Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Missing Books

The Protestant version of the Old Testament excludes seven books and several parts of two more.
* Tobias
* Judith
* Wisdom
* Ecclesiasticus
* Baruch
* I Machabees
* II Machabees
* Parts of Esther (10:14-16:14)
* Parts of Daniel (3:24-90; 13; 14)

The Protestant reformers labeled these books "Apocrypha" (i.e. spurious, uninspired) in a calculated attempt to make them appear unreliable in the eyes of uninformed and uneducated readers. Thus, while they were inventing the doctrine of "sola Scriptura" with the one hand, with the other hand the reformers were modifying the Scriptura to better conform to their new doctrines.

Isn't it a dangerous game to go monkeying with the Word of God? You bet.

The rationalization was that they were reverting to an older, purer form of the old Jewish Scriptures that excluded said books and chapters. The Septuagint version, they argued, was newer and scribed by the 70 Jews of the Diaspora in Alexandria in 250 BC; they were not the Scriptures of the Jews of Palestine. As such, the Protestants would not use that version; rather, it was to be the Palestinian version of the Scriptures for them.

At a gloss this might seem plausible. The position turns out to be terminally weak, however.

First, to give credit for the correct component: there were in fact two versions of the Jewish Scriptures in the 1st century AD:
(1) The Palestinian Hebrew Scriptures
(2) The Septuagint Greek Scriptures

Now for the additional details that help shed the proper light on the matter.
* Both versions were considered to be reliable by the Jews of the time of Christ.
* The original Hebrew version of the Palestinian Scriptures had been lost (wars and occupations and various calamities, you see).
* The copies of the Hebrew original had many errors -- thus, there was no longer an authoritative Hebrew version.

What's more:
* The New Testament contains about 350 references, quotations, and citations to both sets of Jewish Scriptures. Of the 350 references, only 50 were of the Palestinian Hebrew version; Christ and His Apostles relied on the Greek version about 300 times. The ratio is 6:1.
* In the 2nd century AD, Jewish Rabbis used the Greek Septuagint to correct the errors of the Hebrew version to establish an authoritative Hebrew Scripture.

In light of these facts, why would the 16th century Protestant reformers exclude books, if not for greater certainty that they were relying on the more accurate documents?

The most probable explanation is that they sought to exclude history and teachings that supported the Catholic position and undermined the Protestant one. For example, the Catholic teaching of saying prayers for the dead -- i.e. assisting the souls in Purgatory -- is seen clearly in II Macchabees 12:46: "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."

The reason the Catholic Church has historically condemned unauthorized translations of the Bible is not because She fears competition or that She dreads a loss of control, but that the alternate translations are unreliable and that people can go to Hell because of the misinformation they contain and the material they lack. Besides, the Catholic Church who wrote the New Testament also compiled the Bible; of course She should have final say on who gets to use Her material.

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