Books that Didn’t Make the Cut: The Apocrypha

photodune-686768-bible-xsAt the end of each summer, every NFL team must winnow its roster to 53 players. The very best make the cut; many hopeful young men see their hopes dashed with news they didn’t make the cut (or, more graphically, they’ve “been cut”). This is true in all walks of life – whether you are a presidential hopeful, a job applicant, or a contest entrant, you either make the cut or you don’t.

This is true for anything that has a standard, a measure, a rule. It is certainly true for the Bible. Only those books which meet the criteria for canonicity make the cut.

Not all books made the cut. Some books were not written by those who had the bona fides of an apostle or prophet and were therefore excluded. Some books were written by authors other than the biblical personages their names may have indicated and were therefore rejected (this practice, known as pseudepigraphy, will be considered in a later post). Some books were rejected because they never enjoyed the kind of universal acceptance considered necessary to evidence the Holy Spirit’s imprimatur.

This is worth exploring, as it is an area where common questions arise. This is especially true for the Apocrypha. Whether you are Roman Catholic or Protestant, you’ll notice that some folks have very different Bibles than you. And we’re not here referring to Bible translations (discussion on that here).   Instead, we’re talking about what books are actually included in the Bible.

A Roman Catholic translation (such as, say, The Jerusalem Bible) will include a whole bunch of books between the Old and New Testaments that aren’t found in most Protestant bibles. These books are collectively called the Apocrypha. The Greek term Apocrypha literally means “hidden,” and tells you something about these documents – they are considered to be obscure or questionable in some way – in some instances as regards their authorship, in others simply as regards their validity as scripture.

Among Roman Catholics these books are viewed as being deutero-canonical. This means “secondarily canonical” (“deutero” is Greek for “second” – “Deuteronomy” is the “second” presentation of the Law of Moses).

What does it mean to be deutero-canonical? How can something be “sort of” scripture? Can you rely upon it? Trust it? Derive doctrine from it? Trust the 1st, 3rd, and 5th verses but not the 2nd, 4th, and 6th? For a Protestant the notion of deutero-canonicity is nonsensical. It is like being half pregnant. It either is scripture or it isn’t.

This is not an unimportant matter, as Roman Catholics ground their view of Purgatory with an apocryphal biblical reference (though even the Apocrypha doesn’t really support the doctrine of Purgatory).

The Apocrypha is not scripture. Even the deutero-canonicity of Roman Catholicism makes it less than scripture. The Reformers saw the problem here.  They recognized the historic truth that the Jews had never recognized these books as being canonical, nor does the NT ever quote from any Apocryphal work, nor does the NT refer to these books as having any kind of authority.

However, the Reformers did see these books as having some value, as we’ll explore in our next post.