I did not have a Bible when I was saved, so I got a copy and started reading. It was a King James Version. I was introduced to the Word of God having 66 individual Books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Every Christian I knew had Bibles with 66 Books. It was later that I learned many Bible versions had substantially more than 66 books. That was more than 40 years ago and I’m still using a Bible with 66 Books. Have I been missing out on hearing from God all this time by not having the deuterocanonical books as part of my study and obedience?
We are now looking at how the early Church used the apocryphal books written between 200 BC and 70 AD. In the last part of our study, we looked at Church leaders during the first 350 years. They are often divided into three groups – Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene – based on the Council of Nicaea which met in Nicaea, Bithynia in 325 AD. Roman Emperor Constantine 1 convened the Council 12 years after Rome instituted religious tolerance throughout the Empire, ending the severe Roman persecution of Christians.
I had access to great libraries of Christian books during my first year as a Christian. I was introduced to some of the best writings of pastors, theologians and apologists from past centuries and read many creeds and faith statements. The earliest “creed” of the Church is thought by many to be what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.”
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ , the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.” (Original Nicene Creed, AD 325)
What we don’t find in this particular creed – though extremely important because of vital issues facing the Church at that time – is an answer to our question about which, if any, apocryphal books are Scripture. We will need to look to the history of the early Church to see what they believed about the inspired Word of God.
One of the earliest canons of Scripture was developed by Marcion of Sinope during the early part of the 2nd century AD. It included 10 Letters of Paul (excluding the Pastoral Epistles and adding epistles to the Alexandrians and the Laodiceans) and Marcion’s own version of Luke’s Gospel. Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament and writings of apostles other than Paul and preached a theology that disturbed many Christians of his time (a type of gnosticism), but his effort to determine the canon of Scripture seems to have led other Church leaders to develop a full canon of Scripture in response.
The Pauline Epistles and other Apostolic writings were circulating throughout the Church during the second half of the 1st century AD. Even though Marcion accepted only Luke’s Gospel and 10 of Paul’s Letters as Scripture, most Church leaders regarded the four Gospel accounts, the Book of Acts, and the Writings of Christ’s Apostles as Scripture.
The Muratorian fragment (dating to the end of the 2nd century AD) demonstrates that the Church was using the 27 Books of the New Testament by that time, even though some of what Christians have in their Bibles today was disputed for some time. Those Books were called antilegomena, which is Greek for written texts where there were questions of authenticity or value. Homologoumena were accepted texts. Notha were rejected texts. We’ll look at those texts in more depth when we reach our study about how the Church canonized the New Testament.
The Chester Beatty Papyri, believed to date from the 3rd century AD (Ante-Nicene), contains 11 Greek manuscripts: portions of several Old Testament Books, 3 New Testament Books, and 1 with the Book of Enoch and a Christian homily. The Old Testament manuscripts are codices (texts in book form) and contained portions of Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.
The Bryennios List, written in Koine Greek, is dated to the beginning of the 2nd century AD and includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Jesus Nave (Book of Joshua), Deuteronomy, Numbers, Judges, Ruth, Samuel and Kings, Chronicles, Esdras (Greek version of the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah), Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, Minor Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Bishop Melito of Sardis lived during the 2nd century AD and compiled an early Christian canon of the Old Testament after traveling to Palestine. Those Books included – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Kings, Chronicles, Psalms of David, Proverbs of Solomon (also called the Book of Wisdom), Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Minor Prophets (in one Book), and Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah).
Origen of Alexandria was a Christian scholar and theologian of the early 3rd century AD (Ante-Nicene). He viewed the 22 Books of the Old Testament as Scripture. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea was a leading Christian scholar and historian at the time of the Council of Nicaea (Nicene) and believed in the authenticity of the 22 Books as making up the Old Testament. So did Jerome of Stridon who was a leading Christian scholar of the late 4th century AD (Post-Nicene). Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin (Vulgate) and wanted to limit the Old Testament to the Hebrew 22. However, Bishop Damasus of Rome wanted all of the traditionally-used books, so the Vulgate has 46.
Other 4th century AD Christian leaders who cited the 22 Book Old Testament Canon included Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius. The Council of Laodicea in 364 AD restricted the readings in church meetings to only Books of the Old and New Testaments. The Council’s canon of the Old Testament included – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther, Kings, Chronicles, Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah), Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The Twelve Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah-Baruch-Lamentations and the Epistle, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
The views of Jerome and others of the 4th century AD were not held by all Christian leaders of that time. The Synod of Hippo (North Africa) in 393 AD approved an Old Testament canon that included deuterocanonical books. One of the leaders of that Synod was Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric in the late part of the 4th century AD. He taught at Thagaste, Carthage, Rome, and Milan. It was in Milan in 386 AD that Augustine converted to Christianity and was baptized by Bishop Ambrose. Augustine returned to Africa and was ordained to the ministry in 391 AD and became Bishop of Hippo in 395 AD. He served there until 430 AD. Augustine believed that the deuterocanonical books of the Greek Bible were Scripture and played a major role in the canonizing of the Septuagint.
The Synod of Hippo in 393 AD issued a canon of the Bible that included: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-4 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Job, Tobias, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, 1-2 Esdras, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Sirach, Twelve Minor Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel.
The Council of Carthage in 397 AD issued a canon of the Bible that included: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, 4 books of Kingdoms, 2 books of Chronicles, Job, the Davidic Psalter, 5 books of Solomon, 12 books of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, 2 books of Ezra, and 2 books of Maccabees.
As you can see from this brief history of how the early Church viewed the Old Testament Canon, Christian leaders were concerned that all of God’s Word was included in the life of the Church and believers. The disagreements about which Books were Scripture and which were not continued for centuries, leading to the many versions of the Bible used today by Christians around the world.
In the next part of our study, we will look at individual deuterocanonical books to determine what God wants us to do with them. This is not a question of which denominational affiliation you find yourself or how you were raised. The more important issue is what God wants us to do with them.
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.”