The Apocrypha

What is "The Apocrypha?" While discussing spiritual subjects with a Roman Catholic friend, I discovered that her Bible is different from mine. Apparently it contains several additional books. I have no idea what to make of this, but it raises unsettling questions in my mind about the formation of our canon of Scripture. Why have some Christians chosen to reject the "apocryphal" books and others to retain them? Whose is the "correct" Bible-mine or my friend's?

The difference between the Roman Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible is really quite easy to grasp.

The Catholic version is based upon St. Jerome’s 4th century
Latin Vulgate. The Old Testament portion of the Vulgate was translated directly from the Greek
Septuagint rather than from the original Hebrew. The Septuagint is a Greek version of the Old Testament produced by Jewish scholars at Alexandria in the 3rd century, B.C.

The Septuagint includes a number of books commonly referred to as the Old Testament Apocrypha – for example, Tobit, Wisdom, I and II Maccabees, and Judith. These books are not found in the
Masoretic Hebrew text, which has long been regarded as authoritative among orthodox Jewish rabbis. This is why Protestant scholars have chosen to leave the Apocrypha out of the Old Testament canon. They were motivated by a desire to sift out human tradition and “get back to basics.” This was anything but an arbitrary decision.

We should add that Protestants do not consider the content of the apocryphal books to be “heretical” or “false.” They simply have doubts about the origins, authorship, and authenticity of these books. If it’s any consolation to you, there is nothing in the Apocrypha that alters the basic truths of “mere Christianity” in any way. In other words, it doesn’t alter that body of core Christian truths which is common to believers from all kinds of doctrinal and ecclesiastical backgrounds.

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It’s a very different story where the New Testament Apocrypha is concerned. Yes, there are apocryphal New Testament books, but you will not find them in any of our modern editions of the Bible, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. There’s a very good reason for this. The apocryphal New Testament books, such as the Gospels of Thomas and Judas, were refused admission to the canon for two primary reasons: 1) their late date and spurious claims to apostolic authorship (Thomas, for instance, was not composed until the 3rd century A.D.); and 2) doctrinal considerations. Most of these writings promote a
Gnostic form of theology, which is clearly incompatible with the perspective of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter. Something similar can be said with respect to the Book of Enoch, which Jude quotes (Jude 14), but does not necessarily endorse in its entirety.

Needless to say, this is a vast and highly complicated subject. We can’t possibly do it justice here. If you really want to know more about the formation of the canon, we’d recommend that you engage in some serious study of the early centuries of the church. Among the many books that might be consulted in this area, you may want to check out a volume entitled Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible: An Historical and Exegetical Study, by Robert Laird Harris, a part of the Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives series published by Zondervan.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your questions at greater length with a member of our team, Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone. They are available at this number.

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