It’s a question I’m asked regularly. Should I read the Apocrypha, and should it be included in the Bible?

Apocrypha is the name protestant Christians give to the seven additional books Roman Catholics include in the Bible. They also have certain additions to Esther and Daniel. Roman Catholics refer to these as deuterocanonical books.

The Catholic Case (1)

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that it has the authority to determine the limits of Scripture. It also asserts that there was no fixed canon of Scripture at the time of Jesus and His apostles. Some argue that there were competing canons, while others say that the Old Testament canon had not been entirely accepted in Jesus’ day. Whatever the case may be, the canon of Scripture was not fixed or established. This is quite true.

135 CE was the date the written Tanakh (Old Testament) was sealed. In other words, those who made decisions about sacred text decided it was complete by then. That’s a century after Jesus’ resurrection! Jewish scholars did not include the Apocrypha as a holy text.

The Bible Jesus Used

The Septuagint was the most widely read Scriptures of Jesus’ day and was likely the Bible he read, studied, and taught. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures completed by 72 Jewish scholars in the 3rd century BCE. The Septuagint did include the Apocrypha, and so Jesus and the early church would have been well acquainted with it.

The church, from the beginning, did not accept the shorter Jewish canon but instead included the deuterocanonical books or the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture.

The church fathers quoted from the Apocrypha but disagreed on its status. Augustine, for example, considered the Apocrypha as canonical (official Scripture). On the other hand, Jerome viewed it as ecclesiastical, to be read in church for edification but not on par with inspired Scripture.

Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther supported Jerome’s view. He wrote, “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.” Luther included the deuterocanonical books in his translation of the German Bible, but he did relocate them to after the Old Testament, calling them “Apocrypha” or “Hidden books.”

Incidentally, Luther attempted to take Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation out of the Bible because they didn’t fit with his teaching of being saved by faith alone without works. He placed these four books at the end of his German Bible translation as a kind of New Testament Apocrypha.

The Apocrypha was included in the 1611 publication of the King James Bible. It was officially removed from the English printings of the King James Version by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, leaving only 66 books. In other words, these books have only been absent from non-Roman Catholic Bibles for the last 136 years.

The Catholic case (2)

The Roman Catholic church claims that when the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are rightly studied and understood, they fit into a consistent pattern of teaching with the rest of the Bible and the teachings of the church. Therefore, they consider that we have every good reason to receive these works as canonical Scripture and to believe and obey the things taught therein.

But the New Testament Doesn’t Quote It!

Some state that Jesus and the New Testament authors do not quote from these books. But that’s not correct. While the New Testament doesn’t state, “It is written…” before quoting from the Apocrypha, there are dozens of instances where Jesus and the New Testament draw on Apocrypha. The golden rule (Matthew 7:12; cf. Tobit 4:15). Warnings against storing up riches (Matthew 6:19-20; James 5:3; cf. Sirach 29:10-11). The New Testament continues the strong theme of almsgiving (giving to help the poor) that we find in the Apocrypha. Consider Acts 3:3; 9:36; 10:2-4, 31; 24:17; 1 John 3:17 and Tobit 1:16; 2:14; 4:7-8, 10-11, 16; 12:8.

One of the clearest quotations is found in Jude’s little letter. Jude 14-15, “It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

The Apocryphal book of 1 Enoch states, “Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him” (1:9).

Concluding Thoughts

I haven’t read all of the apocryphal books, but maybe I should. I find myself agreeing with Jerome and Luther that “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.”

While part of me thinks we already have enough to read and study with the 66 books of the Bible, the fact that they were included in the Christian Bible for the first 1,855 years of the church’s existence seems to lend weight to the Apocrypha.

So, read them if you want to, but make up your mind to never fall out or argue about this with anyone!

It’s a question I’m regularly asked: Is it alright to pray to Mary and the Saints?

I write this with the highest respect for my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. I have learned, and continue to learn, much from you. I especially appreciate your great reverence for Mary, something that is often lacking in non-Roman Catholic churches. She was, as the angel declared, blessed and highly favoured!

Roman Catholic Theology

The doctrine of praying to Mary and the saints comes from some verses of Scripture found in James and Revelation. The Bible tells Christians to pray for one another (James 5:16). Catholic theologians then ask, “What human, other than the God-Man Jesus, is more righteous than Mary? She is full of grace (Luke 1:28) and blessed among women (Luke 1:42).” Roman Catholics believe that while on the cross, Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of all humanity when he said to John, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27). What good mother isn’t concerned with her children? Mary loves her children and prays for them.

Along with the other saints, Mary has died and gone to heaven, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned with the Church on Earth. Christians on Earth may be physically separated from Christians in heaven. Still, we are all connected supernaturally in the mystical Body of Christ. Christ has conquered death; what is more powerful: Death or the blood of Christ?

Roman Catholics also quote Revelation 8:3-4, “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” The text clearly states that angels in heaven are offering up the prayers of the saints. For whom are they praying? People in heaven or hell don’t need our prayers, so they must be praying for people on Earth and in purgatory. Or so the reasoning goes.

Who are the saints?

Much of this depends on the definitions used. To a Roman Catholic, a saint is a Christian who has died after leading a courageously virtuous life, embracing charity, faith, and hope and has at least one attested miracle to their name. To non-Roman Catholics, saints are followers of God (Hebrew Scriptures) or disciples of Jesus (New Testament).

“Saints” is always in the plural in Scripture speaking of a company of God’s people. And they were very much alive. Consider Acts 26:10 where Paul is telling his conversion story: “This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” It’s hard to lock up dead people in jail.

What about Mary?

Mary was blessed for her faith but was still a sinner who needed to accept Jesus, her Son, as Saviour. Consider the story recorded by Matthew, “He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. Someone told Him, “Look, your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother” (12:46-50). In other words, it’s more blessed to be a follower of Christ than to be the mother of Christ.

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Mary joined the Church as a disciple of Jesus. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14).

Wrong Assumptions?

The Roman Catholic doctrine of Assumption supports the veneration of Mary and the practice of praying to her. The tradition teaches that Mary was taken up into heaven like Jesus – physically and spiritually after she died. Since before the Middle Ages, this has been a popular idea, but not made official doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church until Pope Pius XII declared it so in 1950.

The earliest prayer to Mary, and prayer to the saints, is from the 3rd century. There is no mention of praying to the saints in the Bible. As for mediators? “There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human.” (1 Tim. 2:5, HCSB)

I’ll finish with a story. As you’re aware, my last name is Buckingham, and I was born in London. My parents emigrated to Perth, WA, in 1971, and I didn’t go back to the UK until Christie and I were married in the mid-90s. Now, consider that I wanted to visit Buckingham Palace. I walk up to the front gates and say to the guards, “Hi, my name is Rob Buckingham. This place bears my name, and I’d like to go in and chat with Her Majesty.” What do you think my chances would be? Did you say, “Zero?” You’d be right!

But, what if I met Prince Charles, and he and I got talking and hit it off? After a while, I tell him I’ve always wanted to see the palace. He says to me that’s not a problem, and off we go. We walk up to the gates, and they open without question. We go into the palace and into the throne room to meet mummy. I’m with the son. I have access.

It’s the same with God. The Bible says, “In him [Jesus, the Son] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12). Not with Mary, not with the saints, but with the Son. Enjoy your freedom!