Friday, December 9, 2016

Reformation Canon

Another post in my series reviewing the recent issue of The Bible Translator. For previous posts in the series, see here.

Today's article:

Marijke H. de Lang, “The Reformation Canon and the Development of Biblical Scholarship,” The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 184–201.

This article begins promisingly when the author states that the canon was not a contentious issue between Protestants and Catholics in the early years of the Reformation, because the issue was debated more generally.

But the article is not quite right when it says that Jerome’s promotion of the Hebrew canon was “contrary to what had been done before him in the Latin-speaking world” (p. 185). Actually, there was disagreement in the Latin-speaking world at the time. While the Mommsen Catalogue, the Breviarium Hipponense, Augustine, and others affirmed the wider canon, the narrower canon was affirmed by Hilary of Poitiers and Rufinus of Aquileia, along with Jerome. Yes, all these latter were more heavily influenced by the East than were the former, but the lack of uniformity in the West suggests that Jerome did not see himself as overturning church tradition, but rather calling the church back to its tradition. (As did Augustine, I'm sure. They just disagreed on what that tradition was, or, perhaps better, they disagreed on which parts of the tradition to emphasize.) 

I also don’t think it is correct to say that Jerome “regarded [the minor Catholic Episltes = not 1 John or 1 Peter] as less authoritative than other New Testament books” (p. 186). He did note doubts about them, but he seems to regard each of them as fully canonical. They all appear in his Epist. 53.9.

Also: “The canon of the Vetus Latina, which reflected the canon of the LXX…” (p. 186). There was no such thing as “the canon of the Vetus Latina” or “the canon of the LXX”. It’s a scholarly figment, but one that is very widespread. And the author knows it (195n24).

We get back on the right track when we learn that at the time of the Reformation, “the Catholic Church was divided over the issue of the canon” (p. 186), with examples from Erasmus, Cajetan, and the disagreements among the delegates at Trent (much like Kerber’s article).

Then we get to Luther (pp. 187–88), and again there is caricature. His treatment of the deuterocanonical books was different from his treatment of other books that he did not like: Esther, James, etc.

Subsequent Protestants more firmly rejected the deuterocanonicals, omitting them from the Bible and forbidding them to be read in church.

A section on the humanistic principle ad fontes, with discussion of Erasmus and Reuchlin.

I think the article is exactly correct when it says: “The decisions of Trent intensified the antagonism between the Catholic Church and Protestantism” (p. 193).

The author then explores some consequences, but she confuses issues of text and canon. Saying that Paul quoted the LXX (text) does not mean that he accepted the LXX canon (which, as I noted earlier, did not exist). Certainly the deuterocanonical books should be used, where appropriate, for the explanation of the NT, as the author suggests (p. 196), but this is not really an issue of canon, and, again, the author seems to admit the fact, since there is likewise the suggestion that other Hellenistic Jewish literature should also contribute toward NT interpretation. 

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