As a protestant, the Apocrypha has always been a bit of a mystery to me. What are those strange extra books of the Bible? Why do some denominations have them and not others? Is it just some strange Catholic thing, or should I be reading these? After some digging , here are 5 reasons Protestants don’t include the Apocrypha.
Last week I wrote up the Quick Challenge Answer article on the Apocrypha. That ended up being a very difficult post to keep short. If you want to see my best attempt at a brief overview and some talking points, check that one out. Stick with me here if you want a little more detail.
The Apocrypha is a series of books that certain denominations include as part of the Bible. The most notable churches that use them are Roman Catholic, Eastern and Russian Orthodox, and Coptic. The dozen or so books were largely written during the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. Some are history, others are prophets, and some are even extensions of previous books like Psalms or Esther. For various reasons, these churches have included them as additional Old Testament books. These, “Deuterocanonical” books, as they are sometimes referred to, have some value. But they should not be considered divinely inspired scripture for these reasons.
1. No Clear Apocrypha Book List
Even among the churches pushing for these books to stay there is disagreement. The protestant Old Testament has the same content as the Jewish Bible. The order and number is different, as the original 24 books were split up and rearranged into the 39 we see today. Historically there has been a pretty clear consensus on the content itself though.
For the Apocrypha, there is not even a list of books that are agreed on. The Apocrypha is a nebulous term for these books that were added in later. One church includes third and fourth Maccabees while another only includes the first two. The Bible has never been decided by, “This is our list. We like these books therefore they are scripture.” The bar to be considered divinely inspired is high. When there is no clear consensus, it’s a good sign that it does not meet the bar of authoritative scripture.
2. The Apocrypha Was Never Intended as Scripture
Most of these books were not claiming to be scripture in the first place. They were however part of the Septuigant, a collection of Hebrew writings which were then translated into Greek. The entire Old Testament was in there, but there were other writings as well. Part of why the Apocrypha books were ever added to the Bible in the first place is simply a misunderstanding. A recurring theme throughout the history of the Apocrypha is that most of the groups that accepted them had a distinct lack of Hebrew scholarship. When you have someone who knew their Hebrew like Jerome or even Josephus, most came to the proper conclusion that these were different. No early canonical list includes them as part of scripture.
3. The Apocrypha Contains Historical Errors
There are a number of errors in the books that further the argument that they are not inspired. Two of the books that are on nearly every Apocrypha list are the books of Judith and Tobit. Judith makes a strange blunder, calling Nebuchadnezzar the king of Assyria, and not Babylon.
“It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. In those days Arphaxad ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana.”Judith 1:1
The book of Tobit describes events that he supposedly witnessed, despite them spanning well over 200 years. The book itself claims he died at 112, making the books own claims contradictory.
4. Theological Problems and Political Power
Certain passages within these books teach doctrines counter to the rest of established scripture. Salvation by works, such as in Tobit 12:9, and Purgatory, taught in 2nd Maccabees chapter 12, are two of the most significant. The larger body of scripture is pretty clearly against these teachings, which would further the argument that these books are not inspired scripture.
However, one can see pretty easily why that might be overlooked. At a time in history when the Catholic church was pushing these doctrines for their own gain, suddenly keeping them as scripture is to their advantage. These political motivations combined with the lack of Hebrew scholarship were a big part of why the 16th century church continued to push these books, while protestant reformers like Luther were cutting them out. The Apocrypha was only officially canonized by the Catholic church during this time in the 16th century, essentially doubling down on them, and showing that politics got in the way of good theology.
5. Jesus and the New Testament Do Not Mention The Apocrypha
Jesus and Paul quote the Old Testament, a lot. Almost every book of the OT is mentioned or quoted at some point in the NT. Not a single apocryphal book is. If these were meant to be included with the OT, is it reasonable to think that they were completely ignored in the NT? Further, in Luke 11, Jesus makes this statement to the Pharisees.
“Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”Luke 11:50-51, NIV
Abel was, of course, the first murder in Genesis 4. Zechariah is the last prophet killed in 2 Chronicles 24, which might seem strange for Jesus to bring up now, until you remember that the protestant OT and the Jewish scriptures are arranged differently. 2nd Chronicles is the last book in their order, which is what Jesus would have used at the time. He essentially just bookended the OT for us. If Jesus considered these intertestamental prophets as legitimate, would he not have included them when referring to ALL the prophets?
Any one of these points on their own may not be enough to fully discredit and understand why protestants don’t include the Apocrypha. When the arguments are all laid out together, the books simply do not stand up. The Apocrypha is not scripture. That said, they are useful. Despite their imperfections, the Apocrypha does contain a lot of valuable history and teaching. Give it a read if you have the time.
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