Esdras & The Early Church: A Response to William Webster

by John Betts


William Webster, a popular Evangelical Protestant apologist, has written a book on the formation of the Canon of Scripture. Together with his online material on this subject, he essentially recycles many of the arguments Protestants and Catholics have had for centuries on this. Webster seems to be very selective in his use of scholarship, ignoring the wider historical evidence, which more than adequately addresses many of the positions he takes [1]. Yet there is one claim he makes on the Canon that is unique and not addressed by any of the major scholars I am familiar with in this field [2]. Webster writes:

"...The canon of the North African Councils differed from that decreed by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century on one important. Hippo and Carthage stated that 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras were canonical, referring to the Septuagint version of 1 and 2 Esdras, the Bible their Latin version was based upon. In that version, 1 Esdras was the apocryphal additions to Ezra and Nehemiah which they combined into one book. This was 2 Esdras in the Septuagint version. It was Jerome (in his Latin Vulgate) who separated Ezra and Nehemiah into two books, calling them 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras respectively. This became standard for the Vulgate and the basis upon which Trent declared the Septuagint 1 Esdras to be noncanonical. 1 Esdras in the in the Septuagint then became 3 Esdras in the Vulgate... Augustine quoted from the book of III Esdras (I Esdras in the Septuagint) in his work The City of God. Thus, when the Council of Carthage gave its list of canonical books for the Old Testament it followed the Septuagint translation. In referring to Esdras as comprising two books they were referring to I and II Esdras of the Septuagint. And when Carthage sent these decrees to Rome for confirmation, it was these books which were confirmed as canonical. Innocent I affirmed this in his letter to Exuperius and they were later included in the decrees of Popes Gelasius and Hormisdas...This contradicts the decree passed by Trent which followed Jerome in assigning I and II Esdras to the canonical Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah respectively. Therefore, Trent declared uncanonical what the Council of Carthage and the bishops of Rome, in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, declared to be canonical." [3]

Webster claims that the Biblical Canon promulgated at the North African Synods at Hippo & Carthage in the late 4th and early 5th Centuries A.D. differed from that of The Council of Trent with regards to the “two books of Esdras.” He uses as his primary evidence the contents of the major Septuagint codices and St. Augustine’s use of apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras in The City of God. In this article, I hope to examine in more detail the particulars of his claim and respond to the evidence that he believes supports this view.

Ezra-Nehemiah & Esdras

Before briefly reviewing Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 (3) Esdras, it is necessary to explain the differences in how each are named to avoid confusing the reader. The Hebrew prophetic book Ezra-Nehemiah is a single work in the Jewish tradition that is sometimes divided into two separate books separately as “Ezra” and “Nehemiah” in many Christian Bibles. In the early manuscripts, the two-part work is sometimes collected together as “Esdras B” or “2 Esdras” in the major Septuagint codices, and separately as “1 Esdras” (Ezra) and “2 Esdras” (Nehemiah) in the Vulgate. The apocryphal Esdras is known as “Esdras A” or “1 Esdras” in the Septuagint and as “3 Esdras” in the Vulgate. There is also another apocryphal work of similar name, known as “3 Esdras” in the Septuagint and “4 Esdras” in the Vulgate.

Hebrew Canon Septuagint Vulgate
Ezra * 2 Esdras (Esdras B) * 1 Esdras (Ezra) *
Nehemiah * 2 Esdras (Esdras B) * 2 Esdras (Nehemiah) *
-- 1 Esdras (Esdras A) 3 Esdras
-- 3 Esdras 4 Esdras

* Canonical; Ezra-Nehemiah are joined together in the so-called Hebrew Canon [4]

Catholic Bibles mostly follow the Vulgate’s designation of these books, as can be seen in the old Douay-Rheims, though in today’s English translations 1 Esdras is usually called “Ezra” and 2 Esdras is called “Nehemiah”. To avoid confusing matters further, I shall refer to the canonical material as “Ezra-Nehemiah” mostly, but also as “canonical Esdras”. The apocryphal Esdras I shall refer to as “1 (3) Esdras” with the first number being the designation from the Septuagint and the latter from the Vulgate. At times, I shall also refer to it as “apocryphal Esdras”.

Our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah was written sometime in the 5th Century B.C. and the prevailing view among most scholars is that it and 1-2 Chronicles comes from a single unknown source, commonly referred to as “Chronicler”. It is thought that 1-2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were once joined together in one long history, although clear evidence for this is lacking. One reason given for this opinion is that the last paragraph of 2Chronicles and the first paragraph of Ezra are identical. While Ezra-Nehemiah is separated in many bibles into the two books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the material was compiled together as one book in the so-called Hebrew canon and is generally referred to as “Ezra-Nehemiah” by many scholars today. It tells the history of the return of the Jews to Palestine from the Babylonian Exile, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the rearmament of Jerusalem, and Nehemiah’s reforms [5].

1 (3) Esdras was written probably sometime in the 3rd Century B.C. in Hebrew or Aramaic, though it only comes to us in Greek, and it “belongs to the genre of literature known as the ‘Rewritten Bible’, which was so important a part of the literary output of the intertestamental period (see, e.g., Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Apocalypse of Abraham, Jubilees, and the Qumran Temple Scroll)” [6]. It closely parallels, though not without changes, much of the canonical material in the ending of 2 Chronicles, all of Ezra, and Nehemiah 8. 1 (3) Esdras 3:1-5:6 provides original material with the story of the three bodyguards. The ordering of the material in 1 (3) Esdras, it should be noted, differs greatly from our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah and is strangely missing an ending, being cut off in mid-sentence [7].

Parallels Between 1 (3) Esdras & Ezra-Nehemiah [8]

1 (3) Esdras 1 2 Chronicles 35-36
1 (3) Esdras 2:1-15 Ezra 1
1 (3) Esdras 2:16-30 Ezra 4:7-24a
1 (3) Esdras 3:1-5:6 --
1 (3) Esdras 5:7-73 Ezra 2:1-4:5
1 (3) Esdras 6:1-9:36 Ezra 4:24b-10:44
1 (3) Esdras 9:37-55 Nehemiah 7:73b-8:13

Scholars for centuries have been divided on what the relation of 1 (3) Esdras is to our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah. Though the prevailing view today seems to be that 1 (3) Esdras is derived from Ezra-Nehemiah (along with the ending chapters of 2 Chronicles), it has also been theorized Ezra-Nehemiah was derived from 1 (3) Esdras and that both come from the Chronicler’s work whose original is now lost [9]. It is believed to have been an alternative version of canonical Ezra-Nehemiah in the 1st century A.D. and among the Church Fathers. Josephus used 1 (3) Esdras rather than Ezra-Nehemiah in his work Jewish Antiquities (11.1-158) “though not exclusively, and not without some correction of its historical inaccuracies” [10]. Among the Church Fathers, deSilva notes that 1 (3) Esdras, “appears to have exercised an influence chiefly on account of the episode that it does not share with Ezra-Nehemiah: the contest of the three bodyguards. Zerubbabel’s discourse on truth, predictably, is the most frequently quoted part of the book: Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 1.21), Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Ambrose, Ephrem the Syrian, John Chrysostom, and John of Damascus all refer to or quote this passage; Augustine (Dei civitate Dei 18.36) quotes 1 Esd. 3:12, also for the sake of the reference there to truth being the strongest. As far as the early church authorities were concerned, it seems that it was the new material in 1 Esdras that was considered most useful; for the rest, they preferred Ezra-Nehemiah. The court tale thus emerges in fact as the primary reason for both the book’s composition and its preservation” [10]. Given the amount of material in 1 (3) Esdras which derives from our canonical books, in addition to the story of the three bodyguards which was very popular in the early Church, it isn’t surprising that many of the early Fathers saw this apocryphal work as another version of our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.

There exists also another apocryphal Esdras, known as “3 Esdras” in the Septuagint and “4 Esdras” in the Vulgate. Its date of composition is unknown, but it is believed to date from sometime between the late 1st century B.C. and the mid-2nd century A.D. It is also sometimes called the Apocalypse of Esdras. This work has little relation to the material we are reviewing here other than its title, but it was frequently quoted by many early Fathers, even those who did not considered it canonical. It was also used in the early Christian liturgies.

Esdras & the LXX Codices

The name “Septuagint” generally refers to those versions of the Old Testament (OT) translated into the Greek prior to the time of Christ. The Septuagint is known also as the “LXX” because the Letter of Aristeas mentions seventy or seventy-two Jewish translators (depending upon the version) who rendered the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek for the Egyptian King Ptolemy. The legend states at each of these seventy-odd Jewish scholars did his own translation independently from the others, yet every one of the resulting texts was identical. Indeed, a pious belief arose among many of the early Fathers – probably due to the New Testament’s use of the LXX and the influence of the apocryphal Letter of Aristeas – that the LXX was handed down by the Apostles as the traditional Christian OT and that it was itself inspired. It was this OT textual tradition that was widely used in the early Church, both in the original Greek or in translations such as the Old Latin version. Not only was the LXX an important witness to alternative readings of the OT with some significant textual differences between the Greek and the Hebrew texts[11], but it was also used frequently by the New Testament (NT) writers and the early Church Fathers when they quoted the OT. There are three major early LXX codices which survive today: Vaticanus (early 4th century), Sinaiticus (early 5th century), and Alexandrinus (early 5th century).

Part of Webster’s alleged evidence for a contradiction between the Biblical Canons of the North African Synods and that of Trent, comes from the way that Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 (3) Esdras were named in the major Septuagint codices in contrast to the names used in the Vulgate. He asserts that because in the major LXX codices the apocryphal Esdras is known as “1 Esdras” and Ezra-Nehemiah is called “2 Esdras”, respectively, that the “two books of Esdras” referred to by the North African Synods [12] referred to the LXX usage. Meanwhile the Ecumenical Council of Trent referred to the Vulgate usage in which “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras” are Ezra and Nehemiah.

I’m rather surprised that Webster would base his claim on this, particularly given comments earlier in his book on the discredited Alexandrian Canon Theory [13]. In purporting to refute “Roman Catholic assumptions”, Webster notes that “the Septuagint manuscripts are all of Christian origin from the fourth and fifth centuries”, “we do not know for certain that the Septuagint itself included the books of the Apocrypha as canonical Scripture”, and that “there were books in these manuscripts that were never considered canonical by the Jews or the Church”. Webster sums this up by writing that “just because a book was listed in the manuscripts did not mean it was canonical. It simply means that these books were read in the Church”. Although I believe Webster is too critical of the Septuagint as witness to the Canon [14], with regards to the codices themselves his comments here are essentially correct. What I find amazing is that after casting such doubts on the Septuagint, he believes these codices provide a sterling witness to his claim on Esdras. It needs to be asked that if the LXX codices provides such a poor witness to the canonicity of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books, how do they help ‘prove’ that Hippo & Carthage meant 1 (3) Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah when it lists the “two books of Esdras” as part of the Canon of Scripture? Surely Webster cannot base so much of his claim about Esdras on the fact that the books of Esdras were designated differently in the Septuagint than in the Vulgate without contradicting his previous opinion about the value of the LXXfor determining the extent of the canon . While the major Septuagint codices list the apocryphal Esdras as “Esdras A” (or 1 Esdras) and Ezra-Nehemiah as “Esdras B” (or 2 Esdras), there is no way to determine from them the status of each book in the Church’s canon, as Webster himself acknowledges at least with regards to the deuterocanonicals. It also should be noted that Ezra-Nehemiah was found in some Greek manuscripts as separate books, which were called “1 & 2 Esdras”.

Contrary to what Webster claims, the division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books did not originate with St. Jerome’s Vulgate in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, but came much earlier [15]. The respected early 3rd century biblical scholar Origen over one hundred years before St. Jerome "knew this material as two books in Greek" [16]. The custom of dividing Ezra-Nehemiah into two books seems to have come from Christian sources. The Jews continued to collect this material as one book until the 15th century [17]. It is not known when the Christian custom arose of separating the material into two books. Both Origen and St. Jerome list these books as if the division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two books was a long-standing custom and not something that originated with either of them. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History quoted from Origen’s listing of the canonical books "as the Hebrews have handed them down", where Origen writes "Esdras, first and second in one, Ezra, that is, 'an assistant'" [18]. St. Jerome in his Preface to Samuel and Kings lists this book as "the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books" [19]. Notice that St. Jerome does not say anything about dividing them himself or dropping 1 (3) Esdras from the Church’s canon. Origen also doesn't say anything like this either.

Origen and St. Jerome were not the only early sources which showed that Ezra-Nehemiah had been divided into separate books with the titles 1 & 2 Esdras. The 4th century Synod of Laodicea in the East and St. Athanasius both listed the material in Ezra-Nehemiah as two books "First and Second Esdras" [20]. Rufinus referred to the "two books of Ezra" [21], while Cyril of Jerusalem notes that "first and second of Esdras are counted one" [22]. Each of these sources referred to the Septuagint or to versions like the Old Latin, which had been translated from the Greek. Webster himself in his book, and in his online articles, quotes all of these sources as evidence for the so-called Hebrew OT canon. He should have read his sources more carefully.

Hippo, Carthage & Trent on Esdras

The Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. adopted a canon of books as Scripture which is identical to that found in the Catholic Biblical Canon, listing the “two books of Esdras”. Although the acts of this synod have been lost, its canons were adopted four years later in 397 A.D. at the Third Synod of Carthage [23]:

“The [Synod] of Carthage that August 397 took place in two sessions. The first, starting on August 13th, was made up of Aurelius, the Bishop of Carthage and the bishops of Byzacena (one of the six imperial divisions of Roman Africa), who had arrived early for the council and were led by their primate, Mizonius. This first group worked together editing an abridged version of the canon which had been voted upon four years earlier, on October 8, 393, at the [Synod] of Hippo. As it happened Hippo was the pastoral charge of the priest Augustine under Bishop Valerius. This breviary of Hippo Brevarium Hipponense included a version of the canon of sacred literature. It was this canon, edited by Aurelius and the Byzacene delegation, which was ratified on August 13, as was the entire breviary on August 28, without discussion by the Proconsular bishops and the Numidian and Mauritanian bishops.” [24]

Webster has no proof that when the Synods of Hippo and Carthage listed the “two books of Esdras” they had the apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras in mind as the first of these. When we examine the history of the Biblical Canon from Hippo in the late 4th century on until Trent in the mid-16th century, we find no evidence of a change in the books of Esdras that are listed in the Canon. Because of this, it is reasonable to believe that the “two books of Esdras” adopted by Hippo and Carthage were Ezra and Nehemiah.

In the late 4th century, Pope St. Damasus I (366-384 A.D.) commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible from the original languages into Latin. Due to the many errors and corruptions, which had crept into the various Old Latin versions of the Septuagint, Pope St. Damasus was concerned that the Scriptures used by the Church had strayed from the ‘original’ texts which had been handed down. St. Jerome began work on the Gospels first and completed them in 384 A.D. They were not received without controversy. In 390 A.D., he began his translation of the books of the Old Testament, using the Hebrew alone as his source. All of this sparked a heated debate in the Church since his Vulgate translations departed from the traditional Septuagint version in preferring the Hebrew to the Greek in the Old Testament. His translation of Esdras was completed sometime in 394 A.D., meaning his work on this was contemporary with the proceedings at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. He completed his Vulgate translation in about 405 A.D. and submitted it to Pope St. Innocent I (401-417 A.D.) that same year. The controversy over it continued. St. Jerome’s further insistence that the deuterocanonical books were not part of the Canon but instead were part of the Apocrypha likewise brought protest. Indeed, just the reception he faced from his translation of the Gospels is enough to give light to the intense criticism he faced:

“So far from being immediately popular, Jerome’s improved version of the Latin Gospels was greeted with the howl of indignation he had predicted. This is apparently from an angry but revealing letter which he wrote shortly after the work was published. Contemptible characters, he protested, ‘asses with two legs’ who preferred to lap up muddy rivulets rather than drink the pellucid fountain of the original Greek, were attacking his presumption in flouting tradition and tampering with the inspired words of the Gospels. They were so stupid that they did not realize that he was correcting, not the Lord’s sayings, but the manifest faultiness of the Latin codices. To silence them he would blow a trumpet in their ears, since a lyre would make no impression on asses.” [25]

Regardless of the merits of the positions on both sides, St. Jerome obviously did not suffer from shyness in expressing himself, nor could his critics be accused of being shrinking violets either [26]. Yet if we are to believe Webster, St. Jerome’s supposed dropping of the apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras from the Canon and division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two books as “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras” must have slipped by the notice of the early Church. Nowhere do we find evidence of any controversy over this. It is also inconceivable that there would be nothing indicating that such a change had taken place in the late 4th Century whether in the form of a decree, encyclical, personal letter, book, off-hand remark, or objection. There were many objections raised to St. Jerome’s Vulgate in this time period, but on this issue, we have silence. Why is that? I find it remarkable that no one in the North African Church – especially St. Augustine – made any protest to St. Jerome’s supposed actions of dropping a canonical book and dividing another to cover this fact, let alone any defense of 1 (3) Esdras if it were part of their Canon. Yet Webster’s claims requires that they uncharacteristically rolled over in complete silence.

In 406 A.D. St. Jerome wrote a rather polemical response to the heretic Vigilantius, for which he was widely hailed. In this letter, he wrote in response to Vigilantius’ use of 1 (3) Esdras as witness to his heresies:

“As for you, when wide awake you are asleep, and asleep when you write, and you bring before me an apocryphal book which, under the name of Esdras, is read by you and those of your father, and in this book it is written that after death no one dares pray for others. I have never read the book: for what need is there to take up what the Church does not receive?” [27]

What is the response from the North African Church to St. Jerome’s supposed audacity in claiming that 1 (3) Esdras was not received by the Church? Nothing. This is the pugnacious North African Church that Protestant apologists, like Webster, frequently exploit when discussing the papacy because of the 3rd century dispute over baptism between St. Cyprian of Carthage and the Holy See? Perhaps when it comes to the books of Esdras we are supposed to believe that the North African Church was far tamer in St. Augustine’s day than in St. Cyprian’s, which is why we find nothing but silence. Such docility on their part seems hardly likely and really stretches the bounds of credulity.

Webster further asserts that Pope St. Innocent I in his Letter to Exuperius [28], as well as Popes St. Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.) and St. Hormisdas (514-523 A.D.) [29], all “contradicted” Trent by ‘accepting’ the apocryphal Esdras supposedly adopted at Hippo and Carthage. There is no basis for Webster to make such a claim. Again we see Webster making an assertion solely from the name assigned to the books in question: 1&2 Esdras. We’ve seen how unreasonable it is to merely assume that Hippo and Carthage adopted the apocryphal Esdras. To this one must add that St. Jerome’s Vulgate was widely known and was in use, during the pontificates of all three of these men. One has to wonder why no move was made to suppress the Vulgate, let alone why no mention is made by any of them opposing St. Jerome and the Vulgate, if all what Webster claims were true. Interestingly enough, we also find silence on this from another Synod of Carthage in 419 A.D., which adopted a very similar decree as its predecessor in 397 A.D.:

“It is decreed that nothing but the canonical Scriptures may be read under the name of divine Scripture. The canonical Scriptures are the following: Of the Old Testament, Genesis… Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, the Twelve Prophets, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two books of Ezra, two books of Maccabees… This decree shall be made known to our brother Boniface, the Bishop of Rome, or even the other bishops for its confirmation; for we have received from the Fathers, that thus should be read in the Church.” [30]

This silence on Esdras is especially puzzling given that in Webster’s book [31], we find under the subheading “The Influence of Augustine” these same popes and other leading Catholics listed as holding to the same canon as St. Augustine. When one examines what follows under the next subheading “The Influence of Jerome”, it is astounding that no “Jeromists” or “Augustinians” sought to defend their canon from the other when it came to which books were in fact the “two books of Esdras”. It would appear that “the influence of Augustine” only went so far, at least as far as Esdras is concerned, and manifested itself in whispers too soft to be heard at times for his followers.

The “two books of Esdras” were known to be Ezra-Nehemiah from this time till the Ecumenical Council of Trent in the mid-16th century. This Council was called to reform the Church and in response to the Protestant Reformation [32]. From the surviving personal diaries of some of the leading Tridentine Fathers, as well as the acts of the Council itself, we know that the doubts about the status of the deuterocanonicals raised by the Protestants and such figures as St. Jerome, along with even so-called “Jeromist” contemporaries within the Church such as Cardinals Ximenes and St. Cajetan [33], were very much on their minds. Although the Ecumenical Council of Florence nearly a century earlier had seemed to infallibly decree the Canon of the Church, the status of this decree was in doubt amongst many Catholic scholars during the Reformation before Trent. The history of the formation of the Canon in the Church was discussed at Trent, including the history of the early synods and some of the Church Fathers already mentioned. The decree on the Canon passed by Trent was deliberately intended to be the same as that from Carthage centuries earlier [34]. In particular, Trent listed the Ezra-Nehemiah material as “the first book of Esdras, and the second which is called Nehemias.” No where do we see the Council Fathers speak of any dispute over the identity of the “two books of Esdras” as the North African Synods had called them. The Council did draw its list from the “old Latin Vulgate”, but with the evidence he has given Webster has not shown that Trent differed from Carthage in its decree. Given the rigorous debate between Protestants and Catholics at the time, it is amazing that no one raised this as an issue. It is not as if the Catholic argument using Hippo and Carthage as witnesses to the Canon was unknown [35], indeed Protestant apologists strongly challenged the Catholic Canon. Yet no Protestant leader or apologist of which I am aware raised this as an issue. This would have been a very embarrassing argument against the deliberations of the Fathers at Trent, if one assumes that Webster is correct. Instead on the books of Esdras we find nothing but silence – once again.

St. Augustine & Esdras

As witness to his claim that the Canons of Hippo and Carthage differed from that of Trent, Webster points to St. Augustine’s use of the apocryphal Esdras in The City of God (18.36):

“After these three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, during the same period of the liberation of the people from the Babylonian servitude Esdras also wrote, who is historical rather than prophetical, as is also the book called Esther, which is found to relate, for the praise of God, events not far from those times; unless, perhaps, Esdras is to be understood as prophesying of Christ in that passage where, on a question having arisen among certain young men as to what is the strongest thing, when one had said kings, another wine, the third women, who for the most part rule kings, yet that same third youth demonstrated that the truth is victorious over all. For by consulting the Gospel we learn that Christ is the Truth.” [36]

The Esdras material – either the canonical or the apocryphal books – belonged to a small number of Scriptural books that St. Augustine rarely quoted. In fact, among St. Augustine’s numerous writings there exists only one citation and one allusion to canonical Esdras, nothing from canonical Nehemiah, and only one other citation of 1 (3) Esdras [37]. Given the context of St. Augustine’s use of the apocryphal Esdras material, it is clear that his purpose was to use this story in order to draw the reader’s attention to Christ as the Truth. As deSilva noted, this was common among the Fathers in their use of apocryphal Esdras.

Did St. Augustine consider 1 (3) Esdras to be canonical? He probably considered it to be another version of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah, as many of the Fathers who quoted it before him did. However it is very doubtful that he considered it to be canonical in the manner Webster would have us believe, i.e. that because the major Septuagint codices list this book as “Esdras A” and Ezra-Nehemiah as “Esdras B”, it therefore was a separate book counted in the Canon. Given the scant use of this material in St. Augustine’s writings this cannot be resolved with all certainty, but mine seems like the more reasonable explanation. For Webster to claim otherwise he will have to offer some substantial proof which so far he has failed to do.

From St. Augustine’s writings it is obvious that he highly favored the Septuagint versions and defended their use. In his later years, he was clearly familiar with St. Jerome’s commentaries on Scripture and he agreed with many of St. Jerome’s opinions. For example, in The City of God, we find St. Augustine accepting the differences between the Septuagint versions and the Hebrew:

“In the last section of The City of God, starting at Book 18, Augustine expands his position and we are surprised to read regarding the prophecy of Jonah: ‘But does someone object to the manner in which I knew what the prophet Jonah said to the citizens of Ninivah? Is it ‘in the three days Ninivah will be destroyed’ or in ‘forty days’? Who does not see that the prophet could not say the two at the same time when he was sent to threaten the city with imminent ruin? If the destruction should happen within three days, it is not forty days, and if it was forty days than it was certainly not three. If therefore someone asks me what I think about what Jonah said, I am of the opinion that which is read in the Hebrew; ‘In forty days Ninivah will be destroyed’. The Septuagint, coming much later, could say something else, while repeating the subject and concurring with it, but from another perspective to the same and only meaning. The reader was in this manner invited, without denigrating either of the two authorities to raise himself from the story in order to look for the reality, which the story itself means.’ Augustine shows that it is Christ himself by both the forty and the three days. All this occurs, he continues: ‘As if the Septuagint, prophets as much translators had wanted to alert the reader, entirely preoccupied with the sequence of events, from his stupor and inviting him to scrutinize the depth of the prophecy, had offered him in some way this language; ‘Look for the forty days even those you will find in three; You will find the first in his Ascension, the second in his resurrection’. It was thus with great suitability that Christ could be prefigured in the two numbers, one from Jonah the prophet and the other from the prophecy of the seventy interpreters which the unique and same Holy Spirit made known.’ (City of God 18.44)” [38]

Benoit states that for St. Augustine “both the Hebrew and the Greek texts are inspired and true. They are accepted as two stages intended by God in his ongoing revelation. Origen wanted as canonical only the Greek text, leaving the Hebrew for the Jews. Jerome wanted only the Hebrew, reducing the Greek to a less accurate tradition. Augustine retained the two as different, complementary, and desired versions of the same Spirit. It is a vision of singular depth and truth.” [39]

Contrary to Webster, there isn’t any reason to believe that St. Augustine’s use of 1 (3) Esdras in his work The City of God was any different than was the common practice of some of the other Fathers as deSilva noted. Clearly St. Augustine knew of St. Jerome’s work. Indeed, they exchanged a number of letters on the matter. In one of St. Augustine’s letters to St. Jerome [40], we find him very disturbed with reports he has heard of the latter’s translation of the Book of Job from the Hebrew. St. Augustine believed that St. Jerome’s earlier translation of Job from the LXX was better than this newer version. He criticized St. Jerome for “much less care” in this new translation and believed that it lacked “the same scrupulous fidelity as to the words” as the older version. Finally, St. Augustine related a story where a local bishop was forced by his angry congregation to abandon a word choice in St. Jerome’s translation of Jonah that differed from the Old Latin that they were used to. In St. Jerome’s reply, we find out that this furor was over the use of the word “ivy” in Jonah 4:6 (St. Jerome’s choice as the correct translation for the Hebrew word “ciceia”) in place of the word “gourd” used in the LXX and the Old Latin versions. The correctness of either man’s view is not important here, but what one should notice is that St. Augustine had no problem with taking St. Jerome to task when he thought the latter was wrong. In this case, it involved how to translate the Scriptures and whether St. Jerome was justified in his changing a single word from Jonah 4:6. But if Webster’s allegation is right, it seems to have escaped St. Augustine’s attention that St. Jerome supposedly dropped an entire book from the Canon and divided another into two in his Vulgate translation. St. Augustine was distressed over a single word being changed but apparently not in the dropping of an entire book from the Canon. Curious.


“’Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’
‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
‘That was the curious incident’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”
Silver Blaise[41]

We have seen that Webster’s claim concerning Esdras is without merit and unsupported by the evidence. We know that the “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras” found in the major LXX codices as the apocryphal Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah, were also known to be Ezra and Nehemiah under the same names in other sources. This gives us no reason to suspect that the Synods of Hippo and Carthage when they spoke of the “two books of Esdras”, were referring to any other books than Ezra-Nehemiah. We’ve seen how it was common for the Fathers to cite 1 (3) Esdras, mainly for its story of the three bodyguards, and that it was considered to be an alternative version to the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah. Finally, we’ve seen how Webster’s ‘witness’, St. Augustine, was quite familiar with St. Jerome’s work and, though in some cases he agreed with it, in others he didn’t hesitate to chastise St. Jerome when he disagreed. From the Synod at Hippo to the Council of Trent there was continuous agreement on which books were the “two books of Esdras”. Throughout all of this, we have not seen a single voice raised in protest against St. Jerome’s supposed innovations regarding the Esdras material nor any voice raised defense of the canonicity of apocryphal 1 (3) Esdras. All we have heard is the unmistakable sound of silence.

When I have raised this last objection before to various lay Protestants I was accused of committing a logical fallacy, one of making an argument from silence. This charge is false. As the quotation from the great fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes shows, there are times when silence can represent valid evidence. In this case, the silence of the early Church on the alleged dropping of a canonical book and the division of another into two is simply deafening. For Webster’s claim to be given any credance, this is one objection with which he will have to deal. It is entirely reasonable and logical to expect more than silence here, while very unreasonable to ignore it.

John Betts
Catholic Apologist
July 12, 2004



[1] This is not intended as a personal attack against Mr. Webster. I do not know the man and have only had a couple of email exchanges with him, in which he was nothing but a perfect gentleman with me. My critique concerns his writing, not the man. While a full review of Webster’s book is not possible here, I would like to make a few comments concerning it. His book gives the guise of being a scholarly work, but uses many outdated sources, and of the best scholars in this field he uses only two advocates of a closed canon in the 1st century A.D. like Roger Beckwith (frequently) and F.F. Bruce, with only one open canon advocate, Lee McDonald, in what appears to be an afterthought. He makes no attempt to engage any of the number of critiques of these three men, particularly those of Beckwith’s work from scholars advocating both views on the canon such as McDonald, John Barton, or even Andrew Steinmann. His work gives the impression that he knows little of the breadth of scholarship on the formation of the Canon but instead has selectively used only those authors whose works he believes supports his view. This may be forgivable in an apologetics work, but in a quasi-scholarly text it is not. I do not even say this because Webster is an advocate of a closed canon in the 1st century A.D., while I advocate an open one. Steinmann’s own The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia Academic Press, 1999) is an excellent example of what I am referring to and he himself, like Webster, is an advocate of the closed canon. Yet I believe anyone who compares both texts side-by-side will see that Steinmann’s is superior and far more credible in arguing its view. To learn more about what scholars in this field say on the formation of the Canon, I highly recommend The Canon Debate (Hendrickson Publishers, 2002, Lee McDonald & James Sanders editors), which has contributions from a wide spectrum of viewpoints.

[2] By this I mean those major scholars whose field of expertise is biblical scholarship, particularly involving matters on the formation of the Canon.

It should be noted that there are two sources from the latter-half of the 20th century Webster cites in support of his claim on Esdras. The first is found on p. 49 of his book and comes from an article in the New Catholic Encyclopedia. The following is the relevant portion of this citation:

“Until the 5th century, Christians very frequently ranked [1 (3) Esdras] with the Canonical books; it is found in many LXX MSS (Septuagint manuscripts) and in the Latin Vulgate (Vulg) of St. Jerome… The Council of Trent definitively removed it from the canon.”

It is difficult to know how to respond to this, for the authors are vague on which “Christians” allegedly did this and makes no mention of any of the early Synods. At the most, the authors seem to make such a statement based on the name designation of 1 (3) Esdras in the LXX codices and in St. Jerome’s Vulgate. Yet such an assumption is unwarranted and does not substantiate the claim as shall be seen in this article.

The second source is cited on p. 105 (endnote 88) of Webster’s book and comes from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. The relevant portion of this citation is as follows:

“In 1546 the Council of Trent (sess. 4) finally rejected [1 (3) Esdras] and [3 (4) Esdras] from the RC Canon, and in subsequent editions of the Vulgate they appear (with the Prayer of Manasses) as an Appendix following the N.T.”

There isn’t any mention I know of for either of these apocryphal Esdras in the canons, acts, or surviving personal diaries of the major Tridentine Fathers. Again, no mention of any of the early Synods is provided here and as will be seen in this article there is no evidence I’m aware of to substantiate such a claim. This becomes even more puzzling given an entry on the Synod of Rome in an earlier edition of this dictionary:

“A [synod] probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list o the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the ‘Gelasian Decree’ because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495) which is identical with the list given at Trent.” (1983 edition, p. 232)

I have avoided mentioning the Synod of Rome in this article because there exists no consensus among scholars over the canons from this early council. They have been confused with the decrees of Pope St. Gelasius I, so I have begun with the Synod of Hippo which most scholars seem to do for the Western Church. There is no scholar or anyone I’m aware of who claims that the Synods of Rome (assuming the canons are correctly known) and Hippo differed on their Canon.

[3] William Webster, The Old Testament Canon And The Apocrypha (Christian Resources, 2001), pp. 48-50. Hereafter this work shall be referred to as Webster, and all other works cited more than once will be referred to by their author’s name, or that of their main editor. Webster has put what appears to be the entire text of this book online at his website which can be found at

[4] Although a more thorough discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article, I hold R. Timothy McLay’s view that there was no Hebrew canon “during the period of the Early Church” and that “Hebrew Jewish Scriptures” is more accurate. McLay also argues there was no set Septuagint canon either and that “Greek Jewish Scriptures” is more accurate, but to avoid confusion I shall use the more familiar “Hebrew Canon” and “Septuagint” in this article. See McLay’s excellent The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research (Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), pp. 7-9.

[5] There are many good commentaries on Ezra-Nehemiah to learn more. I recommend Giuseppe Bettenzoli’s in The International Bible Commentary (Liturgical Press, 1998, William Farmer editor), pp. 674-686; Robert North’s in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, 1990 reprint), pp. 384-398.

[6] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker Academic, 2002), p. 280.

[7] A good detailed commentary on 1 (3) Esdras is Zipora Talshir’s 1 Esdras From Origin to Translation (Society of Biblical Literature, 1999).

[8] See deSilva, p.284.

[9] See Bruce Metzger’s An Introduction to the Apocrypha (Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 11-13; deSilva, pp. 284-287; Talshir, pp. 6-31.

[10] deSilva, p. 284. Jacob M. Myers has a more extensive list of Fathers who quoted from the apocryphal Esdras, almost exclusively from the discourse on truth, as deSilva notes. This can be found in Myers’ book I and II Esdras: Introduction, Translation and Commentary (Doubleday & Co., 1986), pp. 17-18. This is part of The Anchor Bible series of biblical commentaries.

“Justin Martyr (second century) accuses the Jews of removing a passage concerning the Passover from Esdras (Dialogue with Trypho 72), though what he quotes is not found in 1 Esdras or anywhere else in the Ezra literature. Clement of Alexandria (second century) refers to Zerubbabel ‘having by his wisdom overcome his opponents, and obtained leave from Darius for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, returned with Esdras to his native land’ (Stromata 1:21). Origen (A.D. 182-251) refers to 1 Esd 4:35, 39 (Homily on Joshua 9 and Commentary on John 6:1) though that does not necessarily mean that he regarded the books as canonical. Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) quote 1 Esd 4:34 (Comment. On Ps. 76). Athanasius (A.D. 293-373) refers to 1 Esd 4:36 (Orat. II Contra Arianos, n. 20, and ad Imp. Constantium Apol., n. 11) and to 1 Esd 4:41 (ad Imp. Constantium Apol., n. 18). The author of Synopsis scripturae sacrae (J.P. Migne, Patrologiae Graecae [PG], vol. 28, col. 285) quotes 1 Esd 1:1 and refers to Esdras protos kai deuteros (first and second Esdras). Ephrem Syrus (fourth century) quotes 1 Esd 4:34ff. in de Vertutibus et Vitiis (Sermon 13) and Basilius (same century) quotes 1 Esd 4:35 (de Spiritu Sanctu 7). Chrysostom (A.D. 354-407) in Synopsis scripturae sacrae 5 refers to 1 Esd 4:36. Olympiodorus of Alexandria (sixth century A.D.) in Comment. In Ecclesiasten, ch. 1, comments on 1 Esd 4:34 and John of Damascus (A.D. 700-754) in Parallel, I, ch. 19, has in mind 1 Esd 4:39. Elias of Crete (eighth century A.D.) in Comment. in S. Gregorii Nazianzus twice quotes 1 Esd 4:34 (Oration 1, nn. 109 and 167). The chronologies of Syncellus (ninth century A.D.) and Nicephorus (eighth century A.D.), and the twelfth-century scholiast Zonaras (Annal. 1) lean on 1 Esdras. The former say the history of Esdras begins in the eighteenth year of Josiah, noting especially the Passover (Dindorf ed., vol. 1, p. 475).

The early Latin fathers used Esdras 3 (i.e., 1 Esdras) freely and without hesitation. Cyprian (A.D. 200-258) quotes 1 Esd 4:38-40 in Epistle 74:9—Pompeium and 1 Esd 4:34f. in de singularitate clericorum, c. 21. Ambrosius (fourth century) refers to 1 Esd 4:29ff. in Epistle 7, Bachiarus (a contemporary of St. Augustine) speaks of the spirit of wisdom of Zerubbabel in Epist. Ad Januas de recipiendis lapsis, and St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) quotes 1 Esd 3:12 in de civitate dei 18:36. Prosper Aquitanus (fifth century) agrees fully with 1 Esdras (de promissionibus et praedictionibus dei II, c. 36-38) and Sulpicius Severus quotes 1 Esd 3:4 in Hist. Sacra II.”

[11] It might surprise some Christians to learn that there were many versions of the Old Testament Scriptures, along with the use of these different, and on the surface, contradictory versions of Scripture. The writers of the New Testament, while frequently relying on the LXX in citing OT Scriptures, also employed a “proto-Masoretic” version among others (some unknown). For more see McLay and the work of Frank Moore Cross in his The Ancient Library of Qumran (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995) and Cross’ contribution to Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992, Hershel Shanks editor). In addition to these texts, St. Jerome’s Letter to Pammachius 57 (also known as “The Principles of Good Translation”) has much on the use of the OT Scriptures by the NT writers.

[12] Although either “synod” or “council” is correct, I have decided to use the former rather than the latter to help distinguish these local councils from ecumenical or general ones, like Trent. Both the Synods of Hippo and Carthage provide an important witness to the Catholic Canon, but were regional councils whose canons were not binding on the whole Church. Discussions of infallibility are beyond the scope of this article, but briefly stated the clearest decree from the Church which removed all doubt for Catholics on which books belonged in the Canon came from the mid-16th century Ecumenical Council of Trent.

[13] Webster, pp. 25-28. It should be noted that contrary to the impression Webster gives in his book, the discredited Alexandrian Canon Theory came from Protestant scholars John Salomo Semler and Henry Corrodi in the 18th century once the Ezra & the Great Synagogue Theory had been successfully assailed. All of this was couched in an “anti-Catholic” (Sundberg’s term) polemic to oppose Catholic criticisms of Protestant theories on the deuterocanonical books and the Canon. The so-called Alexandrian Canon Theory was eventually widely accepted by scholars in general, though not without some critics, and was later gradually abandoned due to the work of Albert C. Sundberg, Jr. in his groundbreaking dissertation The Old Testament of the Early Church (Harvard University Press, 1964). The Jamnia theories on the Canon, also originating with Protestant scholars, were debunked thanks to work mainly by Jack P. Lewis. You can read about his work on this in his contribution to The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective (United Bible Societies, 1991, Siegfried Meurer, editor), pp. 161-207. While there may be some Catholic lay apologists still using either discredited theory, it is probably because they are using much older scholarly works and are not familiar with the texts mentioned above. Most Catholic scholars are quite aware of and accepting of many of the main points in Sundberg and Lewis’ work. Nevertheless, this is hardly some nefarious plot by ignorant “Roman apologists” to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes as Webster seems to suggest in his book. What is interesting to note is in Webster, p. 48, we find the following cited from a famous 19th century historian:

“Philip Schaff confirms the fact that the North African Church followed the Septuagint: ‘Augustine…firmly followed the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint, and the preponderant tradition in reference to the disputed Catholic Epistles and the Revelation…’”

This is a good example of what I mentioned in endnote 1, i.e., that Webster relies far too heavily upon outdated sources in his book. Schaff was undoubtedly a brilliant man for his time, yet biblical scholarship has progressed quite a bit since his day. Schaff had no knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls or any of the other finds of the 20th century, let alone the groundbreaking works of such scholars as Sundberg and Lewis. Webster severely chastises “Roman apologists” for using the discredited Alexandrian Canon Theory, yet in his own book we find him relying upon the outdated canonical opinions of a famous Protestant scholar who himself held to it. Of course, if we must lean on such outdated sources, perhaps Webster should explain this from Schaff on the Canon adopted by Carthage:

“This canon remained undisturbed till the sixteenth century, and was sanctioned by the council of Trent at its fourth session.” History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, Eerdmans Publishing, 1974 reprint, pp. 609-610.

[14] While I obviously do not agree with Webster on the early Church and the deuterocanonicals, it seems clear to me that one cannot prove their canonicity from the major LXX codices alone. A more balanced view of the Septuagint’s witness to the Canon along with more information about this version(s) of Scripture may be found in Invitation to the Septuagint by Karen H. Jobes & Moises Silva (Baker Academic, 2000), along with Sundberg and McLay.

[15] The early 20th century scholar Herbert Edward Ryle is quoted in Webster, p. 49 as stating that St. Jerome “acquiesced in the division of the Canonical Ezra into two books, for he speaks of the Apocryphal books as third and fourth Ezra.” Yet in patristic writings there is no mention of St. Jerome “acquiescing” to such a division, but as shall be seen instead from the saint’s own words Ezra-Nehemiah was already “divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books”. (see endnote 19)

[16] “[Ezra & Nehemiah:] A single volume in the Hebrew Bible and in the original LXX, until the two parts were separated in a Hebrew MS dated 1448 and in most printed editions, following the Vulgate; but Origen (died 254) and Jerome (died 420) knew this material as two books in Greek.” The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary (Abingdon Press, 1990), Vol. 2, p. 215.

[17] “At an early stage, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were regarded as a unity. From the time of Origen (third century CE), they are divided as we have them today.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993 Bruce Metzger & Michael Coogan editors), p. 219. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992, Vol. 2, David Freedman chief editor) states that from Origen himself this custom finds its beginning:

“The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered a single literary work called Ezra. Although this work was separated into two books by Origen (3rd century CE) and Jerome (4th century CE), the division does not appear in Hebrew Bibles before the 15th century...” (p. 731)

This is highly unlikely however given Origen's own words, which seem to indicate a custom already in place. (see endnote 18)

[18] “It should be stated that the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them down, are twenty-two, corresponding with the number of their letters." Farther on he says: "The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following: That which is called by us Genesis, but by the Hebrews, from the beginning of the book, Breshith, which means 'in the beginning'; Exodus, Welesmoth, that is, 'these are the names'; Leviticus, Wikra, 'and he called'; Numbers, Ammesphekodeim; Deuteronomy, Eleaddebareim 'these are the words'; Joshua the son of Nun, Josoue ben Noun; Judges and Ruth, among them in one book, Saphateim; the first and second of Kings, among them one, Samoel, that is, 'the called of God'; the third and fourth of Kings in one, Wammelch David, that is, 'the kingdom of David'; of the Chronicles, the first and second in one, Dabreiamein, that is, 'records of days'; Esdras, first and second in one, Ezra, that is, 'an assistant'; the book of Psalms, Spharthelleim; the Proverbs of Solomon, Meloth; Ecclesiastes, Koelth; the Song of Songs (not, as some suppose, Songs of Songs), Sir Hassirim; Isaiah, Jessia; Jeremiah, with Lamentations and the Epistle(b) in one, Jeremia; Daniel, Daniel; Ezekiel, Jezekiel; Job, Job; Esther, Esther; And outside of these there are the Maccabees, which are entitled Sarbeth Sabanaiel.” Origen from Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, VI. 25. Translation found online at

[19] “To the third class belong the Hagiographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim; the sixth is Daniel; the seventh, Dabre Aiamim, that is, Words of Days, which we may more expressively call a chronicle of the whole of the sacred history, the book that amongst us is called First and Second Chronicles; the eighth, Ezra, which itself is likewise divided amongst Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Esther.” St. Jerome, Preface to Samuel & Kings, NPNF, Series 2, Volume 6.

[20] Synod of Laodicea (Canon 60): “These are all the books of Old Testament appointed to be read: 1, Genesis of the world; 2, The Exodus from Egypt; 3, Leviticus; 4, Numbers; 5, Deuteronomy; 6, Joshua, the son of Nun; 7, Judges, Ruth; 8, Esther; 9, Of the Kings, First and Second; 10, Of the Kings, Third and Fourth; 11, Chronicles, First and Second; 12, Esdras, First and Second; 13, The Book of Psalms; 14, The Proverbs of Solomon; 15, Ecclesiastes; 16, The Song of Songs;17, Job; 18, The Twelve Prophets; 19, Isaiah; 20, Jeremiah, and Baruch, the Lamentations, and the Epistle; 21, Ezekiel; 22, Daniel.” NPNF, Series 2, Volume 14. Athanasius: “For there are in all twenty-two books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. After this comes Joshua, and Judges, and Ruth. The four books of the Kings, counted as two. Then Chronicles, counted the two as one. Then First and Second Esdras [i.e. Ezra and Nehemiah]. After these Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Cantica. To these follow Job, and the Twelve Prophets, counted as one book. Then Isaiah, Jeremiah together with the Epistle of Baruch, the Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.” 39th Festal Letter, NPNF, Series 2, Volume 4. Notice that the editors believe Athanasius was referring to Ezra-Nehemiah.

[21] “Of the Old Testament, therefore, first of all there have been handed down five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Then Jesus Nave, (Joshua the son of Nun), The Book of Judges together with Ruth; then four books of Kings (Reigns), which the Hebrews reckon two; the Book of Omissions, which is entitled the Book of Days (Chronicles), and two books of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), which the Hebrews reckon one, and Esther; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; moreover of the twelve (minor) Prophets, one hook; Job also and the Psalms of David, each one book. Solomon gave three books to the Churches, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. These comprise the books of the Old Testament.” Rufinus, A Commentary on the Apostles Creed, NPNF, Series 2, Volume 3.

[22] “For of the Law the books of Moses are the first five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And next, Joshua the son of Nun, and the book of Judges, including Ruth, counted as seventh. And of the other historical books, the first and second books of the Kings are among the Hebrews one book; also the third and fourth one book. And in like manner, the first and second of Chronicles are with them one book; and the first and second of Esdras are counted one. Esther is the twelfth book; and these are the historical writings. But those which are written in verse are five, Job, and the book of Psalms, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which is the seventeenth book. And after these come the five prophetic books; of the Twelve Prophets one book, of Isaiah one, of Jeremiah one, including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle; then Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel, the twenty-second of the Old Testament.” Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Letters, IV. 33. Translation found online at

[23] “Canon 36 (or otherwise 47). [It has been decided] that nothing except the Canonical Scriptures should be read in the church under the name of the Divine Scriptures. But the Canonical Scriptures are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, Deuteronomy, Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, Paralipomenon two books, Job, the Psalter, of David, five books of Solomon, twelve books of the Prophets, Isaias, Jeremias, Daniel, Ezechiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Machabees… Thus [it has been decided] that the Church beyond the sea may be consulted regarding the confirmation of that canon; also that it be permitted to read the sufferings of the martyrs, when their anniversary days are celebrated.” Henry Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma (Herder & Co., 1954), pp. 39-40.

[24] See Pamela Bright’s translation and new edition of Augustine and the Bible (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), p.31.

[25] See J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Hendrickson Publishers edition, 1998), p.89.

[26] E.g., Rufinus’ Letter Against Jerome, Chapters 32-36. Rufinus and St. Jerome were engaged in a bitter dispute over Origenism, but in this letter Rufinus severely castigates his former friend over the Vulgate. The following excerpt should demonstrate the antagonism Rufinus and many like-minded critics had of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate:

“Perhaps it was a greater piece of audacity to alter the books of the divine Scriptures which had been delivered to the Churches of Christ by the Apostles to be a complete record of their faith by making a new translation under the influence of the Jews… But how are we to regard those translations of yours which you are now sending about everywhere, through our churches and monasteries, through all our cities and walled towns? are they to be treated as human or divine? And what are we to do when we are told that the books which bear the names of the Hebrew Prophets and lawgivers are to be had from you in a truer form than that which was approved by the Apostles? How, I ask, is this mistake to be set right, or rather, how is this crime to be expiated?” Translation found online at

[27] St. Jerome, Letter Against Vigilantius, NPNF, Series 2, Volume 6.

[28] “A brief addition shows what books really are received in the canon. These are the desiderata of which you wished to be informed verbally: of Moses five books, that is, of Genesis, of Exodus, of Leviticus, of Numbers, of Deuteronomy, and Josue, of Judges one book, of Kings four books, and also Ruth, of the Prophets sixteen books, of Solomon five books, the Psalms. Likewise of the histories, Job one book, of Tobias one book, Esther one, Judith one, of the Machabees two, of Esdras two, Paralipomenon two books…” Pope Innocent I’s Letter to Exuperius, translation from Denzinger, p. 42.

Note that Innocent wrote this letter in 405 A.D., the same year the Vulgate was completed by St. Jerome and one year before the latter’s Letter Against Vigilantius wherein he claims that 1 (3) is not received by the Church. No move is made by Innocent to correct St. Jerome, nor is there any evidence that the pope adopted St. Jerome’s supposed innovation as opposed to the purported traditional one on 1 (3) Esdras.

[29] Webster, pp. 116-117 provides the Latin text from Migne’s edition on the Latin Fathers. In endnote 110 of Webster, we find from PL 59:157 Gelasius I listing “Esdrae liber unus”, or “Esdras one book”. Webster assumes from this somehow that Gelasius had in mind the apocryphal Esdras. Yet nowhere does he give examples of 1 (3) Esdras listed in the Canon by itself at this time, or that “Esdrae liber unus” ever meant 1 (3) Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah joined together. All the witnesses we have seen listing Esdras as one book in their canon are referring to Ezra-Nehemiah, and not 1 (3) Esdras. Furthermore, a list from a late 5th century pope, before whose time the Vulgate had long been received and was widely known, is a bit late to make the assumption Webster does without further substantiation. In endnote 111 of Webster, we find from PL 62:540 Hormisdas I listing “Esdrae libri II”, or “Esdras two books”. Again, this pontificate in the early 6th century was long after the Vulgate had been received and was widely known. We have already seen that Ezra-Nehemiah was known in the Greek as “1 Esdras” and “2 Esdras”, so Webster’s conjecture is not enough evidence here to make this claim.

[30] Translation from A.E. Breen’s A General Introduction to Holy Scripture (original publication 1908; Roman Catholic Books reprint, year not listed), p. 362.

[31] Webster, pp. 56-58. [32] For more on this Council and its proceedings on the Canon, see Peter G. Duncker’s “The Canon of the Old Testament at the Council of Trent” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Volume 15, 1953, pp. 277-299. [33]See Breen, pp. 514-515.

[34] “And so that no doubt may arise in anyone’s mind as to which are the books that are accepted by this [Council], it has decreed that a list of the Sacred books be added to this decree… Books of the Old Testament: The five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is called Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Psalter of David consisting of 150 psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiastics, Isaias, Jeremias with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, that is Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Michaeas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharius, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and second… If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts, as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition, and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid traditions let him be anathema.” Denzinger, pp. 244-25.

[35] E.g., Francis de Sales, a famous 16th century Catholic apologist:

“I pray you, reformers, tell me whence you have taken the canon of the Scriptures which you follow? You have not taken it from the Jews, for the books of the Gospels would not be there; nor from the [Synod] of Laodicea, for the Apocalypse would not be in it; nor from the Councils of Carthage or of Florence, for Ecclesiasticus and Machabees would be there. Whence, then, have you taken it? In good sooth, like canon was never spoken of before your time. The Church never saw canon of the Scriptures in which there was not either more or less than in yours. What likelihood is there that the Holy Spirit has hidden himself from all antiquity, and that after 1500 years he has disclosed to certain private persons the list of the true Scriptures? For our part we follow exactly the list of the [Synod] of Laodicea, with the addition made at the Councils of Carthage and Florence.” The Catholic Controversy (TAN Books reprint, 1989), p. 113.

[36] From Marcus Dods’ translation of St. Augustine’s The City of God, (Random House, 2000 edition), p. 645.

[37] Bright, p. 42 & 50; deSilva, p. 284.

[38] Bright, pp. 46-47.

[39] P. Benoit cited in Bright, p. 47.

[40] The text of these letters is too long to place here, but is easily found online. The numbering of these letters comes from St. Augustine’s collection, which differs in that of St. Jerome, and should be read in the following order to understand the context of what both men are discussing: St. Augustine’s Letter to Jerome 28 & 71, St. Jerome’s Letter to Augustine 75, St. Augustine’s Letter to Jerome 82.

[41] From “Silver Blaze” in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I (Bantam Classic, 1986 reprint) p. 472.