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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: Why Does the Roman Catholic Church Accept the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha (The Deuterocanonical Books) as Holy Scripture?

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Question 4

Why Does the Roman Catholic Church Accept the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha (The Deuterocanonical Books) as Holy Scripture?

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are not in agreement as to the exact limits of Old Testament Scripture. Protestants believe and teach that there are only thirty-nine books that makeup the Old Testament. Roman Catholicism, however, teaches that the Old Testament consists of these thirty-nine books as well as seven additional books. Furthermore, the Roman Church also teaches that two books of the Old Testament, Daniel and Esther, have longer sections in them which Protestants delete. These additions are called the deuterocanonical books, or second canon books, by Roman Catholics and the Old Testament Apocrypha by Protestants. Roman Catholics call them deuterocanonical books, not because they are inferior to the proto-canonical, or first canon books, but rather because their status was decided later in history.

Who is correct? Which books belong in the Old Testament as part of Holy Scripture? Why does Roman Catholicism believe these additional books, and parts of books, constitute sacred Scripture that have been wrongly deleted by Protestants?

How We State the Roman Catholic Position on the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha

In this question, we will state the arguments given by Roman Catholic authorities concerning the deuterocanonical books, as they call these writings, or the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Protestants call them. There are several points we want to emphasize.

First, we are attempting to put forward the best case for the Roman Catholic position. It is our intention to use the strongest arguments we can find from authoritative Roman Catholic sources. If we have not correctly stated the Roman Catholic position on the matter, or if better arguments can be found, we will certainly include this material in any update of this question. Our desire is to present a fair representation of the Roman Catholic position.

Having said this, it must be recognized that Roman Catholic sources do not agree among themselves as how to answer this particular issue. As we shall see in our response, there are contradictory statements from Catholic sources about why these Old Testament Apocrypha books should be accepted as Scripture. Thus, when we list the various Roman Catholic arguments, we are aware that not every Roman Catholic scholar would agree with each one of them. However, all of these arguments have been put forward by Roman Catholics spokesmen in the past, or are still being used in the present. Therefore, when we state the Roman Catholic case for including these books, we will be listing the main arguments that are usually put forward in these discussions.

A Brief Summary of the Roman Catholic Arguments

We will now consider why the Roman Catholic Church accepts the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture. To make it easier, we will divide their case into three main parts. We can summarize each section as follows:

The first point which Roman Catholics attempt to establish is that there was no fixed canon of Scripture at the time of Jesus and His apostles. Some argue that there were competing canons while others argue that the Old Testament canon had not been fully accepted in Jesus’ day. Whatever the case may be, the canon of Scripture was not fixed or established.

They argue that the establishment of the canon for the Jews did not come until late in the first century A.D. When the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in A.D. 70, the Jews had to rethink their way of life. Consequently, an authoritative council met in the city of Jamnia which decided among other things, the limits of the canon. However, Roman Catholics argue that the decision made in Jamnia had no binding authority. The Jews had rejected Jesus, hence God rejected them. Authority now lay in the church. Consequently, it was not the right of the Jews to determine the extent of the canon, but rather the church. Indeed, according to Roman Catholicism, the decisions made in Jamnia actually left certain books out of inspired Scripture; the Old Testament Apocrypha.

This brings us to our second point of the Roman Catholic argument; church history. The church, from the beginning, did not accept this smaller Jewish canon, but rather rightly included the deuterocanonical books, or the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture. This was the traditional practice of the church throughout its history without any real dissent.

However, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers, in an attempt to promote their unique beliefs, had to omit certain books from Holy Scripture; the deuterocanonical books, or the Old Testament Apocrypha. They did this for purely doctrinal reasons. In response, the Roman Catholic Church held an official council at the city of Trent which made certain pronouncements about the canon. They stipulated that the deuterocanonical books, or the Old Testament Apocrypha, were indeed part of the canon of Scripture. Anathemas, or divine curses, were directed at those who rejected their pronouncements.

This brings us to our final argument of Roman Catholics. When the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are rightly studied and understood, they fit into a consistent pattern of teaching with the rest of the Bible, as well as the teachings of the church. Therefore, they consider that we have every good reason to receive these works as canonical Scripture and to believe and obey the things taught therein.

This sums up the general flow of the arguments which the Roman Catholic Church puts forward for the inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha into the canon of Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church Claims That It Has the Authority to Determine the Limits of Scripture

There is one more point we must emphasize before we look at the Roman Catholic arguments in some detail. When all is said and done, the Roman Catholic Church believes that it is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice; whatever it says is final. Therefore, the matter is not up for debate because the church has made its infallible decision.

It is claimed that this has been the historical view of the church. Indeed, it is argued that the consistent testimony of the early church fathers is that they believed the church has the final say in all matters. This includes the extent of the canon of Scripture. Therefore, we should follow this ancient teaching and allow the church to have the final word as to which books belong in Scripture and which books do not.

Whereas Protestants believe that the Bible alone is the ultimate test of all truth, the Roman Church believes that it determines what is true and what is not true. In effect, this makes the Roman Church a higher authority than Scripture. It alone has the last word on all matters in which it speaks. Consequently, if the Roman Church declares these books to be Scripture, then they are Scripture. End of story.

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that two councils in the late fourth century set down the limits of the Old Testament canon. These were the councils in the North African cities of Hippo and Carthage. Each of these councils recognized the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture along with the other thirty-nine writings.

The decrees made by these councils was soon confirmed by the Bishop of Rome; Pope Innocent I. From that time forward, this Old Testament canon was universally accepted by the church. Indeed, church fathers such as Athanasius of Alexandria, and Cyril of Jerusalem, had previously made it clear in their writings that the church alone had the right to decide which books were part of the canon of Scripture.

This topic was not even debated until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century when Martin Luther, and others, arbitrarily rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of Old Testament Scripture. Since this rejection denied the universal belief and practice of the church, the council of Trent met and reaffirmed what the church had always taught and believed. Trent issued a decree with respect to the exact limits of the Old Testament. If there was any question before this time, the matter was now once and for all settled.

Consequently, the issue of the Old Testament Apocrypha ultimately comes down to a larger issue; who has the authority to have the final say on spiritual matters? It is beyond the scope of this course to go into this particular subject in any detail.

However, in our next book, “Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God?” we look into this issue in depth. What we do in this particular course we are now studying, is look at the specific arguments, both historical and theological, which each side presents, and then make conclusions based solely upon the evidence.

The Case for the Inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Part of Scripture

We will now consider the Roman Catholic case for the inclusion of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Their arguments can be listed as follows:

  • Argument 1: There Was No Fixed Canon in Jesus’ Day

    The first argument which is found in Roman Catholic discussions about the Old Testament Apocrypha has to do with the lack of a fixed or established canon in Jesus’ day. The point is that the Old Testament canon had to be established by the church after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

    Their case is usually presented as follows:

    • There Were Competing Canons among the Jews

      Central to the Roman Catholic argument is that there were competing canons among the Jews in Jesus’ day. Indeed, it has been argued by some that there were three competing canons. The Pharisees held to one canon of Scripture which, more or less, was the same as the present Old Testament. However, the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, as well as at Qumran, had a wider canon of Scripture which contained the Old Testament Apocrypha. Finally, one of Jesus’ opponents, the Sadducees, had a much smaller canon than either of these groups. They only accepted the five books of Moses as canonical. Thus, three canons were in use at that time in history.

      The arguments in support of this theory are as follows:

      1. There Was a Wider Canon of Scripture at the Time of Christ in Alexandria, Egypt

        First, it is argued that there was a wider canon of Scripture which was held by the Jews living in Alexandria, Egypt. This canon came into existence and was in use before the time of Christ. It seems that their canon contained more books than the limited canon which existed in Palestine. We discover this when we look at how the Scriptures were translated. When the Jews in Alexandria translated the Hebrew Scripture into Greek, two hundred years before the time of Christ, they also translated the Old Testament Apocrypha with the rest of sacred Scripture. The fact that the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt translated these books alongside the acknowledged Hebrew Scriptures shows that there was a larger canon in Alexandria than there was in Palestine. This gives ancient testimony to the canonical status of these writings; they were held with equal authority with the Hebrew Scripture. This was the status of canon before the time of Christ for the Jews.

      2. New Testament Writers

        Roman Catholics also argue that the New Testament writers accepted this greater Alexandrian canon as Scripture. When citing the Old Testament, the New Testament quotes mostly from the Septuagint which contained the Old Testament Apocrypha. Therefore, it logically follows that the New Testament writers also accepted these writings as Holy Scripture. Since the New Testament writers accepted these books as divinely authoritative Scripture, then so should we.

      3. The Jews in Palestine Were More Conservative

        It is also argued that the Jews which lived in Palestine were more conservative with their canon than the Jews in Alexandria. Why should we believe them and their limited canon? They are the ones who rejected Christ and crucified Him. If they were wrong about Him, then they also could have been wrong about the Old Testament canon. Why should we align ourselves with them? Thus, it is claimed by Roman Catholicism, that the correct canon was held by the Jews in Alexandria, not the Jews in Palestine.

      4. The Canon of the Sadducees Was Smaller

        Some Roman Catholics also bring up the canon of the Sadducees. It is alleged that their canon was the same as the Samaritans; they accepted only the five books of Moses as Holy Scripture and nothing else. Consequently, there seems to have been three competing canons among the Jews. The more fuller one in Alexandria, the lesser one among the Sadducees, and one somewhere in between held by the Jews of Palestine. Whatever the case may be, the canon was certainly not settled at this time.

      New Testament Arguments for the Wider Alexandrian Canon

      If there were three competing canons at the time of Jesus, which of the three do the New Testament writers use? Roman Catholics often argue that evidence from the New Testament shows that it was the greater Alexandrian canon which they received.

      1. There Are a Number of Allusions in the New Testament to the Old Testament Apocrypha

        They believe there is evidence that the New Testament writers adopted a wider canon. When we closely examine the New Testament, we find that there are a number of allusions to the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. For example, we read the following in the Book of Hebrews:

        Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. (Hebrews 11:35 NLT)

        This reference seems to be an allusion to Second Maccabees chapter seven. In this passage, we read of a mother saying the following to her son:

        Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers. (2 Maccabees 7:29 NRSV)

        Thus, this passage in Hebrews seems to be a clear reference to Second Maccabees though not a direct quote.

        In addition, in the first two chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul seems to be making allusions to the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, as it is also called. This gives further testimony of its authoritative status. Many other allusions of the stories from these writings can also be found in the New Testament. It is obvious that the New Testament writers were familiar with the Old Testament Apocrypha because of the various allusions to it.

        Indeed, we can find another example in the book of Hebrews. In it, we are told the following about Enoch:

        By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. For prior to his transformation he was approved, having pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5 HCSB)

        There is nothing in the Old Testament which says that Enoch “pleased God.” However, we read the following in Sirach:

        Enoch pleased the Lord and was taken up, an example of repentance to all generations. (Sirach 44:16 NRSV)

        Consequently, the writer to the Hebrews used the words of Sirach to describe Enoch as one who had pleased God. These words are not found in the Old Testament.

        Therefore, we find the New Testament writers citing ideas and phrases from the Old Testament Apocrypha. Roman Catholics see this as the New Testament putting its approval on these writings.

      2. Jesus Celebrated the Feast of Hanukkah: a Feast Established at the Time of the Maccabees

        Roman Catholics believe that there is further evidence that Jesus Himself considered the Old Testament Apocrypha as divine. The Gospel of John says that Jesus celebrated the feast, or festival, of Hanukkah. We read in John’s gospel:

        Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem; and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple complex in Solomon’s Colonnade. Then the Jews surrounded Him and asked, “How long are You going to keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:22-24 HCSB)

        This feast, or festival, of dedication was established during the time of the Maccabees. First century writer, Flavius Josephus, called it the “Feast of Lights.”

        We find references to this establishment of this feast, or festival, in First Maccabees 4:36-59 and 2 Maccabees 10:1-8. First Maccabees explains it this way:

        So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev. (1 Maccabees 4:56-59 NRSV)

        Here it says that Judas and his brothers, as well as all Israel, determined that this festival should be celebrated every year. We read the same in Second Maccabees. It says:

        They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year. (2 Maccabees 10: 8 NRSV)

        We find that Jesus observed this feast, which did not exist when the Hebrew Scriptures were written, and thus was not commanded to be celebrated. His observance shows that God divinely established this feast. Therefore, Jesus observed a divinely ordained institution which was established at the time of the Maccabees and recorded for us in First and Second Maccabees.

        In addition, in the context of celebrating this festival, Jesus claimed to be the One whom the Father “set apart,” and sent into the world. John records Him saying:

        If He called those to whom the word of God came ‘gods’--and the Scripture cannot be broken-- do you say, You are blaspheming to the One the Father set apart and sent into the world, because I said ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:35,36 HCSB)

        In doing so, Jesus was echoing the words of Judas Maccabeus, as recorded in First Maccabees, when he cleansed the temple and re-instituted the worship. The Jews in Jesus’ day would have understood Jesus’ reference.

        Therefore, from Jesus’ actions, as well as from His words, we find that the festival of Dedication, as commanded in the books of the Maccabees, had a divine origin. According to the Roman Catholic way of viewing the evidence, this gives further testimony to the authority of these books.

      3. The New Testament May Directly Quote the Old Testament Apocrypha

        Not only does the New Testament allude to the Old Testament Apocrypha on a number of occasions, some Roman Catholics contend that the New Testament may directly quote the Old Testament Apocrypha. There are two instances where the New Testament seemingly quotes from these writings directly. In the first instance, the Gospel of Mark seems to quote from Sirach. The reference is as follows:

        [Jesus said] You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother. (Mark 10:19 HCSB)

        This seems to be a citation from the following passage in Sirach. It reads:

        My child, do not cheat the poor of their living, and do not keep needy eyes waiting. (Sirach 4:1 NRSV)

        The phrase that Jesus cites, “Do not defraud” or “do not cheat” is not found in the Ten Commandments as listed in the Old Testament, but it is given here in Sirach.

        In another instance in the New Testament, Sirach is seemingly quoted again. Paul wrote:

        Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, having this inscription: The Lord knows those who are His, and everyone who names the name of the Lord must turn away from unrighteousness. (2 Timothy 2:19 HCSB)

        This quotes the following passage from Sirach:

        Return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hate intensely what he abhors. (Sirach 17:26 NRSV)

        This seems to be citing Sirach. If the New Testament is citing this book as authoritative, then it makes the issue of its authority clear beyond any doubt; the New Testament writers believed this and the other books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were part of Scripture. Indeed, they demonstrated their belief by directly citing these works as divinely authoritative according to the Roman Catholic perspective.

      4. Many Old Testament Books Are Not Directly Cited in the New Testament

        One of the arguments used against the divine authority of the Old Testament Apocrypha is that none of these works are directly cited in the New Testament. Roman Catholics say that perhaps this is true, perhaps it is not.

        However, whether the New Testament writers did, or did not, quote these books, Roman Catholics contend that the mere citing of the Old Testament Scripture does not solve anything. They say that those who voice this objection assume that if a book is not quoted in the New Testament, it must not be divinely inspired. Yet, there are several of the universally accepted Old Testament books which are not directly cited in the New Testament. They include Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Obadiah and possibly a number of others. If the Old Testament Apocrypha should not be considered inspired because the New Testament writers did not quote from them, then neither should these books be considered inspired.

        Thus, certain Old Testament books not quoted by Jesus, or anywhere else in the New Testament, are still considered Scripture by Protestants. Yet, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are rejected because they are not quoted. This, it is argued, does not make sense. In fact, no branch of the Christian Church accepts only those Old Testament books which are quoted by the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the Old Testament Apocrypha should not be rejected because of lack of quotation in the New Testament.

        Furthermore, there are certain non-biblical documents which are cited by the New Testament writers. This includes the Book of Enoch, cited by Jude, as well as some heathen poets, cited by Paul. Nobody considers these works divinely inspired of God, yet the New Testament quotes them.

        Moreover, there are a few other quotations in the New Testament where no one knows the exact reference. Therefore, the fact that certain writings were cited or not cited by the New Testament authors does not prove whether or not they were inspired of God. It is an argument from silence.

      5. The New Testament Shows That the Old Testament Canon Was Not Closed at the Time of Christ

        Another point that is often brought up by Roman Catholics, about the canon still being open, concerns evidence from the New Testament itself. For one thing, there are a number of places in the New Testament where it speaks of “prophets.”

        This includes people such as John the Baptist, Simeon, Barnabas, Agabus, Judas, Silas and even Jesus. Consequently, the prophetic gift had not ceased.

        If the prophetic gift has not ceased, then this seems to mean that the Old Testament canon was still open and that new writings could be added to it. Indeed, Peter calls the writings of Paul, “Scripture.” He wrote:

        Also, regard the patience of our Lord as an opportunity for salvation, just as our dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you. He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15,16 HCSB)

        According to the Roman Catholic argument, the fact that the New Testament writers recognized that prophets still existed and that additional Scripture could be added shows that the canon of Scripture was not closed at that time as Protestants contend.

      Historical Evidence for a Wider Canon

      Apart from the New Testament evidence for the wider canon, Roman Catholics believe that we also have historical evidence. We can sum up their arguments as follows:

      1. Books from the Old Testament Apocrypha Are Found among the Dead Sea Scrolls

        The Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, though living only a short distance from Jerusalem, had a broader canon than those living in Jerusalem. Roman Catholics note that three of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were found with the accepted Old Testament books among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Two of these books, Tobit and Wisdom were written in Hebrew ? not Greek.

        This shows that these Jews, who lived in Palestine before the time of Christ, used these books and considered them to be of equal value with the writings of Moses and the other Old Testament books. This is an indication to some people that the Old Testament canon included the Old Testament Apocrypha.

        Furthermore, there were also secular texts found with the sacred scrolls. Since secular texts were found with the Old Testament documents, and the Old Testament Apocrypha, it may indicate that the idea of a closed canon had not been formulated at that time.

      2. The Jewish Council of Jamnia Showed the Canon Was Still Open in the First Century

        This brings us to the decision of the Jews as to which canon to accept. While realizing that God’s written word was entrusted to the Jews, Roman Catholics say that God never gave the Jews a divinely inspired table of contents. This is why we find a number of Jewish groups, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Jews in Alexandria, arguing over the extent of the canon both before and after the time of Christ.

        Roman Catholics remind us that the books of the Old Testament were written over a thousand year period. The canon, therefore, was not something static. The number of divinely inspired books continued to grow as God revealed more and more of His Word through His divinely chosen spokesmen, the prophets.

        Thus, the canon always remained open for further divine revelation. Some Roman Catholics insist that the threefold division of the canon into the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, represents the order in which the books were canonized. At the time of Jesus, the Law of Moses, as well as the Prophets, was canonized, but the third division of the canon, the writings, remained opened.

        Moreover, it is argued that in Jesus’ time, there were two groups, the Samaritans and Sadducees, which accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired. They did not accept either the prophets or the writings. On the other hand, the Pharisees accepted all of these works as Scripture. There were still other Jews who used the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. This version contained the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

        Because the believers in Jesus claimed that the God of Israel had given new divine revelation to the world, Jewish leaders from a rabbinical school in Jamnia met somewhere around year 80 and, among other things, they discussed the canon. When the discussions were completed, the canon was then officially closed for the Jews in Palestine, but not the Jews in Alexandria. The Jews in Alexandria continued to have a wider canon of Scripture. Therefore, this shows that the canon was not a settled issue among the Jews at the time of Jesus. Furthermore, when the canon was settled, some fifty years later, it was only settled for the Palestinian Jews; the Alexandrian Jews had a wider canon.

        Thus, not only did these Jewish leaders reject the New Testament as further revelation from the Lord, they also rejected the more complete canon of the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Thus, the seven books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as well as portions of Daniel and Esther were omitted from the canon. Their canon was the same as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, but not the same as the Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans or Alexandrian Jews. However, this still did not settle the issue, for the debate about the canon continued among the Jews for the next two centuries. It is still not settled to this day for the Ethiopian Jews who use the same Old Testament as does the Roman Catholic Church. This makes it clear that there was no universally received canon among the Jews at the time of Christ.

        Furthermore, these are the same people who rejected Jesus Christ; their promised Messiah. Consequently, judgment came upon their nation for their unbelief. Because they rejected Christ, God rejected them. The authority of the Lord was now in the New Testament Church, not the Jewish nation. Certainly, these Jewish leaders were in no position to determine the extent of the canon of Holy Scripture fifty years after they had crucified their Messiah!

        Roman Catholics also remind us that other important things were also occurring at this time. As the Christian Church began to grow, and became increasingly separated from Jews and Judaism, the Jews then began to adopt a certain set of books which they considered to be divinely inspired. Their decisions as to which books to choose could well have been in response to the rise of Christianity and their use of the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, the Septuagint. We know that the Jews soon abandoned the Septuagint because it became the Bible for Christians. Their decision to reject certain books found in the Septuagint and not include them in their own translations may have been in reaction to the Christians.

        Whatever the case may be, it was in these early years of the Christian church that the two distinct Old Testament canons’ were adopted. The Jews did not adopt the Old Testament Apocrypha into their canon, while the Christians did. The Jews may have left these writings out of the canon because of their lack of access to the entire text of the Septuagint, or to their disdain of the Christians using their translation. Whatever the reason, the Roman Catholic Church says they left these sacred books out of the canon.

      3. Almost All Church Fathers Used the Septuagint

        There is also the testimony of the early Christians known as the “church fathers” as to the use of the Septuagint. Indeed, almost all of the early church fathers used the Septuagint as their standard form of the Old Testament, and the evidence shows that the Septuagint included the Old Testament Apocrypha. Since they would have been in a better position to know the facts than those who lived later in history, we should accept their judgment. Thus, the Roman Church assumes that the usage of the Septuagint gives further testimony of the divine status of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

        The Three Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Have the Old Testament Apocrypha

        There is still more evidence according to Roman Catholic viewpoint on the matter. The three earliest complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus. Codex Sinaiticus contains the entire New Testament in Greek while Vaticanus has the entire New Testament except for Hebrews 9:15 through the Book of Revelation. Codex Alexandrinus contains the entire New Testament except for a few small parts which are missing.

        These three ancient manuscripts presently contain Greek translations of some of the books from the Old Testament. Consequently, they contained the totality of Christian Scripture ? the Old and New Testament.

        In addition to having the books of both testaments in Greek, these three oldest manuscripts also contain the Old Testament Apocrypha along with the Old and New Testament. Moreover, the Old Testament Apocrypha is not separated from these other sacred books. From the Roman Catholic perspective, this shows that the early Christians had them as part of their Bible.

  • Argument 2: the Church Has Universally Accepted the Wider Canon

    This brings us to our second major point raised by Roman Catholics. Historically, the church, who alone has the authority to determine the canon, has accepted the wider Alexandrian canon which includes the deuterocanonical books, or the Old Testament Apocrypha. This has been the consistent practice from the beginning.

    1. The Old Testament Apocrypha Was Part of the Bible for Early Church Leaders

      Many of the important early church fathers accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture. This includes such leaders as Irenaeus, Cyprian and Tertullian. Since these men were leaders of the church, they would be in a position to know what was, and what was not, considered to be Holy Scripture. They used and cited the Old Testament Apocrypha in the same manner as they cited passages from the Hebrew Scripture. To them, there was no difference between the Old Testament Apocrypha and the divinely inspired Old Testament. According to the Roman Catholic Church, we should follow their example.

    2. The Authoritative Testimony of Saint Augustine Concerning the Old Testament Apocrypha

      The great church leader, Augustine of Hippo accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as authoritative Scripture. In fact, he has even left us a list of what he believed was the extent of the Old Testament. It reads as follows?

      Five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. One book of Joshua the son of Nun, one of Judges, one short book called Ruth, which seems rather to be the beginning of Kings; next, four books of Kings and two of Chronicles.. There are other books which appear to follow no regular order, being connected neither with the order of the preceding books nor with one another, such as Job, Tobias, Esther and Judith, the two books of Maccabees and the two of Esdras [Ezra and Nehemiah]: these last seem to be rather a sequel to the continuous regular history which ends with the books of Kings and Chronicles. Next come the prophets, in which there is one book of Psalms of David; and three books Solomon ? Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. Two books indeed, one called Wisdom and the other Ecclesiasticus, are ascribed to Solomon because of a certain resemblance of style, but the most probable opinion is that they were written by Jesus the son of Sirach. Still they are to be numbered among the prophetical books, since they have won recognition as being authoritative. The remainder are the books which are strictly called the Prophets. There are twelve separate books of the prophets which are joined to one another and, having never been disjoined, are reckoned as one book; the names of these prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. There are four major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. The authority of the Old Testament is contained within the limits of these forty-four books. (Augustine, On Christian Learning, 2.13)

      Augustine lists the number of books at forty-four. He acknowledges the standard Old Testament books plus Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

      Augustine accepted these books because they were in common use among believers. He did not make any pronouncement that was against the standard belief of the time.

      Since Protestants use the testimony of Augustine to set the limits of the New Testament, Roman Catholics argue that they should also use his testimony to set the limits of the Old Testament.

    3. Two Early Church Councils Accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture

      Two early church councils, a local council of Hippo in A.D. 393, and a provincial council, the third council of Carthage in A.D. 397, held that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were part of Holy Scripture. These seem to be the first church counsels that made any formal pronouncement on the canon. It is the view of the Roman Catholic Church, that in doing so, they were merely reflecting the belief at that time.

    4. The Pope Confirmed the Pronouncements of the Councils Regarding the Old Testament Apocrypha

      In the year A.D. 405, Pope Innocent I included the Old Testament Apocrypha with the rest of the Old Testament in a letter which he addressed to Exuperius, the bishop of Toulouse.

      In A.D. 419, the Sixth Council of Carthage confirmed the ruling of the Third Council of Carthage concerning the canonicity of the Old Testament Apocrypha. They were to be grouped with the rest of Scripture.

      This gives further testimony of the general acceptance of the Old Testament Apocrypha at that time. According to Roman Catholicism, those who had the God-given authority to make such decisions universally recognized the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture.

    5. Protestants Removed the Old Testament Apocrypha for Doctrinal Reasons

      At the Church Councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419), the leaders endorsed what had become the general consensus of the Church in the Western part of the Empire and in most of the Eastern part of the empire. Their decisions became the practice of the church. However, what had been decided eleven and a half centuries earlier, and was the common practice of all believers, was being challenged by Protestantism in the 16th century. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Protestants purposely deleted seven books from the Old Testament canon as well as taking away portions from two other books; Daniel and Esther. According to Rome, the Protestants did this for doctrinal reasons.

      It is alleged that Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers removed the Old Testament Apocrypha from the Old Testament Scripture because these writings disagreed with certain doctrines which the Reformers taught. These doctrines, which the Roman Catholic Church held, and the reformers rejected concerns teachings such as praying for the dead, the intercession of dead saints for believers, as well as the intercession of angels. Second Maccabees teaches that believers should pray for the dead and the Book of Tobit teaches that angels deliver the prayers of the saints to the Lord.

    6. Some Passages Are Quoted in the Book of Revelation

      What is ironic, according to Romanism, is that the passages in the Old Testament Apocrypha, which teach these doctrines, are actually quoted in the New Testament. For example, in the Book of Revelation, we read of the seven spirits. It says:

      John: To the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne. (Revelation 1:4 HCSB)

      Later in the Book of Revelation, John writes of an angel offering the prayers of the saints:

      Another angel, with a gold incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:3-4 HCSB)

      This seems to be referring to the statement of Raphael as found in the Book of Tobit. He said:

      I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One. (Tobit 12:15)

      In this instance, the angel Raphael presents the prayers of Tobit and Sarah to God. This is an example of “intercessory prayer” on behalf of angels. This is in contrast to the idea of people praying directly to God without the need of an intercessor.

      In another instance, when Paul writes to the Corinthians, he has in mind a passage from Second Maccabees. He wrote:

      Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29 HCSB)

      This reflects what is taught in the Book of Second Maccabees. It says:

      For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. (2 Maccabees 12:44 NRSV)

      While this statement of Paul in First Corinthians is one of the most difficult in the New Testament for Protestants to interpret, Roman Catholics say that it is not difficult for them or for Roman Catholic theology. According to Romanism, this passage teaches that members of the early church prayed for the souls of the dead as well as suffering or afflicting themselves on behalf of these dead saints. It is aiding another person who is dead.

      They know this because, in the Bible, the phrase, “to be baptized” is often used as a metaphor for suffering. There are examples of this in Matthew 3:11, Mark 10:38-39, Luke 3:16, and Luke 12:50. Therefore, according to this passage, some people on the earth are praying and suffering for those who are dead.

      If baptism is referring to suffering, then who is suffering in this instance? Rome says that we know that those in heaven do not need prayer for their suffering, for there is no suffering in heaven. Those who are in hell cannot benefit from any prayers concerning their suffering, so these prayers are not for their behalf.

      Therefore, Romanism believes that the passage must be referring to those who are in purgatory. According to Roman Catholic theology, purgatory is a place between earth and heaven where the righteous suffer, or are purged of their sins, before they are able to enter heaven. Roman Catholics say this passage speaks of purgatory. Otherwise, it makes no sense that people would pray or suffer for the dead. If this is true, then it contradicts the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone as well as supporting the idea of a purgatory.

      According to Roman Catholicism, the irony of all this is as follows: when the New Testament is virtually quoting these passages from the Old Testament Apocrypha, it is teaching doctrines which Protestantism rejects! They argue that this is one of the main reasons as to why these writings were demoted to a secondary status; the Old Testament Apocrypha was teaching things contrary to what Luther and the Reformers were saying.

      In fact, Romanism says that Luther was not satisfied in aiming his attacks at the Old Testament Apocrypha. He also attacked books from the acknowledged Hebrew canon such as Job, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Add to this, Luther also spoke out against certain New Testament books such as Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation. Romanists claim that he wanted to make the Bible fit his own unique beliefs.

      Thus, it is contended that Martin Luther made the break from the Roman Catholic Church because of his own peculiar developments of the doctrine of salvation by “faith alone.” This led the Protestant Reformers to attack any biblical book which did not support this view and they did not stop with the Old Testament. However, they did not have much success in ridding the New Testament canon of these books.

      Yet, they were more successful when it came to the Old Testament Apocrypha. Though some of the churches of the reformation included the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of Scripture, others did not. According to the point of view of Rome, this tinkering with the canon of Scripture by Protestants forced the church to formally recognize what had been traditionally believed, and hardly ever questioned; the status of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

    7. The Council of Trent Authoritatively, Officially Declared the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture (1546-1563)

      Because the Roman Catholic Church was faced with a challenge to Holy Scripture, God’s authoritative Word, they assert that a strong response had to be made to those who were denying the canonical status of certain books.

      In response to the Protestant Reformers, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent met from the years, 1545-1563. The Council of Trent, in their response to the Protestant Reformation, officially pronounced these books canonical. The council made their feelings clear. They said:

      If anyone.?should not accept the said books previously listed including Tobias, Judith, Jeremiah with Baruch, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the two books of Maccabees, the first and the second as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts, as they are wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate edition and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

      Since the Roman Catholic Church believes that God has given it the final authority in all matters of belief and practice, this pronouncement settles the issue. The Old Testament Apocrypha are part of Holy Scripture.

    8. The First Vatican Council Reaffirmed the Decision of Trent about the Old Testament Apocrypha

      The first Vatican council, a gathering of Roman Catholic leaders, met in 1869-1870. This meeting is also known as Vatican I. They reaffirmed the decision about the Old Testament Apocrypha that was made at the Council of Trent. This remains the position of the Roman Church to this day.

      Therefore, with respect to the status of the Old Testament Apocrypha, it is clear that the Roman Catholic Church believes that the evidence is clearly in its favor. The Old Testament Apocrypha is part of Holy Scripture and all people should recognize this.

    9. There Is Non-Roman Catholic Usage of the Old Testament Apocrypha

      There is also something else which should be considered; the use of the Old Testament Apocrypha by those who are not Roman Catholic. The Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as other ancient Christian communities accept these books as authoritative Scripture.

      For example, the Greek Orthodox Church in two decisions, one in Jassy in 1642 and another in Jerusalem in 1672 officially declared the Septuagint plus as genuine parts of Scripture. The Septuagint is the authorized version of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They not only accept the Old Testament Apocrypha of the Roman Catholic Church, they also include the books of First Esdras, Second Esdras and Third Maccabees as part of Scripture.

      The Anglican Church also gives some status to the Old Testament Apocrypha. In Anglican churches, these books are read with the Old and New Testament in public worship. This demonstrates the importance they give to those sacred writings.

    10. The Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Are Included in Many Non-Roman Catholic Bible Translations

      Many Protestant Bibles have been printed with the Old Testament Apocrypha. This includes the Coverdale Bible in 1535, Matthew’s Bible in 1537, Taverner’s Bible in 1539, the Geneva Bible in 1539, and the Great Bible in 1560. Indeed, the original printing of the King James Version of 1611 printed the Old Testament Apocrypha between the two Testaments.

      Roman Catholics point out that the practice of collecting these books into a separate unit dates back no further than the year 1520. Thus, the separating of these books from the other holy writings was an invention of Protestantism.

      There is something else. In the first edition of the Bishops’ Bible printed in 1568, the Old Testament Apocrypha is printed separate from the Old Testament but with nothing stated to indicate the difference between their status and that of the canonical Hebrew Scripture. In other words, this Protestant translation, which was done by several bishops of the Church of England under the direction of Queen Elizabeth’s Archbishop, Matthew Parker, makes no distinction between the Hebrew canon and the Old Testament Apocrypha.

      This is even more significant because the Bishops’ Bible was the basis of the King James Version. The King James Version was not a new translation of the Bible, but merely a revision of the Bishops’ Bible. Therefore, the version from which the King James translators used to make their own revision did not acknowledge any difference between these books.

      Lest we think this is only ancient usage among Protestants, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are also printed with modern Protestant English translations such as in the Revised English Bible in 1989, and the New Revised Standard Version also printed in 1989. This obviously shows that non-Catholics consider these writings valuable.

  • Argument 3: Rightly Interpreted, the Old Testament Apocrypha Is Consistent with Other Scripture

    This brings us to our final point used by Roman Catholic defenders. They contend that the Old Testament Apocrypha, rightly interpreted, is absolutely consistent with the rest of Scripture as well as the historic teachings of the church. We will provide a couple of illustrations.

    1. Rome Says Protestants Wrongly Interpret Judith and Tobit

      One example, that is often cited, is the fact that Protestants correctly point out there are a number of historical and geographical errors in the Old Testament Apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit. Nobody denies this. Roman Catholics contend that there is no problem with this because these books are not meant to be understood as historical narratives. They are much the same as the parables of Jesus; stories given to us to teach valuable lessons.

      While nobody expects Jesus’ parables, such as the Good Samaritan, to relate to actual historical events, why should we expect these writings, which are attempting to accomplish a similar purpose, to be historically accurate? This was not the purpose of the writer. Therefore, to exclude Tobit and Judith from the canon because of historical errors is not logical.

    2. Roman Catholicism Has Been Consistent All Along

      This brings up our final point. The Roman Catholics insist that their position is consistent with respect to the facts when the evidence is fairly examined. They often accuse Protestants of either misrepresenting the facts of history or simply not knowing them. However, when all the facts are in, they assert that the Roman Catholic position on the canon of Scripture will be shown to be correct. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone to know the facts.

Conclusion: Romanism Says: It Is Either the Roman Catholic Position or Chaos

There is one last argument on this issue that Roman Catholicism makes. They assert that the question of the canonicity of the Bible can be simply stated as follows: either the infallible Roman Catholic Church has absolute authority to decide the issue, or we are in absolute chaos in attempting to define the limits of the canon. The church, and the world, is left with no final authority to tell us which books belong in the canon and which do not. Therefore, according to Rome, we need the infallible Roman Church to tell everyone the exact extent of the canon of Scripture.

When all is said and done, Roman Catholic doctrine says that the one criterion that should be used to decide this issue is the infallible decision of the church. In the end, this is all that really matters according to Rome.

This sums up the Roman Catholic position with respect to the Old Testament Apocrypha.

While these arguments of Roman Catholicism may seem to be impressive, a close look at the evidence will show that none of them will stand up to close scrutiny.

The books which the Roman Church calls the deuterocanonical writings have no right whatsoever to be placed with Old Testament Scripture. Our next three questions will address this issue.

Summary - Question 4
Why Does the Roman Catholic Church Accept the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture?

The extent of the Old Testament canon is an issue which divides Roman Catholics and Protestants. Roman Catholics believe that Protestants have deleted certain books from the Old Testament while Protestants believe that Roman Catholics have incorrectly added these books. Obviously, someone has to be wrong on this issue.

The Roman Catholic argument can be simply stated as follows. The Old Testament canon was not closed at the time of Christ; the possibility existed for more books to be added. Furthermore, there were at least three different canons circulating at that time; one of the Sadducees, another of the Pharisees, and yet another of the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. Therefore, there was no authoritative canon of Scripture which existed to which all parties agreed upon.

After Christ died and rose again, a New Testament was given to the world. This being the case, some authoritative decision had to be made with respect to the limits of the Old Testament.

Since the Jews were no longer in a position to do so, having rejected Christ as their Savior, it was up to the church to authoritatively decide which books belonged in the Old Testament canon. It made the infallible decision to include in the Old Testament the books that make up the Old Testament Apocrypha, or the deuterocanonical books, as they call them. These works, along with the thirty-nine other writings that Protestants and Catholics both agree upon, make up the divinely inspired Old Testament.

The history of the church bears this out. These books were considered to be divinely inspired and authoritative throughout church history. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that any real dispute emerged.

Luther and the Reformers denied certain practices of the church. They said these beliefs and practices came from books which were not part of the Old Testament canon; the Old Testament Apocrypha. In response, an authoritative council met at Trent and infallibly pronounced the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture.

Roman Catholics also contend that when all the evidence is examined, these books teach doctrines which are consistent with the rest of Scripture as well as with the historic teachings of the church. Therefore, we have every reason to accept these writings as true.

Finally, the Roman Catholic Church believes that it has the sole right to determine this issue. Since it is God’s infallible voice on the earth, whatever it says, goes. The Church has declared that these books are part of Holy Scripture. This declaration solves the issue once and for all.

Protestants deny these Roman Catholic claims. They do not believe that there were competing canons at the time of Christ. Neither do they believe that the canon was still open; it had been settled for four centuries before the time of Christ. Furthermore, the history of the church does not bear out the Roman Catholic contention that the church has always accepted these books as divinely inspired Scripture.

Finally, they reject the idea that the doctrines and practices that are found in the Old Testament Apocrypha are consistent with Scripture. In fact, some of them are in direct contradiction. In our next three questions, we will present the Protestant response in great detail. It will demonstrate that the evidence is not on the side of the Roman Catholic Church and its claims.

What Is the History of the Old Testament Apocrypha? ← Prior Section
Did the Ancient Jews, Jesus, and His Disciples Have a Fixed Canon of Scripture, or Was the Canon Still Open? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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