Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Is the Apocrypha Canonical?

Rev. Angus Stewart


Protestantism and Roman Catholicism agree regarding the canon of the New Testament (NT), but Roman Catholicism also includes the Apocrypha (Tobit, I and II Maccabees, Judith, etc.) in the Old Testament (OT) canon, unlike Protestantism.

The apostle Paul declares that "the oracles of God" were "committed" to the Jewish OT church (Rom. 3:2), which never considered the apocryphal books as canonical. If the Apocrypha were "inspired," as Rome claims (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 120, 138), Christ and His apostles (who were faithful in rebuking the Jews for sins of doctrine and life) would surely not have failed to reprove them. Instead, Christ endorsed their canon with its threefold division: "the law of Moses," "the prophets" and "the psalms" (Luke 24:44).

The apocryphal books were written later than the OT books; after the last of the OT prophets; and most are in Greek and not in Hebrew, the language of the OT. Moreover, their style and matter proclaims them to be merely human, and not divine, compositions. For example, II Maccabees ends, "And if I have written well and to the point in my story, this is what I myself desired; but if meanly and indifferently, this is all I could attain unto" (15:38). Hardly the words of an inspired penman!

Roman Catholic apologist, Patrick McCafferty asserts that Tobit 4:15 ("what thou thyself hatest, do to no man") is "quoted" by Christ in Matthew 7:12 ("Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;" cf. Luke 6:31). First, this is hardly a quote and certainly not literal. Note the difference in the length of the two quotes, and that whereas Tobit is negative (telling us what we must not do), Christ’s command is positive (telling us what we must do). Second, Christ does not indicate that this is a citation, whether of Tobit or anything else. Third, the quotation of a passage does not of itself prove a book to be canonical, for the NT even quotes pagan writers, e.g., Aratus, Menander and Epimenedes (Acts 17:28; I Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12).

Moreover, Tobit contains errors and superstitions incompatible with God’s revealed Word. Raphael, a holy angel (12:15), lies that he is Azariah, the son of Ananias (5:12). The angel gives magical directions for driving away a demon by the smoke of a fish’s liver and heart (6:7), contrary to Christ ("this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting;" Matt. 17:21).

God-breathed OT and NT Scripture alone is the test of all tradition and doctrines (Acts 17:11; I John 4:1). Faithful interpretation and application of God’s Word (apostolic tradition) in the true church as summed in early ecumenical and Reformed creeds must be held fast (II Thess. 2:15). That tradition (including Roman Catholic tradition) which is merely the "doctrines" and "commandments of men" which makes "the Word of God of none effect" (Mark 7:7, 13) must be rejected. The true church holds up the truth of Jesus Christ before the world by proclaiming and defending the doctrines of God-breathed Scripture alone, and thus it is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15).

(Listen to the audio of a class on Belgic Confession 6 on the Apocrypha!)