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John 8a – What about the Apocrypha?

Today’s sermon reviewed three “Tests of Canonicity” – factors that helped the early Church determine which books were indeed inspired and which were not. Remember, the Church did not cause these books to become inspired, but merely recognized the already-inspired nature of the NT books.

Originally in the sermon I had a 5-minute discussion about the so-called Apocrypha – those extra books found in a Catholic Bible, written between the time of the Old and New Testaments. Before examining why Protestants don’t include these books in our Bible, let’s review the three tests of canonicity.

1) The book was written by someone with recognized authority from God. Normally these were apostles – Matthew, John, Peter, Paul. But sometimes others like Mark, Luke, James and Jude were also recognized as having authority or writing their work in association with an apostle (i.e. Luke journeyed with Paul on several mission trips, Mark may have had association with Peter while writing his Gospel, etc.).

2) The book accords with the truth and theology of other biblical books. This simply makes common sense: works inspired by the God of truth cannot contradict each other!

3) It enjoyed widespread acceptance by the people of God. The Church had to recognize the book for what it already was: inspired.

So, applying these three criteria to the Apocrypha, we can see clear reasons why those extra books should not be included in the canon of Scripture.

First, these books were not written by people that claimed to be prophets from God. You will not find “Thus saith the Lord” sayings in them. In fact, in the prologue to Ecclesiasticus, the author even states that, “You are invited… to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly” (Oxford Edition). Clearly, the book itself does not claim to have inerrant inspiration!

Second, the books don’t accord with the truth and theology of the rest of the inspired Bible. Here, it’s best to quote directly from scholar E. J. Young (“The Canon of the Old Testament” in Revelation and the Bible, 167-68): “…both Judith and Tobit contain historical, chronological and geographical errors. The books justify falsehood and deception and make salvation to depend upon works of merit… Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon inculcate a morality based upon expediency. Wisdom teaches the creation of the world out of pre-existent matter (11:17). Ecclesiasticus teaches that the giving of alms makes atonement for sin (3:30). In Baruch it is said that God hears the prayers of the dead (3:4), and in 1 Maccabees there are historical and geographical errors.”

If God inspired men to write those books, there indeed is something wrong with inspiration!

3) The Apocryphal books never enjoyed widespread acceptance by the Church. There is no evidence that any Jews ever accepted the books as Scripture. Jesus and the apostles never quoted from a single one of the books in the Apocrypha (which is saying something, considering the amount of times they quoted or referenced the Old Testament). Many of the early Church Fathers excluded the books from their lists of recognized Scripture (Melito of Sardis, Origen, Tertullian, etc.).

To top it off, what many Christians (or Catholics) don’t realize is that the Apocrypha was not officially accepted as part of the (Catholic) canon of Scripture until 1546 at the Council of Trent. Catholics actually prefer to call the group of books Deuterocanonical, because they were later added to the Catholic canon (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 59).

Much more could be written about each of these three criteria in relation to the Apocrypha. Though the books can be historically helpful at times (i.e. read Maccabees when thinking of Antiochus IV, prophesied about in the book of Daniel), and have some good thoughts and reflections about God, they are by no means inspired Scripture and should not be read as such.

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