Luther and the Apocrypha (20, 21)

This post officially ends the series responding to Twenty One Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura.

I will give the main reason at the end of the blog for why I chose to end with these objections. However, I need to be honest and transparent, partly I did this out of laziness.

You heard me…laziness. I will admit these were the two objection I was the least excited to respond to. The objection about Luther is just so irrelevant and weak I didn’t feel it needed a response, and the objection about the Apcryphal canon is one, admittidly, I know nothing about.

I do not claim to know much about the Jewish canon and would never feel confident in accepting a public debate challenge on the issue. However, I utilized a resource that I believe allowed for a fair response.

Thus, let us begin with the the last two objections to Sola Scriptura:

“The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Had its Source in Luther’s Own Emotional Problems.”

This statement is simply not true. A study of the church fathers and the Biblical teaching demonstrates that Sola Scriptura is much older than Luther. This comment simply begs the questions.

However, notice the inconsistency of this statement. Would the Roman Catholic apologist apply this if the situation were reversed?

What if documents were found that say, Calvin, near the end of his life, was filled with fear and anxiety about the novelty of his position, and converted to Rome. Would the Roman apologist not bring that up? Would they not use that against us? Would they be consistent and say, “Calvin doesn’t count, we won’t bring up his conversion to Rome, he was clearly troubled.” 

The authors interpretation of Luther’s guilt begs Luther’s error. If the tables were turned, the author would praise Luther’s decision and life. Only if Luther was wrong does his emotional state have any relevance.

The article says,

“[Luther] was deeply and chronically troubled by a combination of doubts and despair about his salvation and a sense of utter impotence in the face of temptation and sin.”

Luther certainly was an emotional wreck. There is no doubt about it. However, Luther was a consistent Catholic. Luther’s emotional problems were derived from Rome’s view of the gospel and their view of the Eucharist. When one believes in mortal sins (sins which remove you from the state of grace, sending you to hell until your works earn you back into that state) how does one not live life in perpetual fear? Luther was consistent, Luther didn’t live as if he had peace with God through faith (Romans 5:1), because he didn’t. How is this not a proper human response to what the Bible says man is? How is this not appropriate when following a gospel that teaches were are saved by works and can lose our salvation at any moment, hundreds of times a day?

The other issue to be addressed is that of the Old Testament (OT) Canon. As Peters argues,

“The Protestant Bible Is Missing 7 Entire Books.”

For those unfamiliar with this, the Roman Catholic church has seven extra Old Testament books in their Bibles (as well as additional texts added to Canonical books). Protestants call this collection the Apocrypha, while Rome refers to them as the Deuterocanonical books. Peters explains it this way,

“The books in question, which are wrongly termed ‘the Apocrypha’ (not authentic) by Protestants, are called the ‘deuterocanonical’ (‘second canon’) books by Catholics: they are Tobias (Tobit), Judith, 1 and 2 Machabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach), and Baruch. Portions of Daniel and Esther are also missing.”

The Apocrypha was canonized by Rome at the council of Trent. This council met between between 1545 and 1563. This is important. This means that Christians did not have knowledge of what the Bible is for over 1500 years. It wasn’t, according to Rome, until the 16th century that Christian people knew what their Bibles were!

As I stated in the introduction, I certainly do not consider myself a scholar or expert on Jewish canon. Thus, I would like to address these comments through, what I think, is the best debate on the topic available, for free, online. This debate, between Dr. James White and Dr. Gary Michuta can be found here.

A Summary of James White’s Arguments:

  • They apocrypha was not accepted as canonical Scripture by Jews to whom the oracles of God were entrusted.
    • They were never laid up in the Temple in Palestine or anywhere else.
  • Jesus and Apostles never cite them with authoritative Scripture.
    • No evidence of canonical disagreements between Jesus/apostles and Jewish opponents
  • Those who rejected the books in Church history knew the most about OT and early Jewish history
    • Athanasius, Jerome and the most widely used commentary of the middle ages all rejected the apocryphal books
    • Pope Gregory the Great, Cardinal Cajetan, and Cardinal Jimenez all rejected the Apocryphal books.
    • Canon adopted by Trent not the same as Hippo and Carthage
  • Those who accepted them did so based on ignorance or tradition
  • Contain clear and irreconcilable contradictions

The article attempts to anticipate protestant arguments, but does utterly fail to predict the very scholarly presentation White offers. White essentially makes his argument from 4 important categories: Jewish history, Christian history, Catholic History, and the internal witness of the books themselves.

Jewish History: 

White demonstrates that the Jews did not recognize these books as Canon. And this is a big deal because Romans 2 (and 9) specifically states that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. How could they be entrusted with things they were not able to recognize were Scripture until they were long dead? In order to be entrusted with the oracles of God, we must logically and naturally assume then they knew what was from God. And they did not believe the apocryphal books were from God.

White’s major argument was that the books were never laid up in any Temple at all. The Jews would lay up the holy Books in the Temple, and the protestant OT books were laid up there, the apocrypha was never included; it never found its way into the Temple.

In the article, Peters tries to answer the challenge that the Jews rejected these books by debunking the straw-man that Protestants base this knowledge of the council of Jamnia in 90 AD (which possibly met even as late as the early 2nd century). However, White not only did not appeal to this council, nor did the scholars he quoted appeal to this council, but White even thoroughly rejected the idea of anyone using this council. White quoted a major scholar writing on this council as saying that it is ridiculous to think the Jewish Canon was unknown or not yet completed by 90 AD to even need this council.

The New Testament canon was likely already finished by the time this council met (the 90 AD date is not at all unanimously accepted). Thus, Protestants do not find their arguments standing on this council (although it is interesting that this council does agree with the Protestant Canon.) In fact, White mentions that the council only ever discussed the canonicity of Ecclesiastes and Songs of Psalms. The Apocryphal books never even made it onto the table there, which seems to indicate, they just simply were not even on the Jewish horizon that they were even being discussed by them.

The strongest argument the article gives in response to the claim that the Jews rejected the Apcrypha is that the Greek Septuagint contained these books. However, White deals with this in his opening statement.

White states that there is no one Septuagint. Some do not contain these books, some contain all them, some contain only one of them, and others contain some of them. This hardly seems like a strong foundation to reject the argument.

White then states that Philo and Josephus, two of the most relied on Jewish historians from the 1st century, who both used the Septuagint both also rejected the apocryphal books.

Christian History:

When one examines Christian history, it is true that there was dispute among people over the Apocrypha. However, when one examines the whose and whys, if you will, the findings are troubling for Rome. For, as White demonstrated, those who did accept the Apocrypha were people who simply followed tradition, and/or, had little to no knowledge about Jewish history.

Those who rejected the books, were the ones who knew most about Jewish history and the OT as a whole. Athanasius and Jerome are great examples of this. Those men were easily more sophisticated scholars on the issue than most who accepted the books, and they clearly rejected them. Along with that, the scholars who contributed to the most well used biblical commentary throughout the middle ages also agreed with Jerome and Athanasius. Thus, it seems that when examining church history, those who knew most about the OT and Jewish history rejected these books, while the ignorant accepted them.

Catholic History: 

What seems to me to be the most damning position is the clear rejection of these books by important Catholics in history. Pope Gregory the Great rejected the apocrypha! An infallible Pope; the Vicar of Christ on earth, rejected these books.

Cardinal Cajetan is historically a well respected Catholic cardinal. Not only was he obviously scholarly and important as he achieved the Cardinal position, but he cannot be accused of being sympathetic to protestant ideas, for he is most well-known for his opposition to Luther. And Cardinal Cajetan rejected the Apocrypha. Another slightly earlier Cardinal, Cardinal Jimenez, likewise rejected these books.

Lastly, the councils of Hippo and Carthage both addressed Canon, and never accepted the Apocrypha! This means Trent contradicts two other councils of equal authority before it.

Thus, Protestants stand with the scholars of the middle ages, Athanasius, Jerome, Pope Gregory the Great, the council of Hippo, the council of Carthage, and at least two well respected Catholic cardinals (both of whom represent the Popes that selected them), as well as the Jewish people (those who received the oracles of God), in rejecting the Apocrypha.

Internal Witness:

Lastly, the argument White addresses is that the internal testimony of the books exclude them from being God-breathed Scripture. First of all, they are never cited in the New Testament as Scripture. The article gives two arguments against this. First, Peters recognizes that a few OT books Protestants accept are likewise never cited, and secondly, he quotes one scholar who claims the books are in fact referenced and cited.

In regards to the former, this argument does not stand alone. Certainly if protestants based their entire argument on this issue, we would be in self-contradiction. However, this argument really serves as the cherry on top of our ice cream. Given all of the overwhelming historical evidence from the Jews and from the Christians, this argument is strengthened. Sure, in a vacuum it doesn’t mean as much. But paired with the bulk of other arguments, it is extremely damning.

In regards to the latter, I will withhold comments as I have never read or even heard of the work cited to justify this claim. However, an important distinction is that they are never cited with the authoritative phrases. That’s important. Paul quotes pagan philosophers, that doesn’t make their work Canon. Referencing is not the same thing as quoting something as Scripture.

Lastly, in regards to internal witness, these books clearly demonstrate contradictions and sloppy presentations of history. One that Dr. White brings up in the debate is how the book of Judith claims Nebuchadnezzar reigned in Nineveh. Historically, this is not true. This was never the case. When asked about it, Michuta refused to answer the question and stated that this is a question Atheists ask and he doesn’t need to answer it for God’s Word will one day prove itself (paraphrased).

There were two reasons I chose to make this the final post in this series. I feel like these two summarize the two important foundations in the continuing debate between biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism: Authority and the Gospel.

The latter issue really addresses the issue of authority. For the Roman Catholic, thanks to Trent, now must believe the Apocrypha because the church they believe to be infallible has said so. Thus, all of the arguments are really a smoke screen. They have an obvious, external, authority, which gives them no option to see any evidence in a particular way. They must see what Rome says they must see, and that is a powerful bias. They believe in the apocrypha because they have to. And no amount of evidence can sway them when their authority speaks on this issue. And this is the exact problem we see with all of our differences. All of our debates boil down to one single debate: Is Rome what She claims to be? That’s the heart of it all.

The former issue, Luther, addresses the issue of the Gospel. Can Rome’s Gospel save, and can it bring peace? The answer to that biblically and historically is a loud, resounding, no.

Rome requires works to be saved and teaches that believers can lose this merited salvation at any time. In Galatians 5, Paul condemns anyone who would add works to the Gospel as being severed from Christ and fallen from grace. Paul says in that book that those who seek to be justified by faith and law, Christ is of no benefit to those people. Paul anathematized Rome’s Gospel in the Judaizers long ago. Paul tells us that the biblical justification brings us peace (Romans 5:1), and Martin Luther was the manifestation of the lack of peace that comes with false Gospels.

Many Catholics in the past have used Philippians 2: 12, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” to justify their belief that we can lose our salvation (standing in the state of grace) at any moment. I completely reject this interpretation as it contradicts the very next verse. However, if we assume for the moment they are right, where is their fear and trembling?

Martin Luther actually practiced this. He lived his life in constant fear and trembling precisely because he knew he could lose his right standing with God at any moment. He, at any second, could re-become an enemy of God and go to Hell forever. Peters writes off Luther’s fear and trembling as an “emotional problem” when it is actually consistent Roman Catholicism. There is no peace there.

But Romans 5:1 says,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is true peace to be found, an unbreakable peace, in the true, saving Gospel of Jesus.

Thus, I would call upon all Romanists, who understand Rome’s teachings and follow them, to turn from slavery, turn from law, turn from self-righteousness, and turn to Christ in faith alone. Empty yourself, and believe in the true and saving Gospel, the true Jesus, who saves you apart from you. He is the perfect sacrifice who needs no merit from you to save you. You can be washed clean in the blood of Jesus if you turn from your idolatry, turn from your Judiazing, and place your faith and trust in Christ Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sins. Be justified by faith and find permanent peace with God!

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