The Apocrypha?

If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Revelation 22:19

All Christians - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant - agree that the Books in the Bible are the inspired, written Word of God but disagree on which Books belong in the Bible. Specifically we do not agree on the Old Testament (OT) canon - the list of Books inspired by God. The Catholic OT Canon includes - Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I and II Maccabees - plus sections of Esther and Daniel which are absent from the Protestant OT. Protestant Christians do not accept these Writings as inspired by God and refer to them as the "Apocrypha".

Sometimes this problem is used to defame the Catholic Church. As an example, John Ankerberg and John Weldon in their book, The Facts on Roman Catholicism, write:

Catholicism teaches that Scripture involves more than the canon accepted by the Jews, Jesus and the Church of the first four centuries, i.e., the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament. [A&W, p.33]

Allegedly the Catholic Church added to the OT that Jesus used.

Now it may be true that Protestants share the same OT canon as Jews today; however, the situation was a little different during the time of Jesus. The Jews before the 2nd century A.D. did not appear to have a rigidly defined OT canon. In the words of James King West, a Protestant Bible scholar:

The Scriptures of Judaism were not, therefore, a precisely defined body of literature absolutely set apart from all other literature, but a central body of material, the Torah (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deut.), which from the time of Ezra had remained fixed as... the Scriptures par excellence, surrounded by other interpretive material of varying degrees of importance and authority. [S&W, p. OT 432]

By the time of Christ, all Jews accepted the five Books of Moses - the Torah - as Scripture; however, Books, like Esther and Ecclesiastes, were debated. From the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jews at Qumran apparently read and copied Tobit, The Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6) and Sirach as Scripture, while Esther is missing from the scrolls. [JBC, pp. 522 & 565] Unfortunately we can only speculate on what Jesus thought on this issue. No where in the New Testament (NT) does Jesus or His Apostles present a complete list of the OT Books or even discuss this issue.

Before the 2nd century, most Palestian Jews preferred a canon loosely similar to the Protestant OT; however, the Greek-speaking Jews preferred the larger canon found in the Greek Septuagint Bible - a 2nd-century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture. It was the "Bible" for the Greek-speaking Jews. When the Apostles began to evangelize the Greek-speaking Jews and Gentiles, they used the already established Septuagint as their Bible. Using the Hebrew Scripture would have been as effective as using a Russian Bible to evangelize Americans. The Septuagint served to bridge the culture gap. Quickly the Greek-speaking converts outnumbered the Hebrew Christians. Scholars also recognize that the NT writers quoted extensively from the Septuagint, e.g. Matt. 1:23. The Septuagint became the OT of the early Church. [S&W, p. OT 433]

Only after the destruction of the Temple and debates with Christians, the Pharisees at Jamnia finally limited the Hebrew Canon in the 2nd century A.D. - a century after the Resurrection of Christ. They restricted the Hebrew Canon to Books written before 400 B.C. in Hebrew. They also rejected the Septuagint claiming it to be corrupted by the Christians. [S&W, p. OT 433]

In the mid-2nd century, St. Justin Martyr in his Dialogue With Trypho commented on the difference between the Christian OT and the Hebrew Canon. Tertullian during this period also commented on this difference. [JBC, p. 523] These comments and concerns would have been inappropriate, if the early Christians and Jews shared the same OT canon.

The OT of the most ancient surviving Christian Bible manuscripts - Codex Vaticanus (4th century), Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) - are Greek Septuagint text. Apart from holes and missing pages, the Codex Vaticanus contains all the Books of the Catholic OT, except I and II Maccabees. The Codex Sinaiticus only lacks II Maccabees but also includes IV Maccabees. The Codex Alexandrinus contains all of the Catholic OT Books plus III and IV Maccabees. These manuscripts show that the Septuagint with its larger and looser canon was the OT "Bible" of the early Church.

In the 4th century, some Church fathers, especially those who debated with the Jews, like Jerome, favored the shorter Hebrew Canon. Some Church fathers like Ambrose and Augustine favored the larger canon of the Septuagint. Others like Gregory Nazianzen also excluded Esther from the Bible [JBC, p. 522]. Jerome while favoring the shorter canon, several times in his writings cited Books from the larger canon as Scripture. [S&W, p. OT 434] The Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the late-4th century were the first real attempts by the Church to end the confusion over the OT canon. The OT canon which they proclaimed is still found in Catholic Bibles today. The controversy continued but in 1441 the Council of Florence upheld this larger canon. In response to the Protestants, the Council of Trent definitively upheld the larger OT canon. [S&W, pp. OT 434-435; JBC, p. 517]

Now the Catholic Church is not alone in accepting the Books which Protestants label as "Apocrypha." The Coptic, Greek and Russian Orthodox churches also recognize these Books as inspired by God. In 1950 an edition of the OT containing all these Books was officially approved by the Holy Synod of the Greek church. Also the Russian Orthodox church in 1956 published a Russian Bible in Moscow which contained these Books. [JBC, p. 524] More details from a scholarly Protestant viewpoint can be found in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Oxford, 1977).

Some Christians attempt to discredit these Books by pointing out apparent historical errors contained in them. [A&W, p. 33] It is common knowledge among scholars that Tobit and Judith contain obvious historical inaccuracies; however, these Books are recognized as didactic parables, like Jonah. It is also common knowledge among scholars that Daniel suffers from similar glaring historical inaccuracies, e.g. Daniel 1:1. [S&W, p. OT 419] Some scholars have suggested that both Daniel and Judith may actually be a disguised historical account of Antiochus Epiphanes [S&W, p. OT 462].

Other Christians may point to the immoral deceit of Judith in Judith 9:10-13 in an attempt to discredit this Book. [A&W, p. 33] Unfortunately the OT contains other less than edifying practices, for example: the deceit of Jacob in Genesis 27, incest in Genesis 19:32 and inhumanity in Psalm 137:9. Also in Hosea 1:2, God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a woman who would commit adultery. These OT events simply show the need for Jesus Christ. Finally we cannot use human reason alone to judge the Word of God.

In conclusion the Catholic Church did not add to the OT. The Catholic OT Canon (also the numbering of the Psalms) came from the ancient Greek Septuagint Bible. Protestants, following the tradition of the Pharisaic Jews, accept the shorter Hebrew Canon, even though the Jews also reject the NT Books. The main problem is that the Bible does not define itself. No where in the Sacred Writings are the divinely inspired Books listed completely. (The Table of Contents is the publishing editor's words, like the footnotes.) The Bible needs a visible, external authority guided by the Holy Spirit to define both the OT and NT Canons. This authority is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. As St. Augustine writes, "I would not have believed the Gospel had not the authority of the Church moved me." [Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., 129:8]


[A&W] John Ankerberg & John Weldon, The Facts on Roman Catholicism (Eugene, OR; Harvest House Publishers, 1993).
[JBC] The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), Vol. II, Chap. 67.
[S&W] Donald J. Selby & James King West, Introduction to the Bible (New York; The Macmillan Co., 1971).
Suggested reading: H.G. Graham, Where We Got The Bible (Rockford, IL; TAN, 1977).

Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.