Why Protestants Should Re-think the Apocrypha

The so-called Apocrypha aren’t a book, or a section in the bible between the Old and New Testaments as in some Protestant bibles, but a number of books and portions (Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach [also called Ecclesiasticus], Baruch, and additions to Daniel and Esther) scattered throughout the Old Testament.  These books are called by Catholics and Orthodox “deuterocanonical” (second canon) books rather than “apocrypha” because they took longer than others to be recognised (e.g. the Pentateuch – which is therefore known as “protocanonical” i.e. “first canon)  as scripture.  Jerome, apparently, was the first to label them as “apocrypha” (hidden), and Martin Luther and all Protestants since the Reformation have called them that because they don’t recognise them as scripture.  However in the early Church the books that were regarded as apocrypha were the spurious and forged gospels, acts and epistles, written fraudulently by Gnostics under the names of apostles; they never regarded our Apocrypha as heretical or spurious.

The canonicity of other OT books, such as Esther and Ecclesiastes, was disputed by the Jews until the 4th century AD, so these too can be said to be deuterocanonical.  And in the NT there are also some books classed as deuterocanonical (DC) because they took longer than the protocanonical books (e.g. the Four Gospels) to be recognised.  Specifically, Revelation was recognised in the West but took longer in the East; Hebrews was not accepted by the West initially but was recognised in the East; and James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelation took a while to be accepted.

The version that the Jews used was the Septuagint (or LXX), a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament); this version was used by Jews all over the world and was regarded as authoritative scripture.  It was also the version primarily used by Jesus and the apostles; and consequently the version that the early Church used.  The large majority of the NT quotes from the OT come from the LXX.  The LXX is what we know as the Alexandrian canon and is exemplified in the Codices Vaticanus (the best example), Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus.    It is still the version used by Ethiopian Jews as their holy Scriptures and by the Orthodox Christian churches as their Old Testament.

In the beginning of the Church there was no New Testament as we know it today, yet Paul tells us the Church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20).  So what did they have as authority?  The Rule of Faith or Tradition (1 Thess; 2:13; 2 Thess 2:1; 1 Cor 15:3-11) which is the embodiment of apostolic teaching; of which the Apostles’ Creed is an example.  And the books which made it into the NT canon were those which reflected the teaching of the Tradition.  As well as all the NT writings, most of which were recognised as scripture from the beginning, there were other books which were circulating amongst the churches, such as The Shepherd of Hermas, The Didache, letters of Clement, and several others; but the Holy Spirit guided the Church into recognising and accepting the 27 books we now have in our New Testament.  The Holy Spirit also guided the Church into accepting not only the 39 books of the Palestinian and Protestant Old Testament but also the deuterocanonical books we call the apocrypha, all contained in the Septuagint.  The book which we today call our bible was first defined formally at the Synod of Rome in 382/3, the Council of Hippo in 393, the Third Council of Carthage in 397, and the Sixth Council of Carthage in 419. 

Why aren’t the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles Today?

The Palestinian Jews had previously accepted the Alexandrian canon of the LXX which was in general use amongst the Jews worldwide but later opted for a shorter (Palestinian) canon which excluded the deuteros because the Christians were using it.   They dumped the LXX in favour of a clumsy and uber-literal Greek translation by Aquila of the school of the Pharisees; a translation undertaken in order to remove all messianic passages from the OT which the Christians had been using so effectively to prove that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  It is likely that Aquila’s version became the version that the Masoretes used as the basis of their own, new, previously unknown, Masoretic text.  It would have to have been translated back into Hebrew by the Masoretes in order to be used as such; and they would have had the opportunity at the same time to remove all references to Christ and insert the vowel points to further confuse the true LXX reading.  This Masoretic text is the same one we use as the basis for our Old Testament today in the Western Church, both Protestant and Catholic.  The Orthodox Communion still rightly retain the LXX as their Old Testament scriptures.

While there were lone voices here and there which doubted or didn’t accept the OT deuterocanonical books, it was the Reformation which was responsible for the widespread rejection of them.  However, the Reformers couldn’t agree on which books actually constituted the canon of scripture and eventually had to go back to the decisions of the Councils of Hippo and Carthage; thus the New Testament canon was preserved in Protestant bibles but the Reformers rejected the Old Testament deuterocanonicals because they were not accepted by the Palestinian Jews, and called them “apocrypha”. 

The Old Testament Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals in the New Testament

The crucifixion

There are some striking passages in the Apocrypha which can only be described as being inspired by God.  For example there is a passage in “Wisdom of Solomon” (2:12-20) which has a remarkable prophetic fulfilling in Matthew 27:39-43 of Christ’s agony and death on the cross.  It says, in part, “….he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.  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.  Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for according to what he says, he will be protected” (RSV-CE).

How could any unbiased person deny that this is a prophecy of Jesus on the cross while the Jews were mocking him? 

The Seven Angels

In Tobit 12:15 the angel Raphael announces “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord” (RSV-CE).  It is surely no coincidence that in Revelation 8:2 John says “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God….” (RSV-CE)   Raphael, in a book regarded by Protestants as not being scripture, and in a passage almost word for word with Revelation, reveals that there are seven angels that stand before the throne of God – it is the only passage in the whole bible, apart from Revelation, that says there are seven such angels.  How would an uninspired writer know this?

And again, Raphael says “And so, when you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One….” (Tobit 12:12 RSV-CE).  Compare this with Rev 8:3-4 “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne….” (RSV-CE).  Once again, there is no other passage that I’m aware of which refers to angels offering the prayers of the saints to God outside of Revelation, except for this one in Tobit.  So, if Tobit is not inspired, how can this be?

Whose will she be in heaven?

In Matthew 22:23-33 the Sadducees came to Jesus and tried to confound him with the problem of resurrection for the woman who had seven husbands, each of which died while she still lived.  This story obviously comes from the book of Tobit (3:7-17), in which a godly young virgin had married seven times but each time the new husband was slain by the demon Asmodeus (hence the need to banish Asmodeus before she could marry Tobias).  Although the Sadducees only recognised the Pentateuch as canonical, they would certainly be familiar with the other books; hence their ability to use this account against Jesus.  He replied “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22:29 RSV-CE); and in doing so, endorsed Tobit as scripture.

Forgive and be forgiven

In yet another passage which has no parallel in the Old Testament, Sirach 28:2 says “Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray” (RSV-CE).  Could Jesus have had this verse in mind when he said “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25 RSV-CE)?  And thus he endorses Sirach.

Incarnation of God in Christ

In the Latin variant of Baruch 3:36 -38 it says “This is our God, and there shall no other be accounted of in comparison of him.  He found out all the way of knowledge, and gave it to Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved.  Afterwards he was seen upon earth, and conversed with men” (DRB).  Is this not a prophecy of the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14)?

This verse is not in the Greek, only the Latin, which was highly regarded in the early Western Church.  However it is well documented in the Fathers that the Jews removed several passages of the LXX which prophesied of Jesus.

And there were several variants of the Hebrew text in circulation at the time, just as there were variants of the Septuagint in circulation.  Even today with our Greek New Testament there are variants, as our English versions which are based on them demonstrate.  This would explain why the passage in Baruch is not in all versions today. 


The writer of Hebrews lists among the heroes of the Faith some people who come from the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.  The verse says “Women received their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life” (Heb 11:35 RSV-CE).  The first part of this verse refers to a woman who had seven sons, each of whom was tortured and killed by the Greek king to try and make them renounce their faith (2 Macc 7:1-42); the second part to a pious old Jewish man who also was tortured to death after refusing to accept release by eating swine’s flesh (2 Macc 6:18-31). 

Of course, including these references in the epistle to Hebrews doesn’t have to mean the whole book of 2 Maccabees becomes scripture (e.g. Enoch is mentioned in Jude yet the whole of Enoch is not scripture) but it does mean that those who deny the DCs are scripture can’t use the argument that they’re not mentioned in the New Testament.

The Book of Life

The Book of Life is mentioned repeatedly in the NT; e.g. Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8, 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19.  The only specific reference to the book of life in the OT is found in the Latin variant of Sirach: “All these things are the book of life, and the covenant of the Most High, and the knowledge of truth” (Sir 24:32 DRB).

There are two other references in the OT to a “book of God” which might be interpreted as the book of life, namely, when Moses interceded for Israel: “But now, if thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32 RSV-CE); and when the Psalmist prayed “Thou hast kept count of my tossings; put thou my tears in thy bottle!  Are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8 RSV-CE).

Whether these two passages refer to the book of life or not is disputable, I suppose, but it doesn’t really matter because Sirach specifically calls it “the book of life” and no other OT reference does so.  This title is carried over into the NT and the “book of life” is referred to 7 times!  But this is not surprising because the apostles used the LXX with Apocrypha as their OT bible version – this is an inescapable fact.  And they used the title “book of life” unapologetically, even though, according to Protestants, it comes from a non-canonical source.

Controversial Aspects of the Deuterocanonicals

Prayer for the dead

Protestants reject the Apocrypha as being scripture because there are “unscriptural” doctrines and practices in them.  For example there is a passage (2 Maccabees 12:38-45) in which Judas Maccabeus prays for his soldiers who had been killed in battle against the Greek oppressors.  We’re told that he took up a collection from the rest of the soldiers so they could offer a sin offering to God because the fallen soldiers were all found to have idols hidden under their tunics.  And the passage commends him for his faith and piety in doing so because he looked to the resurrection and to the “splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness”.  The passage ends with: “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Macc 12:45 RSV-CE).

As Catholic and Orthodox Christians regard the Apocrypha as scripture, they are simply (and faithfully) following Scriptural practice and acknowledging that prayer for departed believers is exemplified in Scripture.  Even if Protestants don’t accept this passage as Scripture they still can’t accuse Catholics of inventing any unbiblical ideas, because this practice was pre-Christian.

And even if the Apocrypha aren’t Scripture, the passage still shows that the OT Jews did pray for their righteous dead because they looked forward to the Resurrection.

Having said this however, there is no other place in either Old or New Testaments which refer to some kind of middle place between heaven and hell, unless you believe that where Peter says between his death and resurrection, Jesus “went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:18-19) is the time Paul wrote about when he said “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Eph 4:8).  Some believe that at this time Jesus went to the place where the OT saints were awaiting their release from the place which held them until he should come and deliver them and take them to heaven with him.   It is the same place, they say, where Lazarus went when he died (Lk 16:22, 25-26).  But this view presents its own problems.

Or else there are those Christians who don’t believe we go anywhere when we die but that our soul or spirit sleeps within our body in the grave until Jesus returns, and then comes the judgment when “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn 5:28-29).

Otherwise there is the standard Protestant view that when we die our spirit leaves our body and goes straight to be with Jesus, there to await the resurrection and our new bodies (see Phil 1:23).

For Protestants, the main problem with a middle place where dead souls are held for however long is that it takes away from the sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross for sinners.  As he died Jesus said “It is finished”, and the curtain in the Holiest Place within the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom, signifying that the sacrificial system, the Old Covenant, and the types of Christ, were fulfilled, and the way to God was open.  Christ, as our substitute, paid for our sins in full.  That human beings must therefore spend time in a place such as Purgatory to work off their sins is unthinkable to Protestants, but the idea has been in the Church from the beginning. 

However the passage in 2 Macc 12:45 doesn’t actually say that the place where the fallen soldiers had gone after they died was a place (such as Purgatory) where they had to somehow work off their sins – this idea developed within the Church as they tried to understand how it all worked.  A very complex system emerged wherein the Western Church, through its priests, gained power and wealth as they hijacked this simple and not-so-clear passage of praying for the dead and used it to their own advantage.  The Eastern churches of Orthodoxy are less specific in how they treat such a place/state.

Intercession of the saints

Another doctrine that Protestants regard as unscriptural is that of the intercession of saints i.e. holy people who have died and gone to heaven pray for Christians still living on earth.

Again, Catholics and Orthodox are simply following (their) scripture when they ask a saint in heaven to pray for them.  Their biblical source for this practice is found in 2 Maccabees 15:6-19, in which Judas Maccabeus is rousing his troops before a battle with the Greeks.  During his speech he told them of a vision he’d had, in which Onias, a godly High Priest of the Jews who had earlier been murdered, was praying for the Jews for the coming battle.  During his prayer Jeremiah the prophet (long since dead) also came to pray for the Jews.  Onias told Judas that Jeremiah prayed much for the Jews and Jerusalem.  In the vision, Jeremiah handed Judah a golden sword, a gift to Judah from God, to strike down the Greek army.

Catholics and Orthodox glean from this passage that not only do departed believers pray for those still on earth, but that Christians on earth can request saints in heaven to pray for them, just as they would request a believer on earth; that there is no difference between them except for their location; that whether we are in heaven or on earth we are still part of the Church; and that asking a saint in heaven to pray is not the same as necromancy, an occult practice forbidden in scripture.

Again, whether one believes in the practice or not, the fact is that it is written in a pre-Christian Jewish writing and is therefore not something that the Catholics have invented.

It should also be observed that the practices of praying for the dead and the intercession of saints are regarded by Protestants as unbiblical only because they’ve removed from scripture the passages that teach them.  It’s easy to prove a thing is unbiblical if you remove all reference to it from the bible!

Objections to the Apocrypha as Scripture

The objections I’ve come across are inconsistent and weak.  In this section I’ve taken those objections and attempted to demonstrate their weaknesses…..not in an attempt to prove one and disprove the other but so that the Protestant reader might be challenged to re-think his/her reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha as scripture. 

(1) For example one objection is that Jerome, Athanasius and some other Church Fathers didn’t include these books in the canon.  But this link (http://matt1618.freeyellow.com/deut.html) gives ample quotes from the writings of those same Fathers showing that they did use them as scripture. 

However even if Jerome and Athanasius didn’t believe the Apocrypha were scripture, it doesn’t make any difference, because it was the Church which defined which books were in the canon, not Jerome or Athanasius or any other individual.  The canon as we have it today, with OT including the books of the Apocrypha in their appropriate places therein, and the 27 books of the NT, was defined by the late 4th and early 5th centuries according to Tradition, widespread and general use, and some local church Councils; it was more definitely set at the Council of Florence in 1442 AD and formally finalised at the Council of Trent in 1546 AD (Catholic). 

During the first few centuries various canons were proposed, and the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals in both Testaments were sometimes included and sometimes not – see “Development of the Canon of Scripture in the 2nd to 5th Centuries” on this website for these various canons.

 (2) Then there is the argument that the Apocrypha were not quoted in the New Testament.  I’ve shown above that they are quoted or alluded to in the NT.  But this is no argument anyway because if it were a true standard for a writing becoming scripture then the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Obadiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah, should also be excluded because neither are they quoted in the NT; therefore this rule is invalid.

And Ezekiel, as far as I can determine, is not quoted in the NT although the parallels in Revelation are clear.  This is also a positive for the Apocrypha because some of them have parallels or are alluded to in the NT, e.g. Wisdom, Tobit and 1 Maccabees.

Furthermore, if being quoted in the NT is a criterion for inclusion in the canon, then Enoch (Jude 14) and the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9) should be there because Jude quotes from them.

(3) Another objection is that the Apocrypha were not written by prophets.  Who set this criterion?  If this is a true requirement then there are other books which would fail to make the cut, such as Joshua, Judges (mentions prophets but no prophetic writings or “Thus saith the Lord” statements), Ezra, Nehemiah,  Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon; and in the NT, Mark and Luke/Acts would fail the test. Conversely I’ve already shown that Wisdom of Solomon makes a remarkable prophecy about Christ on the cross.

Besides, the Church always recognised, and in the 4th century (as mentioned above) specified, these “apocryphal” books as scripture.  Either the Holy Spirit guided the Church in the formation of the canon or he didn’t.  If he did guide the Church then we have no right to change it; if he didn’t guide the Church, then how do we know which books are canonical and which are not; and anything goes. 

(4) The Palestinian Pharisees, who had earlier accepted the Alexandrian canon (containing the apocrypha/deuterocanonicals) for 2-3 centuries, when they saw the use the Christians were making of them to prove Christ as Messiah, narrowed their canon, insisting that only those books written in Hebrew were scripture.  But this is a wrong criterion for three reasons:

  • it is an arbitrary standard
  • the book of Daniel has a large section written in Aramaic
  •  but more importantly, this criterion is unacceptable because the Jews have absolutely no right to determine anything the Church does (Matt 21:43; 22:7-8); the temple curtain was torn in two as Christ died, symbolising the end of the Jewish system and the Old Covenant; and the Church became the new Israel at Pentecost (1 Tim 3:15, 1 Per 2:9-10).  If Protestants want to reject the Apocrypha because to the Jews “were committed the oracles of God” (but only in the OT era), then they also have to reject the New Testament and Jesus Christ, the Messiah, because these same Pharisaic Jews rejected them too!
  • Further to this point, some critics say that the LXX was not written by Levites or priests, therefore it is invalid as a translation of scripture.  But the Masoretic text on which all bibles in the West since Jerome are based, is a version concocted by rabbis and Pharisees, not Levites; therefore, according to this rule, we shouldn’t be using it.
  • Baruch and 1 Maccabees were originally written in Hebrew, and Tobit and Judith were originally written in Aramaic, possibly Hebrew, and therefore should not be exempted from the canon on these grounds.

 (5) The apocrypha can’t be scripture because some passages contradict NT doctrines, e.g. that giving alms gains eternal life for the giver.  The passage that offends Protestants comes from the book of Tobit, which reads “Revere the Lord all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments.  Live uprightly all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing; for those who act in accordance with truth will prosper in all their activities.  To all those who practice righteousness give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it.  Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.  If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.  So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity.  For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness.  Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High…..do not let your eye begrudge your giving of alms (Tobit 5:5-11, 16 NRSV-CE).  And later, the angel Raphael says “Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness…..it is better to give alms than to lay up gold,  For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin.  Those who give alms enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies” (Tob 12:8-10 NRSV-CE).

What is wrong with this passage?  As far as I can see it simply echoes the Law, Psalms and Proverbs, as well as passages from the NT such as Matthew 6:19-21 where we’re exhorted to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, among many.  And Daniel counselled Nebuchadnezzar with some pretty remarkable recommendations – remarkable, that is, if you have a problem with that in Tobit.  “Your majesty, be advised by me: let charitable deeds replace your sins, generosity to the poor your wrongdoing.  It may be that you will long enjoy contentment” (Dan 4:27 REB).

And what do we do with Cornelius in the book of Acts?  Just as in Tobit, an angel visits a righteous man, Cornelius.  We’re told “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius…..a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God”  An angel came to him and said Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God (Acts 10:1-4).  Consequently God sent Peter with the gospel to Cornelius and his household and they were saved – and almsgiving played a significant role in this!  And wasn’t Cornelius simply doing what Tobit counselled his son, Tobias, to do?  If Tobit was wrong, why did God bless Cornelius who did the same?  Shouldn’t we toss out Acts because it suggests almsgiving delivers from death?

The New Testament claims repeatedly that we are judged by our works (e.g. Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12), and James says faith without works is dead.  In Matthew 25 the goats will be rejected by Jesus on the Day of Judgment because they didn’t do works of charity, while the sheep will be received because they did do those works of charity.  There is no mention whatsoever of faith in this passage – did Jesus get it wrong?  If this passage was in the Apocrypha it would be rejected by we all-knowing Protestants.

And concerning almsgiving, is this not simply caring for the vulnerable, a concept dear to God’s heart, as we see in James 1:26-27, where it is called “religion that is pure and undefiled”?  And James, Peter and John required of Paul that “they would have us remember the poor” (Gal 2:9-10). 

 (6) Some Protestant fundamentalist opponents of the LXX go so far as to say that the LXX is a post-Christian forgery by Origen; and that the OT quotes in the NT are also Origen’s. The fact is Origen was aware that the integrity of the text of the LXX was in danger because of the many poor copies in circulation, so he preserved it in his Hexapla. 

They also say there are no copies of the LXX before the NT era.  To this I say that there is evidence

for several Hebrew and several other LXX’s in circulation before the NT era but they are not extant today.  And the Ethiopian Jews have always used the LXX.  Jerome is known to have had access to Hebrew texts to which we no longer have access.  And, incidentally, it was Jerome who testifies to having seen a copy of the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew in the library at Alexandria – the Church was aware that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, but we no longer have it today.

And Jesus, the apostles, and the whole Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Hanukkah, the origin and scriptural reference of which is found only in 1 Maccabees 4:36-59.

Unfortunately many ancient texts have disappeared because of deterioration or destruction e.g. the library at Alexandria, with the wealth of the knowledge of the ancient world within its walls, burnt down and everything in it was destroyed.  Persecutions also account for the loss of many NT and OT texts as the emperor Diocletian set out to destroy every copy of scripture in the empire.  So it is no wonder that we do not have many ancient texts available to us now; the wonder is that we have any.  The Dead Sea Scrolls testify to the existence of the LXX in the scrolls found in the cave at Qumran, and they pre-date Origen by centuries, and the Masoretic text by over 1000 years!

(7) Another objection is that some, at least, of the books of the Apocrypha are historically inaccurate and therefore they can’t be inerrant scripture.  But what is wrong with Fiction as a genre in the bible?  Did not Jesus use fiction in the form of parables when teaching?  In fact the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus is still a disputed topic among some Christians as they argue over whether it is biographical and factual, or simply a story to make a point i.e. fiction.  And Lazarus went to the “bosom of Abraham” for comfort and rest, when the NT tells us that when we die we go to be with the Lord (Phil 1:23).  What?  Didn’t Jesus know about this?

Even Paul the Apostle made a statement which, if one wanted to be pedantic, could be challenged.  In Titus 1:12-13 he writes “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’.  This testimony is true”.  I doubt that every individual Cretan was like that, but Paul made his point and we get it. 

So what is wrong with books such as Tobit or Judith having historical inaccuracies or folklore when they’ve been such a blessing to Christians since the Church began?  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4 RSV-CE) Judith was written to give the Jews hope in spite of the threat of the overwhelming forces of the Greeks.  The point of Tobit was similarly to encourage the Jews during this same period, assuring them that God rewards faithfulness in his people.  Susanna (an extra part of Daniel not found in the Palestinian canon), is an example of faithfulness and sexual purity; and in Bel and the Dragon, Daniel exposes the deceptions of idolatry and demonstrates that our God is the living and true God.  Bizarre?  Some may think so, especially those who are not familiar with these books.  But wouldn’t you say that some of the demands God made of his OT prophets are equally bizarre?  For example, Ezekiel was told to lie on his left side for 390 days; and when these days were completed he was told to lie on his right side for 40 days.  And during this time he was given a strict diet and told to bake the barley cakes on human dung (Ezek 4:1-17).  Is this not bizarre?  And it is just one example of strange things in the bible which, if they were in the Apocrypha, would be criticised and ridiculed by Protestants.  But it’s in the bible that Protestants use, so we explain it and preach it without question.

(8)  Critics of the Apocrypha claim that in the book of 2 Maccabees, the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV “Epiphanes”, was killed twice; once in chapter 1 and again in chapter 9.  The account in chapter 1 says he was lured into a temple in Persia when he invaded that country, and he and some of his men were killed inside it.  The account in chapter 9 says that he died of a disease and, recognising his sinfulness before God, attempted reconciliation with the Jews.  Antiochus, referring to his return from Persia, said: “On my way back from the region of Persia I suffered an annoying illness…..” (2 Macc 9:21 RSV-CE).  Here we have Antiochus’ own account of the circumstances leading to his death, and he was obviously concerned about it enough to nominate his son, Antiochus Eupator, as his successor.  The account in 1 Macc 6:1-16 coincides more closely with the account in 2 Macc 9.  The notes in the New American Bible – Revised Edition (a Catholic bible) shed some light on the issue:

  • “[1:11-12] The king: Antiochus IV of Syria, the bitter persecutor of the Jews, who, as leader of the Syrian army that invaded Persia, perished there in 164 BC”
  • “[1:14-17] Differing accounts of the death of Antiochus IV are found in 2 Mc9:1-29 and in 1 Mc 6:1-16 (see also Dan 11:40-45).  The writer of this letter had probably heard a distorted rumour of the king’s death.  This and other indications suggest that the letter was written very soon after Antiochus IV died, perhaps in 164 BC”

So does this discrepancy preclude 2 Maccabees from being scripture?  No, because it was accepted into the canon of Christian scripture, along with 1 Maccabees,  in the 4th century AD after having been used as such by the Church from the beginning, while the books of 3 and 4 Maccabees were rejected, at least by the Western Church.  This book is one of those books termed “deuterocanonical” because its universal acceptance took longer than the protocanonical books such as the Pentateuch.  But the Holy Spirit guided the Church into accepting it as scripture, in spite of its discrepancies. And it’s clear that the author didn’t set out to deceive when he wrote the history, unlike the forged gospels and epistles of the Gnostics during the period of the early Church.

Another example of this kind of discrepancy can be found in the New Testament, where Judas Iscariot also dies twice.  In his gospel Matthew tells us that Judas “went and hanged himself”.  With the 30 pieces of silver that he obtained to betray Jesus, the chief priests “took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in” (Matt 27:5, 7).

However in Acts, Luke tells us that it was Judas who bought the field, and that he died in it.  “Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18-20).

So which account is the right one?  They can’t both be.  But we still accept the books of Matthew and Acts as scripture in spite of this discrepancy because the Holy Spirit guided the Church into accepting them as such.

And when it comes to discrepancies in scripture, Luke has yet another, and very serious.  In his gospel he tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven on the day of his resurrection (Luke 24:1, 13, 29, 51).  Yet in Acts he tells us that Jesus ascended forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3, 9).  Should we therefore reject the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles because of these discrepancies?  I don’t think so!  So should we not therefore make the same concessions for the book of 2 Maccabees? 

Again, on the first day of the resurrection of Jesus, Matthew and John contradict each other.  Matthew has “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”, in obedience to the angel’s instruction, running to the disciples to tell them the tomb was empty.  On the way Jesus met and greeted them.  “And they came and held by the feet, and worshipped him” (Matt 28:9).  However, John’s account contradicts Matthew.  John has Mary Magdalene at the tomb, alone.  After Peter and John had departed, she is standing outside the tomb, weeping, and peering into the empty tomb.  After a brief discussion with two angels, she turned around and saw Jesus standing behind her.  When he said her name, she recognised him.  Jesus said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (Jn 201-18).

There are several discrepancies between these two passages and they can’t both be true because they are totally different to each, contradicting one another.  So which version is true?  They can’t both be. 

Yet again, did Jesus depart this earth from Galilee (Matt 28:16-20); or from Bethany (Luke 24:50-53)?  Galilee is about 80 miles from Bethany, which is about 11 miles from Jerusalem.

So if 2 Maccabees is rejected as scripture because of the discrepancies and different accounts of Antiochus’ death, then Matthew, Luke, John and Acts should be rejected on the same grounds.  But we should not reject any of these books because the Holy Spirit guided the Church to include them in the canon.  So we just have accept them, discrepancies and all, and trust that God didn’t make a mistake.

(9)  Then there is the accusation of the practice of magic.  In Tobit 8:2-3, a demon is banished by the smoke from the heart and liver of a fish after they have been placed on burning incense; this was in accordance with instructions from the angel Raphael.  However as I showed above, God does do some things which we don’t understand and we think of them as strange.  Why he chose to banish the demon in this manner I don’t know, but if it’s from God then it isn’t magic. 

Another example is Tobit 11:7-8 where Raphael tells Tobias to rub his father’s (Tobit) eyes with the gall of a fish in order to remove his blindness.

When Jesus healed a blind man, “he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam’” (Jn 9:6).  Why did Jesus do that?  He could much more easily have touched the man’s eyes or just healed with a word; besides, putting spittle and mud on a man’s face is so unhygienic!  Is this very much different in nature to what Tobias did with the fish?

Or what about the paralysed man at the Pool of Bethzatha/Bethesda?  Many sick people lay there in the hope of being cured – all they had to do was step into the water as soon as it stirred.  Problem was, only the first person in the water would be healed.  The Authorised Version and New King James Version use the Textus Receptus Greek text and this text tells us that an angel came and stirred the water.  I’m sure that if this narrative was in one of the books of the Apocrypha, Protestants would label it as superstitious paganism or magic or similar, and would reject the whole book on that account.

 (10)  Finally, some Protestants say that the DCs aren’t scripture because they “feel different” when they read them.  But what kind of argument is that?  What have our feelings got to do with determining whether or not a text is scripture?  I must admit, whenever I read Philemon I wonder why it is in the bible; but the judgment is not mine to make, it belongs to the Church – and the Church has recognised that Philemon is inspired scripture, so who amI to question?  There are other books in the Apocrypha that I love to read for various reasons.  Sirach is excellent and has so much practical wisdom; if it comes to feeling whether a book is scripture or not, I have to say that Sirach certainly “feels” like scripture.  I also love 2 Maccabees – it has some very exciting passages showing supernatural deliverance e.g. 3:22-28; and the courage and perseverance of the martyrs in 6:18-7:42 are so inspiring and encouraging.  Conversely when I read parts of Zechariah or some of the Minor Prophets, for example, I can’t make head nor tail of what I’m reading, and I don’t get the same “feeling”.  And what am I supposed to do with Revelation?  But thank God – he has shown the Church which books are to be included in the canon, and whether we feel they are inspired or not is totally irrelevant.

In Conclusion

If we were to apply the same principles to the NT as we do to the Apocrypha as tests of canonicity, we’d have to remove Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelation because they were disputed at first; we’d have to remove Matthew, Luke, John and Acts because there are discrepancies between them; the synoptic  gospels because they contain fictional accounts (parables); and all four gospels because their accounts surrounding the choosing of the apostles, the death and resurrection of Christ, and numerous other examples, don’t match and even seem to contradict each other.  That’s twelve books in the New Testament that shouldn’t be there if the criteria placed on the Apocrypha were applied to the NT!  And the majority of people who dismiss these books haven’t even read them!

These are my reasons why I think that Protestants should re-think their view of the Apocrypha.  As for me, it’s not for me to decide whether or not the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha are scripture – the Church has already done that.  Surely my/our obligation is to accept them.  In the words of St Augustine, “We receive the New and the Old Testament in that number of books which the authority of the Holy Catholic Church determines”.  But at the very least, if we still have a problem with regarding the Apocrypha as canonical, we ought to see them as edifying and profitable to read.  As Article VI of the Church of England Prayer Book says “….the Church doth read (the books of the Apocrypha) for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine”.