Sola Scriptura – Why not the Apocrypha?

This is the second post on sola scriptura. The first two are here and here. I’d recommend reading them first as I will continue discussion with that assumption.

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Before any discussion about using the Bible alone as the sole source of doctrine, don’t we need to first determine what constitutes the Bible and why?

Protestant Bibles have seven fewer books in the Old Testament. We call these the Apocrypha but they are also called the deuterocanonical books. Since I’m technically still a Protestant and speaking to Protestants, I’ll stick to their terms.

So far as I can tell, the Apocrypha was part of the canon of Scripture that the early church used. It was accepted at the councils of Hippo and Carthage and were part of the Bible until the Reformation when the Reformers removed them. Protestants are appalled whenever someone “adds to or subtracts from” the Word of God. But if the Apocrypha had always been part of the Word of God for 1500 years, wouldn’t the rejection of those books be subtracting from the Word of God? Wouldn’t Protestants be doing the very thing they’re appalled at others for doing?

Let’s first look at why Catholics include it.

septuagintThe Bible of the early church was the Septuagint. This was a Greek translation of the Old Testament and most copies included the Apocrypha. In this debate with Kenneth Samples, Fr. Mitch Pacwa stated that out of about 350 quotations of the Old Testament in the New, 300 were direct quotes from the Septuagint. Since the Septuagint was the Bible of the earliest Christians, Pacwa says it’s still the Bible of the Catholic Church today. That makes a lot of sense.

Even Protestants seem to agree that the Septuagint was the Bible of the earliest Christians. James White agrees to that fact in this debate with Mitch Pacwa. Also Protestant-Evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce, in his book “The Canon of Scripture”, attests to this fact. In it he says:

“As soon as the gospel was carried into the Greek-speaking world, the Septuagint came into its own as the sacred text to which the preachers appealed….’Greek Judaism’, it has been said, ‘with the Septuagint had ploughed the furrows for the gospel seed in the Western world’; but is was the Christian preachers who sowed the seed. So thouroughly, indeed, did Christians appropriate the Septuagint as their version of the scriptures that the Jews became increasingly disenchanted with it. The time came when one rabbi compared ‘the accursed day on which the seventy elders wrote the Law in Greek for the king’ to the day on which Israel made the golden calf.” (bolding is mine)

The earliest Christians used the Septuagint so well in defense of Christianity, that the Jews eventually rejected it.

So why do Protestants reject the Apocrypha?

Protestant Arguments for Rejecting the Apocrypha:

One argument in rejecting the Apocrypha as “inspired” is that no New Testament author ever quoted it as “inspired” or “God breathed.” But this quickly falls flat in my mind.

  • There are a lot of books from the Old Testament that are never quoted, yet Protestants still accept these are “inspired.” Why? If quoting is a requirement, why do they accept Esther or some of the prophets that were also never quoted? This blog lists 10 OT books never quoted in the NT. (I’m sorry I don’t have a more “scholarly” source but I’m still researching. If anyone has better sources please let me know.)
  • In fact, there are other things quoted in the Bible that we reject as “inspired Scripture.” Jude 14-15 quotes from the Book of Enoch saying he “prophesied.” That’s heavy language! He sure sounds like he considers it Scripture, yet no one today accepts the Book of Enoch as Scripture. According to Protestant criteria, it seems we should consider that book as legitimate.

Another argument: Protestants claim the Apocrypha was never put on the same level with other Scripture. That’s tenuous for a couple of reasons.

  • To make that argument is to appeal to Tradition, which Protestants reject in determining doctrine. This is part of the problem I posted about last time. Tradition is needed to determine Scripture, and yet Protestants reject Tradition as a basis for authority.
  • Is it possible to say with certainty that Peter, Paul, and the others rejected the Apocrypha? Because they really didn’t say anything about it. As stated above, they didn’t say anything about several other OT books either. However, since we know the Septuagint was the Bible of Peter and Paul, isn’t it more reasonable to say they accepted the Apocrypha than to say they rejected it? If the apostles rejected those books, why would they have used the Septuagint as Scripture without first making it clear that they rejected certain parts of it?
  • History also shows the acceptance of the Apocrypha. It was included in the councils of Hippo and Carthage in the 390s and early 400s. So it was considered Scripture for 1100 more years until the “Reformers” took them out.

Another argument: Protestants claim the Apocrypha teaches doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. This is probably the worst argument of them all. According to Protestant doctrine, the Bible alone must determine doctrine. And yet when we judge the Apocrypha, we use doctrine to reject its teachings. This is circular reasoning at its finest and I shouldn’t need to expound on it. If we’re only supposed to get doctrine from Scripture, then we can’t use doctrine to determine what Scripture is.  If the Apocrypha is Scripture, then our doctrine should adjust to fit it, not the other way around.

Another argument: Protestants claim to use the Jewish Scriptures, which rejected the Apocrypha. This is also tenuous.

  • The Jews of the first century did not have an official canon of Scripture either. Some only believed in the Torah. Others included the prophets. But there was wide debate. So how could the earliest Christians have only used the Jewish canon when there was no Jewish canon?
  • As Evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce said above, the Jews increasingly rejected the Septuagint the more the Christians used it convincingly. That actually seems like a strong argument in favor of the Septuagint, which included the Apocrypha.

Another argument: Sometimes Protestants try to appeal to the church fathers to show there was not unanimous consensus on the place of the Apocrypha. This is true, as far as I can tell. However, there was not unanimous consensus on NT books like Hebrews, II Peter, or Revelation either. Yet Protestants accept those books. Why those and not the Apocrypha?

Another argument: Sometimes Protestants point to Matthew 23:35 as a case for the Protestant OT. The reasoning goes like this: II Chronicles was the last book of the Jewish canon. Since Abel was the first martyr in Genesis and Zechariah was the last martyr in II Chronicles 24:20, the books from Genesis to II Chronicles is the true canon. However, that doesn’t seem like a legit argument.

  • Which books were in the middle?
  • We also know the Jews didn’t have a definitive canon.
  • The passage in II Chronicles says Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada. Jesus said “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah.” The only Zechariah who was the son of Berechiah was the prophet who wrote the book of Zechariah. Jewish Tradition tells us he was martyred but it’s not in the Bible. (Uh oh…did Jesus appeal to Tradition??) It also wasn’t the last book of the later Jewish canon. I’ve found attempted explanations for this conundrum, but there’s definitely plenty of ambiguity too. It can hardly be used as the “final word” on the OT canon.

So those are some problems I’ve run into trying to explain away the Apocrypha.

Protestants: If there is a “silver bullet” argument in rejecting the Apocrypha, please tell me. The above arguments are the ones I’ve seen. If there are better ones, please tell me.

Catholics: If my understanding of Catholic doctrine needs adjustment, please point out my error.

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Disclaimer – This blog post is just that: a blog post with my personal thoughts. I am not a Catholic apologist or theologian. What I say here is not official doctrine of the Catholic Church. I am still learning and am susceptible to error. Don’t take anything here as Gospel. Don’t be stupid. Do your own research and learn for yourself what the Church teaches.

 

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6 thoughts on “Sola Scriptura – Why not the Apocrypha?

  1. You seem to hit it pretty dead-on to me — commenting as a Catholic convert, having heard both Protestant and Catholic claims. A few more things:

    * Protestants commonly appeal to a so-called “Council of Jamnia” at which the Jewish canon of the Old Testament was supposedly settled, rejecting the deuterocanon. But most scholars today conclude that such a council never took place. And yes, there’s significant evidence that Jews eventually rejected the Septuagint and the deuterocanon because the burgeoning Church had embraced it.

    * Protestants also often point to Josephus, who apparently rejected the deuterocanon. But just as there was no universally-defined canon for the early Christian Church, there was not one for all Jews until fairly late. Each local Jewish community determined its own canon. Alexandrian Jews embraced the Septuagint and the deuterocanon, while Palestinian Jews, especially Christian-era ones, tended to reject it.

    * Another major Protestant argument is that the deuterocanonical books were written in Greek, not Hebrew. It’s true that no Hebrew originals survive of them, only the Greek of the Septuagint. But most modern textual scholars believe that at least some of the Greek deuterocanonical books were without a doubt originally written in Hebrew (don’t ask me which ones; seems like perhaps the Maccabees, Sirach, Baruch…?).

    * The vast majority of Church Fathers accepted the canonicity of the deuterocanon. Most of them didn’t even comment on it, but took it for granted and quoted it as Scripture along with everything else. There were only a few notable exceptions, Jerome being chief among them. But Jerome was heavily influenced by the Palestinian Pharisees among whom he was living, and even he did not reject the deuterocanon completely. He included it in the Vulgate and allowed that it should be read in Church.

    I read a really splendid article recently in Addis and Arnold’s A Catholic Dictionary, which see:
    Canon of the Scripture

  2. Thanks for the comment Joseph. I think you hit the nail too. Catholic scholar Michael Barber said “One thing that is clear about the canonical process used by the Jewish rabbis is that it was motivated in part by an anti-Christian bias.”

    Stop by, anytime.

  3. I can’t look up the referances now but there are quotes from the apocrapha/deutorocannon in the New Testament. I seem to recall Jesus quoteing from Sirach in Mt. 5.

    • Hi bgpery! If you find those let me know. I would love to hear them. I’d heard there might be but haven’t gotten to that particular avenue of research yet.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Mustfollowifican,
        Compare Sirach(Ecclesiasticus) 28:2 with Matt 6:12.
        It isn’t verbatum, but well… just check it out and let me know what you think.

        • Thanks for the reference. It doesn’t seem an exact quote but it could possibly be that Jesus was referring to it. It at least seems evidence that Sirach is not “un-biblical.”

          I also think Wisdom 2 is sometimes seen as a prophecy of Christ’s death. The wrong-doers seem to be talking and saying things like “Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.” (vs 17-18) We know Jesus was mocked on the cross being told “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matt: 27:40)

          Regardless of this, there is still the fact that not all of the books of the OT were cited or alluded to. So I don’t see how “reference” is needed by Protestants as a criteria, especially since Jude explicitly quoted Enoch as prophesy. The apocryphal books were never quoted and therefore rejected? Then why do we also reject the book of Enoch, even though Jude gives it such a prominent place?

          Throw into the mix that the apocryphal books were fully accepted by the majority of the early church in the first centuries. Non-Catholic scholar J.N.D Kelly, after showing a small degree of recognition, said “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.” (Early Christian Doctrines)

          Thanks for the participation. Let me know any other things you may find.

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