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November 26, 2007 / vivator

Did Augustine change his mind on his list of Old Testament books?

Augustine (354 to 430 AD) was bishop of Hippo in North Africa and was, perhaps, the most well-known among Church fathers.  He left us numerous works that gives great impact on Christianity and was highly respected by both Catholics and Protestants (Calvinists).  My earlier post gave his list of Old Testament books, a total of forty-four books, which agrees with Catholic’s forty-six books of Old Testament (to arrive at forty-four books, Baruch and Lamentations are combined with Jeremiah).

In around 427 AD Augustine wrote Retractations where he made some revisions in chronological order on the numerous works he had written and retracted some of his statements.  Regarding what he wrote in “On Christian Doctrine”, Book 2, he wrote (English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 60):

In the second book, however, with regard to the author of the book which many call the Wisdom of Solomon, I learned later that it is not certain that Jesus, the son of Sirach, wrote this as well as Ecclesiasticus, as I stated; and I found out that it is, indeed, more probable that he is not the author.  Furthermore, when I said: “The authority of the Old Testament is confined to these forty-four books,” I spoke of it according to the way in which the Church customarily speaks of it.  However, the Apostle seems to give the title “Old Testament” only to that which was given in Mount Sinai.

Augustine, The Retractations, 2:30

Augustine withdrew his statement that Jesus, son of Sirach, was the person who wrote Wisdom of Solomon.  He also stated that the title “Old Testament” should be applied only to the ones given in Mount Sinai (i.e. the five books of the Moses). Perhaps, since he did not elaborate, he made this conclusion from 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 where the Apostle (i.e. Paul) used the term “old covenant” (RSV) or “old testament” (KJV)” to refer to the Law of Moses.  Augustine did not change his mind about his list of inspired books – in the same book he still cited as scripture deuterocanonical books Wisdom and Sirach or Ecclesiasticus (English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 60 with added scripture reference).

In another place, I said: “God does not seek the death of anyone.”  This should be interpreted as follows: man brought death on himself by abandoning God and he who does not return to God brings it on himself according to what is written.  “For God made not death.” [Wisdom 1:13]  But the following, too, is no less true: “Life and death ……. are from the Lord God,” [Ecclesiasticus 11:14] that is, life is from the giver, death from the avenger.

Augustine, The Retractations, 1:20

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3 Comments

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  1. Taylor Marshall / Dec 1 2007 3:21 pm

    Genesis and Deuteronomy were NOT given at Mt Sinai.

    Augustine is saying that the word “Old Testament” technically applies to the legislation given to Moses. He is correct about that. A “covenant” does not refer to a collection of books. I think that is the point that he is making.

    The book of Wisdom was not written by Jesus ben Sirach. It never claims to be. Even if this epiphany of Augustine did mean that he rejected the book of Wisdom (which the retraction does not say), he still would have accepted the remaining six deuterocanonical books and not the Protestant canon.

  2. Dennis Rooney / Nov 20 2009 8:14 pm

    Hi. I’m getting a lot of arguments in a Bible study class that the Apochrapha books included in the Cathiolic Bible, are not inspired, and ahouildn’t be included in the Bible (as they are not in the King James Version). I’m told that many of the writings in these books were used by the Catholic church as justification for things such as Purgatory, praying for the dead, and other ritualistic Catholic traditions that are not practised in the protestant Churches. Is there any proof that these are are actually inspired, in the same way that the rest of the Old Testament was inspired? Thanx

  3. vivator / Nov 20 2009 8:35 pm

    I have a number of posts about apocryphal or deuterocanonical books including replying standard Protestant arguments against their inspiration. Just click Old Testament category on the right hand side. Hope this will help.

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