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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Why does the Catholic bible have more books than ours?

Here is another good question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast better suited to be answered on this blog:  Why are there books in the Catholic bible that are not included in ours?

Most of the books in the Catholic bible coincide with ours, but depending upon how you count them, there are about 16 books in the Catholic bible that you will not find in a Protestant bible.  These books are referred to collectively as the Apocrypha, which means “hidden.”  The Apocryphal books were written in the intertestamental period, from about 400BC to the time of Jesus.  

There are numerous reasons why the church has historically denied the inclusion (“canonicity”) of the Apocryphal books.  Before we consider these reasons, it may be helpful to identify something that distinguishes the historical church from the Catholic church beyond the mere size of our bibles.   (I’m using the word “historical” rather than the word “Protestant” for two reasons.  First, to use the word “Protestant” when talking about the formation of the canon is anachronistic.  The term “Protestant” came into use during the Reformation in the 16th century, while the formation of the Old Testament canon was settled by the time of Christ and the New Testament canon by 397AD.  Second, the Protestant church was not the creation of a new church, but a return to the orthodoxy of the original, historical church created by the Lord Jesus.  By using the word “historical,” I’m not intending to be offensive to Catholics, but simply to be as accurate as possible.)  An enormous difference between the historical church and the Catholic Church pertains to their respective views of the ultimate source of authority.  In the formation of the canon, the historical church viewed herself as recognizing, by the sovereign leading of the Holy Spirit, those books which contained inherent authority.  In other words, the Bible is a higher authority than the church.  The church does not bestow authority on the Scriptures, but simply recognizes it.  The Catholic church on the other hand sees the church’s role as granting authority to certain books; the bible derives its authority from the church.  This will be an important distinction later on.

A primary reason the historical church rejected the Apocrypha is that it is quite clear that the NT authors did.  The Apocrypha is included by the Catholic church in the OT canon.  However, the Jews of the apostles’ day recognized the historical books of the OT without the Apocrypha.  That is, by the time of the birth of the church all of the books of our OT had been accepted as authoritative, while none of the Apocryphal books had.  This would explain why there are no clear quotation from the Apocrypha by any NT author, while there are many quotations from other OT books.  Catholics would argue that there are a handful of OT books that are not quoted in the NT, like Joshua and Esther.  However, the difference between these OT books and the Apocryphal books is that these OT books, though not quoted in the NT, had been accepted as authoritative by the time of Christ, while none of the Apocryphal books had.

Second, Jesus Himself appears to limit the OT canon to the historical OT when He says in Luke 11:51, “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary; yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.”  Abel and Zechariah are the first and last martyrs mentioned in the Jewish canonical OT, which is ordered to begin with Genesis and end with 2 Chronicles.  That is, Jesus left the Apocryphal books out of his quotation, indicating that they did not belong in the canon.

Third, most of the early church fathers rejected the Apocrypha, including Jerome, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius.  Jerome’s rejection is significant in that his latin translation of the Bible - the Latin Vulgate - is used by the Roman Catholic church!  Yes, though he translated the Apocrypha under pressure, he did not believe it belonged in the Bible.

Fourth, the secular Jewish community around the time of Jesus denied the authority of the Apocrypha.  Philo, who quoted extensively from the OT as Scripture, never once quoted from any Apocryphal book as Scripture.  Josephus explicitly rejected the Apocrypha and listed the canon of the OT as having the same books as the modern Protestant OT.  

But a Catholic might contend that while the Apocrypha did not enjoy early acceptance, that does not mean it shouldn’t be recognized as canonical today.  However, if we use the same criteria used by the   historical church to recognize the books of the NT canon, we find that the Apocrypha comes up wanting.

The historical church used three criteria to recognize which books were of divine origin and should therefore be included in the canon.  These criteria were:

  1. Apostolicity - was the book written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle?  This criteria would not fit as a measuring tool for the Apocrypha since all the Apocryphal books were written prior to the time of Christ.  So we will set this one aside.

  1. Orthodoxy - does the book contradict any other canonical book?  The Apocrypha is rife with teachings that contradict the other Old and New Testament Scriptures, which is another reason for its rejection throughout the centuries.  The Apocrypha fails the test of orthodoxy.

  1. Catholicity - this is “catholicity” with a small “c”.  Catholic simply means “universal.”  This test asks, has the book enjoyed continuous use throughout the universal church?  In other words, has the church wherever it is found always considered the book to be authoritative?  The Apocrypha fails here, too, in that it was so widely rejected for so long.  

Therefore, by the criteria used to recognize the authority of the NT canon, the Apocrypha should be rejected.

To this point, I have leaned more heavily on why we reject these books, but that’s not exactly the question that was asked.  Why does the Catholic bible include these books?

Well, the Catholic church has not always officially accepted the Apocryphal books.  In fact, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that these books were officially accepted.  The Apocrypha was in the Catholic bible prior to Trent, but it was in a different section because the books were not viewed as having equal authority.  You see, until 1546 even the Catholic church denied the full authority of these books.

So why did they change the status of the Apocrypha in 1546?  It was essentially a reaction to the Protestant Reformation.  At the heart of the Reformation was a zeal to return to the authority of the Scriptures.  This jeopardized a number of Catholic doctrines found nowhere in the canonical bible, including purgatory and praying for the dead.  Catholic apologists found justification for these doctrines in Apocryphal books, as in 2 Maccabees 12:40-45.  So at the Council of Trent, all the Apocryphal books were given full authority.  Additionally, the council declared of anyone who rejected these book, “let him be anathema.” 

Here we see the significance of the Roman understanding of authority.  Even though the universal Catholic church had never viewed the Apocrypha as fully authoritative before, it claimed authority to grant that status to the Apocrypha at so late a date.    

While the Apocrypha is not inspired or authoritative, many orthodox believers hold that it does have some devotional value.  There is nothing wrong with reading it.  We simply must recognize that when we read it, we are reading the writings of men, not of God.  The 66 books of the Bible alone are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative for our lives.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lifting Our Voices, Speaking the Word

The church in Acts did two things repeatedly.  

They prayed.  All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14, 24).  And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).  …they lifted their voices together to God…(Acts 4:24).  These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6).  So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5).  When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying (Acts 12:12).  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:3).  And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all (Acts 20:36).  And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed (Acts 21:5).

They shared the gospel.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…“we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:4-11).  But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them (Acts 2:14).   …they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:2).  “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).  …and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).  Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19-20).  

These two activities were not unrelated.  In many cases where prayer is recorded, it was in some way tied to the gospel mission.  In chapter 1, they prayed that the Lord would reveal who should take Judas’ place as an apostle, the work of whom would be to spread the Word.  In chapter 4, they prayed for boldness to continue speaking the Word in spite of persecution.  Even in chapter 6, the prayer to ordain the first deacons was at least indirectly for the sake of the gospel - the deacons were to serve so that the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and prayer.  In chapter 12, the prayer for Peter was that he would be released from prison so that he could continue to spread the gospel.  In chapter 13, the church prayed to commission Paul and Barnabas as missionaries.  In other words, the early church was in the habit of praying - together - and when they prayed together, they prayed for the gospel to go forth.

We want to do the same.  

These two points of emphasis in the life of Providence Bible Fellowship will converge on Wednesday, September 5 at 6:30pm.  Last year we emphasized the importance of prayer.  Our annual emphasis this school year is going to be the blessed task of evangelism.  On Wednesday, September 5, we want to marry the two concerns by bathing the church in prayer as it pertains to our spreading of the gospel.   

We shared this emphasis on evangelism at the most recent members’ quarterly meeting.  We also shared that our new format for Wednesday nights will include a whole-church prayer meeting on the first Wednesday night of every month at 6:30pm.  We’re asking all members to make this monthly prayer meeting a priority, as prayer must be a vital part of our fellowship in order for us to be a healthy, faithful bride of Christ.  The main focus of our first prayer meeting will be that the Lord would make PBF a disciple-making church.  We will also enjoy a full time of worship and hear a testimony from one among us with the gift of evangelism.  May the Lord hear our prayer and bless the word as we speak it!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Exciting Orphan Care Ministry Announcement!

What if every dollar donated to the Orphan Care Ministry could be used over and over?  What if the contributions you made could help fund not just one adoption, but many?  Well, we’re happy to announce that this is now the case!

We have recently partnered with Lifesong for Orphans, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping churches address the orphan crisis.  Through Lifesong, we will administer the donated funds to adopting families in the form of interest-free loans.  The beautiful thing about these loans is that they can be repaid with the adoption tax credit.  In a sense, we allow the government to fund these adoptions by repaying the loans through tax credits.  The adoption fund fronts the money in the form of an interest-free loan and the government repays the loan in the form of an adoption tax credit to the adopting family.  This means that every dollar you donate to the Orphan Care fund is not used once, but over and over as the money is loaned and repaid, loaned and repaid.  Our adoption fund will continue to grow over time with each contribution.

Lifesong will assist us in managing our donations, administering these loans, helping with additional fundraising, and screening families for assistance.  Lifesong provides this help with zero fees or administration costs.  We are very excited about this.  Please pray that the Lord will use this partnership to facilitate many more adoptions by PBF families!

Check out the short introductory video here: