One of the most common questions I was asked in ministry was how do we know we have the right books in the Bible? Questions about the biblical canon, origins, and reliability are as prevalent as they are important. In particular, many people want to know why the Catholic Bible has more books than the Protestant Bible. Those extra books are called the Apocrypha.
The history of Apocrypha is fascinating, but the reason it should not be included as Scripture is very simple. Though there are exceptions, these books have never been considered to have the same level of inspiration or authority as the Scriptures. Archibald Alexander, the first president of Princeton Theological Seminary, put it this way, “These books, called apocryphal, may be read with profit by the judicious; but they ought by no means to be placed on a level with the oracles of God; nor should they be bound up in the same volume with the canonical books, nor publicly read as a part of Scripture.” They simply aren’t in the same category as the 66 books of the Bible. Here’s why:
The apocryphal books are not considered part of the Hebrew Bible.
The list of apocryphal books includes Tobit, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), 1 & 2 Esdras, Judith, Rest of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Bel and the Dragon, Baruch, Song of the Three Children, 1 & 2 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasses, and the Story of Susanna. Several of these books are short additions to Old Testament books. Bel and the Dragon, for example, is an additional chapter of the book of Daniel.
Most of these books were written in Greek, not Hebrew, and throughout history have not been considered canonical books. They appear in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, but they were considered a lesser set of books by the Jews throughout history.
The apocryphal books have never carried the authority of Scripture.
Of course, there are exceptions to every statement about who did what in church history, and there are some who have considered the apocryphal books on par with Scripture, but on the whole, they have always been considered less authoritative than the biblical canon.
There are passages in the Talmud (a collection of commentary on the OT by Jewish Rabbis) that even prohibit reading any of the apocryphal books. The Chabads, a modern conservative sect of Judaism, do not consider the Apocrypha to be Scripture, “The Apocrypha isn’t Divinely inspired, and is therefore not part of the canon, and some of its works are even antithetical to Judaism. Other works may indeed contain some valuable information, but they aren’t given any more credence than any other book, and be aware that there have been various additions and deletions made throughout the ages.” This is the standard position among ancient and modern Jews.
The apocryphal books are never cited in the New Testament.
None of the books of the Apocrypha are cited in the New Testament, even though some of the NT writers undoubtedly knew about them. They would have been prevalent in the first century, but their lack of appearance in the NT shows that they were not considered inspired or authoritative.
The apocryphal books were not considered canonical by the church fathers.
The major figures in the early church, including Justin Martyr, Athanasius, Jerome, and Gregory Nazianzen, all rejected the Apocrypha as non-canonical. There are some, like Augustine, who made use of many books that are not in the Bible without commenting on their authority or inspiration, but two early councils, in Laodicea and Carthage, excluded the apocryphal books.
The apocryphal books come from unknown and uninspired authors.
In the biblical canon, authorship is extremely important. Many of the apocryphal books were written much later than the last of the OT books and their authors are unknown. In cases like the Wisdom of Solomon, even a cursory read is enough to determine that it was not written by Solomon. In fact, it was probably written almost 800 years later.
The books of the Apocrypha are interesting to read, and they have been a part of the Jewish and Christian community of books for a very long time. Today, they are printed in primarily Catholic bibles because they were included in Jerome’s translation, the Vulgate, even though he considered them outside the canon of the Old Testament. Luther’s Bible separated the apocryphal books into their own section, and later the Puritans removed them completely.
Today the Protestant Bible contains the inspired and authoritative Word of God in its 66 books. Although there have been periods of time when this list was contested, God has preserved exactly what we need. The apocryphal books are valuable and interesting, but the canonical books of the Bible are living and active, God-breathed, and everything we need for life and godliness.
*For a more detailed explanation of this argument, see Alexander’s book, The Truth, Inspiration, and Authority of Scripture from Lexham Press.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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