I recently had an opportunity to attend a seminar called “How We Got The Bible”. A friend of mine had informed me that a history professor and author named Dr. Paul Maier, was going to be teaching a group of Lincoln, Nebraska, Christians, about the origin of the Bible. As a Catholic, I find it very interesting when a Protestant undertakes the delicate explanation of the roots of the Bible, because I know the Bible has three primary roots, just as a three-legged stool has three legs. The three-legged stool of the Bible is God, the Jewish people and Catholicism. Protestants sometimes try to come up with a story that somehow ignores Catholicism’s role in the whole process, leaving them with a very unstable two-legged stool. Some Protestants try to get by with the two-legged stool for 1,500 years until Martin Luther comes along to fill the role of their third leg.
I had a few weeks before Dr. Maier was set to arrive in Lincoln and present his theory, so I did some investigation in to what I should expect to hear from him. To my pleasant satisfaction, Dr. Maier had a video series titled, “How We Got The Bible”. I was able to view the series on Youtube, and found that the series consisted of 5 short videos that were very watchable in that they did not take a lot of time and they were pretty interesting.
As I watched the first few videos, I was impressed with Dr. Maier’s knowledge of history and language. His long career of teaching at the college level showed in his style. He did a great job of explaining the origin of the Old Testament, but when he arrived on the topic of the New Testament, he glossed over much of the 1200 years following Christ’s resurrection. He even had guests on his video that said very inaccurate statements. By the 5th video, “How We Got The English Language Bible”, Dr. Maier turned it over to the equivalent of an anti-Catholic hit man, Joel Lampe. Mr. Lampe (dressed in attire more fitting for a lounge singer than a Bible historian) spent 15 to 20 minutes regurgitating old anti-Catholic canards and selectively jumping over facts that would show the Catholic Church in a good light in order to seize upon and distort anything that he could use to assail the Catholic Church.
An uninformed viewer of Dr. Maier’s 5-part series could end up with the belief that the Bible lay hidden and obscured for 1200 years once the Book of Revelation was complete, only to be discovered by the likes of Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale and was finally presented to the world by the quasi-infallible Martin Luther.
So I prepared a little timeline that eventually developed into my 4-part blog on How We Really Got The Bible. I also made a little tri-fold pamphlet I could hand to anyone who showed interest in knowing a little more than the were going to get from Dr. Maier. I called a friend of mine (Dave) to see if he was interested in going to the seminar with me, as it is always good to have a backup in case someone decides to allege you said or did something you didn’t say or do. Dave agreed to go. He may regret that now (just kidding).
We arrived at the seminar a little early, paid our $20.00 fee and took our seats. Dr. Maier began his talk by telling us we could ask questions at any time, then he set into his talk much in the same way he did his video series. For the first hour, there was little or no misinformation, negative comments about the Catholic Church or convenient overlooking of some fact that would make the Catholic Church seem like it was an essential part of the process. But this was simply the discussion of the Old Testament, so that was no surprise. Things picked up a bit when he started talking about the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. These are the 7 books most Protestants call the Apocryphal books or the Apocrypha (Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, and the Wisdom of Solomon, plus portions of Esther and Daniel).
He explained that the Apocrypha does not appear in some Protestant Bibles, “but it is okay if they do [show up in your Bible because], they are pretty good literature” and there is nothing wrong with them. He downplayed the issue by saying, “they just are not necessary”. He said they show up in the Catholic Bible, but the Catholic Church regards them as 2nd tier and not as reliable as the other 66 books of the Bible. He didn’t have much more to say about the topic, probably because he didn’t know there were any Catholics in attendance. He said the Christian Bible has always accepted the Septuagint as the official Old Testament. This bears repeating. Dr. Maier, a Protestant historian who specializes in the history of the origin of the Bible, clearly stated in his seminar (the video series says this too), that Christianity has always accepted the Septuagint as the authentic books of he Old Testament.
After he was done with his 2nd, hour, he opened it up for questions, so I raised my hand. The organizer handed me the microphone. I began, “Let me warn you, I’m Catholic”. Dr. Maier smiled and said, “welcome brother”. I thanked him and then asked if the Deuterocanonical books (Apocryphal books) were in the Septuagint. He scratched his head and claimed ignorance. I heard someone across the aisle admit that it contained “some”. Even with help from the audience, Dr. Maier simply said he didn’t know the answer to that one (Just so you know, it does and it always has). So I asked him what Deuteronomy meant. He said it means, “repeat the law”. I informed him that as a Catholic, I see the “Deuter” on the front of Deuteronomy and on the front of Deuterocanonical and I think it is the same word. I explained, we don’t see the Deuterocanonical books as 2nd tier, we see them as reaffirming the earlier books of the Old Testament just as Deuteronomy reaffirms the laws of Leviticus and some of Numbers. The translation is “repeat”, not “2nd tier” as in “lower importance”. Deuterocanonical means “repeat the canon” or “repeat the rule”, meaning these books reaffirm the other 66 books.
To that Dr. Maier, who can evidently speak Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, chose not to tackle the issue from his strength, which is his far superior knowledge of these ancient languages, but to simply claim that Catholics like the Deuterocanonical books because they provide the basis for our belief in Purgatory. I corrected him on that and informed him that the books are of little use for things like apologetics because most non-Catholics don’t even think they are inspired or authentic books of the Bible. I informed him that we consider them equally important as the rest of the books of the Bible and we read them at Mass. I informed him that we have been reading Tobit at Mass everyday this week, and that these books have been used in our Liturgy for centuries before the reformation. He feigned interest then noticed someone else had a question.
After that, there were no more questions during the seminar, which made for a long day.
After lunch, Dr. Maier launched into an abbreviated synopsis which drummed up all of the old allegations against the Catholic Church’s alleged attempts to keep the Bible out of the hands of the English speaking people. He basically took Joel Lampe’s material, which was nothing more than a recitation of anti-Catholic half-truths and distortions, and boiled it down to about 10 minutes of veiled anti-Catholicism. I suspect that he abbreviated this section of his talk because he knew there was at least one Catholic in the crowd who may call him on a number of the typical allegations and he knew enough to know that he could not substantiate many of them. Nonetheless, he did glorify Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale, while making the inaccurate claim that the Catholic Church executed Hus and Tyndale, and they exhumed Wycliffe’s bones, burned them for heresy and then scattered them in the river.
Then, without stopping, he moved into a biased and shameless ode to all the leaders of the reformation, openly bemoaning the fact that it had not happened sooner. He was so caught up in his victory lap, that he forgot that he didn’t want anymore questions from the audience and actually asked if anyone had any questions. My hand went up, but he acted like he didn’t see it and quickly went into his third topic of the afternoon which was the Gnostic writings and their obvious heresy.
After the last break of the day, Dr. Maier finished his talk on the Gnostic writings and then opened it up for questions one more time. But before he took any questions, he proudly announced that he had discovered the answer to my first question of the day, “are the Deuterocanonical books included in the Septuagint?”. Dr. Maier announced that someone in the audience had an English language copy of the Septuagint and the Apocrypha was NOT included. He laughed and pointed his hand triumphantly toward the ceiling exclaiming, “so there is the answer.” Unfortunately, the highly educated historian who specializes in the history of the Bible, was wrong. And I am confident he knew it. The Deuterocanonical books (Apocryphal books) were always in the Septuagint (for just one of many sources of this fact, look here: Septuagint.net) I presume that someone in the crowd had a King James translation of the Bible and Dr. Maier thought that gave him enough wiggle room to definitively declare yet one more victory for the reformers. It is unfortunate when an educator is willing to mislead in order to falsely support his or her own personal agenda.
I had dozens of loaded questions I could have asked him by the end of his seminar. But I knew that few attendees were interested in hearing us debate about his many errors after sitting in plastic chairs in a gymnasium for 6 hours. I also knew that I wasn’t going to convert anyone to the truth by poking holes in their speaker’s presentation, which actually had some fantastic historical information. Therefore, I seized upon one of the easiest and most verifiable corrections I could make, which was the bones of John Wycliffe. Both Dr. Maier in his talk and Joel Lampe, in the video series, claimed that the Catholic Church, at the Council of Constance, ordered that Wycliffe’s bones be exhumed and burned, for heresy. I had actually read the declaration from the Council of Constance and I knew that the Church had never ordered the bones burned. To do so would be useless, seem petty and suggest that the Church was vindictive. These are all allegations that the reformers level against the Church, so they seem to love this particular aspect of the Wycliffe story. But here is what the actual and official Council document says with regard to Wycliffe:
“It decrees and orders that his body and bones are to be exhumed, if they can be identified among the corpses of the faithful, and to be scattered far from a burial place of the church, in accordance with canonical and lawful sanctions.”
No mention of burning at all. So my question to Dr. Maier was, “Do you spend much time reading the actual documents of the Church Councils you cite?” He replied that he did. I then pointed out that the Council of Constance never ordered that Wycliffe’s bones were to be burned. They were simply declared unfit for burial in the Catholic cemetery and needed to be removed. Dr. Maier could have simply said he would look at the document again or he could have brushed it off as something people could check on themselves. But he didn’t. He said that I was wrong and that the Church document ordered the bones burned. Once again, this college professor who has authored numerous books on the history of the Bible and various other biblically related topics chose to stand his ground on wishfull thinking, instead of the truth. Instead of starting a long debate that nobody signed up for, I handed the microphone back to the M.C., and Dr. Maier wrapped up the seminar, announcing that he would be at his book table for further questions.
I was the first in line. I actually had a very non-confrontational question about Christ’s choice of language when he spoke to his apostles. Earlier in the seminar, Dr. Maier had said, “we all know that Jesus spoke Aramaic to his disciples, not Greek”. This is a fact that I like to use when refuting non-Catholic Christians when they claim that Matthew 16:18 is not clear proof that Jesus appointed Peter as the head of the Church. Many non-Catholics like to allege that the Greek translation of that passage identifies Peter as a small pebble. They claim that Christ was declaring that he was building his earthly Church on nothing more than a profession of faith, not the physical Catholic Church, headed by Peter all the way to Pope Francis today.
Unfortunately, Dr. Maier was not expecting fraternal discussion and thought I was trying to pick at some other flaw in his presentation. He was cordial, but he was too busy wondering what my ulterior motive was. So after a brief discussion, I simply thanked him and told him that I appreciated some of his information, but not all of it and that his video series was helpful up until Joel Lampe appears in the last video. He smiled, chuckled and said, “I know what you mean”. I told him that I thought he could correct some of the errors and handed him my pamphlet titled, “How We Really Got The Bible.” He graciously thanked me and I headed toward the door.
Before I was out of the gym, the M.C. stopped me, thanked me for coming and shook my hand. I think he may have been the pastor, and he was genuine and kind. I thanked him for allowing me to ask questions and pointed out that while a lot of Dr. Maier’s information is very helpful, there were some very inaccurate statements about Catholicism. He clearly appreciated my perspective, so I gave him my pamphlet as well.
Throughout the various breaks during the day, Dave and I had a number of really positive conversations with numerous non-Catholic attendees. Everyone we met was very kind and several of them thanked us for coming and said they appreciated my questions. Had I been more aggressive with Dr. Maier, I could have won my little battles, but I would have turned people further away from the truth. Hopefully some in attendance recognized that they were not getting the straight story from Dr. Maier and that they should look into some of the issues I raised with him. I would have loved to have passed out my pamphlets to everyone in attendance as they would have walked away with a lot more information than they received in the seminar, but I think that would have been inappropriate since I was on their turf.