The Roman Catholic Church is in agreement with Protestant churches on several important doctrines and practices, like the Trinity, the fall of humanity into sin, and the deity of Jesus Christ. One area of important disagreement is whether or not certain books should be included in the Bible.
In the second century after Christ, the translators of the Vulgate, i.e., the Bible in Latin, included certain books in the Old Testament that Jews and early Christians had rejected. The extra books first appeared in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, two centuries before Christ.
What is the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books? Which books are considered “extra”? Why do many non-Catholics reject these books? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and many more.
Also see How Many Verses Are In the Bible? to learn more.
What is the Apocrypha or the Deuterocanonical Books?
The “extra” books in the Catholic Bible are commonly referred to in two ways: (1) Apocrypha and (2) Deuterocanonical books. Depending on a person’s point of view about the disputed books, each term is sometimes considered controversial in certain contexts.
- Apocrypha: The word “apocrypha” literally means “things that are hidden,” but sometimes people use it to convey information that is unorthodox or fictitious. In this sense, the word “apocrypha” is controversial when the connotation is that the books in question don’t have value.
- Deuterocanonical: The word “deuterocanonical” literally means “secondary canon.” Canon, in this context, refers to an officially accepted collection of books. “Deutero” conveys that certain books do not have the same inspired status as others books of the Bible.
Protestants tend to refer to the extra books in the Catholic Bible, “the Apocrypha,” because they believe they aren’t inspired and because some promote teachings that contradict inspired books.
Protestants dislike the term “deuterocanonical” because they believe there is just one canon and not a secondary canon. In their view, it’s illogical to talk about “a second-tier” of inspired books. God either inspired the books like he did the rest of Scripture or he didn’t.
Also see What Is the Longest Book of the Bible? to learn more.
What books comprise the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical books?
The books that comprise the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books can be counted in two different ways. Some say there are 13 books in question, while others say there are only seven. (A few say there are 12.)
These numbers merely reflect different ways to count the same body of literature. Some of the disputed writings are stand-alone books, like Tobit. Others are additional chapters to Old Testament books, like Esther.
- Tobit (stand-alone)
- Judith (stand-alone)
- Wisdom of Solomon (stand-alone)
- Ecclesiasticus, also called Wisdom of Sirach (stand-alone)
- Baruch (stand-alone)
- 1-2 Maccabees (stand-alone)
- Additions to Esther
- Additions to Daniel
Did Jews in the Old Testament era accept these books? No. The Hebrew Bible never contained these writings.
What is the Septuagint? The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament completed in Egypt in the third century before Christ. The prefix “sept” refers to the legend that 70 scholars worked to complete the translation. The Septuagint contains the disputed books.
Did the early church accept these books? No. The first Christians rejected the books in question.
Did the Reformers accept them? The Protestant Reformers rejected the books as being of the same inspired nature as the other 66 books of the Bible. Some, like Martin Luther, believed that there was a benefit to reading the books, even though they were not on par with Scripture.
Does the Eastern Orthodox Church accept the writings in question? Yes. Their extra-biblical literature also includes 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees. Jews in the Old Testament era, the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant churches all reject these additional writings.
Who was the first to include the books in the Bible? In one sense, the translators of the Septuagint were, when they included the books in their Greek translation of the Old Testament.
In the second century, the translators of the Latin Bible included the books. Jerome included them in his translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate, at the insistence of Saint Augustine, but he assigned them a secondary status.
Also see How Do You Study the Bible? to learn more.
Why do Protestants reject the Apocrypha or deuterocanonical books?
There are several reasons that Protestants reject the books in question. Some reasons are historical in nature and others are theological. Not all Protestants agree with every reason described below. Others would add many other arguments for rejecting the disputed books.
The theology found in the disputed books is contrary to the theology found in the 66 books of the Bible. Tobit 12:9 is an example of this because it teaches that a person can acquire salvation through financial offerings, “For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life.”
Protestants believe that the Bible is very clear that God’s grace alone saves sinners. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)
Another theological conflict is the doctrine of purgatory. 2 Maccabees teaches the doctrine and practices associated with it, like praying for the dead and collecting financial offerings for the church so that the dead can be saved from sin (Macc. 12:41-45; Bar. 3:4).
Baruch 3:4 reads, “O Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel, and of their children, that have sinned before thee, and have not hearkened to the voice of the Lord their God, wherefore evils have cleaved fast to us.” (NAB)
Also see Do Catholics Read the Bible? to learn more.
New Testament writers never quote the books in question. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and other teachers in the New Testament quote from most of the books in the Old Testament, and often from the Septuagint translation. However, they never quote from any of the disputed books. Some argue that Paul alludes to certain passages in the disputed books. But because he does not use a quote, the source is less certain.
The Jews in the Old Testament era rejected the books. This argument is persuasive to many Protestants because the authors and the content of these books are distinctly Jewish, so their original audience questioned or rejected their authenticity.
While the Hebrew Bible is organized into 22 books and the Christian Old Testament contains 39, they are the same writings, just arranged differently.
It is not certain that the earliest versions of the Septuagint contained disputed books. The earliest editions of the Septuagint date to the 4th century A.D. It is possible that people added the books later, which is a suggestion supported by the fact that New Testament writers did not quote from the books.
Many in the early church rejected the books. The earliest list of canonical Old Testament books dates to the second century. The disputed books are not on the list.
For example, in 170 A.D. Melito, the Bishop of Sardis, wrote, “When I came to the east and reached the place where these things were preached and done, and learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, I set down the facts and sent them to you.”
“These are their names: the five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of the Kingdom, two books of Chronicles, the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, The Twelve in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra.”
Also see Bible Reading Plans to learn more.
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