23 March 2010

becoming catholic: part 2

Becoming Catholic icon

Disclaimer: When it comes to matters of faith (and matters of Catholicism in particular), emotions run high. It is a topic on which many have strong bents, preferences, and biases and regarding which particular views are held strongly. In many circles, there is much in the way of fear, misinformation, and outright antagonism when the topic of Catholicism is broached. I do not claim to speak in any official terms about matters Catholic, I claim only to speak for my own experience and journey. That being said, things may be introduced or stated in this series of posts which directly impacted my decision to convert. The purpose of stating these things is not to exact judgment on anyone or to incite anger or division, but only to provide reasoned explanations for why I now freely and deliberately chose to become Catholic.

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Definition of Terms Used in this Post:
Canon: The books of the Bible recognized by the Christian church as valid and inspired.
Reformation/Revolt: I use these terms interchangeably to describe the split of the Protestant church from the Catholic church (starting in 1517)
Deuterocanonical: Literally means, "alongside the canon". Describes the seven books of the Old Testament for which there were no original Hebrew texts. At least some of these were originally written in Greek and as such, were held in suspicion by Jewish religious leaders and later, by the Reformers as well. Some of these books have been found to have Hebrew originals in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The deuterocanonical books are: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (also called "Ecclesiasticus"), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, as well as portions of Daniel and Esther. These books are also often referred to as the "apocrypha" by Protestant sources.
Septuagint: The Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament. The translation occurred between the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, and contain the 46 books of the OT, including the deuterocanonicals.

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It is a very dangerous thing when you becoming willing to ask: What if I am not as right about this as I think I am? What will happen when I honestly and openly examine another perspective on what I think I know? What if in finding what is true, I also find that what I once believed is lacking?

When such questions are raised, a person has two choices. You can bury your head, ignore the questions, and hope that with neglect, they will slowly die away and that life will continue on as it has before. Or, you can persist in finding the answers, no matter what they are.


We both knew what we had to do.

"Roman Catholic Bibles" place the books of Tobit and Judith between Nehemiah and Esther and 1 and 2 Maccabees after Esther. The books of Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon) and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) are similar to the Book of Proverbs and are placed after the Song of Songs. The book of Baruch follows Lamentations. Eastern Orthodox scripture includes these books, too, and some Orthodox Bibles contain still others such as the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, and 3 Maccabees (with 4 Maccabees as an appendix).

These books were not part of Hebrew scripture, but were included in all Christian Bibles until The 16th Century Reformation. The Reformers chose the shorter Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible (39 Books), thus paralleling the thought of Martin Luther who considered these other books "not equal to the Sacred Scriptures, but useful and good for reading."

-- From the ELCA website regarding their beliefs of Scripture, emphasis mine

The Canon of Scripture
Wait a minute. Wait just a minute. I had to read it more than once, as shocked as I was. The Reformers chose to omit seven books of the Bible that had been included since the days of the early church -- the very books of the Septuagint that Paul used in his travels when he won people to Christ -- because they deemed these books unequal to the other books of Scripture? These seven books weren't originally written in Hebrew, but did that fact make them somehow less inspired? We learned that not only did they omit these seven Old Testament books, but Martin Luther also seriously considered omitting New Testament texts such as Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation from the New Testament as well because he held such a low view of them. He termed James "an epistle of straw because it contains nothing evangelical" and of Revelation said, "I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it" and also added "to my mind it bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character."


It seemed awfully presumptuous to me, to remove seven books of the Bible that had been accepted for sixteen centuries. As someone who has long held a high view of God's word, this did more than raise an eyebrow -- this was appalling. If it was indeed true that the Reformers used their own subjective judgment to decide that these seven books weren't equal to Scripture, this gave rise to several questions for me: By what authority were these books rejected? Since Scripture itself doesn't account for the books that should be in it, how was the Canon of Scripture formed in the first place, and who had the authority to decide this? What are the implications for us if the seven books that the Reformers omitted from the Old Testament are in fact Scripture?

Learning to see things from a different angle
This is where I had to question what I had been taught and what I had believed about Scripture, willing to admit that just maybe, it had been wrong. This is where I had to suspend my Protestant biases.

We had always heard from Protestant sources that the Catholic church added these seven deuterocanonical books at the Council of Trent (which was held in the 16th century in response to the Protestant revolt), but what we found was quite the opposite, and we had the words of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America affirming this. These seven books were not added later, but had always been there and held as authoritative until the reformers had them removed. When the Canon of Scripture was formally defined in the 4th century by Pope Damasus I and was later confirmed by three official councils of the Church, these seven books were included.

So what kinds of material did Luther have removed? One of the books removed was the book of Sirach and in the days of the early church, had earned the nickname "Ecclesiasticus" (literally, "Church Book") since it was often used to catechize new believers. Maccabees contains ample additional detail of the martyrologies described in Hebrews 11, and also describes the establishment of the Feast of Dedication that we see in John 10. The early church and even the apostle Paul had relied upon these and the other books, and until Luther omitted them from his translations, the entire Church was using them.

As we looked into this even more, we were searching for any justifiable reason why the Reformers would have omitted so many texts. What evidence could they have that would lead them to believe that these works had not in fact been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? While I wanted desperately to believe in their best intentions, we found that Luther's own hand penned the reason. Luther explicitly decreed that his own will was sufficient for the removal of these texts, and for the addition of words not in the original text. He added the word "alone" to the text of Romans 3:28 so that it read: "For we hold that one is justified by faith [alone] apart from works of the law." The word alone is in none of the original manuscripts. Paul never put it there. When confronted on this matter, Luther's response was this:

... if your Papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word "alone" (sola), say this to him: "Dr. Martin Luther will have it so and he says that a papist and an ass are the same thing." Please do not give these asses any other answer to their useless braying about that word "sola" than simply "Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the papal doctors." Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. (I will it, I command it; my will is reason enough).

Translated from Sendbrief von Dolmetschen, an open letter on translating by Dr. Martin Luther

I couldn't believe what I was reading: Luther said that his will was reason enough to add words to Scripture. When that concept really sunk in, I could hardly believe what I was reading. I really could not afford him the benefit of the doubt anymore. In attempting to provide further support for the removal of the Old Testament texts, he deferred to the Council of Jamnia, a Jewish rabbinical council held late in the first century. These Jewish leaders, with the end in mind of suppressing Christianity and preserving the Hebrew language, rejected the seven deuterocanonical books that did not have supporting texts in Hebrew (the video below explains a bit more about why there were no known original Hebrew texts at the time, and why some of these OT texts were originally written in Greek), and which also contained clear prophecy regarding Christ and His crucifixion. For example:

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD.
To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like other men's, and different are his ways.
He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.
Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him."

Wisdom 2:12-20 (written approximately 100 years before the coming of Christ)

It makes sense that the Jews would want to suppress a text that contained such a clear prophecy of Christ, but this made me question still further: why would Martin Luther and the other reformers want to suppress these texts? Luther's reasons were clear from his writings: these other books supported Catholic doctrines such as purgatory and prayers for the dead, doctrines he identified as Catholic, and which he had explicitly rejected based on nothing more than his own authority. He rejected the long-standing tradition of these books being accepted by the apostles and the early church, as well as the authority of the church councils that formally defined the Canon.

There is much, much more that I could say regarding information we found on the reformers and their views of Scripture, none of which I heard in any school, Christian or otherwise. And before I get accused of picking on Luther here, allow me to explain. I singled him out for a few reasons. First of all, it is necessary to limit the scope of whom and what I discuss when I'm confining this to a blog post. Veritable volumes have been written on the subject (and in a much more scholarly fashion) and there is no way I could treat it thoroughly here. Secondly, while the seeds of the Reformation had been brewing for a little while, it were his actions specifically that were the impetus for the biggest split in the history of Christendom. I am not alone in the opinion that amongst the reformers, he is chiefly responsible for the split and the fallout that was the inevitable consequence. Thirdly, he wrote rather prolifically on the matter, and so we have many texts from we can read and clearly discern his reasoning. Lastly, he claimed rather boldly to have authority from the Holy Spirit to refute the Catholic church, who he also claimed was entirely in error. Claims such as he made had never been heard or made by Christians before and deserve to be examined.

In the next post, I'll respond to specifically to what I learned regarding one of the five solas of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura, since it ties in directly to the issue of the Canon of Scripture and how Luther treated it. It really is impossible to separate the topic of the Canon from this particular sola that was pivotal to the Reformation, so it's important that I address that next.

In the meantime ...

Additional Reading/Resources:
Article about Martin Luther
Article about the Canon of the Old Testament
Reformation or Revolt? Audio CD by Steve Wood

Luther's own statements concerning his teaching and its results (available online through Google books)

Note about the video below:
This 10-minute video is very helpful in terms of gaining an overview about the formation of the Canon of Scripture, and the differences between the Catholic and Protestant canons. If your curiosity has been raised the least bit by what I've said here (or if you think I'm a heretic, or just completely off my rocker), I encourage you to watch it and to test for yourself the claims that are made. It is not meant to be an exhaustive resource, but does raise many good questions for those who are inclined to look deeper into the issues raised.


  1. fascinating. thank you for sharing your journey and discoveries with us Kirsten, my eyes and ears are peeled and open to the Spirit leading us all in to deeper truth!

    The prophecy of Wisdom 2:12-20 and that "These Jewish leaders, with the end in mind of suppressing Christianity and preserving the Hebrew language" especially stand out, among other things you've written here such as the treatment of Canon, causes me pause to echo your "Wait just a minute.

  2. Wow.. this seems like something I should look into more. I have wondered about the other books that are not included in the protestant bible. If the apostle Paul considered them true scripture, how could they be taken out?

    I'm honestly sort of ashamed of how little I know of church history. I came to Jesus when I was 15 and it was just shortly before that that my family had started attending church. I read my bible, but other than that I have very little real knowledge of church history. ..I think that is something I need to change.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Great post, Kirsten! Very articulate.

    Growing up in the Protestant church, I was always curious about the "extra" books that I heard about. Thanks for taking some time to explain the background. I am looking forward to looking into this more. Sometime I'd like to read the Septuagint. Will be looking into that.

    I really respect how thoroughly you have searched out truth. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  4. What a journey! I'm so impressed, encouraged, and exhorted by your courage and questing after truth here (yours and James's). I hope to be that honest with myself and my beliefs.

  5. Excellent, Heavy, and Very Deep stuff. Thanks for the links. I'll have to read up on those.

    I want to hear the rest of the story before I comment further, you have me curious.

  6. I'll just have to stick that in my ponder pipe and smoke it for some time to come. I can't wait for part three!!!

  7. I'm with everyone else: I"m learning a lot, and I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of the story. Thanks for writing this.

  8. @di
    That passage from Wisdom really is something isn't it? Thanks for reading and for considering. It really is amazing all the information that's out there!!

    Tea, I really had not much of any idea of church history either until we started seriously looking into this matter. It really is fascinating, a treasure trove for every Christian.

    I do hope you are blessed and are able to continue in your study!!

    Thanks for reading, and for considering. I always had wondered about those extra books too. I had no idea about the history there. Blessings on your own journey!!

    What a journey, indeed!! I do hope that we continue to be humble and honest as we continue to seek His face.

    Some trippy stuff, isn't there? There's a lot of this that overwhelmed me as I was learning it -- it's a lot to take in, when you hear things from an entirely different perspective. I'm keeping on with the story, so I do hope you'll follow along.

    Well friend, normally I would discourage smoking, but I take it this means you have some thinking about it to do. Sounds like one for the hot tub crew, maybe. ;o)

    Glad you're here, friend; glad you're reading, thinking, considering, and listening. Blessings to you.

  9. Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    :0) I'm so glad to know that you've already been through this part...I'm so nervous. I look forward to getting that first ultrasound and knowing everything is ok. It's so scary the first time around.