The Apocrypha and the Biblical Canon -
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
In previous articles we discussed:
the meaning of the term Apocrypha;
the historical value of the Apocrypha;
the Jewish view of the Apocrypha;
the Apocrypha and the Septuagint; and
the Apocrypha and Propheticity; and
Divine Providence and the Canon;
The Apocrypha and Inerrancy;
The Council of Trent and the Apocrypha;
The Church’s Classification of Ancient
Literature and the Apocrypha.
We now conclude our discussion.
10) Summary and Roman Catholic Arguments
In A General Introduction to the Bible,
Drs. Norman Geisler and William Nix examine the 12
reasons generally advanced by Catholicism for including
the Apocrypha in the canon and show that none of them
are valid. They also supply five reasons for accepting
the Palestinian or Jewish canon. Below we will consider
some of the reasons advanced for accepting the
Apocrypha and why these reasons are spurious. Here we
will of necessity recapitulate and summarize some
1) Possible New Testament Citations of
the Apocrypha. At best, a few
New Testament allusions to the Apocrypha may
exist, but this hardly proves the writer intended to
declare such books Scripture merely because they may
have been alluded to. No one, Protestant or Catholic,
can deny that the New Testament never refers to any of
the 14 or 15 apocryphal books as canonical or
authoritative. And the fact that the New Testament
authors quoted from almost all Old Testament books but
no apocryphal books speaks volumes. They clearly
considered Old Testament books as having divine
authority by how they quoted them. If they also
considered the Apocrypha as having divine authority, it
is unthinkable they would not have cited them even once.
2) The 1st Century Greek Septuagint
contained the Apocrypha. As
noted, there is no proof of this. It is not certain that
the Septuagint [LXX] of the 1st century contained the
Apocrypha because the earliest manuscripts we have date
only from the 4th century A.D. "Even if they were in the
LXX of apostolic time, Jesus and the apostles implied
their view of them by never once quoting them, although
they are supposed to have been included in the very
version of the Old Testament that they cited."1
3) The Church Fathers.
Citations of the Church Fathers supporting the Apocrypha
as Scripture must be carefully evaluated to see exactly
what a given individual believed. In many cases, what
first appears to be support for the Apocrypha as
canonical really isn’t. Dr. Beckwith points out:
When one examines the passages in the
early Fathers which are supposed to establish the
canonicity of the Apocrypha, one finds that some of
them are taken from the alternative Greek text of Ezra
(1 Esdras) or from additions or appendices to Daniel,
Jeremiah or some other canonical book which… are not
really relevant; and that others of them are not
quotations from the Apocrypha at all; and that, of
those which are, many do not given any indication that
the book is regarded as Scripture.2
Augustine’s acceptance of the Apocrypha
seems to be primarily the result of his incorrect view
that the Septuagint was inspired. Augustine was also
somewhat inconsistent in that he rejected a book if it
was not written by a prophet yet he accepted apocryphal
books which do not claim to be prophetic (cf., 1 Macc.
9:27). Nevertheless, while Augustine is the single most
important voice of antiquity to accept the Apocrypha, he
also accorded it a status of "secondary canonicity."
Further, the councils at Carthage and Hippo were small
local councils dominated by Augustine "and had no
qualified persons present to judge the issue of
canonicity." In the end, even Augustine "later,…
recognized that the Septuagint was not inspired, and
reverted to the authority of the Hebrew scriptures."3
In spite of the fact that many church
Fathers opposed the Apocrypha, Roman Catholics often
reply "but they used them as if they were Scripture."
Consider the comments in The New Schaff-Herzog
Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge:
Thus there are a number of lists of the
canonical books from the 4th century which confine
themselves to the Hebrew canon and either do not
mention the other writings or assign to them a lower
value…. All these declarations, more or less
unfavorable to the Apocrypha, lose much of their
importance from the fact that the men who excluded the
Apocrypha from the canon used them in an impartial
manner as though canonical…. Roman theologians have
rightly laid great stress upon this fact; for it
proves that, not withstanding opposite theories,
ecclesiastical practice on the whole was to use the
Apocrypha like the canonical writings.4
But this does not prove the early
writers considered the apocryphal books Scripture.
Indeed, if they spoke against the Apocrypha, they
could hardly have considered it Scripture. Even in
modern books, Christian authors will, e.g., quote
Scripture and a conservative theologian along side it
with equal authority, at least as far as the reader
could determine. All this means is that they accept the
theologian’s statement because it is true, even as true
as Scripture. But they would hardly accept the
theologian’s declaration as inspired Scripture.
So does it really matter whether or not
some of the Fathers quoted the Apocrypha as they quoted
Scripture? No. Again, if they were critical of these
books or doubtful of their scriptural status, how can we
possibly conclude they intended them to be seen as
Scripture, or their citing of them as having scriptural
authority? The Apocrypha, e.g., could have been quoted
to simply make a point because what was said at that
point was true. Regardless, what difference does it make
how some of the Church Fathers quoted the Apocrypha if
the content of the Apocrypha proves it is not
4) Inclusion with the Manuscripts.
We have seen why this occurred. The fact that the
Apocrypha was part of Greek manuscripts of the 4th
century hardly proves they were part of the 1st century
canon. However, "None of the great Greek manuscripts…
contain all of the Apocryphal books. In fact, only four
(Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus) are found in
all of them… [further] no Greek manuscript has the exact
list of Apocryphal books accepted by the Council of
The Syrian Bible or the Peshitta of the 2nd century did
not contain the Apocrypha.
5) Acceptance by Church Councils.
Geisler and MacKenzie point out, "No canonical list or
general council accepted the Apocrypha as inspired for
nearly the first four centuries of the Christian church.
This is especially significant since all the lists
available and most of the Fathers from this period
rejected the Apocrypha. The first councils to accept the
Apocrypha were only local ones without ecumenical
Thus, no apocryphal book can be found in the listing of
recognized canonical books for at least 300 years.7
As Dr. Harris remarks, "We have here summed up all the
important witnesses in the Early Church to about 400
A.D. With one voice they insist that the strict Jewish
canon is the only one to be received with full
6) Acceptance by the Greek Church.
But even the Greek Church has not always accepted
7) Its Appearance in Protestant Bibles.
The fact that the Apocrypha appeared in Protestant
Bibles is irrelevant because they "were generally placed
in a separate section because they were not considered
to be of equal authority. Even Roman Catholic scholars
through the Reformation period made the distinction
between the Apocrypha and the Canon."9
Again, F. F. Bruce has supplied several examples of the
inclusion of the Apocrypha in different Bibles, but
these Bibles imply or observe the Apocrypha is not to be
A final argument for inclusion concerns
the authority of Rome. For Rome, as far as interpreting
Scripture is concerned, the issue is not what the text
of Scripture itself declares but what the Catholic
Church, claiming divine guidance, claims it
declares. This is also the thrust of the Roman Catholic
apologetic for the Apocrypha. The Catholic canon of the
Old Testament is correct because the Catholic Church,
claiming divine guidance, declares it to be correct.
This ends all discussion.
The Catholic Church is forced to argue in
such a manner because it has no biblical or other
evidence in support of its view of the divine authority
of the Apocrypha. In the end, evidence is irrelevant
because, in the final analysis, it does not really
matter. Since Rome is the final interpreter of
everything, she must be the final interpreter of
evidence as well. And for those who aren’t convinced by
this line of reasoning, it is their problem, not that of
the Catholic Church. It is the spiritual problem of the
critic, who refuses to submit to the authority of
Not unexpectedly, Rome teaches that the
church has priority over the Scripture. As the
argument goes, the Church came first and then the
Scripture came from the Church, therefore, the Church is
above the Scripture. This is the exact opposite of the
position of Protestantism and explains why we can find
even Catholic apologists logically admitting things
like, "the Catholic Church technically is not a
This, regrettably, is true; it is a church based on the
teachings of Roman Catholic tradition. This is exactly
the problem; the ecclesiology of Rome irreparably
damages its bibliology both in hermeneutics and in
Clearly, there was never a time when the
church was without Scripture. Because the Old Testament
was the Bible of the New Testament church, the
Scriptures pre-existed the church and the
argument of Rome is false. Further, even for the New
Testament, the church was founded during the time
when New Testament revelation was being received. So it
cannot be logically argued that the Church preceded the
Scripture and therefore has authority over the
Geisler and Nix conclude by noting that
"all of the arguments used in favor of the canonicity of
the apocryphal books merely prove that these books have
been given varied degrees of esteem and recognition,
usually falling short of full canonicity," until the
Council of Trent.11
The fact that these books were
entirely rejected by the Jews and at best had only
limited acceptance by the Christians—and that
there was no official decree of canonicity until the
Council of Trent, some 1600–1800 years after they were
first written, argues quite forcefully against
their status as Scripture.
All this is proof of the error made at
the Council of Trent. In this regard, it is important to
note that even some Catholic scholars of the Reformation
period agreed with Protestants on this issue: "Even
noted Roman Catholic scholars during the Reformation
period rejected the Apocrypha, such as Cardinal Cagetan,
who opposed Martin Luther."12
Geisler and MacKenzie also point out that
even the New American Bible, the current Roman
Catholic Bible, has notes in it which make the
"revealing admission that the apocryphal books are
‘religious books used by both Jews and Christians which
were not included in the collection of inspired
In light of the above, standard Catholic
theological and historical arguments for inclusion of
the Apocrypha into the canon are simply not credible.
The NIV discussion of the Apocrypha in the section, "The
Time Between the Testaments," aptly concludes our
Their recognition as authoritative in
Roman and Eastern Christianity is a result of a
complex historical process…. The Apocryphal books have
retained their place primarily through the weight of
ecclesiastical authority without which they would not
commend themselves as canonical literature…. The
Jewish community that produced them repudiated them,
and the historical surveys and the apostolic sermons
recorded in Acts completely ignore the period they
cover. Even the sober, historical account of 1
Maccabees is tarnished by numerous errors and
anachronisms. There is nothing of theological value in
the Apocryphal books that cannot be duplicated in
canonical Scripture, and they contain much that runs
counter to its teachings.14
Thus, we can only agree with Old
Testament authority G. Douglas Young, author of A
Grammar of the Hebrew Language, and Ugaritic
Concordance who concludes, "…the historical evidence
is unambiguous; the conclusion from history is that the
Apocrypha do not merit a place in the Scripture…."15
1 Norman L.
Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to
the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971, rev. 1986),
2 In ibid.,
Nix, 1st ed., p. 173.
New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,
Vol. 1, pp. 214-15.
Nix, 1st ed., p. 173 or rev., ed., p. 286.
6 Norman L.
Geisler, Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and
Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), p. 169.
7 R. Laird
Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), pp. 188-191.
8 Ibid., p.
and Nix, rev. ed., p. 269.
10 James R.
White, The Roman Catholic Controversy
(Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1996), p. 242.
and Nix, rev. ed., p. 270.
and MacKenzie, p. 171.
14 NIV text
notes, p. 1432.
Douglas Young, "The Apocrypha," in Carl Henry,
Revelation and the Bible (Baker), pp. 184-185.
"Despite some claims to the contrary (in particular
those relating to the Council of Jamnia, ca. 90), the
Hebrew canon had been settled once and for all by the
time of Christ" (D. G. Dunbar in Carson,
Hermeneutics, pp. 309-310). The New
International Dictionary of the Christian Church
also observes, "None of these books was accepted into
the Hebrew canon by the Jewish Synod of Jamnia, which
met at a time (c. A.D. 100) when the authentic Jewish
heritage was thought to be in danger of erosion from
the syncretistic tendencies of apocalyptic writing and
from the increasing influence of Christianity" (p.
53). Dunbar points out that
criticisms may be offered to the theory of an
undefined pre-Jamnian canon. (1) [A.C.] Sunberg [in
The Old Testament of the Early Church, 1964]
relies heavily on the thesis that the delimitation of
the hagiographa is the product of the Jamnia Council.
However, the constitute nature of these rabbinic
discussions for the closure of the canon has been too
severely undermined to bear the weight of Sunberg’s
hypothesis. (2) The appeal to the variation of the
earliest (4th and 5th C.) Septuagint manuscripts from
one another and from the order and numbering of the
rabbinic sources is not decisive. These LXX codices
are Christian productions and questionable sources
from which to derive the shape of the Hebrew canon in
New Testament times. If, as previously noted, this
criticism is valid for the "Alexandrian hypothesis,"
it must also tell against Sunberg’s reconstruction.
(3) Reference to the Church Fathers for support of an
undefined canon of the first century is open to
precisely the same objection as the appeal to the LXX.
Nor does Sunberg give sufficient attention to
assessing the relative value of the Patristic sources.
(4) Even if it is the case that the Qumran sect
recognized as Scripture a broader range of materials
than did later Judaism… the views of this group cannot
without explicit evidence be extrapolated to all of
Judaism outside Qumran. 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 whose
witness to the Hebrew tradition of twenty-two biblical
books [in the Hebrew canon]. (pp. 309-10)
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute