Friday, August 12, 2011

RKIA's Guide to Reading the Bible... part 11


Simple answer: the CATHOLICS added nothing ­ the truth is that the Protestants took seven books away.

Complicated answer: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, whom you might know as St. Jerome was born in 347 AD in Slovenia (then called Dalmatia, in the future, now former Yugoslavia. Figure that out.) In 378 he was ordained for the diocese of (Greek speaking) Antioch in Syria. In 382 he went to Rome and started working for Pope Damasus. At the pope’s urging, he decided to update the old Latin version of the Bible into a “more modern, easy to read version in today’s Latin.” (Today being 382 AD) It was called the Vulgate or the “Bible for the Common Man.”

First he translated the Greek New Testament. Then he updated the version of the psalms contained in the Septuagint. (The Septuagint was the widely read Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, completed in Egypt in 132BC. At the time, all Christians accepted the Septuagint as THE Bible.) Jerome went on to translate the rest of the Old Testament from the Hebrew and Aramaic sources of the Septuagint. It turned out to be a project that took years. It contained all the books in the Bible by the first Christians, but there were always questions, so....

Pope Damasus I, St. Jerome’s patron, assembled the first list of books of the Bible at the Council of Rome (382AD). The process continued in North Africa. A series of Synods (meetings of bishops) were held in North Africa beginning in Hippo in 393, and ending with the Council of Carthage(419). The meetings took up the question of what were the inspired books and what were not. There was a basic agreement on the texts, but even then, 400 years after Christ, there was still a need to make a definitive list. The pope and the North African bishops drew up their list from those books then in use by the Church, particularly those read at Mass. Finally, the list was submitted to Pope Boniface (Damasus’ successor) and the other bishops for confirmation. The list is as follows:

“It was also decided that, apart from the Canonical Scriptures, nothing else is to be read in the Church, in the name of divine Scriptures. Canonical Scriptures are therefore the following:… Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, of Kings the four books, of Chronicles the two books, Job, Psalms, of Solomon five books, of the Prophets twelve books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, of Ezdra two books. Of the New Testament: Gospels four, Acts of the Apostles one book, fourteen epistles by Apostle Paul, two by Apostle Peter, three by Apostle John, one by Apostle Jacob (James), one by Apostle Judas, one Book of Revelations by John.

These were the 73 books that St. Jerome translated and called the Latin Vulgate. The Vulgate Bible was the definitive text of Scripture in Europe for 1,130 years. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the Catholic Church maintained what was left of the unity and culture of the Roman Christian world. Europe fractured into a bedlam of languages, a sort of tower of babble, but the Church maintained a common language, a common culture, a common law and a common Bible, the Vulgate, that was both source and guide. The Church insisted that the Latin Vulgate be regarded as the official version, not to hide the Bible from the masses, but to make it available to the whole world. Everyone who could read, read Latin. It was the universal language of literate people. Books were as rare as Elvis sightings and people who could read were not much more common. In order to make the Bible available, it had to be in the closest thing to a common language that the western world then had Latin. Even Constantinople the capital of the Greek speaking East spoke Latin as an official language until 610AD. So the Vulgate and its 73 books were accepted by all Christians as the canon of Scriptures, the big book on the coffee table, the Bible!!! Until.......

Fr. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. Many assume that the Church hid the Bible in an obscure ancient language and that Luther was the first to translate it into the common language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There were perhaps 17 translations of the Bible into German before Luther. The question was which German? The little town whence came my ancestors had a version of German that is incomprehensible to anyone who didn’t grow up in that particular town. And the rest of us who speak standard German are utterly bewildered by a Bavarian who has had a beer or two. These early German translations were based on the Latin Vulgate, which in turn was based on reliable ancient manuscripts.

Luther may have published in the most standard central German, thereby creating modern high German, and he may have gone to Greek and Hebrew texts, but he went with later, less reliable manuscripts like the Textus Receptus. Jerome was only 300 years after the fact. He had access to the most ancient manuscripts. Luther had no such access.

Still worse, Luther didn’t really translate the Bible. He paraphrased and poeticized it. In John 11:35 we read in Greek “edakrusen ho Iesous” (in English “Jesus wept.”) Luther didn’t translate it that way. He wrote “Und Jesus gingen die Augen über,” “And Jesus' eyes overflowed." Poetic. Lovely. Heartfelt. A Really Bad Translation. Luther claimed he was just expressing things in the way that people really spoke.

Maybe they really spoke that way in 16th Century central Germany. We Germans love kitsch and schmalz. (German words that mean gaudy and greasy.) We like cute art like Hummels. I own one or two myself. And shmalz? That means we like to lay it on thick. Like butter. Or even goose grease on rye bread. Yum. So Luther gave the folks what he thought they wanted. It was certainly what he wanted.

The most egregious example of his failure to translate is Romans 3:28. Luther translated it “We hold, then, that man is justified without the works of the law but by faith alone.” The word "alone" does not appear in the Biblical text, but Luther insisted that the word "alone" was necessary in German and that was what Paul meant anyway. This German doesn’t need the word and if Paul had intended it he would have written it. Luther both needed it and intended it if his strange and novel theology were going to claim Biblical inspiration. Luther didn’t use the Vulgate in his efforts to translate the Bible, he went straight to the Greek and Hebrew texts then in use. It didn’t occur to him that things might have changed in the course of a thousand years.

He looked at the Masoretic text still used by Jews today and there he found seven books fewer than the Vulgate had. He made the assumption that they weren’t in the Hebrew Bible because they weren’t authentic. It never occurred to Fr. Luther that perhaps those of the House of Israel who did not accept Jesus as Messiah, might have left out books that were very popular with the first Christians. These books were certainly in common use at the time of Christ. In other words, Luther claimed that 16th century Jews were more inspired than 1st century Christians. That was just about the last compliment Luther paid the Jews. Luther rejected the Christian Scriptures of 419AD in favor of the Jewish text which was not finalized until around 900AD. Well done Martin! To it he added his own flair for the dramatic and his curious beliefs in faith alone and predestination.

Fr. Luther had a low view of the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He called the Epistle of James “an epistle of straw,” “finding little in it that pointed to Christ and His saving work.” He also disliked the book of Revelation, saying that he could “in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.”

During the Protestant Reformation, Luther and his friends experimented with different lists of Bible books. In the end, the New Testament books stayed the same despite Luther’s attempts to downgrade James, Jude, and Revelation. He particularly disliked James. I suspect that the only appearance of the phrase “faith alone” appears in James. “A person is made righteous by works and NOT by faith alone.” (James 2:24) On this point Luther and St. James had differing opinions.

The Old Testament, however, was fair game. There were certain books included in the Septuagint, and thus in the first list of canonical books and the Vulgate, which were not included in the Jewish Bible. Protestants call them the Apocrypha, or hidden books, well named since Luther hid them from the world. He put them in between the Old and New Testaments saying, “These Books Are Not Held Equal to the Scriptures, but Are Useful and Good to Read."

So there you have it. Luther’s translation of both Testaments was finally printed in 1534, turning seven books of the Old Testament into a footnote so unimportant that Protestantism eventually dropped them altogether. He put disclaimers in the New Testament that warned the reader that James and Revelation probably weren’t inspired. In the book of Revelation we read “For I testify to every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book that anyone who adds to these things God will add the plagues that are written in this book on to him. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy God shall take away his part out of the book of life.” (Rev. 22:18-19 ) Let’s hope for Fr. Luther’s sake that God doesn’t apply this text to the addition of “alone” to Romans 3:28 or the convenient removal of seven books of the Old Testament.


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