Today, I want to address fourth and final bad argument Edwards presents: namely, his claim that none of the Early Church Fathers quote from the Deuterocanon as Scripture. I’ll turn towards a major area in which we agree, and show why that supports the Catholic (rather than the Protestant) canon of Scripture.
I. Early Church Fathers
In addition to claiming that the Deuterocanon was rejected by the early Jews, by Jesus, and by the Apostles, Edwards also claims that the early Church rejected the canonicity of the Deuterocanon:
(II, 2:56) “Now, it’s true that some of the early Church leaders beyond the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha, though compared to their use of the Old Testament very rarely, but there’s no evidence that they treated them as Scripture.”Remember: this isn’t some no-name Evangelical group with a random speaker making an off-handed comment about the canon. Answers in Genesis brought in Brian Edwards as a theologian to present a talk specifically on how we can know that the Scriptures contain exactly the 66 Books making up the Protestant canon, and AiG now sells copies of this hour-long presentation on their website for $12.99. And their expert just claimed that there’s “no evidence” that the Early Church Fathers treated the Books of the Deuterocanon as Scripture.
With this incredible claim in mind, here’s a brief view of the historical figures that Edwards appeals to, in chronological order. As you will see, each and every one of the figures that Edwards cites treats Books from the Deuterocanon as Scripture, often in the very works he’s quoting from:
A. The Muratorian Fragment
The Muratorian canon is, as Edwards notes, perhaps the oldest Christian canon that we have. Edwards originally claims (II, 9:17) that the fragment dates to the year 150 A.D., but that’s impossible, since it refers to the pontificate of Pope Pius I, who reigned from 142 to 157, in the past tense. The standard date that I’ve seen is 170 A.D. In any case, appealing to this canon poses a few serious problems:
As I noted in Part I, Edwards freely plays the “copyist error” card wherever it suits him, while mocking it when it doesn’t. Doesn’t have 1 Peter and you think it should? Must be a copyist error. Contains the Book of Wisdom, which you reject as Scripture? Must be a copyist error.
(II, 9:57) “Now, this leaves out 1 and 2 Peter, James and Hebrews. However, 1 Peter was widely accepted by this time, we know that, so that’s probably an oversight by the compiler or the later copyist. And no other Books are present, with one rather strange exception (and I tell you this because otherwise somebody who knows so much about it will come up and remind me afterwards I didn’t tell you): that the Wisdom of Solomon is added. Now that has to be an error, because the Wisdom of Solomon belongs to the Apocrypha, and it was never ever added to the New Testament. So I think that was a coffee break slip by the copyist, that that’s been put in.”
The Muratorian fragment
This latter claim, that the inclusion of the Book of Wisdom in the canon was a result of a “coffee break slip by the copyist” is simply not a believable theory. To see why, read the relevant section of the Muratorian fragment:
The Epistle of Jude, indeed, and two belonging to the above-named John-or bearing the name of John-are reckoned among the Catholic epistles. And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour.Every one of the English translations of the fragment include the line. It’s one thing to misspell or badly translate a word or phrase, or even to omit or repeat a line of text, but how does someone accidentally write “And the book of Wisdom, written by the friends of Solomon in his honour”? How could that possibly be a copyist error? For what it’s worth, there is a possible translation error within this sentence, but not the one that Edwards claims:
Tregelles suggests that the Latin translator of this document mistook the Greek Philonos “Philo” for philon “friends.” Many in ancient times thought that the so-called "Wisdom of Solomon" was really written by Philo of Alexandria. —M.D.M.But that point is irrelevant for our purposes. Whether the Muratorian fragment ascribed the authorship of the Book of Wisdom to Philonos or philon, it certainly lists the Book as Scripture, and Edwards’ baseless claim of a copyist errors is a cop-out.
Edwards’ use of St. Irenaeus of Lyons is to show that the New Testament was widely accepted throughout the Church. Edwards makes a few points to establish that Irenaeus is a reliable witness, both of which I agree with. First, that Irenaeus is (II, 11:53) “the second generation from the Apostles. He knew Polycarp, Polycarp sat under the feet of the Apostle John.” So Irenaeus knew what the Apostles taught. He also knew what the Church at his time believed and taught:
(II, 12:29) “Irenaeus was well-acquainted with all of the churches across the Roman Empire. He believed, and he knew what they believed, and he knew not only what they believed, but he knew the Books that they were used, and he knew that they agreed on the fundamental Christian Gospel.”
|Carl Rohl Smith, Irenæus af Lyon (1884)|
But having established Irenaeus’ credibility, and the reliability of Against Heresies, read what this great Saint actually had to say. First of all, throughout Against Heresies, Irenaeus quotes the Deuterocanon as Scripture. For example, in Book V, Chapter 35, he ascribes a lengthy passage of Baruch 4-5 to “Jeremiah the prophet.” And in Book IV, Chapter 26, he quotes from the longer version of Daniel (which Protestants reject) as Scripture, ascribing it to “Daniel the prophet.”
But the problem goes beyond the canon of Scripture: Irenaeus is a Catholic who loves the papacy. Appealing to Apostolic succession as the key safeguard against heresy, Irenaeus explained that this applies in a particular way to the Church at Rome. For proof, he appealed to “that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul,” and added that “it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church.”
Remember that Irenaeus is Bishop of Lyons, France, yet he openly defers to the Church of Rome, and says that all other churches must do the same. Now, as Edwards explained, Irenaeus wrote this masterpiece in about 180 A.D., which is significant, since Edwards later denies that papal primacy existed during the first five hundred years of Christianity:
(III, 5:40) “No one leader dominated all the others, either. There were strong and respected leaders among the churches, but for five hundred years, Christianity had no ‘supreme-o bishop’ that dictated to all the others which Books belonged to the canon, and which didn’t. As a matter of fact, when the Church of Rome first began to throw its weight around, it was decidedly put in place by the others.”Reading Edwards’ own sources, we can see that this claim (like the others we’ve examined) is wrong.
Edwards next appeals to Origin, but focuses solely on his New Testament canon:
(IV 2:04) “Origen, a Christian leader from Alexandria, was using all our 27 Books as Scripture, and no others, and he referred to them as the New Testament. He believed them to be inspired by the Spirit.”Conveniently omitted is what Origen had to say about the Old Testament. He listed 1 and 2 Maccabees as Scripture, and distinguished the Jewish Old Testament canon from the Christian one by saying that the Jews rejected “Tobias (as also Judith).” He then proceeded to defend the inspiration and accuracy of Tobit.
Edwards tells us about Eusebius’ views, but only on the canon of the New Testament:
(IV, 2:25) “By A.D. 325, Eusebius, the earliest Church historian, and an advisor to the Emperor Constantine, who was the first Roman Emperor to embrace the Christian faith, made it his business to check out what all the churches were using. He listed 22 Books as unquestioned by any church across the Empire, and the other five (that would be James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John), he said were widely recognized by all the churches.”But Eusebius, like all of the other Church Fathers we’ve seen, treats Deuterocanonical Books as Scripture. In his Proof of the Gospel, he quotes from Baruch 3:29-37, and adds, “I need add nothing to these inspired words, which so clearly support my argument.” In the same work, he quotes Wisdom and the longer version of Daniel as Scripture, as well.
|17th century Icon of St. Athanasius|
(I, 2:43) “In the first few centuries, there had been very little debate among Christians about which books belonged to the Bible. And certainly by the time of the Church leader Athanasius in the fourth century, the number of Books had long been fixed. He set out the Books of the New Testament, just as we know them today, and he added, “These are fountains of salvation, that whoever thirsts may be satisfied by the eloquence within them. In them alone is set forth the doctrine of piety. Let no one add to them, nor take anything from them.” Now, Athanasius has a slightly different order than ours: for example, he places Hebrews before Timothy, indicating that he at least was sure that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews.”It’s this last claim that initially drew my attention to this talk, because Athanasius listed Baruch as canonical, while excluding the Book of Esther. And thirty years after Athanasius wrote the letter in question, the North African Council of Carthage laid out the canon of Scripture (including the full and exact Catholic canon), St. Augustine defended the canon of Scripture (including the full and exact Catholic canon), and Pope Damasus I commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible (including the full and exact Catholic canon) into the “vulgar” tongue, Latin. Yet we’re supposed to view this as a period in which “the number of Books had long been fixed” as the 66 Books of the Protestant Bible, even though neither Athanasius nor any of his peers held to that canon.
Summary of the Patristic Evidence
Remember that all of the Church Fathers we’ve discussed are ones that Edwards cherry-picked for their views on the canon. I didn’t just hunt down a handful of citations to the Deuterocanon from random early Christians: I restricted myself only to those Church Fathers that Edwards explicitly appealed to in presenting his case in “Why 66?”
And yet each and every last one of them refers to at least part of the Deuterocanon. And they don’t just refer to it, they cite to these Books as Scripture. You’ve got the Muratorian Fragment listing Wisdom as part of the canon, Irenaeus ascribing Baruch to Jeremiah, Origen listing 1 and 2 Maccabees as part of the canon, and defending the inspiration of Tobit and Judith, Eusebius referring to Baruch as “inspired,” and Athanasius listing Baruch as part of the canon. And yet, once again, this is how Edwards describes that mass of historical evidence:
(II, 2:56) “Now, it’s true that some of the early Church leaders beyond the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha, though compared to their use of the Old Testament very rarely, but there’s no evidence that they treated them as Scripture.”All that evidence, from the sources themselves (often from works that Edwards quotes from), that directly disproves what Edwards claims? Wave it away.
II. Trusting the Holy Spirit
The last point that I want to touch on from Edwards’ talk is actually a point on which we’re in relative agreement.
(IV, 11:10) “A belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture is bound to a belief in the Divine preservation of the canon. After all, the God who ‘breathed out’ (2 Timothy 3:16) His words into the minds of the writers ensured that those books, and no others, formed part of the completed canon of the Bible.”R.C. Sproul and James Swan are left arguing that Christianity has only a “fallible set of infallible Books”: because if the canon was set infallibly, it was set long before the Reformation, and not in the direction Protestants want.
Remember, the Christian canon of Scripture was closed long before the Reformation. The Catholic canon can be shown to have been in continual and widespread usage since at least the time of the the Council of Carthage in 397, and usage of each of the individual Books can be traced by much earlier. This 73-Book canon is what has been used by most Christians throughout history, and the canon endorsed by Pope Damasus I, the Latin Vulgate, and formally endorsed by the Ecumenical Council of Trent. It is still the canon used by most of the world’s Christians (remember: fewer than two out of every five Christians are Protestant).
Now, consider the impact of the Latin Vulgate alone. It was the Bible used by virtually every Western Christian from the 400s to the Reformation. Mark Hoffman, of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, paints a portrait of just how influential this Bible was:
This version of the Bible was familiar to and read by Christians for over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530). The Vulgate exerted a powerful influence, especially in art and music as it served as inspiration for countless paintings and hymns. Early attempts to translate the Bible into contemporary languages were invariably made from the Vulgate, as it was esteemed as an infallible, divinely inspired text. Even when Protestants sought to replace the Vulgate for good with translations in the language of the people from the original languages, they could not avoid the enormous influence of Jerome's translation, with its dignified style and flowing prose.If Protestants are right about the canon of Scripture, it means that for 1500 years, the Holy Spirit failed to ensure “that those books, and no others, formed part of the completed canon of the Bible.” Which, as Edwards points out, completely undermines belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Since we know that the Holy Spirit wouldn’t lead the entire Church into error on this subject, we can say for certain that the Protestant canon is wrong. In other words, So Edwards has just shown the 66 cannot be correct. Conversely, if the Holy Spirit preserved the canon of Scripture throughout history, the only serious contender is the 73-Book Catholic canon.
III. Shifting Paradigms
|Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount (19th c.)|
The primary revelation of God isn’t the Bible, but Jesus Christ Himself, the revealed Image of the Invisible God (Col. 1:15), and the culmination of all prophesy (Hebrews 1:1-2). He left Christians with a Deposit of Faith: the Gospel. It’s ultimately this Deposit of Faith that’s guarded. And using Edwards’ argument above, we can trust that the Gospel was preserved only if we can trust that the Holy Spirit has perpetually guarded that Deposit of Faith, and prevented anything from being added or lost.
But the primary means that Christ left us to protect the Gospel was not the canon of Scripture (which neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever directly provided us), nor is it even the New Testament. Rather, it has always been the Catholic Church. Consider the evidence:
- Jesus didn’t write a single Book of Scripture. We take it for granted that there’s no Gospel of Jesus (Edwards actually laughs at the idea in his talk): we seem to have overlooked how strange that fact is, compared to both the Old Testament and virtually every other world religion.
- Jesus did not leave us with an explicit list of inspired Books, and neither did His Apostles. Protestant apologists do all sorts of acrobatics to explain away why neither Jesus nor the Apostles explicitly addressed which Books belonged in the Bible. But Jesus and the Apostles never even say which Old Testament Books belong in the Bible. That is why theologians like Edwards end up making up their own standards for which Books belong in Scripture and which do not.
- The majority of the Apostles never write a single Book of Scripture, either. Andrew, James the Great, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon, and Matthias died without writing a single word of Scripture.
What did Jesus and the Apostles do, then? In Mark’s Gospel, the very first words we hear out of Jesus’ mouth as He began His public ministry are proclaiming the Kingdom of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He then calls Twelve Disciples to Himself, and ordains them Apostles (Luke 6:13), a position that Peter (in Acts 1:20) calls an episkopēn or “bishopric.” The same Greek word is used to describe the office of bishop in 1 Timothy 3:1.
|Peter Paul Rubens, |
Christ Surrendering the Keys to Peter (1614)
Jesus has much more to say about the Kingdom (see, e.g., Matthew 13), but the next major turning point is when He draws a connection between the Church and the Kingdom of Heaven in a dramatic way: by telling entrusting Peter with the Keys to the Kingdom, and promising to build the Church upon him (Matthew 16:17-19).
The Gospels of Mark and Luke show that you don’t need to be an Apostle to write Scripture. So why does Jesus call the Twelve, and invest so much time in them? Because they’re going to lead the Church. The word “Apostle” literally means “one who is sent away,” and that’s what they were sent to do: proclaim the Gospel, establish churches, and catechize the next generation of Christians.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles succeeded in this mission. While fewer than half of the Apostles wrote Books of the Bible, every one of them was instrumental in establishing churches, from one end of the known world to the other. St. James died at the western edge of the known world, in modern-day Santiago de Compostela, Spain, while St. Thomas made it all the way to Kerala, India, at the other end of the known world). In other words, within a generation, they had established a global Church. Furthermore, they trained the next generation of Christians: as we saw from Edwards’ talk, the Apostle John trained St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who trained St. Irenaeus of Lyons. These Church Fathers both preserved and spread the Gospel, defending it from new heresies, and bringing it to every nation and people they could find.
In other words, Jesus did leave us with a clear mechanism for preserving the Gospel, but it wasn’t a list of inspired Books. Rather, it was His Bride, the Church, the House of the Living God (1 Timothy 3:15). It was this Church, perpetually guided and safeguarded by the Holy Spirit, that preserved the Scriptures. It is because we can trust that the Holy Spirit is watching out for the Church that we know that He didn’t let the Scriptures get destroyed, materially altered, or mixed with heretical books. That’s it. You simply cannot divorce the Scriptures apart from their Mother, the Church.
Protestants often assume that there’s a tension between Scripture and the Church: that they trust the Scriptures, and Catholics trust the Church. This gets the situation completely backwards. You can only trust the Gospels if you can trust that the Holy Spirit didn’t abandon the Church. Once you undermine the authority of the Catholic Church, you undermine the only coherent reason to believe in the canon of Scripture passed down by Christians for centuries. Luther quickly found out: after rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church, he realized he didn’t have any reason to preserve the traditional canon. This lead both to his (successful) removal of the Deuterocanon from the Old Testament, and his (unsuccessful) attempts to remove James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation from the New Testament. Undermine the Church, and you undermine the canon of Scripture, and thus, Scripture itself. So it’s not Scripture or the Church. It’s both or neither.