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The Old Testament

THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT are quite varied in character, and have discrete histories. Generally speaking, they fall into four broad groups: the books of the Law (the Pentateuch); the history books (e.g., the books of Kings; the Prophets; and the books of Wisdom. It might be interesting to note in passing that the first "disagreement" concerning the "table of contents" of the Old Testament long pre-dated the Christian era: the Samaritans were distinguished from the Jews by their refusal to acknowledge as "scripture" any books other than those of Moses, the Pentateuch.

Most of the books of the Old Testament were written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, or a mixture of the two. There is, however, a whole group of books which are an exception, having been originally written (or at least only known to us) in Greek. These books are usually called the "Apocrypha," or "hidden books" - a complete misnomer, as there is nothing hidden about them; they were an integral part of the Greek text of the Old Testament as it was in use at the time of Our Lord, the Septuagint. Many quotations from the Scriptures - the Old Testament- in the books of the New Testament are identifiably from this Greek text. (A glance at any reliable reference edition of the New Testament will readily confirm this... quotations which are clearly from the Greek text are usually identified as, e.g., "Ps 145:5, Septuagint). Nowhere, of course, do any of the New Testament books make any distinction between the various books of the Old Testament. It is of all this material that the holy Apostle Paul writes when he says "All Scripture is given by inspiration from God" (2 Tim 3:16).

Complete Bible

It must be said that any volume which claims to be "the Bible" and yet does not contain these books is, at best, an expurgated or abbreviated Bible... and at worst an outright misrepresentation. It would be tedious and unnecessary to list all the books in question; the quickest way to determine whether a volume at hand is complete is to check the table of contents for the two best-known books... the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes). All these books formed part of the original text of the King James Version of the Bible, and are simply deleted from the text in protestant printings.

Concerning the "table of contents" of the Old Testament, there was little serious discussion in the early Church. The apostles and the fathers alike consistently used the text of the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament. They frequently cited in their writings passages which exist only in the Greek edition, or in which there is a significant difference in sense between the Greek and the Hebrew editions (as is frequently the case in the Psalms and even more so in the book of Jeremiah). This was no less true of the "other Jews" of the time of Our Lord.

These "apocryphal" books came to be an issue, not for the Christians, but for the post-Resurrection Jews. They in many cases clearly prophesied concerning Our Lord and so were an embarrassment to those who refused to accept His divinity. Consequently, they were officially barred from the Jewish canon (official table of contents) of the Scriptures at the Jewish Council of Jamnia at the end of the 1st century A.D., 60 or so years after the Resurrection. The Protestant reformers of the 16th century chose to accept the authority of this Jewish council in preference to that of the Apostles and the Fathers.

We may reasonably ask why. It makes no sense that they should object to these books on the same basis as that of the rabbis of Jamnia. The answer to the puzzle is quite simple: the books (some of them) also make quite evident, prophetically, the special role of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the maiden Mary of Galilee, in God's plan of salvation. Numerous passages from them are cited quite effectively by the Fathers in discussing the Church's understanding of the role of the Theotokos.

Consequently, the reformers simply opted to get rid of the books they disliked, using the pretext provided by the rabbis that the books did not exist in the Hebrew text. [Martin Luther did not quite have the courage (or the pretext) to continue the pattern and delete the Epistle of James (which flatly contradicts his teaching that salvation is "by grace alone") from the Scriptures entirely... but he did attempt to rearrange the order of the books of the New Testament, placing this epistle at the very end, hoping that no one would read it. This "revisionism," however, unlike the other, was not generally accepted. The "pick and choose" approach to the Scriptures has proven to be the normal method of Western interpretation.]

We can see the logical consequence of such proceedings today: A thousand and more protestant sects each claim to be "based on the Bible and the Bible alone." Each claims to accept the Bible as the inspired word of God (we leave aside the modernists, who apparently believe whatever they see fit without reference to anything except themselves). Each quarrels with the other as to what the Bible says. Why? Quite simply, because the approach to the Scriptures is what is called the "proof text" method. Those portions of Scripture which happen not to support (or even flatly contradict) one's already established belief are either explained away or ignored ... just as the reformers simply threw away a whole collection of books of the Old Testament which they found troublesome.

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