Copies of the Luther Bible include the deuterocanonical books as an intertestamental section between the Old Testament and New Testament; they are termed the “Apocrypha” in Christian Churches having their origins in the Reformation.
By Spencer D Gear
Which books should be in the canon of Scripture? Should the Apocrypha be included?
1. Meaning of canon of Scripture
‘Canon’ refers to a collection of books that describes the faith and practices of the Christian Church, e.g. Old and New Testaments. In classical Greek (prior to NT koine Greek), the word referred to ‘a straight rod’, ‘a rule’ in a fairly wide sense, such as ‘the rule of the Church.’
The first known use of ‘canon’ to refer to the Scriptures was by Amphilocius (ca. AD 380) where he referred to ‘the rule by which the contents of the Bible must be determined’. It also referred to the index of the books in the Bible
(Smith’s Bible Dictionary 1901. s.v. Canon of Scripture, The).
2. What is the Apocrypha?
See Gleason L Archer Jr, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (rev ed) 1974.
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: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.xxv.iii.iii.xxv.html).
2.1 Bibles and the Apocrypha
The Roman Catholic Church includes the deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha). See the Roman Catholic translations here to check out the deuterocanonicals (second canon):
Douay-Rheims Bible with Apocrypha (Roman Catholic Bible)
New American Bible with Apocrypha (Roman Catholic Bible)
New Jerusalem Bible with Apocrypha (Roman Catholic Bible).
Revised English Bible (update of New English Bible) – unable to locate online
Third Millennium Bible (updated KJV 1611)
The Great Bible (1539)
Wycliffe Bible (1382)
Deuterocanonical books are supported by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
A person asked on a Christian forum:
How or why did the disagreement of which books belong in the OT begin 1500 years later if us (sic) Christians have known since the 1st Century which books belong in the OT? Did God change his mind 1500 years later (which is when the dispute started)?
Why did the debate about the content of the canon of Scripture become more intense around the Reformation period? It was because of a formal statement made by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent and the Protestants responded with a strong voice. What is contained in the canon is relevant in the 21st century because to have a legitimate faith, one must have a legitimate canon from which that faith gains content. The legitimacy of faith is in the balance.
The Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent (1546 – 1563), decreed certain apocryphal writings to be canonical (authoritative). The books of the Apocrypha included were…
1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. Greek additions to Esther and several additional sections of Daniel, including the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.
Twenty-two books in Old Testament
Josephus (ca. AD 37-100) indicated in his writing that this was the view that was generally accepted in his day about fellow Jews. He wrote:
For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from, and contradicting one another: [as the Greeks have:] but only twenty two books: which contain the records of all the past times: which are justly believed to be divine. And of them five belong to Moses: which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind, till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years. But as to the time from the death of Moses, till the reign of Artaxerxes, King of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the Prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times, in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God; and precepts for the conduct of human life. ’Tis true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly; but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers; because there hath not been an exact succession of Prophets since that time. And how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation, is evident by what we do. For during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold, as either to add any thing to them; to take any thing from them; or to make any change in them. But it is become natural to all Jews, immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines; and to persist in them: and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, 1.8, emphasis added).
What were contained in these 22 books?
In their efforts to force fit the Old Testament Canon into the alphabetic pattern, the Jews had to combine certain sets of books. This was very natural in most cases because some books, like First and Second Kings, were originally undivided. Likewise, the Twelve Minor Prophets, known since ancient times as the Book of the Twelve because they were written on a single scroll, could naturally be counted as one book. But when all such books were combined and the tally taken, the total came to twenty-four. To arrive at the desired set of twenty-two books, they had to combine two more pairs, which turned out to be Judges with Ruth, and Jeremiah with Lamentations according to Jerome in his Prologue to Samuel and Kings . The first pair made some sense because they treated the same time period (which is the reason given by Jerome), and the latter pair made some sense because they were written by the same prophet. But the combination just would not stick (The Twenty-Two Books of the Jewish Canon, Richard McGough).
In The Twenty-Two Books of the Jewish Canon Richard McGough stated these early church fathers accepted 22 books in the OT Jewish canon:
- Melito 170 AD, cited in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 4.26.14
- Origen 210 AD (in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 6.25).
- Hilary of Poitiers 360 AD, Tractate on Psalms, Prologue 15
- Athanasius 365 AD, Letter 39.4
- Cyril of Jerusalem, 386 AD, Catechetical Lectures 4.33
- Council of Laodicea 391 AD, Canon 60
- Gregory of Nazianzus 390 AD, Carmina, 1.12
- Epiphanius 400 AD, Del Nensurius et Ponderibus, 4
- Rufinus 410 AD, Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 37
- Jerome 410 AD, Introduction to Samuel and Kings
Jerome’s statement in support of the OT canon, which did not include the deuterocanonicals, was:
And so there are also twenty-two books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have twenty-four books of the old law. And these the Apocalypse of John represents by the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb, and with downcast looks offer their crowns, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice crying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who wast, and art, and art to come (Jerome, The Books of Samuels and Kings).
Why did the Protestants have to defend the OT Scriptures excluding the Apocrypha after the time of Reformation? It relates to the anathema pronounced by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent on those who did not accept the deuterocanonical / Apocrypha books:
And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, 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 entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second. Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according [Page 19] to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle.
But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately condemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church (The Council of Trent, Fourth Session, Decree Concerning the Canonical Scripture, emphasis added).
Assessment of the Apocrypha
I don’t plan a detailed assessment as others have done that.
With such a curse pronounced by the Council of Trent, ‘If any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts . . . Let him be anathema,‘ it was important to make sure that all Christians had the correct books in the Bible. As it has turned out, it was the Roman Catholic Church that has added to the Scriptures of the OT, based on the evidence provided above.
For an excellent overview of how to determine which of the religious books of the world’s religions is the most reliable, see Got Questions Ministries (2019): How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God, and not the Apocrypha, the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, etc.?
 ‘Canon’ must not be confused with ‘cannon’ which is ‘a heavy automatic gun that fires shells from an aircraft or tank’ (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2019. s.v. cannon).
 Christianity Board 2016. When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal?(online), 13 October, tom55#243. Available at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/when-did-the-universal-church-first-mentioned-in-110ad-stop-being-universal.22752/page-13#post-284648 (Accessed 4 April 2019).
Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 09 September 2021.