john-bibleRoman Catholics and Protestants agree on many central doctrines of the Christian faith, including the Trinity, deity of Christ, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. But one important issue which separates Roman Catholics and Protestants is the extent of canonized Scripture.

While both groups have the same 27 books in the New Testament, Roman Catholics have an additional seven books in their Old Testament (along with four additions to other OT books). These extra books and writings are referred to as the “Apocrypha” or “deuterocanonical” (second canon) books. They are as follows:

    1. The Wisdom of Solomon (Book of Wisdom)
    2. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)
    3. Tobit
    4. Judith
    5. 1 Maccabees
    6. 2 Maccabees
    7. Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah)
    8. Additions to Esther (10:4-16:24)
    9. Prayer of Azariah (Daniel 3:24-90)
    10. Susanna (Daniel 13)
    11. Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14)

The status of the Apocrypha became a watershed issue between Roman Catholics and Protestants during the Counter-Reformation. It was at this time that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) officially and infallibly canonized these books and pronounced an anathema (under God’s condemnation) on anyone who rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture, which would include all Protestants.[1] After listing the books which the RCC considers canonical, including the Apocrypha, the Council of Trent declared,

If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts…and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid traditions let him be anathema.[2]

With this in mind, the extent of canonized Scripture and whether or not the Apocrypha is God-breathed is an important issue dividing Roman Catholics and Protestants. If Rome is correct in her assessment of the Apocrypha, Protestants are in serious error and under God’s condemnation. On the other hand, if Rome is wrong about the Apocrypha, the church’s claim of infallibility is shown to be false and her authority is critically undermined. William Webster explains:

The subject [of the Old Testament canon] is one of the highest significance and relevance because it is directly related to the issue of authority. The Roman Catholic Church claims ultimate authority for herself because she believes she is responsible for establishing the limits of the canon at the North African Councils of Hippo and Carthage in the late fourth century…It is also significant to note that Trent attached an anathema on all who knowingly reject its decree on the Old Testament canon. In so doing, Trent made the issue of the canon a matter of saving faith.[3]

With the importance of this debate in mind, the following seven reasons build a persuasive case for the acceptance of the Protestant Old Testament as authoritative and the rejection of the Apocrypha as Scripture.

Reason #1: The Jews never accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture or considered it on par with other Old Testament canonical books.

This first point cannot be overstated. The Jews themselves did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture. This is very significant, especially considering that Paul tells us the Jews were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). It was through the Jews that God produced the Old Testament canon and to the Jews that God entrusted it. So the question is, “Did the Jews know their own Scripture?” If so, the Apocrypha should not be considered part of it. On the other hand, if the Apocrypha is canonical, how is it that the Jews did not know that which was entrusted to them, especially in light of Paul’s statement?

All of this to say, the 39 books in the Protestant Old Testament correspond to the same 22 (or 24, depending on how they are arranged)[4] books in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, the Protestant Old Testament canon contains the same books which the Jews accepted as Scripture. This is testified to by several sources. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote,

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his law, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death…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.[5]

These twenty-two books accepted by the Jews as canonical correspond exactly to the Protestant Old Testament canon, which excludes the Apocrypha. Along with Josephus, the Jewish teacher Philo also did not recognize the Apocrypha as Scripture. Regarding Philo, F.F. Bruce states,

Philo of Alexandria (c 20 BC-AD 50) evidently knew the scriptures in the Greek version only. He was an illustrious representative of Alexandrian Judaism, and if Alexandrian Judaism did indeed recognize a more comprehensive canon than Palestinian Judaism, one might have expected to find some trace of this in Philo’s voluminous writings. But in fact, while Philo has not given us a formal statement on the limits of the canon such as we have in Josephus, the books which he acknowledged as holy scripture were quite certainly books included in the traditional Hebrew Bible…He shows no sign of accepting the authority of any of the books which we know as the Apocrypha.[6]

The rejection of the Apocrypha by Josephus and Philo is not only significant because they both were Jews who knew their own canon but also because they were both familiar with the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament). Philo himself was from Alexandria where the Septuagint originated. Roman Catholic apologists often claim that the Jewish Septuagint contained the Apocrypha, and since the Septuagint was the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles, the Apocrypha should therefore be considered Scripture. But William Webster explains why this reasoning is false:

Josephus not only gave the precise number of the canonical books but stated that the Jewish nation recognized these twenty-two alone as canonical. What is important about his testimony is that he used the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. Thus, even though he used the Greek version, he cited the limited canon of the Hebrews. And as mentioned earlier, Philo also used the Septuagint and did not include the Apocrypha as authoritative canonical Scripture. These cases demonstrate that it does not follow that those who used the Septuagint accepted an expanded canon, in particular, Jesus and the apostles.[7]

The listing of the Hebrew Bible at only 22 or 24 books not only tells us that the Jews knew which books belonged in the canon but also that it necessarily excluded the Apocrypha. One reason the Jews did not accept the Apocrypha is because they recognized that an exact succession of their own prophetic line ended around the fourth century B.C. The Apocrypha was written after this point, therefore making it non-canonical. Josephus comments on this as well:

From Artaxerxes until our time everything has been recorded, but has not been deemed worthy of like credit with what preceded, because the exact succession of the prophets ceased.[8]

Not only does Josephus give us the exact number of books and their divisions, but here he gives us a timeline stating that those books written after the time of Artaxerxes[9] did not carry the same authority as the canonical books because the exact succession of prophets had ceased. In other words, the apocryphal books were not inspired and therefore not canonical.

Roger Beckwith in his book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church cites numerous rabbinical statements which testify to the cessation of prophecy in Israel in an era before the Apocrypha was written:[10]

With the death of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi the latter prophets, the Holy Spirit ceased out of Israel (Tos. Sotah 13.2).

Until then [the coming of Alexander the Great and the end of the empire of the Persians] the prophets prophesied through the Holy Spirit. From then on, “incline thine ear and hear the words of the wise (Seder Olam Rabbah 30).

Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children (Bab. Baba Bathra 12b).

The Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha as Scripture can also be seen at a meeting of Jewish scholars in Jamnia (90 AD). Here there was no discussion whatsoever as to the apocryphal books or their acceptance into the canon. Furthermore, the Jewish Talmud, comprised of rabbinical writings from between 200 AD to 500 AD, also excluded the Apocrypha from canonical Scripture. Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia affirms the consistency between the Protestant Old Testament and Hebrew Bible:

For the Old Testament Protestants follow the Jewish canon; they have only the books that are in the Hebrew Bible. Catholics have, in addition, seven deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament.[11]

In short, if we had no other reason to reject the Apocrypha as canonical, the fact that the Jews themselves never accepted it into their Hebrew Bible would be sufficient. Scripture is God-breathed and therefore it is God who determines which books are canonical by inspiring certain books and not others. The people of God (in this case the Jews) were entrusted with these divine writings long before the Roman Catholic Church was in existence. Therefore, it is not the prerogative of Rome to determine the canonical boundaries of a group of writings which she neither produced nor which she was entrusted with.

Reason #2: A compelling argument can be made that neither Jesus, nor the apostles, nor the New Testament writers accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture.

First, continuing from the first point above, since the Jews never accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture, and since Jesus, the apostles, and most authors of the New Testament were themselves Jewish, it follows that neither did they accept the Apocrypha as Scripture. The argument would look like this:

  1. The Jews did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture.
  2. Jesus, the apostles, and most authors of the New Testament were Jewish.
  3. Therefore, Jesus, the apostles, and most authors of the New Testament did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture.

Jesus and the authors of the New Testament frequently refer to “the Scriptures,” for example, when Jesus is teaching His apostles or debating the Jewish religious leaders of His day.[12] But any mention of “the Scriptures” must have an objective referent identifiable by everyone involved in the discussion. In other words, referring to “the Scriptures” could not be made unless: (1) there was a specific set of books in mind, (2) those in dialogue agreed on this set of books (leading us to reasonably conclude that), (3) Jesus, the apostles, and even the Jewish religious leaders all accepted the canon authoritatively established by the Jews. F.F. Bruce states it this way:

Our Lord and his apostles might differ from the religious leaders of Israel about the meaning of the scriptures; there is no suggestion that they differed about the limits of the scriptures. ‘The scriptures’ on whose meaning they differed were not an amorphous collection: when they spoke of ‘the scriptures’ they knew which writings they had in mind and could distinguish them from other writings which were not included in ‘the scriptures’.[13]

Furthermore, Jesus frequently refers to “the Law and the Prophets,” “the Law,” and even “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.”[14] But again, it is hard to imagine Jesus making these references unless there was already a closed Jewish canon with certain identifiable books contained within it. In other words, here in the words of Jesus we see an argument for a closed Hebrew canon. Beckwith sums up this important point:

It is difficult to conceive of the canon being organized according to a rational principle, or of its books being arranged in a definite order, unless the identity of those books was already settled and the canon closed, still more is it difficult to conceive of those books being counted, and the number being generally accepted and well known, if the canon remained open and the identify of its books uncertain…And such agreement, as we have now seen, had probably been reached by the second century BC…The fact that the Old Testament canon to which the New Testament in various ways refers did have a settled number of books by the New Testament times is a further indication that Jesus and his earliest followers were acquainted with a closed canon, and commended a closed canon to the Christian Church.[15]

A second important consideration is this: neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers ever quote the Apocrypha as Scripture. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament quote the Old Testament quite frequently. When they do, they commonly begin with “the Scriptures say,” “as it is written,” or “Thus says the Lord.” But never once is any apocryphal book directly quoted in this way. Although the New Testament contains hundreds of quotes and references to almost every canonical book in the Old Testament, never once is the Apocrypha quoted. Never once is any apocryphal book ascribed canonical status or Scriptural authority.

Finally, Jesus makes an explicit statement which seems to limit the extent of the Old Testament to the traditional Hebrew canon, thus excluding the Apocrypha as Scripture. This argument is developed at length by Roger Beckwith and is based on two parallel passages found in Matthew 23:34-36 and Luke 11:49-51.[16] The passage from Luke reads,

For this reason also the wisdom of God said, “I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”

The significance of this passage in relation to the canon is understood when we take into account two things. First, in the traditional ordering of the Hebrew Bible, Jews placed the book of 2 Chronicles last. Second, most commentators agree that the Zechariah spoken of in the above passage is the Zechariah killed in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, making him the last recorded martyr in the Hebrew canon. Putting this all together, when Jesus is condemning the Pharisees in the Matthew 23 and Luke 11 passages, He is laying the guilt of all the martyred prophets from the very first (Abel) in the book of Genesis to the very last (Zechariah) in the book of 2 Chronicles, and in so doing is implicitly giving us the extent of canonized Scripture: from Genesis to 2 Chronicles, thus excluding the Apocrypha. Beckwith articulates this very well:

Abel’s martyrdom is the first, and comes near the beginning of the first book of the canon; Zechariah’s martyrdom is the last, and comes near the end of the last book. All the martyrdoms from Abel to Zechariah are therefore equivalent to all the martyrdoms from one end of the Jewish Bible to the other. If it is asked why Jesus does not extend his catalogue of martyrdoms beyond the bounds of the canon, Luke gives a clear answer. Jesus is not speaking of all righteous blood without distinction, but of all the righteous blood of prophets; and prophecy, as the Jews knew well, had virtually ended with the composition of the latest book of Holy Scripture…He is thus confirming that the traditional order of books, which began with Genesis and ended with Chronicles, goes back in all essentials to the first century. Nor is he the inventor of this order. His allusive way of indicating the whole canon would be intelligible only if the order were already widely received.[17]

F.F. Bruce also picks up on this argument and summarizes it this way:

There is evidence that Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Bible as Jesus knew it. When he said that the generation he addressed would be answerable for “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world”, he added, “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:50f.). Abel is the first martyr in the Bible (Gen. 4:8); Zechariah is most probably the son of Jehoiada, who was stoned to death “in the court of Yahweh’s house” because, speaking by the Spirit of God, he rebuked the king and people of Judah for transgressing the divine commandments (2 Chron. 24:20-22). Zechariah (c 800 BC) was not chronologically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr…But Zechariah is canonically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr, because his death is recorded in Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible.[18]

Why is it important if Jesus, the apostles, and the writers of the New Testament did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture? The answer should be obvious:

To Christians, however, the teaching of Jesus, his apostles and the other New Testament writers has also a theological significance; for if they teach us what their Old Testament canon was, do they not also teach us what, for Christians, the Old Testament canon ought to be?[19]

Reason #3: Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, also rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture.

A number of church fathers and theologians throughout the centuries separated the Apocrypha from canonical Scripture. Many recognized the Hebrew canon as consisting of only twenty-two books, including Origen, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and Rufinus.[20] But Jerome is of special significance due to the fact that he translated the Latin Vulgate which became the standard Bible translation used by the Western Church for centuries. Jerome was a biblical scholar of first rank, knowing both Hebrew and Greek, and he clearly teaches that the Apocrypha should be excluded from the canon. Regarding the number of books in the Hebrew canon, he stated,

And thus altogether there come to be 22 books of the old Law, that is, five of Moses, eight of the Prophets, and nine of the Hagiographa…so that we may know that whatever is not included in these is to be placed among the apocrypha[21]

In addition, Jerome not only gives us the traditional three-fold division of the Hebrew Bible but also the books which compromised each:

  1. The Law of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  2. The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets.
  3. The Hagiographa: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther.[22]

Notice here that the Apocrypha is excluded. Jerome also explicitly rejected the apocryphal additions to the book of Daniel (Bel and the Dragon, Susanna):

The stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon are non contained in the Hebrew…For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew…After all, both Origen, Eusebius, and Appolinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that, as I have said, these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture.[23]

Jerome even states that the Church of his day did not grant canonical status to the Apocrypha and that these books should not be used in determining doctrine:

As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabes, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it also read these two Volumes (Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus) for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church (emphasis mine).[24]

This statement of Jerome is important for at least two reasons. First, notice Jerome distinguishes between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The canonical books are those in the Hebrew Bible and may be used in establishing doctrine, while the ecclesiastical books (which include the Apocrypha) are not canonical but rather are preserved for their usefulness in edification, not in deciding doctrinal issues and therefore inferior in status.

Second, Jerome states that this position, a rejection of the Apocrypha as canonical, was the view of the Church during his time. This is contrary to the claims of many Roman Catholic apologists. In other words, not only was there no “unanimous consent” in favor of accepting the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture, but quite the opposite, the “unanimous consent” of the Church seems to be in favor of its rejection! Jerome, one of the greatest scholars in Church history, who translated the Bible used by the Western Church for centuries, clearly recognized the inferior status of the Apocrypha, and it is unfortunate the Roman Catholic Church eventually abandoned this position at the Council of Trent in 1546 (more on this below).

Reason #4: The overall practice of the Western Church, up until the time of the Reformation, was to follow the judgment of Jerome in rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture.

Roman Catholic apologists will often argue that the Apocrypha was accepted and established as canonical for the Church universal at the councils of Hippo and Carthage, in 393 and 397 respectively, at that it was actually Protestants who removed these books from the canon during the Reformation. For example, Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating states,

The fact is that the Council of Trent did not add to the Bible what Protestants call the apocryphal books. Instead, the Reformers dropped from the Bible books that had been in common use for centuries…After all, it was the Catholic Church, in the fourth century, that officially decided which books composed the canon of the Bible and which did not. The Council of Trent came on the scene about twelve centuries later and merely restated the ancient position.[25]

However, the historical facts simply do not support this. Besides the reasons already mentioned above, the vast majority of theologians, bishops and cardinals during the Middle-Ages and until the time of the Reformation followed Jerome in his assessment of the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha was viewed as useful in edification and valued for its history but was not deemed to be divinely inspired Scripture as was the Old Testament. William Webster gives three major historical examples which support this: (1) the express statements of the Glossa ordinaria—the official Biblical commentary used during the Middle Ages, (2) the teaching of major theologians who cited Jerome as the authority for determining the authoritative canon of the Old Testament, and (3) Bible translations and commentaries produced just prior to the Reformation.[26]

The Glossa Ordinaria

Webster gives a brief description and explanation of the importance of the Glossa ordinaria:

The Ordinary Gloss, known as the Glossa ordinaria, is an important witness to the view of the Western Church on the status of the Apocrypha because it was the standard authoritative biblical commentary for the whole Western Church. It carried immense authority and was used in all the schools for the training of theologians.[27]

The importance of the Glossa ordinaria relative to the issue of the Apocrypha is seen from the statements in the Preface to the overall work. It repeats the judgment of Jerome that the Church permits the reading of the Apocryphal books only for devotion and instruction in manners, but that they have no authority for concluding controversies in matters of faith. It states that there are twenty-two books of the Old Testament, citing the testimonies of Origen, Jerome and Rufinus as support. When commenting on the Apocryphal books, it prefixes an introduction to them saying: ‘Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon’ and so forth for Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc. These prologues to the Old Testament and Apocryphal books repeated the words of Jerome.[28]

Here is an excerpt from the Prologue to the Glossa ordinaria written in 1498 AD, explaining the distinction between canonical and non-canonical (or Apocryphal) books:

Many people, who do not give much attention to the holy scriptures, think that all the books contained in the Bible should be honored and adored with equal veneration, not knowing how to distinguish among the canonical and non-canonical books, the latter of which the Jews number among the apocrypha. Therefore they often appear ridiculous before the learned; and they are disturbed and scandalized when they hear that someone does not honor something read in the Bible with equal veneration as all the rest. Here, then, we distinguish and number distinctly first the canonical books and then the non-canonical, among which we further distinguish between the certain and the doubtful.

The canonical books have been brought about through the dictation of the Holy Spirit. It is not known, however, at which time or by which authors the non-canonical or apocryphal books were produced. Since, nevertheless, they are very good and useful, and nothing is found in them which contradicts the canonical books, the church reads them and permits them to be read by the faithful for devotion and edification. Their authority, however, is not considered adequate for proving those things which come into doubt or contention, or for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas, as blessed Jerome states in his prologue to Judith and to the books of Solomon. But the canonical books are of such authority that whatever is contained therein is held to be true firmly and indisputably, and likewise that which is clearly demonstrated from them.[29]

After distinguishing between the canonical and apocryphal books, the Prologue of the Ordinary Gloss then goes on to catalogue

…the precise books which make up the Old Testament canon, and those of the non-canonical Apocrypha, all in accordance with the teaching of Jerome. Again, the significance of this is that the Glossa ordinaria was the official Biblical commentary used during the Middle Ages in all the theological centers for the training of theologians. Therefore, it represents the overall view of the Church as a whole, demonstrating the emptiness of the claims of Roman apologists that the decrees of Hippo and Carthage officially settled the canon for the universal Church.[30]

The Teaching of Theologians

The teachings of major theologians up until the time of the Reformation show that they follow the example of Jerome and the Ordinary Gloss in rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture. They cite the Hebrew canon and Jerome as authorities on this matter. Space does not permit full length citations of all the theologians included in this category. William Webster has provided extensive documentation in his work.[31] However, three major theologians we will look at briefly are Cardinal Cajetan, Gregory the Great, and Hugh of St. Victor.

First, Cardinal Cajetan is an important figure because he was Martin Luther’s theological opponent during the Protestant Reformation. He wrote a commentary on every canonical book of the Old Testament and dedicated it to the pope. Yet Cajetan followed the example of Jerome, even citing him as an authority on the canon. Cajetan maintains the same distinction as Jerome between canonical books (useful in determining doctrine) and ecclesiastical books (useful in edification). Notice what 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 Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorized in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.[32]

Here Cajetan clearly relegates the Apocrypha outside the canon. But what about those councils such as Carthage, presided over by Augustine, which canonized the Apocrypha? Cajetan gives us several important interpretive keys. First, these councils are to be subject to the correction of Jerome. Second, the Apocrypha may be called “canonical” only in the ecclesiastical sense, i.e., they are useful for edification, and are only included in the Bible for that purpose. Third, Cajetan confirms that the council of Carthage was only a local council.

A second important figure was Gregory the Great. Gregory was a doctor in the Church and was bishop of Rome from 590-604 AD. Gregory rejected the book of 1 Maccabees as canonical in his commentary on the book of Job:

With reference to which particular 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 that he killed (1 Macc. 6:46).[33]

Webster explains the significance of this statement by Gregory the Great:

This is significant, coming as it does from a bishop of Rome, who denied canonical status to 1 Maccabees long after the Councils of Hippo and Carthage. But he taught that the book was useful for the purpose of edification, the same sentiment expressed by Jerome. This is in direct contradiction to what the earlier Roman Church decreed under Innocent I, who confirmed the books sanctioned as canonical by Augustine and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage…Clearly, when the Church received the Apocryphal books as canonical it defined the term in the sense expressed by Cardinal Cajetan above. The term had both a broad and narrow meaning. Broadly, it included all the books that were acceptable for reading in Churches, which included the Apocrypha. But, in its narrower meaning, only the books of the Hebrew Canon were sanctioned as truly canonical for the purposes of establishing doctrine…Thus, we have the official and authoritative perspective of a bishop of Rome in the late sixth and early seventh centuries regarding the canonical status of the Apocrypha.[34]

Third, Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141) also followed Jerome in listing the number of Old Testament canonical books at twenty-two, thus rejecting the Apocrypha. Concerning Hugh of St. Victor, F.F. Bruce states,

Hugh of St. Victor, who was prior of the abbey and director of its school from 1133 until his death in 1141, enumerates the books of the Hebrew Bible in a chapter ‘On the number of books in holy writ’ and goes on to say: ‘There are also in the Old Testament certain other books which are indeed read [in church] but are not inscribed in the body of the text or in the canon of authority: such are the books of Tobit, Judith and the Maccabees, the so-called Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus.’ Here, of course, the influence of Jerome can be discerned: for mediaeval students of the Bible in the Latin church there was no master to be compared with him.[35]

If it is true, as Roman Catholic apologists claim, that the issue of the canon had been settled long ago at the councils of Hippo and Carthage, how is it that so many theologians, bishops, and cardinals rejected the canonicity of the Apocrypha up until the time of the Reformation? Were they unaware of Rome’s official position on the matter? Or were they simply exercising their intellectual freedom in following the historic position of the Church in a matter Rome had not officially and infallibly addressed yet?

Bible Translations

A final piece of evidence put forward by Webster is a Bible translation known as the Biblia Complutensia. The translators of this work followed Jerome, the Glossa ordinaria, as well as the teaching of major theologians in rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture:

In the early sixteenth century, just prior to the Reformation, Cardinal Ximenes, the Archbishop of Toledo, in collaboration with the leading theologians of his day, produced an edition of the Bible called the Biblia Complutensia. There is an admonition in the Preface regarding the Apocrypha, that the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Maccabees, the additions to Esther and Daniel, are not canonical Scripture and were therefore not used by the Church for confirming the authority of any fundamental points of doctrine, though the Church allowed them to be read for purposes of edification…This Bible, as well as its Preface, was published by the authority and consent of Pope Leo X, to whom the whole work was dedicated.[36]

Here we have, in the sixteenth century, a Bible being produced by the sanction of Pope Leo X which clearly separated the Apocrypha from the rest of the Old Testament canon. Once again, the claim that Rome determined the canon for the Church universal centuries prior simply does not fit with the historical facts. Bruce Metzger provides additional historical information regarding Bible translations produced during the sixteenth century in the Western Church:

Subsequent to Jerome’s time and down to the period of the reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon. Such a judgment, for example, was reiterated on the very eve of the Reformation by Cardinal Ximenes in the preface of the magnificent Complutensian Polygot edition of the Bible which he edited (1514-17). Moreover, the earliest Latin version of the Bible in modern times, made from the original languages by the scholarly Dominican, Sanctes Pagnini, and published at Lyons in 1528, with commendatory letters from Pope Adrian VI and Pope Clement VII, sharply separates the text of the canonical books from the text of the Apocryphal books. Still another Latin Bible, this one an addition of Jerome’s Vulgate published at Nuermberg by Johannes Petreius in 1527, presents the order of the books as in the Vulgate but specifies at the beginning of each Apocryphal book that it is not canonical…Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to Pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome’s separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful.[37]

Notice that the Bible translations and commentaries above were produced just prior to the Council of Trent in 1546, and they each rejected the Apocrypha as canonical Scripture. Taking into account the historical evidence, William Webster concludes,

The weight of historical evidence supports the exclusion of the Apocrypha from the category of canonical Scripture. Thus, we must conclude that the decrees of the Council of Trent, relative to the true canon of Scripture, were made with brazen disregard for Jewish and patristic historical evidence, as well for the overall historical consensus of the Church prior to that Council.[38]

When was the Apocrypha officially and infallibly canonized by the Roman Catholic Church? This question leads to the next reason the Apocrypha should be rejected as Scripture.

Reason #5: The Roman Catholic Church did not officially and infallibly canonize the Apocrypha until 1546 at the Council of Trent.

As stated above, Roman Catholic apologists will often argue that the Apocrypha was accepted and established as canonical for the Church universal at the councils of Hippo and Carthage in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. In addition to all of the evidence presented above that demonstrates this is not the case, and was not the majority view of the Western Church, there are further problems with this claim.

First, the councils of Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical but rather local synods, as even admitted by Roman Catholic scholars such as Cardinal Cajetan above. Therefore they did not have the authority to speak for the Church as a whole and could not establish the canon officially and infallibly.

Second, the North African Councils were heavily influenced by Augustine who unfortunately held to the erroneous view that the Septuagint was a divinely inspired translation. This becomes problematic because these councils, following the Septuagint translation, canonized the book of 1 Esdras[39] from the Septuagint (which later became 3 Esdras in the Vulgate) which the Council of Trent later determined to be non-canonical. In other words, the Councils of Hippo and Carthage canonized an “inspired” book which the Council of Trent later rejected.[40] What this means is, contrary to the claim of Roman Catholic apologists, Hippo and Carthage could not have authoritatively established the canon for the Church.

Finally, even Roman Catholic sources admit that the Apocrypha was not officially and infallibly canonized until the Council of Trent in 1546. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that the canon was not officially settled for the Western Church as a whole until the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century:

St. Jerome distinguished between canonical books and ecclesiastical books. The latter he judged were circulated by the Church as good spiritual reading but were not recognized as authoritative Scripture. The situation remained unclear in the ensuing centuries…for example, John of Damascus, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicolas of Lyra and Tostado continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books…According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church at the Council of Trent…The Council of Trent definitively settled the matter of the Old Testament Canon. That this had not been done previously is apparent from the uncertainty that persisted up to the time of Trent.[41]

Roman Catholic scholar Yves Congar agrees:

…an official, definitive list of inspired writings did not exist in the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent…[42]

H.J. Schroeder, the English translator of the Council of Trent, wrote:

The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the Canon of the Holy Scriptures.[43]

Contrary then to what Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating stated above, it was not Protestants who removed the Apocrypha from Scripture but rather the Roman Catholic Church which erroneously elevated this group of writings to the level of sacred Scripture, disregarding the historical evidence and historic position of the Church.

Reason #6: The Apocrypha cannot pass the test of propheticity and therefore should not be considered Scripture.

At least one of the books included in the Roman Catholic canon disqualifies itself from being prophetic in origin. In 1 Maccabees chapter 4, after the temple was cleansed and the defiled altar torn down, we are told that the stones of the altar were stored “until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them” (v. 46). 1 Maccabees 9:27 explicitly states that at the time of the books writing, prophets of God had already ceased to appear:

So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.

This is seen again in 14:41 where the Jews decide that Simon should be their leader and high priest “until a trustworthy prophet should arise.” The author of 1 Maccabees recognized that Israel’s prophets and the spirit of prophecy were gone and therefore 1 Maccabees itself could not be divinely inspired.

Geisler and MacKenzie summarize the failure of the Apocrypha as a whole to pass the test of propheticity:

First, no apocryphal books claim to be written by a prophet. Indeed, as already noted, one apocryphal book even disclaims being prophetic (1 Macc. 9:27). Second, there is no divine confirmation of any of the writers of the apocryphal books, as there is for prophets who wrote canonical books (e.g., Exod. 4:1-2). Third, there is no predictive prophecy in the Apocrypha, such as we have in the canonical books (e.g., Isa. 53; Dan. 9; Mic. 5:2) and which is a clear indication of their propheticity. Fourth, there is no new messianic truth in the Apocrypha. Thus, it adds nothing to the messianic truths of the Old Testament. Fifth, even the Jewish community, whose books they were, acknowledged that the prophetic gifts had ceased in Israel before the Apocrypha was written (see quotes above). Sixth, the apocryphal books were never listed in the Jewish Bible along with the “Prophets,” or any other section for that matter. Seventh, never once is any apocryphal book cited authoritatively by a prophetic book written after it.[44]

Reason #7: The Apocrypha contains doctrinal and historical errors.

The Apocrypha has been used by Roman Catholics to support certain doctrinal errors, including atonement, purgatory, and prayers for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:45: “Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin”) and salvation by works (Tobit 12:9: “For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin”). This should at least be seen as suspect, especially considering the polemical nature of the Council of Trent and the canonization of the Apocrypha in reaction to the Protestant Reformation.

Furthermore, books such as Judith contain so many historical errors that many scholars conclude it must be a work of historical fiction rather than actual history. If indeed it was intended to be a work of historical fiction, I suppose it cannot be faulted for containing so many historical errors. Bruce Metzger says the following concerning Judith:

One of the first questions that naturally arises regarding this book is whether it is historical. The consensus, at least among Protestant and Jewish scholars, is that the story is, sheer fiction…the book teems with chronological, historical, and geographical improbabilities and downright errors. For example, Holofernes moves an immense army about three hundred miles in three days (2:21). The opening words of the book, when taken with 2:1ff. and 4:2f., involve the most astonishing historical nonsense, for the author places Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over the Assyrians (in reality he was king of Babylon) at Nineveh (which fell seven years before his accession!) at a time when the Jews had only recently returned from the captivity (actually at this time they were suffering further deportations)! Nebuchadnezzar did not make war on Media (1:7), nor capture Ecbatana (1:14)…The rebuilding of the Temple (4:13) is dated, by a glaring anachronism, about a century too early. Moreover, the Jewish state is represented as being under the government of a high priest and a kind of Sanhedrin (6:6-14; 15:8), which is compatible only with a post-exilic date several hundred years after the book’s presumed historical setting.[45]


The above seven reasons build a compelling case that the Apocrypha should not be regarded as Scripture. All of this becomes very problematic for the Roman Catholic Church which has made a supposedly infallible declaration regarding the canonicity of the Apocrypha, a declaration which cannot be retracted. But what happens when the facts of history undermine the dogmatic position taken by Rome? And what is left of her infallibility if one of her “infallible” declarations is shown to be false?

To summarize: the Jews who were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2) did not accept the Apocrypha. Neither did Jesus or the writers of the New Testament. Neither did Jerome, major theologians, and even Roman Catholic scholars up until the time of the Reformation. It wasn’t until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the Apocrypha was officially and infallibly declared to be Scripture, as even admitted to by Roman Catholic sources. The Apocrypha cannot pass the test of propheticity and certain books even contain doctrinal and historical errors. This, of course, is not to say the Apocrypha is not useful. It certainly is. But it is not Scripture. And Protestants are in good standing with the historical evidence and historic position of the Church when they refuse to acknowledge the books of the Apocrypha as canonical.


[1] Since Vatican II the RCC has become much more ecumenical and inclusive toward Protestants and other groups, even referring to Protestants as “separated brethren.” However, the historic and traditional position of the RCC has been that (1) the RCC is the one true church, (2) no salvation is found outside the RCC, and therefore (3) Protestants and anyone else who knowingly reject any proclaimed infallible teachings of the RCC are anathema, separated from fellowship with Rome, and therefore not saved.

[2] Council of Trent, Session IV (April 8, 1546), as quoted in Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto, 1954), 245.

[3] William Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, 2002), 7.

[4] 22 books if Ruth was appended to Joshua and Lamentations to Jeremiah, otherwise 24.

[5] Josephus, Antiquities, Against Apion, 1.8, my italics.

[6] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988), 46.

[7] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 16.

[8] Josephus, Antiquities, Against Apion, 1.8 (my italics).

[9] Artaxerxes Longimanus reigned for forty years from 465 BC to 425 BC.

[10] See Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and its Background in Early Judaism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1985), 369-370.

[11] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III, Canon, Biblical, 29, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 24-25.

[12] See Matt. 21:42, 22:29, 26:54, 56; Mark 12:24, 14:49; Luke 24:27, 32, 45; John 5:39. See also Acts 17:2, 11, 18:24, 28; Rom. 15:4, 16:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:16.

[13] Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 28-29.

[14] See, for example, Matt. 5:17-18, 7:12, 11:13, 12:5, 22:40; Luke 16:16-17, 24:44; John 10:34, 15:25.

[15] Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 262-263.

[16] See Ibid., 211-222.

[17] Ibid., 215, 220.

[18] Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 31, his italics.

[19] Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 10.

[20] See Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 16-17, along with footnotes.

[21] Jerome, Helmed Prologue to the Vulgate version of Samuel and Kings, as quoted in Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 120, my italics.

[22] See Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 21, along with footnote.

[23] Jerome, Preface to Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, trans. by Gleason Archer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 17, as quoted in Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 170, my italics.

[24] NPNF2, Vol. 6, St. Jerome, Prefaces to Jerome’s Works, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs; Daniel, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 45.

[25] Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 46-47.

[26] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 58.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., 60.

[29] Biblia cum glosa ordinaria et exposition Lyre litterali et morali (Basil: Petri & Froben, 1498), British Museum IB.37895, Vol. 1, On the canonical and non-canonical books of the Bible. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 60-61.

[30] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 61.

[31] See Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 62-80, along with footnotes.

[32] Cardinal Cajetan (Jacob Thomas de Vio), Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, In ult. Cap., Esther, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 63, my italics.

[33] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 64.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 99-100. See Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments, I, Prologue, 7 (PL 176, cols. 185-186D).

[36] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 80.

[37] Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University, 1957), 180.

[38] Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 82.

[39] The book of 1 Esdras contains apocryphal additions to Ezra and was not accepted by the Jews as canonical.

[40] For more details concerning this argument, see William Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 47-51.

[41] New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II, Bible, III (Canon), p. 390; Canon, Biblical, p. 29; Bible, III (Canon), p. 390, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 50-51.

[42] Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 38, as quoted in Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha, 51.

[43] H.J. Schroeder, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Charlotte: TAN Books, 1978), 17n4.

[44] Geisler and MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, 167.

[45] Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, 50-51.

This article was written by Aaron Brake and was originally published at Please Convince Me. It is republished here with their permission.