Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Apocrypha and the Catholic Doctrine of Scripture

"If it is well-composed and to the point, that is just what I wanted. If it is worthless and mediocre, that is all I could manage."
- II Maccabees 15:38, New Jerusalem Bible

This verse is the penultimate verse of the apocryphal Second Book of Maccabees. Along with First Maccabees, this book is an accepted part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament. The Eastern Orthodox also accept Third and Fourth Maccabees. These books describe the historical period between the prophecies of Malachi and the Gospel of Matthew.

All of these books are found in the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures. However, all four are excluded from the so-called Palestinian canon, the basis of both the modern Jewish and Protestant canons. The Orthodox accept all four simply on the grounds that they consider the Septuagint to be the authoritative basis for their Old Testament. And, it must be acknowledged, the manuscripts that survive of the Septuagint are far older than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, pleads the actions of certain church councils (not any of the universal Ecumenical Councils), especially of the Third Council of Carthage, a provincial council that met in 397, and ratified by the Sixth Council of Carthage in 419. However, Rome rejects the Synod of Laodicea, 365, which excluded the Books of Maccabees. In addition, they claim the authority of Augustine, who accepted the books, but reject the opinion of Jerome who excluded them from his canon, i.e., the Vulgate Bible.

My point in mentioning these councils and church Fathers is that the Church of Rome cherry-picks its authorities. Since the Council of Trent "infallibly" determined to include the books, the Roman Church is forced by its own claims to profess only those authorities that agree with that decree.

The problem for the Catholic (and Orthodox) view is that it is contradicted by the very text that they are claiming as canonical. Look at the quote at the top of this page. The writer of Second Maccabees is worried that his book will be found to be mediocre! Would he have that fear if he were inspired, as, for example, Paul was? Rome claims that he was merely mistaken, unaware of his inspiration, because, they claim, the Scriptures aren't infallible in matters of science or history, i.e., "objective" facts. A-hah! Here we have the crux of the issue: in order to maintain its own infallibility, Rome is perfectly willing to cast away the infallibility of God! This is the reason the Reformers pointed their fingers at the papacy with the cry of "Antichrist"!

In contrast, Jesus, speaking to His heavenly Father, trustingly confessed, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). That is the authority that I accept. As the Psalmist says (Psalm 119:160), "The sum of Your word is truth." Since no pope has ever died for my sins or risen from the dead, I will choose the words of Jesus over the words of Rome. I am secure in the trust that those words will never change.

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