Amateur Theology Hour: the Canon of Scripture

One of the reasons why I became a Catholic rather than returning to my Protestant roots after my conversion is because of the paradox of Lutheranism.

With all do respect to my God-fearing brethren who follow Luther, there is a basic logical contradiction in his teaching I cannot in good conscience resolve, and that is this: if you teach Sola Scriptura, namely, the doctrine that the authority of the Bible, independent of tradition, is sufficient to define the doctrine of the faith, you cannot also edit the Bible, throwing away books and epistles not to your liking.

I trust the paradox is clear: if the Bible is the sole authority of doctrine, you cannot pick the doctrine first and edit the Bible to suit yourself, and then claim that it is the Bible’s authority rather than yours on which your rest your doctrines.

I am speaking of the  Deuterocanonical  books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch (including the Epistle of Jeremy, a.k.a., Baruch 6), 1 and 2 Maccabees, along with longer versions of Esther and Daniel, which the Protestants list among the Apocrypha along with Shepherd of Hermas, Gnostic gospels and the like.

An honest Protestant friend of mine told me, and firmly believes, that the Deuterocanonical  books were never part of the canon, merely that the Roman Catholics added them to the Bible at the Council of Trent. I am not sure what the Church’s motive was supposed to have been in my friend’s theory: in this version, Luther was making the conservative and traditional claim that the Deuterocanon was not part of the Canon, and Rome retaliated by making an unprecedented innovation injecting much extraneous matter in the to Canon.

If this theory were true, all the lists of the books of the Canon we inherit from the Church Fathers should follow, or at least resemble, the Protestant Canon. I would argue that they do not.

Allow me to quote Joe Heschmeyer of Shameless Popery as counsel for the defense. I cannot improve on his words or his case:

Back around the 410s, in his famous book City of God, St. Augustine wrote this about the Old Testament canon:

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, 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.

St. Augustine leaves no question that all seven Books of the Catholic Deuterocanon are considered Scripture along with the rest of the Old Testament. And his testimony makes clear that they’re not even marked off in a separate section, but carry the full “authority of the Old Testament.”

After I read some of the passages of the Book of Wisdom, which seemed as inspiring and true and divine as anything else in the Bible, I was personally offended with Luther for leading the English and German speaking world to reject them from the canon.

Joe Heschmeyer also has a post about the canon of scripture where he exhaustively lists every Church father and early writing which lists the canon. In no case is the modern Protestant canon listed, and in the majority of cases the Catholic canon is listed. I will resist the temptation to reprint it in full, but will urge any reader curious about this matter to read the article here.