Showing posts with label Deuterocanon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Deuterocanon. Show all posts

Monday, September 24, 2012

The canon of scripture, Damasus, and the "Gelasian Decree"

In some non-Catholic circles, there exists an argument against Pope Damasus having decreed the canon of Scripture at a council in Rome, ca 382 A.D. Here is an example from the One Fold blog arguing against Catholic apologist John Martignoni:
What John is referring to when he says the “canon was set at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D,” is actually a list from the Gelasian Decree produced in the sixth century and sometimes falsely attributed to the council of Rome.
A similar claim is made by Protestant historian F.F. Bruce:
What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha [sic] interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 97)
One of the apologetic reasons for claiming the 382 decree on the canon is false is because the text in question includes the longer Catholic canon with 7+ books1––what Bruce calls the "Apocrypha." Catholics today refer to these texts as the Deuterocanon. Those opposed to the authenticity of the 382 decree are apparently averse to admitting to the antiquity of the Catholic canon. Admittedly, this is peculiar, because One Fold, perhaps following the admission on page 97 of Bruce, admits that the longer Catholic canon was declared at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), just a few years later anyway.
The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities. (ibid. 97)
It's worth noting that Bruce admits the longer Catholic canon was "already the general practice" of the early Christian communities.

Nevertheless, what of the authenticity of Pope Damasus proclaiming the longer canon in 382? Catholic historian William Jurgens writes as follows:
The first part of this decree has long been known as the Decree of Damasus, and concerns the Holy Spirit and the seven-fold gifts. The second part of the decree is more familiarly known as the opening part of the Gelasian Decree, in regard to the canon of Scripture: De libris recipiendis vel non recipiendis. It is now commonly held that the part of the Gelasian Decree dealing with the accepted canon of Scripture is an authentic work of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. and that Gelasius edited it again at the end of the fifth century, adding to it the catalog of the rejected books, the apocrypha. It is now almost universally accepted that these parts one and two of the Decree of Damasus are authentic parts of the Acts of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, p. 404)
So, according to Jurgens, both Damasus and Gelasius included the canonical list, but Gelasius added additional forbidden texts. Whether this took place at the "end of the fifth" century or the "sixth" century, as Bruce asserts, they are apparently speaking of the same Gelasian text. The question is whether or not what Gelasius wrote in the 5th/6th century was an innovation from the 382 Decree of Damasus as One Fold and Bruce assert.

It seems to me, the Decree of Damasus in 382 at the council of Rome is the more historically sound. Here's why. In 1912, the author Ernst von Dobsch├╝tz, gave his historical rationale for doubting that Damasus made a decree on the canon at Rome in 382. He points out that in the Gelasian decree is a quotation from St. Augustine dating from 416. Therefore, he denies that any other part of the decree could have originally been from Damasus in 382. From this, he concludes that the entirety of Damasus' decree has "no historical value." We see, of course, that this is specious reasoning. After all, if Damasus declared a canonical list in 382, and Gelasius in the 5th/6th century added to that a quote from Augustine, that would not erase Damasus' original declaration.

All these dates and names can be confusing. But here's the apparent timeline:
  • 382 - Pope Damasus makes his decree on the larger Catholic canon
  • 416 - Augustine makes his comments.
  • 5th/6th century - Gelasius takes Damasus' decree, and edits it, adding to it the Augustinian quote and lists other apocryphal texts
If Gelasius added an Augustinian quote, it has no effect on what Damasus declared. Yet von Dobsch├╝tz concludes the entire Decree of Damasus is worthless. Bruce apparently echoes this historical view by calling into question the dating of the canonical list in Damasus' decree.

Another Protestant resource confirms Jurgens and the timeline I have posited above:
A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the 'Gelasian Decree' because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., p. 232)
Thus, we have sound evidence that the longer Catholic canon found acceptance from councils ancient and more recent including Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Nicea II (797), Florence (1442)Trent (1546) and Vatican I (1870). It is this canonical list that has found consistency throughout the centuries.

1For the text of the decree on the canon at the council at Rome (382), see Gary Michuta's Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, page 126-127, or refer to the Latin text here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Did the 1611 King James Bible delete the Deuterocanon?

Sometimes in the land of Christian internet forums, there is confusion as to whether or not the original 1611 King James version (KJV) of the Bible deleted the Deuterocanonical books (Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees). So what is the answer?

Did the 1611 King James Bible delete the books of the Deuterocanon?

The answer is yes and no.

The answer is no because the Deuterocanonical books remained within the front and back cover of the 1611 KJV.

The answer is yes because the 1611 KJV removed the Deuterocanonical books from the contents of inspired Scripture to a section of uninspired "Apocrypha." A scan of the original table of contents of the 1611 KJV can be seen here at

This was a departure from centuries of councils affirming the inspired canonicity of the Deuterocanonical books (eg. regional councils at Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Nicea II (797), and ecumenical councils at Florence (1442) and Trent (1546)).

So in one sense, the 1611 KJV didn't remove the Deuterocanonical books because they still were included in its pages. Yet in another sense, the Deuterocanon was indeed removed from the contents of inspired Scripture.

On a note of interest, the compilers of the 1611 KJV still thought much more highly of the Deuterocanonical books than do many Christians today who mock their edificational value. In the 1611 KJV, there are some 102 verse cross-references (11 in the New Testament) to Deuterocanonical books. For example, here is a screenshot from the 1611 KJV that shows a cross-reference of Hebrews 11:3 to Wisdom 7:26:

More screenshots and cross-references are detailed at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Did Athanasius reject the Deuterocanon?

Catholic and many Orthodox Bibles have 7 more books in their Old Testaments than most modern Protestant translations of the Bible. The books in Catholic or Orthodox Bibles called the Deuterocanon (known to some Christians as "Apocrypha") are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees.1 It is not uncommon to read an apologetic against the Deuterocanon that appeals to the 4th century's St. Athanasius as having "rejected" those books. An example of such an apologetic can be seen at sites like which said Athanasius "spoke against the Apocrypha," or which goes so far as to say Athanasius "vehemently opposed their use."

The citation of Athanasius to support this argument is from his Letter 39. The apologist will claim Athanasius listed the books of the Old Testament and did not include the Deuterocanon. Athanasius then follows this list with the words:
These are the fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness.
However, a closer examination reveals the error in concluding Athanasius rejected the Deuterocanon as Scriptural. Here is the entirety of his preceding paragraph listing the books of the Old Testament:
There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.
Some observations:
  • Athanasius absorbed Baruch, a Deuterocanonical book, as part of the book of Jeremiah.
  • The "epistle" of Jeremiah is also known as the final chapter of Baruch, indicating Athanasius accepted Baruch in its entirety.
  • The book of Esther, which is accepted as Scriptural by the same apologists who appeal to Athanasius to condemn the Deuterocanon, is missing from his list.
These observations alone are enough to dispel the myth that Athanasius "rejected the Deuterocanon." But there is more.

In the final paragraph of Letter 39 is this closing:
But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles [i.e. Didache], and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.
It is again, time for more observations:
  • Esther, which both Protestant and Catholic Bibles have in their canons today, is included among the other Deuterocanonical books according to Athanasius.
  • Perhaps more importantly is that Athanasius considered this group of books in a class distinct from "apocryphal writings." The apocryphal writings, he said, are "heretical."
Athanasius said these books are indeed read in churches by those new to the faith who "wish for instruction in the word of godliness." Remember, only one paragraph earlier Athanasius said the canonical books "alone...proclaimed the doctrine of godliness." Yet in the next paragraph he said the books in question were read by those who "wish for instruction in the word of godliness." And he said his purpose for writing this last paragraph was for "greater exactness."

In other words, Athanasius considered these additional Deuterocanonical books in a class something other than "canonical" Scripture yet not "apocryphal." In modern times, we are tempted to consider an ancient religious text as either one of two things: either canonical Scripture or apocryphal literature. Yet in Letter 39, Athanasius expressed a third class of writing which he assigned to these Deuterocanonical books.

So would it be fair to say Athanasius considered these Deuterocanonical books Scriptural but not in a class of "canonical" Scripture? A specific example is revealing:
But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, "The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life." (Athanasius, Against the Heathen, #11)
The "Scripture" Athanasius cited here is from a Deuterocanonical book. It is Wisdom 14:12. Therefore, even though he did not list Wisdom among canonical Scripture, he still considered the text "Scripture."

I cannot conclude without mentioning another error in the apologist's quest to condemn the Deuterocanon. Even if Athanasius were indeed opposed to the Scriptural quality of all the Deuterocanonical books, that would not automatically affect the Catholic position. This would still hold true even if 2 or 3 or 10 Early Church Fathers (ECFs) were found to explicitly reject the Scriptural quality of the Deuterocanon. There are numerous ECFs who clearly support the Scriptural quality of the Deuterocanon such as St. Irenaeus, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Hippolytus, and countless others. The Church has been given the guarantee for such theological discernment. The same canon was affirmed at the local councils at Rome, Hippo, and Carthage in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. Subsequent ecumenical councils, Florence in the 15th century and Trent in the 16th century, confirmed the ancient local councils. These all included the Deuterocanon.

Thus, the attempt to discredit the Deutercanon by finding some ECFs who opposed them would merely showcase the need for the Church to intervene and accept the Spirit's guidance. This is exactly what occurred in Acts 15 when some of the Church leaders believed in the necessity of circumcision while others did not. That council in Acts 15 conclude that circumcision was not mandatory for salvation. To cite after the fact the contrary opinions of any handful of pro-circumcision Church leaders is an erroneous way to discredit the discernment of the council.

One final note is regarding the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. St. Athanasius doesn't mention these two Deuterocanonical books in Letter 39. However, I would contend the evidence leans toward Athanasius having an affinity for them. In his Espositiones in Psalmos, line 05667, he praises the righteous shedding of blood by the Maccabees. More than likely, he knows this from the books of the Maccabees since that moniker does not appear in the Jewish Talmud or Midrash "where the family is always referred to as 'the Hasmoneans.'"

1Longer versions of Esther and Daniel are also classified as Deuterocanonical even though those portions are not considered entirely separate books. There also appears to be some diversity on a precise canon in the Orthodox Church according to Orthodox priest Fr. R. Stergiou, although these variations include more, not less, books than the Catholic and other Orthodox canons.