The Removal of the Apocrypha from the Protestant Bible


apocrypha

There is some controversy surrounding just exactly what the books of the “Apocrypha” represent, and what content they may contain that belongs (or doesn’t belong) in the Bible. The Catholic Bible and the Orthodox Bibles still contain these books (with a few differences), so why were they removed from the Protestant Bible? Just look at the definition for the term Apocrypha and you can begin to see why some of the controversy exists:

Middle English apocripha, “not authentic,” from Late Latin Apocrypha, the Apocrypha, from Greek Apokrupha, neuter pl. of apokruphos, “secret,” “hidden,” from apokruptein, “to hide away” : apo-, apo- + kruptein, kruph-, “to hide.”

The most likely intended meaning by Jerome (who first used the term Apocrypha in the late 4th century in the Vulgate’s prologues1) is “hidden” or “hidden away.”2 Augustine, however, defined the word as simply meaning “obscurity of origin.” Some of the surrounding controversy seeks to subvert Christian writings in general, and in particular to cast doubt on the authority and even the authenticity of the Bible345. A timeline (see below) is probably the most useful tool to determine at least when the Apocrypha were removed from the Protestant Bible. The reasons why the Apocryphal books were removed is not entirely clear however.

Jerome did not also coin the term “deuterocanonical” to describe these books, that was “Sixtus of Siena” around 1548 according to various references.  Most scholars attribute the removal of the Apocrypha into a separate section to Luther6 in his Bible, in 1534.  It’s interesting though that some sources (modern Protestant scholars) claim there are no references7 in the New Testament to anything in the Apocrypha, but others clearly state there are many (more than a few) references.  Some sites even have evidence 8(and lists), in the form of pictures of those actual references from original KJV 1611 versions that show clearly that the NT references books from the Apocrypha.

I find it odd too, that the books of the Apocrypha are included in the Septuagint, and they seem to have been accepted by most of the early church members as being part of the “readings” but are only later removed by the church into some “other” section because there is no evidence they were ever in the 22 books of the Hebrew canon, and in fact, there are no Hebrew versions of the Aporcyphal books anywhere extant (only Greek). But, as the Septuagint was “translated” by Hebrew scholars, in the 3rd century B.C., in Alexandria (70 of them translating for 70 days, thus the name “Septuagint” or LXX), we at least ought to give them some merit in this discussion that they must have had some valid reasons for including the “extra books” into their translation. That point too has some controversy, as some scholars will deny those books were in the original Septuagint, and were only later added by the Church (specifically, the Catholic Church).9

The books in question, those that are considered deuterocanonical are: all the works of the Apocrypha (varies slightly from Catholic to Orthodox Bibles) which includes 1 & 2 Esdras (Ezra), Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch (with the Letter of Jeremiah), Song of the Three Young Men & Prayer of Azariah, Story of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon (all 3 are additions to Daniel), Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 & 2 Maccabees.10The Eastern Orthodox Bible includes also a couple more books known as 1 Esdras, and 3 Maccabees. In addition, these books of the New Testament are considered by many (starting with Eusebius around 325A.D., and including Luther) to be deuterocanonical as well: Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation, 2 & 3 John, as well as 2 Peter.

It’s not entirely clear from what’s available just why the Protestants became so heatedly opposed to inclusion of the apocryphal books in the Bible.  In the “Thirty-nine Articles” (around 1571, in England) the Anglican Church stated that it: “considers the apocrypha to be “read for example of life” but is not to be used “to establish any doctrine.”” Subsequently, during the English Civil war around 1647 in the “Westminster Confession of Faith” the ArchBishop of Canterbury removed the Apocrypha “officially” from the canon of the English Bible.  1 The Apocrypha were, however, included in many Bible printings up to around 1825 when the British Bible Society “Apocrypha Controversy” finally ended inclusion of the Apocrypha in any Bibles.2

When you consider that the scope of the disagreement is around the 152,185 words that are included in the KJV with the books of the Apocrypha, and that the entire New Testament is only 181,252 words, you start to understand that there is some need to consider the matter carefully. As in all scripture, the mere fact of reference to an outside source does not automatically elevate its status (that of the source being quoted) to that of “inspired” or give us creedance as to its Holy Spirit authorship. However, as stated above, these books do give us support for many passages in both the old and new testaments and so must not be discarded entirely. Again, that does not off-handedly suggest they belong in the Bible.


Catholics will argue that the books of the Apocrypha (Septuagint) which they call the deutero-canon, were “universally held by the early church to be canonical.” This is a broad overstatement. On the other hand, most Protestants have acted “as if these books never existed or played any role whatsoever in the early church.”3 These two positions together define the “Poles” of this controversial topic. Even though many early church leaders recognized some distinction between the books of the Apocrypha and those of inspired Scripture, they were universally held in high regard. One author states: “Protestants who are serious students of their faith cannot ignore this material if they hope to understand the early church or the thinking of its earliest theologians.”4 Additionally, you must consider the fact that an increase of material that dated from the “Intertestamental” period, would profoundly impact readers with pre-Christian Jewish life reference material.

The debate seems to hinge on these issues: 1.) Canonicity, i.e., what elevates a particular book to the level of “inspired” authorship and places it among books belonging in the Bible – does the Church “recognize” authorship as divine, or does the Church make it divine based on declaring it so? 2.) Specific doctrines held by the Roman Catholic church that gain support in the Apocryphal books (specifically the selling of indulgences and the idea of purgatory).5 One must study the Jewish Canon, as well as the Septuagint and the writers of the early Church to make a case either way in this discussion. I will not attempt to do so but will rather refer the reader to all the excellent source material I have cited (as well as so much more!). I have only attempted to lay out the bounds for this argument inside of which is a deep issue concerning our modern Bible.

1http://www.answers.com/topic/books-of-the-bible#cite_note-39articles-0

2http://www.earlychristiandictionary.com/Deuterocanonical.html

3http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225141/k.1102/The_Old_Testament_Apocrypha_Controversy.htm

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1Prologues of St. Jerome, Latin text (http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bible/prologi.shtml)

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Vulgate

3The Lost Books of the Bible (http://www.thelostbooks.com/index.htm)

5The “Inconvenient Tale” of the original King James Bible (http://www.handsonapologetics.com/King_James_Bible.htm)

6Luther Bible (article on Answers.com)

7http://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/why-arent-the-books-of-the-apocrypha-in-all-bibles/

8http://www.handsonapologetics.com/King_James_Bible.htm

9http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225141/k.1102/The_Old_Testament_Apocrypha_Controversy.htm

10http://www.answers.com/topic/books-of-the-bible#Apocryphal_or_Deuterocanonical_books

1Prologues of St. Jerome, Latin text (http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bible/prologi.shtml)

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Vulgate

3The Lost Books of the Bible (http://www.thelostbooks.com/index.htm)

5The “Inconvenient Tale” of the original King James Bible (http://www.handsonapologetics.com/King_James_Bible.htm)

6Luther Bible (article on Answers.com)

7http://gracethrufaith.com/ask-a-bible-teacher/why-arent-the-books-of-the-apocrypha-in-all-bibles/

8http://www.handsonapologetics.com/King_James_Bible.htm

9http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225141/k.1102/The_Old_Testament_Apocrypha_Controversy.htm

10http://www.answers.com/topic/books-of-the-bible#Apocryphal_or_Deuterocanonical_books

11http://www.answers.com/topic/books-of-the-bible#cite_note-39articles-0

12http://www.earlychristiandictionary.com/Deuterocanonical.html

13http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225141/k.1102/The_Old_Testament_Apocrypha_Controversy.htm

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Timeline of The Removal of the Apocrypha from the Protestant Bible

Timeline of The Removal of the Apocrypha from the Protestant Bible

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