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§ 12. Of the Canon and the Apocryphal Books.

The written Word of God consists of the Word of God of the Old and the Word of God of the New Testament. [1] In the collection, however, that contains both of these, we find also other writings, which we do not call the Word of God in the same sense. We distinguish these two kinds of writings in the following manner, viz.: we call the first class canonical books, i.e., such as, because they are inspired by God, [2] are the rule and guide of our faith; [3] the others, apocryphal books, i.e., such whose divine origin is either doubtful or has been disproved. [4] Although both kinds are found in the Bible, only those of the first class are admitted as a rule of faith, whence they are called the Canon (catalogue, or number, of the canonical books), while those of the other class may contribute their share to the edification of believers, but are not to be regarded as the Word of God, and from them, therefore, no proof for any doctrine of the faith is to be drawn. [5]

Whether a book is canonical or not, we are then to ascertain by the signs whereby we recognize the Word of God in general as such, as of the divine origin, as inspired. [6] The testimony of the Holy Spirit is more conclusive evidence than anything else of the divine character of the contents of a book; next to this come all the other kinds of evidence which we have enumerated under the head of the Authority of Holy Scripture (§ 8, Note 10) as the external and internal criteria. [7] Among the latter, the testimony of the Church in the earliest ages in regard to the canonical character of a book is of special importance, for it is assuredly a matter of the highest moment if we know 81that a book was acknowledged as canonical already at a day when its origin could be most accurately ascertained. [8] More particularly do we need the testimony of the earliest ages of the Church in deciding historical questions, as to the name of the author of a book, as to the language in which it was originally composed; [9] for by the testimony of the Holy Spirit we may indeed become assured of the divinity of a book, experiencing its power in our own hearts, but He bears no testimony as to questions of this kind.

As canonical books of the Old Testament we acknowledge: (1) Genesis; (2) Exodus; (3) Leviticus; (4) Numbers; (5) Deuteronomy; (6) Joshua; (7) Judges; (8) Ruth; (9) I and II Samuel; (10) I and II Kings; (11) I and II Chronicles; (12) Ezra and Nehemiah (or second Ezra); (13) Esther; (14) Job; (15) Psalms; (16) Proverbs; (17) Ecclesiastes; (18) Song of Solomon; (19) Isaiah; (20) Jeremiah; (21) Lamentations; (22) Ezekiel; (23) Daniel; (24) twelve minor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi. [10]

As apocryphal: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, I, II, and III Maccabees, III and IV Ezra, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Syracides. As appendices: Epistle of Jeremiah, annexed to Baruch, Appendix to Daniel, Supplement to Esther, Prayer of Manasseh.(GRH.) [11]

In the New Testament we have no apocryphal books in the same sense as in the Old Testament; but still there are single books of the New Testament in regard to whose origin and authors the evidence is not in all cases equally consentaneous. A certain distinction must therefore be made between them and the others that are equally authenticated by every species of evidence; and yet this distinction, resting as it does merely upon the want of entire agreement in the evidence, whilst very important testimony of various kinds is at hand to prove their canonical authority, is not of so much importance as to prevent us from making a canonical use of these books. [12]

The books of the New Testament authenticated by all the testimonies are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, [13] and John, Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, his two Epistles to the Corinthians, his Epistles to the Galatians, 82Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, two Epistles to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, the Epistle to Titus, the Epistle to Philemon, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first of John.

Those in regard to which doubts are entertained by some are the Epistle to the Hebrews, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, the Epistle of James, that of Jude, and the Apocalypse of John.

[1] GRH. (II, 50): “The biblical books are distinguished into the books of the Old and New Testaments. The books of the Old Testament are those which were written before the appearance of Christ; the books of the New Testament, those which were written after the appearance of Christ, and addressed to the Church. It is to be observed, that the books of the Old Testament are called such, not because they do not manifestly contain anything of the substance, grace, and felicity of the New Testament promised through Christ to those believing in Him, but because they predict and prefigure that as future and to be fulfilled in due time, which in the New Testament is announced as complete. Rom. 3:21; 16:26.”

HOLL. (129), as to the relation between the Old and New Testaments: “The books of the Old Testament were committed to the Israelitic Church, those of the New Testament to the Christian Church, collected from all nations. Yet the Christian Church receives the canonical books of the Old Testament on account of the most admirable harmony of the prophetic and apostolic writings, on account of their great utility, and especially in obedience to the command of Christ, John 5:39. There is a disparity between the Old and New Testaments as to the degree of perspicuity, but not a diversity as to the object of revelation, as if in the one, things were explicitly taught as necessary to be believed, different from those so taught in the other, since faith is the same in both. Eph. 4:16.”

[2] CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I,85): “The Canonical Scriptures derive their eminent authority mainly from the fact that they are divinely inspired, 2 Tim. 3:16; i.e., that they came not by the will of man, but the men of God both spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

[3] CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I,81): “The Scriptures are called canonical, the canonical books, or the canon of Scripture, because they are a rule according to which the edifice of the faith of the Church is to be so constructed and framed that whatever agrees with this rule is to be regarded as right, sound, and apostolical; 83and that whatever does not quadrate with it, but varies either by excess or deficiency, is properly to be regarded as suppositious, adulterated, erroneous. This canon or rule is the doctrine divinely communicated from the beginning of the world to the human race through the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and the apostles. And because this doctrine is by the will of God contained in the Scriptures, they are hence called canonical. A canon is an infallible rule or measure which by no means allows that anything be added to it or taken from it.”

[4] GRH. (II, 53): “The apocryphal books are so called απο του αποκρυπτειν, which signifies concealed, either because their origin was not clearly ascertained by those by whose testimony the authority of the true Scriptures has been handed down to us (Augustine); or, because they are not read publicly in the churches as a source of proof for ecclesiastical doctrines, but merely as a means of moral improvement.” HOLL. (131): “The apocryphal books are those which are found in the volume of Scripture, but do not belong to the canon, and were not written by immediate divine inspiration.” This definition applies only to those which accompany the canonical Scriptures; another class consists of those “which contain fable, errors, and lies, and hence are not to be read in the churches.” GRH. (II, 55): “The former kind are called apocryphal, in the sense of obscure (absconditi), i.e., uncertain and hidden as to their origin; the other class, in the sense that they deserve to be kept obscure (abscondendi) and ought not to be read in the churches.” CAL. (I, 491): “The division of the books of Scripture into canonical and apocryphal is improper and equivocal, since only the former meet the definition of the Holy Scriptures, the latter merely having the name.”

[5] CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I, 93): “Are then these books to be absolutely condemned and rejected? This we by no means demand. Of what use then is this whole discussion? We reply, That the rule of faith or sound doctrine in the Church may be certain. The fathers taught that authoritative proof of ecclesiastical doctrine was to be drawn only from the canonical books. . . . The authority of canonical Scripture alone was judged competent to decide in disputed questions; but the other books, which Cyprian calls ecclesiastical, Jerome apocryphal, they desired indeed to have read in the churches, merely however for the edification of the people, not as proof in matters of doctrine. No dogma is, therefore, to be deduced from these books which has not clear and indubitable support and evidence in the canonical books. No controverted topic can be decided by these books, if there be not other and conclusive 84evidence in the canonical books. But whatever is said in these books is to be expounded and understood according to the analogy of those truths which are plainly taught in the canonical books.”

CAL. (I, 492): “Two things are necessary to constitute a canonical book; first, inspiration, or the immediate divine impulse, which proves the document in question to be divine truth, or the very Word of God; secondly, the divine sanction (canonicatio divina), by which God constitutes His written Word the perpetual and universal rule of the Church.”

HOLL. (129): “The canonical books are those whose doctrines and single words were committed to writing by the prophets and apostles, by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and were communicated to the Church by God, and received by her as the infallible rule of faith and morals for man who is to be saved.”

[6] HOLL. (126): “We judge of the canonical authority of Scripture with reference to its doctrines, by the same proofs and arguments by which we decide in regard to its divine origin. For the Holy Scriptures are an infallible rule or canon of faith and morals, because they derive their origin immediately from God, and are designed by Him for canonical use. Wherefore, when the abovementioned criteria convince us that the meaning or doctrine of Scripture has proceeded immediately from God, there is no need of an extended demonstration of canonical authority, so far as the doctrine of the canon is concerned.”

[7] HOLL. (126): “The canonical authority of Scripture, considered as to its doctrines, is proved by external and internal criteria, but especially by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit illuminating the minds of men, through the Scriptures attentively read or heard from the mouth of a teacher.”

[8] CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I, 85): “That this whole matter, in itself of such vast importance, might be perfectly secure against all imposture, God selected certain men to write, furnished them with many miracles and divine testimonials, that there might be no doubt that those things which they wrote were divinely inspired. Finally, these writings, divinely inspired, were at the time when they were written, by common consent, with public indorsement, presented, given, and intrusted to the Church, that she should, by all possible care and forethought, preserve them uncorrupted, transmit them thence from hand to hand, and intrust them to posterity. And as the ancient Church, in the time of Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, so also the primitive Church in the time of the apostles, could give certain testimony as to which writings were divinely inspired. For she knew the authors whom God commended 85to the Church by the peculiar evidence; she knew also what those things were that were written by them, and, from what she learned orally from the apostles, could decide that those things which were written were the very same doctrine which the apostles orally delivered. . . . The Scriptures, therefore, derive canonical authority principally from the Holy Spirit, by whose impulse and inspiration they were written; secondarily, from the writers themselves, to whom God gave clear and peculiar proofs of their truth; finally, from the primitive Church, as a witness, in whose day these writings were published and approved. Now this testimony of the primitive Church concerning the divine inspiration of the Scriptures has been handed down in perpetual succession to posterity, and carefully preserved in certain ancient historical records; so that the Church in subsequent ages is the guardian of the testimony of the primitive Church concerning the Scriptures. There is, therefore, the greatest difference between the testimony (1) of the primitive Church in the times of the apostles, that (2) of the Church in the first centuries, which received the testimony of the primitive Church, and (3) that of the present Church concerning the Scriptures; for if what now is and formerly was the Church, can show the testimony of those who received and knew the testimony of the early Church concerning the true Scriptures, we give our assent to her as to a witness proving her assertions. But she does not possess the power of determining or deciding anything concerning the sacred books of which she cannot adduce clear documentary proof from the testimony of the primitive Church.”

As to the manner in which the primitive Church proceeded in this matter, CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I, 87) thus expresses himself: “The testimony of the primitive Church, in the times of the apostles, concerning the genuine writings of the apostles, the immediately succeeding generations constantly and faithfully retained and preserved; so that when many others afterwards were brought forward, claiming to have been written by the apostles, they were tested and rejected as supposititious and adulterated, first, for this reason, that it could not be shown and proved by the testimony of the original Church either that they were written by the apostles, or approved by the living apostles, and transmitted and intrusted by them to the Church in the beginning; secondly, because they proposed strange doctrine not accordant with that which the Church received from the apostles, and was at that time still preserving fresh in the memory of all.”

[9] HOLL. (126): “But the canonical authority of Scripture, in reference to the original language, or the authentic Hebrew text 86of the Old and Greek of the New Testament, is indeed distinctly proved by the testimony of the primitive Church, but not by this alone.” (127): “We add to the testimony of the primitive Church the testimony of Scripture, its continued preservation for the profitable use of men, and the character of its style.”

The intent of this passage and the one quoted in the eighth note is the following: The internal and external criteria may indeed beget in us a human faith, but not a divine; the latter can be produced only by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And this must not necessarily be obtained by the use of the original text: a translation will answer quite as well, since the power of the Holy Spirit lies in the sense and not in the letter of the Word. Wherefore, also, we cannot become divinely assured, in regard to the idiom in which any of the sacred books has been written, by an internal experience. For information on this point we are therefore referred to historical evidence; and the state of the case thus appears to be, that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is necessary to assure us of the divinity of the Scriptures, to which must be added historical proofs to satisfy us as to the language in which a sacred book was written, as to its author, etc. For BR. (112) thus expresses himself: “The internal illuminating power of the Scriptures is associated with the sense in every language, in such a manner, that it does not point out precisely the words of the original text as essentially different from other equivalent words of the same or any other language, text or version.” But the other criteria, which prove the inspiration of the doctrine contained in Scripture, either do not at all relate to the material part, or the words, of Scripture, but only to the formal part, or the doctrine; or, when they do in some degree relate to the words and their connection, and are employed to prove in general that God is the author of the words of Scripture in any idiom, whatever it may be, they still cannot clearly indicate the precise words and letters in which each book of Scripture was originally committed to writing. There remains, therefore, the testimony of the Church, which does not, indeed, confer canonical or normative dignity upon the books of Scripture in any particular language, nor does it by its own authority induce that reception of the divine faith by which the inspiration of that idiom is believed; but notwithstanding this, inasmuch as it historically proves a certain idiom or writing to be the original of the books of Scripture, in which it received them as written by the sacred penman, thus producing a moral certainty in regard to it, it now joined with that which the Scriptures themselves teach, and with which the Holy Spirit intimately connects his own influence, holds a place 87in the discussion of the faith. As an example, HOLL. (127) adduces the following: “When it is asked, Was the Gospel of Matthew originally written in Greek or Hebrew? this is a question not of Dogmatics, but of history. . . . Of this fact the Primitive Church is a credible witness, for it fought upon earth under the banner of Christ, together with the writers then living in the flesh, and received their autographs from their own hands. . . . Thus we seek from the Jewish Church evidence for the Hebrew original of the Old Testament, and from the primitive Christian Church for the original Greek of the New.”

It is still worthy of remark that it cannot be clearly understood, from the passages quoted from Hollazius and Baier, whether these theologians supposed that, as each individual can attain only by the testimony of the Holy Spirit unto divine faith in the revelation by Christ, so in like manner each individual can be convinced of the divinity of each single book of Scripture by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The contrary might seem to be proved by the fact that the most of the theologians speak of the testimony of the Holy Spirit only when they are discussing the grounds upon which the authority of Scripture rests (so GRH.); for when it is asserted that each individual attains to divine assurance of the authority of Scripture only through the testimony of the Holy Spirit, this is still somewhat different from the assertion that the canonicity of each separate book must be proved in the case of each individual by the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And Chemnitz, further, does not mention, in this connection, this testimony of the Holy Spirit; but, in order to prove the canonicity of the separate books, points only to the testimony of the earliest Church, which could appeal to the indorsement of the Apostles. And, finally, in all the investigations by the Dogmaticians, in regard to the canonicity of a single book, there is never any allusion to the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Luther’s well-known expression of opinion, in regard to the Epistle of James, must not here be taken into the account), but they are all conducted upon the basis of historical evidence. The true state of the case appears most probably to be, that the question whether the proof of the canonicity of a particular book is to be distinguished from the proof of the divine authority of Scripture in general, was never clearly brought home to the consciousness of our theologians; so that the passage quoted in this note, and in Note 6, are designed merely to preclude the error of supposing that the historical testimony of the Church can establish divine faith in the Scriptures in general.

[10] Many theologians divide the books of the Old Testament into legal, historical, dogmatical, and prophetical.


QUEN. (I, 236): “All those books, therefore, of the Old Testament, and only those, are canonical, which (1) were written by the prophets and in the prophetic spirit, i.e., by immediate Divine inspiration (Luke 16:29; Rom. 1:2; Eph. 2:20; 2 Pet. 1:19, 21); (2) and written in the original Hebrew tongue, then vernacular to the Jews, with the exception of a few sections in Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah, that are extant in Chaldee; (3) contain infallible truth, in all points most exactly self-consistent; (4) which were divinely committed to the Jewish Church for perpetual canonical use, received by it, regarded as canonical, preserved and faithfully handed down to the times of Christ; (5) a, approved, cited, and commended by Christ and the Apostles; and b, as a canon or rule of faith and morals, transmitted unto us by the primitive Church.”

[11] CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I, 91): “The reason why those books have been denied canonical authority is obvious. For some of them were written after the time of the prophets, when the people of Israel no longer had prophets, such as the ancient ones were; and they were written by those who had not the divine testimonies, as the prophets had, concerning the truth and authority of their doctrine. Some of these books, indeed, bear the names of prophets, but do not possess certain proofs of having been written by those to whom they are attributed. This is the manifest reason why they have been removed from the canon of Scripture.” The most extensive investigations in regard to the separate canonical and apocryphal books of the Old and New Testament are to be found in GRH., vol. ii, loc. i, c. vi-xi.

[12] We find that the earliest Dogmaticians insist more than the later upon the difference between these and the other undoubtedly canonical books. The most strenuous of all is CHEMN. (Ex. Trid. I, 192): “I have cited the testimony of the ancients, not only that the catalogue of those writings of the New Testament may be known which have not sufficiently sure, strong, and consentaneous proofs of their authority, but more especially that the reasons may be known why there should have been any doubt concerning them. (1) Because the ancients did not possess sure, strong, and consentaneous evidence that the original apostolic Church bore testimony that these books were approved by the apostles and recommended to the Church. (2) Because it does not certainly appear, by the testimony of the earliest and ancient Church, whether these books were written by those whose names they bear; but they have been regarded as published by others under the name of the apostles. (3) Since some of the ancients 89ascribe some of these books to the apostles and others advance a different opinion. This matter, then, inasmuch as it was not indubitably certain, has been left undetermined. This whole controversy depends upon the sure, strong, and consentaneous evidence of the earliest and ancient Church; for, when this is wanting, the Church in after times, without the aid of clear and positive documentary evidence, can no more create a certainty out of an uncertainty than it can make truth out of falsehood.” Chemnitz therefore classes those writings of the New Testament, in regard to whose canonical authority some doubts are entertained, with the apocryphal books, and applies to them all, without exception, what was said concerning such parts of the Old and New Testaments in Note 5. It is, however, not hereby denied that there may be a certain difference in value between the apocryphal books of the Old and New Testaments, but it is only asserted that these writings are not to be placed in the same category with the canonical books. For, as we see, Chemnitz insists upon the principle that only those books are to be regarded as canonical in regard to which we possess the most specific and perfectly consentaneous evidence: (1) that they were recommended to the Church by apostles, and (2) that they really are the production of the authors whose names they bear. But the theologians who immediately succeeded him began, appealing to the voice of the Church in past ages, to regard these books as canonical, although they did make some distinction in regard to them. Thus the Magdeburg centuriators (GRH. II, 184) say: “There were some writings disseminated throughout the Church during this century in the name of the apostles or their disciples, of which some were not generally received, owing to doubts in regard to them, but were afterwards received among the number of the Catholic writings, and others which were altogether rejected as apocryphal. Of the former kind are the epistle of James, etc.” And HUNNIUS (in GRH. ib.): “We nevertheless acknowledge that the apocryphal books of the New Testament merited more favor and approbation from the primitive Church than the apocrypha of the Old Testament. Wherefore many of the Fathers, who excluded from the canon certain books of the Old Testament, excluded no book of the New Testament, but made them all canonical.” If we inquire into the reason why this was done, it appears to be the following (although we find it nowhere distinctly expressed), that an absolute agreement was no longer demanded, or this circumstance was ignored and reference had merely to the second requisite mentioned by Chemnitz; and even this was not regarded as absolutely 90necessary to establish the canonical authority of a book. For Mentzer already (in GRH. II, 185) says: “The books of the New Testament that are called ecclesiastical or apocryphal we receive as deserving to be regarded as canonical, and as having equal normative authority with the rest. We add, however, the qualifying term ‘almost’ for this reason, that in the primitive Church some persons occasionally objected to these books because it could not be certainly known by whom they were written or published.” And SCHROEDER (also in GRH. II, 185): “There are certain books of the New Testament called by some apocryphal, but for scarcely any other reason than because it was doubted concerning them, not whether they were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but whether they were published by the apostles to whom they are ascribed. But inasmuch as the doubt concerning them did not relate so much to their original Divine author, viz., the Holy Spirit, as to the writers or secondary authors, and as their authority, in the face of this doubt, was abundantly sustained by the principal and earlier fathers of the Church, they are received generally as of equal authority with the canonical. For, that a book may be regarded as canonical, it is not necessarily required that the secondary author, or writer, be manifest; it is sufficient if the prime author or dictator, viz., the Holy Spirit, be manifest; for the books of Judges, Ruth, and Esther are canonical and yet their writers are unknown” From this time, therefore, these books have been thus regarded by nearly all, as by GRH., e.g. (II, 186): “(1) There is, indeed, some difference to be made between the books that are contained in the New Testament. For it cannot be denied that some of them were, at times, objected to by some in the early Church. (2) These books are inappropriately called apocryphal, as we can show by a threefold argument: (a) Because the doubts concerning them in the primitive Church did not so much relate to their canonical authority as to their secondary author; (b) Because even this doubt was not entertained concerning them by all the churches or teachers, but only by some. Two manifest points of difference are therefore discernible between the apocrypha of the Old Testament and those books which some call the apocrypha of the New Testament. The authority of the former was rejected by the whole Church, but it was only some in the Church who doubted the authority of the latter; (c) The fathers who treated as such the apocrypha of the Old Testament did not exclude any book of the New Testament from the canon. (3) In teaching we may distinguish between the canonical books of the New Testament of the first and second rank. Canonical books of the 91first rank are those concerning whose authors or authority there never was any doubt in the Church, but which by common consent were always regarded as canonical and divine. Canonical books of the second rank are those concerning whose authors doubts have sometimes been entertained by some persons in the Church.” Precisely in the same strain QUEN. (I, 235): “We call those books of the New Testament protocanonical, or of the first rank, concerning whose authority and secondary authors there never was any doubt in the Church; and those deuterocanonical, or of the second rank, concerning whose secondary authors (not their authority, however,) there were at times doubts entertained by some. There was doubt, I say, and discussion concerning these books, yet not among all, merely among a few; not at all times, only occasionally. And these doubts had not reference so much to their divine authority or primary author, the Holy Spirit, as to their secondary authors.” And HOLL. (131) at last no longer finds this distinction necessary; “since at the present time all evangelical teachers assign divine authority to these deuterocanonical books, there seems to be no occasion any longer for that distinction.”

The assertion that the authority of these books had never been doubted is contradicted by BR. (120): “It cannot indeed be denied that some of the ancients did so doubt in regard to these writers, as to refuse to them the authority that belongs to inspired books;” but he also says concerning them: “They are not ignored when we are asked for the rule of faith, but they have authority in such case by common consent at the present day among Christians, especially those of our confession.” He does not go into the special proof of this position, it is true, but probably for the reason that he did not regard the doubt raised by so few as of sufficient importance to make this necessary.

[13] In reference to the gospels of Mark and Luke, CHEMN. (Eq. Trid., I, 87) remarks: “That Mark and Luke, who were not apostles, were divinely called to write the gospel, Augustine thus explains, lest namely it should be thought that, in reference to the preaching and reception of the Gospel, it made any difference whether those proclaimed it who followed the Lord while here in the flesh as disciples and servants, or those who believed what they clearly learned from these; and that it was providentially so arranged by the Holy Spirit, that to some of those who followed the apostles authority was given, not only for preaching, but also for writing the Gospel,” etc.

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