Why Should the Apocrypha books not be included in the Bible?

The question is, “Should the apocryphal books be recognized as canon?”. What follows is a discussion between myself and a Catholic.

“The Catholic Church did not add to the bible at the council of Trent. Rather, the New Testament which is the Christian Holy Scriptures were decided in the 4th century and affirmed by Pope Damasus.”

No, you are wrong. The apocryphal books were known but not considered by all to be canon, even by those who used the Septuagint. In fact, the Latin Vulgate, commissioned by Pope Damasus, was translated from the Hebrew text, not the Greek (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations#Early_translations_into_Greek_and_Latin). As you know, only the Greek text contained the apocrypha.

“ The septuagint or Old Testament was always the Old Testament for Christians and Jews up until the year 100 when hardline conservative Jews rejected anything that was written in Greek and not Hebrew, so the Jews threw out the deutero-canonical books from the OT canon.”

To be specific, the Septuagint was translated around 250BC from the Hebrew Bible.

I will show you are mistaken in your belief that the Septuagint was considered to be canonical in whole by either Jews or early Christians.

Let us look at what Scripture says concerning this matter before looking at other evidence.

Jesus said, “this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah”  (Luke 11:50-51, cp Matthew 23:35), thus referring to the first and last martyrs of the Old Testament. The first martyr of the Old Testament, of course, was Abel (Genesis 4:8 ) and the last martyr was Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). Since Chronicles is placed at the end of the Hebrew Bible, Jesus was giving evidence of the books of the Old Testament He considered canon. Jesus also spoke of “the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” in Luke 24:44. So Jesus gave evidence of the contents of the canon of the Old Testament, and it did not include the apocrypha. Also, Paul said that the Jews were “entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2).

The Protocanonical books of the Hebrew Bible have always been considered canonical by both the Jews and Christians. This is not the case for the Apocrypha. The Aramaic translation of the Old Testament (the Targums), did not include them; neither did the Peshitta, the earliest versions of the Syriac translation of the Old Testament. “Only one Jewish translation, the Greek (Septuagint), and those translations later derived from it (the Italia, the Coptic, Ethiopic, and later Syriac) contained the Apocrypha” (http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225141/k.1102/The_Old_Testament_Apocrypha_Controversy.htm).

The earliest known list of books in the Old Testament by a Christian was prepared by Melito of Sardis (170 AD). He went to Israel to determine what books should be considered canonical. Two different sources have differing views on what Melito considered canonical.

“[Melito] enumerates the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four of Kings, two of Chronicles, Psalms of David, Proverbs of Solomon, also called Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the twelve Minor Prophets in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. The last, no doubt, includes Nehemiah and possibly Esther, which is otherwise omitted” (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/info/melito-wace.html).


“The books that [Melito of Sardis ( 170 A.D.)] lists follow very closely to the Old Testament in contemporary Protestant Bibles. Today, we would call the “four books of Kings” 1 Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings and II Kings. “The Book of Wisdom” is undoubtedly in this case, the Book of Proverbs, and Esdras was commonly the heading for Nehemiah and Ezra. (not to be confused with the Apocryphal book “Esdras”). Lamentations was considered a part of Jeremiah. The only book missing from Melito’s list is Esther, which was held suspect by many Jews since it did not contain the Divine Name (YHWH). Esther, incidentally, also happens to be missing from the rolls of Qumran, amidst the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. Esther and Song of Solomon were two of the disputed books at the Council of Jamnia. More importantly, it should be noted that the Apocrypha (Tobit, Judith, Esdras, I and II Maccabees, and Sirach) was still not accepted as Scripture” (http://members.tripod.com/restoration_ministry/Thecanon.htm).

Either Esther was included in Esdras, or Melitos did not include it in the list quoted by Eusebius. If he did not, it may have been because at the time there was debate among the Jews as to whether it should be included or not, and his source may have been of the opinion that it should not be included. Certainly Esdras contained what we call Ezra and Nehemiah.

Philo (20 B.C – 50 A.D.), a Hellenistic Jew, read the Septuagint, but did not mention the apocryphal additions” (http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223387/k.E247/Did_the_Early_Church_Fathers_Accept_the_Apocrypha.htm). Origen  used the Hebrew Bible to correct the Septuagint (http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=128&letter=O&search=Hexapla#374).  While the Greek Septuagint was read by Jews in the Diaspora (because those who did not live in Israel knew Greek better than Hebrew), the text used in Israel itself, in the Temple in Jerusalem, was in Hebrew.  In fact, The Talmud (and the Karaite mss.) states that a standard copy of the Hebrew Bible was kept in the court of the Temple in Jerusalem for the benefit of copyists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masoretic_Text). This fact also was attested to in the letter of Aristeas, purported to be written about 250 BC (http://www.ccel.org/c/charles/otpseudepig/aristeas.htm).

Some people are confused and believe ” the Jews in the Holy Land preferred the Greek translation over the Jewish one as evidenced by the discoveries at Qumran and the obvious use of the Gospel writers of the Septuagint and not the Hebrew version. “

In fact, the majority of the scrolls found in Qumran (90-95%) were written in Hebrew with some texts written in Aramaic and Greek (http://orion.mscc.huji.ac.il/resources/FAQ.shtml#language).

In answer to the objection that the New Testament was written only in Greek, as evidence the Jews only used Greek, I offer the fact that Papias circa 60-135AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papias), wrote that “Matthew wrote down the sayings in Hebrew and each translated it as he was able”, (Eusebius, H.E. [the History of the Church], 3.39; cf. 3.24) (http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/hebrewgospel.htm). Others are of the same opinion (http://www.catholicplanet.com/TSM/NT-Matthew.htm).

Indeed, Hebrew was still the language in Jerusalem at the time of Jerome (ca. 347 – September 30, 420), who translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew rather than the Greek text (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome). Jerome gave the canon of the old testament as we have it in his introduction to the book of Samuel and Kings, published about 391AD (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vii.iii.iv.html). Jerome emphasized the differences between the Hebraica veritas and the apocrypha (see previous link, as well as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Old_Testament_canon). It was not until after the destruction of the Temple that the Jewish community in the Diaspora began to reject the Septuagint and move to use the Hebrew text that had always been used in the Temple in Jerusalem   (http://www.catholicqanda.org/FAQ_Library/Bible/Apocrypha.htm).

Josephus, who wrote in ”Against Apion“ 1.8 (http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/apion-1.htm#EndNote_Apion_1.8a) between 94-100AD, said there were “twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses… the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”  (http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/apion1.html#EndNote_Apion_1.8b). Since Christians divided certain books into 2 books, this lines up with what we have as the Old Testament today.

There were various lists of what different church fathers thought belonged to the Old Testament and they did not agree. In Ecclesiastical History, vi. 25, Eusebius quoted Origen as stating which books were canonical and these mostly lined up with Hebrew text (http://www.bible-researcher.com/origen.html). The only books of the Old Testament that he did not write a commentary on were Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah, along with Esther and Daniel (http://www.salvationhistory.com/library/scripture/churchandbible/fathers/lienhardorigen.cfm).  He even said that the book of Matthew was written in Hebrew.  Eusebius also stated that Melito of Sardis went to Palestine to determine the books of the Old Testament and said that Melito included all the protocanonical books,with the possible exception of Esther (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Old_Testament_canon).  Clement of Alexandria cited a number of apocrypha books, as well as pseudepigraphal books. Cyril of Jerusalem mid-fourth century, gave the books of the Hebrew  Bible (http://www.christiantruth.com/Apocryphapart2.html). “During the Church age, certain books were designated canonical while others were called ecclesiastical, but all were grouped together without distinction. The ecclesiastical books were useful for reading and edification but were not authoritative for the establishing of doctrine. This position was held by both Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem, who used the Septuagint, but were careful to exclude the Apocryphal books from the status of canonical Scripture” (http://www.christiantruth.com/articles/Apocryphapart1.html)

”Martin Luther is actually the person who threw out the seven deutero-canonical books.“

As you have seen, the early church fathers also did not agree on the apocrypha.

“He also threw out James, Revelation, 1John, 2John, etc until Calvin and others calmed him down.”

I am not Lutheran, so I had to do a little research concerning Luther. Luther did not originally think much of the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation, but did not as you claim throw them out. They are included in his translation, although moved to the back of the New Testament. He questioned them for various reasons, but also praised them (you have to read his notes to see this). It seems much of his questioning had to do with equating ‘canon’ with apostolic origin and church history. And he was not alone in questioning these particular books, as the early church did not accept them without reservation as canonical. In fact, his translation even included the apocryphal books, but with a note that these were not canon, but useful and good to read (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther_Bible). Eusebius listed both James and Jude in his list of disputed books (http://www.bible-researcher.com/antilegomena.html). “Even a few Catholic scholars of the Renaissance type, notably Erasmus and Cajetan, had thrown some doubts on the canonicity of the above-mentioned Antilegomena” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03274a.htm). In fact, it appears that Luther changed his original opinion of the four books in question in the New Testament (http://www.ntrmin.org/Luther%20and%20the%20canon%202.htm#a5).


The council of Trent simply affirmed what the Old Testament books are and what all of Christendom had used since the time of Christ.”

As I have shown, this position is not in fact historical.

” Moreover, the Septuagint was used by Jesus himself because he lived in Nazareth. Notice that Jesus never said anything about not using this septuagint. The Hebrew version was not used in Nazareth at all, nor in any other place but Jerusalem. “

As I have shown, you are mistaken. Jesus quoted the books found in the Hebrew Bible. He used language that shows the Hebrew Bible was considered canonical. No quote was made of the books particular to the Septuagint.

“Also, most people did not actually speek Hebrew. They spoke Aramaic and Greek.”

Again, as I have shown, In Israel, the people spoke Hebrew. Greek was used by the people in the Diaspora. In fact, the book of Matthew was written in Hebrew.

To be specific, the Catholic Church only dogmatizes things when they are attacked.”

The RCC had to try to find a way to justify erroneous doctrine. When the truth was pointed out, it had to respond or change.

“The New Testament was attacked in the 3&4th Century, thus the Catholic Church made an official decision of what books are accepted as scripture and what is not. “

The church (not the Roman Catholic Church, but the church at large) simply agreed with God about which books should be included in the New Testament, largely due to the influence of Athanasius – who held to the view that the canon of the Old Testament did not include the apocryphal works.

“Also, in response to the Reformation where Luther threw out 7 books and wanted to throw out more on his OWN AUTHORITY ALONE, the Council of Trent affirmed the Old Testament books that were ALWAYS USED BY CHRISTIANS AND CHRIST AND THE APOSTLES themselves. “

As I have shown, Luther was not alone in not considering the apocrypha to not be canonical. Many of the church fathers felt similarly.

”We know they read the septuagint since that was the only OT in use where Jesus and the Apostles lived.


You are mistaken. Jesus lived in Israel, where the Hebrew Bible was in use. Yes, the Septuagint was used by the church, because most people away from Israel read Greek rather than Hebrew,  but many of the church fathers were clear which books were canonical and which were not.


So I stand by my statement that the Council of Trent added to the Bible, when it declared as canon, books of which many doubted the canonicity, from the early church onwards

“Yes, I agree that God inspired the Bible yet He chose to inspire His writings through men and these men had different writing styles. Luke is very different from John and is very different from Mathew and Paul writes very differently from Peter, Jude and John. So, don’t minimalize the human component to Scripture. 

If these men were just secretaries, they would not have inserted their own personality to it.”

God breathed the Bible. Men were used to put into writing the message God gave them. You minimize the work of God.

(note: all links were available online as of 8/7/08. See another of my articles on the apocrypha: https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/more-on-why-the-apocrypha-should-not-be-considered-canonical/).


7 Responses

  1. Nice article but the hebrew and the greek but as for there being Nt books in Hebrew all we have is the opinion of the church fathers no real proof like textual evidence.

    • I’m not sure what you meant where you wrote, “but the hebrew and the greek”.

      But we have the fact that the books of the Hebrew canon in the Temple did not include the apocrypha. We have the fact that there are doctrinal and historical problems in the apocrypha. We have the fact that the earliest copies of the Greek Septuagint do not include the same lists of books. We have differing opinions of various church fathers. Philo of Alexandria (20BC-50AD) read the Septuagint, but used the Hebrew Bible to correct the Septuagint. We have the earliest known list of books in the Old Testament by a Christian was prepared by Melito of Sardis ca 170AD, which does NOT include the apocrypha.

  2. very enlightening. you have added more of a clear understanding of how to divide which language goes with which canon.thank you i can now divied each one for further study

  3. Thank you, WB, for your thorough and truthful article. It’s apperent that you really did your homewor!

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