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Answering the Most Common Objection to the Deuterocanonical Books

Protestants' reasons for removing certain books from the Bible do not hold up to close scrutiny

Trent Horn

The Catholic Old Testament contains seven books that are not found in Protestant bibles (Tobit, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees) as well as certain portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. The most common objection Protestants make to the authenticity of these “Apocrypha” or “deuterocanonical (i.e. second canon) books” is that Jesus and the Apostles never quoted from these books of Scripture.

For example, James McCarthy writes in The Gospel According to Rome, “Though the New Testament quotes virtually every book of the Old Testament, there is not a single quotation from the Apocrypha.” An article at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries (CARM) also lists this as their first and primary objection to the authenticity of the deuterocanonicals.

The major problem with this objection, however, is that it also applies to nearly a dozen books in the Protestant Old Testament canon.

According to Protestant scholar Bruce Metzger,

Nowhere in the New Testament is there a direct quotation from the canonical books of Joshua, Judges, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum; and the New Testament allusions to them are few in number.

Since Protestants accept these books in spite of them not being cited in the New Testament, then they should accept the deuterocanonical books as well.

Some Protestant apologists object to this reply by saying a book in the Old Testament doesn’t have to be cited in the New Testament in order to be considered Scripture; it just has to belong to a collection of books that is cited in the New Testament.

In Jesus’ time, the Hebrew Bible was divided into “the Law” (the first five books of the Bible), “the Prophets” and “the Writings,” which included books like Psalms and Proverbs. So, while Obadiah may not be cited in the New Testament, Malachi is and that shows the biblical authors believed Obadiah was inspired because that book belonged to the collection of writings called “the Prophets.”

But this objection assumes what it tries to prove—that the deuterocanonical books belong to an uninspired collection of books and weren’t considered to be part of the Ketuviim, or “the Writings.”

The authors of the deuterocanonical books did not believe the Hebrew canon was closed or that there was a set of books called “the Writings,” to which no more could be added. The prologue to Sirach only references “the law and the prophets and the others that followed them” and “the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books.” Second Maccabees describes Judas the Maccabee encouraging his troops only with words “from the law and the prophets” (15:9).

According to Old Testament scholar Otto Kaiser, the deuterocanonical books “presuppose the validity of the Law and the Prophets and also utilize the Ketubim, or ‘Writings’ collection, which was, at the time, still in the process of formation and not yet closed.” In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain Jewish writings from the years 400 B.C. to A.D. 100, include copies of deuterocanonical books like Sirach, Tobit, and Baruch, which shows they were considered to be part of the Writings.

Protestant authors Norm Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie claim the absence of commentaries on these texts as well as their not being penned with special parchment or script “indicates that the Qumran community did not view the apocryphal books as canonical.” However, commentaries for most of the books in the Protestant Old Testament are absent from the Dead Sea scrolls and books like Sirach were penned in a special style that is unique to writings the Qumran community considered to be Scripture.

Scholar Emanuel Tov argues that this special style indicates which documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls were considered by their authors were considered to be biblical, like Sirach, and which were not: “There is a special layout for poetical units that is almost exclusive to biblical texts (including Ben Sira [Sirach]), and is not found in any of the non-biblical poetical compositions from the Judean desert.”

Another problem with this objection is that even if the New Testament authors directly quoted the deuterocanonicals, that would still not convince Protestant apologists that the books were inspired. They could simply say in response, “So what? The New Testament also quotes apocryphal works like the book of Enoch and even Greek poets like Menander. What really counts is if the author introduces the quotation by saying something like “It is written” or “The Lord says.” But according to Catholic apologist Gary Michuta, less than a third of the Protestant Old Testament is cited in the New Testament with this introductory formula.

There is also evidence that some of the deuterocanonical books are referenced in a way that shows the New Testament authors considered them to be inspired records of biblical events.

For example, Hebrews 11:35 describes people in the Old Testament who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they may rise again to a better life.” These people are only described in 2 Maccabees 7, which describes brothers who accept torture instead of eating pork and violating Jewish law. Since the context of Hebrews 11 includes “the men of old [who] received divine approval” (v. 2), this means the books describing the Maccabean martyrs were part of the Old Testament that was used by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

The idea that the early Church viewed the deuterocanonical books as Scripture is even more evident in the writings of early Church fathers like Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Methodius, Cyprian, and Origen. Moreover, these fathers cited these books as “Scripture” or “holy Scripture,” and none of the pre-Nicene Church fathers ever declares the deuterocanonical books to be uninspired or non-canonical. St. Jerome even tells us that at the Council of Nicaea the deuterocanonical work of Judith was considered to be a part of the canon of Scriptures.

As the Protestant scholar J. N. D. Kelly said, for the great majority of the early Church Fathers, “the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

For more on this topic, see our Q&A “Didn’t the Catholic Church Add to the Bible?” and our articles “How to Defend the Deuterocanonicals” and “The Curious Case of the Protestant Bible.”

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