Saturday, April 7, 2012

Luther throw out books of the Bible?

The following is a blog post which I wrote over two years ago.  I see the readership of this blog changing, so that some have not seen posts from that far back.  Plus, it is still quite relevant.  People are buying my prayer book, for example, and in it is listed the books of the Bible including the Apocryphal books.  Such a concept will be new to many Lutherans, so a brief review of the matter will be helpful to them. And since regrettably I am not able lately to write as much as I'd like, I decided to post this one, virtually as is, from February of 2010.  Cheers.

It seems to be the overwhelming accepted version of history among most Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants alike these days that Catholic Bibles are bigger than the Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out a number of the books of the Bible. This notion requires not merely a No, but more like a double or triple No. When I see laymen make this mistake, I often take the time to correct them in a friendly and respectful way. But when I see priests, theologians, apologists, writers, and other types of public teachers teaching this nonsense, such occasions call for a respectful yet firm and resounding answer. For 1. such people have less of an excuse for their intellectual transgression, and 2. when lies of this sort come out of their mouth, or from their pen, it is more dangerous. To be clear, when I use the term "lies" here, I know that many who are guilty of these lies do not mean them as such. Some, on the other hand, promote them with such clear animosity toward the Reformer that it makes me wonder. Either way, though, that Luther threw books out of the Bible is a lie, and I would like to help correct it.



I heard this nonsense again a few days ago, this time on Milwaukee's Catholic radio station, on a program called "Go Ask Your Father," hosted on that occasion by Father Richard Simon. According to Simon, Luther "threw out" Ecclesiasticus, along with the other deuterocanonical books.

There are at least a couple problems with the notion that "Catholic Bibles are bigger than Lutheran Bibles because Martin Luther threw out parts of the Bible." First, Catholic Bibles are not, truth be told, bigger. They are bigger than modern Protestant Bibles, yes. They are not, however, bigger than the Lutheran Bible. In fact, the Catholic Bible is even a tiny bit smaller than the Luther Bible. The Anglican Bible, ie, the King James, in fact, is even bigger than either the Luther Bible or the Catholic Bible. I will elaborate below. Second, we must emphatically answer and correct the lie that Martin Luther threw things out of the Bible.

The chief difference between the Bible in official use in Luther's time on the one hand, and Luther's German translation on the other, is the way in which the writings are arranged. Let me take this opportunity, however, to say a word regarding the Vulgate, the Bible of Luther's time, before I proceed. As meaningful as Luther's translation was for the church of his time, as inspiring as it was for translators in other lands, perhaps most notably England, and as important a place as it holds in our Lutheran tradition, none of this means that in translating the Bible into German that Luther rejected or had disdain for the Latin Bible, the Vulgate. Before, during, and after Luther's translating work, the Bible that he lived on, memorized, prayed, and often quoted in the classroom, to the end of his life, was the Vulgate. When Luther spoke of the importance of learning the Biblical languages, and compared the languages to the sheath of the sword of the Word of God, he had in mind not only the Hebrew and Greek, but also the Latin. The Latin scriptures are a part of our Biblical heritage, and they are part of our Lutheran heritage. In some ways the literary achievement of Luther's German Bible is analogous to that of Jerome's Latin Bible. And we do a disservice to our students today, especially our future priests and theologians, when we do not include the Latin in their training.

What we call the Old Testament Apocrypha, writings which in the Roman Catholic scheme are incorporated among the rest of the Old Testament, Luther placed together, at the end of the Old Testament. Where are these writings in the Catholic Bible? Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, which is also called Sirach, come after the Song of Songs in Catholic Bibles. Baruch comes after Lamentations. Tobit, and Judith, come after Nehemiah. 1 and 2 Maccabees come after Malachi. What we call The Rest of Esther is included with Esther. The Song of the Three Holy Children is found in the third chapter of Daniel. The History of Susana is found at the beginning of Daniel, and Bel and the Dragon at the end of Daniel. These are all included by Luther, together, at the end of the Old Testament.

Some readers may have been surprised when I mentioned above that Luther's Bible even has a bit more than the Catholic one. What I mean by that is that he includes The Prayer of Manasses, with the OT Apocrypha, a writing which you will not generally find in Catholic Bibles. Before concluding, however, that Luther here is guilty of the opposite of what he is usually accused of, and that he innovated by adding a book to the Bible, bear in mind that The Prayer of Manasses has a real history in Biblical tradition, and that even Rome includes it in the back of the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate. The English Church, with the publication of the so-called King James Version, in 1611, went a bit further than Luther or Rome, in that you will see in the Apocrypha the inclusion of 1 and 2 Esdras, which are also, I hasten to add here, like The Prayer of Manasses, included in the appendix of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, though left out of most modern Catholic Bibles.

It might be helpful here to add that there are other examples of seeming differences between a Lutheran Bible which includes the Apocrypha on the one hand, and the classic Roman Catholic Bible, such as, say, the Douay-Rheims, on the other, differences which are really more matters of terminology. For example, what Douay-Rheims calls 1 and 2 Esdras are what we call Ezra and Nehemiah. (What we call 1 and 2 Esdras, the Vulgate calls 3 and 4 Esdras.) What we call 1 and 2 Chronicles Douay calls 1 and 2 Paralipomenon. What we call 1 and 2 Samuel Douay calls 1 and 2 Kings, while what we call 1 and 2 Kings Douay calls 3 and 4 Kings. Such are really merely differences of nomenclature, and of numbering.

In many ways I appreciate Gary Michuta's book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, despite its clear bias. Let me quote Michuta from page 245 and following:

Catholic apologists sometimes claim that Martin Luther removed the Deuterocanonical books from Scripture. This assertion is not entirely true. Luther's German translation of the Scriptures included all of the Deuterocanon.

Here Michuta, a good scholar, is guilty of gross understatement. He comes clean later, when he says that, "It is, therefore, incorrect to say that Luther removed the Deuterocanon." (246)

Significant in this discussion too, I suggest, is not only what is on the shelf in a Luther Bible, but what role these texts play in our liturgical tradition. And here an honest appraisal of Lutheran liturgical tradition will reveal that texts from the Old Testament Apocrypha are read as the lessons on many saints' days, that they are the basis for hymns, and that they show up elsewhere in the propers, especially in introits and graduals. Traditional Lutheran practice also has several canticles which derive from places like Tobit, The Song of the Three Holy Children, and Judith, among others.

Are there Lutheran catechetical curricula that teach that there are precisely 66 books in the Bible? Yes. And as innocent as the intentions of their creators may be, I must respectfully say that they are wrong. They are doing our children a disservice, whose minds are being implanted with these notions that will be near dogma to them. As they go through the later grades and mature physically, intellectually, and mentally, their spiritual maturity will not be all it could be, for they will have yet one more anti-Catholic bias as part of their implicit thinking, since after all, "of course" the Catholics must be wrong for having those extra books. They are also spiritually cheated simply because they are being denied all the rich content in the Apocryphal writings of the Old Testament. A few years back Fr. Burnell Eckardt, at the Concordia Catechetical Symposium, held forth beautifully on the catechetical value of The History of Susana. That is just one example. Luther, Chemnitz, and many other theologians and preachers in our tradition drew deeply from the treasures to be found in Wisdom or Sirach, or Tobit, and the rest.

True, when Lutherans teach that there are 66 books in the Bible, they are in a sense simply being true to the reality of printed bibles that are published, promoted, and used in the world of modern American Lutheranism. This trend is a Protestantism, which needs to change. And printing the Apocrypha in a separate volume is not the answer.

The books of the Bible, and the way they are divided, can be conceived in a variety of ways. Martin Chemnitz can be a good example in this regard, if we study his Ministry, Word and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. I recommend to Lutheran parents and catechists that you teach your children and students something like what I used to teach my Sunday School kids. I required them to learn, and then each recite in front of the class, the books of the Bible, as you find them in the list below. They will complain and not believe they can do it at first. After they learn it, they will tell you with excitement, and after they recite it, they will have a great sense of pride and achievement. To be clear, I did not require my Sunday School kids to learn how many chapters are in each book, which you see in parentheses below. I do think that this can and should be done in the later grades.

To my friends who are of the Anglican tradition, though I enjoy 1 and 2 Esdras, the reason they are not in the list I composed is simply that they are not in the Luther Bible and are not part of Lutheran tradition. When I publish the diglot Bible, however, I am thinking of including them as an appendix.

The Books of the Holy Bible

OLD TESTAMENT
1. Genesis (50 chapters)
2. Exodus (40 chapters)
3. Leviticus (27 chapters)
4. Numbers (36 chapters)
5. Deuteronomy (34 chapters)
6. Joshua (24 chapters)
7. Judges (21 chapters)
8. Ruth (4 chapters)
9. First Samuel (31 chapters)
10. Second Samuel (24 chapters)
11. First Kings (22 chapters)
12. Second Kings (25 chapters)
13. First Chronicles (29 chapters)
14. Second Chronicles (36 chapters)
15. Ezra (10 chapters)
16. Nehemiah (13 chapters)
17. Esther (10 chapters)
18. Job (42 chapters)
19. Psalms (150 psalms)
20. Proverbs (31 chapters)
21. Ecclesiastes (12 chapters)
22. Song of Songs (8 chapters)
23. Isaiah (66 chapters)
24. Jeremiah (52 chapters)
25. Lamentations (5 chapters)
26. Ezekiel (48 chapters)
27. Daniel (12 chapters)
28. Hosea (14 chapters)
29. Joel (3 chapters)
30. Amos (9 chapters)
31. Obadiah (1 chapter)
32. Jonah (4 chapters)
33. Micah (7 chapters)
34. Nahum (3 chapters)
35. Habakkuk (3 chapters)
36. Zephaniah (3 chapters)
37. Haggai (2 chapters)
38. Zechariah (14 chapters)
39. Malachi (4 chapters)

APOCRYPHA
40. Tobit (14 chapters)
41. Judith (16 chapters)
42. Additions to Esther (7 chapters)
43. Wisdom (19 chapters)
44. Sirach (51 chapters)
45. Baruch (6 chapters)
46. Song of the Three Holy Children (1 chapter)
47. History of Susanna (1 chapter)
48. Bel and the Dragon (1 chapter)
49. Prayer of Manasses (1 chapter)
50. First Maccabees (16 chapters)
51. Second Maccabees (15 chapters)

NEW TESTAMENT
52. Matthew (28 chapters)
53. Mark (16 chapters)
54. Luke (24 chapters)
55. John (21 chapters)
56. Acts (28 chapters)
57. Romans (16 chapters)
58. First Corinthians (16 chapters)
59. Second Corinthians (13 chapters)
60. Galatians (6 chapters)
61. Ephesians (6 chapters)
62. Philippians (4 chapters)
63. Colossians (4 chapters)
64. First Thessalonians (5 chapters)
65. Second Thessalonians (3 chapters)
66. First Timothy (6 chapters)
67. Second Timothy (4 chapters)
68. Titus (3 chapters)
69. Philemon (1 chapter)
70. Hebrews (13 chapters)
71. James (5 chapters)
72. First Peter (5 chapters)
73. Second Peter (3 chapters)
74. First John (5 chapters)
75. Second John (1 chapter)
76. Third John (1 chapter)
77. Jude (1 chapter)
78. Revelation (22 chapters)