The Canonicity of the Apocrypha

Chris Thomas Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions Leave a Comment

QUESTION 9: Are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the first two books of Maccabees, Baruch, and the additions to Esther and Daniel properly included in the list of canonical books?  Negative, against the Roman Catholics.

I. The apocryphal books are so called not because the authors of the books are unknown–there are
canonical works whose authors are not known and apocryphal ones whose authors are–nor because they
are read only privately, and not in public

[worship]; some of them are indeed read in public. They are so
called either because they were kept out of the chest in which the sacred writings were preserved, as
Epiphanius and Augustine supposed, or because their authority was unclear and suspect and therefore
their use was restricted, that is, the church did not read them for the purpose of establishing ecclesiastical
dogmas, as Jerome says in his preface to the Proverbs of Solomon; or, which is the more truthful
explanation, because they are of doubtful and obscure origin, and the obscurity was not cleared up by
those through whose testimony the authority of Scripture came to us, as Augustine says (City of God 5.24[15.23]).
II. The question does not involve the books of the Old and New Testaments which we regard as canonical;
these the Roman Catholics also accept. Nor does it involve all apocryphal writings; there are some which
the Roman Catholics reject no less than we, such as III and IV Esdras, III and IV Maccabees, or the
prayer of Manassas. But we are concerned with Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, I and II
Maccabees, and the additions to Esther and Daniel, which the Roman Catholics include among the
canonical writings. We exclude them, not that they are without many true and pious elements, but that
they lack the marks of the canonical books.
III. There are a number of reasons. (1) The Jewish church, to which was entrusted the oracles of God
(Rom. 3:2), did not accept them, using the same canon as we, as Josephus witnesses (Against Apion 1.[8]) and as Becanus and Stapleton admit. This could not have been done without serious sin (crimen) if
these books had been entrusted to them on the same terms as the others, but no such charge is ever
made against them by Christ or by the apostles. At this point no distinction ought to be made between
the Jewish and the Christian canon, because Christians cannot and should not accept any books as
canonical, except those accepted by the Jews, their book-carriers (capsarii), as Augustine calls them–
“who carry the books for us students” (commentary on Psalm 60). (2) [The apocryphal books] are never
cited as canonical by Christ and the apostles as the others are, and indeed when Christ divides all the Old
Testament books into three classes-law, psalms, and prophets (Luke 24:44)–he obviously gave his
approval to the Jewish canon, and excluded those books which are not contained in this classification. (3)
Because the Christian church accepted the same canon as we, and no other books, for four hundred
years; this is shown by the canons of the Council of Laodicea (59), by Melito, bishop of Sardis, who lived
in A.D. 116 (Eusebius, Church History 4.25), Epiphanius in his treatment of the Epicureans, Jerome in his
prologue, Athanasius in his synopsis. (4) Because the authors [of the Apocrypha] were not prophets and
inspired men, since these books were written after Malachi, the last of the prophets, nor were they
written in Hebrew, like the Old Testament, but in Greek. So Josephus says, in the place cited above, that
the writings of his people after the time of Artaxerxes are not of equal trustworthiness and authority with
the earlier ones, as not being in the true succession of the prophets.
IV. (5) Both the style and the content of these books cry out that they are human, not divine, so that
anyone who did not realize that they were produced by human effort would be a person of little insight,
although some [of the books] are superior to others. For besides the fact that the style does not equal the
majesty and simplicity of the divine style, but is redolent of the evil and weakness of human learning,
with folly, flattery, conceit, affectation, pseudoerudition and false eloquence, all of which occur frequently
(non raro), there is in [these books] so much that is not only inconsequential and frivolous, but also false,
superstitious, and contradictory, that it is very plain that [these books] were of human, not divine,
composition. We give a few examples of the many errors. In Tobit lying is attributed to the angel, who in 5:15 [12] calls himself Azariah the son of Ananias, and in 12:15 Raphael the angel of the Lord. The same[angel] in chapter 6 gives magical guidance for the expulsion of a demon by the smoke of a burning fish’s
liver, contrary to the word of Christ (Matt. 17:21). He accepts for himself the offering of prayer which is
rightful only for Christ (12:12). The book of Judith praises (9:2) an act of Simeon that was cursed by
Jacob (Gen. 49 [:5 – 7]); it praises the lying and deception of Judith, which is not consistent with piety
(chap. 11); and worse than that, it praises her for seeking the blessing of God for her lying and deception
(9:13). There is no mention of the city of Bethulia in Scripture, nor is there any mention of this
deliverance [by Judith] in either Josephus or Philo, who wrote about Jewish history. The author of Wisdom
falsely states that he was king in Israel (9:7 – 8), and is understood as Solomon, although he mentions
athletic contests which were not yet being held among the Greeks of Solomon’s time (4:2); moreover, he
presents the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration (8:19 – 20) and gives a false account of the origin of
idols (15:15 -16). The son of Sirach attributes to Samuel an act that was the work of an evil demon called
forth by wicked methods (Ecclesiasticus 46:20; I Sam. 28:11), gives a false account of the corporeal
return of Elijah (de Elia corporaliter reverso) (48:11), and, in the prologue, apologizes for his delusions.
V. In the additions to Esther and Daniel there are so many contradictory and foolish statements that
Sixtus Senensis simply rejects them. Baruch says that he read his book to Jeconiah and all the people in
Babylon in the fifth year after the fall of Jerusalem (Baruch 1:2 – 3), when, however, Jeconiah was still in
prison, and Baruch was in Egypt, taken away with [Jeremiah] after the assassination of Gedaliah (Jer.
43:10 [7]). The altar of the Lord is mentioned at a time when the temple no longer existed (Baruch
1:10). The books of the Maccabees often contradict each other–compare I Maccabees 1:16 with 9:5 and
28, and I Maccabees 10. The suicide of Razis is praised (II Maccabees 14:42). Will-worship is praised
when Judas [Maccabeus] offers sacrifices for the dead which are not provided for by the law (II
Maccabees 12:42). The author apologizes for his weakness and infirmity, and comments on the difficulty
of stitching together his patchwork (cento) out of the five books of Jason of Cyrene (II Maccabees 2:24;
15:[38-]39). If anyone should want more on these books, let him consult Rainold, Chamierus, Molinaeus,
Spanheim, and others who have carried on this discussion extensively and soundly.
VI. The canon of faith is one thing; the canon of ecclesiastical reading is another. We are not discussing
the latter, for it is well known that these apocryphal books have from time to time been read in public
worship, but only for the instruction of the people, as Jerome says in his preface to the book of Solomon.
Likewise the “legends,” which are so called from legendum, and which told of the sufferings of the
martyrs, used to be read in public worship, although not regarded as canonical. Here we are discussing
the canon of faith.
VII. The word canon is used in two senses by the patristic writers, broadly and narrowly. In the former
sense it includes not only the canon of faith but also that of ecclesiastical reading. In this sense the forty-
seventh canon of the third Council of Carthage must be understood, when it calls the books [of the
Apocrypha] canonical, not narrowly and with strict accuracy as the canon of faith, but broadly as the
canon of reading, as the synod, which also desired that the “passions of the martyrs” be read, explicitly
declared (if indeed this canon is not interpolated, since it mentions Pope Boniface, who at that time was
not yet pope, so that Syrius Monachus calls this a canon of the seventh council of Carthage, not the
third). Augustine is to be understood in the same way when he calls [the Apocrypha] canonical. He sets
up two classes of canons, one that is accepted by all churches and concerning which there is no question;
the second which is accepted by some, and which was commonly read by both parties, and he held this
second as not to be esteemed as much as the first, and its authority to be much less (Against the
Manicheans 2.5). The Apocrypha indeed are for him corrupt, false, and dishonest writings; he calls them
“fables of scriptures which are called apocrypha” (City of God 5.24 [15.23]). But “canon” is used narrowly
for that which had divine and infallible authority for proving the dogmas of the faith, and thus Jerome
uses the word when he excludes [the Apocrypha] from the canon. So Augustine uses the word canon
more broadly than Jerome, who uses the word apocrypha more broadly than Augustine, not only for
books which are clearly false and mythological, but also for those which, although read in church, are not
employed for proving the dogmas of the faith, so that it is easy to harmonize the words of these Fathers,
who seem to disagree in this matter. So Cajetan, at the end of his commentary on Esther, explains the words of the Fathers: “for Jerome the words of councils and fathers are reduced to such a classification
that they are not canonical, that is, containing rules for the establishment of articles of faith, although
they can be called canonical, that is, containing rules for the edification of believers, since they are
received into the biblical canon for this purpose,” with which teaching Dionysius the Carthusian agrees in
his preface to Tobit.
VIII. There is no point to the Roman Catholic distinction between the canon of the Jews and that of the
Christians, for, although our canon in its totality means all the books of the Old and New Testaments,
which are equally part of it, as is not the case with the Jews, who reject the New, nevertheless, if the
word is used of a part, that is, the Old Testament, in which sense we are now discussing, it is certain that
our canon does not differ from that of the Jews, because they have never received any books into the
canon except those which we do.
IX. If among the Fathers there is reference to some deuterocanonical works, it is not to be understood
that they are in truth and univocally canonical with respect to faith, but they are included in the canon of
reading, on account of many pious and useful contents that can serve for edification.
X. The quotation of a passage does not prove a book to be canonical, (1) for if it did, Aratus, Menander,
and Epimenides, who are quoted by Paul (Acts 17:28; I Cor. 15:33;Titus 1:12) would be canonical, and
(2) the words which our adversaries claim are quoted from the Apocrypha can be found in other canonical
books, from which, rather than from the Apocrypha, the apostles could have quoted.
XI. If [the apocryphal books] are joined to the canonical ones, it does not follow that they are of equal
authority, but only that they are useful for the cultivation of morals, and for an understanding of the
history of [biblical] times, not for the establishment of faith.
XII. Although some apocryphal books, such as Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, are better and purer than
others, and contain a number of ethical teachings of good content, which have their value, yet because
they have many other teachings both false and foolish, they are wisely excluded from the canon.
XIII. Although some doubted the authenticity of a number of New Testament books, such as the Epistle of
James, II Peter, II and III John, and Revelation, which afterward were held canonical by the church, it
does not follow that this could happen with respect to the apocryphal books, because in this matter the
status of Old and New Testament books is different. (1) For the books of the Old Testament were not
given to the Christian church by stages, in temporal succession or through parts of the church, but all
books belonging to it were received from the Jews at one and the same time written in one codex, after
they had received unquestioned authority, which was confirmed by Christ himself and by the apostles. But
the books of the New Testament were written separately in different times and places, and gradually
collected into one corpus. Therefore, some of the later books, which came later to some churches,
especially in remote areas, were held in doubt by some, until their authenticity gradually became known.
(2) Although some Epistles and the Book of Revelation were questioned in some churches, yet there were
always many more that accepted them. But there was never any disagreement over the apocryphal
books, because they were always rejected by the Jewish church.
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