The term “deuterocanonical” is relatively new (16th Century AD). Sixtus of Siena was a Jew who converted to Catholicicsm and used the word to describe writings the Catholic Church considered canonical, but were not in the Hebrew Bible. The writings included:
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Baruch (including Letter of Jeremiah)
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Additions to Daniel (Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children, Bel and the Dragon, Susanna)
- Additions to Esther
The Eastern Orthodox Church includes these deuterocanonical books, plus 1 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church also adds 1 Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, and 1, 2 and 3 Meqabyan to its deuterocanonical books.
People who identify themselves as Christians make up about one-third of the world’s population (more than two billion). They are members of about 38,000 different denominational groups. That’s a lot of divergence in a general belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and the Son of God. How many of those people believe that deuterocanonical books are God’s Word? More than 1.3 billion. That means more than half of all people who call themselves Christians accept deuterocanonical books as Scripture – the Word of God – inspired by the Holy Spirit. With that in mind, let’s look at the deuterocanonical books and see why we should or should not accept them as God’s Word.
First, a little history about how the Church has dealt with deuterocanonical books. As we’ve already seen in previous studies, Jesus and His Apostles did not quote from deuterocanonical books or call them “scripture.” In 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul mentioned Jannes and Jambres resisting Moses, but did not quote it as Scripture or as coming from the Book of Jannes and Jambre. Jude, the half brother of Jesus, mentioned Enoch’s prophecy, but didn’t quote it as Scripture or mention the Book of Enoch. We must look to those Christians who came after the Apostles to see what the early Church believed about deuterocanonical books.
1st and 2nd century Christians were familiar with the many apocryphal books available at the time. In addition to the ones already mentioned, here are some of the other books early believers considered:
1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, 2 Baruch, 3 Baruch, 4 Baruch, 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, 5 Ezra, 6 Ezra, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 5 Maccabees, 6 Maccabees, 7 Maccabees, 8 Maccabees, Adam Octipartite, Adjuration of Elijah, Apocalypse of Abraham, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocalypse of Elijah, Apocalypse of Ezekiel, Apocalypse of Sedrach, Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Apocryphon of Jacob and Joseph, Apocryphon of Melchizedek, Apocryphon of the Ten Tribes, Ascension of Moses, Assumption of Moses, Book of Assaf, Book of Noah, Cave of Treasures, Coptic Apocryphon of Jeremiah, Eldad and Modad, Enochic Book of Giants, Epistle of Rehoboam, Greek Apocalypse of Daniel, Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, History of Joseph, History of the Rechabites, Jannes and Jambres, Joseph and Aseneth, Jubilees, Ladder of Jacob, Letter of Aristeas, Life of Adam and Eve, Lives of the Prophets, Manual of Discipline, Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, Odes of Solomon, Prayer of Jacob, Prayer of Joseph, Psalms of Solomon, Questions of Ezra, Revelation of Ezra, Sibylline Oracles, Signs of the Judgement, Sword of Moses, Testament of Abraham, Testament of Adam, Testament of Isaac, Testament of Jacob, Testament of Job, Testament of Moses, Testament of Solomon, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Treatise of Shem, Vision of Ezra, Visions of Heaven and Hell, and Words of Gad the Seer.
It’s important to note that just because an early Christian writer quoted from an apocryphal book does not mean they believed it was Holy Scripture – and even if they did, that doesn’t make a book “Scripture.” Only the direct “inspiration” of the Holy Spirit makes any writing Scripture. That’s what we’re considering. However, it is helpful to know what early Christian evangelists, apologists, pastors, and teachers thought about any writing purported to be “Scripture.”
Clement of Rome quoted some words from the Book of Wisdom and Judith, but used the quotes as examples to support a point, not as Scripture. The same with Polycarp and Irenaeus. Polycarp quoted from Tobit and Irenaeus from Bel and the Dragon, Susanna, and Baruch as examples to support theological arguments. Christians have quoted from other people’s writings for centuries without meaning for them to be taken as Holy Scripture.
The methodology for studying the writings of early Christians leaders is often based on the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). The Roman Emperor Constantine 1 convened the council of Christian bishops in Nicaea in Bithynia. Constatine was hoping to find consensus among the Church leaders on important aspects of belief and practice.
Christian leaders are often known as Ante-Nicene (before Nicaea), Nicene (contemporary with Nicaea), and Post-Nicene (after Nicaea).
Those leaders who followed closely behind the Apostles (Ante-Nicene) included Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Papias, and Clement of Rome.
Church leaders of the 2nd century AD included Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Theophilus of Antioch, Tatian, Hermas, and Athenagoras of Athens.
Church leaders of the 3rd century AD included Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, Caius, Commodian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Novatian, Dionysius, Lactantius.
Church leaders contemporary with the Nicene Council included Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, Alexander of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, Macarius of Jerusalem, Paul of Neocaesarea, Hilary of Poitiers, Aphrahat, Eusebius of Nicomedia, Nicholas of Myra, Jacob of Nisibis, Achilleius of Larissa, and Leontius of Caesarea.
Church leaders after the Nicene Council (Post-Nicene) included Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, Aurelius Ambrosius, Sulpicius Severus, John Chrysostom, Vincent of Lérins, and John Cassian.
In the next part of our study, we will look at how the apocryphal books were considered before, during, and after the Council of Nicaea.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”