Why are the apocryphal books not part of the Holy Scripture?

Q. Why are the apocryphal books not part of the Holy Scripture?

The word ‘apocrypha’ means hidden or concealed writings. A total of 14 books are recognised by the Roman Catholic Church. Some of these books, for example 1 and 2 Maccabees contain helpful information about the inter-testamental period, but they are not inspired and so cannot be part of the canon of the Holy Scripture. The Westminster Confession of faith, accordingly, declares: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings” (WCF 1.3). We reject the canonicity and inspiration of the apocrypha for several reasons:  

Firstly, we reject the apocrypha as Scripture based on internal evidence: (1) None of the apocryphal books claim inspiration and some actually disclaimed inspiration. E.g., 2nd Maccabees concludes with a suggestion that the book is a human literary attempt to the best of the author’s ability: “And here will I make an end. And if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto” (2 Maccabees 15:38,39, KJV). Similarly, in the prologue of the book of Ecclesiaticus, which is the most highly regarded of the apocrypha books, the author, Jesus son of Sirach appeals: “Wherefore let me intreat you to read it with favour and attention, and to pardon us, wherein we may seem to come short of some words, which we have laboured to interpret.”  

(2) Some contained historical errors. E.g., Judith mistakenly identifies Nebuchadnezzar as king of the Assyrians (1:1, 7) and 1 Esdras places King Artaxerxes I before Darius I (2:30), possibly because of a misinterpretation of Ezra 2. Similarly, Tobit assumes that Sennacherib is the son of Shalmaneser (1:15) instead of Sargon II).  

(3) Some contain contradictions. E.g. Tobit claims to have been alive when Jeroboam revolted in 931 B.C.(1:4-6) and when Assyria conquered Israel in 722 B.C. (1:3,10).This, despite the fact that he lived only 158 years (14:11)!  

(4) Some taught doctrine that cannot be reconciled with the 39 books of the Hebrew canon or the 27 books of the New Testament. E.g. Tobit teaches that alms-giving atones for sin: (4:10; 12:9). Tobit also endorses the superstitious use of fish liver to ward off demons (6: 6,7)! 2 Maccabees teaches prayers for the dead (12:45-46).  

Secondly, we have ground to reject it for historical reasons: (1) Jewish scholars of repute were unanimous in rejecting them (e.g. Philo, Josephus and the scholars of the council Jamnia, A.D.  90). (2) No canon or council before the 1st 4 centuries recognised them. (3) Jerome (340-420), the great scholar who translated the Latin Vulgate rejected their canonicity, saying: they “are not in the canon” and that they may be read “for edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.” (4) The Reformers unanimously rejected them. (5) They were only given canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent in AD 1546 in reaction to the Reformation.  

Thirdly, but very importantly, although the apocrypha were already in common use in the first century, the Lord Jesus did not countenance the use of them in His earthly ministry. We see this very clearly in His references to the Old Testament Scripture (the apocrypha is regarded as being part of the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church). On one occasion after His resurrection, the Lord reminded His disciples that all that happened to Him was to fulfil the prophesy recorded in the Word of God. He said: “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). By referring to “the Law of Moses, prophets and the psalms,” the Lord was clearly referring to the 39 books of the Hebrew canon, because that was (and still is) the way in which the Hebrew Bible was divided. The three division of the Old Testament Bible were: (1) Torah (Law-Pentateuch); (2) Nebi’im (Prophets-Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings & all the prophetic books except Lamentation and Daniel) and (3) Kethubhim (writings-the rest of the books, including the poetic books and Chronicles. This is sometimes known as Psalms because it is the largest book in this division). To further confirm that He was referring to the Hebrew Canon, we refer to another of the Lord’s statements where He referred to the blood of the martyrs. He said: “That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias [Zechariah], which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation” (Luke 11:50-51). Curiously, while Abel was indeed the first martyr (Gen 4:8), we know for a fact that last martyr recorded in the Old Testament was not Zechariah (2 Chr 24:20), but Urijah (Jer 26:20-21, 23) who died some 200 years after Zechariah died. In fact, we know that after Urijah there were other martyrs such as those recorded in the Apocrypha 2 Maccabees 7. Did our Lord make a mistake? Obviously not. Remember that the last book in the Hebrew Bible was 2 Chronicles! The Lord was referring to order of the martyr according to Old Testament canon. It is clear that He did not regard the apocrypha as Scripture at all. 

Roman Catholic apologists sometimes point out that the New Testament may contain allusions or parallel to the Apocrypha (e.g. Matt 27:42-43; cf. Wisdom 2:12-20; Heb 11:37; cf. 2 Mac 7) and therefore the Apocrypha must be inspired. Such reasoning is meaningless when we consider the fact that any writer may quote or allude to something in a work which he takes to be true without affirming the value or truth of the book as a whole, much less ascribing divine authority to it. The Apostle, for example, quoted from a pagan poet in 1 Cor 15:33!