…not man for the Old Testament.
We’ve discussed the canon several times in the past few weeks, and one of the objections brought up by (Protestant interlocutor) Mike Field is that the deuterocanonical books contain historical errors and instances of deceptive practices.
One the reasons my Catholic friends and I are stupefied that he would bring such things up as grounds for rejecting a book’s inspiration, is the fact that such (apparent) problems are also found in the books we all accept as inspired.
Without even looking, I ran across two examples of this recently while reading the Bible and Pope Benedict’s newest book. First, from St. Mark’s gospel, in the passage where the Pharisees are criticizing Jesus because his disciples plucked grain and ate it on the Sabbath, Jesus says:
Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry…how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread…
Except, Abiathar was not the high priest at that time, Abiathar’s father Ahimelech was!
Big problem here, if we are using my Protestant friend’s canon criteria. Either Jesus said something false (making a historical error) or the gospel author wrote the wrong thing down, leading to a historical error. Either of those are back-breakers, the former for obvious reasons and the latter because the gospel is inspired, God-breathed, and so is inerrant.
And yet, my Protestant friends happily continue accepting this gospel as inspired, as do I and the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches and pretty much everyone. Which means that there must be another explanation that resolves this dilemma. And there is. But it is one that ruins my friend’s canon criteria.
Since we believe that 1) Jesus is God and that 2) the gospel faithfully transmits His words, it must be the case that Jesus both knew that Abiathar was not the high priest when this incident occurred and that his rebuttal to the Pharisees, that included this supposed “error,” was intentionally done to demonstrate a greater point.
And that’s exactly what the case is here. The Ignatius Study Bible’s note explains why using Abiathar in this example is more forceful, since he was the last high priest of his line, one who opposed the son of David (Solomon) and was thus banished from Jerusalem. The analogy to Christ and the Pharisees is thus powerfully apparent.
Christ demonstrates here that our modern, “scientifically literal” reading of biblical passages can lead us astray.
A “Body” or an “Ear”?
The other example is from Hebrews 10:5-7, where the Apostle says “a body you have prepared for me,” quoting Psalm 40:6-8. But when we read that psalm, we actually see it says “but you have given me an open ear.” Hmmm. Those aren’t the same.
So it seems an Apostle changed the phraseology of this Old Testament passage to better fit the Christology that he wished to describe. Is that legal? Apparently.
The other explanation, that the inspired author is drawing from a Septuagint manuscript, some of which used “body” like in Hebrews, runs afoul of the canon criteria of our other Protestant interlocutor, Shawn Madden, who claims that no “Septuagint” versions were cited by Christ and the Apostles (update: Shawn clarifies his position on the LXX in the comments).
In any case, even if some Septuagint version was used, how is it okay that the Hebrew manuscript is talking about “an open ear” while Hebrews says “a body you have prepared for me”?
Without intending to do so, my Protestant friends employ a double standard: they strain a gnat out of the deuterocanonical books while swallowing a camel in books whose inspiration we all accept.
They don’t realize it. What has happened is that they accepted the Protestant canon based on the authority of Protestantism in general and then have ex post facto gone back and crafted canon criteria that will match it, selectively applying their own filters to give a pass to books they accept while blocking those they don’t.
I have emailed Shawn and Mike both to ask them how they resolve these issues.