Tag Archives: Canon

What are the Apocryphal Books Included in Some Versions of the Bible?

The Apocrypha were a subset of a larger group of popular religious writings that the Jews of the first century called “outside books.” They were written between 200 BC and 100 AD, and while not canonical, they were widely read and considered writings “that do not defile the hands.”

Because the Jews never accepted these “outside books” as canonical, they aren’t in the Hebrew Bible. Many of them were apocalyptic works that encouraged the revolutionary spirit that led up to the disastrous Jewish-Roman War of 70 AD, so Jewish leadership that survived that war repudiated them.

Although not in the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, included a number of these “outside books” as an addendum. The Septuagint was the Old Testament used by the early church. First-generation Jewish converts to Christianity would already have been familiar with the apocryphal books, and later generations of Christians often read them and quoted them. This doesn’t mean that they were viewed as highly as the New Testament Scriptures or the older portions of the Old Testament. Many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom didn’t include them in their lists of canonical Scripture. Even Jerome, the renowned translator of the Latin Bible, opposed its inclusion in the canon of Scripture, although he yielded to popular pressure to include it in the Vulgate. Augustine of Hippo, who couldn’t read Hebrew and therefore lacked sensitivity to Jerome’s reasons for excluding it, backed the decision by the North African council of Carthage (397 AD) that it be included in the Scripture suitable for reading in the churches. However, Augustine later acknowledged that the Apocrypha shouldn’t be viewed as equal in authority to the books in the Hebrew canon.

With the passing of more than a thousand years and the rise of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the question of which Scriptures are truly inspired became a crucial issue. The Protestant Reformation viewed them as valuable but noncanonical. The Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1548 AD) officially declared that the Apocrypha is as sacred and canonical as the rest of Scripture, and anathematized anyone who disagreed.

Today, scholars especially value the Apocrypha as historical and religious sources of information about the intertestamental period. The names and order of the books of the Apocrypha are as follows:

I Esdras                                          Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah

II Esdras                                        The Song of the Three Holy Children

Tobit                                               The History of Susanna

Judith                                             Bel and the Dragon

The Rest of Esther                       The Prayer of Mannasse

The Wisdom of Solomon            I Maccabees

Ecclesiasticus                                II Maccabees

The Apocrypha contain popular narrative, religious history and philosophy, morality stories, poetic and didactic lyrics, wisdom and apocalyptic literature.

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Who Selected the Documents That Are Included in the Bible?

The 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are the only writings Christians consider fully inspired. The books that are in our present Old Testament were universally accepted at the time of Christ and endorsed by Him. In fact, there are nearly 300 quotations from the Old Testament books in the New Testament.

A number of books that are considered valuable but not inspired are found in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Bibles. These books are called the Apocrypha (which means “hidden,” “secret,” or “profound”). The Apocrypha was accepted by the council of Carthage, but was not accepted by many important church leaders, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and Jerome. 1

Although the New Testament Canon was officially confirmed in its present and final form by the third council of Carthage in 397, the 27 documents it contains were accepted as authoritative from the very beginning.

The New Testament is solidly rooted in history. It revolves around the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not even the rationalist critics of the 19th century could find reason to question Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, and it has been acknowledged as the earliest written testimony of Christ’s resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul declared:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been rasied, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied (vv. 16-19).

First-century Christians circulated documents—either written or approved by the apostles—which contained an authoritative explanation of the accounts concerning Jesus’ life and teaching. These documents often quoted from each other and presented the same gospel message from different perspectives and in different styles. Hundreds of other documents were written and circulated, but the church quickly rejected spurious documents and established the authority of those that were genuine.

  1. “Augustine alone of ancient authors, and the councils of Africa which he dominated, present a different picture. Augustine specifically accepted the apocryphal books and gives the total number as forty-four. He is the only ancient author who gives a number different from the twenty-two or twenty-four book reckoning. The list includes Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras (the book composed of part of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah), Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus. The Local councils of Carthage and Hippo, dominated by Augustine, included the same books. This listing prob. agreed with the ideas of Pope Damasus who dominated the local council of Rome at 382. It will be remembered that it was Damasus who urged Jerome to translate also the apocryphal books for his Vulgate. Jerome did so with the explicit declaration that they were not canonical.
    “Green (op. cit. 168-174) discusses the witness of Augustine and points out that Augustine seems to vacillate. Green quotes Augustine; ‘What is written in the book of Judith the Jews are truly said not to have received into the canon of Scripture’ (Augustine, City of God xviii, 260). ‘After Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, they had no prophets until the advent of the Savior’ (id. xvii, last ch.). He was well aware that Maccabees were after the cessation of prophecy. Green concludes that Augustine was using ‘canonical’ in the sense of books which may be read in the churches without putting them all on an equal plane.” Excerpted from an article by R.L. Harris (“Canon of the Old Testament”) in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Back To Article
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Can We Know What Jesus Actually Taught?

The New Testament is the best documented literary work from ancient times. Over 5,000 manuscripts have survived. Fragments now available date back to the beginning of the second century. Even liberal scholars acknowledge the early dates of many New Testament books. Consequently, there is no reasonable basis for believing that Christ’s teachings were distorted by the apostolic church. To the contrary, it is only logical that the apostles would be the ones most likely to remain faithful to the teaching of their Lord, and that they, in turn, would select documents on the basis of their reliability.

It’s one thing to deny the authority of the New Testament, but quite another to be able to justify one’s denial. The following books offer a good overview of early church history:

  • A History Of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette
  • A History Of The Christian Church by Williston Walker
  • New Testament History by F.F. Bruce

Each of these books is a “classic” in its own right, and can be ordered through most bookstores.

Also visit our 10 Reasons To Believe In The Bible site.

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What Are the “Gnostic Gospels”?

Prior to the 20th century, the main source of information about gnostic writings were the church fathers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others), who referred to gnostic beliefs in the process of refuting them. In 1945, however, at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a peasant discovered a large earthenware jar that contained a large number of ancient documents in the Coptic language. Among these were Christian gnostic documents that may have been among those mentioned by the church fathers.

Some of these documents are called “gospels” because they contain a few stories about Jesus and some of His (purported) sayings. However, they lack the detailed chronology and description of events in the canonical gospels, and while they borrow heavily from the canonical gospels, there is no corroborating evidence showing that they date earlier than the second century.

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