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What about the Apocrypha?

Posted by: David Carroll

My daughter Bethany asked me the other day why the Apocrypha is not included in our Bibles (meaning our protestant Bibles since of course it is included in the Catholic Bible). My answer was not very deep but I told her that these books were written during the inter-testamental period in the 400 years of silence. The silence refers to a period of time when God was not speaking to prophets. The other part of my answer to her was that none of the apocryphal books were quoted as scripture in the New Testament. At that point I had exhausted my entire knowledge of the subject.

You know that children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers.

John J. Plomp

I was not really satisfied with the extent of the answer I gave to her so today, I did a little investigating and learned a few things.

Did you know:

  • It is in the apocrypha that the Roman Catholics find their proof text for the doctrine for purgatory [2 Maccabees 12:46] which speaks of prayers for the dead.
  • The council of Trent in 1546 officially made these books part of the Canon of scripture.
  • That same council pronounced that anyone who did not recognize these books as scripture as anathema (removed from the body of Christ)
  • Hebrews 12 makes some allusions to some historical events that are documented in the apocrypha. (but there is not “it is written” or “thus says the Lord” type of language)
  • The early church fathers were not in agreement on the apocrypha, some such as Jerome completely denying their authority as scripture.
  • The apocryphal books were Jewish books and so would come under the authority of “God’s chosen people” who were given responsibility for the Old Testament scriptures. [Rom 3:2] “to them were committed the oracles of God.” Consequently it would not be the domain of the Church to determine the Old Testament canon. And in fact, these books were never “laid up in the temple” and the Jews did not consider them to be part of scripture included in the Law, Prophets and Writings.
  • Jesus spoke of all the prophets in:

Luke 11:50-51 (NKJV)
that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple.

  • it is interesting to note that Abel and Zechariah are bookends for the Jewish scriptures. The order of of the Jewish books are from Genesis (first book) to 2 Chronicles (last book). In essence, Jesus is excluding any prophets that might have occurred after Zechariah.
  • The only reason given by Catholics for the inclusion of the Apocrypha is the infallible authority of the Roman Catholic Church magisterium to proclaim on such matters. This excludes and is against another reasons to reject the apocrypha including historical evidence of the early church, and even precludes any blatantly obvious historical errors that might be found in these books.
  • In fact the book of Judith which is an apocryphal book, claims that Nebuchadnezzar ruled from Nineveh which is by every historical and scholarly evidence completely untrue. Also this same book claims the second temple was rebuilt a century prior to when it actually was. Granted supposed contradictions and errors are just the sort of thing atheists use to discredit the Bible but none of the supposed errors atheists can come up with are unexplainable or could not be reconciled with further unknown information. The errors in Judith are so blatant as to be impossible to dismiss as only “apparent error.”

So as a protestant, what exactly is the criteria for knowing what is scripture? It is not the authority of the church but rather it is the book’s prophetiticy. That is is the book inspired by God to a prophet of God. We do not determine canon, God does. The way he does this is by speaking to his prophets. A prophet is a spokesperson for God. Now, God chooses his prophets but it is up to us to discover which books are prophetic. It is interesting that for all the books in our Bible, each book was immediately recognized for it’s prophetical content by the author’s contemporaries, not by someone centuries later.

The Jews had already discovered the Old Testament canon for us making that part easy. How was the New Testament canon discovered? My understanding is that the New Testament is written by first hand apostles of Jesus. In other words those who had direct contact with Jesus or were transcribing for those who did. These men were apostles and as such were confirmed by signs and wonders. They did miracles. And the epistles and gospels were passed around by the contemporary early believers as holy writ.

But really the New Testament Canon is another question for another day anyway. But that’s my short answer like I would have given my daughter Bethany if she asked the question. Perhaps I’ll investigate more later and write another post on the subject.

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David Carroll wrote:
Bethany,
You said you tried to add a comment here last week and it was not your Internet that was down, it actually was a bug in the software. I just fixed it, so you can add your comment now.
ML wrote:
I have a question about scripture selection. I am a new Protestant and used to be Catholic. The Catholic Church does not teach Verbal or "Bible Words" inerrancy. They teach that the salvation themes are inerrant. I believe in the inerrancy of scripture and its words but am confused with all of the talk about different English translations and thousands of ancient texts. In my Protestant world everyone seems to be arguing about the best OT and NT texts, best English translation, best bible... How does one continue to believe in the inerrancy of scripture when there is not a text or translation that people agree on. I am particularly confused by all of the English translations alone. The translators all seem to criticize the other, they are always criticizing another bible and promoting theirs. So how do I choose what to read and have faith in the inerrancy of what I read. I pray a lot to God to show me, but it is very confusing. Literal, Word for Word, bibles do not always give me a sense of the meaning and I get misled in topic. Thought for Thought bibles are criticized for being thoughts. I notice so many Protestants are stuck in the translation search and are lost and unhappy. Some stay with the most literal and are at odds with having to figure it all out themselves. This too is misleading if you are not a scholar in language and culture. Some continue to read in every translation which is frustrating. Some seem to lose faith. Do you have any thoughts to help?
David Carroll wrote:
Hi ML,

The concept of inerrancy applies to the original text as written down by the writer in the original language. Any copies (because of errors in the copy process) or translations are not thougth to be inspired. A translation from one language to another can never be exact. That is why neither word-for-word nor thought-for-thought can comlpletely accurate or satisfying. This is why I believe one who wishes to study the Bible without knowing the original languages should have at least four different translations for example: NASB95, NKJV, NIV and The Living Bible. That would be sufficient to give a very good idea of what the scripture says.

James White published an article in the Christian Research Institute Journal in two parts on the topic "BIBLE VERSIONS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY." The following two links will take you there. www.equip.org/free/JAB121-1.pdf and www.equip.org/free/JAB121-2.pdf
ML wrote:
Thank you for responding to my questions. I have been helped by your thoughts and the article, "BIBLE VERSIONS: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY." Thank you for taking the time to help me.
Keith Silveira wrote:
There you go again falling into the usual Catholic bashing which is almost becoming cliched,many people indulge in this unacceptable behaviour by only presenting one sided views either Protestant or Catholic,why cant we move on and just be concerned about the truth rather than taking sides...which tend to be prejudiced,determining scripture was'nt as cut and dried as you make it out to be,besides the Apocrypha was a part of the Septuagent of the Old Testament which was used extensively by Paul in his letters,please verify your facts from relaible and unprejudiced historical sources.Wishing you all Gods blessings as you search His Word and come closer to Him