by John Betts
apologist William Webster has finally responded to the article I wrote in 2004, entitled Esdras & The Early Church: A Response
to William Webster.
Yet unfortunately this response is essentially a
re-posting of his original material that fails to substantiate
his assertions and repeatedly misrepresents or ignores what I
wrote in my article. In this rebuttal I'd like to respond to the
specific issues raised by Webster and addressed to me, along with
a couple of others I find relevant to this matter.
ISSUE 1: Original Sources & Canons
In his response to my article, Webster writes:
While the sources cited by Betts do list the Hebrew books of Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras, [he has] failed to provide [his] readers with some crucial information. That information has to do with the fact that those fathers who separate Ezra from Nehemiah into separate books and designate Ezra as 1 Esdras and Nehemiah as 2 Esdras are following the Hebrew canon. They do not follow what we will call the Septuagint canon, which means the Hebrew Old Testament books with the additional books of the apocrypha. 
The history of the formation of the Biblical Canon, opinions of Church Fathers and other early Christians regarding the status of the Deuterocanonicals, along with most other related issues were not addressed by my article nor are they necessarily germane to the matter at hand. However, even though such was stated as being beyond the scope of my article, after reviewing the evidence from these early witnesses I did state the following:
Webster himself in his book, and in his online articles, quotes all of these sources as evidence for the so-called Hebrew OT canon.
The witness these early sources provide on what "two books of Esdras" signifies is what is relevant . Where Webster tries to dismiss the witness of these early sources by limiting the practice only to those who followed the Hebrew canon, the sources themselves speak of a tradition among Christians without such qualifications and one as far as Im aware of that is not challenged by anyone in the early Church. This includes those Webster cites as having followed the expanded Septuagint canon. Lets review perhaps the two most important: Origen, an advocate of the LXX, and St. Jerome, an advocate of the so-called Hebrew Canon . As I wrote in my article:
Contrary to what Webster claims, the division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books did not originate with Jeromes Vulgate in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, but came much earlier. The respected early 3rd century biblical scholar Origen over one hundred years before Jerome "knew this material as two books in Greek". The custom of dividing Ezra-Nehemiah seems to have come from Christian sources, not Jewish ones who continued to maintain the unity of these books up until the 15th century. When exactly this custom arose among Christians is not known. Both Origen and Jerome list these books in such a manner as if this division of Ezra-Nehemiah in the Greek were a long-standing custom and not something that originated with either of them. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History quotes from Origen listing canonical books "as the Hebrews have handed them down", where Origen writes "Esdras, first and second in one, Ezra, that is, 'an assistant'". 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". Notice that Jerome does not say anything about dividing them himself or dropping 1 (3) Esdras from the Churchs canon. Origen also doesn't say anything like this either.
Origen is the earliest known witness to the fact that, unlike the Jews, Christians divided our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah into two separate books and named them 1 and 2 Esdras. The Canon list he gave came from the Jews (as the Hebrews have handed them down) but Origen also gives the names Christians use for the books of the Old Testament, including how the books of Esdras are divided. St. Jerome about a hundred years later also witnesses to this tradition amongst Greeks and Latins in his Preface to Samuel and Kings as mentioned above. In his Preface to Ezra, which I did not have access to at the time I wrote my article, he writes:
"No one ought to be bothered by the fact that my edition consists of only one book, nor ought anyone take delight in the dreams found in the apocryphal third and fourth books. For among the Hebrews the texts of Ezra and Nehemiah comprise a single book, and those texts which are not used by them and are not concerned with the twenty-four elders ought to be rejected outright." 
While Webster still claims that St. Jerome was responsible for separating Ezra and Nehemiah to be designated as 1 and 2 Esdras respectively as separate books, from the Saints own writings we find that he did the exact opposite rendering Websters claim to be erroneous. I do not dispute that Webster is probably correct that St. Jerome is the first to have labeled Esdras A from the LXX as 3 Esdras and the Apocalypse of Ezra as 4 Esdras in his Vulgate. That isnt the issue, which instead is whether St. Jerome first divided Ezra-Nehemiah into 1 & 2 Esdras or whether there already existed a tradition of dividing our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah into two books and labeling them as 1 and 2 Esdras in both Greek and Latin translations prior to when Webster claims. As Ive shown, Origen, St. Jerome and others provide witness to the fact that this tradition clearly was in existence and used by many in the Church. Interestingly enough, Webster contradicts himself in his response when he concedes this fact:
"[T]here are historical instances of other fathers in the Church prior to Hippo/Carthage who used the Septuagint and who separated Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books referring to them as 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras respectively."
Webster attempts to dismiss the importance of this by alluding that this wasnt the dominant practice at the time. He may be correct in this, yet this doesnt address the fact that these sources referred to the LXX or to versions like the Old Latin in separating Ezra-Nehemiah, and whether such was a dominant practice or not isnt relevant to Webster proving his main thesis.
ISSUE 2: Early Fathers & Esdras
"What Betts fails to mention here is these sources also considered 1 Esdras to be inspired scripture."
What Webster says here simply isnt true. I wrote in my article:
Given the amount of material in 1 (3) Esdras from our canonical books despite changes, in addition to the story of the three bodyguards, it isnt surprising that many of the early Fathers saw this apocryphal work as being another version of our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.
An observant reader would note that I just essentially said here what Webster claims I fail[ed] to mention, i.e. that many early Fathers saw 1 (3) Esdras as being inspired scripture. I do attach an important caveat that this work was probably viewed by many of them as being a recension of our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah. This is no different than how St. Augustine viewed the Greek and Hebrew versions of the Book of Jonah, as he writes about in his City of God 18.44. For these early Fathers, David A. 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. Zerubbabels 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 books composition and its preservation. 
Webster cites in his response Fr. Raymond Brown, who is probably correct when he writes that St. Jerome with his love for the Hebr bible set the precedent for rejecting I Esdras because it did not conform to Hebr Ezr/Neh, but such does not help Webster in addressing how the apocryphal Esdras was viewed as a recension of Ezra-Nehemiah nor the early Christian tradition of dividing the canonical work and naming the two books 1 & 2 Esdras.
ISSUE 3: St. Augustine & Esdras
Augustine did not follow the Hebrew canon. He followed the 'Septuagintial plus'. Betts keeps saying that it seems more reasonable to assume that he did not accept Septuagint 1 Esdras as being canonical. He says that nothing definitive can be defined. But he has no proof that a church father who viewed the Septuagint as inspired and who accepted all of the apocryphal books as inspired and did not follow the Hebrew canon suddenly changed and followed the Hebrew canon."
I said a couple of things in my article that are relevant here:
"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. Augustines 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."
This fact is important to remember given what Webster is attempting to establish from such little evidence.
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. Augustines 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.
An observant reader will note that I stated St. Augustine probably considered [1 (3) Esdras] to be Scripture as a recension of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah. What Webster has failed to demonstrate thus far is that St. Augustine viewed the apocryphal Esdras as distinct from Ezra-Nehemiah in the Canon, which is crucial in proving his thesis. Webster errs in attempting to shift the burden of proof about St. Augustines view of the apocryphal Esdras. I am not the one claiming that St. Augustine believed that the apocryphal Esdras was distinct from our canonical Ezra-Nehemiah and given his influence in North Africa therefore this means Hippo & Carthage followed his opinion. This claim is made by Webster and is his to substantiate, which he has once again failed to do.
In my article I showed that, while St. Augustine highly favored the Septuagint versions and defended their use, he also was clearly familiar with St. Jeromes commentaries on Scripture and he agreed with many of St. Jeromes opinions, along with accepting the differences between the Septuagint versions and the Hebrew.  For some reason Webster believes that what I cited from P. Benoit is a much needed corrective:
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. 
Yet despite what Webster says in his response, there is no contradiction between what Benoit stated and what I wrote in my article. I never claimed nor even implied that St. Augustine follow[ed] the Hebrew canon. What I did say was that he accepted both the Greek and the Hebrew texts as being inspired. That differs from what Webster himself wrote in his book and he leaps to all sorts of irrational conclusions in attempting to prove his thesis. In my article I gave examples where St. Augustine strongly criticized St. Jeromes work where he thought the latter had erred yet somehow when it came to Esdras it seems to have escaped St. Augustines attention that St. Jerome supposedly dropped an entire book from the Canon and divided another into two in his Vulgate translation. How sensible is that?
ISSUE 4: Hippo, Carthage & Trent
Websters thesis that I took issue with in my article was that Carthage and Trent differed on the books of Esdras in the Canon. He may believe that his claim is the more reasonable explanation of the available evidence but such does not prove his thesis. His conclusion simply is not shown from the premise he makes. The fact that the North African Church used the LXX, that St. Augustine favored the LXX and was influential North Africa and that the major codices had the apocryphal Esdras as Esdras A and Ezra-Nehemiah as Esdras B, does not automatically lead one to conclude or prove that Hippo and Carthage differed from Trent. That is an assumption, nothing more, which doesnt even address any of the points I raised. It is also dangerously close to being a logical fallacy as he seems to preclude the possibility of another alternative in both his book and his response. There is an old saying that he who asserts must prove. While Webster has asserted his claim, he has failed to prove it. In order to do so, Webster will need to show that Carthage didnt have the Christian tradition of separating Ezra-Nehemiah into two books and calling them 1 & 2 Esdras in mind when it passed its decree on the Canon. As I wrote in my article:
"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."
As it should have been clear in my original article, while this matter is intriguing historically it isnt the apologetics coup against Catholics that Webster seems to believe it is. Even if one assumed his contention were correct, which I myself find highly doubtful, as I stated in my article both Hippo and Carthage provide an important witness to the Catholic Canon but were regional councils whose canons were not binding on the whole Church. It is important to remember that the clearest decree from the Church which removed all doubt for Catholics on which books belonged in the Biblical Canon came from the mid-16th century Ecumenical Council of Trent. For this reason Catholics can entertain the possibility that Websters thesis is correct, however unproven it may be, while finding no conflict in the teachings of the Church on the books of the Biblical Canon.
Webster criticizes Gary Michutas statement that Trent passed over the apocryphal Esdras in silence as being clearly untrue, but Webster is the one who is mistaken not Michuta. While Ill leave this to Michuta to respond to more fully, I would like to briefly address the matter. By the 16th century, undoubtedly under the influence of St. Jeromes Vulgate, the apocryphal Esdras and canonical Ezra-Nehemiah were clearly viewed as being distinct books. As Henry Jedin notes, this apocryphal book wasnt the only work passed over in silence by Trent:
The fourteen dubia of the last general congregation had been handed to all the Fathers on 29 March, but Del Monte, who presided once more on 1 April, did not strictly abide by the decision then taken of voting with a simple Yes or No, but allowed further discussions, though as brief as possible, of the subject-matter. In point of fact, these were called for by the very wording of the dubia. Particular questions with regard to the canon of the Bible (2-5, 12) created no serious difficulties for example, whether the longer conclusion of Mark, Luke XXII, 43 f., John VIII, I-II, should not be excepted; whether, for purposes of control, the number of chapters of each individual book should be given; whether the Apocrypha usually found in the editions of the Vulgate, namely 3 and 4 Esdras, and Machabees, should be expressly rejected or passed over in silence; whether the book of Psalms should bear Davids name as its author. 
Does this mean that 1 (3) Esdras could be added to the Canon at some future date? Although a layman myself, such would seem to be an impossibility with Webster and I finding some agreement on this. Yet this has been a matter of theoretical speculation by some Catholic theologians, with no clear answers. As A.E. Breen notes:
The book [1 (3) Esdras] is not absolutely rejected by the Church in the Council of Trent, and she permits its reading. There would be no difficulty in approving its portions wherein it accords with the aforesaid canonical books, but there are internal defects in its original chapters in point of doctrine, which will probably forever prevent it from entering upon the estate of canonical books. 
Finally, I should note that there is one item which Webster quoted from my article that I made an oversight on in editing. I wrote that the decree on the Canon passed by Trent was deliberately intended to be the same as that from Carthage centuries earlier when I meant to say the Ecumenical Council of Florence and that the Tridentine Fathers saw no difference between their Canon and that of Carthage. 
ISSUE 5: Popes & Esdras
As he does this in his book, Webster repeats his startling claim in the portion of his response directed to Gary Michuta that various popes until at least the 5th century upheld the apocryphal Esdras as being part of the Canon of Scripture:
[W]hen the Council of Carthage gave its list of canonical books for the Old Testament it followed the Septuagint translation. In referring to Esdras I and II it was 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 noncanonical what the Council of Carthage and the bishops of Rome, in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, declared to be canonical.
I addressed this absurd claim by Webster in my article:
Webster further asserts that Pope Innocent I in his Letter to Exuperius , as well as Popes Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.) and Hormisdas (514-523 A.D.) , all contradicted Trent by accepting the apocryphal Esdras supposedly adopted at Hippo and Carthage. There is no basis, other than pure wishful thinking, for Webster to make such a claim.
Referenced endnotes from my article:
 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 Is Letter to Exuperius, translation from [The Sources of Catholic Dogma (Herder & Co., 1954), Henry] Denzinger, p. 42.
Note that Innocent wrote this letter in 405 A.D., the same year the Vulgate was completed by Jerome and one year before the latters Letter Against Vigilantius wherein he claims that 1 (3) Esdras is not received by the Church. No move is made by Innocent to correct Jerome, nor is there any evidence that the pope adopted Jeromes supposed innovation as opposed to the purported traditional one on 1 (3) Esdras [meaning apocryphal Esdras as 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as 2 Esdras].
 [The Old Testament Canon And The Apocrypha (Christian Resources, 2001), William Webster,] pp. 116-117 provides the Latin text from Mignes edition on the Latin Fathers. In endnote 110 of [Websters book], 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 [Websters book], 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 Websters conjecture is not enough evidence here to make this claim.
Webster ignores my rebuttal and in his response continues to put forth his completely unsubstantiated claim. Even if one assumes that Hippo and Carthage held to the two books of Esdras exactly as Webster claims, this says nothing about how the popes viewed the matter or interpreted the canons from these local synods. I ask the reader, how has Webster proven his contention? He again leaps to irrational conclusions based upon an assumption, not evidence which can be shown from any of the original sources he cites.
While Websters thesis is an intriguing possibility, it fails to deal with all the known evidence on the subject and has yet to be proven. My explanation may or may not be correct but while I believe it is more reasonable, it really doesnt matter as the burden of proof rests upon Webster and not me in this. As I concluded in my article:
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. Weve 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, weve seen how Websters witness, St. Augustine, was quite familiar with St. Jeromes work and, though in some cases he agreed with it, in others he didnt 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 [without any conclusive evidence showing a contradiction between the two]. Throughout all of this, we have not seen a single voice raised in protest against St. Jeromes 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 For Websters claim to be given any credence, 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.
May 7, 2007
 In his response, Webster summarized what he believes is the gist of my article and appends comments mine from Catholic apologist Art Sippo on the Envoy message board, who may have implicitly referenced my writing in making these remarks. Since I did not cite Sippo nor relied upon his work for my article, whatever he may have said regarding this issue is not relevant here.
 This comes from the Third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD (emphasis mine):
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 Denzingers The Sources of Catholic Dogma (Herder & Co., 1954), pp. 39-40.
In my original article I referred to the canonical material as Ezra-Nehemiah mostly, but also as canonical Esdras. The apocryphal Esdras I referred to as 1 (3) Esdras with the first number being the designation from the major Septuagint codices and the latter from the Vulgate. At times, I also referred to this material as apocryphal Esdras.
 As noted in my article:
Although a more thorough discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article, I hold R. Timothy McLays 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 McLays excellent The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research (Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), pp. 7-9.
 Translation found online at http://tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_preface_ezra.htm
 Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker Academic, 2002), David A. deSilva, p. 284.
 See Augustine and the Bible (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), Pamela Bright, 42 & 50.
 In my article I cited the following from Augustine and the Bible, pp. 46-47:
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)
 Augustine and the Bible, p. 47.
 A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. II (Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1961 English translation by Dom Ernest Graf), Henry Jedin, p. 81.
 A General Introduction to Holy Scripture (Roman Catholic Books reprint of 1908 edition) A.E. Breen, p. 609.
 For more on this and an excellent review of the proceedings of the Ecumenical Council of Trent about the Biblical Canon and Apostolic Tradition, I highly recommend Jedins A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. II, pp. 52-98.