The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon/Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2004
How do the Jews view the Apocrypha? Do they consider these books inspired or as part of their sacred texts? Were the Apocryphal books part of the Septuagint? Do the Apocryphal books pass the “propheticity” test?

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The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon—Part 3

Last time we began to examine reasons why is impossible for any thinking person committed to the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture to regard the Apocrypha as the Word of God. So far we have looked at: 1) the meaning of the term Apocrypha; and 2) the historical value of the Apocrypha. We now continue.

3) The Jewish View of the Apocrypha

Third, it is crucial to recognize that these books were Jewish books compiled before the birth of Christ. Therefore, evaluating the disposition of the Jews regarding their canonicity is para­mount. The importance of the following fact cannot be underestimated: “Since the New Testa­ment explicitly states that Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God and was the recipient of the covenants and the Law (Rom. 3:2), the Jews should be considered the custodians of the limits of their own canon. And they have always rejected the Apocrypha.”[1]

As biblical authority Dr. F. F. Bruce writes, “When we think of Jesus and his Palestinian apostles, then, we may be confident that they agreed with contemporary leaders in Israel about the contents of the canon…. [W]hen in debate with Jewish theologians Jesus and the apostles appealed to ‘the scriptures’, they appealed to an authority which was equally acknowledged by their opponents.”[2] In other words, there was universal Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha.

The canon of the Jews (limited to the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament) was clearly the canon Jesus and the apostles accepted. This means that Jesus and the apostles never accepted the Apocrypha as God’s word: “…Christ and the apostles used and believed the groups of books accepted in the Hebrew canon, and none others. For those who find their authority in Christ and His apostles, this would seem to be enough.”[3]

In confirmation, we may observe that the New Testament never cites the Apocrypha as an authority, if it even cites it at all. Neither Jesus nor the New Testament authors ever quoted from it by way of the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament). This is so in spite of their quoting from 35 of the 39 Old Testament books. Indeed, directly or indi­rectly the New Testament quotes the Old Testament over 600 times, but an apocryphal book is not cited by name even once. This speaks volumes as to the New Testament authors’ view of the Apocrypha. Because the Jews, Jesus and the Apostles clearly rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture, the burden of proof must be met by Catholics to show that the reasons for its rejection were spurious and that it deserved canonization. This is something the Catholic Church can never do.

Even Catholics, by their use of the term “deuterocanonical,” as applied to the Apocrypha, agree at this point that the Jews rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture. In other words, the term implies the Apocrypha is a second canon added to the one the Jews accepted. Dr. Bruce also points out that Jerome’s distinction between the books that were authenticated by the Hebrews and the books that were to be read only for edification is maintained by Roman Catholic scholars:

As for the status of the books which Jerome called apocryphal [i.e., those to be excluded from the canon but which could be used for edification], there is generally agreement among Roman Catholic scholars today (as among their colleagues of other Christian traditions) to call them “deuterocanonical”… Jerome’s distinction is thus maintained in practice, even if it does not enjoy conciliar support.[4]

Former Roman Catholic William Webster points out that John Cosin’s book, A Scholastical History of the Canon, documents over 50 major church writers and theologians from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries who held to Jerome’s view:

That this was the general view of the church up to as late as the sixteenth century is evidenced by these comments from Cardinal Cagetan, the great opponent of Luther in the Reformation, taken from his commentary on the Old Testament:… “Now, according to his [Jerome’s] judgment… these books… are not canonical,… Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorized in the canon of the Bible for that purpose.”[5]

In other words, although not Scripture they could be termed “canonical” since they were included with the canon and used for edification. This may explain why some in the early Church referred to the Apocrypha as “canonical”—because these books were sometimes in­cluded with the canon. But the meaning of canonical here refers to placement, not to the status of inspired Scripture. This shows that it might be easy for some to see this different use of the term and conclude a given writer believed the books were as canonical as Scripture.

Further, in “The Biblical Canon” David G. Dunbar, President of Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania also illustrates how the Apocrypha came to be accepted and why it should be rejected, regardless of its placement in the canon by Rome. He points out that one reason for its acceptance in the early church was due to Gentile Christian ignorance as to Jew­ish views on the canon. Another reason concerned the manuscript change from scroll into codex form:

There is then no compelling reason to revise the historic Protestant evaluation of the Apocrypha. The New Testament writers did not acknowledge these books as Scripture, nor did a significant number of the Patristic writers who witnessed to the Hebrew tradition of twenty-two biblical books. That a wider range of books than those of the Hebrew canon came to be included in the Septuagint was due in part to the increasing ignorance among Gentile Christians of Jewish views on the subject. In addition, the move from scrolls to codex form may well have added to the confusion of the early Christians. As Bruce Metzger observes, “Books which heretofore had never been regarded by the Jews as having any more than a certain edifying significance were now placed by Christian scribes in one codex side by side with the acknowledged books of the Hebrew canon. Thus it would happen that what was first a matter of convenience in making such books of secondary status available among Christians became a factor in giving the impression that all of the books within such a codex were to be regarded as authoritative.”[6]

In other words, because the Apocrypha was sometimes placed with the Old Testament Jew­ish canon, whether for convenience or out of Gentile Christian ignorance of Jewish views on the canon, some Christians came to believe these books were also to be considered inspired.

Our argument so far explains one reason why it required almost 1700 years for Catholics to officially accept the Apocrypha as Scripture. Webster, whom we cited above, quotes the New Catholic Encyclopedia as agreeing that the Old Testament canon, for Rome, was not decisively determined until Trent: “The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.”[7] Webster’s comments as a former Catholic are also relevant, “I discovered to my surprise that it was the Roman Catholic Church, not the Protestant, which was respon­sible for the introduction of novel teachings very late in the history of the church.”[8]

4) The Apocrypha and the Septuagint

The Septuagint (LXX) of the 4th century contained the Apocrypha, but there is no proof the Alexandrian Jews regarded it as Scripture or even that the LXX of the first century contained the Apocrypha. (Our manuscripts of the LXX date only from the 4th century A.D. and thus to state the LXX did contain the Apocrypha is an assumption.) Regardless, the attitude of the Jews and first Jewish Christians toward the Apocrypha suggests it would not have been included in the LXX of the 1st century. Further, it is important to realize there is a direct correlation between accepting a high view of the Jewish canon and a low view of the Apocrypha and vice versa. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible observes: “In the Early Church the degree in which the Hebrew Canon was esteemed determined the attitude adopted toward the Apocry­pha.”[9] In other words, those Christians who honored the providential hand of God in determining the Old Testament Jewish canon of necessity rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture. But those Christians who held to a lower view of the Jewish canon were, quite logically, more inclined to accept the books the Jews had rejected. Given the controversies that existed between Chris­tians and Jews in the early centuries, this acceptance of the Apocrypha on the part of some Christians is at least understandable, despite the consequences. Dr. Harrison discusses this important subject in more detail, beginning with the Jewish view of the Apocrypha in the 2nd century:

It seems clear that from the beginning of the 2nd century the excluded literature [the Apocrypha] was no longer of particular concern to the Jews…. Indeed the Midrash Qoheleth warned that confusion would only result if more than the canonical Scriptures were read, and apart from Ecclesiasticus, which survived in Hebrew literature until the twelfth century A.D., the Apocryphal writings of Judaism were generally considered to be at best unsuitable for devotion, and at worst, a positive danger to faith. In consequence of this attitude it can be remarked that the fact that this corpus has survived at all is due to the interest and activity of the Christian Church, many of whose members found these compositions both interesting and enlightening. At the beginning of the Christian era the Church felt no particular inclination to proscribe those works that were not included in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there was little doubt that familiarity with such writings led to their being referred to occasionally within the general context of Scripture. However, there is no instance in the New Testament where any of the writers cited an Apocryphal composition as though they recognized it as inspired Scripture or as in any way connected with matters of spiritual authority. Even C. C. Torrey, who compiled a substantial list of what he deemed to be New Testament allusions to, or quotations from, the Apocrypha was compelled to concede that, in general, the Apocryphal literature was left unnoticed by the New Testament authors. When the latter quoted from the Old Testament by way of the LXX, which preserved the apocryphal writings, they never cited material from any book that was not part of the Hebrew canon.[10]

The omission, if the Apocrypha was present and regarded as Scripture, is more than glaring. Even assuming the LXX originally contained the Apocrypha, Harrison goes on to state:

The fact that the Alexandrian [LXX] translators of the Hebrew Bible chose to preserve for posterity certain extra-biblical compositions need not in itself necessarily imply that such writings were regarded as of equal inspiration and authority with the Hebrew scriptures.
From the contents of certain 4th & 5th century Biblical codices it would appear that there was no rigidly determined order of canonical books; that some “outside books” were incorporated into the canon; and that there was no definite tradition in the Greek manuscripts regarding which extra-canonical works were to be included…. Insofar as the early Christians included apocryphal writings in their list of the Scriptures they appear to have been following the traditions of the Alexandrian canon rather than that of the Palestinian Jews.[11]

In other words, the Hellenistic treatment of the scriptural canon was sometimes decidedly different from the traditional Jewish treatment. Not unexpectedly then, some of the Greek fa­thers such as Augustine and Clement, who used the Septuagint that included the Apocrypha, may, because of that fact, have implied or cited them as inspired or Scripture. But those con­nected with Palestine and the Hebrew canon, such as Jerome and Africanus, declared these books were not Scripture and hence of no value as to scriptural authority. Again, some books had degrees of value for historical or other uses and could be read in church services. That they were termed ecclesiastical (“of the Church”) along with the fact that some noted individuals may have considered them Scripture, as well as the earlier mentioned switch from scroll to codex form, accounts for their presence in certain compilations of Scripture.

Some have argued that certain Jews did accept the Apocrypha. However, F. F. Bruce ex­plains why the idea that the Alexandrian Jews accepted the Apocrypha is wrong:

It has frequently been suggested that, while the canon of the Palestinian Jews was limited to the 24 books of the Law, Prophets and Writings, the canon of the Alexandrian Jews was more comprehensive. There is no evidence that this was so: indeed, there is no evidence that the Alexandrian Jews ever promulgated a canon of scripture. The reason for thinking that they did, and that it was a more comprehensive canon than that acknowledged in Palestine, is that Greek-speaking Christians, who naturally took over the Greek Old Testament which was already in existence, took over the Greek version of a number of other books and gave some measure of scriptural status to them also.[12]

In other words, the fact that, for whatever reason, some Hellenized Christians accepted the Apocrypha cannot be taken to mean that the Alexandrian Jews accepted it as well. Even if they had somehow accepted it as Scripture, they would have been wrong to do so.

In the following discussion we will show why this Christian acceptance of the Apocrypha was a serious mistake.

5) The Apocrypha and Propheticity

Doctors Geisler and MacKenzie have pointed out that a book was considered canonical if it was written by a prophet of God, confirmed by an act of God, contained the power of God, told the truth about God, and was accepted by the people of God. The Apocrypha fails on all counts. There’s no proof or claim in the Apocrypha that it was written by God’s prophets; these books were never supernaturally confirmed by God; they do not have the same transforming and other power one finds in the canonical Scripture (Heb. 4:12) (unless they repeat biblical truth in other books) and they do not always tell the truth about God, man, history, etc., since they contain errors, contradictions and even heresies. Finally, “There were no continuous or universal accep­tance of these books by the church of God,” Roman Catholic claims to the contrary notwith­standing.[13] Thus, e.g.,

Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity…. In fact, the entire Protestant Old Testament was considered prophetic. Moses, who wrote the first five books, was a prophet (Deut. 18:15). The rest of the Old Testament books were known as “the Prophets” (Matt. 5:17) since these two sections are called “all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). The “apostles and [New Testament] prophets” (Eph. 3:5) composed the entire New Testament. Hence, the whole Bible is a prophetic book, including the final book (cf. Rev. 20:7, 9-10). As we will see, this cannot be said for the apocryphal books. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is a test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon.[14]

In light of this, now consider a summary of features pertaining to the Apocrypha:

  • None of the Apocryphal books claim to be written by a prophet.
  • Divine confirmation of the Apocrypha is lacking.
  • Predictive prophecy does not exist in the Apocrypha.
  • No new messianic truth can be found in the Apocrypha.
  • The Jewish community itself acknowledged that the prophetic gifts had ceased in Israel before the Apocrypha was written.
  • The apocryphal books, although written by Jews, were never listed in the Jewish Bible along with the prophets or any other section of the canon.

Not once is even a single apocryphal book cited authoritatively by a prophetic book written after it. “Taken together, this provides overwhelming evidence that the Apocrypha was not pro­phetic and, therefore, should not be part of the canon of Scripture.”[15] Worse yet for Catholic claims, “there is virtually an unbroken line of support from ancient to modern times for rejecting the Apocrypha as part of the canon. This is true for both Jewish teachers and Christian Fa­thers.”[16]

Canonically, the grounds on which the Apocrypha was accepted undermine the true test for canonicity—propheticity. In short, if the Apocrypha can be accepted in the canon, lacking, as it does, the characteristics that meet the true test of canonicity, then other noncanonical books should be accepted on the same grounds.[17]

In other words, without the acceptance of more stringent criteria for canonicity, there is no reason why the Catholic Church could not accept even more books into the canon. Could some­thing like the Book of Mormon or other cultic scriptures somehow find their way into the canon of a 21st Century Catholicism? The issue is not whether Rome would accept such books as Scrip­ture now; it probably wouldn’t. The issue is on what logical basis Rome could deny such books canonicity. If Rome has already accepted books that deny Scripture, then certainly such other books that deny Scripture cannot logically be excluded on the same basis.

In the next article we will turn our attention to the issue of divine providence and the canon.


  1. In Norman L. Geisler, Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), p. 169.
  2. F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988), p. 41.
  3. R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), p. 184.
  4. Bruce, p. 105.
  5. William Webster, “Did I Really Leave the Holy Catholic Church?” in John Armstrong (gen. ed.), Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), p. 276.
  6. David G. Dunbar, “The Biblical Canon” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (eds.), Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academie Books, 1986), pp. 309-310.
  7. Webster, p. 277.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 205.
  10. R. K. Harrison, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 1186.
  11. Ibid., pp. 1186-87.
  12. Bruce, p. 45.
  13. G. Douglas Young, “The Apocrypha,” in Carl Henry, Revelation and the Bible (Baker), p. 272.
  14. Geisler and MacKenzie, p. 167.
  15. Ibid., p. 167.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid., p. 158.4APStaff0504 Apocrypha 3

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