Here is another good question submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast better suited to be answered on this blog: Why are there books in the Catholic bible that are not included in ours?
Most of the books in the Catholic bible coincide with ours, but depending upon how you count them, there are about 16 books in the Catholic bible that you will not find in a Protestant bible. These books are referred to collectively as the Apocrypha, which means “hidden.” The Apocryphal books were written in the intertestamental period, from about 400BC to the time of Jesus.
There are numerous reasons why the church has historically denied the inclusion (“canonicity”) of the Apocryphal books. Before we consider these reasons, it may be helpful to identify something that distinguishes the historical church from the Catholic church beyond the mere size of our bibles. (I’m using the word “historical” rather than the word “Protestant” for two reasons. First, to use the word “Protestant” when talking about the formation of the canon is anachronistic. The term “Protestant” came into use during the Reformation in the 16th century, while the formation of the Old Testament canon was settled by the time of Christ and the New Testament canon by 397AD. Second, the Protestant church was not the creation of a new church, but a return to the orthodoxy of the original, historical church created by the Lord Jesus. By using the word “historical,” I’m not intending to be offensive to Catholics, but simply to be as accurate as possible.) An enormous difference between the historical church and the Catholic Church pertains to their respective views of the ultimate source of authority. In the formation of the canon, the historical church viewed herself as recognizing, by the sovereign leading of the Holy Spirit, those books which contained inherent authority. In other words, the Bible is a higher authority than the church. The church does not bestow authority on the Scriptures, but simply recognizes it. The Catholic church on the other hand sees the church’s role as granting authority to certain books; the bible derives its authority from the church. This will be an important distinction later on.
A primary reason the historical church rejected the Apocrypha is that it is quite clear that the NT authors did. The Apocrypha is included by the Catholic church in the OT canon. However, the Jews of the apostles’ day recognized the historical books of the OT without the Apocrypha. That is, by the time of the birth of the church all of the books of our OT had been accepted as authoritative, while none of the Apocryphal books had. This would explain why there are no clear quotation from the Apocrypha by any NT author, while there are many quotations from other OT books. Catholics would argue that there are a handful of OT books that are not quoted in the NT, like Joshua and Esther. However, the difference between these OT books and the Apocryphal books is that these OT books, though not quoted in the NT, had been accepted as authoritative by the time of Christ, while none of the Apocryphal books had.
Second, Jesus Himself appears to limit the OT canon to the historical OT when He says in Luke 11:51, “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary; yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.” Abel and Zechariah are the first and last martyrs mentioned in the Jewish canonical OT, which is ordered to begin with Genesis and end with 2 Chronicles. That is, Jesus left the Apocryphal books out of his quotation, indicating that they did not belong in the canon.
Third, most of the early church fathers rejected the Apocrypha, including Jerome, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius. Jerome’s rejection is significant in that his latin translation of the Bible - the Latin Vulgate - is used by the Roman Catholic church! Yes, though he translated the Apocrypha under pressure, he did not believe it belonged in the Bible.
Fourth, the secular Jewish community around the time of Jesus denied the authority of the Apocrypha. Philo, who quoted extensively from the OT as Scripture, never once quoted from any Apocryphal book as Scripture. Josephus explicitly rejected the Apocrypha and listed the canon of the OT as having the same books as the modern Protestant OT.
But a Catholic might contend that while the Apocrypha did not enjoy early acceptance, that does not mean it shouldn’t be recognized as canonical today. However, if we use the same criteria used by the historical church to recognize the books of the NT canon, we find that the Apocrypha comes up wanting.
The historical church used three criteria to recognize which books were of divine origin and should therefore be included in the canon. These criteria were:
- Apostolicity - was the book written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle? This criteria would not fit as a measuring tool for the Apocrypha since all the Apocryphal books were written prior to the time of Christ. So we will set this one aside.
- Orthodoxy - does the book contradict any other canonical book? The Apocrypha is rife with teachings that contradict the other Old and New Testament Scriptures, which is another reason for its rejection throughout the centuries. The Apocrypha fails the test of orthodoxy.
- Catholicity - this is “catholicity” with a small “c”. Catholic simply means “universal.” This test asks, has the book enjoyed continuous use throughout the universal church? In other words, has the church wherever it is found always considered the book to be authoritative? The Apocrypha fails here, too, in that it was so widely rejected for so long.
Therefore, by the criteria used to recognize the authority of the NT canon, the Apocrypha should be rejected.
To this point, I have leaned more heavily on why we reject these books, but that’s not exactly the question that was asked. Why does the Catholic bible include these books?
Well, the Catholic church has not always officially accepted the Apocryphal books. In fact, it was not until the Council of Trent in 1546 that these books were officially accepted. The Apocrypha was in the Catholic bible prior to Trent, but it was in a different section because the books were not viewed as having equal authority. You see, until 1546 even the Catholic church denied the full authority of these books.
So why did they change the status of the Apocrypha in 1546? It was essentially a reaction to the Protestant Reformation. At the heart of the Reformation was a zeal to return to the authority of the Scriptures. This jeopardized a number of Catholic doctrines found nowhere in the canonical bible, including purgatory and praying for the dead. Catholic apologists found justification for these doctrines in Apocryphal books, as in 2 Maccabees 12:40-45. So at the Council of Trent, all the Apocryphal books were given full authority. Additionally, the council declared of anyone who rejected these book, “let him be anathema.”
Here we see the significance of the Roman understanding of authority. Even though the universal Catholic church had never viewed the Apocrypha as fully authoritative before, it claimed authority to grant that status to the Apocrypha at so late a date.
While the Apocrypha is not inspired or authoritative, many orthodox believers hold that it does have some devotional value. There is nothing wrong with reading it. We simply must recognize that when we read it, we are reading the writings of men, not of God. The 66 books of the Bible alone are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative for our lives.