The Apocrypha

Copyright © 1999 by Larry G. Overton

apocryphaThe same young man that asked about the “lost books” (see Berean Fact Sheet No. 005) posed a question to me concerning the books of the Apocrypha. And just recently, a new Christian wrote to me and asked essentially the same question. So, I decided to write a Fact Sheet on this subject.

What are the Apocrypha? What reasons did the Roman Catholic religion have to accept the Apocryphal books as “sacred and canonical”? What reasons do Protestants have for rejecting the Apocrypha?

The term “Apocrypha” comes from a Greek word that means “hidden,” but which has taken on the connotation of “false.” Jerome, the fourth century scholar that translated the Bible into Latin, was the first to use the term to describe a collection of Jewish works written between 300 BC and 100AD.

Roman Catholic Reasons For Accepting The Apocrypha

Why are the books of the Apocrypha accepted as canonical by Roman Catholics but rejected by Protestants? Let’s begin with the Roman Catholic reasons for considering the books of the Apocrypha as Deuterocanonical, which means that Catholics believe that the Apocrypha should be added to the canon of Scripture.

Before I mention their reasons, though, I can’t help pointing out the irony of this situation. You see, Roman Catholics have not always unanimously agreed that the books of the Apocrypha were canonical. From Jerome in the fourth century to Cardinal Ximenes in the early 16th century, Catholic scholars have opposed the inclusion of the Apocrypha into the canon of Scripture. Roman Catholics generally excluded the Apocrypha from lists of canonical books prior to the Council of Trent.

That fact leads us to the time when the books of the Apocrypha were considered to belong in the Bible, which in turn reveals their reasons for accepting them. The first official Roman Catholic proclamation endorsing the Apocrypha came in the Canons of the Council of Trent. On April 8, in the year 1546, the Council of Trent decreed: “If anyone receive not as sacred and canonical the said books entire with all their parts . . . as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate edition, and knowingly and deliberately condemn the traditions aforesaid, let him be anathema.”

This decree came just 29 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church, in which he protested, among other things, the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church. The sale of indulgences was based on a belief in salvation by works and prayers for the dead. The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments oppose such doctrines, but certain books of the Apocrypha actually teach them (e.g., Tobit 12:8-9; 2 Maccabees 12:45-46).

Adopting the books of the Apocrypha, then, was a Roman Catholic Counter Reformation tactic, assailing both the sola Scriptura and the sola fide slogans of the Reformation.

Reasons For Rejecting The Apocrypha

There are a number of reasons why Protestants believe that the Apocryphal books are not inspired.

1) The Jews never incorporated the Apocryphal books into their Old Testament, even though well aware of their existence and even their relative value. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, tells us that the prophets wrote from the time of Moses to Artaxerxes. He then points out that “It is true [that] our history has been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time” [Against Apion, i. 8]. This would effectively throw out the Apocrypha because they were all written after the time of Artaxerxes. Also, the Jewish council of Jamnia, which met in the AD 90, discussed which books belong in the OT. Not only did the Apocrypha not “make the cut,” they weren’t even on the agenda.

2) The Apocryphal books themselves make no claim of being Scripture. In fact, there are a number of places in the Apocrypha in which the statement is made that the days of the prophets were gone (cf. 1 Maccabees 4:46; 9:27).

3) There are very pronounced internal contradictions (i.e., historical and chronological errors) in the Apocrypha that necessarily remove them from canonical consideration. Just one example here: Judith speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as reigning in Nineveh instead of Babylon (Judith 1:1). Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, not Babylonia, from about 700BC until its destruction in 612BC.

4) Of these 14 intertestamental books, not one is formally quoted in the NT. In other words, we don’t have a shred of evidence that Jesus or his apostles ever considered anything but the 39 Hebrew books—from Genesis to Malachi—as constituting the OT.

5) Finally, the books of the Apocrypha at times actually contradict the New Testament. I pointed out above the contradictions concerning salvation by works (Tobit 12:8-9 vs. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9) and prayers for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:45-46 vs. Luke 16:25-26; Hebrews 9:27). Another example of an Apocryphal book contradicting the New Testament can be seen by comparing the words of Sirach 12:4-7 with the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-36.

Well, believe it or not, I’ve only scratched the surface here. Much more could be said about the books of the Apocrypha. However, the limitations of this fact sheet format just will not permit it. Hopefully, though, this information will be helpful to you. In conclusion, let me just leave you with this question. If the Jews, if our Lord Jesus and His apostles, if even early Catholic scholars did not call the Apocrypha the Word of God, should we?