Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Catholic Apologist Art Sippo on the 1 Esdras Problem
04/11/2007 - James SwanI mentioned a few days ago Catholic apologist Gary Michuta posted a response to William Webster's entries on the Esdras problem. Gary said,
"My assertion that the Council of Trent passed over the question of the canonicity of Esdras in silence is not a matter of my own or anyone else's interpretation of the decree. It is a historical fact."
Well, I guess it depends on which Catholic apologist you talk to. In the same discussion started by Michuta, Catholic apologist Art Sippo grants Gary's point, but ventures off into a different resolution. Sippo replied:
"As Gary mentioned, Trent specifically discussed the status of 1 Esdras and decided to pass over the question of its canonicity. But anyone who is familiar with the state of the Biblical Canon in the late 4th Century knows that the term '2 books of Esdras' had been used for over 100 years by Origen and others to refer to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And St. Jerome was well aware of the difference between 1Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah in the 390's. In the Vulgate translation he made, St. Jerome used the title 1Esdras to refer to Ezra, 2Esdras to refer to Nehemiah, and 3Esdras to refer to the apocryphal 1Esdras from the Septuagint."
Sippo agrees Trent passed over 1 Esdras in silence, but then argues early usage of 1 Esdras shows Hippo and Carthage understood 1 and 2 Esdras to be Ezra and Nehemiah. I'm questioning exactly where Michuta stands with Sippo's answer. These two Catholic apologists appear to be giving different answers. Michuta did not venture into historical usage in his brief response. Perhaps Gary's new book will provide similar argumentation to that put forth by Sippo. As it stands, these two men appear to be giving different answers.
Sippo's proof for his view holds Origen, Jerome, and others held to a strict Ezra / Nehemiah distinction, and were not fooled by the apocryphal book of 1 Esdras. William Webster though notes Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ephrem Syrus, Basil the Great, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Ambrose, Theophilus of Antioch, Dionysius of Alexandria, Augustine and Prosper of Aquaitaine all quote 1 Esdras. So, some were fooled by this apocryphal book. If Sippo is right, one would think Christendom was certain on the Ezra / Nehemiah distinction. Rather, what we find is what one would expect if 1 Esdras was in the Septuagint: widespread usage by the Church fathers.
But more troubling for Sippo's Esdras resolution is the open canon question. Why would Trent even bother to discuss 1 Esdras, if in fact these earlier councils ruled on the canon? Here was a book the earlier councils supposedly didn't even consider; yet Trent is still wondering about it. Now for Sippo, is the implication Carthage and Hippo remained silent on the Septuagint 1 Esdras as well? So much for canon certainty provided by these earlier councils! The Infallible councils keep passing over this book, and the Roman Church doesn't seem to be in any hurry to resolve its status. Now, if there really is a chance that God inspired a book currently not in the Roman Catholic canon, shouldn't this be a top priority to resolve? Wouldn't the very words of almighty God be something worthy of the intimate attention of both pope and council?
Sippo concludes by commenting on Websters argument:
"IMHO the whole thesis is DOA. But White, Webster, Svendsen and the rest of the Kampus Krusade for Kthulhu keep beating this dead horse, so we need to keep dealing with it."
Indeed, Art, do tell. You either have a blaring contradiction between councils, or a possible missing book from the Bible. I think Sippo, Michuta, and the rest of the zealous defenders of Rome have a lot of explaining to do.