The Apocrypha: An Evangelical-Catholic Perspective

The Apocrypha: An Evangelical Catholic Perspective[1]

Canon Glenn E. Davis

Overview

The Morning Star of the Reformation, John Wycliffe, voiced in the fourteenth century a love for scripture that Evangelicals embrace today:

Christian men and women, old and young, should study well in the New Testament, for it is of full authority, and open to understanding by simple men, as to the points that are most needful to salvation. Each part of Scripture (i. e. Old and New Testaments), both open and dark, teaches meekness and charity; and therefore he that keeps meekness and charity has the true understanding and perfection of all Scripture. Therefore, no simple man of wit should be afraid to study in the text of Scripture.[2]

For Evangelicals there is nothing more important than God’s word for in it is found “the infallible rule of faith and practice.”[3] However, Evangelicals disagree with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox as to exactly what books make up the canon-or the official list of books of scripture. This debate began in second century A. D. and magnified in significance during the Reformation. This disagreement persists to this day between Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox, raising passions and intense theological debate concerning the nature of inspiration, the authority of the church, and the weight of Tradition. This dispute concerns the “Apocrypha,” a collection of fourteen or fifteen books (or parts of books) not included in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, but translated in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint (LXX). These books were written during the last two centuries before Christ and the first century of the Christian era. The following are the titles of these books as given in the Revised Standard Version (1957):

1. The First Book of Esdras

2. The Second Book of Esdras

3. Tobit

4. Judith

5. The Additions to the Book of Esther

6. The Wisdom of Solomon

7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach

8. Baruch

9. The Letter of Jeremiah

10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men

11. Susanna

12. Bel and the Dragon

13. The Prayer of Manasseh

14. The First Book of the Maccabees

15. The Second Book of the Maccabees

Three theological convictions dominate the discussion of the merits or deficiencies of including the Apocrypha as canon of  Scripture. The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles state that the Apocryphal books are not Holy Spirit inspired, but are instructional.[4] The Evangelical position is that they are not Holy Spirit inspired but are useful only for historical study.[5] The Roman Catholic Church considers them as the inspired Word of God.[6] This essay will explore the early disagreements and focus on the Evangelical opposition to the inclusion of the Apocrypha.

Read the entire essay here: the-apocrypha-an-evangelical-catholic-perspective-blog-version.
Canon Glenn E. Davis

Canon Theologian, Southeast Province, CEC


[1] Lutheran Theologian, Carl Braaten, coined the term, “Evangelical Catholic.” An Evangelical Catholic is a believer who holds to the Tradition of the Early Church Fathers and regards the Reformation Period as a much needed corrective for a drifting Historic Church. Evangelical Catholics believe that the Western Church was losing her theological and moral direction in the Medieval Age and needed renewal. “By becoming more evangelical, the church will become more catholic; and by becoming more catholic, she will become more evangelical.” (Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism).
[2] John Wycliffe, The Wicket, Christian Quotation of the Day, December 31, 2006; available from http://www.cqod.com/.

[3] “The Lausanne Covenant,” Article Two, The Authority and Power of the Bible (The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization website); available from http://www.lausanne.org/Brix?pageID=12891.

[4] Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Article Six, (The 1662 Book of Common Prayer website); available from http://www.eskimo.com/~lhowell/bcp1662/articles/articles.html#6 “And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter One, Article III (The Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics website); available from http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ . “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Paragraph 120 (Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church website); available from http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s1c2a3.htm#120.

2 thoughts on “The Apocrypha: An Evangelical-Catholic Perspective

  1. Joshua

    Luther also expressed some doubts about the canonicity of four New Testament books, although he never called them apocrypha: the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistles of James and Jude, and the Revelation to John. He did not put them in a separate section, but he did move them to the end of the New Testament.

    and the infamous Cardinal Cajetan-(Gaetanus)

    “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 Ecciesiasticus, as is plain from the Protogus 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 authorised 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.” (Cardinal Cajetan, “Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament,” cited by William Whitaker in “A Disputation on Holy Scripture,” Cambridge: Parker Society (1849), p. 424)

    I think this is the only point they ever agreed on….

    My OSB has a few more Apocryphal books than most like psalm 151 and the rest of the Esdras’… (Just like the Anagignoskomena)

    What are your comments on the Book of Jasher, and the Pseudepigrapha…?

  2. GlennDavis Post author

    Dear Joshua:

    As far as I know the books of James, Hebrews, Letters of John, and Revelation were not placed at the end of the N. T. canon because of Luther’s influence. The books were placed at the end because they were written last and appear in the Greek N.T. and the Latin Vulgate in that order.

    Yes, I did neglect mentioning Psalm 151.

    In regard to the Book of Jasher, it was lost before the O.T. canon was formed and thus is a non-issue.

    “Jasher is an ancient collection of verse, now lost, which described great events in the history of Israel. The book contained Joshua’s poetic address to the sun and the moon at the battle of Gibeon (Josh. 10:12–13) and the “Song of the Bow,” which is David’s lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:17–27; Jashar, NIV, NRSV, REB).

    [Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995].

    The Pseudepigrapha is a book, “whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.” Even though Enoch is quoted in Jude, the historic church did not affirm these books written between 200 B.C. and 200 A. D. as canonical because of their dubious authorship.

    Thanks for reading my blog.

    Glenn

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