Monday, March 15, 2010
Did Martin Luther Remove Books From the Bible?
Ecumenical conversations are much more helpful when conducted by people who actually subscribe the original intent of their respective confessions and are actually willing to discuss the core issues that separate them. Unfortunately, different traditions have their own vocabulary and assign different meanings to words. There are also many misunderstandings about what other groups actually teach and often even when people are trying really hard there is even misunderstanding about what a person's own tradition actually teaches.
I've been reading a book by an Eastern Orthodox writer that I have some respect for. I enjoy her writing even though I disagree with her synergistic understanding of salvation. She made the claim that Christian throughout history accepted the Apocrypha but that Martin Luther removed books from the Bible and that's why Protestants don't have the Apocrypha in their Bibles. This is a common statement made by both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Generally Protestants respond by saying that Martin Luther did not remove books, the Roman Catholic church added them. Then the argument usually involves two people who really don't know what they are talking about arguing about which books should be included and why. I've heard some Protestants even use strange mathematical formulas to prove that they have the correct number of books.
But the Reformation did not occur because of a dispute over the canon. If we spend our time arguing about the canonical books we miss an opportunity to discuss the real issues. There were always Christians who questioned the canonicity of various Biblical books. It wasn't until the Council of Trent that any formal declaration was made as to which books were canonical by the Roman Catholics, no such list was made by Lutherans. There has always been widespread belief in the canonicity of the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the books contained in the Hebrew Bible, but there was disagreement about other books and people were not excommunicating one another over it.
Did Martin Luther remove books? Nope. He questioned the canonicity of the books but he did not remove them. He put them in a separate section but he did not take them out. Did his descendants? Nope. Did the translators of the KJV? Nope. One of the bishops who translated the KJV made it illegal to print KJV Bibles without the Apocryhpa. It wasn't until the 1880's that Protestants began printing Bibles without the Apocrypha. The Apocryphal books should not occupy the same place in our theology that the Gospels do but they should not become the chief article that divides us. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans all hold up the Gospel Book and give it a special place in the service. The same is not done with the Apocrypha in any of the churches. All make some use of the Apocrypha in the liturgy.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 10:05 PM