The Oracles of God Committed unto the Jews

Oracles of God Committed Unto the Jews_Romans 3_2

Johnann Gerhard
Theological Commonplaces:
On the Nature of Theology and Scripture

§ 73. The canonical books of the Old Testament have the testimony of the Israelite church. Those controversial books [i.e. the Apocrypha] lack the testimony of the Israelite church. Therefore [the Apocrypha is not canonical].

Proof of the Major Premise.

We prove the major premise:

(1) From statements of Scripture.

Rom. 3:2: “The Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God [τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ].” Some take this as a specific reference to the words of the Law declared by the mouth of God on Mount Sinai and preserved at His command by the Jews in the ark of the covenant. Some take it to mean the Sacraments, which are the visible Word. The apostle is speaking generally, however, for he does not say that they believed only the Word of God nor only the Sacraments but the oracles of God, which expression includes both the Word and the Sacraments. The apostle is also looking to God’s command that ordered the prophets to write down the principal points of divinely revealed doctrine and to commit those books to the Jewish church and the Levites, that they be placed inside the ark, as we shall explain in greater detail a little later. Because of ignorance of the style, Lyra takes this as if “the Jews trusted the utterances of God, and in this respect they surpassed the Gentiles.” But the apostle is speaking here not about the faith of men but of God, so to speak, that the utterances of God in which He revealed Himself to the Israelites were entrusted to them. Rom. 9:4: Theirs is the adoption and the covenants. Augustine (Contra Faustum) takes the word “covenants” to refer to the two Testaments because the Old prefigures the New. Others claim that two different sanctionings of the one legal testament are denoted, one of which is described in Genesis 17, the other in Exodus 14. It is more fitting to take it as meaning the two tables of the covenant hidden in the ark, on which tables the Ten Commandments, namely, the words of the covenant, were written by God’s finger.

(2) From the thing itself.

It is evident from the history of the Old Testament that Moses and the prophets wrote their books by the will and inspiration of God and gave them to the priests to place them at the side of the ark of the covenant. Thus there would exist a perpetual and immovable norm of doctrine in the Church, a norm entrusted to the priests for protection. In this way the Israelite church was divinely established as the guardian of the canonical books. Deut. 31:24-26: “When Moses had finished writing the words of this Law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God that it may be there for a witness against you.’” Josh. 24:26-27: “Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God (therefore he added his writing to the books of Moses); and he took a great stone and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people: ‘Behold, this stone shall be our testimony.’” 1 Sam. 10:25: “Then Samuel told the people the judgment of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and stored it before the Lord.” 2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15: “Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary: ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.’” (Therefore it had certainly been brought into the house of the Lord previously.) Isa. 30:8: “Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, and it will be for the time to come a testimony forever.

(3) From reasoning.

If the Jewish church at Christ’s time had rejected a part of canonical Scripture, certainly Christ and the apostles would have censured it with this accusation, because they reproached the priests and Pharisees so bitterly about lesser errors. But the latter occurs nowhere in the preaching of Christ and the apostles. This is the argument of Origen in vol. 8 of his commentaries on Isaiah, according to Jerome in his commentary on Isaiah 6. But you say, “We do not read that Christ reproached the Sadducees with this charge that they only accepted the Pentateuch. There is, then, little strength in this negative argument.” We respond. We do not read that Christ argued with the Sadducees as often as He did with the priests, Pharisees, and scribes. Furthermore, the Sadducees constituted a particular sect. It was, however, the consensus of the entire Israelite church, as well as the Church of later times, that those controversial books were not canonical. If the entire Israelite church had erred in this matter, it would not have escaped Christ’s rebuke. Finally, Christ did censure the Sadducees obliquely with this charge when He told them: “You err, not knowing the Scriptures” [Mark 12:24].

To this argument of Origen, we add two others. The first is like this: If the Israelite church had repudiated some real and true canonical books, the consequence would be that the true Church can err most seriously. Such a consequence, however, the Papists do not admit. Therefore.

The other goes this way: If the Israelite church had not accepted some truly canonical books, the consequence would be that no church had accepted certain canonical books because at that time there was no other true Church except that of the Israelites. But that consequence is absurd. Therefore.

(4) From the testimonies of the devout ancients.

Augustine, Epistle 59, says: “It happened by the singular concern and providence of God that, however much the Jews—vanquished, overthrown, and perpetually harassed as they were—persecuted Christ with minds inflamed by hatred, nevertheless they preserved Holy Scripture so that the truth and clarity of the Gospel of Christ shone among all people, even if it was confirmed by the powerful testimonies of very dangerous foes.De civ. Dei, bk. 16, c. 37: “The mouth of the Jews, even though they err, blesses Christ, that is, speaks of Him truthfully while singing the Law and the Prophets.Contra Faustum, bk. 12, c. 23: “What is this Jewish nation except a little book-box of the Christians that bears the Law and the Prophets as a testimony for the declaration of the Church?

(5) From the confession of our adversaries themselves.

Bellarmine himself bears witness of how faithfully the Israelites protected the books of the prophets when he writes: “The scrupulousness of the Jews in relation to the sacred books was incredible” (De verbo Dei, bk. 2, c. 2, § Arg. tertium). He proves this from Philo (De egress. filiorum Israel ex Aegypto) and from Eusebius (Praeparat. evang., bk. 8, c. 2), who relate that all the way to their day, through a period of more than two thousand years, not even a word was changed in the Law of the Hebrews, and any Jew would rather suffer a hundred deaths than permit the Law to be changed in any way. But how is it that, with the Jews’ scrupulous care for the canonical books, they are imagined to have removed whole books from the canon? Bellarmine writes: “Before the coming of Christ, the church of the Jews did not fail” (De eccles., bk. 3, c. 16, § Ad tertiam). Therefore certainly the testimony of the Israelite church regarding the canon of Scripture cannot be repudiated. Toletus comments on Romans 3: “‘The utterances of God were entrusted to them,’ that is, the divine oracles contained in Scripture were committed to the Jews, for the utterances of God remained in their midst in a custody and deposit. Thus they became the trustees and guardians of the utterances of God.” But they would have been trustees and guardians of the faith badly if they had removed so many truly canonical books from the canon.

The exception that Campianus (Rat. 1) makes is frivolous: “The Jews set the Hebrew alphabet as their rule for the canonical books. Hence we must not assign too much weight to their testimony.” One must distinguish between an allusion of any sort and a fundamental proof. They compare the canonical books with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet with regard to number only, merely by way of an allusion. But they establish fundamental proof in this: that only those books that they acknowledge as canonical were written by the prophets and commended to their predecessors—no more, no fewer. This is clear from Josephus (Contra Apion., bk. 1). But if we must make this allusion a fault of the Jews, the same blame likewise will overflow to the doctors of the Christian Church. After all, they use the same allusion of the number of the Hebrew letters, as is clear from Origen (in Eusebius, Hist., bk. 6, c. 24), Hilary (preface to the Psalms), Cyprian (Exposit. symb.), Nazianzen (Carm.), and Jerome (Prolog. galeatus). In this way, Matthew establishes in his genealogy of Christ three sets of fourteen years, not as if he intended this number to be the rule for generations but to advise the memory of his readers.

Proof of the Minor Premise.

§ 74. We prove the minor premise: [i.e.Those controversial books lack the testimony of the Israelite church.“]

(1) From the testimony of Josephus:

We do not have countless books out of harmony with and contradicting each other. Rather, we have only twenty-two containing commentaries of every era. In these we rightly show confidence.” (Josephus, Contra Apion., bk. 1). Eusebius repeats this witness of Josephus (Hist. eccles., bk. 3, c. 10).

(2) From the confession of our opponents themselves.

Marianus Victorius, in his scholia to Epistle 116 of Jerome: “It is of no consequence that he writes that those controversial books are not in the canon because he takes this to refer to the Hebrew canon, not the canon of the Church.” Catharinus, Annot. advers. Cajetan., § De libr. Maccab.: “Jerome calls these apocryphal. I admit it. He is speaking, however, about the canon of the Hebrews.” Erasmus, on 1 Timothy 1, p. 464: “We take into our canon even those books of the Jews that they do not want to take into theirs. Christians are more kindly disposed to the books of the Jews than the Jews are to their own. Yet the Jews love their own books so much that no nation shows a more irrational affection.” Bellarmine, De verbo Dei, bk. 1, beginning of c. 10: “All those books that the Protestants do not accept the Hebrews likewise do not admit.” Costerus, Enchirid., c. De script., § De num. lib.: “Those books are not in the canon of the Jews.” Also: “Gregory is speaking about the canon of the Hebrews to which those books were not ascribed.” Thus they themselves are forced to admit that we have as a witness for our case the Israelite church that at that time was a pillar of truth.

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