Should the Apocrypha be in the Bible?

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By Spencer D Gear

The term, Apocrypha, has been used to refer to these deutero-canonical books since the fifth century. See ‘Biblical Apocrypha’ (Wikipedia). The Catholic Encyclopedia has an article (online) on The Apocrypha and rightly notes that Roman Catholics call these inter-testamental books, deutero-canonical, and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

Renowned theologian and early church father, Athanasius (ca. AD 298-373) made a clear distinction between the books of the canon and those not included in the canon with these words:

But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple (Select Works & Letters of Athanasius, Letter 39, in A.D. 367, Available from:

So, we have it that Athanasius included only the words of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther, no Apocrypha, and the entire NT as of today. So Athanasius names some of the deutero-canonical/Apocryphal writings as an invention of heretics. These are not my words, but those of an eminent theologian of the early church.

Therefore, it is just as correct to call these books The Apocrypha as Deutero-Canonical.The Roman Catholic Church wants to call it Deutero-Canonical. But Apocrypha is just as legitimate because many Protestants do not regard those books as a second canon of books but as ‘hidden’ books that do not belong in the canon of Scripture.

There are a significant number of reasons for accepting the Palestinian canon of the OT (without the Deutero-Canonical). Here are a three:

  1. Some of the Deutero-Canonical books have teachings that contradict the NT. Two of these teachings that were raised at the time of the Reformation are promoted in the Apocrypha but denied in the NT. The Apocrypha promotes praying for the dead (2 Macc 12:45-46) and salvation by works (Tobit 12:9). The Bible is against praying for the dead. See 2 Sam. 12:19; Luke 16:25; Heb. 9:27. The Bible is strongly opposed to salvation by works (see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:5; Gal 3:11) [Geisler and Nix 1986:270].
  2. Some of the deutero-canonical narratives promote non-biblical, fanciful stories. Take a read of Bel and the Dragon, Tobit, and Judith (Geisler & Nix 1986:270).
  3. Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, who lived from about 20 BC – AD 40, quotes extensively from the OT and even recognised the three-fold classification of the OT books, but not once did he quote from the Deutero-Canonical as containing inspired books (Geisler and Nix 1986:272).

My stance of rejecting the Apocrypha is in agreement with Roman Catholic authority, Jerome (A.D. 340-420), who, in his preface to the Vulgate version of the Apocrypha’s “Book of Solomon,” stated that the church reads the apocryphal books “for example and instruction of manners” but not to “apply them to establish doctrine.” In fact, Jerome rejected Augustine’s unjustified acceptance of the Apocrypha.

The Jewish scholars who met at Jamnia, ca. A.D. 90, did not accept the Apocrypha in the inspired Jewish canon of Scripture. The Apocrypha was not contained in the Hebrew Bible and Jerome knew it. In his preface to the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, Jerome rejected the apocryphal additions to Daniel, i.e. Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna. Jerome wrote:

“The stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon are not contained in the Hebrew. . . . For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew. . . . After all, both Origen, Eusebius and Appolinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that, as I have said, these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture ” (in Norman Geisler 2002, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, Bethany House, p. 527, emphasis added).

The Protestant canon of 39 OT books, excluding the Apocrypha, coincides with the Hebrew 22 books of the OT.

There are many other reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha. Any reasonable person who reads Tobit, and Bel and the Dragon, knows how fanciful they become when compared with the God-breathed Scripture.

Here are “Some reasons why the Deutero-Canonical material does not belong in the Bible“. Here are examples of theological and historical “Errors in the Deutero-Canonical“. It was Jerome who introduced the change from calling these books the Apocrypha to Deutero-Canonical.

The teachings on purgatory and praying for the dead come from the Apocrypha.

The NRSV Apocrypha can be read online HERE.


Geisler, N L and Nix, W E 1986. A General Introduction to the Bible (rev & exp). Chicago: Moody Press.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.