The last blog I posted — “Biblical Inerrancy and Textual Criticism” — has been by far the most popular blog I’ve ever written. It got a few comments on WordPress, but got 53 comments (so far) on Facebook, some of which continued into fairly involved debates. The most I can say from the feedback I’ve received so far is that I may have overstated the case against the authenticity of the long ending of Mark, but my position on the issue remains unchanged. However, the most popular question I received on that blog is with regard to which books are included in our current Bible, and how those decisions were made. Especially since the publication of The Da Vinci Code, this is an issue that cries out for some clear thinking!
This topic — which books are included in our Bible — covers not only the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Bibles (the Apocrypha), but also the so-called “Gnostic” gospels, the role of the Council of Nicea, The Da Vinci Code, and several other closely-related events that collectively call for a blog to address the question. I’ll try to cover all these issues with some clarity in the next few blogs. Let’s start with the Apocrypha.
- The Apocrypha. Plainly stated, some Christian denominations — specifically, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestants — add six or seven books to the Old Testament canon, as well as additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. These additions are called the “Deuterocanon” (second canon) by those denominations, and the “Apocrypha” (hidden writings) by nearly all others. These additional books and edits to Esther and Daniel are normally included in the Revised Standard Version and the New American Bible, and include:
The First Book of Esdras
The Second Book of Esdras
Additions to the Book of Esther
The Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach)
The Letter of Jeremiah (often combined with Baruch as a single book)
The Prayer of Azariah (normally added to Daniel 3)
Susanna (normally added as Chapter 13 to the book of Daniel)
Bel and the Dragon (normally added as Chapter 14 to the book of Daniel)
The Prayer of Manasseh
The First Book of the Maccabees
The Second Book of the Maccabees
These books range from 300 BC (The Letter of Jeremiah) to about 30 BC (The Wisdom of Solomon), are not included in the Hebrew Bible, but remain in dispute. Even this list itself is not agreed upon by all. For example, the Roman Catholic Church accepts this list as canon, with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. Eastern Orthodox accepts the list as canon, but includes both books of Esdras and Manasseh. This expanded (“second”) canon was proclaimed as the divinely inspired Word of God at the Council of Trent in 1546, though previous councils (including some in the first four centuries) rejected them.
But are these books Scripture? Are they inspired, are they canonical? This is the question. The answer is we simply don’t know, and there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the debate. Some of the early church fathers accepted the Apocrypha as canonical (Augustine, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement), others rejected them (Athanasius, Josephus, Cyril, Origen, Jerome). Our earliest Greek manuscripts — Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Siniaticus, and Codex Vaticanus — include portions of the Apocrypha, interspersed throughout the Old Testament. Some believe that the tortures mentioned in Hebrews 11:35 are referring to the torture of the Maccabees recorded in 2 Maccabees 7 and 12, so advocates have at least one potential New Testament reference to the Apocrypha. However, the New Testament never directly quotes from any book of the Apocrypha, and never refers to any of them as Scripture, authoritative, or canonical.
Modern scholarship remains sharply split, largely along Catholic/Protestant lines. Great Protestant theologians and scholars (Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Bruce Metzger, William Nix, F. F. Bruce) continue to strongly reject the Apocrypha, citing many of the reasons here. Geisler, in particular, vehemently rejects these additional books based more on their content, which he calls unbiblical, heretical, extra-biblical, fanciful, sub-biblical, and even immoral. For those interested in further study, I’ve included a bibliography below. Next up — the Council of Nicea!
Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture, InterVarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL, 1988
Geisler, Norman and Nix, William, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1986
Hauer, Christian and Young, William, An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds, Second Edition, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990
Metzger, Bruce, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1977