In the Catholic Bible deuterocanonical books are made up of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch (with Letter of Jeremiah), 1 & 2 Maccabees and (Greek) chapters in the books of Esther and Daniel (Prayer of Azariah, Song of Three Young Men, Susanna and Bell & Dragon). While Catholics consider them inspired, or part of the Bible, Protestants and other “Bible Only” Christians reject them and refer to them, together with 1 & 2 Esdras and Prayer of Manasseh , as apocrypha (which means hidden). 1 & 2 Esdras and Prayer of Manasseh are the three books both Catholics and Protestants refer to as apocrypha. Deuterocanonical books are part of the (Greek) Septuagint or LXX, the scripture of the early Christians. Common objections to the inclusion of deuterocanonical books in the Bible (in bold) and the corresponding Catholic’s responses are:
- The Catholic Church added deuterocanonical books in 1546 at the ecumenical council of Trent. The true fact is the council of Trent was the ecumenical council after the Reformation to officially declare the canon of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. But the same canon of the Bible was declared at Church Council in Hippo in 393, at Councils of Carthage in 397and 419 and at the ecumenical council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome in 1442. The fact that the councilsat Hippo and Carthage were not ecumenical and there were different (earlier or later) lists of the Old Testament only indicates that the canon of the Bible remained open-ended. Even among Catholics, Cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s opponent at Augsburg in 1518 rejected the deuterocanonical books in his “Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament”. The ecumenical council of Trent in 1546 endorsed the decision of Hippo and Carthage councils, thus deuterocanonical books were not added in this council.
- The New Testament never quotes from any of the deuterocanonical books. However, the New Testament also never quotes from Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes and it even quotes from outside the Old Testament. For example Jude 9 quotes from the apocryphal Ascension of Moses and Jude 14-16 quotes from the apocryphal 1 Enoch 1:9. 2 Peter 2:22 quotes two proverbs, the first is taken from Proverbs 26:11 but the second one comes from outside the Bible. In John 7:38 Jesus quoted from unknown scripture and so does James 4:5. What Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9 (and preceded with the phrase “it is written”) resembles but is not equal to Isaiah 64:4. According to Ambrosiaster the words were taken from apocryphal Apocalypse of Elijah, of which only fragments of its manuscript survive. Matthew 2:23 also quotes from outside the Bible and in 2 Timothy 3:8 Paul named the two magicians who opposed Moses, not mentioned in the book Exodus. Being quoted in the New Testament is not the reason to be included in the Old Testament; and not being quoted is not the reason to exclude it from the Old Testament either. While there are no direct quotations, there are some allusions from the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament. For example, pagan immorality in Romans 1:18-32 echoes Wisdom 12-14, and the attitude of Jews criticized by Paul in Romans 2:1-11 has affinities with Wisdom 11-15. The writer of Hebrews might refer to 2 Maccabee 6:18 to 7:41 when he wrote about torture which some endured through faith (Hebrews 11:35-38). Jesus words in John 6:35 echo Ecclesiasticus 24:21. The New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:18-21 resembles the one in Tobit 13:16-17.
- The New Testament refers to Jewish scripture as the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, 22:40, Luke 16:16, John 1:45, Acts 13:15, Romans 3:21). The Law and the Prophets are the first two division of the Jewish scripture. Does it show that it approves the Jewish scripture? Furthermore in Luke 24:44 Jesus approved the Jewish scripture when He mentioned The Law, the Prophets and Psalms. The phrase “the Law and the Prophets” indicates that the third part of the Jewish scripture, the Writings was still open-ended in Jesus’ time. The New Testament never quotes from Esther, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Ezra-Nehemiah which all belong to the Writings. Note also that both LXX and the Jewish scripture have Law and Prophets. In Luke 24:44 Jesus said that He fulfilled the prophecies in the books of Law, the Prophets and Psalms. Psalms is one book of the Writings of the Jewish scripture, which also includes Daniel. Jesus identified Himself to be the Son of Man mentioned in Daniel 7:13, so it is strange that He did not include this book in Luke 24:44. Luke 24:44 may even indicate that Jesus placed Daniel as one book of the Prophets, which means He followed the LXX grouping of books.
- In Luke 11:50-51 Jesus mentioned the names Abel (Genesis 4:8) and Zechariah, who is identified to be the one in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. Since Genesis and Chronicles are the first and the last book in the present Jewish scripture then the above verses prove that the Old Testament of the Christians is the same with that of the Jews. There are a number of persons with the name Zechariah in the Bible. Parallel verse in Matthew 23:35 says that Zechariah was the son of Barachiah while Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 was the son of Jehoiada. More suitable as a candidate is the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1). Bear also in mind that in Jesus’ time there were no books like we have today. All books of the Scripture were then written in scrolls, each book in one scroll. While grouping them was possible, they had stack of scrolls, i.e. there was no clear order of the books. Even after Codex (plural Codices) which resembled modern book was later introduced to replace scrolls, the arrangement of the books of the Bible might be different with that of today. Encyclopedia Judaica Volume 4 page 829-830 gives eight different ancient arrangements of the Writings with Chronicles appearing as the first or the last book. Leningrad Codex made in 1009, theoldest complete manuscript of the Jewish scripture and the standard Masoretic text for both Catholic and Protestant Bibles has Chronicles as the first book of the Writings. Thus, Chronicles is not always the last book of the Jewish scripture.
- Deuterocanonical books teach doctrines in contrary with other books of the Bible like praying to the dead (2 Maccabees 12:46) and giving alms as expiation for sin (Tobit 12:9). Catholics have no problem with praying for the dead because saints in purgatory belong to the communion of saints, for whom we can pray just like we pray for one another. Similarly we can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us; they are in heaven but they can communicate with us (Revelation 5:5 and 7:13-14). 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins and almsgiving is just one way to express our love to others.
- All existing (copies of) Septuagint manuscript were made by Christians and the earliest belongs to the fourth century. Thus the Septuagint known to Jesus and to the apostles in the first century might not have the deuterocanonical books.This claim is speculative and cannot be proved unless we discover a complete manuscript of LXX from that period. For comparison, the oldest manuscript of the Jewish scripture is the Dead Sea Scrolls but Esther is missing. Certainly it is not a reason to drop Esther from the Bible. The Dead Sea scrolls also include deuterocanonical books (Tobit, Sirach and Letter of Jeremiah) and apocryphal books (Jubilee, Enoch and Psalm 151). Furthermore we have the testimonies from the first Christians that their copies of LXX had deuterocanonical books. 1 Clement (written c 96 AD) quotes from Wisdom and Judith. Didache (written in 1st century AD) quotes from Sirach. In his epistle to the Magnesians Ignatius (died c. 107 AD), bishop of Antioch quoted from Susanna (or Daniel 13). Epistle of Barnabas, written in second century AD cites Wisdom as scripture. Polycarp (died c. 156) in his epistle quoted Tobit. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c. 115 to 202) quoted from Baruch as part of Jeremiah and from Greek chapters of Daniel. (Refer to the article on Canon of the Old Testament for all quotations)
- Some Church Fathers notably Jerome rejected the deuterocanonical books as part of the Bible. Origen, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem and Rufinus wrote that the canon of the Old Testament has 22 books, which is equal to 24 books of the present Jewish scripture. The fact that those books entered the canon of the Bible after dispute indicates that some Church Fathers did object to their inclusion. However, they were not in the position to determine the canon. While Jerome labeled the deuterocanonical (and 1 & 2 Esdras) books as apocrypha, he nevertheless translated them into Latin and included them in Vulgate. Only Rufinus and Jerome’s lists are equal to 24 books of the Jewish scripture (or 39 books of Protestant’s Old Testament), the rest (majority) have Letter of Jeremiah with/without Baruch and/or excludes Esther. Even if it differs only by one book, it is different; after all, Protestants would not compromise by dropping or adding just one book in their Old Testament. What we refer as Origen’s list is actually the list of the Jewish scripture, as he indicated, and we have evidence that he cited as scripture a number of deuterocanonical books. The same applies to Athanasius, Hilary, Gregory of Naziansus and Cyril of Jerusalem. While their lists have 22 books (not equal to 24 Jewish scripture), they too still cites as scripture a number of deuterocanonical books. We have evidence that even Rufinus and Jerome later changed their mind and accepted them. Furthermore, most of these fathers had an incomplete canon of the New Testament as well! For more detail refer to the article on Canon of the Old Testament.
- The list of Augustine and third council of Carthage is not equal with the Catholic Old Testament because it includes apocryphal 1 & 2 Esdras and excludes Baruch. The nomenclature of Esdras (Greek form of Ezra) is confusing because the same name refers to different book or the same book has different names (refer to the Table 1 below). Not only Augustine but Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Athanasius, Rufinus and Council of Laodicea referred to Ezra-Nehemiah as 1 & 2 Esdras or 2 books of Ezra. Thus Augustine’s and third council of Carthage’s list agree with Catholic’s Old Testament. Following Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius Augustine combined Lamentations, Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah with Jeremiah. In fact Augustine cited Baruch 3:35-37 but attributed it to Jeremiah in one of his monumental works, City of God, book 18, Chapter 33.
Table 1: Nomenclature of books of Esdras
|Septuagint (LXX)||Vulgate||English Bible
|2 Esdras (Esdras b)
(Chapters 1 to 10)
|1 Esdras||Ezra||1 Esdras|
|2 Esdras (Esdras b)
(Chapters 11 to 23)
|1 Esdras (Esdras a)||3 Esdras (apocrypha)||1 Esdras (apocrypha)||2 Esdras|
|4 Esdras (apocrypha)||2 Esdras (apocrypha)||3 Esdras|
|Vulgate is Latin translation of the Catholic’s Old Testament|
- Deuterocanonical books were written at the period where there were no more prophets in Israel. 1 Maccabees 9:27 admits that the prophets already ceased to appear among the Jews. While there were no more Jewish prophets after fifth century BC, from the lips of Jesus Himself we know that there was no “silent period” in the prophecy: For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John [the Baptist] (cf. Matthew 11:13). Thus while the last Jewish prophets were Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi, prophecies and revelation did not cease and may be given not only through prophets; in fact in John 11:50-52, Caiphas who condemned Jesus was given the gift of prophecy. We do have a prophecy of Christ in the book of Wisdom 2:12-20. Furthermore while biblical prophecies are the words of God, the word of God is not always in the form of prophecy. i.e. not all books of the Old Testament have prophecy (for example Esther).
- Deuterocanonical books were written in Greek, not in Hebrew. But from the dead sea scrolls we have (fragments of) manuscripts of Sirach and Tobit in Hebrews and Aramaic. In fact, further study indicated that deuterocanonical books were written either in Hebrews or Aramaic or Greek (refer to Table 2). Among the 39 books (or 24 in Jewish counting) Daniel 2:4-7, 28 and Ezra 4:8 – 6:18; 7:12-26, were also written in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and all New Testament books were written in Greek. Language is definitely not a criteria to determine canonicity.
Table 2: Original Language of Deuterocanonical Books
|1 Maccabee||2 Maccabee
1:1 to 2:18
2:19 to 15:39
|Sirach||Wisdom of Solomon|
|Baruch||Letter of Jeremiah|
|Prayer of Azariah||Susanna|
Three Young Men
|Bel & Dragon|
- The 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus mentioned only 22 books as Jewish scripture, which are most likely equal to 24 (or 39) books the present day Jewish and Protestant Bible. Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Jesus, Philo of Alexandria who knew LXX also never quoted from deuterocanonical books and he accepted the three divisions of the Jewish scripture. Being a Palestinianm Jews might be the reason why Josephus wrote nothing about the (longer) LXX, the scripture of the Greek-speaking Jews and of the early Christians. Note that Josephus stated that the 22 twenty books are divided into the Law (5 books), the Prophets (13 books) and Hymns and Moral precepts (4 books). In contrast the present Jewish scripture has 5 books of Law, 8 books of the prophets and 11 books of the Writings. It is true that Philo did not quote from the deuterocanonical books, but neither did he quote from Ezekiel, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Daniel (cf. P.R. Ackroyd and C.A. Evans: The Cambridge History of the Bible. From the Beginnings to Jerome, page 148 and The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 2, page 117). In his book, On the Contemplative Life, Philo wrote about the practice of the Jewish sect, Therapeutae whose members studied the Laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets; and hymns, and psalms, and all kind of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection. Thus what he wrote is the practice of Jewish sect, not of the Jews in Alexandria and it is not a clear evidence that they recognized the three divisions of the Jewish scripture.
- None of deuterocanonical books claim inspiration. 2 Maccabees 15:38 even says: If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do. But most books of the 39 proto-canonical and 27 of the New Testament do not explicitly claim inspiration either. Inspiration does not mean that God dictated to the writers of the Bible; they could still make full use of their own facilities and power to write only what God wanted. Thus 2 Maccabees 15:38 indicates the writer’s humble opinion of what he wrote. For comparison in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12, 25 Paul stated that what he wrote was not from the Lord but from himself. Luke wrote the third Gospel just because it seemed good to him (Luke 1:3).
- We should let the Jews determine the canon of the Old Testament (39 books) because they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:2). Catholics do not deny that God spoke in the past through Jewish prophets (Hebrews 1:1) and their words were put in written form by the Jews; that is what Paul meant in Romans 3:8. Bear also in mind that deuterocanonical books were also written by Jews. During Jesus and His apostles’ time the canon of the Old Testament was still open-ended. They never gave us the list of inspired books of both the Old and New Testaments. If the Church later through the guidance of the Holy Spirit defined the canon of the New Testament then why could She not define the canon of the Old Testament as well?
- No church councils in the first four centuries accepted deuterocanonical books. The true fact is there was no council in the first four centuries who approved only the 39 protocanonical books. The closest is the council of Laodicea (c. 362) that approved 39 books plus Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah of the Old Testament and 26 books (Revelation not included) of the New Testament. On the other hand, we have councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) that approved the same books of both Old and New Testaments of the Catholic Bible.
- Augustine later changed his mind and approved a shorter Old Testament canon of 39 books. In around 427, three years before he died, Augustine wrote Retractations, where he made some revisions in chronological order on the numerous works he had written and retracted some of his statements. In it (Book 2, Chapter 30) he wrote that the title “Old Testament” should be applied only to the ones given in Mount Sinai (five books of the Moses). Perhaps, since he did not elaborate, he made this conclusion from 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 where Paul used the term old covenant (RSV) or testament (KJV), referring to Law of Moses. Augustine did not change his mind about his list of inspired books. In fact in the same book (Book 1, Chapter 20) he still quoted from Wisdom and Sirach.
- The Church discovered, not determined the canon of the Bible. The list of inspired books didn’t simply drop from the sky or miraculously appear from nowhere to be discovered. There is no any evidence that Jesus and the apostles gave us the list of all inspiredbooks of the Old and New Testaments. Had they done so then Christians would agree from the very beginning in what comprises the Bible. History shows that they disagreed with each other in deciding which books of both the Old and New Testaments were inspired. The question is who then had the authority to determine the canon of the Bible? If it is not the Church, whom the Bible refers to as the pillar and the bulwark of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), then who else?
November 17, 2002
- Ackroyd, P.R. and Evans, C.A. (Editors): The Cambridge History of the Bible. From the Beginnings to Jerome, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- Bruce, F.F.: The Canon of Scripture, Inter Varsity Press, 1988.
- deSilva, D.A.: Introducing the Apocrypha, Baker Academic, 2002.
- Geisler, N.L. and Nix, W.E.: A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, 1968.
- Greenslade, S.L. (Editor): The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Reformation to the Present Day, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- Lampe, G.W.H. (Editor): The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Fathers to the Reformation, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
- McDonald, L.M.: The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Hendrickson Publisher, 1995.
- Metzger, B.M.: An Introduction to the Apocrypha, Oxford University Press, 1957.
- Sundberg, A.C.: The Old Testament of the Early Church, Harvard University Press, 1964.