Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus And A Call For An Expanded Canon

Here's a site that is pure greatness.
The University of Leipzig library is in the process of putting the entire Codex Sinaiticus online.

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.

Wikipedia (which had the most concise explanation of the book's present locations) states that The codex is now split into four unequal portions: 347 leaves in the British Library in London, 12 leaves and 14 fragments in St. Catherine's Monastery of Sinai, 43 leaves in the Leipzig University Library, and fragments of 3 leaves in the Russian National Library in Saint Petersburg. Anyone wanting to research the book until now had to cash in a lot of air miles and call in all sorts of political favors. In other words, it couldn't be done.

I've pulled up a random section from the text, just to show how it works (you can't download pics at this point, or I would post one). Hit this link to see a section from The Book Of Tobit.

Wait a minute, say all the Protestants.... my Bible doesn't have a book of Tobit.

Well, this one did. So did the original Geneva bibles, and the original King James versions. According to my friend J.C., at his Moderate Episcopalian blog, the Codex Sinaiticus also contains books called The Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas.

Here's a good online explanation of why these books, known as The Apocrypha, aren't in Protestant bibles. In short, they weren't fully accepted in the Jewish Canon, Jesus didn't refer to them, there aren't many references to these books in the rest of the New Testament books, many of the Early Church Fathers rejected them, they fail something called "tests of propheticity", and they've got some downright impossibilites in them.

But wait a minute, wait a minute..... Here's a Roman Catholic site that asks some difficult questions of Protestants (I'm a Protestant, BTW. Grew up Southern Baptist, and am now a Borgian Baptist).
Saint Augustine thought these books were inspired, and so did many of the early popes.
So did The Council Of Hippo, the first Christian group to sit down and vote on what is and isn't scripture.
Here's a listing of which Apocryphal books are included in the oldest Christian manuscripts. Here's a chart of which Christian denominations have these books in their bibles.
Here's the same thing in a different format.
And this guy has a listing of all the New Testament verses that reference the Apocrypha ! ! ! Some of these verses were statements made by Jesus.

People are starting to think we made a mistake somewhere.

But let's assume that Martin Luther was truly inspired when he didn't include The Apocrypha in the earliest Protestant bibles, just like he was inspired when he began the Protestant Reformation. The problem here is that Luther had a very low view of the book of Hebrews, and the books of James, Jude, and Revelation. He put a special preface in his first german bibles which explained his concerns about these books, pointing out their inferiority to the rest of scripture.

This statement is from The Bible Researcher:

Luther's criticism of these books will perhaps be found disgraceful and even shocking to modern Christians, but it should be pointed out that his attitude was not so shocking in the context of the late Middle Ages. Erasmus had also called into question these four books in the Annotationes to his 1516 Greek New Testament, and their canonicity was doubted by the Roman Catholic Cardinal Cajetan (Luther's opponent at Augsburg. See Reu, Luther's German Bible, pp. 175-176).
The sad fact is, the Roman Catholic Church had never precisely drawn the boundaries of the biblical canon. It was not necessary to do so under the Roman system, in which the authority of the Scriptures was not much higher than that of tradition, popes, and councils. It was not until the Protestant Reformers began to insist upon the supreme authority of Scripture alone that a decision on the 'disputed books' became necessary.
If Luther's negative view of these books were based only upon the fact that their canonicity was disputed in early times, we would have expected him to include 2 Peter among them, because this epistle was doubted more than any other in ancient times. But it is evident from the prefaces that Luther affixed to these four books that his low view of them had more to do with his theological reservations against them than with any historical investigation of the canon.

And then there are the dozens and dozens of Gnostic Gospels and other books that never made the cut due to political reasons. It makes your head hurt after a while.

So the Catholics value tradition, and the Protestants value scripture.

How do we Protestants know what is and what isn't scripture?

Catholic tradition.

What about the rest of it?

Protestant tradition.

What if the traditions are in error? Where does that leave all my frequent Anonymous Commenters and emailers who have condemned my support of The Jesus Seminar? (They're a group of Bible scholars similar to The Council of Hippo. They try to determine what is and what isn't authentic by....unhh....voting.)

If we were to open the Biblical Canon for new entries, what should be included? "Dark Night Of The Soul" by Saint John of The Cross? MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech? Mark Twain's classic "On Smells"? One of Ronald Reagan's "Morning In America" TV ads? "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards? Christopher Moore's "Invocation" at the beginning of his novel "Lamb"?

Please advise.


Francis Shivone said...

Very interesting -- I had not heard of this and look forward to checking it out.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I was hoping you would check in on this, since you're sort of our go-to guy for all things regarding The Mother Church. Especially the liturgical calendar

West, By God said...

"they weren't fully accepted in the Jewish Canon" -- true, but they were indeed alluded to in the New Testament in many places. The Orthodox tradition has included (roughly) what the protestants refer to as the "apocrypha" since they were part of the Septuagint, which was the tome of Jewish scripture in use at the time of Jesus. Orthodoxy doesn't see these books as "doctrine" so much as material for personal edification, however they are referred to in the "normal" canonical list of books as well as certain Orthodox services.

What's funny is, most Orthodox churches in America use KJV bibles. This is because until rather recently, there wasn't really a good translation of the complete apocrypha in English. Sure, it had been translated on other occasions, but not according to the traditions of the Orthodox church.

In total, the Orthodox Old Testament has 49 books, whereas the Catholics only include 46, and of course the Protestants only read 39. Nothing in the "hidden" books really changes doctrine, but it does add a lot to the theme of "wisdom", and reinforces the understood morality law of the Jews. Plus, there are also some downright riveting stories! Personally, I can't imagine why the Protestants left out wonderful stories such as Bel and the Dragon (from Daniel.)

Regardless of your views on whether or not these books constitute Christian (or Jewish) doctrine, nobody disagrees that they are worth reading.

Regarding the "gnostic gospels", you say they weren't included for "policital reasons". I tend to disagree with that assumption. I don't think they made it into the bible because they did not sync up with Orthodox Christian faith, which hasn't really changed since everyone got together in the fourth century and agreed on what it was. A lot of people say the gnostic gospels ought to be included in scripture because they are provable from the correct time period, and even written by "followers" of Jesus... However, just because it was written a long time ago doesn't make it canon. It just reflects what the author, and perhaps a small group of followers believed.

"If we were to open the Biblical Canon for new entries, what should be included?" You make a good point here. That is why Orthodox canon (on which Catholic and therefore Protestant canon is based) can only be authoritatively modified by an ecumenical council...

West, By God said...

Regarding "The Jesus Seminar"... I know nothing about it, but briefly glancing over their site, it seems it began in Berkeley California. That's reason enough to be dubious, IMHO :)

Anonymous said...

WS, I think you and I would agree that Borg should make the list of "neo-canonical" books! Hope all is well in WS land!

Anonymous said...

Now to West's point: he said "I don't think they made it into the bible because they did not sync up with Orthodox Christian faith, which hasn't really changed since everyone got together in the fourth century and agreed on what it was. A lot of people say the gnostic gospels ought to be included in scripture because they are provable from the correct time period, and even written by "followers" of Jesus... However, just because it was written a long time ago doesn't make it canon. It just reflects what the author, and perhaps a small group of followers believed."

Now West, surely you know that politics and religion were not separated in the first century Mediterranean world like they are (supposed to be) in ours.

Furthermore, even by the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, church politics had begun as Christ-followers were beginning to distinguish themselves from their Jewish cousins. As they did this, they needed to decide what "normative" Christianity was going to look like. Hence, heresology and church councils. The canon of the NT was not developed in a vacuum void of church politics.

West, By God said...

I agree that nothing anywhere on earth is ever devoid of politics. The schism between Orthodoxy and Papism was all politics (and a pushy pope.) The reformation was all politics (and some pushy pope-haters.) The fathers of the church, politicians though they may have been, were also great theologians. The decisions of the ecumenical councils (especially in Nicea, when the creed was adopted) were based on prayer for guidance and on logical debate... They weren't saying, "We don't like Judas's gospel, or anything that crazy bint from Magdala said, so we'll just stick with Mark, Mathew, Luke and John... because ya know, they sound more gospelly."

The fact is, early Christians were constantly being pulled in different directions by various politically-motivated religious leaders, many of whom had a very poor understanding of theology and the true teachings of Christ. You can argue that it was politics that drove the church fathers to stamp out heresy, or you can accept that it was necessary for them to do so to maintain the unity of the true church. I would argue that the early councils were less about politicizing Christianity, and more about eliminating the political aspects that were dividing the church.

Anonymous said...

I think Walter Baur has once for all proven that there was never any such "unified early church." From the earliest period, there were various ways of understanding who Jesus was and what it meant to follow. As "orthodoxy" developed, they began to label the others as heretics. Again, the struggle was for defining "normative" Christianity.

"you can accept that it was necessary for them to do so to maintain the unity of the true church." Very few serious NT scholars accept this view. I happen to be one who does not.

Francis Shivone said...

Allen -- I will be talking to guys who actually know this stuff besides doing my own investigations. Thanks.

Just noticed all the other comments.

I'm going to have to jump in on this one.

West, By God said...

Depends what you mean by "unified early church"... There will always be schismatics in any religious organization... so "100% unified" is absolutely and necessarily impossible. When I say "unified", keep in mind that I don't mean everyone agreed on everything. In fact, within today's Orthodox church, everyone doesn't agree on everything... nor are they required to. I never said _everyone_ had to be in agreement to have a unified church. The Orthodox church is unified because of a shared faith.

However, when there is a major difference in belief, it is appropriate to address that belief via a synod or ecumenical council. Orthodoxy allows for this. Catholicism, which is "ruled" by the Pope did not and does not (without the Pope's say-so.) Protestantism allows for it, but lends itself more to further schism.

jc - Not to start even more of a digression within this thread, but what exactly is a "serious NT scholar"? Was St. Augustine a "serious NT scholar"? How about St. Gregory the Theologian? John Wesley?

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

Yes, i have neither the time nor the desire to trail off in an endless discussion.

By serious NT scholars, i mean those who take seriously the academic work that has been done. I know that you know there are many so-called scholars who have very little scholarly evidence to base their opinions on.

The theologians you listed were clearly in the pre-critical days of the church. While their writings are valuable, i would say they fail to live up to the standard scholarly approach to the biblical material.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the line of scholars that i come from, from my doctoral advisor back runs through Helmut Koester, Rudolf Bultmann and Hermann Gunkel.

West, By God said...

All protestants? Does the "standard scholarly approach to the biblical material" require that your sources be from protestant theologians? Not that I necessarily have a problem with that, because there have been plenty of brilliant modern protestant theologians... but you've got me wondering about something else now.

Do you think a traditional "scholarly" approach (aka, something peer-reviewed, out of academia) will bring you greater understanding of Holy Scripture than, say, prayer and meditation? I'm not saying the two are mutually exclusive of course. I'm just wondering if you believe it is actually possible to come to a meaningful understanding of the Bible without belief and prayer?

Once again, I apologize for the tangent, and if you want you can feel free to ignore me, or take this discussion elsewhere (email perhaps.)

Anonymous said...

No, not all protestants. My doctoral adviser is Catholic.

Yes, i do believe that. The academic study of the bible is not the same as devotional reading.

I'm out. I gotta get back to writing.

Anonymous said...

See what you started Allen!!!


West, By God said...

jc - Know that I meant no disrespect when I asked that question. This is mostly just a thought exercise for me. As I said before, if my continual ranting is unwanted, by all means tell me and I will desist.
As you said, academic study of the bible is not the same as devotional reading... but must the two be so distinctly separate? The bible is nothing more than an old dusty history book if you look at it from a purely academic standpoint. On the other hand, reading it without historic context would border on useless. At the very least, in that case any "scholarly" discussion would treat it solely as a work of literature.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Dang! There's some deep theological poop slinging... I just thought WS wanted snarky comments on our ideas for "The New and Expanded Bible v. 6.1."

My thoughts: "The DaVinci Code" Chapter 55. Also, "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by Rev. David Sedaris. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by St. Hunter of Thompson.

I'd probably leave out the gnostic Gospel According to Thomas. Have you read that? Nothing political there. Jesus was just a hellraiser of a young brat vs. the image of him as a hell eliminator in the other texts. In "Thomas", a young punk Jesus keeps killing folks by waving his hand... kids, parents, teachers. But, he'd usually raise them back after he cooled down.

One of his teachers almost got the final smack down for not being able to explain why the Greek alphabet was in the order it was. The theme of Thomas? "Don't jack with Jesus!! He'll mess you up!"

Francis Shivone said...

First -- I've had to reread the post a couple times, I enjoyed it so much. Okay, until you went off the ranch with the Jesus Seminar.

Anyway, put Mozart's Requiem in the inspired works for me. I'll take it over the book of Leviticus any day. That's a joke but kind of indicative of the idea that what is "revealed" is not necessarily that which is "inspiring". They are different propositions.

The dogma of what constitutes canonical, revealed truth is difficult for people who want to understand, if you have a couple specks of cynicism in you, as most moderns do, it is a stumbling block for some.

Which gets to the reason why I am a Catholic,i.e., ultimately we must trust the testimony of someone. That and my beloved Irish grandmother would have lightening bolts strike me if I ever became a Protestant.

Now to the comments . . .

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I didn't know you were a Biblical scholar. I thought you just shot things. (I'm not being critical. I enjoy shooting at things.)
I'm usually suspicious of things coming from Berkeley, but, as the New Testament says, if something good can come out of Nazareth....

Hope all is going well for you. I only try your old cell # about twice a month. No answer

JC and WBG,
I hope you'll not follow through on the suggestion to take this discussion to emails (see the 4:06 p.m. comment from WBG).
The point of forums like this is to throw out your opinions for public consumption, and occasional harsh and savage criticism. If the discussion goes to private emails, you don't have Pete Wann (to name just one) suggesting that your arguments are based on false premises.
It just becomes a conversation between two guys who already believe 95% of the same things.
If Christian theology is going to survive this century, it'll be because theologians openly and honestly discuss their doubts, their hopes, and what they are and aren't willing to go to the wall for. Oh, and they have to do it in real language that can be understood by real people. No fair using The Language Of Zion, or academic german.
You guys are doing well so far.

So, if God wanted us to regard certain books as "inspired", how are we supposed to know which ones?

Tarrant Liberty Guy,
You have GOT to get your own blog.
And now that I think of Saint Hunter, I'd like to propose "The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved" for inclusion in the New Canon.
It's a great parable about the dangers of excess. Excess everything.

Drag some crafty old Jesuits in here, if possible.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

One other thing....
I don't know how familiar you are with the Brahms Requiem, but it'll make you throw rocks at Mozart.
Great, great music, and plus, it's....um....protestant.

West, By God said...

WS - Not a biblical scholar, but I play one on TV ;) I like playing the role of the lone Orthodox in conversations between Protestants and Catholics... mostly because I can identify with both (how the Catholics dislike what the Protestants leave out... and how the Protestants dislike the Catholics reverence for tradition.)

In fact, that's also why I'm Orthodox... Sure, like Francis I have a grandmother who would personally ask the Lord Himself to banish my soul to hell should I leave communion with my church... but I also chose the faith.

I also only suggested moving the discussion to Email in case I was annoying anyone. I dislike trolls on my own blog, and I sorta feel like I'm drive-by trolling here.

Yeah, I do like to shoot things. My favorite theological debate, actually, is convincing people why I believe lethal self defense is not contradictory to Christianity. My priest still doesn't agree with me on that one though...

Francis Shivone said...

Allen -- I've emailed a few who actually know something, unlike me who just fakes it. I've heard the Brahm's but haven't spent any time with it. I will.

Anonymous said...

In all seriousness, I have to land on keeping the canon as it is. Were there other books that some viewed as inspirted? sure. But in the end, the church, for a wide variety of reasons, selected these documents. Let's keep it that way.

WBG - I agree with you wholeheartedly. The academic study of the bible must move beyond that to some theological/practical use for Christians and Churches today. If it doesn't do that, its merely historical study. Now that is not bad, just not what i want to do!

As an academic, I tend to look at historical contexts through sociology. So i am interested in the social dynamics that are at work, say, in the biblical books, or in the pronouncement of the creeds.

WS - my cell phone has been on the fritz. Keep calling, i think its fixed now.