Who were the first to declare the apocrypha non-canonical, and why?
So who first believed the Old Testament Apocryphal books did not belong in Scripture:
1) the Jews who did not include them in their canon;
2) Jesus and the Apostles who in their preaching mention many Old Testament events, but they never refer to any incidents or characters of the Apocrypha. They were Jews and used Jewish cannon.
3) Jerome who much later in 405 A.D. said they were not in cannon;
4) and Martin Luther over 1000 years after Jerome, at the Reformation when he translated his Geneva Bible.
In translating the Old Testament, something struck Jerome: the books the Jews regarded as Holy Scripture did not include the books we know as the Apocrypha. These books had been included in the Septuagint, the basis of most older translations, as Jerome was compelled by the church to include them. But he made it clear that in his opinion the Apocryphal books were only liber ecclesiastici (church books to be read for edification), as opposed to the fully inspired liber canonici (canonical books to establish doctrine). Over one thousand years later, the leaders of the Reformation would follow Jerome’s lead and not include the Apocrypha in the Protestant Bibles.
“The Divine Library,” as Jerome called the Bible, was finally available in a well written, accurate translation in the language commonly used in the churches of the Western Empire. Jerome’s translation, known as the Vulgate (from the Latin word vulgus, meaning “common” language), became the standard. A millennium (1000 years) later, for example, Martin Luther, though he knew Hebrew and Greek, quoted Jerome’s Vulgate throughout his life. The Vulgate was highly regarded by scholars and was used as the basis for translations into other languages for a thousand years. The Council of Trent, in 1546, declared the Vulgate the only authentic Latin text of the Scriptures.
The cannon of the bible has been decided, yet canon has been decided differently in different parts of Christendom. Catholicism and Protestantism are united in their acceptance of the 27 books of the New Testament. They disagree on the contents of the Old Testament. The Roman Catholic bible contains several additional books in its Old Testament and are not found in most Protestant bibles. These extra books are generally referred to as the Apocrypha.
The word apocrypha came into the English language from the Greek and basically means "hidden." It was used very early in the sense of "secretive" or "concealed, but was also used in reference to a book whose origin was doubtful or unknown. Eventually the word took on the meaning of "non canonical" and so for centuries the non canonical books have been known as apocryphal books.
To Protestants "the Apocrypha" is the normal designation for those extra books which are found in the Catholic Old Testament. The Roman Catholics use the terms "protocanonical" and "deuterocanonical" to provide a distinction between a first or original Cannon. (Greek protos, meaning "first"; and a secondary canon (Greek deuteros, meaning "second"). Instead of "apocrypha" the Roman Catholic term is "deuterocanonical," acknowledging that these questioned books were not originally a part of the canon but were accepted by the Catholic Church later.
We really should call these books Old testament Apocrypha since there are New Testament apocryphal writings as well. The Old Testament Apocrypha includes either fourteen or fifteen books, depending on the method of counting, which were written in the period of 300 B.C. to A.D. 100. In recent years the Apocrypha has appeared in a number of special editions of the English Bible, but these sometimes differ in which books are included and in what order.
Here is a list of books that are traditionally included in the Old Testament Apocrypha: The First Book of Esdras (also known as Third Esdras); The Second Book of Esdras (also known as Fourth Esdras); Tobit; Judith; The Additions to the Book of Esther; The Wisdom of Solomon; Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach; Baruch; The Letter of Jeremiah (This letter is sometimes incorporated as the last chapter of Baruch. When this is done the number of books is fourteen instead of fifteen.); The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men; Susanna; Bel and the Dragon; The Prayer of Manasseh; The First Book of Maccabees; and the Second Book of Maccabees. Three of these fifteen books (1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh) are not considered canonical by the Catholic Church.
In Catholic bibles the remaining 12 books are interspersed among and attached to the undisputed 39 books of the Old Testament: Tobit Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Maccabees, all of which are arranged separately; the Additions to Esther are joined to Esther; and appended to the Book of Daniel are the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (added after Dan. 3:23), Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. (1 and 2 Esdras in the Catholic bible are not the same as 1 and 2 Esdras in the above list but are different designations for the books Ezra and Nehemiah in the Protestant Bible. Hence the renaming of the two apocryphal books.)
Since several of the apocryphal writings are combined with canonical books, the Catholic Bible numbers 46 books in its Old Testament.
There are many valid reasons why the Apocrypha cannot bear acceptance as Holy Scripture: First these books were never included in the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament. Josephus, expressly limited the Hebrew canon to 22 books, whose content are the exact equivalent to the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament. Josephus knew of other Jewish writings down to his time, but he did not regard them as having equal authority with the canonical works.
So, the apocryphal books were never received by the Jews as God given Scripture. This takes on its full significance when it is remembered that the Old Testament is a Jewish collection of Jewish history and law. There is no evidence that the Apocrypha was ever accepted by an Jewish community, either in or outside of the land of Palestine. But there are more reasons as follows.
Also, these books, as the evidence goes, were never accepted as canonical by Jesus and His apostles: The Old Testament Jesus knew, is our Old Testament today. Jesus' Old Testament was the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Hebrew Old Testament has never included any apocryphal writings. The Apostles in their preaching mention many Old Testament events, but they never refer to any incidents or characters of the Apocrypha. The New Testament writers quote from practically all the Old Testament books but nowhere quote from any of the Apocrypha. The canon of the Old Testament accepted by Jesus and His Apostles should be sufficient for Christians today.
The Apocryphal books were not accepted as Scripture by such Jewish writers of the first century such as Philo and Josephus; possibly by the Jewish council of Jamnia (c. A.D. 90); and by such eminent Christian writers as Origen and Jerome. About A.D. 400 the great scholar Jerome, whose translation of the Latin Vulgate remains the basis of the official Roman Catholic Bible, strongly maintained that these books were apocryphal and were not to be included in the canon of Scripture. There are more reasons.
These books do not evidence intrinsic qualities of inspiration: Great portions of these books are obviously legendary and fictitious. Often they contain historical, chronological, and geographical errors. In Judith, for example, Holofernes is described as being the general of "Nebuchadnezzar who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh" (1:1). Actually Holofernes was a Persian general, and of course, Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Babylonians in Babylon.
But there is also another problem with the character of Judith herself. By her use of flattery and lies, even praying that God might "use the deceit upon her lips" (9:10), the heroine of the story (Judith) ends up enforcing the principle of doing evil that good may come.
Historical inaccuracies are spread through other books of the Apocrypha. First Maccabees includes historical slips, and 2 Maccabees is not straightforward history. Tobit, like Judith, records many errors. These books also abound with exaggerated exploits, fanciful stories, and just plain fiction. They sometimes are self contradictory, and sometimes the contradict the canonical Scriptures. Baruch for instance, pretends to have been written by Jeremiah's companion during the Babylonian captivity but actually was written much later.
Objections to the God breathed bible cannot be overruled by dictatorial authority: On April 8, 1546 in the fourth session of the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church pronounced the Old Testament Apocrypha (except 1 and 2 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh) as authoritative and canonical Scripture. This was done, even though in different periods of its own history, officials of the Roman Catholic Church had been outspoken against the Apocrypha as Scripture.
This includes the great scholar Jerome whose translation of the Latin Vulgate remains the basis of the official Roman Catholic Bible. Jerome strongly maintained that these books were apocryphal and were not to be included in the canon of Scripture. At that time the Council also decreed that the Latin Vulgate only was to be regarded as authentic Scripture and that "holy Mother Church" alone maintained the right to give the true interpretation of Scripture.
But this contradictory behavior within its own ranks, was not unnatural for a religious body whose whole structure is framed according to traditions, and whose faith is derived equally as much from the interpretations of the church (Traditions) as from true Scriptures (cannon).
According to the Council of Trent, the Scriptures are, and mean, what the Catholic church says they do. Yet Rome, which in such matters claims infallibility, cannot make the fallible Apocrypha infallible. We must be careful to never push aside the word of God for the traditions of men.
The Apocryphal Books of the New Testament: There are other Apocryphal writings known as New Testament Apocrypha. These books tried to imitate the kinds of books in the New Testament and include different writing types such as Gospels, Acts, Epistle, and Apocalypses.
Dating from the second century and later these books were written under assumed names: the gospel of Peter; the Protevangelium (meaning first gospel) of James; the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Infancy Story of Thomas, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John; the Acts of Paul, and many more.
They are highly fanciful stories of Jesus during his early years, or while he was in the tomb, or after his resurrection; imaginative tales about the missionary activities of the apostles letters supposedly written by the apostles; The apocalypses of Peter and others that pretend to reveal the future.
In the infancy story of Thomas, a child bumps Jesus on the shoulder, then Jesus strikes the child dead; In the Gospel of Peter three men come out of Jesus' tomb, with a cross, with a cross following them. The head of two of them reaches to heaven, and the head of the third goes higher than heaven; In the Protevangelium of James, Mary is brought up in the temple, dedicated as a virgin from the age of three; In Acts of John, john finds bedbugs in his bed at an inn, and he commands the bugs to leave and behave themselves; and In the Acts of Paul, Paul baptizes a lion, who later spares him from death in the amphitheater at Ephesus.
Surely all these silly stories make us all want to run back to the real New Testament. Remember this: All Christianity agrees on the New Testament canon.
From the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these: Of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Of the New Testament: The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul's Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians I, Corinthians II, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians I , Thessalonians II , To Timothy I , To Timothy II, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation of John. All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.
III. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.