A Ralph Johnson


The Catholic Church includes fifteen books and portions of books in their Old Testament which are not accepted by Protestants. These are, 1st Esedras, 2nd Esedras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Eccle­siasticus (Sirach), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Susana, additions to Daniel: chapter 13 Prayer of Azariah, and chapter 14, Bel and the Dragon;  Prayer of Manassesh, two Books of Maccabees and fragments of Esther (10:4; 16:24).  These are generally called “Apocrypha” by Protestants and “Deutercanonical” by Catholics.  In addition, Eastern Orthodox readers include 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151.


I.                   These books are all in the Old Testament.  Christians are under the New Testament, not the old. (2Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8-13-15).  Their value is primarily historical.


II.                They were never in the Hebrew Old Testament canon.


Most of them were written in Greek and included in the Septuagint in Egypt.


God gave the Jews care of the Old Testament writings (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4)


Romans 3:1-2  What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?  2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.


The Hebrew text contained 22 books divided into the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44-45). There were 22 because some of the books were combined.   


 The twelve smaller prophets, from Hosea to Malachi, were for convenience uniformly united in one volume. The small books of Ruth and Lamentations were attached to the larger works mentioned, and Ezra and Nehemiah were long reckoned as a single book.

  Jesus identified the Old Testament as extending from Able to Zacharias (Mat. 23:35). Able was killed in Genesis, chapter 4, and Zacharias was killed in the last (2Chronicles 24:20-21).  The Maccabees books were written centuries later.


III.             Inspired writers did not quote the apocryphal books as inspired.


The New Testament has scores of quotations from the Old Testament, even citing authors by name, but no similar quotations from the apocryphal books.

The New Testament also quoted pagan writings (Epimenides, Menander and Aratus –Acts 17:28) and books from pseudapegraphal writings (Jude 1:9, 14-15; Enoch 1:9) not included in Catholic Bibles. In fact, they seem not to have even been aware of the apocryphal books. 


IV.              They contain no fulfilled prophesies identifying them as inspired. 


V.                 They have nothing of any serious doctrinal import that would add anything significant to the revelation we have, and in some cases they conflict with inspired scripture. 


2Maccabees 12:44 is sometimes cited concerning praying for the dead but it only cites the prevailing tradition (cf. Mark 7:8, 9, 13) and claims no inspiration (2Mac. 15:38).


44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.  Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.


This conflicts with Jesus’ teaching that after death there is no changing to a better place. Luke 16:20-31.

25 But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.'


VI.               Some are fanciful in nature, more like pagan myths.      


Tobit 6:1-8 Tells of a fish that tries to eat him.  He catches it and is told that the liver, when burned drives away devils, and by using the gall to anoint a man with white on his eyes will heal him.


Bell and the Dragon, 1:27.  Daniel kills the dragon by feeding it cakes of pitch, fat and hair.  Then Daniel is put into a den of lions for 7 days and Habakuk is transported to Babylon by his hair to feed him (1:36).


VII.           Some of the Apocrypha indicates it was not intended to be considered inspired


2Mac 15:38 If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do.


2Mac 2:23 all this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book. 24 For considering the flood of numbers involved and the difficulty there is for those who wish to enter upon the narratives of history because of the mass of material, 25 we have aimed to please those who wish to read, to make it easy for those who are inclined to memorize, and to profit all readers.


They indicate that prophecy had ceased.


1 Mac 9:27   27 So was there a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them.


1 Mac 4:46   46 And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them.


1 Maccabees 14:41   41 Also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet;


"Thus says the LORD," which occurs so frequently in the Old Testament, is conspicuously absent from the apocryphal books.


VIII.        Historically they have always been regarded as doubtful


  1. Sometimes they were placed separately or omitted in different Septuagint texts. Thus, they were omitted from the Palestinian Canon.


Even the Christian era copies of the Greek Septuagint differ in their selection of included books. The three oldest complete copies we have of the Greek Old Testament include different additional books.


Codex Sinaiticus, (4th century AD.), omits 2Maccabees and Baruch, but includes Psalm 151, 1Esdras and 4Maccabees.


Codex Vaticanus, (4th century AD.), omits 1 & 2Maccabees and The Prayer of Manassah, but includes Psalm 151 and 1Esdras.


Codex Alexandrinus, (5th century AD.), includes 1Esdras, Psalm 151, Psalms of Solomon and 3 & 4Maccabees.


B.     Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, categorically rejected the Apocrypha as uninspired.


Against Apion, (Book 1, §8, ¶38) We have not, therefore, a multitude of books disagreeing and conflicting with one another; [as the Greeks have] but we have only twenty-two, which contain the record of all time and are justly held to be divine.

(39) and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years;

(40) but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, 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.

(41) It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time;

(42) and how firmly we have given credit to those books of our own nation, is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.”


C.     Philo, the 1st century Jew, wrote extensively on the OT, but never quoted from the apocrypha. 

[Note: both Josephus and Philo wrote before the council of Jamnia in 90AD.]


D.     Melito of Sardis (c. 160 AD), the first Christian writer to give the list of Old Testament books, preserved in the writings of Eusebius.  Melito gives the list as the 22 books of the Hebrew Old Testament. 


E.      Origen (c. 230 AD) also names the 22 books as the Old Testament.


F.      Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 325 AD) explicitly states that the books of the Apocrypha had sanction for reading only and were not to be considered part of the canon of scripture


After listing the 22 Old Testament books and the 27 books of the New Testament, Athanasius writes, 


"These are the fountains of salvation . . . In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness."


The leading Greek fathers who followed Athanasius in defining the Old Testament canon as 22 books were Cyril of Jerusalem, Anastasius of Antioch, Leontius of Byzantium and John of Damascus.


  1. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 343), catalogued the proper canon of books of the Old Testament, and did not include the Apocrypha.


H.     Jerome (c. 400 AD) says:

As, then, the church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of the Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical scriptures, so let is also read these two volumes [Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus] for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the church.”   

 "whatever is beside these is to be placed in the Apocrypha, and is to be read only for edification, ... not to establish the authority of ecclesiastical doctrines."

      In the book The Scholastical History of the Canon, John Cosin cites 52 major ecclesiastical writers from the 8th to the 16th centuries who affirm the view of Jerome (c 400AD), which is to separate the Apocrypha from the Old Testament in terms of authority for doctrine.

  1. Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome (c. 600 AD), wrote:


We are not acting irregularly, if, from the books, though not canonical, yet brought out for the edification of the church, we bring forward testimony.  Thus Eleazar in the battle smote and brought down an elephant, but fell under the very beast and was killed (I Mac 6:46).”


J.       Cardinal Cajetan was the opponent of Luther in the 1500s.  He wrote Commentary on all the Authentical Historical Books of the Old Testament and dedicated the book to Clement VII.  He says,


"Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament.  For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit and the books of the Macabees) are counted by Jerome out of the canonical books and placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus."


K.    John Wycliffe (c 1370 AD), Luther (1546 AD) and Miles Coverdale put the Apocrypha at the end of their bibles.


History of inclusion of the apocrypha


At the end of the fourth century Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome, the most learned biblical scholar of his day, to prepare a standard Latin version of the Scriptures (Latin Vulgate). In the Old Testament Jerome followed the Hebrew canon and by means of prefaces called the reader's attention to the separate category of the apocryphal books. Subsequent copyists of the Latin Bible were not careful to transmit Jerome's prefaces, and during the medieval period the Western Church generally regarded these books as part of the holy Scriptures. In 1546 the Council of Trent decreed that the canon of the Old Testament includes them (except the Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Esdras).  Subsequent editions of the Latin Vulgate text, officially approved by the Roman Catholic Church, contain these books incorporated within the sequence of the Old Testament books.


Eastern Orthodox Churches recognize several other books as authoritative. Editions of the Old Testament approved by the Greek Orthodox Church contain, besides the Deuterocanonical books, 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, while 4 Maccabees stands in an appendix.


In addition to the 150 psalms of the Hebrew Bible during the inter-testament period other psalms were composed in Hebrew and in other languages. One of these, which celebrates David slaying Goliath, is appended as Ps 151 in Greek manuscripts.


The earliest copies of the English Bible that excluded the Apocrypha are some Geneva Bibles printed in 1599 mainly in the Low Countries. However, the titles of the apocryphal books occur in the table of contents at the beginning of the edition, recognizing that while they were considered questionable, they should still be mentioned.


Many printings of the King James Version appeared in London and Cambridge without the Apocrypha; copies lacking the disputed books are dated 1616, 1618, 1620, 1622, 1626, 1627, 1629, 1630, and 1633. Like the copies of the Geneva Bible of 1599, these seems to have been the work of publishers who wished to satisfy a growing demand for less bulky and less expensive editions of the Bible who omitted them because they lacked authority as scripture.