[It’s been long-overdue that this article was supposed to be posted]
A Lutheran scholar named Arnold C. Sundberg once wrote:
“The criteria that Protestants use to exclude these books (the 7 Books in Old Testament) from scriptures are completely useless because they would exclude other books that Protestants accept as canonical” – The Old Testament canon of the Early Church
Mr. Sundberg is correct; you cannot apply one standard for those books that you reject then relegating another set of standard for those you accept:
Standard1: God used the Jews to preserve His words; therefore, we know that He guided them in the rejection of the Apocryphal books (the 7 Books in Old Testament) from the canon of Scripture.
According to this standard, we must accept Jew’s judgment in rejecting the 7 Books simply because God used Jews to preserve His words. But this standard is NOT applicable when they referred to their accepted books like the New Testaments that Jews had been rejected or when Jew deliberately changed some verse in the Old Testament.
Here’s a wonderful apologetic article wrote by Mr. Mark Shea [5 Myths about 7 Books] that dealt on these an untenable standards:
Christ and the Apostles frequently quoted Old Testament Scripture as their authority, but they never quoted from the deuterocanonical books, nor did they even mention them. Clearly, if these books were part of Scripture, the Lord would have cited them.
This myth rests on two fallacies. The first is the "Quotation Equals Canonicity" myth. It assumes that if a book is quoted or alluded to by the Apostles or Christ, it is ipso facto shown to be part of the Old Testament. Conversely, if a given book is not quoted, it must not be canonical.
This argument fails for two reasons. First, numerous non-canonical books are quoted in the New Testament. These include the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses (quoted by St. Jude), the Ascension of Isaiah (alluded to in Hebrews 11:37), and the writings of the pagan poets Epimenides, Aratus, and Menander (quoted by St. Paul in Acts, 1 Corinthians, and Titus). If quotation equals canonicity, then why aren't these writings in the canon of the Old Testament?
Second, if quotation equals canonicity, then there are numerous books of the protocanonical Old Testament which would have to be excluded. This would include the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations and Nahum. Not one of these Old Testament books is ever quoted or alluded to by Christ or the Apostles in the New Testament.
The other fallacy behind Myth #2 is that, far from being ignored in the New Testament (like Ecclesiastes, Esther, and 1 Chronicles) the deuterocanonical books are indeed quoted and alluded to in the New Testament. For instance, Wisdom 2:12-20, reads in part, "For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him."
This passage was clearly in the minds of the Synoptic Gospel writers in their accounts of the Crucifixion: "He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ÔI am the Son of God'" (cf. Matthew 27:42-43).
Similarly, St. Paul alludes clearly to Wisdom chapters 12 and 13 in Romans 1:19-25. Hebrews 11:35 refers unmistakably to 2 Maccabees 7. And more than once, Christ Himself drew on the text of Sirach 27:6, which reads: "The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does a man's speech disclose the bent of his mind." Notice too that the Lord and His Apostles observed the Jewish feast of Hanukkah (cf. John 10:22-36). But the divine establishment of this key feast day is recorded only in the deuterocanonical books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. It is nowhere discussed in any other book of the Old Testament. In light of this, consider the importance of Christ's words on the occasion of this feast: "Is it not written in your Law, ÔI have said you are gods'? If he called them Ôgods,' to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the One Whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world?" Jesus, standing near the Temple during the feast of Hanukkah, speaks of His being "set apart," just as Judas Maccabeus "set apart" (ie. consecrated) the Temple in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59 and 2 Maccabees 10:1-8. In other words, our Lord made a connection that was unmistakable to His Jewish hearers by treating the Feast of Hanukkah and the account of it in the books of the Maccabees as an image or type of His own consecration by the Father. That is, He treats the Feast of Hanukkah from the so-called "apocryphal" books of 1 and 2 Maccabees exactly as He treats accounts of the manna (John 6:32-33; Exodus 16:4), the Bronze Serpent (John 3:14; Numbers 21:4-9), and Jacob's Ladder (John 1:51; Genesis 28:12)— as inspired, prophetic, scriptural images of Himself. We see this pattern throughout the New Testament. There is no distinction made by Christ or the Apostles between the deuterocanonical books and the rest of the Old Testament.
The deuterocanonical books contain historical, geographical, and moral errors, so they can't be inspired Scripture.
This myth might be raised when it becomes clear that the allegation that the deuterocanonical books were "added" by the Catholic Church is fallacious. This myth is built on another attempt to distinguish between the deuterocanonical books and "true Scripture." Let's examine it.
First, from a certain perspective, there are "errors" in the deuterocanonical books. The book of Judith, for example, gets several points of history and geography wrong. Similarly Judith, that glorious daughter of Israel, lies her head off (well, actually, it's wicked King Holofernes' head that comes off). And the Angel Raphael appears under a false name to Tobit. How can Catholics explain that such "divinely inspired" books would endorse lying and get their facts wrong? The same way we deal with other incidents in Scripture where similar incidents of lying or "errors" happen.
Let's take the problem of alleged "factual errors" first. The Church teaches that to have an authentic understanding of Scripture we must have in mind what the author was actually trying to assert, the way he was trying to assert it, and what is incidental to that assertion.
For example, when Jesus begins the parable of the Prodigal Son saying, "There was once a man with two sons," He is not shown to be a bad historian when it is proven that the man with two sons He describes didn't actually exist. So too, when the prophet Nathan tells King David the story of the "rich man" who stole a "poor man's" ewe lamb and slaughtered it, Nathan is not a liar if he cannot produce the carcass or identify the two men in his story. In strict fact, there was no ewe lamb, no theft, and no rich and poor men. These details were used in a metaphor to rebuke King David for his adultery with Bathsheba. We know what Nathan was trying to say and the way he was trying to say it. Likewise, when the Gospels say the women came to the tomb at sunrise, there is no scientific error here. This is not the assertion of the Ptolemiac theory that the sun revolves around the earth. These and other examples which could be given are not "errors" because they're not truth claims about astronomy or historical events.
Similarly, both Judith and Tobit have a number of historical and geographical errors, not because they're presenting bad history and erroneous geography, but because they're first-rate pious stories that don't pretend to be remotely interested with teaching history or geography, any more than the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels are interested in astronomy. Indeed, the author of Tobit goes out of his way to make clear that his hero is fictional. He makes Tobit the uncle of Ahiqar, a figure in ancient Semitic folklore like "Jack the Giant Killer" or "Aladdin." Just as one wouldn't wave a medieval history textbook around and complain about a tale that begins "once upon a time when King Arthur ruled the land," so Catholics are not reading Tobit and Judith to get a history lesson.
Very well then, but what of the moral and theological "errors"? Judith lies. Raphael gives a false name. So they do. In the case of Judith lying to King Holofernes in order to save her people, we must recall that she was acting in light of Jewish understanding as it had developed until that time. This meant that she saw her deception as acceptable, even laudable, because she was eliminating a deadly foe of her people. By deceiving Holofernes as to her intentions and by asking the Lord to bless this tactic, she was not doing something alien to Jewish Scripture or Old Testament morality. Another biblical example of this type of lying is when the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh about the birth of Moses. They lied and were justified in lying because Pharaoh did not have a right to the truth—if they told the truth, he would have killed Moses. If the book of Judith is to be excluded from the canon on this basis, so must Exodus.
With respect to Raphael, it's much more dubious that the author intended, or that his audience understood him to mean, "Angels lie. So should you." On the contrary, Tobit is a classic example of an "entertaining angels unaware" story (cf. Heb. 13:2). We know who Raphael is all along. When Tobit cried out to God for help, God immediately answered him by sending Raphael. But, as is often the case, God's deliverance was not noticed at first. Raphael introduced himself as "Azariah," which means "Yahweh helps," and then rattles off a string of supposed mutual relations, all with names meaning things like "Yahweh is merciful," "Yahweh gives," and "Yahweh hears." By this device, the author is saying (with a nudge and a wink), "Psst, audience. Get it?" And we, of course, do get it, particularly if we're reading the story in the original Hebrew. Indeed, by using the name "Yahweh helps," Raphael isn't so much "lying" about his real name as he is revealing the deepest truth about who God is and why God sent him to Tobit. It's that truth and not any fluff about history or geography or the fun using an alias that the author of Tobit aims to tell.
The deuterocanonical books themselves deny that they are inspired Scripture.
Correction: Two of the deuterocanonical books seem to disclaim inspiration, and even that is a dicey proposition. The two in question are Sirach and 2 Maccabees. Sirach opens with a brief preface by the author's grandson saying, in part, that he is translating grandpa's book, that he thinks the book important and that, "You therefore are now invited to read it in a spirit of attentive good will, with indulgence for any apparent failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages." Likewise, the editor of 2 Maccabees opens with comments about how tough it was to compose the book and closes with a sort of shrug saying, "I will bring my own story to an end here too. If it is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do."
That, and that alone, is the basis for the myth that the deuterocanon (all seven books and not just these two) "denies that it is inspired Scripture." Several things can be said in response to this argument.
First, is it reasonable to think that these typically oriental expressions of humility really constitute anything besides a sort of gesture of politeness and the customary downplaying of one's own talents, something common among ancient writers in Middle Eastern cultures? No. For example, one may as well say that St. Paul's declaration of himself as "one born abnormally" or as being the "chief of sinners" (he mentions this in the present, not past tense) necessarily makes his writings worthless.
Second, speaking of St. Paul, we are confronted by even stronger and explicit examples of disclaimers regarding inspired status of his writings, yet no Protestant would feel compelled to exclude these Pauline writings from the New Testament canon. Consider his statement in 1 Corinthians 1:16 that he can't remember whom he baptized. Using the "It oughtta sound more like the Holy Spirit talking" criterion of biblical inspiration Protestants apply to the deuterocanonical books, St. Paul would fail the test here. Given this amazing criterion, are we to believe the Holy Spirit "forgot" whom St. Paul baptized, or did He inspire St. Paul to forget (1 Cor. 1:15)?
1 Corinthians 7:40 provides an ambiguous statement that could, according to the principles of this myth, be understood to mean that St. Paul wasn't sure that his teaching was inspired or not. Elsewhere St. Paul makes it clear that certain teachings he's passing along are "not I, but the Lord" speaking (1 Cor. 7:10), whereas in other cases, "I, not the Lord" am speaking (cf. 1 Cor. 7:12). This is a vastly more direct "disclaimer of inspiration" than the oblique deuterocanonical passages cited above, yet nobody argues that St. Paul's writings should be excluded from Scripture, as some say the whole of the deuterocanon should be excluded from the Old Testament, simply on the strength of these modest passages from Sirach and 2 Maccabees.
Why not? Because in St. Paul's case people recognize that a writer can be writing under inspiration even when he doesn't realize it and doesn't claim it, and that inspiration is not such a flat-footed affair as "direct dictation" by the Holy Spirit to the author. Indeed, we even recognize that the Spirit can inspire the writers to make true statements about themselves, such as when St. Paul tells the Corinthians he couldn't remember whom he had baptized.
To tweak the old proverb, "What's sauce for the apostolic goose is sauce for the deuterocanonical gander." The writers of the deuterocanonical books can tell the truth about themselves—that they think writing is tough, translating is hard, and that they are not sure they've done a terrific job—without such admissions calling into question the inspired status of what they wrote. This myth proves nothing other than the Catholic doctrine that the books of Sacred Scripture really were composed by human beings who remained fully human and free, even as they wrote under the direct inspiration of God.