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The Deuterocanon Debate

Reasons to Exclude Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal Books


 

Reason

Counterargument(s)

The Jews were “entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2), therefore, we should use the Hebrew canon as the Christian Old Testament canon

  • The 1st century Jews have been accused by Christians as choosing their canon in opposition to Christ, therefore removing books that had Christian leanings/doctrines
  • Not all Jews agreed upon the Hebrew Bible canon (Protestant Old Testament canon), such as the Sadducees which only accepted the Pentateuch

The New Testament does not cite anything from the deuterocanonical books

  • The New Testament does not directly cite from many of the Old Testament books, which does not disqualify them; moreover, the New Testament does include a citation from the Book of Enoch in Jude 14-15, which demonstrates that just because a book is cited in the New Testament doesn’t mean that it is recognized as canonical
  • Although Jesus did not make a direct quotation, he may allude to the teachings in Tobit 4:9 and 4:16, and Hebrews 11:35 has no story to support this in the Hebrew canon, but does seem to in 2 Maccabees 7

Historical error in Judith: the text says that Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Assyrians (he was actually king of Babylon), therefore it cannot be inspired scripture

  • Inspired scripture may have items that appear historically inaccurate, at least on the surface, or dual assertions: for example in the Gospel of John, Jesus died before the Passover (John 13:1, 18:28, 19:14) whereas in Mark’s Gospel he died the day after the Passover (Mark 14:12, 15:25); similarly, Judas was reported in Matthew as hanging himself, yet in Acts he was reported to have had his intestines burst out – but this may just be two viewpoints, as in the Jerusalem heat a dead body hanging from a noose would have had gases build up in the intestines and stomach due to bacterial metabolism, resulting in his abdomen combusting.

Jerome rejected the deuterocanon

  • Jerome was only one of many church Fathers, and in antiquity there were many views that had evolved on the canon
  • “[Jerome gave] the sanction of his great fame as a scholar to a theory of the canon which, whatever its merits, was not that of the primitive church” (Howorth, "Influence of St. Jerome on the Canon," 321); scholars have admitted that Jerome may have given his influence on the canon but this was in the 5th century, and contradictory to earlier Christianity

Jesus implied a canon that ended without the deuterocanonical books compiled during the intertestamental period by quoting “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah…” (Luke 11:51, Matthew 23:35) Because the Hebrew canon began with Genesis and ended with Chronicles, Jesus was implying the beginning and ending of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), which did not include the deuterocanon

  • In the Matthew 23:35 quote, Jesus specifies that it is Zechariah son of Berekiah, whereas in the 2 Chronicles 24:20-21 reference it refers to Zechariah as the son of Jehoiada.
  • Although the Babylonian Talmud (200 AD) and Second Rabbinic Bible (1524) list Chronicles at the end of the tripartite divided Hebrew Bible, there are no consistent ordering of books of the Hebrew Bible in antiquity (Gallagher & Meade, p. 3)1, as further displayed in Josephus’ work Against Apion.  Furthermore, if the Hebrew canon ever did include the deuterocanonicals, it is not definitive that Chronicles would not necessarily be at the end.
  • Because Judaism at the time of Jesus was diverse (ie. Pharisees vs. Sadducees) who accepted varying canons, the placement of Chronicles could not be definitive to close off the deuterocanonicals.

Two of the deuterocanonical books (Sirach, 2 Maccabees) claim to be merely a human creation rather than a divinely inspired text

  • When viewing all scripture as a direct dictation from God, one cannot reasonably reconcile the human claim such as “…with indulgence for any apparent failure on our part, despite earnest efforts…” in Sirach or “…I will bring my own story to an end here too. If it is well written and to the point, that is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that is the best I could do...” in 2 Maccabees; however, this would preclude 1 Corinthians from being scripture as well, as Paul forgets that he baptized some in Corinth in chapter 1 before recalling it, and also specifically denotes that it is “I, not the Lord” speaking in chapter 7.

The deuterocanon itself claims that prophecy had ceased in Israel during the intertestamental period (1 Maccabees 9:27)

  • The reference in 1 Maccabees was referring to an earlier time as noted in Lamentations 2:9, not referring to the intertestamental period.

The Roman Catholic church added books at the Council of Trent (1546) to justify certain doctrines that that they had taught

NOTE: This specific argument comes from such a high degree of ignorance to the ancient canon lists that the preference would be to not even dignify it with an answer; however, it is a very popular argument, therefore it is addressed with a very simple counterargument

  • The deuterocanonical books have shown up in canon lists as early as the Muratorian Fragment in 170 AD all the way through the ages up until the Protestant Reformation.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church, which split from the Catholics in 1054, have always included the deuterocanonical books, supporting their inclusion in antiquity. For further examples of where the deuterocanonical books were included in canon lists long before the Council of Trent, please see the Lists page on this website.

Gallagher, E. L., & Meade, J. D. (2017). The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis.

 

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