The Deuterocanonical Books

What are the deuterocanonical books? Why are they called the deuterocanon, and what do they have to do with the Apocrypha?

"Deuterocanonical" means "second canon." Originally, it was meant to designate a class of books that were in between the canonical (received as Scripture) and non-canonical books.

The Apocrypha

A similarly used word is "apocrypha." Apocrypha literally means "hidden," and has been used in various contexts, both modern and ancient. Today, I've been reading through Jerome's use of the word, and he uses it both of books to be avoided and books that should be ready by the church but not received as Scripture.

Jerome's Use of "Apocryphal"

In his To Pammachius on the Best Method of Tranlasting Jerome says, "Some writers on this passage betake themselves to the ravings of the apocryphal books and assert that the quotation comes from the Revelation of Elijah." In a letter to Laeta, he says that virgins ough to "avoid all apocryphal writings."

Those citations show a very negative view of the word "apocrypha," but in his preface to the Vulgate, he adds, "As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church."

Thus, here he uses "apocrypha" in the sense of deuterocanonical.

This sort of use of the word apocrypha is common down to modern times.

Ironically, the "Apocrypha" of the Roman Catholic Church, consisting of 7 books (plus some additions to Daniel and Esther) which Protestants do not receive as Scripture, was specifically excluded by St. Jerome from the Scripture, this despite the fact his latin Vulgate was the official Bible of the Catholic church for centuries.

Jerome wrote ...

This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a "helmeted" introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed among the apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which generally bears the name of Solomon, the book of Jesus the son of Sirach, Judith, Tobit, and the Shepherd [i.e., of Hermas, not included among the RCC Apocrypha] are not in the canon. (Preface to the Books of the Vulgate Version of the Old Testament, "The Books of Samuel and Kings"; as found in NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS, SERIES 2: The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series II, vol. VI)

Nonetheless, Jerome does not represent the opinion of all Christians, even of his time. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo at the time Jerome wrote that introduction, would give a list of canonical books that included every book just mentioned by Jerome as non-canonical except the Shepherd of Hermas.

Which Books Are Deuterocanonical?

Today, there is no agreement on exactly which books are deuterocanonical and which are simply non-canonical. There are three basic streams ... 

  • The Protestants receive only 66 books in their Bible and have no deuterocanon.
  • The Roman Catholics receive 73 books, with the extra 7 commonly known as "the Apocrypha."
  • The Orthodox churches accept a varying number of books, and generally would refer to those that are not among the 66 of the Protestants as deuterocanonical.

Orthodox churches often receive 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and 1 Esdras as canonical or deuterocanonical books, which are received by the neither Roman Catholics nor Protestants.

Notes

  • The Orthodox churches do not call their "extra" books deuterocanonical because they're not in the Protestant Bible. The Orthodox are much more ancient than the Protestants. They call them to be a secondarily canonical because they were only received by some churches in the 4th and 5th centuries (as proven by the fact that Jerome rejected them from his Vulgate).
  • The Roman Catholic Church did not approve the 7 books of Jerome's Apocrypha as Scripture until the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, though they treated them as Scripture long before that.

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