Revisiting the Apocrypha

I’ve previously stated why the apocrypha books are not part of the Bible. Here, I will be responding to some arguments from Catholics defending these spurious books.

Catholic:The apocrypha books were part of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) which Jesus Christ Himself and the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria (Egypt) used.”

The Hebrew canon had already been settled before the time of Christ. The other writings made during the Inter-testament period were not regarded as part of Scripture because they weren’t inspired and there were no prophets at the time. This is seen even in the book of Maccabees:

“There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people” (1 Macc. 9:27).

Historian, Josephus Flavius also stated:

“From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of prophets” (Against Apion I, 8:41).

Another proof that the OT canon was clearly understood and functional at the time of Christ was how He acknowledged the Hebrew Scriptures either by quoting them as sources of divine authority (Mark 12:10) or according to their 3 main divisions – Law, Prophets and the Writings (Mt. 5:17, Lk. 24:27).

He said: “the blood of all the prophets which was shed … From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zechariah.”

Zechariah was mentioned last because that was in accordance with the arrangement of the Hebrew canon. Chronologically, Urijah was put to death two centuries after Zechariah’s murder (Lk 11:50-51, 2Chr 24:20-21).

While some first century Alexandrian Jews used the Septuagint containing the apocrypha (although they later rejected them), there is no evidence that the LXX in its original form contained any apocrypha books.

Some of the oldest manuscripts e.g the Vaticanus (4th cent.), Sinaiticus (4th cent.) and Alexandrinus (5th cent.) contain some apocrypha writings, but there are differences.

The Vaticanus doesn’t include any of the Maccabean books while Sinaiticus includes 1st and 4th Maccabees. Alexandrinus includes first, second, third and fourth Maccabees and the Psalm of Solomon. The third and fourth Maccabees have never been accepted as canonical.

Granted, that a Bible manuscript includes certain books does not make them canonical. Moreover, the use of books began in the late first or early second century AD, so it couldn’t have been possible for the apocrypha to be included in one volume with the OT books.

Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 40 AD), a Jewish philosopher, quoted the Hebrew Scriptures extensively but didn’t quote from the apocrypha as inspired. This would have been strange if the Jews in Alexandria had other books added to the Hebrew canon.

In Ben Sirach’s prologue, no reference is also made to any additional book apart from the Old Testament.

Catholic: “The same books we have in our Bible were declared in provincial councils in Hippo (393) and reaffirmed at council of Carthage (397).”

Provincial councils cannot settle an issue that is binding over the whole of the church. Only an infallible council can do that:

“According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books i.e about their belonging to the canon” (New Catholic Encyclopedia 3:29).

Additionally, the councils of Hippo and Carthage used the Septuagint while the Council of Trent used the Vulgate. Both canons contain a book called first Esdras, but the Esdras in the LXX is different from that of the Vulgate. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (2:379) admits: “The Council of Trent definitely removed it from the canon.” If Trent was right, then Carthage and Hippo were wrong.

It’s also ridiculous to say (as Catholic sources state) that there was no reliable Bible until the council of Trent of 1546.

Are we to believe for three-fourths of the church’s existence during which theological battles were fought against serious heresies – Arianism, Nestorianism, Donatism, Marcionism, Apollinarianism – the Bible was still yet to be “infallibly defined” by Rome? That claim clearly reveals the very low view of Scripture espoused by Catholicism.

Catholic: “The list of Old Testament books with the apocrypha as we have in our Bible appeared as early as 382 AD at the Council of Rome.

This is false on two levels. First, Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter of 369 AD (which pre-dates the councils of Hippo and Carthage) rejects the apocrypha. Here is a portion of it:

“Forasmuch as some have taken in hand to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded … to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine … There are then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number [He then proceeds to list them and the NT books]” (Paragraph  3-5).

Since no “infallible” council before Athanasius had met to decide the canon, it’s clear that the canon had been known long before his time.

Second, the Council of Rome (382) which supposedly lists the canon by pope Damasus is a local council which can’t infallibly define the canon.

Many modern scholars state that this council never held, but was an anachronistic interpolation of Gelasus’ listing. This is evidenced by the fraudulent statements attributed to pope Damasus:

“What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-492). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate with the Apocrypha interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts it is attributed to Pope Damasus as though he had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century” (F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 97).

Catholic: “But Jerome accepted the apocrypha and translated it as part of the Latin Vulgate!

Actually, Jerome translated them into Latin under pressure but didn’t include them in the Vulgate because he followed the Hebrew canon. He stated:

“Thus there are twenty two books [in the Hebrew canon] … This prologue of the Scriptures can serve as a fortified approach to all the books which we translate from the Hebrew canon into Latin; so that we may know that whatever is beyond these must be put in the apocrypha” (Prologus Galetus in the Vulgate).

In his writing to Laeta on how to educate her daughter, he wrote:

Let her avoid all apocrypha books, and if she ever wishes to read them, not for the truth of their doctrines, but out of respect for their wondrous tales; let her realize that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that there are many faulty elements in them, and that it requires great skill to look for gold in mud” (Select Letters, CVII).

In his prologue to The 3 Books of Solomon he wrote:

“The [Wisdom of Solomon] is nowhere found among the Hebrews; its very style smacks of Greek eloquence, and several ancient writers affirm it to be the work of Philo the Jew. Therefore as the church reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these… for the edification of people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.”

Catholic:”How do you know there are only 66 books in the Bible since the Bible is supposed to be your only and final authority?

We know the inspired books by recognizing the pattern by which God inspired them all through the ages.

God led His people – both the people of Israel and the church to recognize the books He has inspired. Inspiration cannot be separated from the canon.

How do Catholics know the apocrypha belongs in the Bible? Their answer is predictable: “because the Church says so!” And how do they know the “Church” is right? They will say “because the Church is always right!” This is a fallacy of circular reasoning which proves nothing.

Now, how did a believing Jew who lived like 100 years before Christ (or before the pope of Rome) know that the book of Isaiah or Joel was Scripture? Catholics usually offer two answers:

1. That the believing Jew didn’t know what was Scripture. Now, if this is true, that means the Lord Jesus was wrong to have held the people accountable to those Scriptures “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures…have you not read what God said to you…” (Mt. 22:29-32).

2. That the believing Jew knew the bible canon because of an infallible Jewish Magisterium. If this is the case, then when did this Jewish Magisterium become “fallible?”

And since this “Jewish Magisterium” rejected the Apocrypha books, why did the Catholic church accept them? These two answers hold no water. In fact, they are self-defeating.

The only acceptable answer is that the believing Jew knew the Scriptures by supernatural revelation. That was how the early Christians – and even people in the darkest jungle – knew that the Bible is God’s Word.

It was not by Rome’s “infallible” decision. Additionally, we also appeal to the historical development of the canon.

Notice also, how this Catholic has misdefined Sola Scriptura as “the Bible is [the] only and final authority,” whereas it is defined as holding to the Bible as the only infallible authority.

In the name of intellectual honesty, Catholics should learn what sola Scriptura means before venturing to attack it.

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