Cracking the Da Vinci Code

Too Many Bibles II: A Shorter Book
by Jonathan Wilson

Protestants Defied Vatican Authority and developed a new canon

When Dan Brown and esoteric Grail enthusiasts talk about "the Bible" as being the creation of Vatican agents of the Roman Empire, no account is taken for the wide variety of Bibles in existence. The Vatican tried to raise St. Jerome's Latin translation to the same level of authority as the Greek texts of the Eastern Orthodox, a position rejected by the Eastern Orthodox as early as the 5th Century. And the Nestorian Christians put together a canon of their own, having rejected the use of Second Peter, Jude, and Revelation.

In the 1500's, when Martin Luther was expelled from the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformation of the Church began. Luther enjoyed the protection of German nobles against the Vatican, which tellingly did not have the power to stifle Luther or his movement. As the reformation churches took shape, Luther proposed a new canon.

This canon was influenced by the Latin theology that the "apocryphal" intertestamental books were not to be esteemed at the same level as the two testaments. So Protestant editions began to be published with the apocryphal literature removed completely.

The result is that many Bible-believing evangelicals, including this author, are in fact "believing" a shorter Bible than has been read throughout most of Christendom for most of the history of the Church. I have tried to read the apocryphal books. I really have. I can't get through them.

In defense of the western tradition to set the apocrypha lower, one of the arguments is that the Septuagint itself contains revisions of the Hebrew text. In some places these revisions are extensive: just two examples is that the Septuagint added psalms to the Psalter and changing the content order of Jeremiah. This creates a problem for one who desires to examine the documentary evidence from a critical perspective so as to publish as accurate a Bible as possible. This gives us a transition to my next point, the presence of critical documentary evidence that the Protestants have been free to examine.

For several centuries, as Protestants have translated the Bible into contemporary languages, we have had the advantage of removing ourselves from a confessional belief in the inerrancy of the Vulgate or the Septuagint. Bible translators today are able to appeal to the broad range of documentary evidence for critical renditions of the text. This is not easily done when the Septuagint is held confessionally in higher esteem than the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament - nor is it easily done when the Latin Vulgate is confessionally held in higher esteem than the original Greek language of the New Testament! This is one of many reasons why I remain a Protestant in every way.

In the last sixty years, numerous ancient documents have come to light, including Hebrew manuscripts in the Qum'ran caves. Neither the Vatican nor anyone else has been interested in, or able to, suppress the new critical and historical insights that put still more distance between the Vulgate and the Hebrew Bible at the time of Christ.

The "almighty Vatican" of Dan Brown's fantasy was, in reality, incapable of preventing the Protestant Reformation, and incapable of preventing the development of the alternative canon of the Protestant churches. Even more interesting, is that in all these Protestant movements, no serious effort was made to recover the Gnostic herecies. Had Gnosticism been a true alternative, one would have expected it to be embraced in the new religious freedom spawned by the Reformation. Even with the Vatican stymied and new Bibles coming into print, Gnosticism did not experience a come-back.

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