Before we can tackle the issue of the apocrypha, we need to define the term. The apocrypha is a collection of Jewish historical books written in the centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church declared seven apocryphal books part of the canon in 1546 (Council of Trent, 4th Session). Those books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch. Protestants reject these books as part of the canon, but Rome insists otherwise. Is there any evidence to suggest either viewpoint is correct?
Put in or taken out?
Were the apocryphal writings taken out of the canon by the reformers in the Protestant Reformation? Or did Rome put the apocryphal writings in the canon in response to the Protestant Reformation? This is a good question.
To understand the apocrypha modern day, we need to understand its origin. First, who was responsible for the Old Testament canon to begin with? We read:
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” – Romans 3:1-2 KJV
Paul tells us in Romans that the oracles, or Scriptures, of God were committed unto the Jews. The Jews were the ones who, under inspiration from God, wrote the Old Testament canon. This is extremely important. Why? Because the Jews never considered the apocrypha part of the canon. In fact the Protestant Old Testament canon is the same canon used in the Hebrew Bible, although they are arranged differently.
Usage of the Apocrypha
Throughout Scripture the writers often quote other pieces of Scripture, many times by terms such as “it is written” or “thus saith the Lord.” However, not once is the apocrypha quoted by a biblical author.
Jesus Himself referenced the Old Testament canon in Luke 11:
“From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.” – Luke 11:51 KJV
The Jewish canon is arranged in three section: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, with Genesis as the first book and Chronicles as the last. When Jesus referenced Abel (Genesis) to Zacharias (Chronicles), He was encompassing the entire Jewish canon.
This is corroborated by another statement from Jesus in Luke 24:
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” – Luke 24:44 KJV
Jesus again is encompassing the Jewish canon: the Law of Moses (Torah), the Prophets, and the Psalms (Writings).
Did the debate of the apocrypha come about at the Protestant Reformation? Was this issue something raised by the reformers? Or was this an issue in the early church?
Cyril of Jerusalem (313 AD – 386 AD) wrote the following:
“Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings : for why do you, who know not those which are acknowledged among all, trouble yourself in vain about those which are disputed? Read the Divine Scriptures, the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, these that have been translated by the Seventy-two Interpreters.” – Catechetical Lecture 4, para. 33
Even though Cyril of Jerusalem included some apocryphal writings in the 22-book canon, there was no unanimous agreement among the many early church theologians regarding the place of the apocryphal writings.
Problems in the Apocrypha
Consider the following:
“The angel said, ‘Cut it open; take out gall, heart and liver; set these aside and throw the entrails away, for gall and heart and liver have curative properties.’ The boy cut the fish open and took out gall and heart and liver. He fried part of the fish for his meal and kept some for salting. Then they walked on again together until they were nearly in Media. Then the boy asked the angel this question, ‘Brother Azarias, what can the fish’s heart, liver and gall cure?’ He replied, ‘You burn the fish’s heart and liver, and their smoke is used in the case of a man or woman plagued by a demon or evil spirit; any such affliction disappears for good, leaving no trace. As regards the gall, this is used as an eye ointment for anyone having white spots on his eyes; after using it, you have only to blow on the spots to cure them.'” – Tobit 6:5-9
Is the writer suggesting that the smoke from burnt fish hearts and livers will drive away demons or evil spirits? Does this type of writing belong in God’s written Word?
What about these?
“For almsgiving delivers from death and saves people from passing down to darkness.” – Tobit 4:10
“Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin. Those who give alms have their fill of days; those who commit sin and do evil bring harm on themselves.” – Tobit 12:9-10
What are alms? According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, alms are “any thing given gratuitously to relieve the poor, as money, food, or clothing, otherwise called charity.” Is the writer of Tobit suggesting that money, food, or clothing delivers our souls from death and purges every kind of sin? Under the Mosaic Law, the only thing that purged sin was a blood sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22).
However unfortunately if one does not accept the apocrypha as part of the canon, the Roman Catholic church has declared them anathema:
“But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” – Council of Trent, 4th Session
What does it mean to be anathema? It means to be condemned to hell for eternity.