Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible, Apocrypha

Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible are works recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy to be canonical parts of the Christian Old Testament but were not included in the Hebrew Bible. The word deuterocanonical is a Greek term that means ‘belonging to the second canon. The literal meaning of the word is misleading, but it does highlight the reluctance with which these works were admitted into the canon by some.

The word Deuterocanonical was initially used in 1566 by the converted Jew and Catholic clergyman Sixtus of Siena to describe scriptural passages of the Old Testament whose canonicity was prescribed for Catholics by the Council of Trent, but which had been withheld from some early canons, specifically in the East. Their acceptance among early Christians was not broad, but regional councils in the West published official canons that included these books as early as the fourth and fifth centuries. The deuterocanonical scriptural texts are:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24, but see also Esther in the New American Bible)
  • Wisdom
  • Ben Sira, also called Sirach or Ecclesiasticus
  • Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint
  • Additions to Daniel:
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
    king james version
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    There is considerable overlap between the Apocrypha section of the 1611King James Bible and the Catholic deuterocanon, but there are distinct differences. The Apocrypha section of the 1611 King James Bible comprises the aforementioned deuterocanonical books declared by Trent, plus the following three books that were not considered canonical:

    • 1 Esdras (also known as 3 Esdras)
    • 2 Esdras (also known as 4 Esdras)
    • Prayer of Manasses

    These three books make up the Apocrypha section of the Clementine Vulgate, where they are characterized as “outside of the series of the canon.” The 1609 Douai Bible includes them in an appendix, but they are omitted from recent Catholic Bibles. They are found, along with the deuterocanonical books, in the Apocrypha section of Protestant bibles.

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    The book of Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach and the Maccabees are not in either the Hebrew or Protestant Bibles. This raises the question: if there is controversy about some books, what are the criteria for admitting the other books? The truth is there is no certainty for any book, just a probability based on the information we have.

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    The Bible hasn’t been around since the time of Adam. For a few millennia, God’s Word was what the prophets passed on orally. The very notion of a Bible, a compilation of religious writings, occurred over time, after the arrival of the Old Testament Hebrews from the Exile, commencing with Ezra. The Bible, as we proclaim it today, originated with the Hebrew prophets. During the time when Yahushua roamed the earth, people recognized the books of Moses as Scripture. The Sadducees gave the prophetic works a lower-ranking though the other religious groups, including the Pharisees, believed them to be inspired. Over time, other books categorized under the name of Writings, or Wisdom Books, were combined with the first books with no specific arrangement, and without knowing what authority they should be given.

    Some of these books were not written in Hebrew but in Greek, because many Hebrews were residing in Greek-speaking countries; therefore, many books were added in the Greek translation of the Bible. It was only when the Romans destroyed their nation that the Pharisees called a council in Jamnia in order to recognize the Jewish community (in the year 95). At this council they established a list of inspired Scriptures and systematically excluded all the books written in Greek: as they perceived, God could only have spoken in the language of the Hebrew people.

    It was only when the Romans destroyed their nation that the Pharisees called a council in Jamnia to recognize the Jewish community (in the year 95). At this council they established a list of inspired Scriptures and systematically excluded all the books written in Greek: as they perceived, God could only have spoken in the language of the Jewish people.

    The early Christian church already had its own practice. The apostles accepted the Greek Bible without choosing between the different books, and they concentrated their discourses on the newly written Christian books to ascertain the ones to include in the New Testament. In 384, a proclamation of Pope Damasus definitively determined the canon of the Christian Bible. They retained some books from the Greek Bible, books which the Hebrews had renounced in Jamnia. They are the so-called deuterocanonical books.

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Twelve centuries later, when the Protestants separated from the church, they did not challenge the “canon,” namely the choice of the New Testament books. They did, however, disagree about the deuterocanonical books. Their final determination was to remove them and call them “apocryphal,” that is to say, not authentic.

If we acknowledge that God progressively taught his people throughout the Old Testament days, then we can comprehend the relevance of these books which are works of the last three centuries before Christ. They are the connecting links between the Hebraic books and the New Testament books written in Greek.

The disputes regarding the deuterocanonical books caution us that if there is not a means to establish which are the inspired books, no one will be able to tell decisively what is the word of God and what is not.

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