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While I believe the apocrypha do not belong in the Bible, I also sincerely believe that the doctrinal differences between Catholics and non-Catholics are not fundamentally caused by the differences between their Bibles. That is, I believe I can use the Catholic Bible, complete with apocrypha, to demonstrate the truth about every major point of difference I have with Catholicism. Hence, I conclude that the apocrypha is not the major difference between Catholics and non-Catholics. Nevertheless, we do need to know, of course, whether or not these books belong in the Bible.
If you go to our Gospel Way site at /instruct/, you can find there an article about the preservation of the Bible. This article deals in general with the question of whether we today have the Bible as God's complete and perfect revelation, or whether parts have been lost or changed over the years, etc. The apocrypha is just one aspect of that study (see specifically the last section of that article).
The main point to remember (as discussed in our article about the preservation of the Bible) is that the books of the Bible which we have, and which we all agree are from God, promise that God intended for the Bible to completely reveal His will for man. Therefore He promised to preserve it by His power so it would always be available for man's instruction. Our faith in the Bible, as we have it, is not fundamentally based on specific evidence regarding every particular book, but on our faith that God promised He would preserve the Bible. Men have carefully studied the issue of what books belong in the canon, but such men are simply tools God has used to fulfill His promise to preserve His word. Our faith is in God's promise, not in the men.
The preservation of the Old Testament demonstrates that God has fulfilled His promise to preserve His word. We can be sure that the Old Testament was properly preserved, because Jesus and His disciples used the Old Testament exactly as the Jews of Palestine in that day accepted it; they never once criticized the Jews choice of what books to include. This is proof positive that God kept His promise and did preserve His word. Since the New Testament was preserved in exactly the same way as the Old Testament, I conclude it too is accurately preserved today, just like the Old Testament.
Specifically regarding what books belong in the Old Testament, it is a known fact that the Jews of Palestine in Jesus' day did not accept the apocryphal books as being inspired. They knew which books they believed to be canonical, and those books are the ones now found in non-Catholic Bibles. Even the Catholic Bible admits that the Jews did not accept books such as 1 Maccabees, etc. (this is often openly admitted in the introduction to such books in Catholic Bibles). If the Jews erred there, would not Jesus and His apostles have said so?
Another argument against the apocrypha is that they were not quoted in the New Testament. But that is less important to us than what books were known to be accepted by the Jews. If the Jews had been wrong about this, Jesus would surely have said so. Instead He just took their Scriptures and cited them as Divine Authority.
It is true that the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament includes the apocrypha, but that does not prove they were considered to be inspired. My copy of the Septuagint sets the apocrypha apart from the other Old Testament books, as though they are an appendix. Other translations (including, I believe, the Vulgate) included the apocrypha, even though the men who made them did not think those books were inspired. Again, the Jews of Jesus' day knew that these books were included in the Septuagint, but they still did not consider these books inspired, and Jesus never disagreed with them about what books they accepted. That is the issue.
It is also not really an issue as to when the Jews made an official, formal statement expressing their rejection of the apocrypha. The point is that the Jews in Jesus' day did know what they considered to be Scripture, and they did not accept the apocrypha. Yet Jesus and the apostles used those Scriptures without ever disputing with the Jews about their view of what books are canonical. If there was doubt about this, Jesus and His apostles would have dealt with the issue. The Jews did eventually make an official list of accepted Scripture, and that list agrees with what Palestinian Jews in the first century believed, and it did not include the apocrypha.
Finally, remember that the apocryphal books are all in the Old Testament, which no longer applies to us as Divine law today. (See our articles about this at /instruct/.) We all agree on what books belong in the New Testament, which is the portion of Scripture that includes God's laws for us today.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2005; www.gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.