Maccabees, which are entitled Sarbeth Sabanaiel. He gives these in the above-mentioned work.

Eusebius, Church History 6:25

Because Origen explicitly stated twenty-two books then the omission of Twelve Prophets must be copyist error of Eusebius’ manuscript of Church History.  His list includes Letter of Jeremiah (Chapter 6 of deuterocanonical Baruch in Catholic’s Old Testament) combined with Jeremiah and Lamentations. 

It is wrong to attribute the above list to Origen because he indicated that it was according to the Hebrews.  In his other works he cited Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Baruch and 2 Maccabee as scripture, only Wisdom he stated as non-authoritative.

But that we may believe on the authority of holy Scripture that such is the case, hear how in the book of Maccabees, where the mother of seven martyrs exhorts her son to endure torture, this truth is confirmed; for she says, “I ask of thee, my son, to look at the heaven and the earth, and at all things which are in them, and beholding these, to know that God made all these things when they did not exist.” [2 Maccabee 7:28]

Origen, de Principiis 2.1.5

Now it appears that those saints who have previously departed this life are concerned about the people, as it is written in the Maccabees so many years after the assumption of Jeremiah, “This is Jeremiah, the prophet of God, who prays much concerning the people.” [2 Maccabee 15:14]

Origen, Commentary on John, 13.403

….But it is time for us to use the words of holy Susanna against these wicked presbyters, which indeed those who deny the story of Susanna excise from the list of divine books.  But we both receive it and aptly use it against them ……

Origen, Homily 1 on Leviticus, 1.3

When someone becomes a worshipper in the land, God has arranged that someone rejected from their own and came to the land about which it is written: Hear Israel.  “Why is it that you are in the land of enemies, that you are counted among those in Hades?  You have forsaken the fountain of life, the Lord.  If you have walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in peace forever.” [Baruch 3:9-13]

Origen, Homily 7 on Jeremiah, 3.3

But we reproach both those who repent and those who convert, though the Scripture says: ‘Do not reproach a man who turns away from sin. [Sirach 8:5]

Origen, Homily 16 on Jeremiah, 6.2

I want to give an example from Scripture of righteous lack of faith in an agreement in order to demonstrate that man can call upon faithlessness in act.  Judith made an agreement with Holophernes that though she would leave for certain number of days to pray to God, she also would present herself after these days at the marriage bed of Holophernes.

Origen, Homily 20 on Jeremiah, 7.3

But what will they do about the fact that we find many martyrs even under the law?  The ought to read the books of Maccabees, where a blessed mother endured martyrdom with complete constancy together with her seven sons.

Origen, Commentary on Romans, 4.10.2

Naturally some people will ask why this day, concerning which we have, in the foregoing, deployed the library of the prophet, is appointed at the end of the world, so that all those who have died from the beginning of the world until its end are reserved for the last day of judgment.  The interior cause of this matter are certainly veiled in deep mysteries.  And indeed “it is good to conceal the mystery of the kings.” [Tobit 12:7]

Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.4.4.5

For the Scripture says that after they had prayed, the prayers of them both were heard in the sight of the glory of the great Raphael, and he was sent to heal them both [Tobit 3:16-17].

Origen, on Prayer 11

And if this word “matter” should happen to occur in any other passage, it will never be found, in my opinion, to have the signification of which we are now in quest, unless perhaps in the book which is called the Wisdom of Solomon, a work which is certainly not esteemed authoritative by all.  In that book, however, we find written as follows: “For thy almighty hand, that made the world out of shapeless matter, wanted not means to send among them a multitude of bears and fierce lions.”  [Wisdom 11:17]

Origen, de Principiis 4.33

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2 Comments

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  1. Gerald / Jun 25 2013 12:57 pm

    I like your article. One correction however. I do not believe it is wrong to say the canon in Eusibius was from Origen, even though later he indicated that the dueterocanonicals were scripture. Why? If you read his statement CAREFULLY he says it is the Canon of the Jews. Not the Christian canon. I.e. it is the canon of the council of Jamnia. I would say that the 22 books are the canon of the Jews and Protestants. Doesn’t make them the Catholic canon.

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