A Response to Dr. Michael Brown on the Canon of Scripture

I recently saw Dr. Brown doing a live Q&A on Facebook, so I dropped him a question via the comment section and I would like to interact with the response he provided. But first, before I present the question and his response along with further interaction, I want to say I appreciate Dr. Brown and his ministry tremendously! I’ve listened to Dr. Brown for over 12 years and I admire and share his love for the Jews and his love for the Christian faith. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the way he charitably communicates with opposing interlocutors and for his passionate commitment to seeing the name of Christ proclaimed among the world.

As well versed as Dr. Brown is in the Old Testament, along with his astonishing knowledge of Jewish literature, I believe he may need to consider some points when it comes to the canon of the Old Testament. This will be evident once I interact with his response to my question. Here is a video of the question and Dr. Brown’s answer:

Here is the text of the question, as can be seen on the screen in the video:

“Dr. Brown, you appeal to the Church Fathers for the New Testament canon but you reject their Old Testament canon that J.N.D. Kelly notes included the Dueterocanonicals in most cases. Can you explain the reason for this inconsistency?”

Notice Dr. Brown skipped the part that addresses the Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly, who admits the majority of the fathers affirmed the Deuterocanonicals. I’m sure it was a simple oversight that was not intentional, but it is important, because it contradicts part of his response. Be that as it may, let’s examine his main points:

  1. The New Testament doesn’t quote from the Deuterocanonicals and the canon of the Old Testament is fixed in the New Testament.
  2. The witness from first century Jewish communities is the Deutorocanonicals were not accepted as Scripture.
  3. The Church Fathers didn’t accept the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture.
  4. The Church Fathers used the Septuagint, which confirms the protestant Old Testament canon (this part of Dr. Brown’s response seemed almost incoherent, so if I’ve misrepresented him here then I stand corrected.)
  5. The Church Fathers didn’t set the Old Testament canon but only set the New Testament canon because the Old Testament was already set by the Jewish communities.

Each of these can be addressed at length, and I could provide copious scholars and footnotes to corroborate my response, but to keep things brief and less erudite, I’ll provide quick responses:

  1. The New Testament also doesn’t quote from several Protocanonical books, which Dr. Brown would accept as canonical, such as Esther, Ezra, Ruth, etc. In fact, at least ten books of the Protestant Old Testament canon are not quoted in the New Testament. Additionally, the New Testament quotes from the Book of Enoch in the Epistle of Jude, so appeal to which books the New Testament quotes is simply not going to get anyone their canon. Furthermore, how do we know which books to include in the New Testament in order to use this as a measure to determine the Old Testament canon?
  2. The Jews did not have a set canon in the first century. The Essenes had a larger canon, the Samaritans only held to the Pentateuch, the Palestinian Jews maintained the Protestant Old Testament canon and the Alexandrian Jews held to the Deuterocanonicals, by way of the Septuagint. It wasn’t until after the advent of Christianity that the Jewish communities informally settled their canon. Furthermore, why would a Christian turn to unbelieving Jews, who denied the messianic claims of Jesus, to determine the canon? This is an odd concept.
  3. As J.N.D. Kelly notes “It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the twenty-two, or twenty-four, books of the Hebrew Bible of Palestinian Judaism. It always included though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha, or Deuterocanonical books. For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.” (Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines, pp 53-55.) So, it is not the case that the Church Fathers rejected the Deuterocanonicals. The majority affirmed them to be liturgically canonical and/or divinely inspired.
  4. This is entirely false. The Church Fathers mostly used the Septuagint, which included the Deuterocanonicals.
  5. The Jewish communities did not have a set canon, but even if they did, why would we dismiss the testimony of the New Testament church in regards to the Old Testament canon, since it was the New Testament church that was given the proclamation of the Gospel? Wouldn’t the New Testament church need to know the extent of the Old Testament canon in order to prove to the Jews that Jesus was the promised messiah and the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures? Wasn’t it the New Testament church to whom Christ promised His Spirit and established as the “pillar of truth?” (1 Timothy 3:15) I’m not sure one should dismiss the New Testament church on the extent of the Old Testament canon, since would actually lead one to the position that we may not know the limits of the Old Testament canon. I’m also not sure how one may avoid the conclusion that if the New Testament church, which was proclaiming the good news from the Old Testament scriptures and using the Deuterocanonicals in their proclomation, did not know the extent of the Old Testament canon, then they were not truly equipped to proclaim the message of Christ (which is absurd since Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 assumes Timothy knows the Old Testament canon and is thereby “fully equipped”).

I hope Dr. Brown, and others who share his views, will take the time to consider these points for the sake of a fruitful dialogue.

Further Reading:

See here for another article I’ve written on the canon of Scripture

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