Apocrypha and Canon – Proclaiming the Gospel

The canon is an officially accepted list of books. The canon was determined by God and discovered by man. The Catholic Church claims it was given the authority to establish the canon at the Council of Hippo in A.D. 393. However the church did not create the canon, it simply recognized the letters that were already accepted as Scripture by the first century church. Long before church councils were ever convened, church elders were constantly evaluating and deciding which of the many writings of their day carried apostolic authority. We have proof that letters were circulated and accepted before the canon was formally established. Paul wrote: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4:16).

The Roman Catholic Bible contains not only the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, but also the apocryphal books, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and Maccabees. These books were never part of the early church canon because they contain historical and geographical errors, proving they were not divinely inspired. The apocryphal books also teach doctrines which are at variance with the inspired Scriptures. For example, 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 teaches the efficacy of prayers and offerings for the dead. Ecclesiaticus 3:30 teaches that almsgiving makes atonement for sin and justifies cruelty to slaves (33:26, 28). Christ and His apostles quoted frequently from Old Testament books but never from these apocryphal books. Furthermore, they were never included in the Jewish canon, which is of utmost significance because God entrusted His Word to the Jews Paul wrote: “(The Jews) were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). The entire Old Testament was affirmed in the Jewish community by means of the Holy Spirit long before any Council sat in judgment.

To collect various letters and books of Scripture into one volume was the task given to Christians already converted to Christ by the Word of God. These early Christians did not give us the Word of God. The Word of God gave us these early Christians. They were under conviction and illumination of the Holy Spirit from the writings of the Apostles and oral teachings of Jesus long before any Council pieced together the Bible. Hence, the Word of God established the Church. Early Christians were convinced and persuaded that it was the Word of God because the Holy Spirit convicted them.

The actual gathering together of the Scriptures into one volume took place in God’s providence, under the supervision, persuasion, and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Christians labored together to separate the actual Word from false writings. The early Christians pooled their cognitive convictions and brought together a Canon of the text to end speculations and dismiss false writings.

Jerome completed his version of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate, in 405. In the Middle Ages the Vulgate became the de facto standard version of the Bible in the West. The manuscripts clearly identified certain books of the Vulgate Old Testament as apocryphal or non-canonical. Jerome described those books not translated from the Hebrew as apocrypha; he specifically mentions that Wisdom, the book of Jesus son of Sirach, Judith, Tobias, and the Shepherd “are not in the canon”. In the prologue to Esdras he mentions 3 and4 Esdras as being apocrypha. In his prologue he said of the Books of the Maccabees, that the Church “has not received them among the canonical scriptures”.

We know the Bible was complete and “once for all delivered to the Saints in the first century (Jude 3). The Old Testament Canon was closed about 425 B.C., 425 years before Christ. The last book was written by Malachi. There was no question which books were inspired by God. The writers were well known as a spokesmen for God and claimed to be speaking and writing the inspired Word of God. Secondly, were no errors of history, geography, or theology in the writings.

The New Testament had similar tests to determine a book’s canonicity. First, was the book authored by an Apostle or someone closely associated with an Apostle? They knew who the Apostles were and they knew who their close associates were. The key question about the book’s inspiration was tied to Apostolic authorship or one closely associated. For example, the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, and Mark was not an Apostle but a close associate of Peter. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by Luke who was not an Apostle but a very close associate of Paul. The Apostles were known to the people, their associates were known to the people, and when Apostles wrote and claimed inspiration the people were secure in the veracity of their writings.

Another test applied by the Early Church was the test of content. Did the writings square with what the Apostles taught? In those early years of the Church, heretics such as the Gnostics tried to slip in phony books, but none of them ever made it. If it didn’t square with Apostolic doctrine – it didn’t pass. And the doctrinal aberrations were very easy to spot. A third test was this: is the book regularly read and used in the churches? In other words, did the people of God readily accept it? Read it during worship and make its teachings a part of their daily living? A final test determined the book was recognized and used by succeeding generations after the Early Church?

There was also a formidable group of spurious books that came in the New Testament period. They all failed to make the canon because they couldn’t pass the test of authenticity. Christ has put His stamp of authority on the Scripture. The early Church clearly discovered the canon of God’s Word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To add anything to Scripture or to reject the inspiration of Scripture, is not only to ignore the warnings of Scripture and the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, but to bring yourself into the very dangerous place where you are susceptible to the curse of God. Paul cites Luke’s Gospel as Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18). Peter referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul commanded the Thessalonians to have his letter read to all the brethren (1 Thes. 5:27). John promised a blessing to all those who read the Revelation (Rev. 1:3). To the Colossians Paul wrote, “have this letter read in the church of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4:16). As long as the apostles were alive everything could be verified. They were eye witnesses to all that Christ said and did.

The councils of Hippo 393 and Carthage 397 simply approved the list of 27 NT books which had already been recognized by the early church. They neither added to the number or took away from it.

Source: https://www.proclaimingthegospel.org/page/articles

For additional information (Pros and Cons) see:
The Canon of Scripture, Part 1: The Apocrypha
The Canon of Scripture, Part 2: Enoch and Jubilees
The Canon of Scripture, Part 3: Jasher
The Canon of Scripture, Part 4: The Other Books of Baruch
The Canon of Scripture, Part 5: The Other Books of Enoch
The Canon of Scripture. Part 6: The Lost Book of Ezeki
The Canon of Scripture. Part 7: The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Canon-Old-Testament (highly detailed)
bible.org/article/content-and-extent-old-testament-canon (highly detailed)
bible.org/article/evangelicals-and-canon-new-testament  (highly detailed)

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!


  1. Allow me to make two comments:

    1) If you want to read a great book on the canonization of Scripture, I recommend Michael J. Kruger’s The Question of Canon. This book helps (a) to put canonization into better context and (b) serves as an apologetic against outsiders who claim it was merely men who deemed it Canon and not until the late 4th century, and then attack Holy Scripture as less-than-Divine and absent (leaving Christians without or confused about Scriptural authority) in the intervening years.

    2) What Protestants call “apocrypha” is called Deuterocanon (“second canon”) by Catholics. You probably know this, but original and early KJV versions included the Apocrypha in between the OT and the NT. (And the RSV and NRSV include them.)

    And, confusingly, there are completely separate books known as New Testament Apocrypha, and these are typically gnostic (or docetic) in origin.

    The Apocrypha/Deuterocanon can be profitable for study. I’ve long been working on a blog post which will track certain words in these works en route to helping define a word scarcely used in the NT.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Craig! Sincerely appreciate your comments! I did include a good number of informational links that present the opposing case for the inclusion of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon, but so that all are aware of some of the arguments, I have also included some links that support their inclusion. One of the links that oppose their inclusion is from Michael j. Kruger. If you have any additional recommendations, don’t hesitate on sending them my way. And thank you for the recommendation of Michael J. Kruger’s book “The Question of Canon”! Blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Bruce,

        I think my comment may have been a bit misunderstood. I did/do not intend to place the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon at the same level as Scripture. It’s not. However, it is useful for “word studies“—to put it overly-simplistically. Knowing how a given word is used in this body of work may provide clues to meanings of rarely-used words in the NT.

        And, for the record, I reject the (1st) Book of Enoch (there are 3 ‘Enoch’s in the pseudepigrapha) as canonical. There is evidence of later Christian interpolation in the Similitudes (chapters 37–71). In other words, (1st) Enoch is a composite work. Moreover, even though Jude quotes from it (slightly differently, exchanging “Lord” [kyrios) for “God” [theos] for Christological reasons], this is no basis for canonization. By analogy, in a few different places Paul quotes from Greek poets (Titus 1:12, e.g.), but this scarcely means the poets’ works are Canon! (I’m not suggesting you don’t know any or all of this; I’m only posting for the record and for any interested readers.)

        I initially missed the sources at the bottom, except the proclaimthegospel.org link. I happened to be right in front of my computer when you first posted this article—by chance, did you add the other links just after you initially posted? Otherwise, I’m baffled at how I missed them! But now I see the link to Kruger (4th one down), and I see he refers to his Question of Canon in the post.


      • Hi Craig, Thank you for clarifying. I personally didn’t think you were placing the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon at the same level as Scripture, but it never hurts to clarify, just in case. I did add some links at the bottom after the initial post and I have since updated them by adding additional links. Aside from the normal reasons given there is one link where Jesus indicated what He counted as the Old Testament Scriptures that pertain to the first and last of the prophets. This is the link I noticed that in: https://www.str.org/w/should-the-apocrypha-be-in-the-bible- One doesn’t see this very often, or at least I haven’t noticed it. If you have thoughts on this particular observation, I would love to hear it. So you can relax, you’re not losing it yet! Thanks once again, Craig. Much appreciated. Blessings!


      • Well, I’d lost it a long time ago! But, I’m glad to know I’m no worse than I was–now that you confirmed my thoughts that you added links after I initially viewed the article.

        I was familiar with the Tanakh ordering being different than the “OT” (and the LXX), but I was not aware of the way Jesus’ words effectively opened and closed the books of the Tanakh in Luke 11:49–51.

        In fact, in my current project I am working through the “OT” by Tanakh ordering in pursuit of my as-yet-unknown conclusion. However, evidence may convince me to use the LXX ordering instead.

        As an aside, the LXX is somewhat of an enigma to me. By all appearances, the works are either (a) translated from the Hebrew of the Tanakh to Greek by Jewish scholars or (b) new works written originally in Greek by this same group of Jewish scholars. Yet, the ordering differs from the Tanakh (the Pentateuch is first, though, mirroring the Tanakh) and our “OT”. More specifically, some of the apocryphal works are interspersed between Biblical/Tanakhian books, while others are appended.


      • Hi Craig, Interesting! Do you have a tentative timeline on when you will be finished with this current project of yours? I’d be interested in what conclusion you come to. Blessings brother.


  2. Thanks for this information. Just a couple of days ago, someone was telling me that men decided which books to include in the Bible. They had a book for me to read. I said I wasn’t interested because I knew the Bible was God’s Word.(Period. End of discussion.) How amazing is the Lord?! This wonderful post showed up this morning! God bless you, Bruce! Thank you for sharing with us a wealth of resources!


  3. Excellent and informative post, Bruce. I read through the Apocrypha many years ago, and enjoyed it as I found it to be entertaining, and for me, that was the scope of it. All throughout its books were unbiblical thoughts, ideas, and notions which clearly disqualified them from being inspired.

    As I said, very entertaining, even silly at times, but not inspired. (Although I will say that 1 Maccabees has some good historical material.)


Comments are closed.