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.

The Myth of Mary’s Assumption

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Every August 15, many Catholics celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. It’s a time Mary’s ascension to Heaven – body, soul and spirit – is observed.

I saw one of such celebrations years ago. The statue of Mary in the church was dressed up for the occasion and surrounded by an arch of beautiful flowers. After the procession, a crowd of Catholics gathered before it, holding their candles and sang.

The scenario was similar to Hindus carrying lamps before goddess Lakshmi during Diwali or devout crowds singing to the sea goddess in Brazil. “Our mother Mary has been assumed and glorified,” said a man “and we know that one day we are going to be glorified as she is now.”

The belief that Mary was taken up to heaven is not in the Bible, since little is said about Mary in it anyways. Even Apostle John, the longest lived apostle, didn’t write about this.

Catholics have attempted to “find” this belief in Psalm 132:6-7 predicated on a false assumption that Mary is the ark of God. This is an attempt to graft an error onto another error.

Others point to Revelation 12:11-12. Of course, no one is denying that God is able to take people to heaven bodily (like He did for Enoch and Elijah), but since this didn’t happen to everyone in Scripture, it can’t be applied to Mary.

It’s just like saying everyone who mocks us must die because bears killed some youths who mocked Elisha. That would be irrational.

Catholics believe Mary died of a broken heart and on the third day, the apostles couldn’t find her body; she had been taken to the Celestial paradise where she was to have a throne by Jesus’ right hand as the “Queen of heaven.”

These beliefs were obviously contrived to exalt Mary to the divine plane which Jesus Christ is, and replace Him. But as far as the Bible is concerned, it is Jesus who is at God’s right hand, He alone is the Mediator and the King of kings, not Mary.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: “There is no explicit reference to the Assumption in the Bible, yet the Pope insists in the decree of promulgation that the Scriptures are the ultimate foundation of this truth” (Vol. 1, 972).

If this belief lacks Biblical support, what about support from tradition? David Farmer stated:

“[I]n the early church, as in Christ’s ministry, she [Mary] remained so much in the background that it is difficult to know where she lived or even where she died. Both Ephesus and Jerusalem claimed to be the place of her death, with the Eastern Fathers generally supporting Jerusalem” [1]

Catholic scholars say: “Furthermore, the notion of Mary’s assumption into heaven has left no trace in the literature of the third much less of the 2nd cent. M. Jurgie, the foremost authority on this question concluded in his monumental study: ‘The patristic tradition prior to the Council of Nicaea does not furnish us with any witness about the Assumption.” [2]

Early church fathers like Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Tertullian, Melito, Cyprian, Irenaeus, Theodoriet, Cyril of Jerusalem all lived and died, wrote volumes of theology and wrote thousands of works on diverse topics without uttering a single word about the Assumption of Mary.

Catholics argue that the grave of Mary was unknown therefore, she must have been taken to heaven bodily. But early church writings show that the burial sites of many other early Christians were also unknown. For example, John Chrysostom wrote:

“And as to those of the Apostles we do not know where those of most of them are laid. For of Peter indeed, and Paul, and John, and Thomas, the sepulchres are well known, but those of the rest, being so many have nowhere become known. Let us not therefore lament at all about this, nor be so little minded. For where-ever we may be buried, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is’ [Psalm 24:1]” [3]

Eusebius also made reference to Dionysius of Alexandria (a 3rd century bishop) who fled with his wife to the Arabian mountain and did not return, neither were their bodies found (Church History 6: 42: 3).

Now, if Eusebius considered the disappearance of a common bishop so important, wouldn’t he have recorded the bodily assumption of Mary if it was true? At least one church father would have mentioned such a key event.

This raises another point, the fact that someone’s body wasn’t found doesn’t mean that a bodily assumption has occurred. That Mary’s tomb wasn’t known or her remains weren’t found doesn’t imply that she was bodily assumed into heaven.

If you examined the writings of the church fathers, you would realize that they were silent about the Assumption. Why? Because it never happened!

Tertullian, for example, cited Enoch and Elijah (in Treatise on the Soul, 50) without including Mary.

Irenaeus in Against Heresies (5:5), wrote about the power of God to deliver people from death and used Enoch, Elijah and Paul as illustrations of those “assumed” or “translated” but says nothing of Mary.

An opponent of Augustine also wrote to him saying:

Besides that, it is not only Elias, but Moses and Enoch you believe to be immortal, and to have been taken with their bodies to heaven.” [4]

Why would Christians for hundreds of years have known about a bodily assumption of Mary and yet say nothing about it? Isn’t that strange?

It’s often argued that Epiphanus wrote about the assumption of Mary, but such deductions are faulty. A Catholic scholar said:

“In a later message, he [Epiphanus] says that she [Mary] may have died and been burned, or been killed- as a martyr. Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and he can do whatever he desires; for her end, no one knows … Epiphanus does not speak of a bodily resurrection and remains noncommittal on the way Mary’s life ended … He suggests several different hypotheses and draws no firm conclusion” [5]

If the Assumption of Mary lacks historical support, where did it originate? A respected patrologist explains:

“The entire silence of the apostles and the primitive church teachers respecting the departure of Mary stirred idle curiosity to all sorts of inventions, until a translation like Enoch’s and Elijah’s was attributed to her … Two apocryphal Greek writings, de transitu Mariae of the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century, and afterward pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory of Tours (+ 595), for the first time contain the legend that the soul of the mother of God was transported to the heavenly paradise by Christ and His angels in presence of all the apostles, and on the following morning her body was also translated thither on a cloud and there united with the soul” [6]

Another Catholic scholar admits that:

“The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in transitus- narratives of the 5-6th centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the Faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing.” [7]

What this scholar doesn’t admit however, is that these transitus writings were condemned as heretical by Gelasus, the bishop of Rome.

In the 6th century, Hermisdas, another bishop of Rome, called anyone subscribing to the assumption belief a heretic. It wasn’t until 1950 that this myth became a dogma.

“Pope Pius XII … defined it as a divinely revealed dogma making claims that have little historical support: What is clearly true is the recognition that it is ‘deeply embedded in the minds of the faithful’ (or at least many of them), and on this basis it was declared and defined as a dogma revealed by God.” [8]

This brings us back to the issue of Roman Catholic authority. Their final authority is their “Church” leadership (sola ecclesia) not the Bible or even their traditions.

This is why they dismissed the church fathers and endorsed spurious apocryphal legends on this issue. They just wanted their “Mary” exalted, no matter what the Bible or history says.

From pagan times, the month of August had been a period of feasts for pagan goddess Diana and Isis, thus the smooth transference to the Catholic Mary.

In Astrology, Virgo (the queen of heaven) is believed to rule over the period between August and September.

Today, forms of idolatrous devotions – image processions, bonfires and offerings – are still being observed to pay homage to Rome’s “virgin” goddess.

Notes

  1. Oxford Dictionary of Saints, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 336.
  2. Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Donfried K., Mary in the New Testament, Paulist Press, 1978, 266.
  3. Homily on Hebrews 26:2:22.
  4. Reply to Faustus the Manichean, 26:1.
  5. Theotokos: Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael Wilmington, 1988, 135.
  6. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, sec. 83.
  7. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Herder Books, 1955, 209.
  8. John Bowler, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, 1999, 101.

Why the Apocrypha are not in the Bible

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Why does the Protestant Bible have only 66 books but the Catholic bible has 73? The fact is, the Catholic church added 7 more books to their bible at the Council of Trent in April 1546.

These additional books are called “Apocrypha” books or “Deuterocanonicals.” They are: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom [of Solomon], Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, supplements to Esther, and three additions to Daniel: The Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna and the Elders and Destruction of Bel and the Dragon.

The word “apocrypha” came from the Greek word “abscondita” which refers to writings that are carefully concealed or heretical.

They were spurious books that attempted to imitate the books of the Bible. Some of them can be traced to 2nd-3rd centuries after Christ. They were not part of the Bible because:

1. They were not inspired or God-breathed.

While the Bible tells us it’s the “expression of God” (Dt. 8:3) “words of God” (Jos. 24:27) “commandment of the Lord” (Ezra 7:11) or “reminder of the Lord” (Ps. 19:8), nowhere would you find the statement “thus says the Lord” in the apocrypha.

2. The Lord Jesus and His disciples quoted many times from the Old Testament but never from any apocryphal book. In fact, almost every statement of Jesus in the Gospels is a direct quote from the Old Testament.

3. The apocryphal books were never part of the Hebrew canon. God specifically used the Jews to preserve His Word (Rom. 2:1-2) whereas the apocrypha were written in Greek.

Though some parts of these writings have certain historical value, evidence points to a closing of the Hebrew canon following the writing of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi in the 5th century BC.

First century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, wrote:

We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty [the equivalent of the 39 books of the OT according to modern division] and contain the record of all time” (Against Apion I, 8, 38).

4. Many of the early church fathers didn’t consider the apocrypha writings as part of Scripture. According to a Catholic work:

Melito of Sardis (ca. 170) gives our earliest Christian list of OT books, a list much like the one that eventually became the standard Hebr list (Est is omitted). Origen mentions that the Hebrews have 22 books; Athanasius who had Jewish teachers, insists that the Christians should have 22 books just as the Hebrews have … Jerome did his best to propagate the Hebr canon in the Western church … Those who prefer the shorter canon and express some doubts about the full canonical status of the deuterocanonicals include Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ephiphanus, Rufinus, Gregory the Great, John Damascene, Hugh of St. Victor, Nicholas of Lyra and Cardinal Cajetan” (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, Englewood Cliff: NJ, 1996, 2:523).

5. Many teachings in the apocrypha contradict the inspired record.

For example, the book of Maccabees teaches prayers for the dead:

“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins” (2 Macc. 12:45).

This contradicts the Word of God which says “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement” (Heb. 9:27).

The Wisdom of Solomon reflects pagan Gnostic beliefs about the pre-existence of human souls and the physical body being an impediment to the soul (8:19, 20). This contradicts the Bible teaching on creation.

Though this writing presents Solomon as its author (9:7-8), it cites passages from Bible books from the Greek Septuagint which were written centuries after Solomon’s death (998 BC).

6. Many of the stories found within the apocryphal books are legends plagued with historical, moral and geographical errors.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. I, 166) declares: “Many of them are trivial, some are highly theatrical, some are disgusting, even loathsome.”

For example, there is the story of Judith, a beautiful woman who seduces Nebuchadnezzar’s officer and beheads him in order to liberate her people. The book says that Nebuchadnezzar “reigned over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh” (Judith 1:1,7). This is an error.

History shows that Nebuchadnezzar ruled over Babylonia and never Nineveh because his father, Nebopolassar, had earlier destroyed Nineveh. Even the Catholic Jerusalem Bible says: “The book of Judith in particular shows a bland indifference to history and geography.”

The book of Tobit is a story of a pious Jew who was deported to Nineveh and becomes blind when bird’s dung dropped on both of his eyes.

An angel impersonating a human appeared to his son, Tobias, who obtains the heart, gall and liver of a fish for magic rituals. With this, he drove away a demon, Asmodeus, who had killed the husbands of a virgin widow 7 times. Tobias marries the widowed virgin and then cures his father’s blindness with his fish gall.

Another fairy tale comes from The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon. This story is about Daniel being required by king Cyrus to worship an idol named Bel.

Daniel exposed the priests as the ones eating the food offered to the idol and they were killed. Daniel then smashes the image of Bel and destroys a dragon he was told to worship.

For this, he was thrown in a lion’s den and during his 7-day confinement, an angel picks up Habakkuk by his hair and a bowl of stew from Judea to Babylon to feed Daniel.

Bible scholars point out that apocrypha books “have been the fruitful source of sacred legends and ecclesiastical traditions. It is to these books we must look for the origin of some dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church” (Funk and Wagnalis New Standard Bible Dictionary, 1936, 56).

Many Catholics are told that “Martin Luther removed the apocrypha from the Protestant Bible.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Martin Luther DID include the apocrypha in his German Bible translation (1534), but he wrote:

These books are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.”

According to Alexander McClure: “the Apocryphal books in those times were more read and accounted of than now, though by no means placed on a level with the canonical books of Scripture” (Translators Revived, p 185).

There wasn’t any need for someone to expunge these false writings from the Bible, they had already done that by themselves.