Abridging the Bible
Abridging the Bible
One of the first things one notices when one compares a Protestant Bible with a Catholic or Orthodox edition, is how much thinner the Protestant Bible is. This thinness has nothing to do with smaller print or finer paper, but is because seven entire books and significant sections of some other books have been removed from the Old Testament of Protestant Bibles. This seems an amazing thing to be done by people who claim to love and revere the Bible.
How did This Happen?
Most people know that Martin Luther translated the Holy Bible into German, making it more widely available to the general reader. Luther's Bible was by no means the first German translation. It was, however, enormously successful.
As is explained in Bible Truth, Martin Luther opposed many of the ancient teachings of the Church. But how could he convince people that the historic church was wrong in its beliefs, and that he was right? He needed an authority that he could appeal to, and claim was higher than that of the Universal Church. He seized upon the Bible, introducing a new doctrine, Sola Scriptura, which said that Scripture Alone could be used to define Christian doctrine. The ancient teachings,and Apostolic tradition of the Church could then be discarded as of no value whatsoever.
But what gave the Bible its
authority? Jesus did not leave us the Bible. The NewTestament
books were not written until many years after his death.
The Old Testament did exist, but its
individual books were kept as separate scrolls and not
bound together. Books as we know them, with bound and
turnable pages, were "new technology" unknown
in the 1st Century, They did not come into use until the
Luther's Next Problem
Another problem immediately arose for Luther. Although many of his teachings (and those of the other Reformers) could be backed up from certain Bible passages, read in isolation, other Bible Books clearly refuted them.
Luther, however, wanted a bible that agreed totally with his teachings. He disliked books in both the Old and New Testaments that disagreed with his teachings. He particularly disliked the New Testament Book of James, which condemned his teaching on Salvation by Faith Alone, (see Faith and Works), and the Old Testament Book of Maccabees, which advocated Prayer for the Dead, and therefore could be used to justify the doctrine of Purgatory. (see Heaven and Hell). He called the Book of James the "Epistle of Straw."
Cutting Down the Bible.
Luther therefore took the golden opportunity of his translation of the Bible into German to try to cut certain Books out of the Canon of Scripture. Of James he said, "I will not have him in my Bible in the number of truly principal works." He didn't dare remove books from the Bible entirely - that was too big a step for even him to take. What he did was to take them out of their accepted places in the Bible, and put them in a separate section, which he termed the Apocrypha. These books, he said, were not inspired by God, though they contained "many good sayings." (Luthers Works, 35, 397)
From the Old Testament he removed the Books of Judith, Tobit, 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus and Baruch, as well as Esther and part of the Book of Daniel.
From the New Testament he removed the Books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation.
What Authority Had He For This?
None. One would have expected that the modification of the Bible, which all Christians hold as the highest authority, would have required at least a Council of the Church. But no such Council was held. Cleverly, Luther did not remove the books entirely, he merely sidelined them.
In fact his fellow Protestants balked at removing books from the New Testament, particularly since there was no other reason for their removal than that they contradicted Luther's views. The four New Testament Books that Luther had placed in the Apocrypha, were reinserted in future Protestant Bibles, along with most of Esther. But if Luther had had his way, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation would not be in Protestant Bibles.
Seven Old Testament Books, however, remained excluded from Protestant Bibles. Initially the seven Books continued to be placed in a section called the Apocrypha. But since it was cheaper to print bibles without them, the seven books were slowly dropped altogether. By the 19th Century, the vast majority of Protestant Bibles did not carry the seven Books at all. Protestants began to get used to not seeing these Books in their Bibles, and to imagine that their Bibles were perfectly complete without them.
In this way Catholics came to have a Bible of 73 books, and most Protestants a Bible of 66 books. Perhaps it should cause some misgivings to Protestant readers that the number of books in their Bibles is such an ill-omened one in terms of Biblical Numerology?
So Why Did Protestants continue to exclude the seven Old Testament Books?
Because Luther had another argument to use against the Old Testament Books he removed from the Bible - one which his fellow Reformers could support.
Distrusting the Latin Vulgate Bible, because it was relied on by the Catholic Church, Luther decided to translate his Bible into German from the Original languages. The earliest forms of the New Testament writings were in Greek, so Luther happily translated his New Testament from Greek. It was known that most of the Old Testament had originally been written in Hebrew. So Luther wanted to translate his German Old Testament from the Hebrew texts.
In this he was following St Jerome, who had sought out old Hebrew manuscripts to produce the Latin Vulgate Bible in 406 AD. However, when Luther obtained Hebrew manuscripts from the Jews of his time, he found that the seven Books in question were not in their Canon of Scripture. This strengthened his resolve to remove the Books. The Jews, he argued, were the Guardians of the Old Testament, so he would use their Old Testament.
Wasn't This A Good Decision?
Many thought so at the time. Even St Jerome had wanted to follow the Jewish Canon of his time, but his fellow Christians had insisted on the full Canon.
So Were the Seven Books a Later, Christian Addition to the Jewish Old Testament?
Not at all. The oldest existing versions of the Jewish Old Testament include the Seven Books. It is from these versions that the early Christian Scriptures were made. The best, oldest and most complete version of the Jewish Old Testament we know today is called The Septuagint, and this includes the books that Luther deleted.
SO WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE ACCEPT THIS?
Because the Septuagint is written in Greek, not Hebrew. The Septuagint was translated between 300 and 200 BC for the growing community of Greek speaking Jews who lived in Egypt, Palestine, and around the Mediterranean. Many ancient copies are still in existence, and it formed the Old Testament text of the earliest Christian Bibles. Our names for the Old Testament books, (Genesis, Exodus etc.) come from the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew.
What About the Original Hebrew?
That is where the problem arises. The "original" Hebrew text no longer exists. When Bibles claim to be translated from the "Original Hebrew", they are being somewhat misleading, since the oldest existing Hebrew texts of the Old Testament date back only to around 1000 AD. These are the Masoretic texts used by the Jews of the diaspora. It is these relatively late texts that lack the Seven Books.
Why Are There No Earlier Hebrew Texts?
The main reason why earlier Hebrew texts do not exist is that the Jews tended to recopy their scriptures when they grew worn, and then bury the original, which soon decayed. Therefore we have nothing like a Hebrew text which goes back to the time of Christ. We do have some earlier fragments, discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but there is only one full book and a few disjointed fragments of all the rest.
Which is the Most Accurate Version?
Luther, and most of the translators who followed him assumed that the Hebrew texts guarded by the Jews must be more authentic than either the Greek Septuagint translation or Jerome's Latin translation. Therefore most modern Bibles are based on the Hebrew Masoretic texts - which exclude the Seven Books.
However, with improvements in Bible scholarship, that assumption has been changing. Many people had been worried that the quotations of Old Testament Scripture in the New Testament were often slightly different to the versions in the Old Testament, translated from the Hebrew texts. Yet when these quotations were compared with the Greek Language Septuagint version, the wording matched far more closely. It became more and more apparent that the writers of the New Testament had used the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament as their scriptures, rather than the Masoretic version.
So too, the ancient Hebrew manuscripts found at Qumran (The Dead Sea Scrolls), generally agreed more closely with the Septuagint than they do with the current Masoretic Hebrew texts. The Septuagint is thus witness to an older Hebrew manuscript tradition.
Close examination of the Masoretic Hebrew texts also revealed a good number of errors and garbled verses that seemed to have crept into the Hebrew texts through constant recopying. Although the Jewish copyists had taken great pains to keep their copies accurate, mistakes had clearly crept in. It was clear that the once-despised Greek Septuagint version was the more accurate text.
Lets look at a couple of
Today most modern Bibles still use the Hebrew Text as their base, but correct and amend it using the older Greek Septuagint version.
Why Have We Digressed Like This?
Because it was necessary to show that the Greek Septuagint text of the Old Testament, which includes the books removed by Luther, is
So Why Does the Hebrew Text Omit the Seven Books?
Because the Masoretic Hebrew text preserved by the Jews in their Synagogues is a text that was selected and codified after Bible times.
To be precise the Hebrew scriptures were Revised by rabbis at the Council of Jamnia in Palestine around 90 AD. It was this Council that decided to remove the Seven Books from the Hebrew Canon.
Didn't These Rabbis Have the Authority to Decide What was Scripture?
For many reasons that is debatable. We need to look at the reasons they made their rulings - on which Protestants depend to justify their abridged Bible.
Twenty years earlier the Jews of
Palestine had rebelled against Rome. They were defeated
by General Tacitus, and in 70 AD, 40 years after the
crucifixion of Jesus, they were expelled from Jerusalem,
and the Temple destroyed. With the fall of the Temple,
the Sanhedrin priesthood were also destroyed, so the
Judean survivors were given permission to establish a
rabbinical school at Jamnia, near the Mediterranean
It is very clear then that the rabbis who gathered at Jamnia were both embittered, and anti-Christian. Within a few years they were to back two false Messiahs, namely Bar Kokba and Lukuas-Andreas, who led them into fatal revolts against the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian. After the last of these revolts, all Jews were expelled from the Holy Land.
Hebrew was already a dead language, the Jews of that time spoke Aramaic or Greek. Yet Hebrew scriptures were approved at the expense of the Greek Septuagint that was quoted by Christians. The Council also rejected books that contained doctrines they disliked, and all books written since the time of Ezra.
In view of this, Protestants need to ask themselves, why they choose to back the scriptural discernment of this group of Rabbis, who rejected Christ, supported two false Messiahs, and immediately led their followers to further disaster. Do they really think this group was guided by the Holy Spirit to a greater extent than the Jews who followed Christ and who relied on ALL the Old Testament books?
But I've Been Told That the "Apocrypha" are Never Quoted in the New Testament.
This is something that Fundamentalist Protestants often claim. Unfortunately for their arguments, it isn't true. See below:
Heb 11:35, "...Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might find a better resurrection." The only place in the O.T. that you will find reference to that is 2 Macc 7:1-29. The first half of Heb 11:35 is found in 1 Kings 17:23 and 2 Kings 4:36.
Heb 11:38, "They wandered in
deserts and mountains..."
Jn 10:22, "Now there took place at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication..." The inauguration of this feast is found in 1Macc 4:36 & 52-59.
Jn 14:23, "...If anyone love Me, he will keep My word..." This is in Sir 2:18.
Rom 9:21, " is not the potter master of his clay..." Found in Wis 15:7
1Pet 1:6-7, "...gold which is tried by fire..." See Wis 3:5-6
Rom 1:20-23, "For since the creation of the world..." Found in Wis 13:1-7
Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31, "...all that you wish men to do to you, even so do you also to them..." Extension of Tob 4:15
Lk 25 35-36, "I was hungry and you gave me food....I needed clothes and you clothed me." Based on Tob 4:16.
Rev 21:18, "And the material of its wall was jasper; but the city itself was pure gold, like pure glass." See Tob 13 end.
Mt 13:43, "Then the just will shine forth..." Found in Wis 3:7
Mt 27:42, "...if He is the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross..." See Wis 2:18-20.
Lk 24:4, "...two men stood by them in dazzling raiment." Found in 2 Macc 3:26.
Rom 11:33, "...How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable are His ways." Found in Judith 8:14.
1 Cor 10:20, "...they sacrifice to demons, not to God..." Found in Baruch 4:7.
Removing books from the Bible is a serious matter, and is specifically condemned in Revelation 22.19. When the authority for this removal depends specifically upon those who rejected the Christian message, perhaps it is time to question the basis of this change.