The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon/Part 1
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|There have always been some who have maintained that the Bible is incomplete because it does not contain various other writings which they believe are equally inspired. What are these books, and why are they not in our Bibles?|
There have always been some who have maintained that the Bible we now possess is incomplete because it does not contain various “lost books” or other writings—writings which such persons believe should have been placed into the biblical canon.
What these individuals and religious groups fail to understand is the reason why the Jewish and Christian communities rejected these books in the first place. One major reason is because the teachings in these books reject biblical teachings. Thus, these books were not rejected, as is often claimed, solely because Jews and Christians were unfairly prejudiced against their teachings; they were rejected because they did not conform to the teachings that God had already revealed.
In fact, one reason why many individuals and religious groups claim that these books should have been in the Bible is because they want the “blessing” of biblical authority to be given to their own unbiblical beliefs. These “lost” books are acceptable to such individuals and groups because they directly or indirectly support their own particular teachings. For example, Suma Ching Hi News for May 30, 1997, pages 33 to 40 claimed the following in an article by James Bean titled, “The Lost Books of the Bible.” (Suma Ching Hi is a worldwide mystical sect promoting the teachings of its “Master” Suma Ching Hi.)
[the “Pistis Sophia”] does document that there was a time when some Christians did believe in the concept of reincarnation and the pre-existence of the soul. (p. 38)
This process of canonization and censorship [of the Bible], for the most part, happened during the fourth century. It was during this time that most of the “other books” lost their status as scripture. Only a small number of books made it into this fourth century Bible and sadly, many important mystical books were left out. (p. 34)
After citing such books as “The Odes of Solomon,” “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene,” “The Acts of Paul and Thelca,” “The Book of Pistis Sophia” and “The Gospel of Thomas,” the author concludes:
As you can see from this brief sampling of apocryphal scriptures, the books that were left out of the fourth century Bible tended to promote personal [mystical] spiritual experience and contemplation. This earlier spiritual tradition was never fully embraced in the West and that is the reason, in my view, why these other books were left behind. (p. 40)
Again, the reason why promoting such extra-biblical books is important is because, on one hand, it rejects biblical teaching, and on the other hand, it offers “authoritative” literature endorsing the beliefs of the individual or organization already held.
How does all this relate to the topic we will shortly be discussing? The “lost books of the Bible” and the subject of our current article, the Apocrypha, do not necessarily belong in the same genre.
The term apocrypha, applied restrictively by Protestants refers to those books that Roman Catholics accept as Scripture outside the Hebrew Canon (Catholics prefer the term
“deuterocanonical”). In its broadest sense, the term apocrypha refers to a much larger collection of literature that may claim or imply biblical authority, but which has never been recognized as canonical.
Nevertheless, as we will see in this article, the same opportunity for “revision” or reinterpretation of the biblical text holds true for the Apocrypha, just as it does for the “lost books.” In other words, the Apocrypha has been used historically by the Catholic Church to support its own unbiblical teachings in the same manner that the “lost books” support the unbiblical teachings of certain New Age groups and other religions.
In fact, the author of the above article even declares that the Apocrypha supports the Tao Te Ching of Chinese mysticism: “From my perspective, the two most interesting books of ‘the Apocrypha’ are ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ and ‘The Wisdom of Sirac’—two very large collections of proverbs and wise sayings very comparable to the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.” (p. 34)
It is because so many people today misunderstand the biblical canon—the reasons why some books were selected as divine revelation and others were not—that we present the following material. Our goal is not only to evaluate the reasons historically why the Protestant Church rejected the claims of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the Apocrypha, but also to help the reader understand the how and why of the selection process that gave us our current 66 books of the Bible.
The subject of the biblical canon is one of the most important topics for Christians because it defines the extent of the written word of God and exposes false claimants to scriptural authority. Jesus, the Jews, the early Christians and Protestantism generally accept only the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament as divinely inspired. Roman Catholics, however, accept additional books they claim as Scripture. Catholicism teaches that Scripture involves more than the canon accepted by the Jews, Jesus and the early Church, i.e., the 39 books of the Old Testament. It adds new portions to the book of “Esther;” makes additions to “Daniel” (The Hymn of the Three Holy Children; Susanna; Bel and the Dragon), plus adds seven books, all of which were written between the Testaments: “Tobit,” “Judith,” “1 and 2 Maccabees,” “The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach,” (also called “Ecclesiasticus”) “Baruch” with “The Epistle of Jeremiah” and “The Wisdom of Solomon.” The Council of Trent, however, rejected three apocryphal books, including The Prayer of Manasses.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Apocrypha as, “Those writings that are included in the Septuagint (Greek) and Vulgate (Latin) versions of the Old Testament but are excluded from Jewish and Protestant versions as unauthentic.”
In 1546 the Roman Catholic Council of Trent officially named and identified the apocryphal books it decreed as canonical, noting, “If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts,… let him be anathema.”
Catholics further claim that it was not the Council of Trent that added these books to the Bible but that the Protestant Reformers “dropped from the Bible books that had been in common use for centuries”—i.e., the Apocrypha.
In the following material, we will attempt to sort through this significant issue, show how the Catholic Church came to its conclusion, and why it was wrong.
- Robert C. Broderick (ed.), The Catholic Encyclopedia, rev. & updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 160.
- The Encyclopedia Britannica Micropaedia, q.v. “Apocrypha,” Vol. 1, p. 446.
- H. J. Schroeder, trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1978), p. 18.
- Karl Keating, What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record Straight (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1992), p. 46 or Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians” (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), p. 46.