Where did the Bible come from? Who decided which books would make up the canon of Scripture? Why there is a difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles and how did this all come about?
In order to understand the answers to these questions it is necessary to return to the Age of the Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; about nineteen centuries before Christ. You might remember the story of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham, because of his special calling by God, and his response to this call, is called the Father of the Jewish people. God’s promise to Abraham was that he would have numerous descendants, thus making him the prime ancestor of all true believers. Isaac was the solemnly promised son of Abraham and Sarah. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca and is mentioned in the ancestry of Jesus (Lk. 3:23).
Jacob had 12 sons, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel sprang. Of Jacob’s twelve sons, Joseph was favored over the rest and as a result was envied by his brothers. His brothers considered killing him, but in the end they sold him into slavery to a passing Egyptian caravan.
Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold at the slave market to Putiphar, head of the Pharaoh’s armies. Joseph was a very bright young man, well educated for his time, and as a result he was eventually placed in charge of Putiphar’s household. Well, it happened that Putiphar’s wife took a shine to Joseph, because he was a very handsome young man. When she made advances toward Joseph, he rebuffed her. She complained to Putiphar and accused Joseph of showing her grave disrespect. As a result, Joseph was cast into prison. It was there he met two important people in the service of the Pharaoh.
When Joseph correctly interpreted the dreams of the two men, he came to the attention of the Pharaoh, who also had been troubled by a dream. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, predicting seven years of abundant harvest and then seven years of famine. In order to prepare for the time of famine, Pharaoh placed Joseph as the governor of Egypt. As governor, Joseph had full charge and anything and everything had to flow through him. During the rich years, Joseph instituted a food rationing system and stored huge quantities of wheat and other food. When the years of scarcity came, he was easily able to feed the people.
During the seven years of famine, the Hebrew tribes, like so many others, turned to Egypt in search of food. Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to purchase an emergency supply of grain. Because Joseph dispensed the food rations, the brothers had to appear before him. Joseph recognized his brothers, eventually revealed himself to them and provided for their needs. He requested the brothers return to their father and bring him and his entire family to the safety of Egypt.
Jacob and his family, seventy members in all, journeyed from the land of Canaan. “Thus Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.” (Gen. 47:27-28)
In the beginning of their sojourn in Egypt, the Hebrews were few in number. But as a productive people, they enjoyed the favor of the Pharaohs. After living in Egypt for 430 years, the number of the Jews had grown from the original seventy to more than 600,000 (Num. 1:45). By then, the descendants of Jacob were viewed as a threat to the sovereignty of Egypt. Little by little they were placed under submission and finally were made slaves. In addition, Pharaoh decreed that all newborn male Israelites were to be killed. The objective in this decision was that the Hebrew women would eventually have only Egyptians to wed and the land titles would eventually return to Egyptian control. The account of this oppression and forced labor of the Hebrew people, under the rule of Ramesses II (BC 1301-1234), is most likely a summary of a long history or the narration of its last phases (Ex. 1:8-22; 5:6-14).
Next in the series of events came Moses, who was God’s anointed. Under God’s direction, Moses had an extraordinary and transforming experience on mount Horeb, and became the instrument of God’s plan to rescue the Hebrews from the oppression of Pharaoh Ramesses II (Ex. 3:1-6). The Bible tells of God’s visiting upon the Egyptians a series of divine punishments in the form of ten plagues.
The drama came to a conclusion with the Passover (Ex.12:23-27; Is. 31:5). The word Passover signifies the passage of Yahweh (God), who passed over the Israelite houses and struck down the first born of the Egyptians (Exod.11:5). This, the final plague, took the life of Pharaoh’s son. Pharaoh then relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The Bible does not provide exact information concerning the time in which the Exodus of the Israelites took place and, understandably, Egypt has left no reference to these facts. It is safe to assume the Exodus began sometime around BC 1280-1230.
For 40 years Moses led the people through the desert on their way to Israel and helped shape them into a nation that could live under the laws of God. Moses oversaw the creation and development of the first Israelite systems of worship, the anointing of the family line of his brother Aaron as priests, and the creation of a legal system of governance for the community.
There came a time in the history of the Jews when Greek rather than Hebrew became the primary language. We will need to take a brief look at the history of the Jews from the time of King Solomon to the time of Alexander the Great, and the circumstances that led to the necessity of a Greek translation of the Sacred Scriptures.
This period encompassed the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, the understanding of which is crucial to canonical history.
The history of Israel from the death of Moses to the reign of King Solomon (BC 967-928) — a period of 250-300 years — is a record of cyclical periods of war and peace. For the most part, the Jews of the period remained faithful to the commands of God. The beginning of religious erosion can be traced to King Solomon. His private life signaled a progressive moral decline and infidelity to God; he formed a harem for himself of foreign and idolatrous women, and to please them he built pagan temples in Jerusalem.
In approximately BC 930, the country was split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north. The Jews of the Northern Kingdom returned to the worship of idols, while those in the south remained faithful to God, until the reign of Manasseh.
Manasseh, King of Judah (BC 697-643) was the most impious of Judah’s kings. He was the son of Hezekiah, who reigned from 716 to 687 BC, and the grandson of the prophet Isaiah. Manasseh ascended to the throne at age 12 and reigned for 55 years (2 Kings 21:1). His name means “he who forgot,” in that he forgot his God and indulged in idolatry, murder and other abominable acts.
After his father’s death, Manasseh introduced alien rites into the Temple (II Kings 21:3). Side by side with the altar of God, the ancient idols of Baal and Astarte reappeared. Worship was paid to the god Shemesh 2 Kings 23:11), and to the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. Altars were set up in the Temple of Jerusalem for these divinities; the Assyrian cult was copied with such exactness that, either within the Temple or adjacent to it, pavilions were built for the sacred prostitution of men and women (2 Kings 23:7).
The Canaanite gods were likewise welcomed, including hungry Molech (king), to whom it seems, Manasseh offered his own son as a holocaust (2 Kings 21:6) — not on the occasion of some impending misfortune, but solely out of devotion.
To the south of ancient Jerusalem is a precipitous ravine, which stretches down and joins the Valley of Kidron. In Jesus time, when Jesus spoke of hell, he used the term Gehenna, which actually comes from Gei Ben-Hinnom — Ravine of the Son of Hinnom — probably named after a man called Hinnom. It was in this valley; at a place called Tophet (the place of abomination) that Manasseh and the wicked inhabitants of Jerusalem went to worship idols and to sacrifice their sons and daughters. In fact, the valley of Hinnom was set-aside in Molech’s honor. During Jesus time, the valley was used as the Jerusalem’s garbage dump. It was a place of corruption, stench, rotting flesh, and fire.
This god, Molech, had the head of a calf with outstretched arms and a hollow body. In the body they placed wood, which they would burn. There were seven fences surrounding the god and what you brought as a sacrifice would determine how close you actually got to the god.
If you brought a fowl or bird you could enter the first gate. A goat would get you through the second gate and be that much closer to the god. If you brought a sheep you could enter the third gate. If you brought a calf you could go to the fourth gate. A cow would get you to the fifth gate. An ox would allow you to go to the sixth gate. But if you brought your own child to be sacrificed, you could go right up to Molech, and there the arms red-hot arms of Molech would accept the child sacrifice.
The abomination of child sacrifice and desecration of the Temple precincts went on for about 100 years. Not only was Solomon involved, but also his son Manasseh, who was considered to be one of the worst of all the Hebrew kings to reign over Israel. He tried to expunge the name of God from the Torah and continued the pagan rituals and sacrifices – especially to Moloch.
The next king, or son of Manasseh, was named Amon. He was the third of the kings to allow worship to Molech. Amon decided he wanted to destroy all the Torah scrolls, in order that there would be absolutely no reference to God and the kingdom would be completely pagan. Josiah was the next one in the royal line. Now Josiah tried to bring the people back to the proper worship of Yahweh, the one true God. But after so many years of profanation of the Temple and the murder of the Prophets who God sent to warn and bring them back to the proper path, God allowed Palestine and Jerusalem to be invaded by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 597. The Bible recounts that the Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 586.
Almost the entire population of Jerusalem was sent into slavery. Scripture tells us in 1st and 2nd Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles that a small remnant of vinedressers and farmers were left behind to till the land.
Babylon at that time was the greatest city in the world. It was most prosperous, cosmopolitan, and had great libraries. There were surveyed streets, and four story buildings. Set between the Tigris and Euphrates, they used the rivers to irrigate the lands.
The Jews were brought to Babylon. They were allowed freedom to worship as they pleased. When the Bible refers to the “whore of Babylon”, it is in reference to this period of history when the Jews are in captivity in Babylon, because they again had to endure ritual prostitution. Every woman had to prostitute herself in the temple at least once in her lifetime. There were hundreds of altars and pagan shrines throughout the city.
The key person during this time was Ezekiel. Ezekiel was captured in 597 when the first invasion of Israel took place. He began to bring back the love of God to the Hebrew people. When the Bible talks about a generation it literally means forty years, because the life expectancy was forty years. It is estimated that less than 2% of the population lived beyond the age of fifty years. As the Israelites were in captivity for 70 years, you can safely assume that the vast majority of them died during captivity.
When people immigrate to foreign lands they become acclimated to the language of the people in that area. The second generation of immigrants usually speaks the language of their adopted country. When the Jewish people left Jerusalem and Palestine, they were Hebrew speaking. The language of Babylon and most of the known world was Greek. At the end of the 70 years in captivity, the Bible tells us that Cyrus, the king of Persia invaded Babylon and eventually freed the Jews. He allowed them to take all that had been stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem, so that they could rebuild it. Approximately 50,000 Greek speaking, Hebrews left Babylon to return to the holy land.
A number of Hebrews did not return to Israel, but went on to Northern Egypt. History records a substantial Jewish population in Egypt at the time of Alexander the Great. On the outermost tip of the Nile delta, Alexander built the city that was to bear his name. Alexander decreed the Jews in Egypt were to have the same rights as were accorded to his own people.
The decree led to the city becoming one of the great centers of Jewish life. The ancient historian, Philo, wrote that as many as one million Jews lived in Egypt. It has been estimated at the time of Alexander, 40 percent of the world’s Jews lived in Alexandria. It was the largest concentration of Jews in the world — Rome was second and Jerusalem was third.
The people who remained in Jerusalem erected an altar stone in 536 and began to offer sacrifices to God. They began to rebuild the Temple in 520. This was a very abbreviated Temple as it only took them five years to build. They continued to expand the Temple over the next generations.
The First Book of Maccabees continues the story, beginning with a history of the conquests of Alexander the Great. When Alexander lay dying he divided the empire among six of his most favored and trusted friends. They soon began to fight among themselves for control of the empire. There were wars for over 20 years. But by 300 B.C. there were only three kingdoms left. We have the Macedonian Kingdom, the Seleucid Kingdom and the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. There were 15 Ptolemaic Pharaohs who ruled for about 150 years, up until the time of Cleopatra.
The first Pharaoh was Ptolemy Soter. His son Ptolemy Philadelphus wanted to make Alexandria the greatest learning center in the world. Philadelphus took great pride in the fact the library in Alexandria possessed the finest collections of books in the world. The library was part of the Mouseion — “House of the Muses,” or house of arts and sciences. The Mouseion was a complex of buildings that housed study rooms, lecture halls and administrative offices where scholars could do research and teach.
The library was divided into two parts: the “the library within the palace” (the Brucheion) and the smaller “library outside the palace” (the Serepheum). By BC 250, the Brucheion contained 90,000 single volumes and 400,000 volumes containing more than one work. The Serepheum, which served the ordinary citizens and students, contained 42,800 volumes.
But there was one document that the library did not possess, the Torah. It was for the benefit of Greek-speaking Jews, and for inclusion in the Alexandrine library, that the Greek translation of the Scriptures known as the Septuagint (LXX) was made.
It came to pass that sometime between BC 250-200 devout Jews in Egypt began the translation of the Torah into Greek. This translation was called the Septuagint. The name Septuagint is Latin for “seventy,” from the tradition there were 72 scholars who did the translating work. A second possible explanation for the title is the 70 elders in Jerusalem supposedly approved the translation.
This translation was for Jews — as well as Christians — one of the most significant events in history. What had been previously known only in the sanctuary, only in Hebrew and only to the nation of Israel, was now made available and understandable for people of other languages and races. The carefully guarded door was thrown open as the Septuagint unlocked the treasures of the Hebrew religion to the entire Gentile world.
The legend of the origin of the Septuagint is told in an unauthenticated letter attributed to Aristeas of Alexandria to his brother Philocrates. As “Aristeas” tells the story, Demetrius of Phaleron (BC 285-246), a known statesman, philosopher and librarian of Ptolemy Philadelphus, was responsible for the building up of the library at Alexandria. For this purpose he desired copies of the Jewish Law.
Philadelphus sent envoys, including Aristeas, to the High Priest Eleazar in Jerusalem, requesting copies of the Torah. In response, Eleazar selected seventy-two rabbis, who would act as translators, to accompany the books of the Law to Egypt. The translators set to work on the island of Pharos off Alexandria, at the foot of one of the seven wonders of the world — the three hundred foot-high lighthouse, which Ptolemy Philadelphus had erected as a warning for shipping near and far, so the translators could work free of interruption. They worked no more than nine hours a day and, by continued comparison of one another’s work, completed the task in seventy-two days to the satisfaction of the Jews of Alexandria and Demetrius, and to the satisfaction of the Pharaoh.
The narrative contained in the letter of Aristeas , told and retold by Philo, Josephus, St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenæus and a long line of Christian and Jewish writers, may be entirely fictitious. Yet it has been argued this version of the facts is not improbable. The legend was further elaborated with exaggerated elements: Each of the translators, after intensive, isolated labor, arrived at identical translations. The embellishments to the narrative were meant to demonstrate the inspired character of the translation.
The letter of Aristeas puts the Septuagint translation at the end of the first half of the third century BC. Modern scholars believe the translation was a composite work completed by the second half of the second century BC. Although the origin of the Septuagint may be shrouded in history, it was the work that became the Bible of the early Church — so much so that the Jews who continued in Judaism required new versions (e.g., the translation of Aquila) they could call their own. Christians understood the earlier translation, the Septuagint, in Christian terms. In other words, Christians used the Septuagint to show the prefiqurement of Christ.
As to the other Hebrew books, the prophetical and historical, it was natural that the Alexandrine Jews should desire to read the remaining books, and they gradually were translated into Greek. It is not possible to accurately determine the precise time those translations were made, but it is certain the Law, the Prophets and at least part of the other books existed in Greek before the year BC 130.
By BC 100, a translation of all the Hebrew books had been completed. The entire collection of Scripture — those books originally written in Hebrew and those written in Greek — came to be known as the Septuagint.
The Septuagint is the most ancient translation of the Old Testament. Jews made use of it long before the Christian era. Because the language of the early Christian community was Greek, the Septuagint became its Bible. At the time of Christ, it was recognized as a legitimate text and was employed in Palestine even by the rabbis.
It is certain neither Christ nor the apostles ever challenged the value of the Septuagint. That the Apostles and evangelists used the Septuagint is not in question. Of approximately three hundred fifty quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, about three hundred are direct quotations from the Septuagint, and the remaining are paraphrases, especially in regard to the prophecies. Matthew, in his gospel, quoted the Septuagint 130 times.
The next significant period in our chronology of the canon was the time of Alexander Jannæus. Alexander Jannæus was the first king since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. He just simply crowned himself king and ruled from 103 to 76 B.C.
There were three religious groups at the time – the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes.
The Pharisees were a distinct religious group that arose in the Jewish religious community in the second century BC. They called themselves “comrades” in the Hebrew language, but were known at the time of Christ by an Aramaic word, which means “those who separate themselves.” They advocated practicing the Mosaic Law in strictest adherence to every detail, although in many instances they held themselves above the Law.
The Sadducees also arose in the second century BC. The Greek name, derived from the Aramaic, means, “to be just.” They collaborated with the Romans during the occupation of Israel so they could achieve a dominant place in the Sanhedrin, the highest court of justice in Jerusalem. John the Baptist denounced the Sadducees (Matt. 3:7), and Jesus warned his disciples about both the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matt. 16:6-11). The Sadducees were not only antagonistic to Christ, but became the chief persecutors of the Apostles and the early Christians (Acts 4:1).
The Pharisees and the Sadducees differed on how to interpret the Torah, which was the basic authority of Jewish life. Thus the Jewish people became divided on national, economic and religious policies.
The Sadducees were in favor of a strict interpretation of the Torah; that is, they were willing to abide by the Torah’s written word — no more, no less.
The Pharisees were for a liberal interpretation of the Torah; that is, they considered the Torah to be a body of principles and guidelines or illustrations of these principles.
The Pharisees also believed in an oral Torah or teaching that had been handed down from Moses, generation to generation. In one sense, the Pharisees made Judaism much easier by regarding biblical laws as principles. This enabled them to amend many practices to conform more closely to the changing needs of their society. But in other respects, Pharisaic Judaism was much more difficult to live by, because it insisted upon knowledge and piety in every conceivable action.
The third religious group was the Essenes, “the pious ones” or “the penitents.” Active from the second century BC to the end of the first century AD, the Essenes were a communalistic sect or brotherhood whose main group resided in a monastery located at Khirbet Qumran, on the western shore of the Dead Sea about two miles south of the Jordan River. Matthew calls this region the “desert of Judea.” Coins found at this site date from BC 130 to AD 70.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered from 1947-1952 in a series of eleven caves, cast new light on the nature and beliefs of the Essenes. They stressed the need for personal piety and separation from the impurities of daily life, and deemed themselves to be the only true Israel. They conformed themselves to the most rigid rules of priestly piety, while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness.
It is possible John the Baptist may have been an Essene or was at least deeply influenced by Essenism. His lifestyle certainly paralleled the Essenes and it was from the same desert area that he emerged to herald Jesus as the Messiah.
Certain characteristics of early Christian life suggest Essene influence (1 Cor. 5:4-5; Matt. 18:15-17; Acts 5:1-11). Although the Essenes are nowhere mentioned in the Gospels, it is reasonable to assume that a number of them, such as those who lived at Qumran, became Christians.
It is one of the less proud facts of Jewish history that Rome occupied Jerusalem in BC 63 — not by invasion, but by invitation. The throne of Israel was vacant from the time of the Babylonian exile to the time of Alexander Jannæus. Driven by a craze for power, he was a cruel, intolerant ruler, involved in political intrigues and warlike campaigns.
As a Sadducee, Alexander Jannæus had an undying hostility toward the Pharisees, whom he considered his personal enemies. The Pharisees considered him a usurper to the throne of King David and, because he married a widow — in violation of God’s law that forbade a priest to do so — should not and could not be high priest. He was for them a common soldier whose hands were always wet with human blood.
The Pharisees did their best to incite the common people against the king. In kind, the king’s hatred knew no bounds. His quest for power was responsible for the death of thousands of Jews. The Pharisees eventually provoked a revolt against Alexander that lasted six years and cost the lives of an estimated 50,000 rebel Jews.
Alexander died in BC 76, after an illness of three years, most probably caused by alcoholism. He left the throne to his wife, Alexandra Salome, who ruled until her death in BC 67. Alexandra made peace with the Pharisees and relinquished control of the country to them. The Pharisees grew in power and authority. Sorely outraged by the abuses heaped upon them, they would not allow their enemies to escape without punishment. They in turn began a series of persecutions and judicial murders, which opened up the old wounds and the cycle of violence continued.
There was a dispute over who should occupy the throne of Israel upon the death of Queen Alexandra. Her sons, Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II, the high priest, entered into a full-scale fraternal and civil war to decide who should reign. Eventually, the brothers decided to submit their dispute to Pompey, the Roman General in Syria, who ruled in favor of Hyrcanus, apparently believing him to be the more pliable of the two. No match for the Roman army, Aristobulus surrendered to Pompey. Hyrcanus’s ability to rule depended upon Roman support; thus he invited the Roman Army to occupy Jerusalem in BC 63.
Pompey encountered resistance only at the Temple Mount. After a three-month siege, the Romans succeeded in entering the Temple after killing several thousand of its priests and defenders. Pompey further horrified Jewish sensibilities by walking straight into the Temple’s Holy of Holies, a room which, according to Jewish Law, was to be entered only once a year on Yom Kippur and then only by the High Priest. After the conquest, there followed the slaughter of approximately 12,000 of the defenders. Most were killed, not by the Romans, but by the Pharisees, who supported Hyrcanus. The day following the conquest, Pompey ordered the Temple to be cleansed and the liturgical services resumed. He installed Hyrcanus as high priest, but not with the title of king.
The Roman occupation marked the end of the Jewish State’s independence. Pompey wasted no time in converting the Jewish kingdom into a Roman tributary. Hyrcanus’ major responsibility was to collect the tribute for his Roman masters. Clashes and rebellions plagued the Romans until 6 AD, when the policy of native rulers for Palestine was ended. Strategically, for the Romans, the country was too important and its people too turbulent to do without direct Roman rule. A Roman officer, with the title of procurator was placed in control, responsible only to the emperor.
As the years passed, there were clashes and the land seethed with rebellion against all the procurators, bad and good alike. The most serious resistance came from Galilee, where the leaders were the Zealots. They were extremists who shrank from nothing to bring down their pagan rulers. Their watchword was: “No God but Yahweh, no tax but to the temple, no friends but the Zealot.” These anti-Roman rebels were active for more than 60 years, and later instigated the Great Revolt in 66 AD.
It is said that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod and we know that Herod died 4 BC. It is believed that Jesus died approximately 29 AD at 33 years old. The NT began to be written shortly after Jesus’ death.
The year 70 AD saw the destruction of the second temple in what became to be known as “The Jewish War”. During this war, all of the High Priests were killed, not by the Romans, but by their own people. The Jews rose up against the High Priests and kill them all. The remaining priests died in the defense of the Temple and the sacrificial priesthood came to an end. In addition, when the temple was destroyed, all the Levitical records were burned. There is no way that anyone today could claim to be the Messiah as it would be impossible to trace his lineage back to King David.
There were many signs, portents, during the time of Jesus, which pointed to the ultimate destruction of the Temple. One of the signs took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The High Priest offered fifteen sacrifices on this day. Five of the sacrifices took place in the Holy of Holies. Ten other sacrifices were offered in the regular manner outside the Holy of Holies. Two lambs were sacrificed, one in the Holy of Holies, and the other driven off a cliff to its death. These lambs were sacrificed in atonement for the sins of the High Priest and the Jewish people. This is the origin of the term scapegoat. A thread of crimson wool was placed around the necks of the lambs and also secured the Temple doors. It was believed that if the thread of crimson wool turned white, it would signify that the sacrifices were pleasing to God. Every year, the thread of crimson wool ribbon turned from crimson to white, until the year Jesus was crucified. At that time the true Lamb of God had been sacrificed and the sacrifice of animals was no longer accepted.
During the middle of the night the temple doors opened by themselves. Iron rods imbedded into the stone floor secured the doors and it normally it took 20 men to open or shut them. The high priests understood that this was the sign from God that the temple would be open to destruction.
It is conceivable that God gave the Jews 40 years – a generation – to accept His son as the Messiah, and then allowed the temple to be destroyed and the sacrificial priesthood to be wiped out.
The next period in the history of the Jewish Bible is at the end of the first century, some 10 to 30 years after the destruction of the Temple. By that time, a strong rabbinical academy had been established by Yohanan ben Zakkai at Yavneh (in Greek: Jamnia), located near the coast between Jaffa and Ashod, approximately 12 miles south of present day Tel Aviv. Rabban (Rabbi) Zakkai knew that in order to preserve the organic body of Judaism, it would be necessary to have an organized group of men to take over the duties and responsibilities of the then-defunct Sanhedrin. He therefore organized a council of teachers, the Bet Din, which served as senate, as court and as parliament — in other words, the voice of scattered Israel.
On the whole, the Yavnean sages proved to be very adept ideologically; they mitigated the disaster of AD 70 by offering alternate means of religious expression in the absence of the Second Temple.
It was at this great center of learning the rabbis held a synod in AD 84, where two major decisions were reached: First, Judaism would be shaped primarily by the remembered insights of Hillel the Elder; second, the Jewish canon, which had been developing for centuries, was closed, except for some decisions regarding “the Writings” (especially Ben Sirach and Esther).
By this time, Christians were using the Bible to show the prefigurement of Jesus. There are 300 prophecies in the OT about the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled all of them. The Jews resented this because they felt the Christians were using their own Book against them. So they decided to put together their own canon of Scripture. They had four basic criteria: They accepted, (1) only those books, which were written in Palestine. (2) Only books that were written in the Hebrew language. (3) Only books that conform to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible. (4) only books written before the death of the last Prophet, Edras (Ezra). Jews believed that God stopped speaking to them as a nation with Ezra’s death, sometime between 450 and 400 BC. They used that as an arbitrary cutoff. They said that’s it. Anything written from the time of Ezra to their time, which was latter part of the first century, were eliminated. That eliminated seven of the books contained in the Septuagint.
The Septuagint canon had been assembled, in the form that we how have it, 100 years before Christ. Scholar, after scholar, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, recognizes that the Septuagint was the Bible of the early Christian Church, just as it is the Old Testament of the Catholic Church today.
And I would like to read a couple of quotes to substantiate that: The first quote comes from the Encyclopedia Judaica, published in Israel:
“Together with the New Testament, the Septuagint constituted the Bible of the Christian Church. And it is still the Bible of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Old Testament contains a translation of all of the Books of the Hebrew canon. It also embodies the deuterocanonical Books of the Catholic Church.”
When we speak about the deuterocanonical Books versus protocanonical, “protocanonical” means first canon and “deuterocanonical” means second canon. It does not mean that the deuterocanonical books have lesser stature within the canon of Scripture, only that these books were established as canonical at a latter date.
Many people do not realize that there are both protocanonical and Deuterocanonical books in the New Testament. For example, the letter of Paul to the Hebrews wasn’t actually established as Scripture until about 380 AD, so that’s an example of deuterocanonical book.
Another quote is from the Tenakh, the actually Jewish Bible published today: “With the growth of Christianity in the first century, the Church adopted the Septuagint as its Bible and the Septuagint was translated into the language of various Christian communities.”
Another quote is from a Protestant perspective from F. F. Bruce, a leading Protestant scholar: “There are two main reasons why the Jews lost interest in the Septuagint. One was that from the first century AD onwards, the Christians adopted it as their version of the Old Testament and used it freely in the propagation in defense of the Christian faith.”
And finally one more quote from the Nelson’s Bible dictionary, which again is a non-Catholic source: “When Christianity penetrated the world of the Greek speaking Jews and then of the Gentiles, the Septuagint was the Bible used for preaching the Gospel. Most of the Old Testament quotations used in the New Testament are taken from the Greek Bible. In fact, the Christians adopted the Septuagint so wholeheartedly, that the Jewish people lost interest in it. They produced other Greek versions that do not lend themselves so easily to Christian interpretation. The Septuagint thus became the authorized version of the early Gentile Churches. To this day it is the official version of the OT used in the Greek Orthodox Church. After the Books of the NT were written and accepted by the early Church they were added to the Old Testament Septuagint to form the complete Greek version of the Bible.”
So here we have Protestant, Catholic and Jewish sources all readily admitting that the Bible of the early Christian Church was the Septuagint. Why is that important? Because the Septuagint contained 46 Books. If you do some study in Apologetics or Bible history, you’ll see the Septuagint described as 42 Books, 24 Books, or 22 books, depending upon the numbering. But what you will find is that regardless of this numbering, is that the content was the same. Essentially the Old Testament canon of the early Christian Church was identical to the Bible we have today.
Next in our study, is the formulation of the New Testament canon of Scripture, compiled by Catholic Bishops over a 26-year period.
The canon of Scripture, which we hold today, was assembled during councils held in Northern Africa. In 393 AD there was the Council at Hippo. At the time, St. Augustine was the Bishop of Hippo and he was very active in this particular Council. There were also the Councils of the 4th and 5th Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419 AD respectively. It took 26 years for the leaders of the Catholic Church to establish which books belonged in the NT. At the time there were actually almost 50 gospels and 22 Books of Acts. There were the Acts of Thomas, and Phillip and Peter etc; it seems that everybody wanted to get into the act. There are also numerous Gnostic writings. Gnostics were a secret society, who claimed that they had secret information given to them directly by Christ. Only when a person was initiated into the group could they gain access to this secret knowledge.
There was a great deal of confusion as to what Books really belonged in the Bible, so the Holy Spirit used the authority of these Bishops to establish the canon. They selected 27 Books, which they considered as divinely inspired.
They used a twofold criterion: First, could they trace the books to the pen of one of the Apostles? If there was a direct connection the books were accepted as divinely inspired and were incorporated in the Bible. Keep in mind there was no real direct communication, letters might have taken months or years to get from one person to another, and at times letters were lost.
The second criteria was to determine whether or not these Books coincided and conformed to the Oral Teachings of the Apostles. What I’m speaking about here is what we Catholics refer to as Sacred Tradition, the Oral Teaching of the Apostles. The Gospels of Mark and Luke illustrate the concept of Sacred Tradition. Mark and Luke never met Jesus and obviously never heard Him speak. So logically, you would might wonder why these Books are in the Bible. Mark was the secretary, traveling companion and interpreter for Peter. Wherever Peter went, Mark went with him. Peter could not speak Greek so Mark translated for him. Luke traveled with St. Paul in the same way. There is evidence that the Christian community went to Mark and Luke and asked them to write down what they heard from the apostles.
Sacred Tradition does not mean that these things were not written, only that they hadn’t been written by one of the Apostles. The listeners recorded these teachings. The Church, over this 26-year period, formulated the New Testament canon. This canon was called the African Code and contained 27 books.
Non-Catholics will many times point out that the councils of Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical councils, and therefore claim that they had no authority. An ecumenical council is when all the bishops of the world come together with the Pope as the head to define some particular law or doctrine. As African councils were local and not ecumenical, Protestants will say the authority was negated. In the year 787 the 2nd ecumenical Council of Nicea ratified the African Code. In other words at the 2nd Council of Nicea the entire Bible canon was fully approved and this canon has been in use in the Church ever since. It was the first time an ecumenical council had ratified a canon of Scripture. The council of Florence in 1442, reiterated the same canon, and finally after the Protestant Reformation there was the Council of Trent, which also accepted the canon of the African code.
What happened to account for the difference between the Protestant Bible and the Catholic Bible canons of today?
Approximately eleven hundred years passed from the Fifth Council of Carthage in 419 to the Protestant Reformation in 1517. During this period the canon of Scripture remained the same. Every Christians used a Bible whose canon is identical to the one we Catholics have today.
Then Martin Luther came on the world scene. Luther, as you know, instigated the Protestant Reformation. You may have been told that he did this because the Catholic Church was selling indulgences. This was not his primary reason, it was merely the excuse given to start the Revolt. The Protestant Reformation was really begun many years before that time in the roots in the Avignon papacy.
In 1307, the pope was elected from France and he did not like Italy so he moved the Papacy to France. And after years of literally moving from town to town he established the papacy in Avignon, France and it remained there was there for 70 years. This was a time when the papacy steadily lost its authority. St. Catherine of Sienna eventually went to the Pope in Avignon (the third Pope to reign in Avignon) and convinced him to return to Italy.
The Pope went back to Italy and resided in Rome. After a few years of being back in Rome the Pope died. When the new Pope was elected, some of the people in France did not like the person elected. They elected their own Pope, which we now refer to as an anti-pope. And this went on for a period of years. Later, in Pisa, Italy a second antipope was elected. So from 1378 to 1447 they were two antipopes as well as the one true Pope. And the average Christian didn’t know who was their actual spiritual leader. The people in France mounted armies against Rome, and Rome mounted armies against the Avignon Papacy. There were wars where Catholics fought against Catholics. The average person, who might have been the farmer out in the field, could really have cared less. They had no idea who was the true Pope. The authority of the Vatican was tremendously diminished at that time.
A Second cause was the Black Death? The Black Plague began in 1348 and lasted for 30 months. It started in the Crimea and swept down through N. Africa and north through Europe. All of Europe was ravaged and it spread as far as Greenland. And it is estimated at that during this time that 25 million died of the Black Plague.
We are talking about the death of roughly, 25% of the population of Europe. Who do you think took care of these plague victims? Who was the most knowledgeable and dedicated? They were the priests, the monks, and sister. And the Black Plague reoccurred 8 times from 1450 to 1500 AD. There was widespread starvation. This was when Europe began to fractionalize where different people met and coalesced together and they started what we now know as Germany, France, and the other European countries. People wanted to be with people they understood, to protect themselves. Strangers were driven away, as they might be contagious.
It was the priests and religious that trying to minister to the needs of the sick and dying and as a result, they were hit the hardest. In France specifically, in Europe entire monasteries were wiped out. They ended up losing 300 men of the Curia in Avignon at that time. Thousands of religious died. It could be estimate, although I have never seen any figures that 90% of the Catholic Clergy died during this period of the Black Plague. In addition, many of the educated clergy who managed to survive were put to work by the secular authorities. So what was left for the Church as the priesthood had been decimated?
Death from starvation was also rampant. There were a lot of people simply trying to survive, who were looking for any way to keep themselves alive. Some of these men turned to the priesthood in the hope that they would be fed by the people. The Church, in her desperation to serve the needs of the people started ordaining some men who were not really the best qualified or ideally suited. During this time of great upheaval the quality of many of the clergy was less than what would be desired.
Finally, the third cause of the Reformation was Pope Leo the 10th. Pope Leo, a layperson, was ordained to the priesthood and papacy in 1513 and died in 1521. He was a member of the prestigious Medici family. The first thing he said after becoming Pope to his brother was, “let us enjoy what God has given us.” Within two years, he had emptied all of the Papal coffers through negligence. All of the money was gone, so in order to raise more he established the indulgence. Now indulgences are never to be sold, that’s not what indulgences are about. Essentially, he sent people out to raise money, not only to fill the coffers, but also for the building of St. Peter’s basilica.
At the time the doctrine of the indulgence was not as understood or clarified as it is today in Catholic doctrine. So there was a great deal of confusion. The person chosen to preach the indulgence was given a percentage of the money raised. Some of the pope’s representatives went to the German Princes to request permission to preach the indulgence and the princes replied that they wanted a portion of the money raised. The authorities and the preachers were each earning a percentage of the money and this led to abuses and misrepresentations.
This was the excuse that Luther used to break away from the Catholic Church. Essentially Luther was not a very well educated man at the time he was ordained to the priesthood. He only had about nine months of Catholic theology. He was an ultra scrupulous person and believed that God was a God of vengeance. He looked at God as a loving God, but as a very vengeful God.
He was so afraid of God that he had to be restrained from leaving and actually collapsed behind the altar, when he said his first mass. He was terrified that if he did anything wrong at the altar, God would strike him dead. That was the kind of mentality he had.
Luther began to develop a theology that was quite new in Catholic circles. He first of all started to study Scripture and decided that God had preordained certain people to go to Heaven and others would go to Hell. This doctrine is called predestination. Now once God had decided the fate of an individual, He would not change His mind. Rather that conforming himself to God’s word, he tried to make God’s word conform to his desires.
How would you know if you are one of the elect, he asked? How would you know if you are one that has been saved by God? Simply saying that you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior was all that was necessary to gain salvation. Luther claimed that John 3:5 refers to this verbal acceptance. In actually, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Nicodemus you have to be born again” and Nicodemus said, “How do I get back into the womb of my mother.” Jesus chastised him and said that since Nicodemus was a man of the law, he should have understood. Jesus went on to say, “You must be born from above by water and the Spirit.” Now every commentary that had ever been written up until the time of the Protestant Reformation, recognized that Jesus was speaking about Baptism. Titus 3:5 says that we are saved through the washing of regeneration. What washing regenerates us? The Church has always taught that Baptism is the answer. In Gal. 4 & 5, it states that through Baptism we become sons and daughters of God and we are entitled to God’s inheritance, which is eternal life. So as Catholics we believe that our Baptismal gift from God is eternal life. You cannot earn a free gift. The council of Trent in the sixth section on justification in 1545 specifically condemned the idea that anyone can work his or her way into Heaven.
Luther taught that if you said, “I accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior,” you could not have done this without the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore that just verbalizing this you knew that you were saved and as God is not a God of confusion and He does not change His mind, a person could not lose salvation. Luther said that a “saved” person could commit murder and fornication 1,000 times a day and they would not lose their salvation. He said, “Sin and sin boldly, but believe more boldly.” Belief was all that was necessary for salvation. This was the origination of Luther’s doctrine of Faith Alone.
The consequences of this theology were devastating for Germany and for every country where it has since taken root. Wherever Protestantism swept, from Germany into France, Switzerland and England, even to America, this gospel destroyed the moral fiber of the people by removing the consequences of sin. Luther and Calvin wrote about the devastation that their gospel caused. Without the fear of consequences, sin became rampant, especially among the Protestant clergy. Indeed, the connection between the progress of Lutheranism and the corruption of public morals could not be put more strikingly than in the words of Luther himself. Luther saw the seeds of the Reformation he initiated grow to fruition and he was appalled. He wrote:
“Our evangelists are now sevenfold more wicked than they were before the Reformation . In proportion as we hear the gospel, we steal, lie, cheat, gorge, swill, and commit every crime. If one devil has been driven out of us, seven worse ones have taken their place, to judge of the conduct of princes, lords, nobles, burgesses, and peasants — their utterly shameless acts, and their disregard for God and his menaces. Under the papacy, men were charitable, and gave freely; but now under the gospel, all alms giving is at an end, everyone fleeces his neighbor, and each seeks to have all for himself. And the longer the gospel is preached, the deeper do men sink in avarice, pride, and ostentation. The peasants, through the influences of the gospel, have become utterly beyond restraint, and they think they may do what they please. They no longer fear neither hell or purgatory, but content themselves with saying, “I believe, therefore I shall be saved”; and they become proud, stiff-necked mammonists (One who is devoted to the ideal or pursuit of wealth), and accursed misers, sucking up the very substance of the country and the people.”
Luther continued to write in a similar manner up to the very last year of his life.
Writing to a friend in 1542, he assures him “that he had almost abandoned all hope for Germany, so universal had avarice, usury, tyranny, disunion, and the whole host of untruth, wickedness, and treachery, as well as disregard of the word of God and the most unheard-of ingratitude, taken possession of the nobility, the courts, the towns, and the villages.”
Just before his death in February 1846 Luther wrote to his wife:
“Let us fly from this Sodom (Wittenberg). I will wander through the world, and beg my bread from door to door, rather than to embitter and disturb my poor old last days by this spectacle of the disorder of Wittenberg, and the fruitlessness of my bitter toil in its service …The world grows worse and worse, and becomes more wicked every day. Men are now more given to revenge, more avaricious, more devoid of mercy, less modest and more incorrigible — in fine, more wicked than in the papacy. … One thing, no less astonishing than scandalous, is to see that, since the pure doctrine of the gospel has been brought to light, the world daily goes from bad to worse.”
“Since the downfall of popery, and the cessation of its excommunications and spiritual penalties, the people have learned to despise the word of God. They care no longer for the churches; they have ceased to fear and honor God.
The noblemen and the peasants have come to such a pitch that they live as they believe; they are, and continue to be, swine; they live like swine and they die like real swine.”
Calvin criticized his followers:
“The pastors, yes, the pastors themselves who mount the pulpit … are at the present time the most shameful examples of waywardness and other vices. Hence their sermons obtain neither more credit nor authority than the fictitious tales uttered on the stage by the strolling player. … I am astonished that the women and children do not cover them with mud and filth.”
This Protestant ethic and gospel exists with us today. We are living in a country that is nominally Christian. It is estimate that as many as 130 million people have no religious affiliation what so ever, and another 18 million are fallen away Catholics. So in other words more than one out of two people in America have no real religious affiliation. And we wonder why we are aborting a million and a half babies per year and why are elderly people are being put to death now in Oregon. This is what happens when we say well Jesus did all and His sacrifice on the Cross was all that was necessary. We are accountable before God.
Luther doctrine also denied free will. The book of Sirach, 15:11-20, tells us that we have free will; that God is not the author of our sin. This book is also called Ecclesiasticus, which means the book of the Church. It was called the book of the Church because during the early days of Christianity it was the most used book in the evangelization of pagans and Greeks and in the training and catechesis of the early Christians.
Luther taught that if a person accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, they would go to Heaven, if they did not, they would go to Hell.
Where does this whole doctrine of Purgatory come in? Now the Church had been teaching the doctrine of Purgatory for 2000 years. But let me tell you folks it was believed thousands of years before Christ. The doctrine of Purgatory goes so far back into iniquity we don’t know its origins. The Jews certainly believed in purgatory. If you look in any Jewish encyclopedia today, and you look up the word Hell it will have little equal signs and say Purgatory. The doctrine of Purgatory is one of the oldest beliefs in Judeo-Christianity.
Remember the term “7th Heaven.” What does the term mean? When I was a young lad, we used the term to refer to someone who was really happy, joyously happy. I had no idea of the origin of the term until I began to study Judaism. Jews believed that there were 7 levels of Heaven, and each level of Heaven had a specific purpose. The 7th level of Heaven was were the throne of God resided. So if you were in the 7th Heaven you had made the grade and were in perfect happiness. Now 7 is the number of perfection in the Scriptures. So if there were 7 levels of Heaven, how many levels of Hell do you think there were? Seven, there is always a balance. Now if the 7th level of Heaven was the place of perfect joy and harmony and happiness. The 7th level of Hell was exactly the opposite – darkness, hate, fire, brimstone, and agony. The 7th level of Hell was called Gehenna. One difference between Jewish belief and our belief today is that the Jews believe that when the soul was consigned to Gehenna, it would be annihilated after 12 months. But when Jesus came on the scene, He taught that the pain of Gehenna is everlasting. The Catholic Church teaches only two truths concerning purgatory: (1) purgatory exists, and (2) our prayers help those that are there.
Now what was the first level of Hell? Remember the Good Thief on the Cross, tradition tells us his name was Dismas, he looked at Jesus and said, “Lord remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus answered, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Well where was Paradise? Many people would say well it was Heaven. But Heaven was not opened until Jesus ascended to His Father; He opened Heaven. The Apostles Creed says that Jesus descended into Hell. Jesus did not go there to preach to the damned. He went to paradise to tell the righteous that their wait was almost over.
So, the first level of Hell was Paradise or the bosom of Abraham. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man. And Lazarus was starving outside the rich man’s home; the dogs would come to lick his sores. The rich man was not an evil person. The scriptures do not describe him as a serious sinner, just a rich person who neglected to share his wealth with the poor. He saw the needs of the people, but he blinded himself and did not help them.
You know when Jesus says it’s harder for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of needle, He meant that literally. Because the more that God gives us, the more we need to share with the poor and to use our wealth for God’s purposes.
Lazarus was in the paradise, or as it was also called, the bosom of Abraham. The rich man died and he went to a place adjacent to the bosom of paradise. We know this because he could see Paradise. The rich man said, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus to wet my lips as I am in anguish.” Lazarus thirsts and is in pain. Father Abraham tell him that this cannot be done because there is a gulf between then, which no one can pass over. The rich man says, then send Lazarus to my father, for I have five brothers and I do not want them to end up here. Abraham said that this would not do any good as the Prophets were sent and they did not listen to them. What makes you think that if some one rises from the dead that they going to believe.
So we know that the rich man had love in his heart for his brothers. He could not be in Gehenna, because there is no love in Gehenna. The opposite of the joy of the 7th level of Heaven, is pain and hatred. As much love as there is in Heaven, there is the antithesis of that in Gehenna, pure hatred.
Jews believe that levels 2 – 6 were Purgatory. What state a person received depended on the state of a person’s soul at the time of death. If a person was really bad, but not bad enough to go to Gehenna, they would go to level 6. And as they expiated their sins they would gradually graduate to a level closer to paradise. Paradise is now empty. When Jesus ascended to Heaven, he took all of those righteous souls with Him to Heaven.
We also have reference to purgatory in the 2nd book of Maccabees, vs. 12:43 and following. Here is the story of Judas Maccabees, a righteous Jewish king. Judas was in submission to the authority of God. He went into battle and a number of his men were slain. As the Sabbath was coming they had to delay the burial. They went to the town of Abdulum, passed the Sabbath and cleansed themselves of the blood of war. When they went back to the battlefield to bury their kinsmen in their ancestral tombs they found amulets sacred to the idol of Jamnia underneath the tunics of the dead. That would be tantamount to saying, “Well I trust in God, but just in case I am going to carry a rabbit’s foot.” They did not have total trust and confidence in God. So Judas recognized this sin and praised God for revealing it to him. You cannot give God 90%; He wants 100%.
So Judas took up a collection of money from the surviving soldiers and sent it to Jerusalem to offer an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of those men who had fallen. Now if you do not understand the term expiatory, the crucifix demonstrates such a sacrifice, it was the perfect expiatory sacrifice. An expiatory sacrifice is one that somebody does for the sake of another. So Judas took 2000 silver drachmas (2000 days wages) to Jerusalem to offer prayer and sacrifice for the souls of the dead.
Luther denied the doctrine of Purgatory, which is found in 2nd Maccabees and denied free will, which is found in Sirach. He could not just remove these two books from the Bible. So what did Luther do? He literally rejected the entire canon of Scripture used by the Church for 1,500 years and substituted the Jewish cannon of Scripture which was put together by Jews who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, at the end of the first century.
He took the seven books that were contested and he called them apocryphal, which means false or spurious. He sandwiched them between the Old and New Testament in his Bible and claimed that they were worthy of study, but not divinely inspired.
Finally in 1826, these books were removed from all Protestant Bibles, because it was cheaper to publish the Bible without them. So essentially this is why there is a difference today between the Protestant and Catholic Bibles. The Bible clearly teaches prayer for the dead and freewill. This demonstrates that the doctrine of “Faith Alone” and “once saved, always saved” are false.
St. Augustine said that he would not believe in the Scriptures except for the authority of the Church. He would first go to the Scriptures for guidance, but if a particular interpretation was in doubt, he would go into the early writings of the Fathers, which is something that Catholics have been doing for 2000 years. The false doctrine of sola scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible Alone is our only rule of faith, and the false doctrine of sola fide, which means that faith and faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation, demonstrates a decided lack of biblical understanding.
Those who rely on the Bible alone do not have all the information that they need to determine truth. As a result, we now have thousands and thousands of Christian denominations, each of them using the same foundation of Scriptures alone. All claim the authority of the One Holy Spirit and cannot come to agreement except on the very basics of Christianity. As there is only One Holy Spirit, there can be only one truth. Jesus established a visible Church, and this Church had bishops, priests, and deacons. There are anywhere from 22,000 to 28,000 Christian denominations each claiming their authority comes from the Bible.
Long before the Bible ever existed there was the Church. The Church is the pillar land foundation of truth (2 Tim. 3:15). I think it is important for us as Catholics, to understand that the Bible is a Catholic book. Catholics wrote it, for Catholics. In a sense, we could say that we own the copyright. It is our book and we need to be familiar with the Bible. Not just the New Testament but the Old Testament as well. This is the book of the Church. But it is not all we have to guide us. We also have the authority of the Church and the Sacred Tradition of the Church Fathers.
© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau
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