Did The Jews And Church Fathers Accept The Apocrypha As Canonical?

          -The purpose of this article is to rebut a handful of claims made by Roman Catholic apologist Trent Horn in defense of the apocrypha against charges of its canonicity being rejected by the Jews and certain church fathers. Following are excerpts from the author alongside with a critique:

          “Melito’s list of the Old Testament books lacks the deuterocanonicals, but this is not surprising given that many second-century Jews rejected the deuterocanonical books. The Protestant citation of Melito only helps their case if Melito was listing the Christian canon of the Old Testament. But because Melito was composing a defense of Christ from sources Jews would accept, we would expect Melito’s canon in his Extracts to reflect what Jews in his time accepted. In Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory, Edmon Gallagher says, “Most scholars have been willing to attribute [Melito’s] list ultimately to Jewish Sources.”

          This argument made by Trent Horn that these canon lists were Jewish rather than Christian backfires, since Christians accepted the Jewish Canon. 
          “The fact that Melito went all the way to Israel (or the “eastern place”) instead of asking the Jews in Sardis about the Old Testament canon shows, as we noted earlier, that there was not a consensus among second-century Jews about the canon of the Hebrew Bible. McDonald says, “Not all Josephus scholars agree with Josephus’s account that all Jews everywhere both know and would die for these twenty-two sacred books. . . Why did [Melito] not go across the street and talk to the nearest Jew to find out, if the matter was well known long before his time?”
          Trent makes the statement that second century Jews rejected the apocryphal books and then provides an explanation as to why Melito did not include them. How do we know that he did not make inquiry about the Old Testament canon in Sardis? It is not as if we can ask him. Just because we have no extent record of such activity, that in of itself is no reason to make such an assumption. Did the apocrypha ever have widespread acceptance amongst the Jews? These people were not fundamentally at odds with each other about the nature and extant of the Old Testament canon. 
          Josephus asserted that a sacred collection of only twenty-two books existed in his day which were laid up in the temple. He was not the only Jew of that era who held to a threefold division of the Jewish canon. It was also attested to by Philo of Alexandria and the Babylonian Talmud. Even the Apostle Paul alluded to a body of writings that were accorded a special status when he said “For the Scripture says…” (Romans 10:11), “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6), and “the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Scriptures that he referred to were the Old Testament.
          “Another point to mention is that if being present in either Melito’s or Origen’s lists were necessary for canonicity, then Esther and Lamentations would be disqualified since they are absent from both lists.”
          If that proves anything at all, then it would only mean some books of the Old Testament have stronger attestation than others.
          A church father does not have to provide a complete list of books in order to have relevant information about the structure of the Old Testament canon.
          That certain canon lists fail to include books like Esther does not tell the whole story. Lists are not the only criterion that we have for canonicity. 
          Esther and Lamentations had enough support to make it into the canon of Scripture. Both excerpts pertaining to the two books of the Old Testament come from The One Volume Bible Commentary, edited by John R. Dummelow:
          “…The author [of Esther] is quite unknown, but his familiarity with Persian customs and Persian words makes it probable that he lived in Persia itself. He was not, however, contemporaneous with the events he relates, for Xerxes is described in language which implies that his reign was past; and his work is perhaps to be placed in the fourth century b.c. The book came to be held in very high esteem by the Jews; it was called par excellence ’the Roll’; it was read annually at the Feast of Purim; and Maimonides is reported to have said that in the days of the Messiah the only Scriptures left would be the Law and the Roll.”

          “In the original [of Lamentations] these poems are anonymous, but tradition has long since asscribed them to Jeremiah. The LXX prefaces the book with these words: ’And it came to pass, after Israel had been carried into captivity and Jerusalem had been laid waste that Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said’; and this ancient tradition is confirmed by the Syriac, the Latin Vulgate, the Targum of Jonathan, the Talmud…Various allusions in the poems themselves look in the same direction; especially the vivid descriptions of Jerusalem in Lamentations 2, 4, which are evidently the penpictures of an eye-witness; likewise the strongly sympathetic temper and prophetic spirit of the poems throughout, as well as their style, phraseology, and thought, which are all so characteristic of Jeremiah.”

          “Regarding Cyril, he divided the Old Testament Scripture into three groups: the protocanonical works that catechumens should read, books of “secondary rank” that catechumens should avoid, and books “not read in Churches”— that catechumens should also avoid. The fact that Cyril wanted those who were new to the faith to avoid the deutero-canonical books does not prove they were noncanonical. According to Gallagher, “Cyril himself uses and cites Wisdom and Sirach. Cyril’s canon list was written for catechumens, and so he may have intended his prohibition to apply to them alone, as those who are unable to properly separate the wheat from the chaff.”
          Even though Cyril of Jerusalem does not consider the deuterocanonical books to be apocryphal, he clearly thinks they have a secondary degree of authority and importance in comparison to the rest of the Old Testament.
          “Athanasius uses the same division in his festal letter and even places Baruch alongside protocanonical books like Jeremiah. He did not reject the inspiration of the deuterocanonical books, because, as we’ve seen, he called them “Scripture” and used the book of Wisdom in his defense of orthodox Christology. Athanasius recognized that these books were disputed by the Jews of his time but still said those who seek further catechesis should read them.”
          Athanasius rejected the books of Tobit, Judith, and Maccabees as inspired. Baruch was viewed as being a part of the Book of Jeremiah. 
          “Since Jerome was mistaken about the reliability and textual tradition of the Septuagint, this refutes his claim that the true Hebrew canon could be found only in manuscripts that lacked the deuterocanonical books. It also refutes Protestant apologists who cite later medieval theologians, along with biblical commentaries, that rejected the deuterocanonical books simply because they followed Jerome’s erroneous argument about the Hebrew text.”
          That claim is based on Roman Catholic tradition so as to keep these non-canonical books. Trent Horn is simply making excuses to validate his assumptions.






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