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The Bible in the Time of Jesus

Did the Jews at the time of Jesus know which books belonged in the Old Testament? Here are the basic historical and biblical errors that Protestant apologists like James White keep making.


Speaker 1:

You’re listening to Shameless Popery, with Joe Heschmeyer, a production of Catholic Answers.


Welcome back to Shameless Popery. I’m Joe Heschmeyer. Today I want to talk about the Bible, and particularly I want to talk about the Bible in Jesus’s day. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but these days we’ve got mass produced Bibles that are printed that have all the 66, or 73, or however many books are in your Bible, Old and New Testament together. But obviously that wasn’t the case in the first century at the time of Jesus. For one thing, they didn’t have a New Testament for another thing, they didn’t call the Old Testament, the Old Testament. More significantly in some ways, they didn’t have a single book in the way we do today. The word Bible means book. But this format of putting all the books together wasn’t done until the second century and it was done by Christians.

At the time of Jesus one of the most striking things is that all the different books were on scrolls. And sometimes you’d have a couple books of the Bible on a scroll, or in the case of the Minor Prophets, you would have 12 books of the Bible on a scroll, but you didn’t have the entire Bible on a single scroll. It would be very inconvenient or unwieldy. But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

What I really want to talk about is a particular question. At the time of Jesus was there just one Bible, one Old Testament, one Hebrew canon, whatever you want to call it, that everybody just thought like, yeah, this is what we all believe in as Jews, because you’ll find a lot of Protestants who say the answer to that question is yes. And a lot rides on this. So James Wight is one of the people who does this. James Wight, if you’re not familiar with him, he’s a pretty popular reformed author and speaker and pastor, and he argues that we don’t really need the church to know which books are and aren’t in the Bible. And one of the ways we know this is because Jews, at the time of Jesus, knew which books were and weren’t in the Bible and didn’t have an infallible church to guide them. So here’s White’s argument in his own words.

James White:

Here was the question that I asked Jerry that resulted in something called dead air, which means everything just goes silent to the point where the lady who was running the program is like, “So let’s take a commercial break now.” And then we came back and it was still pretty much silent. Here is the question that I asked Jerry. I said, “How, in your perspective, how did the believing Jewish person know that Isaiah and Second Chronicles were scripture 50 years before Christ?”


That’s honestly a really good question and there are some answers to that question, but I want to highlight one of the underlying assumptions that White doesn’t really spell out but that he believes in and that it’s really pivotal to his argument making sense, because he uses this argument a lot. But for this argument to work, you have to believe that the Jews at the time of Christ just collectively knew which books were and were not scripture. And that they knew this without any kind of infallible church authority. And this is not just me projecting a belief system onto White, this is actually his stated belief elsewhere. So here he is kind of spelling out those beliefs, those underlying assumptions explicitly.

James White:

It gives us the authority of this Old Testament scripture. You never find Jesus arguing with any of the Jews as to what was and was not scripture, because the reality is it was a settled fact in the days of Christ, the 22 books. And you go, 22 books? Yeah, the 20, well, they use different numbers, 22 or 24. That’s actually our Old Testament canon. You go, I counted 39 last I looked. They numbered the books differently. For example, Lamentations was numbered with Jeremiah, all the Minor Prophets were a single book. So take all the Minor Prophets, squish them into one, and you can do that in a couple different ways to come to 22 or 24, probably because they’re trying to match the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, something along those lines. But the Jewish canon is the canon that we as Protestants have.


Okay. So there he just spells it out. He claims it was settled by the time of Christ, just not a disputed thing. And you’ll notice in both of those clips, the thing he relies on is… Well, I didn’t really show the full conversation with him and Michael Kruger in the first one, but in both cases he makes the same argument. That Jesus holds people to what the scripture says. And how could he do that if there wasn’t this kind of agreed upon canon of scripture? And I think there’s an easy answer to that. He holds people to the things they know to be true. But we’ll get into that. But nevertheless, he argues just from that, and really that’s about all he’s got, that there was a universal agreement amongst the Jews about what the books of the Bible were and that those books matched up perfectly with the Protestant Old Testament.

It’s really important for him that both of those things be true because he’s trying to do two things. One, show that you can have the Bible without the church, and two, argue for a 66 book Protestant Bible instead of the longer 73 book version that the early Christians had and that the Catholic church still has. So White is by no means the only Protestant who does this. This is a pretty popular Protestant talking point. And it’s often said in even kind of more un-nuanced sort of way.

So for instance, Brian Edwards, in a talk he gave called Why 66? Tries to argue for the history of the 66 book Protestant Bible. And he takes some really weird roads to try to get there, because if you know anything about the 66 book Bible, it’s not historical at all. There’s no early church that uses the 66 book Bible that Protestants have. This is a creation of the Reformation. Even the reformers aren’t using the 66 book Bible. This is a long strange story for another time, but nevertheless, Protestants will often claim today, oh yeah, this is just the Bible the Jews had at the time of Christ. So here’s Brian Edwards making the same point James White makes, which as you’ll see is equally false.

Brian Edwards:

Well, let’s start with the canon of the Old Testament. Now, the Jews had a clearly defined body of scripture. This was fixed early in the life of Israel and there was no doubt as to which books belonged and which didn’t.


I think once you actually read the Jewish debates about which books belong and which ones don’t you’ll realize how kind of funny it is to say there was no debate, there was no question, everybody just agreed. It’s clearly defined. This is just demonstrably untrue. And one of the ways we know that, I’m going to lead with, actually, one of the weaker arguments, is that scholars don’t believe any of the things you just heard. They don’t agree with White, they don’t agree with Edwards. Michael Kruger with whom James White is talking in that first clip has written about a lot of this stuff and he’s a little more of a scholar than I think either Edwards or White. And so he talks about this. And you’ll notice he still is trying to salvage James White’s position, but as we’ll see, it doesn’t really work. So here’s Kruger’s response.

Michael Kruger:

I’ve heard that issue raised. I raised it a little bit in my canon Revisited book against Roman Catholicism. But what’s interesting is what critical scholars will say. If you say, “Well, who decided which books were canon in the Old Testament time or first century Jews?” He would say, “Well, they didn’t know either. That’s what they would say. They would say, ‘Oh, it was a total free for all. Nobody knew what books were canon.” I’m a little surprised Roman Catholics haven’t gone that route. But the problem is they run into the evidence you just suggested, which is Jesus is interacting with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They seem to be agreed on one thing at least, and that’s what books are in the Bible, even though they apparently disagreed about everything else. That’s one thing that…


So, okay, there’s a lot to unpack there. One of the things is he’s right. Scholars don’t agree with what James White just said. They don’t agree with what Brian Edwards said. But it’s totally a strawman to say they think it was just a free for all. I know of no scholar, critical or otherwise, who thinks that there was no knowledge about the Bible. So for instance, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, everybody agreed on those. There were different versions of them as we’ll talk about. But that there were five books of Moses was universally held among the Jews. Other questions, like was Esther canonical or not? And so to just say the two categories are either total agreement or total free for all is a false dichotomy. Neither of those is true.

But nevertheless, I wanted to at least commend the fact that Kruger does acknowledge scholars don’t believe this thing that we’re arguing. And I think he’s right too, that Catholics should probably be thoughtful about this argument, because White uses this repeatedly. It’s a bad argument, but he uses it constantly. And I think he regularly catches Catholics off guard who don’t know enough about the history of where the Bible comes from. And so they can’t answer a basic question like, well, what did Jews believe about the Bible in the first century? Especially if he frames it in a misleading way, like how do they all know which books were canonical? And the answer is in fact, false premise. They didn’t all know. But we’ll get into that.

Now, if you are listening, maybe you are a Protestant, or maybe you love James White, or maybe you just don’t know who I am and why you should trust me. Fair enough. I want to give you two things. Number one, I want to give you a Protestant who is well respected in this area, who is going to say the same thing in about a minute that is going to take me an entire video to say. And number two, I’m going to give you a bunch of proof. So this is a thing that’s lacking in these very bold, un-nuanced assertions from White, and even from Kruger, and certainly from Edwards. They just tell you, oh yeah, no, totally. They were all agreed. And they don’t really show it from the evidence.

I’m going to show from the evidence that they’re not telling you the truth. And I’m not saying they’re lying. They may be innocently mistaken, they may be ignorant, but they’re certainly wrong. But before I get there, here’s Lee Martin McDonald. Now if you don’t know who Lee Martin McDonald is, I think maybe a good way to introduce him is just to give one of the pretty glowing reviews to one of his books given by none other than Michael Kruger, who we just saw. He said, “I’ve enjoyed reading Lee McDonald’s many works in the New Testament canon. He’s established himself as one of the leading voices in this area through his numerous books and articles.”

Now I’m going to quote him on the Old Testament canon, but nevertheless, this is a guy who the history of the Bible is kind of his wheelhouse and he’s well respected. He’s not some loony bin who says Martians wrote the Bible, or maybe Luke was a woman, or no crazy out there, wild scholarship. This is a guy who’s well respected even within Protestant circles. Is particularly within Protestant circles. And who really debunks the claims that you just heard from White, from Kruger, from Edwards. So without further ado, here’s Lee Martin McDonald being interviewed by Mike Licona about the exact question of this podcast.

Mike Licona:

All right, so when we come to the first century in the time of Jesus, was there an Old Testament canon then? Had it been finalized?

Lee Martin McDonald:

No, but there’s quite a few people that have tried to make that argument and we have no example of any listing of books and saying these are in and those are out until the end of the second century for the Jews. And that was not until much later for the Christians.


Okay, so there you go. Settles it, right? A guy who’s an expert in the field says, no, this doesn’t exist until the end of the second century for the Jews. That you will find various groups of Jews who say there are 22 books, or there 24 books, as you heard James Wight say, but no actual list saying these are the books until much later. And when those lists do appear, it turns out the different people saying 22 and 24 books don’t actually agree about which books are in and which ones are out. So just finding someone who says, oh, there are 22 books, or there are 24 books. To assume that that matches up with the 39 books of Protestantism is just to assume your conclusion.

Nevertheless, I want to actually dig into the research, because this is really interesting, and see what were the Jews saying about this themselves? And before we get there though, I want to give a little bit of a background about another weird feature. So if you’re reading a Christian Bible, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, you’re going to notice something compared to if you read a Jewish Bible and that’s that the order is totally different. The order in Christian Bibles is roughly chronological, whereas the order in Judaism is roughly thematic. And that theme is called the Tanakh. This is an organizing principle, and Tanakh is just a Hebrew acronym, TNK, that’s Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim. And Torah is the Hebrew word for law.

As I said, that’s the first five books of the Bible. Something that’s called the Pentateuch. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Nevi’im is sort of the Prophets. I say sort of because there’s some weird books that are in and one weird book that’s out. So Joshua, I think if you read that, you wouldn’t normally think of that as a prophetic book, more of a historical writing, but they don’t have a history category. So Joshua’s in there. Another hint, Daniel, which is explicitly prophetic, is not in there. And one of the reasons, as we’re going to see, is that the first of the three sort of canons to close within Judaism is the Torah. The Torah is set very early on. And so before we get the Sadducees Jewish break, there’s an agreement on the Torah. There’re different versions of the Torah, we’re going to get into that. But this is ancient, this is well agreed upon.

After that you get the Nei’im, and this is still settled upon by probably about 200 BC. So these two parts of the Bible are closed more or less at the time of Christ. We’ll make some nuances in a minute. What isn’t closed is this other looser group that just ends up being called the writings. These are all… You know, in the kitchen you’ve got the one drawer with the forks and the spoons and the knife, and then you got that other drawer that’s just all the other utensils that don’t really neatly fit into a category, like an egg beater, and the potato mashers that always get stuck when you open the drawer? Yeah, the Ketuvim is like that. It’s sort of the catchall category. I mean literally the name is just writings. These are just other writings. These are other scriptures. Scriptures also just means writings.

And so it includes everything like Psalms and Proverbs, but it also includes, as I mentioned, Daniel, it includes Ruth and Esther, but also includes what we would think of as historical books like First and Second Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. So there’s two distinguishing features of the things that end up in writings. One is they don’t neatly fit into Law and Prophets, and two, they tend to be of a later age. So if you’re either of those, either it’s a later book or it’s just a book that wasn’t clearly prophetic, Psalms is older but doesn’t really fit into the Prophets or the Law, then you end up in the writings.

And so as we’re going to see this is a… Museum of the Bible has a really helpful little clip that explains how this really matters because the Law and the Prophets are set by the time of Jesus, but the writings are not. The writings are still being sorted out, which of these writings are inspired writings which ones aren’t? And that conversation happens within Christianity and within Judaism even after the time of Christ. And this accounts for why Catholic and Protestant Bibles are different. This accounts for why Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant Bibles are different. This accounts for why you would find different Bibles within Judaism because of this kind of history. So without further ado, here’s Museum of the Bible.

Museum of the BIble:

The Torah and Prophets were well established collections by the second century BC. Different communities used various other books for a few centuries longer. During this period, Judaism was diverse. In the First Century AD Christianity was born as a variety of Judaism. After the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, some varieties of Judaism died out and Christianity gradually became a separate movement. The widespread Jewish agreement about the Law and the Prophets before the birth of Christianity explains why the differences between Christian Bibles in the Old Testament today are limited to a small percentage of books. The differences that remain were inherited before the Tenakh became the single official version of the Jewish Bible.


So what I like about that clip is a few things. Number one, it explains that there isn’t just one Jewish Bible at the time of Jesus. As I said, the Torah, Nevi’im are set, but the Ketuvim, the writings, they are not set. And there are differences because there are also these different groups of Jews. We hear about the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the Bible. [inaudible 00:16:54] has talked about the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. We also know about these Greek speaking Jews, the Hellenists, and we know that there’s the Qumran community, the people that didn’t see scrolls, and frequently these people, they didn’t just have doctrinal disagreements. In his clip, Michael Kruger talks about how the Pharisees and Sadducees seem to agree on nothing other than the canon. Well, no, they don’t agree on the canon either. And that’s one of the reasons they don’t agree on everything else because they’re not reading the same Bibles.

And so it’s not that they’re interpreting the Bible differently is that they’re actually not reading the same Bibles. So when we talk about this, instead of talking about the Bible of Jesus’s day in some way we should really talk about the Bibles of Jesus’ day, because we have to talk about these different Jewish sects. Now this is going to be a slightly simplified version just for the sake of clarity. Obviously, you can find a more scholarly description of what I’m about to say. But broadly speaking, you’ve got the Samaritans, and some people don’t consider them Jews at all, but they consider themselves to be followers of the Torah. But they have their own version of the Torah, which even has its own version of the 10 Commandments. Slightly different, and certainly from a Jewish or Christian perspective we would say it’s been modified, it’s been altered. They say the same thing sort of in return.

They reject the Prophets, they reject the writing. So they only have the first five books. They only have the Torah and they have their own version. Some it’s called the SP. That means Samaritan Pentateuch. Pentateuch just means five books. You’ve also got the Sadducees. Now the Sadducees are definitely Jewish, they only accept the Torah. And we’ll get into how we know that in just a second. Then you got this weird community called the Essenes, and this may or may not be the people that we find with the Dead Sea Scrolls. So in the area around the Qumran, something’s called the Qumran community, we find these caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls. They’re pretty famous, but in there they are all of these books that don’t seem to neatly fit into a Bible that we would expect to find.

In other words, remember the thing I said about how this is not a single book, this is a bunch of scrolls. So you can’t necessarily tell just because a scroll exists that it was considered inspired or just because a scroll doesn’t exist that it wasn’t considered inspired. But what we find is that there are these caves in which we find an intermingling of scrolls we would consider to be biblical and scrolls we would not consider to be biblical. So this is sort of suggestive that they might have some other books that they’re including, but it’s all pretty murky, so I don’t want to push that further than the evidence kind of allows. What is clear is that the Septuagint, this is often shorthanded to LXX, which means the 70, and it doesn’t matter why right now, this is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. But there are also these other writings that become known as the Deuterocanon, within Catholic circles, are called the Apocrypha within Protestant circles. These are in the Septuagint.

Now the Septuagint is kind of a family of translations, but you’re never going to find a version of the Septuagint that is identical with the Protestant Old Testament. In other words, there’s always at least some of these books, and the variations in the Septuagint are also why Catholic and Orthodox Bibles don’t totally agree, because some Septuagint versions are longer than others. It’s a mess, right? There’s not just one version of the Bible. That should be totally clear, I hope, by this point. That there’re different versions even of the Septuagint, but what’s very clear is that the Septuagint family of translated versions of the Bible is broader than the modern Jewish or Protestant Old Testament. And what’s also clear is that the Septuagint is the version of the Old Testament overwhelmingly quoted by Jesus and by the apostles in the New Testament. And it was well read and well respected.

What’s also clear is that very shortly after Christianity’s rise, the Septuagint falls out of favor within Judaism and for reasons that have to do with one, Christianity’s rise and it’s used by Christians, and two, the destruction of Judaism’s center, the temple, and the creation of what was called the Diaspora. That this is a total, there’s a big reaction to this and one of the things that happens is you get a push away from anything that seems too Greek, like the New Testament, like the Septuagint, like those books that are in the Old Testament that are written in Greek, we would now call the Deuterocanon. So all of that happened, but that’s in this kind of complicated story of the Septuagint.

But then the final group are the ones that we’re going to focus on in a greater detail in a little bit, which are the Pharisees, because the Pharisees are often the people that Protestants can cite to and say, oh look, we’ve got the same Old Testament as the Pharisees. And as we’re going to see, even that’s not really true. That the story’s a little more complicated than that. So how do we know, first of all, that the Sadducees only use the Torah, only use the first five books of the Law? Well, one of the ways is because early Christians tell us so.

Hippolytus, who’s written in the mid-second century, meaning the mid-100s, mentions that the Sadducees adhere to the customs of the Law, but they don’t devote attention to the Prophets, and they don’t devote attention to any other sages except to the Law of Moses only. That’s pretty explicit. They don’t take the oral Torah or the rabbinical law seriously. They also don’t accept any of the prophetic writing. So they have the Law and not the Prophets. Origen says the same thing. He says that Samaritans and Sadducees received the books of Moses alone. So that’s two different sources independently telling us that yeah, the Sadducees only use the first five books of the Bible. This also explains a lot of things, because you’ll notice in the New Testament, talks about all these doctrinal differences the Pharisees and Sadducees have, questions about angels, the resurrection of the dead. A lot of these things are because the Sadducees don’t have a full Old Testament by either a Catholic or Protestant standard. They only have five books in their Old Testament.

And so we can see this in a really fascinating way in Matthew 22. The Sadducees deny the resurrection. So they approach Jesus with a question, and the question’s about a woman who marries seven different brothers because each one dies. And the question is, whose wife is she in the afterlife? Now this itself may be kind of mocking a deuterocanonical story in which something very similar to this happens. But that’s neither here nor there. Jesus’ response is to tell them that they’re wrong because they know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.

Now I want to unpack that, because that’s a really fascinating kind of claim, because you expect him to go one way and he is going to go different way. So in other words, if Jesus was a Protestant, if he believed in sola scriptura and it was really important that everyone just have the right set of books and then draw their own doctrinal conclusions from them, that’s not a totally fair characterization of sola scriptura, but this idea that scripture is the only infallible rule of faith that is what Protestants believe about sola scriptura. If that was what Jesus believed, you would expect him to make sure everybody had the exact right books in their Bible. And he doesn’t do that. And in fact, the fact that he doesn’t do that makes James White and Michael Kruger assume that therefore everybody must have had the right books in their Bible or else he would’ve done it. They’re assuming that he operates in this Protestant paradigm.

And in fact that’s just not the case. And one of the ways we know that is because early Christians regularly got into doctrinal disputes. And they didn’t usually jump into disputes about which books were in the Bible and which ones weren’t even when they disagreed. What usually happened is what happens here in Matthew 22. That if I only accept these books and you want to argue your point, you’ll try to convince me from the books that I accept. So Jesus has just said, I’ll quote it again, “You are wrong because neither the scriptures nor the power of God.” And so I think we expect him to say, you’ve got the canon wrong, you don’t have enough books in your Bible. That’s the problem. And he doesn’t do that.

Instead he argues for the resurrection by looking to the Torah. He says, “As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not heard what was said to you?” Said to you, said to you Sadducees by God, “I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” He’s not the God of the dead but of the living. I love this passage for a few reasons. I love it, one, because I regularly hear Protestants say that we Catholics pray to the dead. We don’t. God is not the God of the dead but of the living. It’s literally right there. You’re wrong because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. But more than that, Jesus is refuting the Sadducees doctrinal error by appealing to books at the Sadducees except.

Think about it this way. If a Catholic on Protestant are talking about the assumption of Mary, and the Protestant says prove it, and the Catholic says, well Pius XII said, dot, dot, dot. That’s a waste of XII says. Likewise, Jesus could easily point to something like Daniel 12, in which the resurrection is very clearly laid out. Daniel 12 says, ‘That the day is coming which those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.’ That is a super clear prophecy of the resurrection of the dead. In fact, if you go and look on OpenBible, which has a thematic index of different Bible verses and you look up their verses about the resurrection, you’ll find a lot of New Testament verses and a lot of Old Testament verses from the Prophets or the writings, you’ll find zero out of the 100 verses that they list, I looked, zero of them come from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers are Deuteronomy, which were the only five books accepted by the Sadducees.

And so Jesus is proving the resurrection not with any of the really explicit references to the resurrection in the Prophets and the writings, but to this really kind of implicit kind of roundabout way that God says he’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and therefore since God’s the God of the living and not the dead, the resurrection must logically be true. And so the question we should be asking is why is he going in such a roundabout way when there are really clear passages like Daniel 12? And the answer is because citing to Daniel 12 is like citing to Pius XII. It’s not going to get you anywhere because the authority isn’t accepted. And Jerrell makes this point. He says, because they were deceitful in the five books of Moses rejecting the Prophets, it would’ve been foolish to have brought forward testimonies to his authority they did not admit.

Now we see Jesus doing the same thing elsewhere. So for instance, in John 5, he’s talking about the people who read and love the scriptures but don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t believe in him. And he points out, the scriptures bear witness to me yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. In other words, the problem is that they’re not actually understanding the scriptures they claim to believe in. He’s holding them to the standard they hold themselves to. If you say, I believe in these five books of the Bible, Jesus is going to say, okay, why don’t you believe the things these five books of the Bible teach, even if they’re things that wouldn’t be obvious like the resurrection, or Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah? And so he says later on in John 5, don’t think that I will accuse you to the Father, it’s Moses who accuses you and whom you set your hope.

Get that? You hold yourself up, Moses is your standard? Okay, I’ll judge you by Moses. Sadducees say I accept only the Torah, I’ll judge you by the Torah. It’s right there. This is the principle Jesus lays out. The standard by which you judge is one by which you’ll be judged. In this case when they say, these are the books we accept, those are the ones you’re going to be judged by. And if you don’t have the other books that explain what the Torah means, so much the worst for you, but that’s what he’s doing here. He’s not getting into the argument about which books they should have, which authorities they should accept. He’s looking particularly at the argument that they’re laying out about the resurrection of the dead. So that’s the first thing to know.

Now, you might be wondering, you got all these different groups, right? You’ve got the Pharisees, you’ve got the Sadducees, you’ve got the early Christians who are still, in many cases, going to the temple. You’ve got the Samaritans, you’ve got all these different groups, the Hebreists, you’ve got the Hellenists, you’ve got all these different groups of Jews who have different beliefs, different practices, and in many cases different bibles. Well, what happens is it that they all just started to agree one day? No, not really. What happens is the Romans. What happens is the destruction of the temple. That’s a big thing. The other thing is that the Christians get kind of pushed out of the synagogue and the Samaritans get kind of pushed their own way. And all of this is kind of wrapped up as a bundle of things that happen in the late First Century around the year 70.

And so there’s a really fascinating article about this by a professor Emanuel Tav who was a professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He’s a Jewish guy. He’s writing an article called Socio-Religious Background and Stabilization. And what he means there is about the Jewish Old Testament and particularly was called the Masoretic text. This is going to be the interpretation text and transmission of the Old Testament that’s used within Judaism and is very influential within the Protestant Old Testament. And Tav explains, after the destruction of the temple, the Qumran text, remember the Dead Sea Scrolls, they’re hidden in the caves and lost to history. So they’re out of the picture. The two other major non Masoretic text types, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint remain in use but were cherished by religious groups that were no longer considered Jewish.

So you got the splitting off from Judaism of the Samaritans and the Christians, the destruction of Qumran that leaves the Masoretic text as the last man standing. That the Pharisees kind of win, not by force of argument, but because everybody else gets killed, or they split off from Judaism, or they get rejected from the synagogues, or kicked out of the synagogues that we read about the New Testament. They’re kind of pushed away from Judaism. So this creates the illusion, Tov argues, of a stability brought about by conscious stabilization by authorities. In other words, starting around the 19th century, you’d get these Protestant scholars who would theorize about a Council of Jamnia doesn’t really exist. There’s no such thing as a council. There’s no evidence of there being a Council of Jamnia. But it was this idea that the way we explain the Jewish canon is there must have been some group that got together and settled these things. And Tov’s point is no, you don’t have to assume that.

The Sadducees just kind of disappear from history. The Samaritans become a really small minority of people who don’t have a major influence. So Christians break away and are pretty clearly not just another sect of Judaism from pretty quickly. And so you’re left with Pharisaical rabbinical Judaism becoming just Judaism. That it becomes the single representation of Judaism. Rabbi Neusner has a lot of stuff about this. There’s a lot of Jewish authors who trace this kind of history. This is not like a fringe idea or anything like that. This is just what happens in the first century, in the diaspora, as you have the move from the temple to the synagogue. The temple is heavily controlled by the Sadducees, the synagogues, the Pharisees, are really influential, and you’ve got a lot of things that happen that end up with the Pharisees kind of winning the day by default.

So with that you get the Pharisees canon of scripture and I said we’d get to that. So what was the Pharisees canon of scripture? Was it just the same as the Protestant Bible? And the answer is not really. The Pharisees canon of scripture was still being sorted out in Jesus’s day. And this is true even for their descendants, the rabbis. And how do we know that? Well, we know it in two ways. One, we know it from the biblical evidence. It talks about just the Law and the Prophets. And two, we know it from the Jewish evidence that openly debates which books belong in the Bible and which ones don’t. So then the Christian evidence, we can see several places. So Jesus regularly refers to the Old Testament not as the Old Testament, but as the Law and the Prophets. For instance, Matthew 5:17, he says, “Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12, he summarizes what is the Law and the Prophets? Matthew 11, he says, the Prophets and the Law aren’t prophesied until John. Jesus isn’t the only one who does this either. Philip says, “We found him of whom Moses and the Law and also the Prophets wrote. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And in Acts we hear about the reading of the Law and the Prophets in the synagogue. So you have, very clearly, the Law and the Prophets. That’s two of the three parts of the to Tenahk, but not the writings. St. Paul, likewise, says that he believes everything laid down by the Law are written in the Prophets. In Romans he talks about how the right assistance of God has been manifested apart from Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. And then Acts ends by talking about how Paul is in Rome trying to convince people about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

Now if you are really savvy, you might be saying, wait a second, there’s one sort of exception to this rule one time where Jesus doesn’t just call it the Law and the Prophets. And that’s right. In Luke 24, he refers to the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms. That’s the closest you ever get to a tri fold division of the Old Testament, in the New Testament. So remember, according to White, according to Kruger, according to Edwards, according to a whole host of Protestant apologists, basically, this tri fold division was already well accepted by the first century. It was just, everyone knew about this. And yet there’s only one time where it even comes close to getting mentioned. And you’ll notice he doesn’t say the Law and the Prophets and the writings. He says the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms, meaning he’s acknowledging there’s something beyond the Law and the Prophets, but he’s not treating it as one closed collection called the Ketuvim or the writings because it wasn’t. So that’s the biblical evidence.

But we can also talk about it in terms of the Jewish evidence. So if you look at the Talmud with the Mishnah and the Gemara and all this, there are several places where we find these rabbinical debates. Now this part is a little data heavy and I’ll make it as unboring as I can, but I want to just give you the information, because it’s really easy for me just to tell you, I don’t think scripture supports that. And for James White or somebody to tell you, I think scripture does support that. I want to give you the Jewish evidence that makes it, I think, unambiguous. I actually think this is the strongest evidence. I don’t know how someone could read this and believe the sort of things James White, Brian Edwards and Michael Kruger say.

So a little bit of background. According to the rabbis, all the holy scriptures defile the hands. This is in the Mishnah Yadayim, chapter three, verse five. And that’s a really weird thing. All the holy scriptures defile the hands. In other words, you become ritually un pure from touching scripture. And I know that’s totally counterintuitive. So when you read about a work defiling the hands, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it means it’s good. It’s so holy that you become richly impure from touching it. And I know that’s weird, I know it’s backwards. I’m not going to defend it, I’m just going to say, when you hear them talking about whether a book defiles the hands or not, what they mean is it’s scripture or not. Defiling the hands means it is scripture. If it doesn’t defile the hands, it means it’s not scripture. In this same section, one of the rabbis says, well, the Song of Songs defiles the hands, but there’s a dispute about Kohelet. That is Ecclesiastes.

So Song of Songs, definitely scripture, Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, maybe not. One of the other rabbis says Kohelet does not defile the hands. It’s not scripture. But there is a dispute about the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs maybe is scripture. Yet another rabbi says that this dispute about Kohelet is one of the leniency’s of Bet Shammai and one of the stringency’s of Bet Hillel. In other words, at the time of Christ in the first century, there are these two major rabbinical schools, Shammai and Hillel. They have differences about when you can get divorced, all sorts of things. And he’s saying, well, even back in the first century there was this dispute about whether or not Ecclesiastes belonged. So you see two things. One, the canon isn’t settled in the first century according to the ancient rabbis. And two, it wasn’t settled even after that because we find these rabbis who were writing after the time of Christ still debating which books are and aren’t in, and specifically which books are and aren’t in the Ketuvim, the writings. Does Ecclesiastes count? Does Song of Songs count?

Elsewhere, in Megillot 7A, [inaudible 00:37:30] 7A, versus seven to nine, another rabbi reports what his mentor had said. That the Book of Esther does not render the hands richly impure. In other words, Esther not scripture. And he says, “Although the sage has issued a decree that sacred scrolls render hands richly impure the Book of Esther was not accorded the sanctity of sacred scrolls.” And then this launches a whole dispute, because then one of the Gemara’s, which is like a commentary ess, well it seems to say that Shmuel maintains the Book of Esther was not stated with the inspiration of the divine spirit. Didn’t he say elsewhere that it was stated with the inspiration of the divine spirit? In other words, didn’t this same guy who’s saying Esther wasn’t inspired elsewhere, say it was inspired? And there’s a weird answer which is yeah, it is to be read in public. However, it is not stated that it’s to be written. So it’s a weird position that this rabbi has about Esther.

But then it concludes, therefore the text was not accorded to the sanctity of sacred scrolls. So Esther was rejected. Now Esther ends up in the Jewish Old Testament, but it wasn’t just granted that. And this is, again, after the time of Christ. These debates are ongoing. In the other direction, those are all books that were excluded by some major rabbis that are in Protestant bibles. In the other direction, Bava Batra is trying to prove the proposition that the father of the groom generally provides a bridal home for the couple. And they say support for this is as it is written in the Book of Ben Sira, that’s Sirach. Now you’ll notice that formulation as it is written, that is an invocation of scripture. In other words, Sirach is being treated here as scripture in the Jewish Talmud centuries after the time of Christ.

And that’s not the only place. In Bava Kamma 92B Rabba bar Mari is making a particular argument. He’s using this structure. Remember the TNK structure? So you’ve got the Law, Prophets, and the writings, and he’s trying to find scriptural support for his argument from the Torah, from the Prophets, from the writings, as well as from the Mishnah and the Baraita, which are rabbinical kind of commentaries. So he is trying to find sources in each of those, the three parts of scripture and then the two parts of rabbinical commentary. This is an argumentative technique, proving it from the Old Testament and the New Testament, maybe for a Christian. And so for the Torah he points to Genesis 28. For the Prophets he points to Judges 11, but for the writings he points to what? He points to Sirach 13:17. And he says that this teaching is triplicated in the writing, in the Ketuvim.

He explicitly identifies Sirach as being in that third section. This is crucial, because you’ll often find Protestants who deny that there were these disputes by saying, well look, there are all these references by the Jews to there being three collections, Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim. There’s the Law and the Prophets in the writings. And they assume that because Jews typically agreed that there’s Law and Prophets in the writings that they therefore agreed which books are in each of those categories. And that just doesn’t follow. We know from reading actual Jewish writings that they didn’t agree which books were in the writings, particularly. The Law and the Prophets are set, the writing’s not set. And again, parts of it are set. No one’s saying we should get rid of the Psalms, but parts of it aren’t set. Parts of it are disputed. And so Sirach is being argued for. Sirach is all over the Talmud.

Now eventually Sirach is kicked out. So in Sanhedrin 100b, fully 100b verse three, there’s a Mishnah that Rabbi Akiva says that anyone who reads external literature has no share in the world to come. Now that doesn’t mean literally that if you read Homer you’re going to go to hell. He is damning anyone who reads non-canonical writings in a canonical setting, like in the temple or in the synagogue. And there’s a commentary on this from much later who say the Sages is taught in a baraita. This is a reference to reading books of heretics. Rav Yosef, now Rav Yosef lives from 290 to 320, so we’re well after the time of Christ, says it is also prohibited to read the book of ben Sira due to its problematic content. Now again, he’s not literally saying you’re not allowed to read the book. What follows from this section in Sanhedrin 100b is this really detailed commentary on parts of Sirach that people have found problematic and then how those same problems appear in the rabbi’s own teachings.

It’s really fascinating. It reveals two things. One, that the version of Sirach that they had was corrupted. It doesn’t look that much like the canonical version of Sirach that’s used by Christians. And two, that Sirach was widely read by the rabbis because they’re these really nuanced commentaries. And so Sirach was very much, and the fact that you have to have a special rule to tell people not to read Sirach as scripture in a scriptural setting should say how widespread the acceptance of Sirach was until it was pushed out. And speaking of good Jewish commentaries, professor Michael Satlow has a really fascinating article about why Sirach gets pushed out and Ecclesiastes gets accepted. And his explanation is really good because he’s honest about the limitations of the research. He says the entire process of canonization is murky. Scholars are simply unsure how certain books ultimately became authoritative and others did not.

But from the late rabbi’s perspective, Ben Sirach had two things potentially going against it. In other words, there’s two reasons that these late rabbis decide against Sirach. One, it was attributed to an author who clearly lived after the time of prophecy had ceased. And I’ll unpack that in a minute. That is according to later rabbinic understandings, Ben Sira was simply written too late to be considered the product of divine inspiration. Notice that’s later rabbinic understandings. This idea that all prophecy ceases at 450 BC, you’ll often hear people, including James White, claim that this is something the Jews believe prior to the time of Christ. That simply is not true. It is flatly historically false. The Law in the Prophets testify until John, Jesus says. Luke two, we see a Prophetess, Anna, in the temple. Josephus, who this cessation of prophecy is ascribed to talks about there being Prophets after 450 BC.

The idea that the Jews believed in a period of 400 years of divine silence is just a Protestant myth. But it is true that centuries after Christ there develops this argument that there’s no prophecy after Nehemiah, after 450, after the end of that period. And so books that had previously been accepted were rejected. But that argument isn’t based on anything found in scripture, and it’s not based on antiquity, not based on anything before the time of Christ. In many cases it’s based on rejecting books that seem too Greek or too Christian. It’s partly a rejection of the New Testament, which is what makes it really bizarre when Protestants appeal to this idea, because it wasn’t saying we’re going to have 400 years of silence and then the Prophets are allowed to speak again with Christ. That’s not it. It’s, no, prophecy’s over. And so there can’t be a New Testament.

So I mentioned that because that’s one of the arguments being made against Sirach by the later rabbis. But this isn’t made by the early rabbis to accept Sirach and don’t believe in that whole 400 years of silence thing. Thus, it was excluded from biblical cannon. The second issue was that in its Greek translation, it was accepted as authoritative by Christians in the third and fourth century’s CE, or AD we would say. In other words, the fact that Christians like the book probably didn’t help it standing within Judaism after there’s kind of the acrimonious split between Jews and Christians. Another reason why it’s kind of weirdly ironic when Protestants cite to Jewish authority after the time of Christ. And that raises the fact that I’ve kind of alluded to already, and as we’ve sort of hinted at a few times, Christians in this time period had a different Old Testament and they knew they had a different Old Testament.

And so we should talk about the Bible of early Christianity. And I’m not going to do an exhaustive kind of exploration of this, there’s a lot more to say about this. But I wanted to highlight just one resource particularly, which is a letter Origen writes to Africanus. This is probably the early 200s. Origen’s born in, I think, 185, and dies in the mid-200s. And Africanus writes to him and he’s critiquing him because in one of his translations he includes the story of Susanna, which is part of the book of Daniel in the Greek version that’s accepted by the Catholic Church and is not in the Hebrew version accepted by Protestants and modern Jews. And Origen acknowledges all of that. He said he’s in the Greek, it’s not in the Hebrew.

And he says, this is also true of Bel and the Dragon, which is another part of Daniel that’s also found in the Greek and not in the Hebrew. And he says this is also true of thousands of other passages where there’re differences between the Hebrew and Greek. That might be Origen exaggerating, but the point is that he knows there are these differences between the Septuagint version and what will later be called the Masoretic text. And in the letter there’s a really fascinating moment because Africanus, who was writing, critiquing Origen for using this version uses a biblical expression. Lost and won at play and thrown out unburied on the streets. And he says, “I don’t know where you’re getting that unless you got it from Tobit.”

And Tobin and Judith, we ought to notice, that Jews don’t use. So what does that tell us? It tells us that the early Christians in the 100s and the 200s are using an Old Testament that includes Tobit, includes Judith, includes a longer version of Daniel, includes various discrepancies between the Jewish and the Christian version. And that these books were known to not be used by the Jews and known to be used by the Christians. And he’s just like, yeah, obviously. And he says, “Well, since the church is used Tobias, or Tobit, and so in other words, this is not just like Origen personally saying we should have more books in our Old Testament. No, the earliest Christians had these books in their Old Testament.

Now think about the argument James White, Brian Edwards, Michael Kruger, all these other guys are making, that there was just a well established Jewish canon at the time of Christ. How in the world do you get from that to a much larger Christian Old Testament if that was true? Why would the Christians go willy-nilly looking through ancient Jewish literature to find extra books to add to their Bible? No, the reason the Christian Old Testament is longer than the modern Jewish one is because they’re using this old version Septuagint that predates Christ, that was widely accepted before the rabbis push it out. And that had these books. And we know this from the early Christian arguments.

Okay, so all that is to say the Jewish Bible at the time of Christ is complicated, but it is not as simple as everybody who had the Protestant Old Testament. They clearly did not. The Pharisees weren’t agreed on it, the Sadducees certainly didn’t have it, the Samaritans certainly didn’t have it, the Christians certainly didn’t have it. And so this argument is just false. It’s historically false and we have a ton of documentation that just proves it, that shows it to be false. But I want to leave you with something else. I want to leave you with an argument that James White makes that I think is really important, that really actually gets to the heart of where a lot of these arguments go, and that we should really think carefully about that. This is an argument that I actually agree with a lot of what he’s saying. So let me just give it to you. I’m calling it his self refuting biblical argument. But here’s White in his own words.

James White:

God is active in this world. He has a purpose, he’s accomplishing a purpose, there is a goal in mind for creation and it’s his own self glorification, the final analysis, and it was his intention for Christ to come when Christ came and to do what Christ did as the other church confessed in Acts 4:27-28. And if it is his purpose that the scriptures function as a rule of faith, the sole and fallible rule of faith for the church, if it’s his purpose that the scriptures function and it’s his purpose to build the church, then God would exert and utilize all the power necessary to make sure that the church has the scriptures and knows what is and what is not scripture.


Okay, so I think that’s a really sound argument. Now it’s a really wordy argument so let me unpack it a little bit. He was saying, as I understand, if God has a purpose, divine self glorification, and if it is his purpose, as the scriptures function as the sole and fallible rule of faith, sola scriptura, and if it is God’s purpose to build the church, then necessarily God will do whatever necessary to make sure that the church has the scriptures and knows what is and is not scripture. Well, here’s the fascinating part about that. As we just saw, the Christians had a different Bible than James White has. James White’s Bible has 66 books. The Bible of early Christianity has 73. Now you will find exceptions to that. You’ll find Jerome and Rufinus arguing for a 66 book Bible. You’ll find a lot of other people arguing for some variation that’s not exactly the Protestant or the Catholic Bible.

But when the church has a clear kind of consensus about this in the fourth century, particularly in the West, it’s around this 73 book canon in the Latin Vulgate, which is the Bible, used for more than a thousand years by ordinary Christians throughout the Western Church has these 73 books. And so if White’s argument is that the church both has the scripture and knows what is and is not scripture, we should accept the Catholic Bible, we should accept the 73 book Bible. On the other hand, if you don’t buy that, if you think the church got it wrong, then you have to reject one of his three premises. Either God doesn’t want his self glorification, he doesn’t want to build up the church, that’s obviously false, or sola scriptura is false. Now, I will say, I think both that sola scriptura is false and nevertheless that White is right. That the nature of God’s revelation is like this.

God is revealing himself through scripture. Now, we would disagree in this one area. I don’t think he’s revealing himself only through scripture. I think he’s revealing himself in a number of ways, in many and various ways even. And especially his revelation of the word God. Not a Bible, but a son. And that this son is known through eyewitnesses who both write things down and pass things on in what we now call tradition. But nevertheless, whether you think it’s only through scripture, or scripture plus tradition, or scripture plus Jesus, however you want to define that, if God intends to reveal himself and gives no mechanism at which we can know what is and isn’t scripture, that revelation is defeated. You see what I mean? Because if I say, yeah, one of these is the right answer, and then here a few that aren’t the right answer, and you don’t know which one’s which, me giving you the right answer doesn’t do anything for you. It doesn’t help.

You have to have a way of knowing what is and isn’t the right answer. You have to have a way of knowing what is and isn’t, in this case, divine self-revelation or it’s not really revealed. In the word revealed is the idea that there’s an unveiling of something about God so that we can see it. And if we can’t see it’s not really unveiled. It’s not really revealed, it’s not really revelation. And so I agree with James White on this point. That if you’re going to have a coherent idea of Christianity, you have to believe that the church has a way of knowing what is and isn’t scripture. He’s absolutely right about this. And he makes this point. I’m not just trying to get him in I gotcha. He makes this point, I think, correctly. That so often these books about the history of the Bible look at just the history in a very dry way, the way you’d look at the history of where England came from or something.

And they ignore the fact that God is revealing himself through history, by guiding the church. And that’s exactly what we believe as Catholics. That is a slam dunk argument for the Catholic Church, because it’s a Protestant argument that God wanted there to be 66 books of the Bible, but nobody knew that until after the reformation. Luther didn’t have a 66 book Bible. He wanted four more books thrown out. Calvin wanted to keep the book of Baruch. It’s not until much later that a British Bible Aid Society decides that the books they call the Apocrypha can’t be in the books of the Bible that they’re selling anymore, that they’re giving away. And that decides the 66 books. Does that sound like the church? Does that sound like, that God would just abandon his church with the wrong revelation for 1500 years and then continue to give wrong revelation to all the Catholic and Orthodox, and Protestants worldwide? Still a pretty small minority of Christians. And there’s certainly a small minority by historical standards. They’ve only been around for 25% of the church’s history.

So if White’s write that God’s going to do whatever’s necessary to make sure the church has the scripture and knows what is and is not scripture, then we should trust that he’s guiding the church. And here’s why I think it’s so fascinating. This is almost exactly the argument that Origen makes in is letter to Africanus. That he says, “Why would I trust the Jewish canon after they’ve rejected Jesus Christ instead of trusting God’s guidance of the church?” He’s not being antisemitic or anything like that. He’s just making an obvious point. If God’s going to build up his people, if you want to know which Old Testament to look at, look at the Old Testament used by the early church, and that’s going to get you squarely to the Catholic Bible, Old and New Testament. For Shameless Popery I’m Joe Heschmeyer. Hope you really enjoyed this. God bless you.

Speaker 1:

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