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Why do the Protestants Reject The Apocrypha?

Jan 13, 2010

Some of my Catholic friends say that these books were included as part of the Bible until Martin Luther, who rejected them and some NT books because they didn't fit his theology. Is this right?
David, in California

The Apocrypha was NOT in the original listings of the New Testament, but were included in the Latin Vulgate by Jerome between the Old and New Testaments. This was in the early 5th century.

The following comments have led me to make some edits to this page.

Comments sent on May 1, 2011
The information on this page is simply not accurate and presents unhistorical information. The Apocrypha IS in Codex Sinaticus which is the oldest known Christian Bible dated around 350AD WAY before Jerome was born and contains the books called Apocrypha today yet in this codex there is no distinction between old testament and apocrypha. The Catholic church is not responsible for the inclusion of the Apocrypha the Protestant reformation is responsible for it's EXCLUSION from the Bible.

Notice my initial comment: "...NOT in the original listings of the New Testament..."

These are works written during the inter-testamental time, between OT and NT. These writings were never in the Hebrew OT, but were included in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT. The comment I received is correct in a few points: the Apocrypha IS in the Codex Sinaiticus which is dated between 325-380 AD. Jerome was born around 347 AD and his Latin Vulgate was completed in 405 AD (so he is fairly contemporary with the Sinaiticus). Although I basically agree, to say the Sinaiticus is, "the oldest known Christian Bible" is somewhat problematic for a few reasons:
1. It is missing major sections of the Old Testament
2. The Hebrew OT never included the Apocrypha
3. The NT of Sinaiticus includes Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas
4. Several works commonly accepted in the Apocrypha are missing

My Comments: 05-03-2011
The thrust of my original post was to point out that the Apocrypha works were not in the NT.
I realize that my post was not as clear as it should have been and the comments sent by a reader were helpful. I think I allowed my Protestant roots to get in the way. My goal as an historian is to stay objective. I am sometimes accused of being "Catholic," and other times of being "Protestant." This was a case of the latter. My apologies and my thanks for the comment.

It is true that Christians prior to Jerome quoted many of the books of the Apocrypha as inspired, but the same can be said of many other writings. Jerome included these writings in his Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible in between the OT and NT and he called it "apocrypha," or "hidden" writings. Apocrypha was used in the ancient world to indicate something either orginating from oral tradition, or containing "secret" material, not suitable for a general audience.

The visitor commented, "The Catholic church is not responsible for the inclusion of the Apocrypha the Protestant reformation is responsible for it's EXCLUSION from the Bible."

This is partly correct. The Apocrypha WAS counted by many as inspired text prior to the official Catholic Church, but Jerome was very clear that he counted the Hebrew OT as authoritative, not the Septuagint which included the Apocrypha. So, technically Jerome's Vulgate "Bible" (which was THE text for the Catholic Church for almost a thousand years) does NOT include the Apocrypha. The Protestants DID exclude the Apocrypha.

As Jerome's Vulgate version of the Bible was copied some monasteries were not as careful to designate it as "apocrypha" and thus these writings began to be used by some in the Catholic Church. Some doctrinal concepts were affected by these texts.
[From Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Maccabees#Doctrine]

Doctrinal issues that are raised in 2 Maccabees include:
- Prayer for the dead and sacrificial offerings, both to free the dead from sin
- Merits of the martyrs
- Intercession of the saints (15:11-17)

Interestingly, none of the NT writers quote any of these writings, although there are a few quotes from non-OT "apocryphal" works. [I have had a few readers challenge this comment, saying that many NT texts do have writings in the Apocrypha in mind. These are allusions, but not quotations. Allusions to a text can be uncertain, using only 1-3 words/phrases and maybe not in the same word order. A quotation is usually more than three words used in the exact order of the work being quoted. The point is that the writer intends to quote and there is not as much guessing.]

Comments: 12-08-2013
Sitting in church this morning something clicked in my mind and I looked up the text in 2 Maccabees 12 regarding prayers for the dead. This text is describing a battle between the Jewish forces of Judas Maccabeus and that of Gorgias of Idumea. Some of the Jews were killed and the text gives an account of retrieving their bodies after the battle. Those who recovered the bodies found pagan amulets in the tunics of the dead. [An amulet is something like a charm carried for protection.] The text says that this idolatry is why the men had perished (12:40):
So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. (v.41-42)

The text then states that Judas took up an offering to send back to Jerusalem so that a sin offering could be made for the men,
For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (v.44-45)
I wonder if Paul's comment to the Corinthians regarding "baptism for the dead" has something to do with this text from 2 Maccabees 12. (1 Cor 15:29ff) Paul's Greek here has some similarities to the apocryphal text and it does seem clear that some believers in Corinth were either familiar with the practice or engaging in it or both. This certainly could be an allusion to the Maccabean text.

This led me to think about the text in Jude 14,15 that quotes from the apocryphal 1 Enoch text. Jude is apocryphal in nature and is quoting Enoch which is also apocryphal. This is one key reason why this small document had such difficulty gaining full acceptance in the early church, yet this suggests that Enoch had more than a little influence.

Many of the second century church fathers make citations from "The Apocrypha" as inspired text. These apocryphal writings were accorded "scriptural" status by some fathers prior to Jerome as being in the OT, not the NT.

Luther and other Protestants did reject The Apocrypha as biblical text and their rejection may indeed have had something to do with purgatory and prayers for the dead (something Luther really disagreed with). Luther and the other Reformers [Protestants] also demanded that the biblical text should be translated directly from the original languages and NOT from Jerome's Latin which was a less than satisfactory translation of the Greek and a very poor translation of Hebrew. Most of the best known Reformers were biblical scholars and knew that The Apocrypha had not been included in the Hebrew OT - this probably affected their view of the writings as well.

It was only AFTER Luther, at the Council of Trent in 1546, that the Catholic Church officially stated these writings were included in the inspired text of the Bible. No matter what doctrinal positions one takes, these data points are not "Catholic" or "Protestant," but historical. As with many other early extra-biblical texts, some early Christians viewed these texts as "inspired," while others did not.


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