I was born and raised a Protestant. One question I never asked myself was “Where did the Bible come from?” I mean, I knew that God inspired men to write historical accounts, songs and letters that have been collected together in the Book that we call the Bible. But what was the collection process like? Who did the collecting, and how did they know which books belonged in the Bible, and which did not? I just never bothered my pretty little head about it….
This is Part Five of my series on the canon of Scripture (Part One is here), and fortunately our hero has a better head on his shoulders than I did as a Protestant! In his search for the answers, he has come across some very disturbing information concerning the presence of the Apocrypha in early Protestant Bibles….
As you sort back through what you have learned, you feel the frustration mounting. So far your Protestant sources have told you that at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) seven books were added to the Catholic version of the Bible. The Catholics call these books “deuterocanonical” – Protestants call them the Apocrypha. However, all the Bible encyclopedias that you have checked assure you that the early English-language Bibles, from Wycliffe’s translation in 1384 to the KJV, all contained an Apocryphal section, although those sections varied in content – all with more Apocryphal books than are found in Catholic Bibles!
This makes no sense!!! If the Catholic Church ADDED books to the Bible at the Council of Trent, what in heaven’s name were Protestants doing when they also added these books to their Protestant Bibles??? Come to think of it, Wycliffe’s translation predates the Council of Trent by some 160 years – so he had this odd idea to add the Apocrypha to the Bible WAY before the Catholics thought of it! Something very, very strange was going on with the Apocrypha back in 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th-century England!
What you find particularly frustrating is that when you search online at Protestant sites that allow you to view English Bibles from the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, it’s hard to find a site that mentions the Apocryphal books that were included in those Bibles, let alone includes them for viewing. It’s as if the online Bibles have been “sanitized”. It’s as if it all never happened….
What’s up with that? Those Bibles did contain Apocryphal books – it’s a historical fact mentioned in Bible encyclopedia after Bible encyclopedia! At least some mention should be made of that on the websites….
And then there’s the New Testament problem. The Apocrypha is a collection of Old Testament books purporting to be Holy Scripture. But in your reading you’ve come across Wycliffe’s Protestant New Testament translation containing the book of “Laodiceans” – supposedly an epistle written by Paul! How did that get in there???
Wycliffe’s Bible at least keeps a normal New Testament order of the books, but you’ve found several 16th-century Protestant New Testaments in which Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation have been segregated from the rest of the books in a separate section at the end, as if the editors felt that they weren’t “ready for prime time!” For Heaven’s sake, what was up with that???
In frustration, you try a change of tack. You’ve already got your library’s copy of Metzger’s Canon of the New Testament, and you begin to search through the your Bible reference books while trying to remember everything you know about Martin Luther. Fortunately only a few weeks ago your church celebrated Reformation Sunday, and your pastor preached on the Great Reformer. He spoke glowingly of how Luther rescued the Christian Church from the darkness of the Middle Ages, from the clutches of the pope, and brought the church back to its original form (hence the term “Reformation”). He did issue a disclaimer, warning you that Luther was no “saint” – he was criticized by his fellow Reformers for his uncontrolled ego, his bad temper, and his foul language (the pastor said he couldn’t even repeat to you some of the things Luther said in his sermons). And Luther certainly espoused some odd doctrines, such as a belief that the Bible sanctioned polygamy (which Luther himself felt couldn’t be forbidden in certain situations!). But sola fide (faith alone!) and sola Scriptura (Scripture alone!), the rallying cries of the Reformation, are something that all Protestants owe to Martin Luther. It just goes to show, your pastor emphasized, how God can use anyone.
“Scripture alone!” sounded so great when you heard it several Sundays ago, but now somehow it rings slightly off-key when compared to what these Bible encyclopedias are saying. “Sola Scriptura” sounds wonderful – but only if you know what is Scripture and what isn’t – and the English Protestants of the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries certainly seem to have had no idea, with their Apocryphal books and their “segregation” of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation in the back of their Bibles! How could they have fallen into such serious error?
Well, hopefully Martin Luther can shed some light in this darkness!
You remember your pastor telling you that, while there had been 18 previous Catholic translations of the Bible into German, Martin Luther’s translation into his native language was so beautifully done that it set the literary standard for hundreds of years. You begin to search for articles on Luther in the Bible encyclopedias you have spread out on your library table, and in the books on the Reformation that you’ve found. You learn that he translated the New Testament into German in a version that was published in 1522. Luther’s theology could be summed up in the Reformation’s battle-cry of “justification by faith alone!” Luther derived this understanding of Scripture from the apostle Paul’s declaration that “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:16-17. The Hastings Dictionary of the Bible describes it this way:
With Luther the Reformation was based on justification by faith. This truth Luther held to be confirmed (a) by its necessity, nothing else availing, and (b) by its effects, since in practice it brought peace, assurance, and the new life. Then those Scriptures which manifestly supported the fundamental principle were held to be ipso facto inspired, and the measure of their support of it determined the degree of their authority. Thus the doctrine of justification by faith is not accepted because it is found in the Bible; but the Bible is accepted because it contains this doctrine.
Because of his belief that justification was by faith alone, Luther felt compelled to actually add the word “alone” (“sola” in Latin) into the text of his German translation in Romans 3:28 to cause it to read “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.”
You quickly grab the KJV you have lying on the table. Romans 3:28 reads “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
You feel a sudden chill. Luther added a word to his German translation of Holy Scripture to prove his doctrinal point? You read his justification for this in his Open Letter on Translating (1530):
Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: ‘Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.’ Let it rest there…..
Boy, your pastor wasn’t kidding about Luther’s ego problems! Mr. Humility continues:
I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text — if the translation is to be clear and vigorous, it belongs there. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had set about to speak in the translation.
Luther goes on to insist that the German version just sounds better with the word “alone” in the passage in question, and then states:
However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law..
The text itself, and St. Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it?
“The matter itself and the nature of language requires it,” Luther assures you later in the text.
So Luther knew that the word “alone” was not in the original text, but because he considered “justification by faith alone” to be, as he put it “the main point of Christian doctrine,” he convinced himself that “the matter itself and the nature of language requires it.”
That’s news to you – you were under the impression that no one is ever allowed to ADD words to Scripture, no matter how strongly they feel that the addition proves the point that the Bible is trying to make! After all, isn’t that what the Apocrypha problem is all about – books being ADDED to the Bible?
The temperature in the library seems to have dipped precipitously. You shiver. You decide to wrap this investigation up quickly and head home. You’ve already made too many unpleasant historical discoveries….
On the feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Deo omnis gloria!