The Old Testament Canon: The Deuterocanonical Books

What are the Deuterocanonical Books?

The deuterocanonical books are books that Catholics consider to be Scripture and Protestants consider “apocryphal”.  These books include Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and also portions of Esther and Daniel.  As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The deuterocanonical (deuteros, “second”) are those whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters, but which long ago gained a secure footing in the Bible of the Catholic Church, though those of the Old Testament are classed by Protestants as the ‘Apocrypha’.”1

Did the New Testament Writers Quote from the Deuterocanonicals?

The New Testament writers often quoted from the deuterocanonicals with the clearest case being Hebrews 11:35 “Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.”  This is a clear reference to 2 Maccabees 7:1-9 which is about seven Jewish brothers and their mother who were tortured and then martyred, though with hope because “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (verse 9).  There is no question this was what the author of Hebrews had in mind in Hebrews 11:35.  More of the New Testament’s use of the deuterocanonicals can be found here: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/deuterocanon.html

Did the Jews Contemporary to Christ Accept the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture?

Nearly two centuries before the coming of Christ, the Jews translated their Scriptures into Greek and this translation is known as the Septuagint.  This translation enabled the Hellenistic Jews (Greek speaking Jews) and Greeks to be able to read the Jewish Scriptures.  Included in this translation were the deuterocanonicals and for this reason the canon of the Hellenist or Alexandrian Jews included the Apocrypha.  However, there were other Jews, such as the Palestinian Jews, whose canon excluded the deuterocanonicals.

It has long been the belief that towards the end of the first century, a number of rabbis gathered in the city of Jamnia in order to determine once and for all which books would be considered canonical among Jews.  The council determined that the deuterocanonicals were excluded; most likely for the reason that the deuterocanonical books were used by Christians in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.  However, some scholars dispute the council in Jamnia had such an authoritative role and the canon among Jews had already been settled prior to Jamnia.2 Contrary to this view, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes “It is an incontestable fact that the sacredness of certain parts of the Palestinian Bible (Esther,Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles) was disputed by some rabbis as late as the second century of the Christian Era (Mishna, Yadaim, III, 5; Babylonian Talmud, Megilla, fol. 7).”3 Either way, since Christianity’s arrival on the scene of history, it would seem that most Jews, including present day Jews, do not consider the deuterocanonical books to be Scripture, with the exception of Ethiopian Jews whose canon is the same as the Catholic Old Testament canon.

Did the Earliest Christians believe the Deuterocanonicals were Scripture?

Though the unbelieving Jews eventually rejected the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, the earliest Christians did not.  Protestant historian J N D Kelly writes:

“It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the twenty-two, or twenty-four, books of the Hebrew Bible of Palestinian Judaism.

It always included though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books.

For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”4

Quotations of the deuterocanonical books can be found in Ante-Nicene Fathers such as Polycarp, 1 Clement, Barnabas, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian.5 Various Church Fathers, such as Melito of Sardis, Origen (technically not a church father but an ecclesiastical writer), Jerome, Cyril of Alexandria, and Athanasius, either had doubts about the authority of the deuterocanonicals or outright rejected them as not part of the canon of Scripture.  Eventually, it was necessary and possible for the early church to determine which books were canonical and this was done towards the end of the fourth century.  Catholic Theologian, Jimmy Akin, writes:

“The canon of Scripture, Old and New Testament, was finally settled at the Council of Rome in 382, under the authority of Pope Damasus I. It was soon reaffirmed on numerous occasions. The same canon was affirmed at the Council of Hippo in 393 and at the Council of Carthage in 397. In 405 Pope Innocent I reaffirmed the canon in a letter to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse. Another council at Carthage, this one in the year 419, reaffirmed the canon of its predecessors and asked Pope Boniface to “confirm this canon, for these are the things which we have received from our fathers to be read in church.” All of these canons were identical to the modern Catholic Bible, and all of them included the deuterocanonicals.”6

Why Did the Reformers Remove the Deuterocanonicals from the Canon of Scripture?

The Reformers removed the deuterocanonicals from the canon of Scripture because they believed only those books which were revealed to the Jews in Hebrew were to be considered canonical, following the example of unbelieving Jews.  Additionally, the Reformers rejected the deuterocanonicals because they teach Catholic doctrine.  Just to name a couple of examples, Tobit 12:12 is a prooftext for the Catholic doctrine of the intercession of the saints in heaven and, in fact, the best prooftext for purgatory is found in 2 Maccabees 12:46.

Who Has the Authority to Determine Whether or not the Deuterocanonicals Belong in the Old Testament Canon?

The fact that the Catholic Church, from the earliest days of Christianity until the present, has accepted the deuterocanonicals as Scripture and the fact that the reformers rejected the deuterocanonicals as Scripture gives rise to the question: who has the authority to determine whether or not the deuterocanonicals are Scripture and belong in the Old Testament canon?

For an excellent critique of the various Protestant positions on the canon of Scripture read this article written by Tom Brown at Called to Communion.

 Citations:

1 Reid, George. “Canon of the Old Testament.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 9 Jun. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm&gt;.

2  Allison, Gregg, R.  Historical Theology, p. 38.

3 Reid, George. “Canon of the Old Testament.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 9 Jun. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03267a.htm&gt;.

4 Kelly, J. N.  Early Christian Doctrines, pp 53-55.

5 Ibid, p. 54.

6 Akin, Jimmy.  “Defending the Deuterocanonicals.” <http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/deuteros.htm&gt;

 

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