Category Archives: Bible

Medieval Jewish Usage of the Greek Old Testament

Hebrew written over Akylas' Greek translation of the OT

Up until recently, common scholarly opinion was that Jews stopped using the Greek translation of the OT fairly early.1 Even when scholars conceded that Ethiopian Jews continue to use the Septuagint (LXX), the claim was that this is completely unique within the world of Judaism, without even remote parallels. Recently, scholars at Cambridge University working on the documents from the Cairo Genizah have discovered OT texts from the medieval period that are in Greek translation, but were transliterated into Hebrew. What that means is that these texts are in the Greek language—they are translations from earlier Hebrew copies—but then scribes wrote the Greek words using Hebrew letters.2 This is not the only example of such transliterations within Judaism, e.g. the Constantinople Pentateuch from 1547 includes side-by-side columns of the Pentateuch written in Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish, all in Hebrew script.3 The Cambridge find, however, is absolutely amazing! And it shows that the Greek OT was in use within the world of Judaism long into the medieval period (10th to 13th centuries!!!). Different Greek translations are present in these Genizah documents, but they include the LXX.4

The project’s website states:

Were the Deuterocanonicals Ever a Part of the Jewish Canon of Scripture?

Isaiah in Greek

The biblical canonization process within Judaism is quite complicated. It is frequent for Protestant scholars to take Josephus’ use and list of Scriptures as representative of the basic canon of Pharisaic Judaism–which led to rabbinic, and eventually modern Judaism–arguing that the canonization process within Judaism predates the time of Jesus. Although the Council of Jamnia (or Yavneh) [end of the first century A.D.] is NOT likely the place where the Jewish biblical canon reaches its final form, that meeting did address the canonical status of certain books—Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.1 Scholars remain divided about the closing of the Jewish biblical canon. In my opinion, it seems likely that it is even later that the canon becomes more fixed within Judaism.

 What complicates matters further is that different groups within Second Temple Judaism apparently considered different books canonical. Although the biblical books used by the Pharisees is likely identical to Josephus’, which looks like the Old Testament of most Protestants, and, it should be noted, the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) of the majority of contemporary Judaism, this is not for certain. Sadducees, on the other hand, had a much smaller list of biblical books (only including the Penateuch, according to New Testament evidence). It is difficult to determine what canon was in

Why Did the Catholic Church Add Books to the Bible?

English Bible

I often get asked the question, “why did the Catholic Church add books to the Bible?” We hope to do more posts on the canonization process of Scripture, but for the moment, I thought I would respond to this question with a brief post.

This question often comes to me from Protestants who assume that Christians always had a Bible that matched a modern Protestant Bible: 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. Since Catholic Bibles include 46 books in the Old Testament (but likewise share the same 27 book New Testament with Protestants), those asking me this question often assume that the Catholic Church added 7 books to the Old Testament at some point in the medieval period. These 7 books Catholics refer to as deuterocanonical (second canon), whereas Protestants often refer to them as apocryphal (hidden books, i.e., books that do not belong). These books are: 1 & 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch. 

With such assumptions often present, this question misunderstands the actual history. Of course on the face of it, it is true that the Catholic Church “added” books to the Bible—-in the sense that the list of which books belong in the Bible (i.e., the canon) developed over time, and the Catholic Church (guided by the Holy Spirit, we believe) determined the

There and Back Again: Biblical Time and Church Architecture

Summer Time, Biblical Time, and Church Renovations, Oh My!

Summer goes by so quickly. It’s amazing to think that football will be starting soon, and for many school will be restarting! It’s a comfort to know that biblical time is somewhat different than these passing days of summer.

Biblical time stands out from the way other cultures understood time. This is contrasted with the ancient pagan idea that the cosmos was eternal and time was something cyclical, without beginning or end, doomed to repeat without end. It sounds strange and simplistic to say, but biblical time has a beginning and an end to it. Yet, it’s not so dull as all that.

St. Augustine said that he knew what time was until someone asked him what it was. Though there’s so much more to biblical time, I thought it would be beautiful to contemplate an aspect of it.

There and Back Again – an Architectural / Liturgical Journey

Dr. Gary Anderson: The Story of One Catholic Scholar of Biblical Interpretation

Dr. Gary Anderson from his University of Notre Dame profile
Dr. Gary Anderson from his University of Notre Dame profile

Dr. Gary Anderson is Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at the University of Notre Dame and is quickly becoming one of the world’s leading scholars of Second Temple Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and especially of biblical interpretation among early Jews and early Christians. He is also a Protestant convert to Catholicism. He earned a B.A. from Albion College, an M.Div. from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament from Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. 

Dr. Anderson was raised Protestant and in fact entered Duke University as a Protestant seminarian. He writes some brief autobiographical insights in his important book The Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination. He tells how important studying church history at Duke University under such giants as Dr. David Steinmetz helped point him in the direction of the Catholic Church. He eventually entered the Roman Catholic Church and became one of the leading Catholic scholars of early biblical interpretation. 

Papacy in Scripture VI: Introduction to St. Peter in the New Testament

Continuing my series of posts on the biblical roots of the papacy, we have finally come to the NT. In a book that was influential in my own conversion to Catholicism, the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (current Pope Benedict XVI), wrote that “it would be misguided to pounce immediately on the classic proof text for the primacy, Matthew 16:13-20.”1 Thus, I will not begin with Matthew 16, but will rather end this series with several posts focusing on different aspects of that passage. 

That being said, please bear in mind that I am not intending any sort of deductive argument based on any of the observations I make in this present post, I am merely attempting to set the stage for the prominent role St. Peter played in the NT as a framework for showing in later posts how this prominent role is in fact an office within the Church Jesus institutes, fulfilling the Kingdom of Israel from the OT, transforming its very structure and essence. 

We can begin this discussion with the list of apostles Jesus gathered around Himself. In his last publication before he died, the Romanian Orthodox (formerly Lutheran) church historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes some very interesting comments based upon the textual traditions concerning the list of apostles in the NT. Dr. Pelikan makes the following observation: 

Journal Review: Letter & Spirit

I wanted to take a moment to alert our readers to what I consider to be the finest journal on the market dealing with Scripture and theology: Letter & Spirit Letter & Spirit is a relatively new journal (first published in 2005) from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, an organization with which I am affiliated, and which Dr. Scott Hahn founded and serves as President and also as the journal’s editor. Letter & Spirit is the only academic journal I have ever encountered that I read straight through, cover-to-cover, as soon as I get my hands on an issue. So why is it such an exciting and important journal? 

First of all, it is filled with both highly original and old classic articles that are written from the heart of the Church. Its pages are filled with writings from some of the world’s finest theologians and Catholic biblical scholars as well as some of the most important up-and-coming Catholic scholars. The entire journal is devoted to Catholic biblical theology that is rooted in the Church’s Tradition and Liturgy. The articles are academic and scholarly, and thus some of them assume a readership that has familiarity with Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic (including, in at least one instance, Syriac). Most articles are accessible to non-specialists as well, and any educated lay person would benefit from reading most of the journals’ articles. 

Papacy in Scripture V: Extra-Biblical Context

Scrolls 1I was not sure what to entitle this post, since it does not directly deal with texts from the canonical Scriptures, hence the subtitle: “Extra-Biblical Context.” At the same time, I wanted to highlight its continuity with the previous four posts on this topic, hence the misleading title: “Papacy in Scripture V.” I hope this post serves as a sort of transition into the NT material where we will dive into the Gospels. 

Why examine extra-biblical 2nd Temple Jewish literature if we don’t consider it inspired by God? For many reasons, chief among them such literature often provides insightful commentary to earlier OT texts and shows ways in which Jews living before, during and after Jesus interpreted the OT. What I hope to do in subsequent posts is show how the NT material shares some of the interpretive judgments found in the 2nd Temple texts below, and how this relates to the office of the papacy. 

Where’s That in the Bible?

OpenBibleHow many times have you heard someone respond to a specific Catholic teaching, say on Mary or on the papacy, with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?” So often the intent of this question is to imply that these Catholic teachings are in fact not found in Scripture, and are therefore not to be believed.

But where’s that in the Bible? Where does the Bible teach that what Christians should believe must be found in Scripture? The theological assumption here is often called by its technical Latin name, sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and amounts to something like, “the Bible is the only authority on matters of Christian doctrine.”

Certainly 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NIV). That all Scripture is God-breathed, or inspired, is of course true and is not something only taught by Protestants; the Catholic Church equally affirms this teaching, and in fact cites this passage, e.g. in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (no. 11; see also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ftnt 70 to no. 105).

Papacy in Scripture IV: Israel’s Royal Steward

Keys of the KingdomWe’ve already taken a look at the basic structure of the Davidic Kingdom, but now I want to highlight a passage in the OT that focuses on the royal steward to the Kingdom of David (which in 1 & 2 Chronicles is called the Kingdom of YHWH, or the Kingdom of the Lord).

Isaiah 22:20-24 reads: “In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots–all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars” (NIV).