How do you explain to anyone, specifically Catholics, the canonization of the Bible and the fact that the Apocrypha is not part of the canon?


I suggest you read either my book “Reasons for Belief” which describes the process of canonization of the OT and the NT, or my book “Daniel, Prophet to the Nations” which has a section on the OT Apocrypha.

Here is the short version:

God left the responsibility to create the “canon” of the Hebrew Bible to the Jews.   The Jews have never included the extra books commonly known as the Old Testament Apocrypha (Tobit, Judith, 1,2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Baruch, etc….)   Therefore, almost by definition, these books are not legitimately part of the Old Testament canon.   The situation is not quite that simple, but it is close to that simple.

The more nuanced version is that in the two centuries before Christ and the century after Christ there were a number of religious documents which circulated among the Jews, many of which were read, perhaps somewhat like we would read a good spiritual book today.  Some Jews may even have seen books like 1 Enoch, 1 Esdras or Wisdom as having some level of authority.  However, when Jews met to discuss these issues, for example at Jamnia in AD 90, only the content in our familiar 39 Old Testament books was confirmed as canonical and authoritative.  The Jews may have had a somewhat looser concept of inspiration and authority than we.  They may have allowed for different levels of authority, whereas, we in the West see this as black and white.  This fact may explain why there is some debate about these other books.  However, bottom line, the Jews as a whole only accepted then and only accept now the traditional 39 books.

Where, then, did the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and the Coptic use of the OT Apocrypha come from?  Certainly not from Jewish influence!  The answer is that these books were probably used more by the Christian Church than by the Jews in the third and fourth centuries.  Although Jesus did not use or quote from the Apocrypha, and neither did the NT writers (with the possible exception of one quote in Jude), the early church fathers used these books extensively, treating them as canonical or perhaps sub-canonical.   They did so rarely in the second century, but quite a bit in the third, and even more in the fourth century.  By the fifth century some of these books were treated as equal to Isaiah, Psalms and Proverbs.  Also, as early as the second century, many included these Greek books in the Septuagint translation, not as canonical, but as other documents to be used for various purposes.   The fact that the Old Testaments used in the early church included the OT Apocrypha (even if not considered canonical by all) had a great deal of influence on the incorporation of them into the canon of the ancient churches.

When Jerome made his translation from the Hebrew and Greek to the Latin, making the most influential translation of the scriptures in all history—the “Vulgate”–he included a translation of the OT Apocrypha.  The evidence is that he did this very reluctantly.  He did not consider these books authoritative, both because the Jews did not accept them and because they did not even exist in Hebrew originals.  Nevertheless, under pressure from the Roman bishop and the Western Church, he did incorporate what we now call the OT Apocrypha into his Vulgate.  This more or less sealed the deal as far as the Roman Catholic Church was concerned.   In fact, it is a little known fact that Luther’s translation and other early Protestant translations also included the OT Apocrypha.   It was in the 1600s and 1700s that these were excluded by the Protestant movements.

Here is the bottom line.  These books are not in the Hebrew/Jewish Bible, so most Christians today do not consider them canonical or authoritative.

If anyone has a question about these books, one way to decide is simply to read them.  If one reads 1 Kings and then 2 Maccabees, even if one does not know about the historical inaccuracies in 2 Maccabees, one will see right away that this book does not have the marks of inspiration.  If one reads Tobit or Judith, one will discover right away that these books do not rise anywhere near to the level of Daniel or Nehemiah.  They are really rather obviously not inspired, simply by reading them.   Their lower quality speaks for itself.   However, I would prefer to use the evidence of history as above as my strongest argument against their inclusion in the canon.

If you need more, I suggest the books listed above.

John Oakes

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