Deuterocanonical (Apocryphal) Books

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Often people ask why Catholics use the Deuterocanonical books, and many Protestants do not. For the most part there is nothing in the Deuterocanonical books that would separate different forms of Christianity, except for two passages. In 2 Maccabees chapter 12, they pray for the souls of the dead. This passage is significant in that it contradicts justification by faith alone, and supports the idea of purgatory. Another point is in Tobit 12:12 where the angel Raphael presents Tobit's and Sarah's prayers to God. This is an example of intercessory prayer instead of praying "direct to God".

The Old Testament Before Christ

In popular history the earliest known canon of old testament books is known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated from Hebrew to Greek by seventy (hence Septuagint, commonly abbreviated LXX) scholars for Alexander's great library in Egypt around the year 300 BC. Supposedly, the scholars were commissioned by Alexander the Great to collect the writings of all the major religions of the time. The Septuagint contains the Old Testament books shared by all Christians along with the Deuterocanonical books used by Catholics, traditional Protestants , and many Orthodox Churches.

In "The New Jerome Biblical Commentary" (NJBC) the authors suggest a more plausible history regarding the Septuagint arguing that the existence of the seventy seems unlikely, and it is more likely that the books were collected and translated over time. Other sources give different dates as well, but it is generally agreed the translation was complete by 100 BC.

Scripture During Jesus' Time

Much of the debate today centers on whether Jesus accepted the Septuagint as scripture. In the Gospels Jesus never quotes the Septuagint directly. This does not condemn the Deuterocanonical books since there are many other Old Testament (OT) books Jesus did not quote either. No Christian Church accepts only those OT books quoted by Jesus. Old Testament books not quoted by Jesus are still considered scripture. So what did Jesus mean when he refers to scriptures? This seems to be the more compelling question because apparently there was no closed canon of scripture in Jesus' time.

In The NJBC the authors maintain that there was no clear canon of scripture at the time of Christ. After reviewing the data they state "The conclusion that there was no rigidly closed canon in Judaism in the 1st or 2nd centuries AD means that when the church was in its formation period and was using the sacred books of the Jews, there was no closed canon for the church to adopt" [p. 1041] Part of the evidence they present is the existence of Deuterocanonical books in the Qumran scrolls (Dead Sea scrolls). In these scrolls were found parts of three Deuterocanonical texts giving the impression that there was very little distinction between a closed canon and all other texts. They note that both "scriptural" texts and secular texts are included together, with no apparent distinction.

They also dispel any notion that Jews in Jerusalem had a different canon than Jews elsewhere. "The thesis that the Jews in Alexandria had a different theory of inspiration from the theory shared by the Jews in Jerusalem is gratuitous" [p 1041]


Jamnia, (aka Jabneel) was a city about 12 miles south of Judah near the present day city of Yebna. In the late first century, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it became a seat of Jewish learning. According to popular history a council was held in Jamnia that determined the canon of the Old Testament. The dates for this council range from 75 AD to 100 AD depending on the reference used. In The NJBC the authors maintain that there never was a council at Jamnia, but instead it was a well respected rabbinical school. "There is no evidence that any list of books was drawn up at Jamnia." (p 1040).

The Deuterocanonical Books in the Early Church

"In the first century the Christian Bible had simply been the Old Testament (read in the Septuagint version). Authority resided in this scripture and in the words of the Lord, which long circulated in oral tradition, as is apparent in the letter of Clement to the Corinthians." ("The Early Church" Henry Chadwick p 42)

The LXX version was also used by the authors of the New Testament. Most scholars date the New Testament books to various dates between 75 AD and about 150 AD depending on the book. The authors of scripture, writing in Greek, cite the Septuagint version Old Testament books since the Septuagint was in Greek.

As the Christian Church grew and started separating from Judaism, the Jews also began to codify a set of books that where inspired. (Either in response to Christianity or to divisions between the different Jewish schools.) In the NJBC they assert that the discussions with early Christians also contributed to the decisions of what OT books constituted scripture. In "The Early Church" Henry Chadwick points out that it was only after Christian appeals to the Septuagint became embarrassing that more literal (to the Hebrew) translations became favored by the Greek synagogue (p 12). Some rabbis even denounced the making of the Septuagint as a sin like the worship of the golden calf!

It was in these early years of Church formation that the two distinct Old Testaments were codified. The Jews did not have access to the entire LXX texts in original Hebrew; using this as a basis, they rejected the Deuterocanonical books as not being inspired.

Jerome Versus Augustine

Until the 4th century most Christians used the LXX as the basis for the OT. Of course there was a considerable amount of literature floating around that was also considered scripture and the early Church councils dealt to a large degree with this issue. What exactly constituted scripture?

Surprisingly Saint Jerome, whose Latin vulgate translation became the official translation of the Catholic Church, did not want to include the Deuterocanonical books in the translation. Jerome lived in Palestine and was aware of the Hebrew canon that had developed. His contemporary Saint Augustine arguing from tradition, wanted them included in new vulgate translation. After conferring with Pope Damasus and realizing most people sided with Augustine, Jerome included the Deuterocanonical books in his translation. (It is important to note that many in Rome were opposed to anything Jerome did -- he was not well liked in the ancient capital.)

Jerome's vulgate, although not the only translation in the Church, was widely regarded and used in the Western world. The Septuagint along with Greek texts was widely used in the Eastern Church.

So What Happened?

For many years throughout Christendom the bible, with the Septuagint, was used. Martin Luther's break from Catholicism and the development of the idea of "faith alone" as the basis for salvation gave the reformers a chance to question books in the bible that did not support this view. The reformers particulary attacked Hebrews, Revelation, and the Deuterocanonical books. Since the New Testament books had already been agreed upon at the council at Carthage in 395AD, the idea of removing Hebrews and Revelation from the bible was not widely embraced. The Deuterocanonicals, however, did not fare so well. Some reformation churches included them in scripture and others did not. Finally the Church was forced to formally recognized what books had been traditionally used. This was done at the council of Trent, and this list, based on traditional Christian teaching is the list of books used by Catholic today.

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