Why Aren’t the Apocryphal Books in the Bible?
I received a very specific request this week to answer why the books of the Apocrypha are excluded from the Bible. I’m very excited about answering this question. If you’re familiar with the Roman Catholic Bible, or books of the Bible and, say, the Greek Orthodox Bible, you might realize that there are more books in those Bibles than there are in your copy of the Scripture if you are a Protestant. Those extra books (there are many, and the list isn’t all the same) but those extra books are called the Apocrypha. So I want to answer that question in order for me to answer it in a way that’s going to be most helpful. There are three concepts that we need to understand. The first thing you need to understand is the doctrine of inspiration. The doctrine of inspiration is a tremendously significant biblical doctrine. We read about it in 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Okay, so the doctrine of inspiration comes from this language of “breathed out by God.” The image that’s in your head when you think of breathing out is your breath on a cold day. You see your breath, and when you speak, that mist comes out of your mouth, that fog comes out of your mouth, and you can see it. That is the idea that is communicated with the Bible. The books in the Bible, the Scriptures, are breathed out by God. They have God’s breath in them. It’s as though the pages of the Scripture were open, and when God spoke, his breath came out and is captured in the pages of that book, in the words of the Bible. The doctrine of inspiration is so crucially important because it means that the Bible really is God’s Word. What the Bible says is what God says. That’s why it’s our authority. That’s why we know it is true, because God is our authority because God doesn’t lie. And God has spoken the Scriptures. So our doctrine of the Scripture is very important because it comes from God. So you need to understand the doctrine of inspiration.
Protestant Understanding of the Canon
But there’s a second concept you need to understand. And that concept is the Protestant understanding of canon. Not a cannon that blasts out big huge metallic balls and is an old-fashioned weapon, but it is a canon that is a rule or a standard of measure. That’s the definition of canon that we’re talking about here. The canon is the rule or the standard of measure; it is the list of the books which are contained in the Bible. The church has needed to find out, okay, if God’s word is breathed out, if it is inspired, then we need to know which books are inspired and which ones are not. The Church does not decide which books of the Bible are inspired. The church instead discovers which books of the Bible are inspired. Again, what gives the Bible its authority is not a declaration from the church. What gives the Bible its authority is the inspiration from God, and it’s been the church’s work over the millennia to discover which of those books are breathed out by God and which ones are not inspired by God. The test that the church has used to discover inspiration, as the rule for canonicity, is about five different things. First of all, is apostolicity. A book needs to be written by an apostle or endorsed by an apostle. A second test is catholicity (doesn’t mean Roman Catholic Church). It means Catholicity, the whole church. This is something that is regarded by the whole church as something that is a book that comes from God. Third is orthodoxy. Inside the book, does the internal teaching of the book is it consistent with the larger biblical teaching? Then there is antiquity. These books have to be really old if they come from the apostles or if they come from the prophets, they can’t be new. They have to be old books. And then, five is traditional use in the ancient church where they understood to be inspired. So those five tests are what the church is using to determine canonicity to determine inspiration, and books that pass those tests are recognized to be inspired and so included in the Protestant canon. Again, they’re in the canon, not because the church said these books are inspired. They’re in the canon because the church discovered, oh, these books are inspired, and we need to learn from them and submit to them.
Understanding the Term “Apocrypha”
So I said three concepts. The first is inspiration. The second is canon. And the third, then, is Apocrypha. Why aren’t the Apocryphal books in the Bible? Well, we need to understand what the Apocrypha is. The word “Apocrypha” comes from a Greek term that means hidden away. Many of these books in the Apocrypha are helpful. If you notice, for example, books like 1 and 2 Maccabees, I’ve read those books a couple of times. They’re very helpful history. They are useful to the church and understanding periods and Bible times. They are in the Bibles of Roman Catholics and Greek and Russian Orthodox, but they are not in the Bibles of Protestants. Here’s the thing. Not everything that is helpful is inspired by God. I’m speaking to you from my office, and I have got a lot of books on my shelves. I’m looking at some remarkably helpful books that have meant the world to me. They have grown my knowledge of the Lord, and they’ve deepened my understanding of Scripture, but they’re not inspired by God. They’re not in the Bible. Not every book that is helpful is inspired by God. So it is with 1 and 2 Maccabees and many of the other apocryphal books. They have been understood by many Protestants to be helpful, but not understood by them as meeting the high standard for canonicity. They’ve not been understood to be inspired, and so they are excluded or hidden away. They are the Apocrypha. So that is why the Apocryphal books are not in the Bible.