The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon -
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
In previous articles we discussed:
1) the meaning of
the term Apocrypha;
2) the historical value of the
3) the Jewish view of the Apocrypha;
4) the Apocrypha and the Septuagint;
5) the Apocrypha and Propheticity;
6) Divine Providence and the Canon.
Next, we see:
7) The Apocrypha and Inerrancy
As we have said, the 1546 decree of Rome was a great
mistake. We must re-emphasize that the major reason for
rejecting the Apocrypha is because of the presence of
errors. Obviously, books with errors cannot in any
manner be considered the Word of God. If the Apocrypha
is Scripture, it then proves the Word of
God can be errant and fallible. Thus, accepting the
apocryphal books thoroughly undermines the biblical
doctrine of inerrancy. This has tremendous implications,
many of which we shall discuss in a separate treatment
Regardless, there is no doubt whatever that the
Apocrypha contains errors. Biblical scholar Dr. Rene
Except for certain interesting historical
information (especially in 1 Maccabees) and a few
beautiful moral thoughts (e.g., Wisdom of Solomon),
these books contain absurd legends and platitudes, and
historical, geographical and chronological errors, as
well as manifestly heretical doctrines; they even
recommend immoral acts (Judith 9:10, 13).1
Old Testament scholar Merrill F. Unger writes in his
Introductory Guide to the Old Testament,
"Certainly a book that contains what is false in fact,
erroneous in doctrine or unsound in morality, is
unworthy of God and cannot have been inspired by Him.
Tried under these criteria the Apocryphal books stand
Thus, numerous errors in the Apocrypha have been
pointed out in standard works, e.g.,
Tobit… contains certain historical and geographical
errors such as the assumption that Sennacherib was the
son of Shalmaneser (1:15) instead of Sargon II, and
that Nineveh was captured by Nebuchadnezzar and
Ahasuerus (14:5) instead of by Nabopolassar and
Cyaxares…. Judith…. fits readily into the time of the
Maccabean uprising (2nd century B.C.), but cannot
possibly be historical because of the glaring errors
it contains. Thus Nebuchadnezzar was given an
impossibly long reign, as was the ruler of Media,
while the Assyrians and Babylonians were hopelessly
confused and the armies were made to perform
impossible feats of mobility…. [In 2 Maccabees] There
are also numerous disarrangements and discrepancies in
chronological, historical, and numerical matters in
the book, reflecting ignorance or confusion on the
part of the epitomist, his sources or both.3
Thus, the Apocrypha contains indisputable errors. Any
Christian who needs sufficient reason for rejecting the
Apocrypha as Scripture need only read the Apocrypha
itself. Indeed, "More Christians should read the
Apocrypha…. To do so would settle many questions
8) The Council of Trent and the Apocrypha
How did the Council of Trent ever declare the
Apocrypha was Scripture in the first place? Much in the
same way Vatican I decreed papal infallibility:
Theologian Dr. Bernard Ramm observes that, "The story
as to how the Apocrypha achieved [the] status of
inspired Scripture at the Council of Trent is one of the
saddest commentaries on improper scholarship in the
history of Western culture."5
Biblical scholar R. Laird Harris observes that for
1,500 years no Roman Catholic was called upon to believe
the Apocrypha was scriptural—until the Council of Trent
made its fateful decree. He agrees the Council adopted
its position "for reasons of expediency rather than
Thus, the Council was "unmindful of evidence, of former
popes and scholars, of the Fathers of the church and the
witness of Christ and the apostles" in making its
Dr. Rene Pache points out that a key reason for
Trent’s decision was to respond to the arguments of the
Protestant Reformers who were attempting to defend the
principle of sola scriptura—that the Bible alone
was the final authority for matters of faith and
practice, not church tradition. Thus, Trent found in the
Apocrypha a justification for unbiblical Catholic
traditions that were rejected by the Reformers.
Why, then, did Rome take so new and daring a
position? Because, confronted by the Reformers, she
lacked arguments to justify her unscriptural
deviations. She declared that the Apocryphal books
supported such doctrines as prayers for the dead (II
Macc. 12:44); the expiatory sacrifice (eventually to
become the Mass, II Macc. 12:39-46); alms giving with
expiatory value, also leading to deliverance from
death (Tobit 12:9; 4:10); invocation and intercession
of the saints (II Macc. 15:14; Bar. 3:4); the worship
of angels (Tobit 12:12); purgatory; and the redemption
of souls after death (II Macc. 12:42, 46).8
Thus, a strong case can be made that the reason the
Council of Trent declared the Apocrypha canonical was
simply as a polemical maneuver to support Roman Catholic
belief against the Protestant Reformation. To
illustrate, two main doctrines in dispute during the
Reformation, both supported by the Apocrypha, include
salvation by faith/works (Tobit 12:9) and prayers for
the dead (2 Macc. 12:45-46). Concerning these doctrines,
the Catholic Church claims that they are
scriptural because they are canonical (i.e.,
apocryphal). For example, concerning prayers for the
dead in 2 Maccabees 12:39-36, we find the practice of
postmortem intercession where the living are able to
make "propitiation for the dead,"9
allegedly loosing them from the consequences of their
sins and thus undergirding the Catholic doctrine of
indulgences and prayers for the dead in purgatory:
…the troops of Judas went… to pick up the corpses
of the slain… they discovered under the shirts of
every one of the dead men amulets of the idols of
Jamnia—a practice forbidden the Jews by law. All saw
at once that this was why they had perished [by the
Lord’s judgment] and… all betook themselves to
supplication, beseeching that the sin committed might
be wholly blotted out… [Judah] collected from them,
man by man, the sum of two thousand drachmas of
silver, which he forwarded to Jerusalem for a
sin-offering. In this he acted quite rightly and
properly…. Hence he made propitiation for the dead
that they might be released from their sin.10
Notice however that these verses 1) do not even
mention purgatory and 2) actually reject the Catholic
doctrine of purgatory by teaching that deliverance of
soldiers who had died in the mortal, and hence
unforgivable, sin of idolatry. Regardless,
The acceptance of the Apocrypha at the Council of
Trent is suspect because: ...it was used against
Luther in support of the Roman Catholic position….
[Further] Not all of the Apocrypha was accepted. Only
11 of the 14 books were and one of those admitted
books (2 Esdras) is against prayers for the
We emphasize once again! Material that is either
contradictory, legendary or heretical can hardly be
accorded canonical status. The canonical books clearly
oppose salvation by works (Galatians chs. 2 & 3) and
praying for the dead (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Samuel 12:19; Luke
16:25-26). Stories such as those found in "Bel and the
Dragon" are clearly legendary and therefore unauthentic
as are the "Additions to Esther," "Prayer of Azriah," "Tobit,"
"Susanna and Judith." At other places the teaching of
the Apocrypha is even immoral, e.g., where Judith was
allegedly assisted by God in an immoral action (Judith
9:10-13). Both "Wisdom" and "Ecclesiasticus" teach
morality based on expedience. Again, there are numerous
errors in the Apocrypha. William H. Green concisely
observes: "The books of ‘Tobit’ and ‘Judith’ abound in
geographical, chronological, and historical mistakes, so
as not only to vitiate the truth of the narratives they
contain, but to make it doubtful whether they even rest
upon a basis of fact."12
This probably explains why "Many of the great Fathers of
the early church spoke out against the Apocrypha, for
example, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius."13
9) The Church’s Classification of Ancient Literature
and the Apocrypha
Understanding how the church catalogued Old Testament
books further informs us why the Apocrypha cannot be
considered Scripture. The early church used four basic
classifications to gauge the great variety of literature
that comprised or surrounded the Bible: the
homologoumena, antilegomena, pseudepigrapha and
apocrypha. The first class is called the
homologoumena. This term refers to those biblical
books that, once accepted into the canon, were never
questioned or disputed. In other words, from the start,
these books have maintained their canonical status to
the present day. This includes approximately 87 percent
of the Protestant Old Testament.
The second category is called the antilegomena.
It refers to books that were first accepted but
later disputed by some. This includes 13 percent
of the Old Testament books. We see that some rejected
"The Song of Solomon" because it was allegedly too
sensual; "Ecclesiastes," because it was allegedly too
skeptical; "Esther," because it did not mention the name
God; "Ezekiel" because it was mistakenly thought to be
anti-Moses, or even Gnostic, and "Proverbs" because a
few of the proverbs seemed to contradict one another.
Note that the homologoumena and antilegomena comprise
100 percent of the Protestant Old Testament.
The fact of the antilegomena proves two things: 1)
that almost 90 percent of the Protestant Old Testament
canon was never disputed once accepted and 2) the
few books that were first accepted but later disputed
withstood the test of time, confirming the credibility
of the original selection process and determination.
Thus, the antilegomena was originally accepted
into the canon; it was only subsequently disputed
by some rabbis. So the real issue for the antilegomena
is whether or not the later arguments for exclusion had
any validity. They did not. Thus, "The Song of Solomon"
is not really sensual; in those few places it is
explicit, it merely describes the physical joys of
married life. "Ecclesiastes" may have seemed skeptical
but look at its final conclusion in chapter 12. The
whole point of the book is to show that apart from trust
in God, life is indeed futile. To argue that "Esther" is
"unspiritual" simply because it does not mention the
name of God is a non sequitur. In fact, the
omission of God’s name may have been intentional "to
protect it from pagan plagiarization and the
substitution for it of the name of a heathen god" since
the Jews were living in Persian exile among the pagans.14
Regardless, there is an acrostic of the name
Jehovah four times in the book in such a manner that a
chance origin is ruled out. And even though the direct
name of God is absent, His grace and power, seen in the
deliverance of His people, is certainly present quite
Concerning "Ezekiel," there are no contradictions with
Moses, because none have ever been shown. Any genuine
errors or contradictions between "Ezekiel" and the
Pentateuch, or the presence of genuine Gnostic
teachings, would have excluded the book from
consideration as Scripture and/or it would never have
been placed in the canon to begin with. Finally, the few
alleged contradictions in "Proverbs" are only apparent.
For example, consider Proverbs 26:4-5: "Do not answer a
fool according to his folly, or you will be like him
yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he
will be wise in his own eyes." Obviously, the
exhortation to "answer a fool according to his folly"
and to not do this is dependent upon
circumstances, as the context indicates.
The third category is the pseudepigrapha.
These are the books that were rejected by all. This
includes a large number of false or spurious writings
including "The Books of Adam and Eve;" "The Books of
Enoch;" "The Books of Sibylline Oracles;" "The
Assumption of Moses;" "Psalms of Solomon;" "The Books of
Baruch;" "The Story of Ahikar," etc. Although these
books claim to have been written by biblical authors
"they actually express religious fancy and magic from
the period between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 200…. Most of
these books are comprised of dreams, visions and
revelations in the apocalyptic style of Ezekiel, Daniel
The fourth category takes us to the subject under
discussion, the Apocrypha, which involved the
books rejected by most but accepted by some. We have now
seen why these books have been rejected by most.
(to be continued)
1 Rene Pache,
The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (trans.
Helen I. Needham) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p.
2 G. Douglas
Young, "The Apocrypha," in Carl Henry, Revelation
and the Bible (Baker), p. 172, citing p. 109 of
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 1, pp.
207-210, cf., Encyclopedia Britannica Macropaedia,
Vol. II, p. 932ff.
4 R. Laird
Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), p. 194.
5 Bernard Ramm,
Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody
Press, 1953), p. 20; in his article, "The Apocrypha,"
(Kings Business, Vol. 38, pp. 15-17, July 1947)
he also discusses the reasons why it is impossible to
accept the Apocrypha as Scripture.
6 Harris, p.
7 Ibid., p. 192.
8 Pache, p. 173.
9 Robert C.
Broderick (ed.), The Catholic Encyclopedia,
rev. & updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,
1987), p. 502.
10 R. H.
Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the
Old Testament in English, Vol. 1, The Apocrypha
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978) pp. 149-50,
11 Norman L.
Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to
the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971, Rev.,
1986), p. 273, emphasis added.
12 In ibid., p.
13 Ibid., p.
14 Geisler &
Nix, 1st ed., p. 164.
16 Ibid., 166.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute