The Apostolic Fathers and their quotations of the deutero-canonical books

Turretinfan (on facebook) writes:

Some Roman Catholics will try to appeal to the Apostolic Fathers to defend the Roman Catholics’ view of the canon of Scripture. The Apostolic Fathers were writers from the first generation of Christians after the apostles, and their works do reflect a working knowledge of the Old and New Testaments.

Schaff’s “Apostolic Fathers” volume lists 16 references to the deuterocanonical books (or sections). When we look more closely, that number shrinks further.

Both of the references to Tobit are actually references to a single quotation in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Phillipians (10:2), where Schaff quotes Polycarp as writing “alms delivers from death,” which would appear to be taken from Tobit 4:10 and 12:9. The Greek text of Polycarp only exists through 9:2. Thus, all of chapter 10 is from a Latin edition, and we have no real way of knowing how literal or free the translation was.

The first reference to Judith is part of a string citation to the statement that Abraham was called “the friend” of God. Obviously, this is a statement that is found in several places in the canonical scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments, and is not a clear reference to Judith 8:19.

The second reference to Judith is from Clement’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 55. Here, the author of the epistle refers to Judith as an example of bravery “The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman.” The author does not explicitly say that Judith is Scripture, and alludes to her bravery alongside that of Esther.

The reference to Baruch 4:36 and Baruch 5 is also a single reference taken from Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, chapter 35. Irenaeus does not quote the material as being from Baruch, but rather as being from Jeremiah. Of course, because Baruch was traditionally included with Jeremiah as one book, this makes sense if Irenaeus was just treating Baruch as being part of the canonical book of Jeremiah.

The longer (and consequently more questionable) version of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Magnesians (chapter 3) makes allusions to portions of Susanna, which was traditionally included with the canonical book of Daniel.

Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, Book IV, at 26:3 quotes a portion of Susanna, referring to it as Daniel.

The reference to Sirach 4:31 is just in the editor’s comments, and does not refer to the text.

The reference to Sirach 19:4 is a quotation from the Epistle to Hero, chapter 6, which is a spurious work formerly misattributed to Ignatius.

That leaves only references to Wisdom of Solomon, of which there are six.

The first reference is found in the Epistle of Barnabas, at Chapter 6, where a comment about binding the just is found amongst Scripture quotations. However, this statement is actually instead a reference to Isaiah 3:10 in the Septuagint, which we can be pretty sure about, because the immediately preceding material quoted is from Isaiah 3:9.

The second reference is found in I Clement 3, where the author uses the phrase “envy, by which death itself entered into the world,” which is reminiscent of Wisdom 2:24.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies II, 28:9, provides the third and fourth reference. The editors here suggest Widsom 9:13,17, but the language of those verses doesn’t seem to be present. At best, there is some similar theme about how earthly people can’t be expected to provide heavenly knowledge.

1 Clement 27 provides the final two references. The author writes: “He established all things, and by His word He can overthrow them. “Who shall say unto Him, What hast thou done? or, Who shall resist the power of His strength?”” This doctrine seems to be taken from Job 9. For example, Job 9:12 asks the question “who will say unto him, What doest thou?” Similarly, Jeremiah 32:17 “Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:” Wisdom 12:12 says “For who can say to you, “What have you done?”” Likewise Wisdom 11:21 states “For great strength is always present with you; who can resist the might of your arm?”

The bottom line is this. Some of the deuterocanonical books (for example, the books of the Maccabees) are not referenced at all. Some references are only in the more questionable portions of the works or in the spurious works. At least some of the authors seem to have thought that Jeremiah and Daniel included the Deuterocanonical portions, but this is more of a textual critical issue than a canonical issue. Finally, we do have reason to think that some of the early writers were familiar with and maybe even learned from the deuterocanonical books. Nevertheless, they do not quote from them as Scripture in any of the cases where they are used. The one such reference asserted by the editor’s of Schaff’s edition is a mistake, where the father clearly had in mind Septuagint Isaiah.

Keep in mind also that the same writers sometimes quote things as though they were Scripture, when that’s not the conclusion we would draw. For example, the Epistle of Barnabas states: “What, then, says He in the prophet? “And let them eat of the goat which is offered, with fasting, for all their sins.”” (Chapter 7) While Leviticus 4 mentions a goat sacrifice for sin, this seeming quotation cannot be traced to the canonical or deuterocanonical scriptures.

Ultimately, our standard is not “What did the apostolic fathers use,” but it is nevertheless revealing that they did not use those texts as Scripture or call them Scripture, as they did with the canonical scriptures.

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