The Apostle, 26 Dec 2010: Protestants reject the seven Deuterocanonical Books as ‘apocryphal’.
The word ‘deutero’ means secondary and deuterocanonical means belonging to a second canon. So, these Books have their authenticity and inspiration as a secondary but approved by the Catholic Church. They were mostly written in Greek though some in Hebrew or Aramaic.
During the Reformation, Protestants suspected these Books were not available in Hebrew or Aramaic. The issue became more complicated as Catholic theologians held these Books as support for doctrines. Therefore, they were rejected by the reformers.
The real meaning of apocryphal is ‘having little or no authenticity’. In the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Catholic Church confirmed her authorization of all the Books in the Bible, and these seven Books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, 1 & 2 Maccabees and Baruch were included as Deuterocanonical Books.
Today, they are still used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but are not apocryphal as stated by our Protestant brothers. In this age of ecumenicism, some Protestant Bible versions include these seven Books for two reasons. Firstly, because we, Catholics want them to consider the’complete Bible’. Secondly, Catholics and Protestants study the Bible together, and these Books are quite important for the understanding of early Judaism. As Protestant students become more familiar with the deuterocanonical writings, their old suspicion is disappearing. Now we can find “The Revised Standard Version” and “The New English Bible” published as ‘complete Bible’. However, these Books are under a section either between the two Testaments or after the New Testament in Protestant editions.
Actually, the term of apocryphal books is used more widely of Jewish and Christian books that neither Catholics nor Protestants consider as Scripture. They include books like Enoch, Jubilees, IV Esdras and a few others that were not accepted in the commonly agreed canonical Bible. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does not openly condemn such apocryphal gospels, bur regards them as inaccurate, Gnostic gospels. These include the recent 1940’s discovery of a collection of writings at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.
The apocryphal gospels only tell us how Christians of the second century thought about Jesus. For example, the gospel of Peter is an imaginative narrative of Christ’s passion. The gospel of Thomas gives a form of Jesus’ saying about the Kingdom of God within one’s centre, but does not contain Jesus’ life and teachings. Perhaps “The Protevangelium of James” (a.k.a. Infancy Narrative of James) has but little influence on Catholic thought. From this gospel, the names of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne were known. From it also came the story of Mary’s presentation in the Temple at an early age, and the portrayal of Joseph as an elderly man carrying a lily that earned him Mary’s hand in marriage.
In short, apocryphal gospels may be useful for helping us to know the various Christian groups of the second to third centuries. But they practically have no value for any biographical, historical facts about the life of Jesus and His teachings, or about Christians before the death of Peter and Paul in the AD 60’s.
- by T P Ng
(Some explanatory notes are extracted from Fr Raymond Brown, U.S. Catholic Bible Scholar.)
(N. B. This article was circulated in class at SPI by Fr Aloysius Ong in Oct 2010 to share with others.)
The Apostle, 26 Dec 2010