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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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Sacred Scripture.

By “sacred scripture” are to be understood those books written by the holy Prophets and

Apostles under the action of the Holy Spirit; therefore they are calleddivinely inspired” They

are divided into books of the Old Testament and the books of the New Testament.

The Church recognizes 38 books of the Old Testament. After the example of the Old Testament

Church (Although the Church in the strict sense was established only at the coming of Christ (see

Matt.16:18), there was in a certain sense a “Church” in the Old Testament also, composed of all those who looked

with hope to the coming of the Messiah. After the death of Christ on the Cross, when He descended into hell and

preached unto the spirits in prison(1 Peter 3:19), He brought up the righteous ones of the Old Testament with

Him into Paradise, and to this day the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast days of the Old Testament Forefathers,

Patriarchs, and prophets as equal to the saints of New Testament.), several of these books are joined to form

a single book, bringing the number to twenty-two books, according to the number of letters in the

 

Hebrew alphabet. (The 22canonicalbooks of the Old Testament are: 1. Genesis, 2. Exodus, 3. Leviticus, 4.

Numbers, 5. Deuteronomy, 6. Joshua, 7. Judges and Ruth considered as one, 8. First and Second Kings (called First

and Second Samuel in the King James Version), 9. Third and Fourth Kings (First and Second Kings in the KJV), 10.

First and Second Paralipomena (First and Second Chronicles in the KJV), 11. First Esdras (Ezra) and Nehemiah, 12.

Esther, 13. Job, 14. Psalms, 15. Proverbs, 16. Ecclesiastes, 17. The Song of Songs, 18. Isaiah, 19. Jeremiah, 20.

Ezekiel, 21. Daniel, 22. The Twelve Prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,

Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). This is the list given by St. John Damascene in the Exact Exposition of the

Christian Faith, p. 375) These books, which were entered at some time into the Hebrew canon, are

calledcanonical.” (The wordcanonical” here has a specialized meaning with reference to the books of Scripture,

and thus must be distinguished from the more usual use of the word in the Orthodox Church, where it refers not

to the “canon” of Scripture, but to “canons” or laws proclaimed at church councils. In the latter sense, “canonical

means “in accordance with the Church's canons.” But in the former, restricted sense, “canonicalmeans only “included

in the Hebrew canon,” and “non-canonicalmeans only “not included in the Hebrew canon” (but still accepted

by the Church as Scripture). In the Protestant world the “non-canonicalbooks of the Old Testament are

commonly called the “Apocrypha,” often with a pejorative connotation, even though they were included in the earliest

printings of the King James Version, and a law of 1615 in England even forbade the Bible to be printed without

these books. In the Roman Catholic Church since the 16th century the “non-canonicalbooks have been calledDeuterocanonical

i.e. belonging to a “second” or later canon of Scripture. In most translations of the Bible which

include the “non-canonicalbooks, they are placed together at the end of the canonical books; but in older printings

in Orthodox countries there is no distinction made between the canonical and non-canonical books, see for example

the Slavonic Bible printed in St. Petersburg, 1904, and approved by the Holy Synod) To them are joined a

group of “non-canonicalbooks — that is, those which were not included in the Hebrew canon

because they were written after the closing of the canon of the sacred Old Testament books. (The

non-canonicalbooks of the Old Testament accepted by the Orthodox Church are those of the “Septuagint” — the

Greek translation of the Old Testament made by the “Seventyscholars who, according to tradition, were sent from

Jerusalem to Egypt at the request of the Egyptian King Ptolemy II in the 3rd century B.C. to translate the Old Testament

into Greek. The Hebrew originals of most of the books, and most of the books and most of the books were

composed only in the last few centuries before Christ. The “non-canonicalbooks of the Old Testament are: Tobit,

Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Joshua the Son of Sirach, Baruch, Three Books of

Maccabees, the Epistle of Jeremiah, Psalm 151, and the additions to the book of Esther, of 2 Chronicles (The Prayer

of Manassah), and Daniel (The Song of the Three Youths, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon).) The Church accepts

these latter books also as useful and instructive and in antiquity assigned them for instructive

reading not only in homes but also in churches, which is why they have been calledecclesiastical.”

The Church includes these books in a single volume of the Bible together with the canonical

books. As a source of the teaching of the faith, the Church puts them in a secondary place

and looks on them as an appendix to the canonical books. Certain of them are so close in merit to

the Divinely-inspired books that, for example, in the 85th Apostolic Canon (The “Apostolic Canons

or the “Canons of the Holy Apostles” are a collection of 85 ecclesiastical canons or laws handed down from the

Apostles and their successors and given official Church approval at the Quinsext church Council (in Trullo) in 692

and in the First Canon of the Seventh Ecumenical (787). Some of these canons were cited and approved at the Ecumenical

Councils, beginning with the First Council in 325, but the whole collection of them together was made

probably not before the 4th century. The nameapostolic” does not necessarily mean that all the canons or the collection

of them were made by the Apostles themselves, but only that they are in the tradition handed down from the

Apostles (just as not all the “Psalms of David” were actually written by the Prophet David). For their text, see the

Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils, pp. 594-600. The 85th Apostolic Canon lists the canonical books of the Old

and New Testaments.) the three books of Maccabees and the book of Joshua the son of Sirach are

numbered together with the canonical books, and, concerning all of them together it is said that

they are “venerable and holy.” However, this means only that they were respected in the ancient

Church; but a distinction between the canonical and non-canonical books of the Old Testament

has always been maintained in the Church.

 

The Church recognizes twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament. (These books

are: the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the Seven Catholic Epistles (one

of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude); fourteen epistles of the Apostle Paul (Romans, First and Second

Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy,

Titus, Philemon, Hebrews); and the Apocalypse (Revelations) of St. John the Theologian and Evangelist.)

Since the sacred books of the New Testament were written in various years of the apostolic era

and were sent by the Apostles to various points of Europe and Asia, and certain of them did not

have a definite designation to any specific place, the gathering of them into a single collection or

codex could not be an easy matter; it was necessary to keep strict watch lest among the books of

apostolic origin there might be found any of the so-calledapocryphabooks, which for the most

part were composed in heretical circles. Therefore, the Fathers and teachers of the Church during

the first centuries of Christianity preserved a special caution in distinguishing these books, even

though they might bear the name of Apostles. The Fathers of the Church frequently entered certain

books into their lists with reservations, with uncertainty or doubt, or else gave for this reason

an incomplete list of the Sacred Books. This was unavoidable and serves as a memorial to their

exceptional caution in this holy matter. They did not trust themselves, but waited for the universal

voice of the Church. The local Council of Carthage in 318, in its 33rd Canon, enumerated all

of the books of the New Testament without exception.

St. Athanasius the Great names all of the books of the New Testament without the least

doubt or distinction, and in one of his works he concludes his list with the following words: “Behold

the number and names of the canonical books of the New Testament. These are, as it were,

the beginnings, the anchors and pillars of our faith, because they were written and transmitted by

the very Apostles of Christ the Savior, who were with Him and were instructed by Him” (from

the Synopsis of St. Athanasius). Likewise, St. Cyril of Jerusalem also enumerates the books of

the New Testament without the slightest remark as to any kind of distinction between them in the

Church. The same complete listing is to be found among the Western ecclesiastical writers, for

example in Augustine. Thus, the complete canon of the New Testament books of Sacred Scripture

was confirmed by the catholic voice of the whole Church. This Sacred Scripture, in the expression

of St. John Damascene, is the “Divine Paradise” (Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book

4, Ch. 17; Eng. tr. p. 374).




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