If God is all-powerful, why does evil exist? This is a question that is never directly addressed in the Protestant scriptures. Closely related to the problem of evil is the existence of suffering. On this lesser question the Protestant scriptures do have something to say, although the answer must be teased out. Yet on the larger and more important question of the existence of evil, the Protestant scriptures are silent.
So why do the righteous suffer? The entire book of Job has this as its theme, but does not have a completely satisfactory answer (from our perspective, of course). Ultimately the answer of God to Job comes down to this: “Then the Lord answered Job …Who is this…? Where wast thou…? Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days…? Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? …Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all” (Job 38 2-3, 12, 17-18). What God is saying through Job to us is this: Who do you think you are to even ask that question? After which Job abhors himself and repents (Job 42:6). But God does not leave the question there, as we shall see.
The story of Joseph is instructive on this question. Joseph was the then youngest and most beloved son of his father, who because of the jealousy of his brothers was sold into slavery in Egypt. There he suffered greatly before rising to a position of great power and authority. Many years later, during a famine where his brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph revealed himself to them and said: ” But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). And so we see that God allowed Joseph to suffer evil and brought good from it. This is not a situation of God using evil to do good, or even requiring the existence of evil to do good, but rather that although evil exists, God works in the midst of it. Ultimately, however, this does not resolve the main question of why evil exists in the first place.
The corollary to the question of why the righteous suffer is this: Why do the wicked prosper? (Jer 12:1). This question, asked of Jeremiah, finds a partial answer when God pronounces judgment upon those who “touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit. Behold, I will pluck them out of their land…” Jer 12:14. The issue for Jeremiah is the prosperity of wicked Judah, and the prosperity of those who would soon take them into captivity for their many sins.
Because of their sins the prophet Habakkuk cries out to God to judge His people (Hab 1:2-4). When the impending captivity by the Babylonians is revealed to the prophet, he is distraught because the Chaldeans are worse. How can a holy God use that evil nation to punish His chosen people? (Hab 1:13). Interestingly, God does not answer Habakkuk’s question at all. Instead, God pronounces five woes—not only upon the Babylonians, and not only upon Judah, but upon all sinners—for usury & greed (Hab 2:6); coveteousness & pride (Hab 2:9); wrath & murder (Hab 2:12); drunkenness and lust (Hab 2:15); and idolatry (Hab 2:19). Connected to these woes are three pronouncements about God and His people.
The first pronouncement is that the just shall live by his faith (Hab 2:4). That this comes first, even before any of the woes, is significant. It suggests the just live by faith even when evil proliferates, when evil men prosper, and when the righteous suffer. When God pronounces the second woe upon those who build a town by blood and iniquity, He then suggests that the people weary themselves in vain, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14). This brings us out of the consideration of our own troubles. It suggests the apocalyptic end of all evil and the eschatological hope. But God does not suggest all judgment is reserved until the end of time; no, for we finally come to the third woe: “the cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory” (Hab 2:16). But finally the answer to Habakkuk is the same as that given to Job: “[T]he Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20).
Asaph too asked this question. In Psalm 73 he says he “was envious at the foolish when he saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psa 73:3). He describes their strength, their prosperity, their pride and violence, their corruption and oppression, and the way they speak out against God and abuse His people. He is so cast down that he begins to think he has “cleansed his heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psa 73:13-14). In great pain and turmoil of soil he comes into the sanctuary, where he finally understands. In light of eternity, the wicked have been set “in slippery places”. This indicates they are about to slip; but then Asaph notes that God has already cast them down into destruction (Psa 73:18). In temporal terms they are about to slip; but in light of eternity they have already been condemned, and “brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors” (Psa 73:19). In light of eternity, Asaph sees he has been ignorant, and his doubts have been foolish. “I am continually with thee: thou has holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa 73:23-24).
Regarding the existence of evil, what in the Protestant scriptures must be painstakingly drawn out is made clear in the Deuterocanonical books. “For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it” (Wis 2:23-24). And again: “It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, Because they deserve to be in its possession” (Wis 1:16). And so the problem of evil is clearly explained: sin entered into the world, and death by sin, by means of the devil. Moreover those who are in the grips of the devil are subject to death, deserve death, choose death, pined for death, and made a covenant with death. Thus, although the devil is the source of sin and death, of evil and suffering, mankind chooses death and suffering over life and righteousness.
Now regarding the suffering of the righteous, once again the Apocrypha have an answer. It is the same answer that can be teased out of the Protestant scriptures, but is here made clear and plain, as seen in this excerpt from a much longer dissertation on the hidden counsels of God, regarding suffering, childlessness, and early death.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. (Wis 3:1-5)
Without what the Protestants call the Apocrypha, and what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books, the scriptures are veiled.
F. F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture”, writes approvingly of the canon of Sacred Scripture being closed.
The words ‘to which nothing can be added … and from which nothing can be taken away’, whatever they precisely meant in this context, seem certainly to imply the principle of a closed canon. There are some scholars who maintain that the word ‘canon’ should be used only where the list of specially authoritative books has been closed; and there is much to be said in favour of this restrictive use of the word (a more flexible word might be used for the collection in process of formation), although it would be pedantic to insist on it invariably. (F. Bruce 2010, 22)
The idea of nothing can be added and nothing taken away comes from a variety of sources. F. F. Bruce cites from the Old Testament (Deut 4:2; cf 12:32), the New Testament (Rev 22:18 f.), the Didache, and Josephus. Of all these citations, Bruce says: “This language can scarcely signify anything other than a closed canon.” (F. Bruce 2010, 23) The impression is given that these citations apply to the Word of God as text, rather than the doctrinal substance of the books. Certainly in the case of Josephus this is a reasonable interpretation, but the other citations are more problematic.
In Deuteronomy we read: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). If this implies a closed canon, how are we to account for the remainder of the Old Testament since, apart from the book of Job, none of it had been written yet? Equally important for we Christians, how are we to account for the New Testament, given that it not only speaks of the fulfillment of the law of Moses in the person of Jesus Christ, but also reveals the Triune God, something never made explicit in the Old Testament, and not even made implicit apart from the reading of Christ back into the Old Testament
Historically, the canon of the Old Testament was accepted by the Christian Church up until time of the Reformation. Henry Wace, in his commentary on the King James Version, admits as much when he writes:
“When the Reformers denied the inspired authority of the books of the Apocrypha, it was by no means their intention to exclude them from use either in public or in private reading. The Articles of the Church of England quote with approbation the ruling of St. Jerome, that though the Church does not use these books for establishment of doctrine, it reads them for example of life and instruction of manners.” [emphasis added] (Wace 1811, xxxvi)
There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church (such as the “ruling of St. Jerome), lists similar to that used by Protestants today, but these were not authoritative in the wider church. It should be noted that the Bible texts created prior to the Protestant Reformation included what Protestants call the Apocrypha. The Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 both contained the Apocrypha, and versions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are available today (although printed versions are quite rare in the United States).
But the situation is more complicated when we discuss the lectionaries, the appointed Scripture readings for the Church year. The King James Bible with Commentary contains, in its introduction, a history of the gradual elimination of the Apocrypha from the Common Lectionary of the Anglican Church. Originally the Lectionary included the Apocrypha with the exception of the books of the Maccabees. Henry Wace notes: “Among the Puritan complaints in the reign of Elizabeth, objections to the public reading of the Apocrypha had no prominent part.” (Wace 1811, xxxvi) Various redactions were made over the years, and while the revised lectionary of 1867 contained readings from the Apocrypha only on weekdays, readings from the Apocrypha were reduced from two months to only three weeks. Of the Anglican Lectionary of 1867, Wace writes:
So small a portion of the apocryphal books has been retained in the present Lectionary that the retention of any would seem intended for little more than an assertion of the Church’s right to use these books if she pleases in public reading. This is still more true of the American Church, which entirely discontinued the use of lessons from the Apocrypha on ordinary week-days ; but still uses such lessons on two or three holy days. The Irish Church on its last revision of the Lectionary has not even retained so much as this. (Wace 1811, xxxviii)
The complete elimination of the Apocrypha from the life of the Protestant Church turns out to be a relatively recent innovation, one which would not have been acceptable to the Reformers.
Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.
Wace, Henry. Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). Edited by Henry Wace. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1811.
Johann Gerhard, the Apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Johann Gerhard is the premier Lutheran scholastic, and is considered to be the Lutheran version of Thomas Aquinas. In his 17th century book “On the Nature of Theology and Scripture”, Gerhard writes of the distinction between books in the “codex of the Old Testament” that the papists consider canonical, and those they consider apocryphal.
The apocryphal books of the Old Testament are all the rest contained in the codex of the Old Testament besides the canonical books. We can arrange them in two classes. First, some are apocryphal by confession of the papists themselves, though they are contained in the Greek or Latin Codex of the Bible. …Second, some are considered canonical by the papists, though they are in fact apocryphal. [Emphasis added.] (Gerhard 2006, 91)
Gerhard argues against the Latins regarding both canonicity of any Apocryphal book. Moreover, he provides various reason why some books are considered apocryphal. First, “books whose origin is hidden”; second, “books that contain myths, errors, and lies”; third, because “every canonical book of the Old Testament is written in the Prophetic language, namely, Hebrew.” (Gerhard 2006, 91) Unfortunately, Gerhard’s arguments are flawed.
His first argument is that the Apocrypha are not inspired, and therefore not canonical.
Every canonical book of the Old Testament was written by a prophet by impulse and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The Apocrypha were not written by prophets (and by extension, under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the Apocrypha are not canonical. (Gerhard 2006, 92)
As we all likely agree to the first and major premise, we need not explore that further. The second, or minor premise, is problematic. Gerhard argues that the last Old Testament prophet was Malachi, and therefore concludes that since the Apocrypha were produced after the prophet Malachi, they were not written by prophets. “Those books we listed were written after the time of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament. From Malachi until John the Baptist one can point out no prophet among the people of Israel; therefore he concludes the prophetic writing of the Old Testament.” (Gerhard 2006, 92) I note that this is a tautology, in that the conclusion of the argument is required by the premise.
From my youth I remember hearing the argument that the line of the prophets ended with the prophet Malachi, ushering in the intertestamental period. The evidence for this point of view was typological. The Scriptures describe the period prior to the prophet Samuel as follows: “And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” (1 Sam 3:1) Thus, goes the argument, the period prior to Samuel is the type of which the period prior to John the Baptist is the fulfillment. But this is an argument from two seemingly analogous conditions, rather than from evidence. Gerhard provides an additional argument, which is that Malachi is the seal of the Old Testament, for it was Malachi who prophesied of John the Baptist. (Gerhard 2006, 92)
Gerhard’s second argument is based on the external form of the Old Testament, or the language.
Every canonical book of the Old Testament is written in the prophetic language, namely, Hebrew.
Those controversial books were not written in Hebrew.
Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.] (Gerhard 2006, 93)
I note for the record that Johann Gerhard wrote in the seventeenth century, well prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is unfair to find fault with his assumption that the Apocrypha were not written in Hebrew (although how someone could continue to make that claim in the late 20th and early 21st century escapes me.)
Regarding the Apocrypha among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael E. Stone writes of the so-called Apocrypha written in Aramaic and Hebrew, the languages of the Old Testament:
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls were a number of manuscripts of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, including ten manuscripts of the Book of Enoch in the original Aramaic (until then copies were extant only in an Ethiopic translation of a Greek translation of a Semitic original), which were vital to answering many questions about its origins. Dating of the manuscripts by their script shows that certain parts of Enoch are at least as old as the third century BCE. Fragments of Ben Sira in Hebrew, Tobit in Aramaic, the Epistle of Jeremiah in Greek, and others were also found at Qumran.
Gerhard notes that Jerome translated Tobit and Judith from Chaldaic into Latin, but did not consider them to be Canonical. Jerome is an anomaly among the fathers of the early church, in that he preferred the Hebrew text over the Septuagint, the text that was in common use among the early church (which usage even Gerhard admits).
Gerhard’s argument that Hebrew is the “prophetic language” is a problem, in that it argues against the canonicity of the New Testament. Gerhard is not alone in this regard: F.F. Bruce, writing in 1954, shortly after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, also cites the then generally accepted claim that the Apocrypha were written in Greek.
The books of the Apocrypha, while they were written in Greek or translated into Greek by Jews, first received canonical recognition from Greek-speaking Christians. The early Greek Fathers acknowledged in theory that these books were not on the same canonical level as the books in the Hebrew Bible, but in practice they made little distinction between the two classes. (Bruce 2008)
Gerhard’s third argument is from the subject matter of the Apocrypha, which he claims is different than that of the Protestant Old Testament.
Every canonical book of the Old Testament contains prophecies about Christ, promised in the Old Testament but revealed in the New.
Those controversial books do not contain prophecies about Christ.
Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.]
With all due respect to Johann Gerhard, but this claim is nonsense, as can be demonstrated by the following list:
Mat 2:16 – Herod’s decree of slaying innocent children was prophesied in Wis. 11:7 – slaying the holy innocents.
Mat 6:19-20 – Jesus’ statement about laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven follows Sirach 29:11 – lay up your treasure.
Mat 7:12 – Jesus’ golden rule “do unto others” is the converse of Tobit 4:15 – what you hate, do not do to others.
Mat 7:16, 20 – Jesus’ statement “you will know them by their fruits” follows Sirach 27:6 – the fruit discloses the cultivation.
Mat 9:36 – the people were “like sheep without a shepherd” is same as Judith 11:19 – sheep without a shepherd.
Mat 11:25 – Jesus’ description “Lord of heaven and earth” is the same as Tobit 7:18 – Lord of heaven and earth.
Mat 12:42 – Jesus refers to the wisdom of Solomon which was recorded and made part of the so-called deuterocanonical or apocryphal books.
Mat 16:18 – Jesus’ reference to the “power of death” and “gates of Hades” references Wisdom 16:13.
Mat 22:25; Mar 12:20; Luk 20:29 – Gospel writers refer to the canonicity of Tobit 3:8 and 7:11 regarding the seven brothers.
Mat 24:15 – the “desolating sacrilege” Jesus refers to is also taken from 1 Macc. 1:54 and 2 Macc. 8:17.
Mat 24:16 – let those “flee to the mountains” is taken from 1 Macc. 2:28.
Mat 27:43 – if He is God’s Son, let God deliver him from His adversaries follows Wisdom 2:18.
Mar 4:5, 16-17 – Jesus’ description of seeds falling on rocky ground and having no root follows Sirach 40:15.
Mar 9:48 – description of hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched references Judith 16:17.
Luk 1:42 – Elizabeth’s declaration of Mary’s blessedness above all women follows Uzziah’s declaration in Judith 13:18.
Luk 1:52 – Mary’s Magnificat addressing the mighty falling from their thrones and replaced by lowly follows Sirach 10:14.
Luk 2:29 – Simeon’s declaration that he is ready to die after seeing the Child Jesus follows Tobit 11:9.
Luk 13:29 – the Lord’s description of men coming from east and west to rejoice in God follows Baruch 4:37.
Luk 21:24 – Jesus’ usage of “fall by the edge of the sword” follows Sirach 28:18.
Luk 24:4 and Acts 1:10 – Luke’s description of the two men in dazzling apparel reminds us of 2 Macc. 3:26.
Joh 1:3 – all things were made through Him, the Word, follows Wisdom 9:1.
Joh 3:13 – who has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven references Baruch 3:29.
Joh 4:48; Acts 5:12; 15:12; 2 Cor. 12:12 – Jesus’, Luke’s and Paul’s usage of “signs and wonders” follows Wisdom 8:8.
Joh 5:18 – Jesus claiming that God is His Father follows Wisdom 2:16.
Joh 6:35-59 – Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse is foreshadowed in Sirach 24:21.
Joh 10:22 – the identification of the feast of the dedication is taken from 1 Macc. 4:59.
Joh 15:6 – branches that don’t bear fruit and are cut down follows Wis. 4:5 where branches are broken off.
Acts 1:15 – Luke’s reference to the 120 may be a reference to 1 Macc. 3:55 – leaders of tens / restoration of the twelve.
Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6 – Peter’s and Paul’s statement that God shows no partiality references Sirach 35:12.
Acts 17:29 – description of false gods as like gold and silver made by men follows Wisdom 13:10.
Rom 1:18-25 – Paul’s teaching on the knowledge of the Creator and the ignorance and sin of idolatry follows Wis. 13:1-10.
Rom 1:20 – specifically, God’s existence being evident in nature follows Wis. 13:1.
Rom 1:23 – the sin of worshipping mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles follows Wis. 11:15; 12:24-27; 13:10; 14:8; 15:7.
Rom 1:24-27 – this idolatry results in all kinds of sexual perversion which follows Wis. 14:12, 24-27.
Rom 4:17 – Abraham is a father of many nations follows Sirach 44:19.
Rom 5:12 – description of death and sin entering into the world is similar to Wisdom 2:24.
Rom 9:21 – usage of the potter and the clay, making two kinds of vessels follows Wisdom 15:7. (The image of the potter is also used in Jeremiah 18:4, but not with the idea of a vessel of honor and a vessel of dishonor.)
1 Cor 2:16 – Paul’s question, “who has known the mind of the Lord?” references Wisdom 9:13.
1 Cor 6:12-13; 10:23-26 – warning that, while all things are good, beware of gluttony, follows Sirach 36:18 and 37:28-30.
1 Cor 8:5-6 – Paul acknowledging many “gods” but one Lord follows Wis. 13:3.
1 Cor 10:1 – Paul’s description of our fathers being under the cloud passing through the sea refers to Wisdom 19:7.
1 Cor 10:20 – what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God refers to Baruch 4:7.
1 Cor 15:29 – if no expectation of resurrection, it would be foolish to be baptized on their behalf follows 2 Macc. 12:43-45.
Eph 1:17 – Paul’s prayer for a “spirit of wisdom” follows the prayer for the spirit of wisdom in Wisdom 7:7.
Eph 6:14 – Paul describing the breastplate of righteousness is the same as Wis. 5:18. See also Isaiah 59:17 and 1Thess. 5:8.
Eph 6:13-17 – in fact, the whole discussion of armor, helmet, breastplate, sword, shield follows Wis. 5:17-20.
1 Tim 6:15 – Paul’s description of God as Sovereign and King of kings is from 2 Macc. 12:15; 13:4.
2 Tim 4:8 – Paul’s description of a crown of righteousness is similar to Wisdom 5:16.
Heb 4:12 – Paul’s description of God’s word as a sword is similar to Wisdom 18:15.
Heb 11:5 – Enoch being taken up is also referenced in Wis 4:10 and Sir 44:16. See also 2 Kings 2:1-13 & Sir 48:9 regarding Elijah.
Heb 11:35 – The author teaches about the martyrdom of the mother and her sons described in 2 Macc. 6:18, 7:1-42.
Heb 12:12 – the description “drooping hands” and “weak knees” comes from Sirach 25:23.
Jam 1:19 – let every man be quick to hear and slow to respond follows Sirach 5:11.
Jam 2:23 – it was reckoned to him as righteousness follows 1 Macc. 2:52 – it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Jam 3:13 – James’ instruction to perform works in meekness follows Sirach 3:17.
Jam 5:3 – describing silver which rusts and laying up treasure follows Sirach 29:10-11.
Jam 5:6 – condemning and killing the “righteous man” follows Wisdom 2:10-20.
1 Pet 1:6-7 – Peter teaches about testing faith by purgatorial fire as described in Wisdom 3:5-6 and Sirach 2:5.
1 Pet 1:17 – God judging each one according to his deeds refers to Sirach 16:12 – God judges man according to his deeds.
2 Pet 2:7 – God’s rescue of a righteous man (Lot) is also described in Wisdom 10:6.
Rev 1:4; 8:3-4 – Discussion of the seven spirits and the prayers ascending as incense before the throne of God, also described in Tobit 12:15.
Rev 1:18; Mat 16:18 – power of life over death and gates of Hades follows Wis. 16:13.
Rev 2:12 – reference to the two-edged sword is similar to the description of God’s Word in Wisdom 18:16.
Rev 5:7 – God is described as seated on His throne, and this is the same description used in Sirach 1:8.
Rev 8:3-4 – prayers of the saints presented to God by the hand of an angel follows Tobit 12:12,15.
Rev 8:7 – raining of hail and fire to the earth follows Wisdom 16:22 and Sirach 39:29.
Rev 9:3 – raining of locusts on the earth follows Wisdom 16:9.
Rev 11:19 – the vision of the ark of the covenant (Mary) in a cloud of glory was prophesied in 2 Macc. 2:7.
Rev 17:14 – description of God as King of kings follows 2 Macc. 13:4.
Rev 19:1 – the cry “Hallelujah” at the coming of the new Jerusalem follows Tobit 13:18.
Rev 19:11 – the description of the Lord on a white horse in the heavens follows 2 Macc. 3:25; 11:8.
Rev 19:16 – description of our Lord as King of kings is taken from 2 Macc. 13:4.
Rev 21:19 – the description of the new Jerusalem filled with precious stones is prophesied in Tobit 13:17.
Gerhard’s fourth argument is that the Apocryphal books do not have the witness of the Israelitic Church (by which he means the Jewish people.)
The canonical books of the Old Testament have the witness of the Israelitic church.
Those controversial books lack the witness of the Israelitic Church.
Ergo. [The controversial books are not canonical.]
We learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was quite fluid in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. (Tigchelaar 2009) Judaism is now understood to have been more accepting of a diverse canon of the Hebrew Scriptures in the time of Christ than it was to become after the Masoretes completed their work.
The Samaritans held that only the five books of Moses were scripture, although their version of the first five books of Moses were slightly different. The Samaritan Pentateuch is a more ancient form of the Torah than the Masoretic text, but also agrees more closely with the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Lieber 2013)
It has been widely (although not universally) understood that the Sadducees considered only the first five books of Moses to be scripture. This view was prevalent among some of the church fathers, but modern scholars think the fathers were conflating the Samaritans and the Sadducees. If the latest scholarship is correct, the canon for both the Sadducees and Pharisees covered what we know today as the Hebrew Scriptures, aka. the Old Testament. By contrast, the Jewish Diaspora, sometimes called the Hellenists, used the Septuagint (LXX) in their synagogues. The canon of the LXX was itself quite fluid, containing numerous books written after the time of Ezra.
Whoever deposited the Dead Sea Scrolls (popularly identified as the Essenes), appears to have used the Septuagint canon, with the possible exception of the book of Esther. The Essenes, who supposedly hid the Dead Sea Scrolls, disappeared following the destruction of Israel in A.D. 70. Likewise the Sadducees, being the party of the temple, disappeared following the destruction of the temple. The only Jewish sects to survive? The Pharisees and the Samaritans, of which only the Pharisees were active among the Jewish Diaspora. Historical evidence suggests the Jews and the Christians each made their own determination as to what was in the canon of scripture. Moreover, it has been suggested that the Hebrew canon was restricted in an attempt to remove support for the Messiahship of Jesus. This process seems to have begun with the school of Jewish law founded by Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai in the city of Jamnia. Late 19th to mid-20th biblical scholarship suggested the existence of a Council of Jamnia which decided on a definitive Jewish canon. F.F. Bruce describes their work as follows:
After the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. a new Sanhedrin or council of elders, consisting of Jewish scholars, was constituted at Jamnia in Western Palestine. They reviewed the whole field of Jewish religion and law, and held long discussions on the scope of the Canon of Hebrew Scripture. They debated whether certain books should not be excluded, and whether certain others should not he admitted: but in the end they did not exclude any book which already enjoyed canonical recognition, nor did they admit any book which had not previously received such recognition. (Bruce 2008)
Although F.F. Bruce describes the makeup and work of the Council of Jamnia, it is no longer certain that such a council took place. Moreover, if it took place, the council actually met to look into other matters entirely. We do know that alterations of the text of the Hebrew Scriptures were underway by the time of Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165 AD). From this it is clear that the Christians used the Septuagint as their canon of scripture, while the Jews gradually settled on a more restricted canon.
Gerhard goes on to provide a variety of proofs for his position, all of which are meaningless in the face of what we now know to be true about the state of the Jewish canon during the time of Christ.
Gerhard’s fifth argument is that the Apocrypha are not supported as Scripture by the primitive Christian Church.
Books that are truly canonical have the supporting testimony of the primitive Christian Church.
Those controversial books lack the unanimous witness of the primitive church.
Therefore they are not canonical.
It is perhaps unfair to pile on this way, but when a luminary such as Gerhard makes such a bold and unsupported statement, it needs to be refuted. Henceforth, a list of statements regarding the Apocrypha from the Primitive Church through the Post-Nicene era.
The Didache (ca. 50-70 A.D.)
“You shall not waver with regard to your decisions [Sir. 1:28]. Do not be someone who stretches out his hands to receive but withdraws them when it comes to giving [Sir. 4:31]” (Didache 4:5).
The Letter of Barnabas (ca. 74 A.D.)
“Since, therefore, [Christ] was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, his suffering was foreshown. For the prophet speaks against evil, ‘Woe to their soul, because they have counseled an evil counsel against themselves’ [Is. 3:9], saying, ‘Let us bind the righteous man because he is displeasing to us’ [Wis. 2:12.]” (Letter of Barnabas 6:7).
Clement of Rome (ca. 80 A.D.)
“By the word of his might [God] established all things, and by his word he can overthrow them. ‘Who shall say to him, “What have you done?” or who shall resist the power of his strength?’ [Wis. 12:12]” (Letter to the Corinthians 27:5).
Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 135 A.D.)
“Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood [1 Pet. 2:17].
. . . When you can do good, defer it not, because ‘alms delivers from death’ [Tob. 4:10, 12:9]. Be all of you subject to one another [1 Pet. 5:5], having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles [1 Pet. 2:12], and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed [Is. 52:5]!” (Letter to the Philadelphians 10).
Irenaeus (ca. 189 A.D.)
“Those . . . who are believed to be presbyters by many, but serve their own lusts and do not place the fear of God supreme in their hearts, but conduct themselves with contempt toward others and are puffed up with the pride of holding the chief seat [Mat 23:6] and work evil deeds in secret, saying ‘No man sees us,’ shall be convicted by the Word, who does not judge after outward appearance, nor looks upon the countenance, but the heart; and they shall hear those words to be found in Daniel the prophet: ‘O you seed of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust perverted your heart’ [Dan. 13:56]. You that have grown old in wicked days, now your sins which you have committed before have come to light, for you have pronounced false judgments and have been accustomed to condemn the innocent and to let the guilty go free, although the Lord says, ‘You shall not slay the innocent and the righteous’ [Dan. 13:52, citing Ex. 23:7]” (Against Heresies 4:26:3; Daniel 13 is not in the Protestant Bible).
“Jeremiah the prophet has pointed out that as many believers as God has prepared for this purpose, to multiply those left on the earth, should both be under the rule of the saints and to minister to this [new] Jerusalem and that [his] kingdom shall be in it, saying, ‘Look around Jerusalem toward the east and behold the joy which comes to you from God himself. Behold, your sons whom you have sent forth shall come: They shall come in a band from the east to the west. . . . God shall go before with you in the light of his splendor, with the mercy and righteousness which proceed from him’ [Bar. 4:36—5:9]” (ibid., 5:35:1; Baruch was often considered part of Jeremiah, as it is here).
Hippolytus (ca. 204 A.D.)
“What is narrated here [in the story of Susannah] happened at a later time, although it is placed at the front of the book [of Daniel], for it was a custom with the writers to narrate many things in an inverted order in their writings. . . . [W]e ought to give heed, beloved, fearing lest anyone be overtaken in any transgression and risk the loss of his soul, knowing as we do that God is the judge of all and the Word himself is the eye which nothing that is done in the world escapes. Therefore, always watchful in heart and pure in life, let us imitate Susannah” (Commentary on Daniel; the story of Susannah [Dan. 13] is not in the Protestant Bible).
Cyprian of Carthage (ca.248, 253 A.D.)
“In Genesis [it says], ‘And God tested Abraham and said to him, “Take your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the high land and offer him there as a burnt offering . . .”’ [Gen. 22:1–2]. . . . Of this same thing in the Wisdom of Solomon [it says], ‘Although in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality . . .’ [Wis. 3:4]. Of this same thing in the Maccabees [it says], ‘Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness’ [1 Macc. 2:52; see Jas. 2:21–23]” (Treatises 7:3:15).
“So Daniel, too, when he was required to worship the idol Bel, which the people and the king then worshipped, in asserting the honor of his God, broke forth with full faith and freedom, saying, ‘I worship nothing but the Lord my God, who created the heaven and the earth’ [Dan. 14:5]” (Letters 55:5; Daniel 14 is not in the Protestant Bible).
Council of Rome (ca. 382 A.D.)
“Now indeed we must treat of the divine scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis, one book; Exodus, one book; Leviticus, one book; Numbers, one book; Deuteronomy, one book; Joshua [Son of] Nave, one book; Judges, one book; Ruth, one book; Kings, four books [that is, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings]; Paralipomenon [Chronicles], two books; Psalms, one book; Solomon, three books: Proverbs, one book, Ecclesiastes, one book, [and] Canticle of Canticles [Song of Songs], one book; likewise Wisdom, one book; Ecclesiasticus [Sirach], one book . . . . Likewise the order of the historical [books]: Job, one book; Tobit, one book; Esdras, two books [Ezra and Nehemiah]; Esther, one book; Judith, one book; Maccabees, two books” (Decree of Pope Damasus).
Council of Hippo (ca. 393 A.D.)
“[It has been decided] that besides the canonical scriptures nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical scriptures are
as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the Son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books, the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and a portion of the Psalms], the twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books . . .” (Canon 36).
Council of Carthage III (ca. 397 A.D.)
“[It has been decided] that nothing except the canonical scriptures should be read in the Church under the name of the divine scriptures. But the canonical scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon, two books, Job, the Psalter of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees . . .” (Canon 47).
Augustine (ca. 397, 421 A.D.)
“The whole canon of the scriptures, however, in which we say that consideration is to be applied, is contained in these books: the five of Moses . . . and one book of Joshua [Son of] Nave, one of Judges; one little book which is called Ruth . . . then the four of Kingdoms, and the two of Paralipomenon . . . . [T]here are also others too, of a different order . . . such as Job and Tobit and Esther and Judith and the two books of Maccabees, and the two of Esdras . . . . Then there are the prophets, in which there is one book of the Psalms of David, and three of Solomon. . . . But as to those two books, one of which is entitled Wisdom and the other of which is entitled Ecclesiasticus and which are called ‘of Solomon’ because of a certain similarity to his books, it is held most certainly that they were written by Jesus Sirach. They must, however, be accounted among the prophetic books, because of the authority which is deservedly accredited to them” (Christian Instruction 2:8:13).
“We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc. 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings, the authority of the Catholic Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at his altar the commendation of the dead has its place” (The Care to be Had for the Dead 1:3).
The Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 400 A.D.)
“Now women also prophesied. Of old, Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron [Ex. 15:20], and after her, Deborah [Judges. 4:4], and after these Huldah [2 Kgs. 22:14] and Judith [Judith 8], the former under Josiah and the latter under Darius” (Apostolic Constitutions 8:2).
Jerome (ca. 401 A.D.)
“What sin have I committed if I follow the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating [in my preface to the book of Daniel] the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the story of Susannah [Dan. 13], the Song of the Three Children [Dan. 3:29–68, RSV-CE], and the story of Bel and the Dragon [Dan. 14], which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they are wont to make against us. If I did not reply to their views in my preface, in the interest of brevity, lest it seem that I was composing not a preface, but a book, I believe I added promptly the remark, for I said, ‘This is not the time to discuss such matters’” (Against Rufinius 11:33).
Pope Innocent I (ca. 408 A.D.)
“A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the things of which you desired to be informed verbally: of Moses, five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Joshua, of Judges, one book, of Kings, four books, and also Ruth, of the prophets, sixteen books, of Solomon, five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job, one book, of Tobit, one book, Esther, one, Judith, one, of the Maccabees, two, of Esdras, two, Paralipomenon, two books . . .” (Letters 7).
A Final Word
I don’t want to pile onto Johann Gerhard, as he was arguing from the knowledge that was available at that time, and in support of a Lutheran orthodoxy in which the canonical issues had been settled. Yet it is remarkable how current Gerhard’s arguments are, despite all the knowledge that has accumulated since his time. Evangelical bible scholars, with all the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls right in front of them, behave like the old comedy trope of the policeman standing in front of some remarkable carnage, yet announcing to the assembled crowd: “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.”
Bruce, F. F. “The Canon of Scripture.” BiblicalStudies.org.uk. Edited by Robert I Bradshaw. Religious & Theological Students Fellowship. March 2008. http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/canon_bruce.pdf (accessed January 4, 2014).
Gerhard, Johann. On the Nature of Theology and Scripture. Translated by Richard J. Dinda. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006.
Lieber, Chavie. “The Other Torah.” Tablet Magazine. May 14, 2013. http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/132004/the-other-torah (accessed December 27, 2013).
Tigchelaar, Eiber. “How did the Qumran Scrolls Transform our Views of the Canonical Process?” Lirias: Home Lirias. 2009. https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/253557/3/tigchelaar-canon.doc (accessed January 02, 2014).
 This argument does not appear to be widespread among Protestants; at least I can find no independent verification of it.
 Ross, Allen. The Sadducees. 2006. https://bible.org/seriespage/sadducees
 The primary difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was not the canon itself, but the use to which they put the canon. The Sadducees were strict literalists; it if couldn’t be found in scripture, it wasn’t part of Judaism. By contrast, the Pharisees had a body of tradition which served to enhance or interpret scripture; some of these regulations were extra-scriptural, in that they could not be traced back to scriptural texts. For this reason, the Sadducees rejected the traditions and regulations of the Pharisees. (Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple. IVP Academic. 2002. pp. 109-111)
 For example, Baruch 3 can be interpreted as supporting the identification of Wisdom with Christ, especially as regards the Incarnation.
 Justin Martyr argues forcefully that the Jews artificially truncated their canon of Scripture to eliminate passages that demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah. (P. Schaff, ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus 1884, Chapters LXXI and LXXII)