by Ryan Turner
Catholics and Protestants disagree regarding the exact number of books that belong in the Old Testament Scriptures. The dispute between them is over seven books, part of what is known as the Apocrypha: 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), Baruch, Tobit, Judith, and additions to Daniel and Esther.1 However, there are a number of reasons why the Old Testament Apocrypha should not be part of the Canon, or standard writings of Scripture.
Rejection by Jesus and the Apostles
1. There are no clear, definite New Testament quotations from the Apocrypha by Jesus or the apostles. While there may be various allusions by the New Testament to the Apocrypha, there are no authoritative statements like “thus says the Lord,” “as it is written,” or “the Scriptures say.” There are references in the New Testament to the pseudepigrapha (literally “false writings”) (Jude 14-15) and even citations from pagan sources (Acts 17:22-34), but none of these are cited as Scripture and are rejected even by Roman Catholics. In contrast, the New Testament writers cite the Old Testament numerous times (Mt. 5; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 10:35) and use phrases such as “thus says the Lord,” “as it is written,” or “the Scriptures say,” indicating their approval of these books as inspired by God.
2. Jesus implicitly rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture by referring to the entire accepted Jewish Canon of Scripture, “From the blood of Abel [Gen. 4:8] to the blood of Zechariah [2 Chron. 24:20], who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation (Lk. 11:51; cf. Mt. 23:35).”
Abel was the first martyr in the Old Testament from the book of Genesis, while Zechariah was the last martyr in the book of Chronicles. In the Hebrew Canon, the first book was Genesis and the last book was Chronicles. They contained all of the same books as the standard 39 books accepted by Protestants today, but they were just arranged differently. For example, all of the 12 minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi) were contained in one book. This is why there are only 24 books in the Hebrew Bible today. By Jesus referring to Abel and Zachariah, He was canvassing the entire Canon of the Hebrew Scriptures which included the same 39 books as Protestants accept today. Therefore, Jesus implicitly rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture.
Rejection by the Jewish Community
3. The “oracles of God” were given to the Jews (Rom. 3:2) and they rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of this inspired revelation. Interestingly, Jesus had many disputes with the Jews, but He never disputed with them regarding the extent of the inspired revelation of God.2
4. The Dead Sea scrolls provide no commentary on the Apocrypha, but do provide commentary on some of the Jewish Old Testament books. This probably indicates that the Jewish Essene community did not regard them as highly as the Jewish Old Testament books.
5. Many ancient Jews rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture. Philo never quoted the Apocrypha as Scripture. Josephus explicitly rejected the Apocrypha and listed the Hebrew Canon to be 22 books. 3 In fact, the Jewish Community acknowledged that the prophetic gifts had ceased in Israel before the Apocrypha was written.
Rejection by many in the Catholic Church
6. The Catholic Church has not always accepted the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha was not officially accepted by the Catholic Church at a universal council until 1546 at the Council of Trent. This is over a millennium and a half after the books were written, and was a counter reaction to the Protestant Reformation.4
7. Many church Fathers rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture, and many just used them for devotional purposes. For example, Jerome, the great Biblical scholar and translator of the Latin Vulgate, rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture though, supposedly under pressure, he did make a hurried translation of it. In fact, most of the church fathers in the first four centuries of the Church rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture. Along with Jerome, names include Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius.
8. The Apocryphal books were placed in Bibles before the Council of Trent and after, but were placed in a separate section because they were not of equal authority. The Apocrypha rightfully has some devotional purposes, but it is not inspired.
9. The Apocrypha contains a number of false teachings (see: Errors in the Apocrypha).
- The command to use magic (Tobit 6:5-7).
- Forgiveness of sins by almsgiving (Tobit 4:11; 12:9).
- Offering of money for the sins of the dead (2 Maccabees 12:43-45).
10. The Apocryphal books do not share many of the chararacteristics of the Canonical books: they are not prophetic, there is no supernatural confirmation of any of the apocryphal writers works, there is no predictive prophecy, there is no new Messianic truth revealed, they are not cited as authoritative by any prophetic book written after them, and they even acknowledge that there were no prophets in Israel at their time (cf. 1 Macc. 9:27; 14:41).
Norman Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995, pp. 157-75.
Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999, pp. 28-36.
1. See http://www.catholic.com/library/Old_Testament_Canon.asp for a list of the books that the Roman Catholic Church accepts. Also see, Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, third edition, New Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 4, for a list of the Apocrypha. Interestingly, Catholics refer to these extra books as the Deuterocanonical books while Protestants refer to them as part of the Apocrypha.
2. Some scholars debate whether the exact Canon of the Old Testament Scriptures was discovered by the Jews until around 100 A.D. so Paul may not be referring to some authoritative list of books. However, the principle of the “oracles of God” still holds. The Jews rejected the Apocrypha as being part of the oracles of God.
3. There are various divisions of the Hebrew canon. The Protestant Old Testament Canon contains 39 books while the Hebrew canon has 22 or 24. These are the exact same books as the Protestants have, but they are just arranged differently and some of the books are combined into one. For example, Kings is one book. There is not 1st Kings and 2nd Kings. Also, all of the 12 minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi) are one book in the Hebrew Canon.
4. It is true that the Catholic Church accepted the Apocryphal books at earlier councils at Rome (A.D. 382), Hippo (A.D. 393), Carthage (A.D. 397), and Florence (A.D. 1442). However, these were not universal Church councils and the earlier councils were influenced heavily by Augustine, who was no Biblical expert, compared to the scholar Jerome, who rejected the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament Canon. Furthermore, it is doubtful that these local church council’s decisions were binding on the Church at large since they were local councils. Sometimes these local councils made errors and had to be corrected by a universal church council.