Short Thoughts: To Be or Not To Be Scripture

I don’t spend a lot of time on my blog. I’m more inclined to spend three hours on a post instead of whipping one out — that’s why. I’m a very slow thinker. I’m going to make an attempt to write short posts every day and see how many days I can manage. No focus. No deep thought. Whatever I’m thinking about.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating Christian Scripture. I own many Bibles, including a 1611 King James with the “Apocrypha” and two types of Catholic translations with the Deuterocanon. I’ve also read the works the Catholic church considers to be apocryphal, such as The Book of Watchers. By the way, even that book is considered Scripture in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo churches. It’s fascinating to me how we arrived at what’s considered to be divinely ordained Scripture; as somebody who grew up Protestant, I trusted that what was in my Bible was the definitive word of God. At that time, most churches were using the New American Standard. Some still used the King James Bible, but it was fashionable in my childhood to read the NAS instead.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Catholic Bibles contained extra books and even that some Protestant Bibles did, if you could get your hands on a 1611 King James. I’m both an information gatherer and a curious person. Naturally, I began to wonder how the books of the Bible came to be collected and fashioned together in one volume. The history is anything but easy, to say the least. For example, the Jewish interpretation of what is and what isn’t Scripture had some bearing on why Esther is Scripture and Maccabees is not. Esther fit into the time frame the Jewish people held as being prophetic; Maccabees did not. However, if you read them side by side, it’s clear they fit into a similar epoch of history re writing style. Neither lean very heavily on a tone of humility before God as the previous prophetic and historic works did. Rather, they both sprang from a time of captivity in which the Jewish people were trying to find their bearings again. For that reason (I believe), the tone in both is self-congratulatory. They are books of history — I don’t dispute that in the least — but they also strike me as patriotic works meant to bolster a society attempting to find its way again as God’s distinct people.

Ultimately, for Protestants, doctrine is more relevant than the Jewish opinion on prophesy. Maccabees is also rejected due to doctrine, namely the Catholic and Orthodox belief in praying for the dead. As far as I know, there is only one passage in Maccabees that discusses prayers for the dead:

2 Maccabees 12:43-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Esther contains nothing like this; in fact, Esther has little to no doctrine at all. It doesn’t even discuss God. It’s strictly a story about a famous Jewish queen and her uncle, who protected their people from mass slaughter while they were in living in exile amongst the people in Persia. Therefore, it passes muster as an appropriate historical addition to the Bible because it can’t teach bad doctrine if it doesn’t contain it.

Maccabees doesn’t purport to teach doctrine, either. It does give a glimpse into at least one Jewish person’s thought on the resurrection of the dead — it’s a glimpse into one mind in a particular epoch of history. To be fair, Maccabees is only one reason Catholics believe prayers for the dead are valid. They also look at tradition, church history, and a line in 2 Timothy (May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!). Are they stretching a little? Perhaps. But they earnestly believe in eternal life and the communion of the saints both living and having passed beyond the veil.

I’m running against the clock now. I would have liked to discuss The Books of Watchers, but it will have to be another time. Also, I need to reread it because it’s been at least ten years.

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2 comments

  1. I Maccabees is an interesting piece of history but the other Maccabees are not as interesting in my opinion and probably didn’t have the same author.

    Esther is one of the books that we know Jewish thinkers had an internal debate over whether it should be Scripture or not, because it does not mention God. (Interesting tidbit: among the Dead Seas Scrolls fragments, Esther is the only modern Bible book not represented at all). They eventually decided, as you mentioned, that it belonged and Maccabees didn’t due to the period when it was written.

    The Protestant version of the Bible didn’t mainly reject the Apocrypha due to any doctrine it contains, it did so in order to adopt the Scripture used by modern Jews (though in an order influenced by the Vulgate).

    As for you converting to Catholicism, what you do is your business, but I find great freedom in the fact I’m allowed to develop my own doctrine based on my own study of the Bible as an Evangelical. Yes, in practice Evangelicals can form conformist cliques and Catholics are far less prone to that–but in Catholic doctrine the Church tells you what Scripture means and even though Catholics often DO interpret Scripture on their own, the official doctrine is that’s what the Church is for–to by tradition preserve the correct interpretations (among other functions). I not only sharply disagree with many Catholic interpretations (especially the primacy of the Pope and the need for the sacrament of Confession to a human priest, cutting God out of the role of being GOD), I would find it oppressive to be told my interpretations of Scripture are essentially meaningless (which is, ironically, why Catholics in practice are often heterodox–because it just doesn’t matter what individual Catholics think as far as the Church is concerned, as long as you practice the Sacraments…).

    I would 10 times rather convert to a branch of Orthodox Christianity than to Catholicism. The Orthodox at least allow priests to marry and practice baptism by immersion and cannot claim the head of any of their churches is the divinely ordained Supreme Leader of all the world’s Christians (whether they know it or not).

    But anyway, I do recognize your right to make your own decisions as to what you choose to believe, even if it means you decide to make what I consider to be an obviously wrong choice. So I won’t bring the subject up again.

    1. After (IMO) God made it clear we were to leave the Lutheran church (LCMS), I didn’t attend church regularly because of working on Sundays. Also, I didn’t quite know where to go. Neither did my husband. He attended a non-denom when his work allowed him to. For my part, I couldn’t leave the sacraments, esp the Eucharist. Initially, I explored Eastern Orthodox for all the reasons you state above. However, Orthodox churches have one big problem: they aren’t as interested in planting their churches everywhere. There are no Orthodox churches where I live. As far as I know, I’d have to drive 3 hrs to get to one. Catholic churches make themselves available. Literally 24/7 in most cases. That’s why I started RCIA. I needed church, and RCIA is really just educational. I’m not Catholic, not yet, but I’ve found I love Mass. And that’s currently where I’m at. I also attend a non-denom church with my family. It’s just not the same, though.

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