Why do the Protestants Reject The Apocrypha?Jan 13, 2010 Updated Nov 2015
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.
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
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.
It appears from some of his comments in the prefaces of a few books that Jerome did not think the Apocrypha writings belonged in the OT canon, but he did quote some of the apocryphal writings as "inspired." Some of the early fathers did not want these documents to be accorded the same respect as the "official" texts. However, the Council of Hippo in 393 did affirm numerous (but not all) of writings in the Apocrypha. A few other following councils did the same. These were not major councils, but these decisions were made and did have some influence moving forward.
In fact, in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 where we have the first exact listing of the 27 NT documents he also lists several writings of the Apocrypha. He then says this,
What you see is a lack of uniform thought. This was fairly common in the early church.
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. Over time these writings became more accepted as "inspired" and included in the canon. 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.
As part of a reaction against some of the developments in the Catholic Church, Protestant Reformers DID exclude the Apocrypha.
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.]
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.