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 The Principles of Theology - Article 6

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 1. The Canon of Holy Scripture

Part 2. The Limits of the Canon of Holy Scripture

After giving a list of the names and number of the Canonical books the Article refers to “other books,” which it is said that the Church reads for instruction and example, but does not use to establish any doctrine. These are all concerned with Old Testament times, and they are generally spoken of as the Apocrypha. This term, however, is inaccurate. The word ἀπόκρυϕος originally had two meanings: (a) esoteric teaching, and (b) that which shunned the light because it was afraid. But these books were on the contrary (a) read publicly to all, and (b) are not spurious. A better term would be Ecclesiastical Books. They are sometimes called Deutero-Canonical. It is, therefore, important to be quite clear in regard to the distinction between the Canonical and non-Canonical books. The Jewish Old Testament of today is identical with our own, and the same fact can be traced back to the first century. A Tract in the Talmud, of second century date, bears witness to this, and in particular the testimony of Josephus is quite clear. He was born A.D. 37, and as a man of learning and information his testimony is of the first importance. The fact that he endeavours to harmonise the Bible of his day with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet is an illustration of what he held to be the Jewish Bible. [1] There is no trace of any difference on this point among themselves. Alexandrian Jews would naturally avoid any breach with their Palestinian brethren, and the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus shows what was believed in Egypt among Greek-speaking Jews. Although Philo, A.D. 41, is not so clear, no list of his being available, yet there is not much doubt about his agreement with the rest.

And yet the “other books” referred to in the Article are found in the Septuagint, not in the Hebrew, and the question at once arises whether they were part of the Canon. Unfortunately the origin of the Septuagint is obscure both in regard to date and authorship, and, to add to the difficulty, all our present Septuagint MSS are Christian in origin. It seems more probable that these books were regarded as an appendix, especially as the Alexandrian and Palestinian Canon agreed. It is thought by some that the question of the Old Testament Canon was only settled at the Synod of Jamnia, A.D. 90. But the question then discussed was not so much as to admission as to continuance and possible exclusion. There does not seem to be any proof of an unsettled Canon, but only of action against a Canon already decided. An open Canon at that date would be altogether against the plain testimony of Josephus. [2] The witness of the New Testament is clear, even though no list of books is available. Negatively, we may note that our Lord never charged the Jews with mutilation, or corruption, or addition, but only with making Scripture void, and, positively, it may be noted that although the use of the Septuagint is seen as the familiar version, not one quotation appears from the Apocrypha. There are reminiscences, but no authoritative quotations.

The following are the main reasons why the distinction made in the Article is maintained:
1. These books of the Apocrypha were never included in the Jewish Canon.
2. They are never quoted in the New Testament.
3. They were never confused by men like Origen and Jerome, who knew Hebrew.
4. They are not found in the earliest extant catalogue, Melito of Sardis, 171.
5. They are not found in the earliest Syriac version, Peschito.
6. In Justin Martyr’s dialogue against Trypho the Jew, no mention is made of any difference between them as to the Canon.
7. In Origen’s catalogue the Canonical Old Testament is found, not the Apocrypha.
8. Tertullian gives the books of the Old Testament as twenty-four, which agrees with the Talmudic number.
9. In the fourth century full testimonies are found to this distinction both in East and West, e.g. Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Jerome, Hilary of Poictiers.
10. St. Augustine associates the Apocrypha with the Old Testament, and his confusion was pretty certainly due to his ignorance of Hebrew, though even he shows that the Old Testament was regarded as of higher rank. [3] But it is through his influence that these books are now included in the Roman Catholic Canon.
11. In the following centuries, from the sixth to the sixteenth, Augustine’s confusion is rejected “by a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers,” who follow Jerome and distinguish clearly between the Canonical and the Apocryphal books. [4]
12. Even in the Septuagint they are found as an appendix, and not with the rest of the Old Testament. So that it was not their authority which led to their insertion, but the insertion which led to their being regarded as authoritative.
13. Internal evidence also condemns them. Thus Tobit and Judith have doctrinal, chronological, historical, and geographical errors. The books make no claim to Divine inspiration, and several clearly disown any such feature.

The question is important as between us and the Roman Catholic Church, because by the Council of Trent, 1546, seven of the books were placed in the Old Testament Canon, while in 1692 the books were included in the Canon of Scripture by the Eastern Church. But, as already seen, this action is without any justification from history, or the contents of the books, which contain many clear proofs of mere human origin, and that they are not to be regarded as part of Holy Scripture. This is one of the fundamental points of difference between the Church of England and the Church of Rome on the subject of the Rule of Faith.

And so we return to the statement of the Article, following St. Jerome, that we use the books for information about the period from Malachi to Matthew, and also for guidance in regard to life, but we do not accept them as Divinely authoritative for doctrine. [5] Our usage may be summed up as follows:
“(a) The Benedicite from the Apocrypha is appointed as a Canticle for us at Morning Prayer.
(b) Lessons are appointed from the Apocrypha at Morning and Evening Prayer. See the Prayer Book Calendar, October 27th – November 18th, Holy Innocents’ Day, and the feasts of St. Luke and All        Saints. [6]
(c) Two of the Offertory Sentences in the Communion Service are taken from the Book of Tobit.
(d) In the Homilies the Apocrypha is very often quoted, and is even spoke of as the Word of God.” [7]


>> Part 3. The Character of Holy Scripture


[1] “We have not tens of thousands of books discordant and conflicting, but only twenty-two, containing the record of all time, which have been justly believed. … From Artaxerxes [Artaxerxes Longimanus, 465-425] everything … is not deemed worthy of like credit because exact succession of prophets has ceased. … No one has dared to add, or take from, or alter anything.”
[2] Green, Canon of the Old Testament, Ch. 6, especially, p. 78.
[3] De Civitati Dei, Bk. 17, last chapter.
[4] Smith’s Bible Dictionary, pp. 255-259; see also article, “Canon of Old Testament,” by Moller in Murray’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
[5] “Sicut ergo Judith et Tobiæ, et Machabæorum legit quidem Ecclesia, sed eos inter canonicas Scripturas non recipit; sic et hæc duo volumina legat ad ædificationem plebis, non ad auctoritatem ecclesiasticorum dogmatum confirmandam” (Preface to the Books of Solomon).
[6] The Revised Lectionary of 1922 has added many more lessons from the Apocrypha.
[7] Tyrrell Green, The Thirty-nine Articles and the Age of the Reformation, p. 52.






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Article 6

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Canon

>> 2 - Limits of the Canon

>> 3 - Character of Scripture

>> 4 - Sufficiency of Scripture

>> 5 - Supremacy of Scripture

>> 6 - Practical Use of Scripture

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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