How reliable is William Webster’s study on Canon of Old Testament?
William Webster, a former Catholic, is businessman and director of Christian Resources Inc., a book and tape ministry devoted to teaching and evangelism (source: Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Protestants analyze what divides and unites us, Moody Press, page 11). He wrote a number of books dealing with Roman Catholicism, among which is The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1995.
The first chapter of the book deals with authority of Scripture where Webster claimed that apocryphal books were not accepted by the early Church as part of the legitimate scriptural canon (page 7), i.e. the canon of Old Testament known to Christ, His apostles and early Christians comprises only thirty-nine books of Protestant’s Bible. To support his theory Webster proposed the following evidence:
- Jesus and the New Testament authors never quote from the Apocrypha, though they quote prolifically from the vast majority of the Old Testament canonical books. However if being quoted in New Testament is criteria of canonicity we don’t have New Testament quotation from Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. New Testament also quotes from outside both Catholic and Protestant’s canon. We do not know from which Scripture Christ quoted His words recorded in John 7:38, though they are preceded with the phrase “Scripture has said”. James 4:5 also quotes from unknown Scripture while Jude 14 quotes from 1 Enoch. In 2 Peter 2:22 quotation from Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with quotation from unknown source. Paul wrote about supernatural Rock (Christ) that followed Israelites in their Exodus (1 Corinthians 10:4) – nowhere mentioned in the book of Exodus. This shows that in Christ and His apostles’ time the canon of Old Testament was not defined yet. For more detail refer to my earlier post: new-testament-quotation-from-old-testament . Second century Christians also quoted from apocrypha and other books as Scripture. For more detail refer to my post: the-old-testament-of-the-first-two-centuries-christians
- Jewish historian Josephus stated that Jewish canon comprises twenty-two books. This is equal to twenty four books of the present Jewish Bible if we combine four books into two books (Josephus: Against Apion 1:8 (38-40)). Josephus also stated that prophetic line ended in around 4 century BC (after the death of Artaxerxes, king of Persia). Hence, apocryphal books, written after second century BC, cannot be prophetic – something that will surely please Protestants. But Christ said in Matthew 11:13: For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist]. Which one is more trustworthy, Christ’ statement or that of Josephus?
- Philo of Alexandria, Jewish philosopher (c. 20 BC to 50 AD) did not quote from apocrypha. But he did not quote from Ezekiel, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Daniel either. For detail refer to my early post: philo-and-canon-of-old-testament
- Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria from 328 to 373 AD, did not include apocrypha as part of the Old Testament canon. This is not true and misleading statement. Athanasius included Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah and omitted Esther in his list of Old Testament books. While he did consider apocrypha (and Esther) to have inferior status, he nevertheless still quoted them as Scripture in his works – for the details refer to my earlier post:
- Melito, bishop of Sardis in late 2nd century AD did not name any apocrypha in his list of Hebrew canon. Webster did not tell his readers that Melito’s list omits Esther. Since it is Hebrew canon it is obvious why it does not include apocrypha. For detail refer to my earlier post:
- Origen, Epiphanius, Gregory Naziansen, Hillary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome omit apocrypha. Again Webster gives misleading statements. For more details refer to my earlier posts:
Is William Webster reliable and/or trustworthy source on Canon of Old Testament of the first four centuries of Christianity? I leave it to my readers to judge.