Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Luther and the Apocrypha Revisited


A few years back, Roman Catholic apologist Gary Michuta released Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger. One of Gary's arguments is that Luther was cornered in a debate and forced to deny the canonicity of the apocrypha (or deuterocanonicals).  The picture above is from Gary's website. I guess it's supposed to highlight Luther's change of mind on this subject.

According to Mr. Michuta, before the Leipzig disputation against Eck, Luther accepted the Deuterocanon as authoritatively canonical (p.247-248). As proof, he notes "In 1518, Luther freely quoted Sirach and Tobit against his Catholic detractors; but by the following year, Luther's view of the Deuterocanon had taken a decidedly negative turn" (p. 248). The event of the following year provoking Luther's change was the Leipzig disputation. During the Leipzig Disputation, Eck cornered Luther by forcing him to deny the canonicty of 2 Maccabees. "Eck appealed to 2 Maccabees 12:46 as a clear and incontestable proof from Scripture that Purgatory exists" (p.249). He then quotes Luther responding "There is no proof of Purgatory in any portion of sacred Scripture, for the book of Maccabees not being in the Canon, is of weight with the faithful, but avails nothing with the obstinate" (249). Michuta concludes, "Like the Marcionites, Ebionities, and Gnostics before him, Luther's theological convictions determined what constituted the canonical Scriptures. Consequently, Maccabees could never be allowed full canonical authority because it contradicts Luther's theology" (p. 252). Luther simply pulled out Jerome's appeal to the smaller rabbinical Jewish canon in order to deny Purgatory. Reading between the lines, Michuta is arguing Luther is fundamentally dishonest and simply changed to the smaller canon to just pick and choose his theology.

I went through this argument in a previous blog entry. There I pointed out Luther was heavily schooled with the Glossa ordinaria. When commenting on the apocryphal books, this work prefixes this introduction to them: Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon' and so forth for Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc. The schooling Luther received informed his opinion on the canon. Even the Occamist influence in Luther's life would have probably informed him similarly. Michuta himself notes Occam held to the allowance of reading the apocrypha, but that the books were not canonical (p. 218).

As a follow up, I came across a few quotes about one of Luther's teachers, Jodocus Trutfetter (or Trutvetter) of Eisenach. I was correct, Luther did learn about the canon from his Nominalist teachers:
In a letter to Trutvetter Luther acknowledges that it was from him that he had first learned that the Christian faith must be based solely upon the canonical books of the Holy Scriptures and that all other writings must be critically studied (WA, Br 1, 171) [Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), p. 14]. [Reference to WA, Br 1 may be wrong]
[T]he two' men from whom Luther probably received the greater part of his theological and philosophical training, Bartholomew Arnoldi von Usingen and Jodocus Trutvetter of Eisenach, appear to have lived on friendly terms with the humanists, who were half-unconsciously their irreconcilable foes. Both were teachers in the philosophical faculty, and both, though tinged with classical learning, remained at the old standpoint of thought Usingen, perhaps the more conservative of the two, was an Augustinian, and so, after a time, brought into peculiarly close relations with Luther. His works, especially an exposition of Donatus, though written in a barbarous style, were full of illustrative quotations from Latin authors. Trutvetter best represented the orthodox speculation of the University. He was known, par excellence, as the Doctor of Erfurt. Luther calls him the first dialectician of the age. In 1507 he was invited to Wittenberg, where he taught for some years, returning to Erfurt in 1510. He was a Nominalist of the school of Occam, and at the same time a leader of the party who called themselves "moderns," in opposition to the "ancients": men, that is, who were not deterred by respect for old traditions from the attempt to improve existing textbooks and to carry forward their science into new fields of thought. His numerous works prove his acquaintance with classical, though chiefly Latin, authors, and the young humanists, with whom he lived on friendly terms, adorned them with commendatory verses. The most characteristic thing that we know of him is that he taught Luther to distinguish between the faith due to the Canonical books of Scripture and the free judgment that might be applied to others. Even so late as May 1518, some months after the publication of the Ninety five Theses, Luther writes to him in the friendliest terms, if not in the expectation of winning his support, at least hoping to disarm his opposition (De W. vol. i pp 107, 127) [source]
Jodocus Trutfetter, Luther's old professor at the University of Erfurt, heard from him, " You have been the first to teach me that we must read the canonical books with faith, all others with discernment." (Luther's letter to Trutfetter, May 9, 1518, Brief wechsel, I, No. 77, p. 187) [source]
Mr. Michuta has responded to a number of my aomin blog entries, but as far as I know, he's not written a word about any of my Luther entries that were based on his book.

The approach I take is the exact opposite of Michuta. I consider Luther fundamentally honest on this issue. He denied the authority of 2 Maccabees to establish doctrine because that was simply how he was trained as a theologian, and he followed a tradition which denied the apocrypha authority to establish doctrine. Luther in fact provides detailed opinions of the apocryphal books in his biblical prefaces. I see no reason to grant that his entire opinion suddenly shifted because of Eck at Leipzig. Luther quoted from the Deuterocanonicals throughout his entire career, in a manner consistent with the views expressed in his Biblical prefaces.

4 comments:

RCinAL said...

I feel as if saying that Luther obtained his belief about the books that are and are not canonical from his teachers is like pouring water from one leaky bucket into another leaky bucket...who has the authority to define the Canon? Someone, or something, must, because if not, then I could change the Canon on a whim of my own. Who or what has that authority?

James Swan said...

I feel as if saying that Luther obtained his belief about the books that are and are not canonical from his teachers is like pouring water from one leaky bucket into another leaky bucket

I'm not at all interested at how this particular post made you feel. This post has a particular goal: it is one of a number of posts directly responding to published argumentation by a Roman Catholic apologist. Should I have just responded over the years to this apologist by stating. "Your book made me feel like you didn't really present accurate information about Luther?" No, of course not. I interacted with his argumentation about Luther which he referred to as "bombshells". If this information makes you "feel" like your time be best used elsewhere, by all means, go elsewhere.

Typically, when a comment like yours is left, it means one cannot interact with the material, but must shift the focus in another direction, which in fact, is exactly what you then do:

...who has the authority to define the Canon? Someone, or something, must, because if not, then I could change the Canon on a whim of my own. Who or what has that authority?

First, The "canon" is God's word. The term "canon" comes from a Greek word which generally means a "measure" "rule" or "norm." So when you imply the need for some other authority to measure, rule, or norm the canon (God's word), you're asking for some other measure, rule or norm to measure rule, or norm that which is the measure, rule, or norm. There is no authority that stands above God's word to determine what is God's word.

Second, ask yourself if you actually asked a valid question particularly when it is applied to Christ, the Apostles, and the other writers of the New Testament. They had no problem citing Scripture. Not a one of them was concerned about having some sort of external authority validate which books were God's word. If your question proves itself meaningless in their context, there's a very strong probability it's meaningless in our current context.

Third, I recognize the Christian Church received the Canon. It does not though, create the Canon, or stand above the Canon. I see no reason to grant the Church infallibility in order for the Church to receive the Canon. The Church was used by God to provide a widespread knowledge of the Canon. The Holy Spirit had worked among the early Christian Church in providing them with the books of the New Testament. This same process can be seen with the Old Testament and Old Testament believers. The Old Testament believer 50 years before Christ was born had a canon of Scripture, this despite the ruling from an infallible authority.

fourth, My position is that it is God’s sovereign power and providence which protects and reveals His Word to His church, for His purposes, in the unfolding of history. Think of it this way: God has providential control over His Word, to the last detail. He is the Divine Author. As creatures we are dependent on God's purposes in giving us His inspired Scriptures. God "providentially preserves the Scriptures and leads His people to a functional sufficient knowledge of the canon so as to fulfill His purposes in inspiring them" (James White, Scripture Alone, p. 103).

So, when you say, "something, must, because if not, then I could change the Canon on a whim of my own" you're saying that God isn't in control of his very own words. At its heart, the canon questions as you've posed them are not fundamentally a debate between Romanists and Protestants, but rather question about faith and disbelief in God's ability to communicate.

Now please the rest of you: spare me the canon debate. If none of you can defend Mr. Michuta's work, please remain silent, or take such tangents on to your own blogs.

RCinAL said...

James,

I did not mean to invoke a reaction like that from you, nor did I mean to be aggressive. I am not a frequent reader of this blog, but stumbled upon it and posted a thought.

I should be more careful with my words because I did not mean to put forth subjective feeling as objective truth, and I do not think that anyone should. And you are right, my post is not directed exactly at your material, and if that is a problem then delete my posts...it will not bother me.

I understand now your position. The Holy Spirit guides the church in an understanding of Scriptures that is sufficient. However, you mentioned two points about the canon and its use, both of which include the Apocrypha:

1) The early Church was used to spread the canon.
2) The OT canon was established before the time of Christ.

So when the Holy Spirit guided the church out of use of the Deuterocanonical books, did He de-inspire the Apocrypha, or did He guide the church in recognizing that the 7 books are not, and never have been, inspired? The former is unreasonable, and the latter would necessitate a mistake on the part of God and His providence (because He was behind the spread of the canon in the early Church). The only other remaining option would be to say that the books still are and always have been objectively inspired. Do you believe that they are?

I too do not doubt the Providence of God and His guidance, and I too believe we are entirely dependent upon His work. However, at the root of the matter, the canon is nothing but the list of inspired books. Either books are inspired, or they are not.

James Swan said...

So when the Holy Spirit guided the church out of use of the Deuterocanonical books, did He de-inspire the Apocrypha, or did He guide the church in recognizing that the 7 books are not, and never have been, inspired? The former is unreasonable, and the latter would necessitate a mistake on the part of God and His providence (because He was behind the spread of the canon in the early Church). The only other remaining option would be to say that the books still are and always have been objectively inspired. Do you believe that they are?

As I stated previously, this particular blog post has particular content in mind: Luther and Mr. Michuta's argumentation. In the past this blog has presented entries specific to the apocrypha.

My annoyance over your comments is perhaps rooted in the fact that no Roman Catholic I'm aware of appears to want to step up to plate and defend Mr. Michuta's "bombshell" (That's Gary's term in describing his points about Luther).

In regard to the tangent you raise, I find R.T. Beckwith's treatment quite compelling in his book, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985). There he argues the closing of the Old Testament canon was settled by the time of Judas Maccabaeus (around 165 B.C.). This means that Jesus and the Apostles had a settled Old Testament canon, and that canon did not include the apocrypha. Beckwith spends a considerable time demonstrating the historical evidence demonstrates the unity and closure of the threefold Old Testament canon, comprising a specific set of twenty-two books.

I'm not surprised at all that Trent presented and defended a faulty canon list. They also anathematized the gospel, which was a far worse error. I've argued elsewhere Trent didn't even close the canon, as particular books were passed over and not determined to be canon one way or the other. I would further point out that Roman Catholicism in essence sees the canon as having a relative usefulness rather than upholding the necessity of Scripture. That is, since Roman Catholicism claims to have the living of voice of the Lord through the Church and Tradition, the canon then is only expedient, not necessary.