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Church History Forum: Bible Canon

by Catherine Frakas 23 Nov 2001

Bible Canon QUESTION from Richard McLellan November 11, 2001 I wish to thank you for your time and effort in answering this and my earlier questions. Your expertise helps me greatly in my studies. My question this time concerns the Bible. I know that St. Jerome compiled and translated the first Christian Bible to Latin in about 400. Did that Bible contain the Deuterocanonical books? If so, did the preface to these books or any footnotes question their validity or status as inspired? Where can I find documents from or about the counsel of Trent? A little off topic, where any of the “Dead sea Scrolls†books or partial books of the Bible?
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on November 19, 2001 Dear Richard,
Thanks for your kind comments. To answer your questions, first, St. Jerome did not actually compile and translate the first Christian Bible to Latin in about 400. The first Latin Bible was the Vetus Itala which was a direct translation from the Septuagint (Greek version) of the Bible used by the Alexandrian Jews and quoted in the New Testament. St. Jerome did a new Translation of the Septuagint into Latin, but before he did this he did some revision work on the old Vetus Itala.
St. Jerome's Vulgate translation did contain the Vetus Itala deuteros, however it is well known he was opposed to their use as regards the confirmation of dogmatic teaching; rather he regarded them useful for edification. He was persuaded to include them by the prevailing thought at the time which accepted all the deuteros. The Council of Rome (382), that of Hippo (393) and those of Carthage (393, 397 and 419) all accepted all the deuteros. So too did Pope Innocent I in a letter to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse in 405. While these were not ecumenical councils, still it was clear that the teaching authority of the Church lay on the side of the deuteros. St. Jerome was critical of these works because of his over-rigid idea of canonicity: in his view they had to be accepted by all of Jewish antiquity to make it into the canon. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Canon of the Old Tesetament reports that in his Prologus Galeatus or preface to his translation of Samuel and Kings he declares that everything not Hebrew should be classed with the apocrypha, ans explicitly states that Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobias and Judith are not on the Canon. However, note that since 1 Macchabees and Baruch were written in Hebrew, so Jerome had to admit them on this basis. Remember also that the issue of the canon of Scripture was not an issue that divided Christendom at this time, and while there was agreement at the various coiuncils and papal teaching (382 and 419) the canon was not actually defined until Trent in 1546. But this does not mean there was disagreement until this time, quite the contrary, it was decided at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century.
Furthermore, in spite of what St Jerome said above, he later (in 402) defended the additions to Daniel (originally written in Greek) (Against Rufinus 11:33). He also defended the inspiration of the book of Judith in his Preface to this book.
It must not be thought that just because of St. Jerome's oposition to the deuteros, that this represents a case against the deuteros. For example, St. Augustine accepted them all, and the various regional councils already cited all agreed on the inclusion of the same deuteros which we have today. In earlier centuries, St. Irenaeus, Justin Martur and Tertullian all accepted the deuteros. In the fourth century there was still disagreement over the canon, due to the influx of pseudo- heretical writings, with some Fathers accepting some of the deuteros, and others accepting others. This was also the case even with some of the protocanonical books, in particular the book of Esther, which was rejected by, for example, St. Athanasius, who also accepted Baruch. Interestingly, the Palestinian (Hebrew) canon found among the Dead Sea scrolls does not contain the book of Esther either. Note too it was the Councils of Hippo and Carthage which decided the canonicity of James, Jude, Revelation and Hebrews also , yet there is no dispute about this decision today. Therefore their decision regarding the deuteros should also be accepted, if one is to be consistent. St. Jerome had a very high reverence for the Hebrew canon, and this also coloured his views.
On the subject of the Council of Trent, I suggest Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent available at Amazon.
Thanks Richard.
God bless,
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