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August 20, 2007 / vivator

Augustine and Canon of Old Testament

Augustine (354 to 430) was bishop of Hippo, North Africa and, perhaps, the most well-known Church Fathers.  A prolific writer he wrote enormous volumes of works, which has profound impact on Christianity.   He was highly respected by both Catholics and Protestants (Calvinists).  In one of his many works, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine listed forty-four canonical books of the Old Testament and stated how they were selected.

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.

Now the whole canon of Scripture on which we say this judgment is to be exercised, is contained in the following books:-Five books of Moses, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; one book of Joshua the son of Nun; one of Judges; one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to belong to the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings [equal to 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings], and two of Chronicles -these last not following one another, but running parallel, so to speak, and going over the same ground. The books now mentioned are history, which contains a connected narrative of the times, and follows the order of the events. There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next are the Prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David; and three books of Solomon, viz., Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. For two books, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon from a certain resemblance of style, but the most likely opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be reckoned among the prophetical books, since they have attained recognition as being authoritative. The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets: twelve separate books of the prophets which are connected with one another, and having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are as follows:-Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then there are the four greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books.    

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 2:8

Following Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius, Augustine combined Lamentations, Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah with Jeremiah.  He cited Baruch 3:35-37 but attributed it to Jeremiah in one of his monumental works, City of God 18:33.  In the same book (18:36 and 18:43) he defended the use of LXX as the scripture of the Church.  From City of God 17:20 we know that he was aware that the Jews did not recognize deuterocanonical books but he accepted them based on the practice of the Church.  Baruch and Lamentations are now separated from Jeremiah to make forty-six books of the present Catholic Old Testament.  Augustine’s list of books of both Old and New Testaments was declared at Church Council in Hippo (Augustine’s see) in 393 and subsequently reaffirmed at third Council of Carthage, another provincial council in 397.  Another council at Carthage in 419 again confirmed the same list of Old Testament. The same councils also declared the canonicity of the 27 books of the New Testament. 

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