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

Don Stewart

There are a number of reasons as to why the Roman Catholic Church considers the books that Protestants call the "Old Testament Apocrypha" as Holy Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church Says The Apocrypha Is Scripture

The main reason as to why Roman Catholics receive the apocryphal books as Scripture is because the Roman Catholic Church says so. Since they believe that the church is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice whatever it says is final. Therefore the matter is not up for debate.

Apart from the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church there are other reasons given for the acceptance of these books as Holy Scripture. They include the following.

1. In Alexandria, Egypt There Was A Wider Canon Than In Palestine

The fact that the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt translated the books of the Apocrypha alongside the acknowledged Hebrew Scriptures shows that there was a greater canon in Alexandria than there was in Palestine. This gives ancient testimony to their canonical status.

2. The New Testament Quotes The Septuagint As Scripture

The New Testament writers accepted this greater Alexandrian canon. When citing the Old Testament, the New Testament quotes mostly from the Septuagint, which contained the Apocrypha. Therefore, they reason, that the New Testament writers also accepted the Apocrypha as Holy Scripture. Since the New Testament writers accepted these books as divinely authoritative Scripture, then so should we.

3. There Are New Testament Allusions To The Apocrypha

There are allusions in the New Testament to the Apocrypha. For example, we read the following in the Book of Hebrews.

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35).

This seems to be an allusion to Second Maccabees chapters seven and twelve with this reference.

In addition, in the first two chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul seems to be making allusions to the Apocryphal book of Wisdom. This gives further testimony of its authoritative status.

4. The Earliest Complete Greek Manuscripts Have The Apocrypha

The two earliest complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are Codex Sinaiaticus and Codex Vaticanus. Codex Sinaiaticus contains the entire New Testament in Greek while Vaticanus has the entire New Testament except for Hebrews 9:15 through the Book of Revelation.

These two 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 two oldest manuscripts also contain books from the Apocrypha along with the Old and New Testament. This shows that the early Christians had the Apocrypha as part of their Bible.

A third ancient Greek manuscript, Codex Alexandrinus, also contains some of the apocryphal books. This gives further testimony that the books of the Apocrypha were to be Scripture.

5. The Books Of The Apocrypha Are Found Among The Dead Sea Scrolls

Three of the books of the Apocrypha were found along 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 the Jews of Palestine used these books before the time of Christ and considered them to be of equal value with the writings of Moses and the other Old Testament books.

6. Early Christian Art Portrays Scenes From The Apocrypha

There are scenes from Apocrypha found on the walls of the catacombs. This was the place where many of the early Christians hid from the persecution of the Romans. The fact that these believers would draw scenes from these books while being persecuted shows their respect for the stories contained in them.

7. Early Church Fathers Testify To The Authority Of The Apocrypha

Some of the important early church fathers accepted the Apocrypha as canonical. This includes such leaders as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen. Since these men were leaders of the church they would be in a position to know what was, and what was not Holy Scripture.

8. The Authoritative Testimony Of Saint Augustine

The great church leader, Augustine of Hippo accepted these books as authoritative. He said the extent of the Old Testament was 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 - these last not following consecutive but running parallel, so to speak, and covering the same ground . . .
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.

9. Some Early Church Councils Accepted The Apocrypha As Scripture

Some of the early church councils, such as a local council of Hippo in A.D. 393, and a provincial counsel, the third council of Carthage in A.D. 397, held that the Apocrypha was part of Holy Scripture. These seem to be the first church counsels that made any formal pronouncement on the canon. In doing so, they were merely reflecting the belief at that time. The church in the western part of the Roman Empire began to use the Apocrypha in public worship after that time.

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

In A.D. 419, the sixth council of Carthage confirmed the ruling of the Third Council concerning the canonicity of the Apocryphal books.

This gives further testimony of the general acceptance of the Apocrypha at that time.

10. There Is Non-Roman Catholic Usage Of The Apocrypha

There is also the use of the Apocrypha by those who are not Roman Catholic. The Greek Orthodox Church as well as the Anglican Church gives some status to the Apocrypha. In Anglican churches the Apocrypha is read with the Old and New Testament in public worship. This demonstrates the importance they give to those books.

11. The Books Of The Apocrypha Are Included In Many Non-Roman Catholic Bible Translations

Many Protestant Bibles, including the original printing of the King James Version of 1611, print the Apocrypha between the two Testaments. This obviously shows that non-Catholics consider the Apocrypha valuable.

12. The Council Of Trent Declared The Apocrypha Scripture

The Council of Trent, in their response to the Protestant Reformation, officially pronounced these books canonical in A.D. 1563. The council made their feelings clear. They said.

If anyone does not receive these books as sacred and canonical in their entirety, with all their parts, according to the text usually read in the Catholic Church and as they are in the ancient Latin Vulgate . . . Let him be anathema.

Since the Roman Catholic Church believes that it has the final authority in all matters of faith and practice this pronouncement settles the issue.


The Roman Catholic Church believes that it has the sole right to determine which books are authoritative and which ones are not. They accept the books of the Apocrypha to be divinely inspired Scripture for the following reasons.

First, there is ancient testimony from the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt that these books were part of Old Testament Scripture. In addition, the Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint - the Bible of Jesus and the apostles. We find allusions to the Apocrypha in the New Testament. Add to this, the earliest Greek manuscripts contain the Apocrypha along with the Greek Old Testament.

Furthermore, from the Dead Sea Scrolls we learn that those who lived in Palestine in the first century used the Apocrypha alongside the accepted Old Testament writings.

The testimony of important early church leaders, and three early church councils are also strong reasons to accept its authority. From the earliest times Christians quoted from and used the Apocrypha in the same way in which they used Holy Scripture. Scenes from the stories in the Apocrypha are found in the walls of the catacombs - the place where Christians hid from persecution.

There is also the teaching of the great scholar Augustine of Hippo. He accepted the common consensus of his day - the books of the Apocrypha were Holy Scripture. The books of the Apocrypha also have non-Roman Catholic usage. The books are read in public worship in the Anglican Church and many Protestant Bibles print the Apocrypha between the testaments. The council of Trent eventually made an official pronouncement with respect to these books. They made it clear that the Apocrypha, or the deuterocanonical books, were part of Holy Scripture. These reasons are sufficient for the Roman Catholic Church of today to declare that the books of the Apocrypha should be considered Holy Scripture.


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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