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February 5, 2012 / vivator

Who has the correct number of books in the Bible?

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Christians do not have the same number of books in their Bible, especially that of Old Testament. Protestants have thirty-nine books in their Old Testament which correspond to (with different order and grouping) twenty-four books of Jewish Scripture or Tanakh [1]. Catholic Old Testament has seven more books: Judith, Tobit, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch (with Letter of Jeremiah), Wisdom and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) and some more chapters in Esther and in Daniel (Prayer of Azariah, Song of Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and Dragon). Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, translated from LXX [2], includes all those books and 151st chapter of Psalms, 3 Maccabees and 1 Esdras [3]. That of Ethiopian Orthodox Church has Enoch, Jubilee and other books [4]. Their New Testament has more books than twenty-seven books in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant’ New Testament. Understandably Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) try hard to prove that their Bible has the correct number of books, i.e. the canon (list of inspired books) of the Bible is their sixty-six books. Below are the seven reasons they usually bring up against the inclusion of deuterocanonical [5] (or apocryphal [6] in their terminology) books in the Bible.

  1. The Council of Trent added those apocryphal books in sixteenth century.
  2. We should trust the Jews to determine which books belong to Old Testament because they were given oracles of God (Roman 3:2).
  3. New Testament never quotes from any apocryphal books.
  4. None of apocryphal books claims inspiration.
  5. Apocryphal books were written after the death of the last prophets of Israel.
  6. Christ approved books belonging to Jewish Scripture (which is equal to Protestant Old Testament), when He said in Luke 11:51: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”.

  7. Apocryphal books cannot be inspired because they contain many errors as well as contradictions with sixty-six books of Protestant Bible.


1.The Council of Trent added those apocryphal books in sixteenth century

Before one can accuse Council of Trent (or other) of adding those books, the person should answer this question: how do we know that that are only thirty-nine books in Old Testament and only twenty-seven books in New Testament? There is no single verse in the entire Bible, whether that of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Protestant, states which books belong to the Bible. This should pose a serious problem to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians who declare that (their) Bible is the only and highest authority. Unknowingly to them, the number of books of their Bible depends on their church statement of faith, or on their presumption, or their church councils, or, perhaps, “because my pastor told me so”. In other words they depend on authority outside the Bible to determine which books belong to the Bible. Then they make the Bible, with those predetermined books, the only and highest authority. This should imply we cannot have authority outside the Bible to determine which books belong to the Bible! This is a self-contradicting circular argument! Well, do Catholics have the same reason to know which books belong to the Bible, i.e. they were decided by the Catholic Church?

The birthday of the Church was the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended, as recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 2:1-4), which was not written in that time. We cannot know for sure when each book of New Testament was written. According to scholars the first one (2 Thessalonians) was written, perhaps, in c. 50 or 51 AD and the first Gospel was written after 70AD. This means the Church had been in existence for around two decades before we had the first written New Testament book; and around four decades before the first Gospel was written and, as we will see later, before the Jews closed the canon of their Scripture.

Christ’ words were first circulated orally and later, some were put in written form in the Gospels. Thus from the Gospel according to Matthew we know that Christ intended to give His apostles authority over His Church. He gave Peter (Matthew 16:19) and later all apostles (Matthew 18:18) the authority to bind and to loose. Whatever they bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In Greek “bound and loosed in heaven” is in (passive) perfect tense, while “bind and loose on earth” is in (active) aorist tense. Unlike that of English, Greek perfect tense indicates continuity of completed past action. This means what Peter and the apostles bind or loose shall follow the ones that have already been bound or loosed in heaven, obviously by God – it is not in reverse as some might think.

Catholics believe that the apostles passed the same authority to their successors, the bishops – the so called apostolic succession. Both (Western) Catholic and (Eastern) Orthodox Churches claim apostolic succession. Apostolic succession belongs to what is known as Tradition (with capital T) – you cannot find it in the Bible. But we know Christ promised His apostles to be with them to the end of age (Matthew 28:20), to send the Holy Spirit to be with them forever (John 14:16), to teach them all things and to remind them whatsoever He said to them (John 14:26); and that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18). New Testament nowhere says those divine promises are valid only in the first three hundred years, i.e. until Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD or in the first fifteen centuries, i.e. until Reformation. Having the same authority, the Pope and the bishops (in union with Him) have the power to bind and to loose and whatever they bind or loose does not come from themselves but it has been already bound and loosed in heaven. No wonder Paul referred the Church as the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) – certainly he was not writing about church (or churches) that came into existence in sixteenth century or later. This is the reason why Catholics believe it is the Church with the apostolic origin has the power to determine which books belong to the Bible. The Church is not above the Bible but is under the guidance of Holy Spirit promised by Christ Himself!

Why it took the Church sixteen centuries to promulgate Canon (list of inspired books) of the Bible? The same canon was declared in provincial council in Hippo, North Africa in 393 AD, reaffirmed at Councils of Carthage, also in North Africa, in 397 AD and in 419 AD. Christians in the first three centuries did not have closed canon – they disagree with each other on which books belong to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. The so-called disputed books of Old Testament were Esther and deuterocanonical books while those of New Testament were Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Revelation. The earliest list with the same twenty-seven books as in present day Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant’ New Testament appeared in 367 AD [7]. List of Old Testament books which agrees with Catholic Bible appeared in 382 AD [8] while the one that agrees with Protestant Old Testament appeared in 391 AD [9]. Council of Trent in 1546 is the ecumenical council that explicitly promulgated canonicity of seventy-three books of Catholic Bible, though the same list of Old Testament books also appeared in ecumenical council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome (Session 11 on 4 February 1442). The Eastern Orthodox Church declared their canon of Bible in their synod held at Jerusalem in 1672. For Protestants who belong to Reformed Church, Belgic Confession Article 4 (in 1561) and Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 (in 1647), declared canonicity of sixty-six books of their Bible.


2.We should trust the Jews to determine which books belong to Old Testament because they were given oracles of God (Roman 3:2).

When did the Jews close their canon of Scripture, i.e. the Old Testament? Protestants and “Bible only” Christians would say before the time of Christ because that will bolster their claim based on Romans 3:2. Unfortunately this claim is neither supported by Bible nor by Jewish reliable sources. If canon of Jewish Scripture was closed before Christ’ time, we would expect He and His apostles only quoted from that closed canon, which is not the case, as we will see later. According to Encyclopedia Judaica the third part of Jewish Scripture (Ketuvim or the Writings) was closed in second century AD [10]. Sirach or Ecclesiasticus was quoted as Scripture in Jewish Talmud [11], composed after second century AD. How about Jamnia (or Javneh) council in 90 AD that purportedly closed canon of Jewish Scripture? Jamnia council hypothesis was created based on Jewish Misnah that only discusses canonical status of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. All the above mentioned sources indicate that Jewish canon was closed after Christ crucifixion. Christians are not obliged to follow Jewish decision made after Christ crucifixion, considering what He taught through His parable of the vineyard’s tenants in Matthew 21:33-41 – let out the vineyards to other tenants (verse 41). Note that the existence of Scripture or even all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) in Christ and apostolic time does not automatically imply existence of closed canon. Daniel read Jeremiah as Scripture in the first year of Darius (the Mede) reign (Daniel 9:1-2) before prophets Haggai and Zechariah received the words of the Lord in the second year of Darius reign and wrote them.


3.New Testament never quotes from any apocryphal books.

If being quoted in New Testament is the requirement to enter the canon, then New Testament does not quote from Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes either. New Testament also quoted from outside both Catholic and Protestant’ Old Testament. Jerome saw a manuscript of apocryphal work (now lost) attributed to Jeremiah that had the exact words quoted in Matthew 27:9 [12]. What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, preceded with the phrase “it is written”, resembles but not equal to Isaiah 64:4. According to Ambrosiaster [13] (c. 4th century AD) it is quotation from apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:4 about the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites during Exodus and he named two magicians who opposed Moses in 2 Timothy 3:8 – both are not found in the book of Exodus. In 2 Peter 2:22, Proverbs 26:11 is placed in par with a proverb from outside the Bible. Jude 9 quotes from the Ascension of Moses [14] and Jude 14-16 quotes from the 1 Enoch 1:9. The standard reply for the above non-scriptural quotation is they are not quoted as scripture, like quotation from Cretan poet Epimenides in Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12. However quotation from non-Jewish works was obviously non-scriptural to the Jews (though as we will see later, God’s word may come through non-Jews). 1 Enoch is cited it in the same way Matthew 15:7-9 cite Isaiah 29:13 (of LXX). We also have quotation from unknown scripture in John 7:38 and James 4:5, both preceded with the phrase “scripture says”. To conclude being quoted in New Testament is not the criteria of canonicity and not being quoted in New Testament is not the criteria for non-canonical either.


4.None of Apocryphal claims inspiration.

Most of Protestant’s sixty-six book Bible do not explicitly claim inspiration either. Those who insist they do should be able to produce at least one verse from each book that explicitly claims inspiration. Esther, without LXX chapters, as in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testament, does not even mention God [15] and not quoted in News Testament. 1 Enoch, on the other hand, mentions God and quoted once in New Testament (Jude 4:16) but only Ethiopian Orthodox Church considers it to be inspired. Paul stated what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:12 was not from Christ, but from himself – yet we still consider it inspired.


5. Apocryphal books were written after the death of the last prophets of Israel.

According to Jewish historian Josephus who lived in first century AD, books of Jewish Scripture were written between Moses and reign of Persian king, Artaxerxes [16]. Without naming them, Josephus counted twenty-two books comprising five books of Law, thirteen books of prophets and four books of hymns and conducts of life. Protestants cite Josephus statement and that of 1 Maccabees 9:27 (the prophets ceased to appear among Israelites), both outside their Bible, as proof of canonicity of their thirty-nine books of Old Testament. The last Jewish prophets were Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi but where does the Bible say the words of God given only through prophets? The words uttered by Balaam (Numbers 22:7-10, 18-24 and Numbers 24:2-9) came from God, even though Balaam was not prophet, not even a Jew. Similarly, according to 2 Chronicles 35:22 God spoke through Necho, king of Egypt and in John 11:51 Caiaphas prophesied. From Christ Himself we know that the Law and the Prophets are prophesied until John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13), i.e. there was no silent period between Jewish last prophets and John the Baptist. We do have prophecy of Christ in Wisdom 2:12-20.


6. Christ approved books belonging to Jewish Scripture (which is equal to Protestant Old Testament), when He said in Luke 11:51: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”.

Since we can find Able in the book of Genesis (Chapter 4) and Zechariah in the book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 24:20-21) – those two are the first and the last books in Jewish Scripture, then does it show that Old Testament approved by Christ is the Jewish Scripture? There are two problems with this argument. First, the order of books in Jewish Scripture is not static. Chronicles is the last book of the current Jewish Scripture but it was not always so. Jewish Scripture has three parts: the Law (five books), the Prophets (eight books) and the Writings (eleven books). Encyclopedia Judaica [17] shows eight different orders of books of the Writings, of which three Chronicles is the first book. Those who rely on Josephus testimony should know that Chronicles cannot be the last book because the last five books according to Josephus are books of hymns and conduct of life. Second, Zechariah of Chronicles (who was priest, not prophet) was son of Jehoiada, while parallel verse in Matthew 23:35 identifies him to be son of Barachiah. Most likely Christ referred to Prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1, Ezra 5:1), who together with Haggai and Malachi were the last Jewish prophets.


7. Apocryphal books cannot be inspired because they contain many errors as well as contradictions with sixty-six books of Protestant Bible.

Unfortunately the same applies to sixty-six books of Protestant Bible, though for obvious reason they don’t call them as errors and contradictions, but as difficulties or discrepancies. Geisler & Howe wrote over 500- page The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, published by Baker books in 1992, dealing with those difficulties, from Genesis to Revelation (all sixty-six books). Another work by Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, is a classic (first written in 1874); its 400+ pages deal with discrepancies which he grouped into three: doctrinal, ethical and historical discrepancies. Those books were written to offer solution to those difficulties and number of pages tells us they are not a few in numbers. This is understandable – Catholics and Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) believe in inerrancy of Scripture. Non-Christians may not accept the solution – once a person pre-decided not to accept inspiration of those sixty-six books, no amount of explanation will satisfy him/her. In the same way Catholics are aware of difficulties in deuterocanonical books and we also offer solution. Protestants and “Bible only” Christians are entitled not to accept the solution – they behave just like non-Christians. Once they pre-decided, without any Scriptural support, that the Bible comprises only sixty-six books, no amount of explanation will satisfy them.

Let’s first examine a few difficulties or discrepancies in sixty-six books of Protestant Scripture (which are also part of Catholics Bible) and their proposed solution, condensed from Haley or Geisler & Howe or both, if any.

  1. In 2 Samuel 24:1 God moved David to number Israel but parallel verse in 1 Chronicles 21:1 says it was Satan (the Devil) who did so. Solution proposed by Geisler and Howe (page 177) is God permitted Satan to incite David to number the Israelites.

  2. Psalms 5:4 and Jeremiah 29:11 say that God is not the source of evil but Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:11, Lamentation 3:38 and Amos 3:6 attribute evil to God. The word “evil” in those verses is translated from the same Hebrews word. According to Haley (page 77), the word evil in Isaiah 45:7, Jeremiah 18:11, Lamentation 3:38 and Amos 3:6 means natural evil (like volcano, war, plague, earthquake, fire), not moral evil or sin as in Psalms 5:4 and Jeremiah 29:11.

  3. Exodus 21:7-11 allows a Jewish man to sell his daughter as slave. The owner cannot resell her to non-Jews. Exodus 21:20-21 allows slave owner to strike his slave, either male or female and he will be punished only if he/she dies. The slave must be set free if he/she loses his/her eye or tooth (Exodus 21:26-27). In contrast Colossians 4:1 says that the owner must treat them justly and fairly. Neither Haley nor Geisler & Howe mention this difficulty in their books, though the latter wrote one page (pages 509 – 510) of slavery condemnation using verses from the Bible. For example they wrote servants must be treated with respect and relied on Exodus 21:20, 26 to support their statement!

  4. “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is the Commandment from God but in 1 Samuel 15:3 He ordered Saul to annihilate the entire Amalek, including women and babies. In Psalms 137:9 the Psalmist rejoiced over those who took babies (of daughter of Babylon) and dashed them against the rock! Geisler & Howe (page 161) argued that the Amalekites were sinful and deserved that severe punishment. This includes their children lest they later might rise to resume their hateful act towards God’s people and plan. In addition they wrote that children who die before the age of accountability are saved. As for Psalms 137:8 Geisler & Howe wrote (page 243) that the Psalmist rejoiced not over smashing babies against the rock but over the retributive justice of God that would ultimately return the cruelty of the Babylonians upon them as a just punishment for their crime.

  5. In Mark 2:26 Christ named Abiathar as the High Priest when David and his men ate bread of the Presence. But 1 Samuel 21:1-6 says the high priest was, then, Ahimelech, father of Abiathar. Solution proposed by Haley (page 320) is Abiathar was acting as his father substitute. According to Geisler & Howe (page 370) the phrase “in the days of Abiathar” does not necessarily imply that he was high priest at the time David ate the bread. Thus, it was during the time of Abiathar, but not during his tenure in office.

  6. According to Daniel 5:30 Babylonian was defeated by Darius the Mede, who reigned before Cyrus (Daniel 6:28). Darius the Mede was fictitious figure who did not exist in history. He was modeled after Darius I, second successor of Cyrus. Solution proposed by Geisler and Howe (page 295) is Darius the Mede was Gubaru whom Cyrus appointed to be governor over all Babylonia.

  7. Esther had sexual relation outside marriage with king Ahasuerus, what we now call as “one night stand” – breaking Exodus 20:14: You shall not commit adultery. Though the king later made her queen, marriage between Jews (both males and females) and non-Jews (or gentile) were forbidden in Nehemiah 10:30 (while Moses, Boaz and some others married non-Jews). Geisler and Howe argued (page 220) that Esther had no choice because she was taken to the king’s palace and insisted she did not do anything explicitly immoral.

  8. In John 8:14 Christ said: “Even if I do bear witness to myself, my testimony is true” but in John 5:31 He said: “If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true.” Solution proposed by Geisler & Howe (page 410) is everything Jesus said was actually true, but officially it was only considered true if it was verified by two or three witnesses as stated in Deuteronomy 19:15.

  9. After his Damascus conversion Paul wrote that he did not go to Jerusalem but went to Arabia, returned to Damascus and only after three years he went to Jerusalem where he only met Cephas (Peter) and James (Galatians 1:17-20). In verse 20 he wrote that he did not lie. But Acts 9:23-27 indicates that he went to Jerusalem from Damascus where Barnabas brought him to meet the apostles, not just Peter and James. Both Haley and Geisler & Howe missed this difficulty in their books.

  10. Paul wrote that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 4:1-4) but James 2:21 say he was justified by works. This, of course, has been Protestant problem since Reformation, when the Reformers insisted that justification is one time event and by faith alone. Geisler and Howe (pages 527 – 528) wrote that Paul and James talk about different justification. Paul wrote about root of justification while James wrote about fruit of justification. Justification of Paul is justification before God while that of James is Justification before men. Catholics, who believe justification is on-going process and not by faith alone, find no contradiction between Paul and James – both talk about the same justification.

Now let’s look at some commonly raised problems in deuterocanonical or apocryphal books and their solutions.

  1. Historical problem in the book of Judith where king of Babylonia Nebuchadnezzar was made king of Assyria.

    There are two solutions for this difficulty. The first one considers Judith as theological novel or parable or allegory to convey a message. By stating Nebuchadnezzar as king of Assyria the writer produced composite conqueror of both Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdoms. The Assyrian kingdom brought down Northern kingdom or Israel in c. 722 BC while (Neo) Babylonian empire did the same to the Southern kingdom in c. 586 BC. The second solution considers Judith to be historical narrative where Nebuchadnezzar was other name of one Assyrian king, just like Darius the Mede in Daniel 5:30 was Cyrus general by the name Gobiru (who was not a Mede).

  2. Ethical problem in the book of Judith, i.e. she lied to Holofernes about her true mission and through her beauty lured him to death. The angel Raphael in the book of Tobit (Tobit 5:12) also impersonated a person named Azariah.

    In 1 Samuel 16:1 God asked Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel but he worried Saul would kill him. For sure God was able to protect Samuel from Saul but He told him to say, if asked, he went there to offer sacrifice, i.e. concealing his true mission. In the same way Judith concealed her true mission to Holofernes. While she did lure him to his death through her beauty, she, unlike Esther, did not have sexual relation with him. As for the angel Raphael impersonating a human, according to Hebrews 13:2 by showing hospitality to strangers, some might entertain angels unaware, i.e. those angels do not reveal their identity and that is exactly what angel Raphael did.

  3. The Catholic Church declared apocryphal books to be inspired because they support Catholic unbiblical teaching like prayer to the dead (2 Maccabees 12:38-46) and salvation by works in giving almsgiving for deliverance from death and purging sins (Tobit 12:9).

    Prayer to the dead is closely related to purgatory. The saints in heaven no longer need prayer from saints on earth (who are encouraged to pray for one another) and there is no point praying for those in hell. Hence there is a third place which Catholics refer as Purgatory where those who died with venial sins have their sins cleansed. Catholic teaching on purgatory is understandably hard for Protestants (and “Bible only” Christians) to accept. Yet it does not rely on 2 Maccabees 12:38-46 alone. The Bible refers God as refiner’s fire (Malachi 3:2) who refines some as one refines silver (Zechariah 13:8-9).

    What is written in Tobit 12:9 is related to rewards for our good works. No one can deny that God rewards us for our good works (Proverbs 13:13, Psalms 18:20, 2 John 8, Revelation 22:12 etc.) and He even rewards us with eternal life (John 5:28-29, Romans 2:6-7). Catholics understand those rewards as gift from God – they are NOT something we deserve like we deserve our wages and there is no such thing as salvation by works in Catholicism. Thus Tobit 12:9 talks about rewards of our good works just like 1 Peter 4:8 say charity covers multitude of sins. Likewise James 5:20 says whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul and will cover multitude of sins. Does it sound similar to Tobit 12:9 if we replace “almsgiving” with “bringing back a sinner from the error of his way”? No Protestants will say that James 5:20 contradict other verses that say Christ is the only Saviour like Acts 4:12.

  4. Tobit encourages superstitious practice in Tobit 6:16-17 where smoke produced from burning heart and liver of fish was used to scare demon.

    Protestants and “Bible only” Christians obviously have problem with Catholic sacramental system. This is why they reject Catholic practices which to them are superstitious like the one stated in Tobit 6:16-17, veneration of relics, wearing scapular and even seven Sacraments. Sacramental system is the belief that God could channel His Grace and help through material or visible symbol. Keep in mind that God can give His Grace and help directly – He is not restricted by the use of material or visible symbol but in some cases He prefers to do so and there are many examples from the Bible, not only in Tobit 6:16-17.
    God asked Moses to make bronze serpent and to set it on a pole and whoever looked at it after being bitten by real snake will live. Prophet Elisha asked Naaman to wash in Jordan River to cure his leprosy (2 Kings 5:10-14). According to 2 Kings 13:21 bones of Prophet Elisha were able to bring back to life a dead man. Christ could heal blind men directly (Mark 10:52, Luke 18:42-43) but in John 9:6 He preferred to use soil mixed with His saliva. Likewise many were healed by touching fringe or hem [18] of His garment (Matthew 9:20, 14:36). Handkerchiefs or aprons after touching Apostle Paul’s body were able to heal the sick and to cast away evil spirit (Acts 19:12).


End Notes:

  1. the acronym of Torah (the Law or in Greek, Pentateuch), Nevim (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings or in Greek, Hagiographa or Holy Writings)

  2. LXX or Septuagint is collection of Old Testament books written in Greek. Most quotations in New Testament are taken from LXX. Catholic and Protestant’s Old Testament are translated from Masoretic text (in Hebrews), though grouping of books follow that of LXX.

  3. As listed in Orthodox Study Bible. 4 Maccabees and Prayer of Manasseh are in the Appendix according to Orthodox Wiki

  4. Click here
  5. Deuterocanonical and protocanonical books, meaning second and first canons were coined by Sixtus of Sienna (1520 to 1569)

  6. Apocrypha means hidden, which since the time of Jerome (died c. 420 AD) was commonly used to label books that can be found in LXX but not in Hebrew Bible.

  7. Athanasius: 39th Festal Letter

  8. Pope Damasus (died 384 AD): Decretal of Gelasius

  9. Jerome: Prefaces of the Books of the Vulgate version of the Old Testament. Jerome still included (and referred them as) apocryphal books in Vulgate.

  10. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to show that the collection of the Ketuvim as a whole, as well as some individual books within it, was not accepted as being finally closed until well into the second century c.e. [common era = AD]

    As noted above, the practice of calling the entire Scriptures the “Torah and Prophets” presupposes a considerable lapse of time between the canonization of the second and third parts of the Bible. The fact that the last division had no fixed name points in the same direction. Even the finally adopted designation “Ketuvim” is indeterminate, since it is also used in Rabbinic Hebrew in the two senses of the Scriptures in general and in individual texts in particular.

    Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4 page 824

  11. Raba [again] said to Rabbah b. Mari: whence can be derived the popular saying, ‘A bad palm will usually make its way to a grove of barren trees’? – He replied: This matter was written in the Pentateuch, repeated in the Prophets, mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, and also learnt in a Mishnah and taught in a baraitha: It is stated in the Pentateuch as written, So Esau went unto Ishmael [Genesis 28:9], repeated in the prophets, as written, And there gathered themselves to Jephthah idle men and they went out with him [Judges 11:3], mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa, as written: Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal [Sirach 13:15];

    Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nazikin, Baba Kamma 92b

    Translated by E.W. Kirzner, Soncino Press (1961

    …..And R Aha b. Jacob said: There is still another Heaven above the heads of the living creatures, for it is written: And over the heads of the living creature there was a likeness of a firmament, like the colour of the terrible ice, stretched forth over their heads above [Ezekiel 1:22]. Thus far you have permission to speak, thenceforward you have not permission to speak, for so it is written in the Book of Ben Sira: Seek not things that are too hard for thee, and search not out things that are hidden from thee. The things that have been permitted thee, think thereupon; thou hast no business with the things that are secret [Sirach 3:21-22]

    Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Hagigah 13a,
    Translated by Israel Abrahams, Soncino Press (1961)

  12. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, 4.27.10, in Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, New Testament, Vol. 1b, Inter Varsity Press, 2002, page 275.

  13. Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, in Ancient Christian Commentary of Scripture, New Testament, Vol. 7, Inter Varsity Press, 2002, page 23. Ambrosiaster (pseudo Ambrose) was the name given by Dutch theologian Erasmus (1466 to 1536) to otherwise anonymous 4th century author who wrote commentary of all Paul’s epistles.

  14. According to Origen (died c. 251 AD): de Principiis 3.2. No manuscript of Ascension of Moses survived today.

  15. According to Geisler & Howe the name of God is found in the book of Esther in acrostic form, at four crucial points in the story (Esther 1:20, 5:4, 5:13, 7:7), twice forward and twice backward (Geisler & Howe: The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, page 219)

  16. Josephus, Against Apion 1:8 (38-40)

  17. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4, pages 829-830

  18. Kraspedon in In Greek, which refer to tassels, appendages attached to mantles to remind the Jews of the Law

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April 2, 2011 / vivator

the Eucharist – eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood

Catholic teaching on Eucharist is certainly one of the toughest for non-Catholics to understand.  Not surprisingly it is also one of the mostly attacked and caricatured.  The following clauses of the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarize the teachings of the Catholic Church on the Eucharist (underlined emphasis is added):

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharist sacrifice of his Body and Blood.  This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal [Passover] banquet “in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1323

At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood.

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1333

Thus Catholics do believe that (1) the bread and wine at the consecration truly becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, which the faithful consume and (2) Eucharistic celebration (or the Mass) is not just a memorial of his death and resurrection but also the same sacrifice Christ offered on the cross made present.  Both of them certainly scandalize or at least puzzle non Catholics and maybe even some Catholics.

We look first at the first one. Catholic belief that we literally consume the Body and Blood of Christ is indeed a hard teaching – it is not something new or only started during Reformation.  Almost two thousand years ago Christ disciples who heard it directly from Him said so (John 6:60) and then left Him (John 6:66).

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

John 6:53-56 (RSV, underlined emphasis added)

Most, if not all Protestants usually argue that Christ spoke metaphorically – His words are not to be taken literally, after all Christ also claimed He is the Way (John 14:6), the light of the world (John 8:12), the true vine (John 15:1) etc.  But did Christ always speak metaphorically? Looking at the above quoted verses there is Greek word “alethos” translated into English as “indeed” (in RSV and KJV).  According to Strong concordance (# 230) it means: truly, of a truth, in reality, most certainly.  This word appears in a number of verses in (Greek) New Testament, translated as “of a truth”, “certainly”, “surely”, “indeed”, “really”, “truly” (Matthew 14:33, 26:73, 27:54; Mark 14:70, 15:39; Luke 9:27, 12:44; John 1:47, 4:42, 6:14, 7:40, 8:31; Acts 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 2:5) and it never refers to something non-real, untrue or symbolic.  Food and drink is something to be consumed – thus when Christ said that his flesh is food indeed and his blood is drink indeed (John 6:55), He meant we are to consume His Flesh and Blood.  Some may use John 6:63 where Christ said (RSV), the flesh is of no avail, to deny Catholic belief. But here Christ did not say “my flesh is of no avail” – in other words He did not talk about His Flesh. The Greek word translated as flesh is sarx, which may mean flesh of human and animal or body or human nature.  Compare with Matthew 26:41 where Christ told His disciples that the spirit is willing but (their) flesh (Greek sarx) is weak.  Keep in mind that in John 6:63 Christ also said: “It is the spirit that gives life” and “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”.

Scripture also refers Christ as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).  He is the Lamb of God, without blemish (1 Peter 1:19), who takes the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Jewish Passover begins on fifteenth day of Nissan (the first month of Jewish calendar) and according to Scripture (Exodus 12:1-9) they choose un-blemish lamb (or goat) on the tenth day which they kill and consume on fourteenth day of Nissan.  Note that they (Jews) do not offer the lamb as burnt offering but must consume the lamb (Exodus 12:8), only what remains on the next day must be burnt.  This lamb of Old Testament prefigures Christ, the Passover Lamb of New Testament (1 Corinthian 5:7).  According to the fourth  Gospel  He was crucified (sacrificed) on fourteenth day of Nissan (John 18:28). On the other hand the first three (synoptic) Gospels refer the Last Supper as Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-18, Mark 14:12-14 and Luke 22:8-11) and He was crucified on the next day, i.e. on fifteenth day of Nissan. The Gospel according to John does not mention the Last Supper – we know Christ and His disciples had it (John 13:1-2), but it would be on thirteenth day of Nissan, which means it was not Passover meal.  The Last Supper of the first three Gospels, which was Passover meal, does not mention any lamb because Christ Himself is the Lamb.  Just like the lamb of the Old Covenant we have to consume Him literally, not symbolically.  Does this mean Catholics are allowed to partake the Eucharist only on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan?  Does the different date of crucifixion (with respect to Jewish calendar) pose a problem?  To be Passover Lamb of New Testament Christ had to be crucified on fourteenth day of Nissan as according to the fourth Gospel. The Last Supper, being a Passover meal, must fall on the same day (as according to Matthew, Mark and Luke) – but how can Christ be the Passover Lamb when He was not yet crucified? The following paragraph will give the answer.

Now we look at the second Catholic belief that in every Mass the same sacrifice of Christ on the cross is made present.  It is not repeating or re-sacrificing of Christ – His sacrifice on the cross is once for all (Hebrews 9:12, 26).  But this would not satisfy those who are against this belief – we need more explanation from Scripture.  We know that Christ sacrifice on the cross took place in c. 30 AD but, interestingly, Scripture says (Revelation 13:8) that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, i.e. from the time of creation, not on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan in c. 30 AD.  In addition the Greek word translated into “slain” is esphagmenou – it is the passive form in perfect tense of Greek verb sphazo (to slay). Unlike the English perfect tense, the Greek perfect tense indicates continuation and present state of a completed past action – in this case it was completed at foundation of the world, though in human time His sacrifice appeared to take place almost two thousand years ago. he has appeared once for all at the end of age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). This explains why Christ was the Passover Lamb of the Last Supper (of the first three Gospels) even though He was not yet crucified.  Also whether He was crucified on fourteenth or fifteenth day of Nissan makes no difference.  For the same reason Catholics believe the same and single sacrifice Christ made on the cross can be made present in every Eucharistic celebration (or Mass).    Christ is the Passover Lamb of New Testament and partaking the Eucharist is participating in Passover meal of the Last Supper. Thus Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1323 also refers Eucharist as Paschal (Passover) banquet.  Some might argue that the phrase “foundation of the world” in Revelation 13:8 is to be applied to those who names not written in the book of life. However Hebrews 9:24-26 says that if Christ did not offer Himself in heavenly sanctuary then He, like Old Testament High Priest, must do it repeatedly, interestingly, not from the year He was crucified, but from the foundation of the world.

Closely related to sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is the Catholic Ministerial Priesthood – through whom the Eucharistic sacrifice is made present.  We cannot find such priesthood in any Protestant or post-Reformation churches.  Catholics believe ministerial priesthood is New Testament Levitical priesthood.  Protestants usually say that Levitical priesthood was abolished with the coming of Christ, our High Priest. Yet Scripture says that Levitical priesthood will continue offering sacrifice forever (Jeremiah 33:17-22) and God will take some as priests and levites from all the nations (Isaiah 66:21), i.e priests no longer have to be Jewish and descendants of Aaron.  Levitical priesthood of Judaism still exists today – male Jews with the surname Cohen (or Cohn, Coen, Katz, Kant and other variants) are priests and they were born priests (Hebrew word for priest is kohen).  However after the destruction of Jerusalem Temple in c . 70 AD sacrificial system of Judaism came to an end, i.e. their priests no longer offer sacrifice, not even on Atonement Day (Yom Kippur) and on fourteenth day of Nissan.  Yom Kippur is the only day of  Jewish calendar year when the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies of the Sanctuary (housed in Jerusalem Temple) to offer blood atonement through-out generations (Exodus 30:10) – yet they have stopped doing it for almost two thousand years. Christ, the New Testament High Priest of the order Melchizedek, offers Himself as atonement in heaven, not in man-made sanctuary (Hebrews 9:24).  Because of this He needs to do it only once for all, at the end of age, not every year like High Priest of Old Testament (Hebrews 9:26).  The atonement through-out generations stated in Exodus 30:10 is fulfilled in every Holy Mass, where His sacrifice is made present through the ministry of priests.  When Christ instituted the Eucharist in the Last Supper He also consecrated His disciples to be His priests.  They in turn ordained the bishops as their successors and so on.  The ministerial priesthood was later extended to include presbyters (from which we get the English word priests).  For more detail of New Testament priesthood my readers can read my earlier posts on this topic at:

Priesthood of the Old and New Covenants

and

The Year of the priests

March 20, 2011 / vivator

On Jude citation from 1 Enoch

It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude 14-15 (RSV)

We cannot find the source of this citation from either Catholic or Protestant’s Old Testament because it came from 1 Enoch 1:9, a book which Catholics consider as Apocrypha (as Pseudepigrapha to Protestants).  This is not the only place where Jude cited from outside the Old Testament – Jude 9 cited from Ascension of Moses, according to Origen [1].  Many would argue that 1 Enoch 1:9 is not cited as Scripture because in New Testament we have also citation from Greek poets (Acts 17:28) and Greek prophet (Titus 1:12).  However citations from Greek works are obviously non-scriptural but 1 Enoch was a Jewish work and Jude 14-15 cites it in the same way Matthew 15:7-9 cite Isaiah 29:13 (of Septuagint/LXX).   Why would Jude cite from 1 Enoch?  The first Christians and the Jews of the first century AD did not have closed canon yet, not even in the next few centuries [2].  1 Enoch was one book that had scriptural status in that time.  Thus among manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls we have 20 copies of 1 Enoch – it outnumbered most books of the Old Testament but Psalms (40 copies), Isaiah (21 copies) and Genesis (20 copies) [3].  Other than 1 Enoch we also have the book of Jubilees (15 copies), Tobit (5 copies), Sirach (3 copies) and one copy of Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch Chapter 6 in Catholic Bible) and one copy each of Psalms 151, 154 and 155. Like Jude the early Christians also cited Enoch as Scripture (English translation from Anti Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, available on-line at www.ccel.org ):

For the Scripture saith, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the Lord will deliver up the sheep of His pasture, and their sheep-fold and tower, to destruction.” [1 Enoch 89:56,66]

Barnabas 16

Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. [1 Enoch 12:4-5, 13:4-7 and 15:2]

Irenæus, Against Heresies 4.16.2

1 Enoch continued enjoying scriptural status until third century AD.  While he was aware that some doubted its authority Tertullian (c .160 to 230), bishop of Carthage defended it because it preaches Christ and was cited in Jude (On the Apparel of Women 1.3, ).  On the other hand Origen both cited (de Principiis 1.3.3 and 4.35) and rejected it (Against Celsus 5:54).  In fourth century Jerome called it apocryphal in Homily 45 on Psalms 132(133).  Augustine in City of God 15:23 and 18:38 wrote that Enoch left some divine writings quoted in Jude but stated 1 Enoch had no canonical authority.  We could only speculate why 1 Enoch was gradually rejected – one theory says it was rejected because it has apocalyptic nature [4] – but so is the book of Daniel. Today only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has 1 Enoch (and the book of Jubilee) in their Bible.

  1. The work is now lost – it is not to be confused with Testament of Moses, of which few fragments survive. Below is what Origen wrote (English translation is from Anti Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3.):We have now to notice, agreeably to the statements of Scripture, how the opposing powers, or the devil himself, contends with the human race, inciting and instigating men to sin. And in the first place, in the book of Genesis, the serpent is described as having seduced Eve; regarding whom, in the work entitled The Ascension of Moses (a little treatise, of which the Apostle Jude makes mention in his Epistle), the archangel Michael, when disputing with the devil regarding the body of Moses, says that the serpent, being inspired by the devil, was the cause of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

    Origen, de Principiis 3:2

    Origen (c. 185 to 251 AD) was teachers and prolific authors who wrote commentaries of almost every book of the Bible, homilies as well as other books.

  2. https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/exploring-the-origins-of-the-bible/https://vivacatholic.wordpress.com/2007/07/27/the-old-testament-of-the-first-two-centuries-christians/
  3. Craig A. Evans: Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls
  4. My sense is that Professor Hultin is right in noting that the apocalyptic nature of 1 Enoch was instrumental in its rejection. Apocalyptic literature is helpful and reassuring to people in distress, especially in their being oppressed by the authorities. But as Christianity became more and more part of the main stream and as it experienced less oppression, the role of apocalyptic literature lessened and its helpfulness declined.

    Leslie W. Walck: Response to Jeremy Hultin’s “Jude’s Citation of 1 Enoch”

    Jewish and Christian Scriptures: The Function of “Canonical” and “Non-Canonical” Religious Texts, pages 129-130


January 23, 2011 / vivator

Dr. R.C. Sproul on double predestination

Dr. R.C. Sproul is Reformed scholar and theologian, founder (and president) of Ligonier Ministries and president of Ligonier Academy.  The following is what he wrote (in italic, underlined emphasis is mine) on double predestination, which is taken from:

http://www.the-highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html

In the article Dr. Sproul describes what he calls as distortion of double predestination:

The distortion of double predestination looks like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God WORKS in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are the monergistic work of God. Stated another way, we can establish a parallelism of foreordination and predestination by means of a positive symmetry. We can call this a positive-positive view of predestination. This is, God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation. In the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the reprobate to bring him to sin.

This distortion of positive-positive predestination clearly makes God the author of sin who punishes a person for doing what God monergistically and irresistibly coerces man to do. Such a view is indeed a monstrous assault on the integrity of God. This is not the Reformed view of predestination, but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Such a view may be identified with what is often loosely described as hyper-Calvinism and involves a radical form of supralapsarianism. Such a view of predestination has been virtually universally and monolithically rejected by Reformed thinkers.

Dr. Sproul stated that Reformed position of double predestination should be understood to be positive-negative predestination:

In sharp contrast to the caricature of double predestination seen in the positive-positive schema is the classic position of Reformed theology on predestination. In this view predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.
In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect
[the Reprobate] God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives.

He explains further why God does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in Reprobate’ lives

If God, when He is decreeing reprobation, does so in consideration of the reprobate’s being already fallen, then He does not coerce him to sin. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed or forced to sin.

What Dr. Sproul explains on positive-negative double predestination could be expressed in the following analogy:

All men are like damaged cars on conveyor belt that will bring them to crushing machine.  There is nothing those cars can do to save themselves – they are not even aware that they will be crushed. They don’t have a will to be saved let alone make request to be saved.  God is a good mechanic – what He did is He chose some cars unconditionally, i.e. His choice does not depend on their colour, year, type, size, value, mileage, manufacturer, country of origin, degree of damage etc.  He repaired those chosen cars, filled their tanks with gas and drove them home (heaven). During this process those cars gave neither resistance, i.e. no kicking and screaming whatsoever, nor cooperation. Their salvation is monergistic work of the Mechanic.  The damaged cars He did not choose obviously ended up being crushed – there is nothing they can do.  Yet the Mechanic (God) is not responsible for their crushing, they were already damaged and were deemed to be crushed in the first place.  When did the Mechanic make the choice, i.e. which cars He wanted to save and which ones He bypassed?  The supralapsarian Calvinists say it happened before they ended-up damaged on conveyor belts (i.e. before the Fall) while the infralapsarian ones will say He made the choice after they ended-up on conveyor belt.  I am not caricaturing Calvinism here – that is their understanding of being spiritually dead.  In the words of Dr. Sproul:

When we considered in an earlier study our condition of original sin, we used the biblical metaphors of death and slavery. By nature we are born into this world DOA, dead on arrival, spiritually although alive biologically.  We have no inclination whatsoever in our souls towards the things of God – no interest, no passion, no love. We are dead. Because we are spiritually dead, we are slaves to the sinful impulses and lusts that drive our behavior. We are not just participation in sin; such a description is far too weak. The Bible teaches us again and again that we are slaves to sin. Sin is not only in our nature, but it is our master.

Sproul, R.C.: Romans, St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 188-189

The problem with double predestination view, even in positive-negative form, is it does not go in-line with a number of verses from Scripture (Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9).  Reformed systematic theologian, Louis Berkhof (1873 to 1957) argued that “all” or “all men” in those verses should be understood to mean “all in Christ” or (for Titus 2:11) “all classes of men” – otherwise they will support universalism (source: Berkhof: Systematic Theology, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, page 396).  Certainly isolating those verses will promote universalism (God will save all men), which no Christians believe. Yet re-paraphrasing them (i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says “in Christ shall all be made alive”, not “all in Christ shall be made alive”) or forcing them to mean something that one first predefined is not correct either.  Under synergism, which is the view of Catholics and of some Protestants, we can avoid universalism without re-paraphrasing or interpreting those verses to mean something else.  God through Christ takes the initiative to offer salvation to all men, yet they have freedom to either accept or reject this free offer.  Such freedom is denied in monergism – we are like damaged cars that have no such ability.

August 8, 2010 / vivator

Merits in Catholicism

Catholic teaching on merit is commonly misunderstood by non-Catholics.  Many thinks that Catholics believe we must do good works to merit salvation or eternal life, just like a worker must work to merit his/her wages.  Catholic teaching that we can merit eternal life and increase of grace [1] is definitely scandalous to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians – it even fuels their common charge that Catholics believe in salvation by works.

Six clauses of Catechism of the Catholic Church, clause # 2006 to # 2011, deal with Catholic teaching on merits. It first defines merit (# 2006), in general, as recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.  Under this general definition a worker merits his wages.  It will be injustice if the employer refuses to pay his/her wages. Note that both employer and workers are equal – the employer needs workers to do the work while a worker does the work to earn his/her wages.  His/her wages are not gifts from the employer but something he/she deserves.

Does the Catholic Church teach we deserve merits or reward from our good works, just like a worker merits his/her wages?  The answer is NO – the Catechism (# 2007) states that with regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man.  The same clause gives the reason: Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.  Because of this immeasurable inequality we cannot apply the general understanding of merit, described in the previous paragraph, to our merits in relation to our salvation. Unlike our employer, God does not need our works because He can do everything by Himself. He can rain down food from heaven to feed the hungry; He can bring the good news to anybody on earth without the help of any missionary.

The next question is: does Scripture say God rewards us for our good works?  The answer is YES – there are ample verses from Scripture, both Old and New Testaments saying that God does reward us for our good works. He who respects the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13). The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me [Psalms 18:20]. Look to yourselves that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward [2 John 8]. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done [Revelation 22:12]. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven [Luke 6:23].  Does Scripture say the rewards of our good works include eternal life?  Again, the answer is YES. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment [John 5:28-29]. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life [Romans 2:6-7].

Thus while we do not deserve any reward from God for doing good works, according to Scripture, He nevertheless still rewards us and His reward even includes eternal life.  The Catechism (# 2008) provides explanation: The merit of man before God arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. God chose some of us to be His agents to show love to others like feeding the hungry. He chose others to be His agents to bring good news to mankind etc.  It is worth to mention that in Catholicism the initiative of doing such works always comes from God – The same clause says the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his [man] collaboration [2].  Because of this, the same clause further says that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Men’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.  To be able to do good works, we must connect ourselves to the true vine, Christ, who said apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:1-5). 

The next clause (# 2009) explains that our filial adoption [as children of God] can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) and worthy of obtaining the promised inheritance of eternal life.  This means, as the same clause further says, the merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.  Our merits are God’s gifts.  Thus in Catholicism the merits of our good works are not something we deserve (like our wages) but they are gifts from God.  The first clause dealing with merit (# 2006) is preceded with a phrase from Augustine (354 to 430 AD):

You [God] are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts.

Clause # 2010 says: Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.  We neither have to do good works nor must become good persons to make God take the initiative to move our hearts to have faith in Christ.  Faith in Christ is gift from God, irrespective of our past behaviour, whether we were good or evil persons. This is how Catholics understand Ephesians 2:8, the verse mostly quoted by Protestants and “Bible only” Christians to support their belief of by faith alone salvation. Catholics understand the phrase “not by works” in Ephesians 2:8 to mean works before our conversion to Christ, while to Protestants and “Bible only” Christians it means all works, before and after our conversion to Christ.

Since our merits are God’s gifts and are not something we deserve, then they may come in the form of increase of grace and even eternal life.  John 1:16 says that through Christ we receive grace upon grace. Thus Clause # 2010 says: Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.  Finally, the sixth clause (# 2011) says that the charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merits before God and before men.

     

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2010, Council of Trent: Canon XXXII of the Decree on Justification
  2. This is known as synergism, also in Clause # 2010.  It is not semi-pelagianism who says that the initiative belongs to man.
July 18, 2010 / vivator

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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?
  3. 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
  4. 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:
  5. athanasius-and-canon-of-old-testament

  6. 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:
  7. melito-and-canon-of-old-testament

  8. 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:

origen-and-canon-of-old-testament/

epiphanius-and-canon-of-old-testament

gregory-of-nazianzus-and-canon-of-old-testament

hilary-and-canon-of-old-testament

cyril-of-jerusalem-and-canon-of-old-testament

jerome-and-the-old-testament

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.

July 9, 2010 / vivator

Did Augustine consider apocryphal books to be non authoritative in defining doctrine?

William Webster, former Catholic converted to Calvinism, wrote that Augustine (354 to 430 AD), bishop of Hippo, believed that the Church held the apocrypha to be canonical in the broad sense that these writings provided a good example and an inspiration to perseverance in the faith (Webster: The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, page 13). Webster drew his conclusion from statement made by (Catholic) Cardinal Cajetan (1469 to 1534) who considered those books to be non-canonical in confirming matters of faith and canonical for edification of the faithful.  Cardinal Cajetan was entitled to have his opinion but he was not in authority to define canon of Scripture.  The question is did Augustine share the same view, i.e. those books have second class status?  Some of Augustine’s works are available online at www.cceel.org – anybody can browse and check all scriptural citation in his works.  Augustine cited from those books without any distinction, i.e. as Scripture – from my observation apocryphal books he mostly quoted are Wisdom and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus).  Below are examples taken from some of Augustine’s other works (underlined emphasis are mine):

But, in case anyone should think that those servants of God, whom you mentioned as having been put to death by barbarians ought to have escaped that death, as the three men were delivered from the flames, and Daniel from the lions, let him know that such miracles were wrought to make the kings who had handed them over to torment believe that the Hebrews worship the true God. Thus it was the hidden judgment and mercy of God to grant salvation in that way to those kings. But He did not do so for King Antiochus, who put the Macchabees to death with cruel torments; on the contrary, He inflicted a more severe punishment on the hard heart of the king by reason of their glorious martyrdom. For so it is written. Read what was said by one of them who was sixth to suffer: ‘After him, they brought the sixth, and when he had been racked and tortured, and was about to die, he said: Be not deceived; we suffer these things for ourselves, for having sinned against our God, and these are worthy things which are done to us. But do not think that thou shalt escape unpunished for that thou hast willed by thy laws to fight against God and his law.’ [2 Maccabees 7:18-19]

Augustine, Letter to Severus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 251

Consequently, that saying of the Apostle: ‘Let your petitions be made known to God,’ [Philippians 4:6] is not to be taken in the sense that they are actually made known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered, but they are made known to us before God, through our patience, but not before men through our boasting. Or, perhaps they might be even be made known to the angels who are with God, so that they may, in a sense, offer our prayers to God and consult Him about them, and bring us back His answer, either openly or secretly, according as they know what He wills, as it befits them to know. Thus, an angel said to a man: ‘And now, when thou didst pray, thou and Sara, I offered the remembrance of your prayer in the sight of the splendour of God.’ [Tobit 12:12]

Augustine, Letter to Proba

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 18, page 390

Certainly, there was a reason and no slight one why He [God] delivered Noe [Noah] from the flood [Genesis 6-8], Lot from the fire from heaven [Genesis 19:29], Isaac from the uplifted sword [Genesis 22:1-13], Joseph from the calumny of a woman and from imprisonment [Genesis 39:7-18, 41:14], Moses from the Egyptians [Exodus 3-13], Rahab from the destruction of the city [Joshua 6:16-25], Susanna from the false witnesses [Daniel 13:1-62], Daniel from the lions [Daniel 6:21-23], the three men from the flames [Daniel 3], and the other ‘fathers who cried to Him and were saved’ [Psalms 22:5]

Augustine, Letter to Honoratus Chapter 11

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 81

If our will, remaining in itself, and without any change in itself, expresses words through which it manifests itself, after a fashion, how much more easily can the omnipotent God, maintaining His nature hidden and unchangeable, appear under any form He wills and to whom He wills, since He made all things out of nothing [2 Maccabees 7:28], and remaining in Himself, ‘reneweth all things.’ [Wisdom 7:27]

Augustine, Letter to Paulina, Chapter 47

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 216

The fact that Christ had not yet come at that time should not be an obstacle to prevent us from accepting this interpretation of the Apostle Peter’s words about Christ preaching to those spirits in prison [1 Peter 3:19] who had been incredulous in the days of Noe [Noah]. It was in the flesh that He had not yet come, since ‘After this he was seen upon earth and conversed with men.’ [Baruch 3:37]

Augustine, Letter to Evodius

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 20, page 394

When He [Christ] assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations, nor did He cease to reach ‘from end to end mightily and to order all things sweetly.’ [Wisdom 8:1]

Augustine, Sermon 187 For the Feast of the Nativity

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 38, page 13

Your letter greatly distressed me, and I confess floundering for quite a while, not knowing how to reply. I had no ideas, when the words of Scripture came to mind: “If you have understanding, answer your neighbour; but if not, let your hand be on your mouth.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:12]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, page 11

Because of people who think that that which they do not deny is a good ought to be put off, these frightening words of the divine Scriptures strike like a thunderbolt: “Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth and at the time of punishment you will perish.” [Sirach or Ecclesiasticus 5:7]

Augustine, Letter to Classicianus

English translation from The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, pages 22-23