Hello Freedom Fellowship family. A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone from church and they brought up the Catholic Bible and the extra books that are included in it (aka the Apocrypha). I decided that this was such a great question and something I wanted to write about on our church blog.
The books of the Bible are referred to as Canon. These are the books that are seen as inspired by God and are His Word. However, there are some other books that have been up for debate for centuries. Why is it that these books are not included in our Protestant Bible and what do Hebrew scholars think of these additional Apocryphal books?
Let’s start by looking into the history and Canon of the Old Testament. There is little debate among Hebrew scholars as to which books belong in the Old Testament Canon. Hebrew scholars and Jews held the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books in admiration, but never saw them as sacred texts, inspired by God. The main reason why Jewish scholars do not hold these books as part of the Old Testament Canon is because the majority of them were written during the intertestamental period, the 400-year gap between the closing of the Old Testament and the start of the revelations of the New Testament. This 400 years between the Old and New Testament is also known as the silent years.
Josephus the historian remarked, ‘the succession of the prophets’ had been interrupted."
It was from this understanding by the Jews of this period that the books penned at this time were great historical documents, but they were not inspired words from God.
Another reason that the Protestant Bible does not have the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books is that the majority of them contradict the core message and teachings from the Biblical Canon. For example, Sirach 3:30-31 says, “Giving to the poor can make up for sin, just as water can put out a blazing fire. Anyone who responds to others with acts of kindness is thinking of the future, because he will find help if he ever falls on hard times” (Good News Translation). This verse completely contradicts the fundamental message of not only the New Testament, but also the Old. In Leviticus 17:11 we read, “The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord has commanded that all blood be poured out on the altar to take away the people's sins. Blood, which is life, takes away sins” (Good News Translation). It is blood that takes away sin, not giving to the poor or being nice to people. Yes, Christians are called to help the poor, widows, and orphans. We do these things not as ways to earn salvation, but as fruit that shows that we are indeed saved and changed!
Content was not the only reason that some books were left out of the Bible; there were also quality issues. The Apocryphal books were not recognized by the early church as inspired books because they could not fulfill certain criteria, such as prevalence. When churches would receive letters from the Apostles or those close to the Apostles, they would instantly read the letter and then go about rewriting it so that they could circulate it all over the Roman empire and later the world. The Apocryphal books could not prove circulation like that of the Gospels and other letters included in the New Testament, due to much smaller numbers of surviving manuscripts. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid 1500’s at the Council of Trent that the church finally starting considering putting these Apocryphal books into the Bible. Protestants also did not want to include these books into their Bible (canon) because they also did not demonstrate the same quality as the accepted 66 books of the Bible. There is a massive difference between reading books that are inspired by God and books that try to look inspired. The quality of writing and finesse simply aren’t there with the Apocryphal books.
Some of the Apocryphal books are still great books to help with understanding history, and some of the books share Jewish folklore. 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees write about the tumultuous times between the Old and New Testament. They talk about how the Jews were persecuted and killed under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who stormed Jerusalem and desecrated the temple of God by slaughtering a pig and erecting a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies.
In conclusion, it is so important for us as Christians to understand that some respectable books were rejected from our Protestant Bibles because they were not seen as inspired Word of God. We should be ready to give a response as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15 for why these books shouldn’t be held to the standard of inspired, but rather as history books of times past. I do recommend that every Christian go and read through these Apocryphal books so that you can know first-hand the teachings and heresies that are addressed in them.