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What Books Should Be In the Bible?
Should Christians Eat Unclean Meat?
What is the canon of Scripture?† Are there any books missing from the Bible as we have it today?† On another subject, should Christians eat biblically unclean meat, such as from pigs?† Should Christians still obey the Old Testament commands on this subject?† Letís examine both of these issues below.
The canon of Scripture concerns what books are included and excluded from Scripture. Many centuries ago, both Jews and Christians (of whatever kind) had to make decisions about what religious books they thought were inspired by God, and which ones weren't. What criteria did they use for making their decisions?
The basic principle at work here appears in Deut. 18:20-22 and Deut. 13:1-5. In these passages, a prophet who said to worship other gods, or whose predictions didn't come to pass, should be ignored, even even executed. So we should only believe a (purported) revelation from God if it agrees with prior revelations and (if applicable) successfully predicts the future. So then, is this true for the apocrypha and other so-called "missing books"?
The Catholic Church accepted certain apocryphal books as Scripture or "deuterocanonical." They didn't fully formally accept them as binding in authority until the Council of Trent in the 16th century, which was basically a gathering that responded against the Protestant Reformation's arguments and charges against Catholicism. By contrast, the Protestant canon for the Old Testament is the same as the Jews'. There are many, many other apocryphal books which never made it into the canon, however, by any (major) church's definition.
In Catholic history, the translator of much or all the Latin Vulgate Bible, Jerome, opposed the apocrypha's inclusion in Scripture, but Augustine, the great theologian and author of such famous works as "Confessions" and "City of God," wanted them included. The ancient Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. accepted them as it followed the latter's lead. True, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, had had many copies that included them. But there isn't a case in the New Testament of any author citing them at all, let alone quoting them as having authority, such as by using a formula like, "It is written."
One way that exposes the problems with the apocrypha is their absurd stories and/or historical errors and contradictions. The literary quality simply isn't very good, and they fail what (say) Josh McDowell might call the "internal evidence" test. (You may find it worth tracking down his book "Evidence That Demands a Verdict" for further research in the area of Christian apologetics, or his "More Than a Carpenter.") For example, Tobit, which Catholics do accept, describes a story in which a Jewish father, blinded by bird's dung falling into his eyes, sends out his son to collect a debt. He gets a heart, liver, and gall of a fish on his journey. He runs into a widow who have married seven times, but had never consummated any of these marriages with her husbands because an evil spirit had killed each husband on their respective wedding nights. Tobias (the son) marries this widow, and by burning two of the the fish parts, drives off the evil spirit called Asmodeus. He then uses the gall from that fish to cure his father's blindness. If one is familiar with the canonical Old Testament books, one should then see how absurd this story's setting and miracles are by comparison. They lack what C.S. Lewis might call "fitness," or overall appropriateness. It's more superstitious than Godly.
There is also a historical error in Tobit concerning the age of the father, who would have to be well over 200 years old to have experienced personally the deportation of Israel to Nineveh by the Assyrians, but he's only 102 years old when he dies.
The book of Judith, which Catholics also accept, contains so many absurdities that even a Catholic Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, admitted: "The book of Judith in particular shows a bland indifference to history and geography."
The traditional Christian scholar Bruce Metzger, in "The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance," give three basic guidelines that the early Christians used for determining their own canon: (1) agreement with the "rule of faith," or general traditional Christian teaching, (2) general, long-standing usage among many congregations, and (3) apostolic authorship, which inevitably led to the exclusion of post-100 A.D writings. Because the Catholic Church wasn't tightly controlled from the top down in its early centuries, before the time of Constantine especially, it wasn't as if (say) a given Pope or even church council just decreed what the canon was. There was a weight of tradition and usage that flowed also from the bottom-up as well. These are the reasons why the exclusion of (say) "The Gospel of Thomas," "The Gospel of Peter," "The Shepherd of Hermas," etc. wasn't some arbitrary or random process.
J.N.D. Anderson noted the difference in "feel" between the canonical gospels and the later apocryphal ones, a difference that only becomes obvious upon becoming familiar with both by personal reading of them: "Who can read these stories [about the resurrection in the canonical Gospels] and really think they're legend? They are far too dignified and restrained; they are far too true to life and psychology. The difference between them and the sort of stories you find in the apocryphal gospels of but two or three centuries later is difference between heaven and earth."
The Christian scholar F.F. Bruce commented about the ancient Gnostic movement's writings' general inferiority by comparison with the canonical ones: "The gnostic schools lost because they deserved to lose. A comparison of the New Testament writings with the contents of The Nag Hammadi Library [a collection of ancient Gnostic handwritten books discovered in 1945 in Egypt] should be instructive, once the novelty of the latter is not allowed to weight in its favour against the familiarity of the former." Similarly, we find M.R. James saying about their potential canonicity: "There is no question of any one's having excluded them from the New Testament: They have done that for themselves." K. Aland similarly proclaimed: "It cannot be said of a single writing preserved to us from the early period of the church outside the New Testament that it could be properly added today to the Canon." After all, as he notes, the canon was largely 5/6ths complete in describing its contents by around 200 A.D. Only places for a while and only in certain general or particular parts of the church were (say) Hebrews, II Peter, and Revelation doubted before being accepted.
So the canon is a broad subject, for it includes a discussion of books that (say) Catholics accept but Protestants and Jews reject, as well as many, many other apocryphal writings that orthodox Christians and Jews all reject as having binding authority.
Now, letís turn to the issue of whether Christians should avoid eating unclean meat.† The Bible, in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, describes the basic rules that specify which foods are clean and unclean. The most important principle is mentioned in Leviticus 11:3: "Whatever divides a hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat." Based on this principle, a person may eat beef, lamb, mutton, and meat from goats, but may not eat pork or rabbit meat. As for for sea food, the basic guiding principle is in verse 9: "These you may eat, whatever is in the water: all that have fins and scales, those in the water, in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat." Hence, shell fish, sharks, and cat fish are prohibited, but salmon, mackerel, and carp are allowed. As for birds, the prohibited species are mainly birds of prey (verses 13-19). Since doves and pigeons could be sacrificed to God (Leviticus 1:14) and God fed Israel with quails in the wilderness (Numbers 11:31-32), we know in principle (based on their physical anatomy and/or habits of behavior) that turkeys, chickens, and ducks can be eaten. We shouldn't think that these rules were only for the Jews since when Jesus returns, those who are eating mice and pigs will be punished (Isaiah 66:16-17):† ďFor the Lord will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the Lord will be many.† Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens, following one in the center, who eat swine's flesh, detestable things, and mice, shall come to an end altogether,' declares the Lord.Ē† Above all, we know from elsewhere in the New Testament that not all the animals are now clean (Rev. 18:2):† "And she [Babylon] has become a . . . prison of every unclean and hateful bird."† Therefore, good reasons exist to believe the law against eating clean and unclean meat is still binding today on Christians.
Now, are the Old Testament laws concerning clean and unclean meat still binding on Christians?† It is said that all meat was made clean by Peter's vision in Acts 10, since one can't say the gentiles are literally clean without the animals in the vision having been made clean as well. †However, this conclusion was not what Peter drew from his vision--all he mentioned when interpreting it for us was it concerned the gentiles being clean (v. 10):† "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy [literally, 'common'] or unclean."† Why should we read more into it?† After all, God may have ordered Peter to "Arise . . . kill and eat!," but it is hazardous to take literally anything associated with a vision itself.† (Furthermore, God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but that was a command He did not actually wish to be fully obeyed).
††††††††† Now, it will be objected that didn't Christ say that (Mark 7:18-19) "whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated"?† Here, the context is crucial, and by looking at the parallel account in Matt. 15, we can know more clearly what is going on.† First of all, the challenge to Jesus concerned eating food with unwashed hands, an aspect of the oral law that was out of the traditions of men.† It was not a dispute over the matter of clean and unclean food, which is made clear in Matt. 15:20:† "These [spiritual sins] are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."† One has to read into the discussion that Christ was nullifying the laws concerning clean and unclean meat.† Evidently Peter himself, who listened and even participated in this discussion, did not interpret it in this manner, because even long after the crucifixion he had never eaten unclean or common meat (Acts 10: 14).† True, in the Westcott-Hort/critical text that underlies most modern Bible translations we get (by changing a single letter of a single word in the Greek) the editorial comment "(Thus He declared all foods clean)" in Mark 7:19.† However, this text type is defective, and the Received Text that underlies the KJV and NKJV is superior--but proving that point is way beyond the purpose of this email.† Suffice it to say, it's unwise to base a significant doctrine on whether one Greek word contains an omicron or an omega in it.† Furthermore, let's not take Christ's use of the word "whatever" too broadly--it may have meant out of all the things the Jews, and in particular the Pharisees normally ate, not out of all possible animals that can be eaten by anybody.† So, by comparing Mark 7 with the parallel account in Matt. 15, and by avoiding reading more into it than is already there, Christ did not mean to say the laws against clean and unclean meat were abolished, but that the Pharisees' complaint about Christ's disciples not washing their hands before eating was invalid.
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