Protestant Bibles have seven fewer books than Catholic Bibles. These seven books are called “the Deuterocanon” by Catholics, and “the Apocrypha” by Protestants (although, confusingly, they also use “the Apocrypha” to refer to several other books, ones that are rejected by Catholics and Protestants alike).
So what’s the basis for the Protestant rejection of these books? Matt Slick, at the popular Protestant website CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry), offers several reasons:
1. They were not referenced by Jesus. Jesus directly referenced the entire Jewish canon of Scripture by referring to Abel (the first martyr in the Old Testament) and Zacharias (the last martyr in the OT) (Matt. 23:35). He also never quotes directly from any of the apocryphal writings but makes numerous references to the Old Testament books.
This argument is extremely deceptive. When you hear that “Jesus directly referenced the entire Jewish canon of Scripture,” you might reasonably conclude that Jesus quoted or referenced each of the Old Testament books that Protestants accept. But that’s not true. In fact, Slick elsewhere concedes that “there are several Old Testament books that are not quoted in the New Testament, i.e., Joshua, Judges, Esther, etc.”
So how can he justify claiming that Jesus “directly referenced the entire Jewish canon of Scripture”? The argument (which he spells out at greater length elsewhere) is much stranger. In Matthew 23:35, Jesus refers to “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” Protestants sometimes claim that this is an endorsement of the (modern) Jewish canon of Scripture. Why?
Because the books of the modern Jewish Bible aren’t in chronological order (they’re thematically divided between Law, Prophets, and other Writings). If you read that Bible, Slick’s claim is that the first martyr you would encounter would be Abel (Genesis 4:8), and the last would be Zechariah (or Zacharias) (2 Chronicles 24:21-22). That’s why he can claim that Zechariah was “the last martyr in the OT,” when that’s not chronologically true.
There are three reasons that this claim is false, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere:
- It’s not even the right Zechariah. Matthew 23:35 refers to “Zechariah the son of Barachiah.” That’s not the same person as “Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:20) . Jesus is referencing an extra-Scriptural Jewish tradition, not endorsing a particular canon of Scripture.
- The idea of a canonical book order is anachronistic. Slick is assuming that there was not just a fixed number of books, but a fixed order in which the books appeared, as if the Bible was a single bound book at this point. It wasn’t. The Jews at the time used scrolls, not books, as the Bible repeatedly illustrates (Jeremiah 36:4, Luke 4:17, etc.). The first bound Bibles were an early Christian invention.
- The Protestant Old Testament wasn’t the one used by Christ. Lee Martin McDonald, a Baptist scholar, concedes that “the current canon of the HB [Hebrew Bible] and the Protestant OT [Old Testament] reflects a Babylonian flavor that was not current or popular in the time of Jesus in the land of Israel.”
The last line of Slick’s last argument is just as deceptive as the rest. He says that Jesus “also never quotes directly from any of the apocryphal writings but makes numerous references to the Old Testament books.” Notice what he’s doing there? He’s demanding that the books that he rejects be held to one standard (directly quoted by Jesus) while accepting a much lower standard for the books that he accepts (for these, it’s enough for them to just be referenced by Jesus). It’s a classic double standard.
But as I mentioned above, many of the Old Testament books that both Protestants and Catholics accept are never quoted or even referenced in the New Testament. Meanwhile, at least part of the Deuterocanon is referenced (e.g., Hebrews 11:35-37 appears to be recounting 2 Maccabees 7). So from start to finish, Slick’s first argument is both deceptive and inaccurate.
2. They lacked apostolic or prophetic authorship.
In a footnote, Slick explains:
Every book in the New Testament was either written by an apostle or someone who knew an apostle (i.e. Luke, who was not an apostle, knew Paul; Mark, who was also not an apostle, knew Peter). One characteristic of an apostle was someone who had seen the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1).
This argument is senseless, since it only applies to New Testament books. Every one of the books in dispute between Catholics and modern Protestants is in the Old Testament. (Luther had rejected four of the New Testament books, but Protestants have long since concluded that the Catholic Church was right.) There’s no requirement that Old Testament books be authored by a particular prophet – several aren’t, and a great many of the books are anonymous (for example, who wrote 2 Kings?).
Even for the New Testament, many of the books are internally anonymous. So how does Slick know that these other books were written by an Apostle or someone who knew an Apostle? Because the early Church says so… an early Church whose views he distrusts.
3. They did not claim to be the Word of God.
Again, this is an obviously bad standard. Where do any of the books of the New Testament claim to be the Word (or small-w word) of God? Short answer: they don’t. St. Peter references at one point to Paul’s writings being Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), but that’s it.
So if you reject every book that doesn’t announce itself to be Scripture, be prepared to throw out all of the New Testament and much of the Old. Otherwise, it’s just another ridiculous double standard, in which books Slick doesn’t like need to declare themselves Scripture, but ones he likes don’t.
4. They contain unbiblical concepts such as prayer for the dead (2 Macc. 12:45-46) or the condoning of magic (Tobit 6:5-7).
Rejecting parts of the Bible because you don’t like what they teach is elevating yourself above Sacred Scripture. And calling these teachings “unbiblical” is circular: they’re not part of the Bible because they teach things that aren’t in the Bible because they aren’t in the Bible.
It’s good that Slick concedes here that the Catholic teaching about praying for the dead is found in the Deuterocanon. It means that if he’s wrong about the canon (and so far, he’s clearly wrong about the canon) then he’s also wrong about praying for the dead.
I’ve addressed the Tobit 6 argument before, but you can’t just call miracles you don’t like “magic.” In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus has Peter catch a fish with enough money in its mouth to pay the Temple Tax. And all four Gospels involve miraculous feeding of thousands of people with just a few fish. If Tobit 6 is “magic,” then so are these. This argument betrays a total (and startling!) failure to understand the difference between miracles and magic.
5. They have serious historical inaccuracies (For more information, see “Errors in the Apocrypha”).
This is another double standard. Secular scholars question the historicity of several of the Old Testament accounts (Noah’s Ark, the size and scale of the Israelites’ battles, etc., etc.). To reject these secular critiques for the books you like, and blindly parrot them for books that you don’t, is another indefensible double standard.
The “lost books” were never lost. They were known by the Jews in Old Testament times and the Christians of the New Testament times and were never considered scripture. They weren’t lost, nor were they removed. They were never in the Bible in the first place (see: Reasons why the Apocrypha does not belong in the Bible). [….] Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic church has added certain books to the canon of scripture. In 1546, largely due in response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic church authorized several more books as scripture known as the apocrypha.
This is just a lie.
On CARM’s own website, they acknowledge:
It is true that the Catholic Church accepted the Apocryphal books at earlier councils at Rome (A.D. 382), Hippo (A.D. 393), Carthage (A.D. 397), and Florence (A.D. 1442). However, these were not universal Church councils and the earlier councils were influenced heavily by Augustine, who was no Biblical expert, compared to the scholar Jerome, who rejected the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament Canon. Furthermore, it is doubtful that these local church council’s decisions were binding on the Church at large since they were local councils. Sometimes these local councils made errors and had to be corrected by a universal church council.
To claim that these books were “never considered Scripture” is just grossly false, then, and they know it. So, too, is the claim that the Catholic Church “authorized” new books after the Reformation is false, and the claim that the Church “added certain books to the canon of scripture” in 1546.
It’s also false that Florence wasn’t a universal Church Council: it was (it’s the Seventeenth Ecumenical Council). The Council was convened by the Pope Eugene IV (who personally attended), and represented by Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts. It was actually in the Bull of Union with the Copts that the Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts jointly declared their belief in the 73 books of the Catholic canon.
Finally, it’s more than a bit hypocritical to bash the Councils of Carthage and Hippo for their alleged lack of Biblical expertise, and then rely upon those same two Councils to try to prove the historicity of the New Testament canon. But Matt Slick, unsurprisingly, does just that.
So every part of Slick’s line of argumentation against the canon of Scripture relies upon lies, deceptions, or double standards. Mind you, I’m not cherry-picking, here. I answered each and every one of the arguments that he listed. And CARM invited this debate: they have a whole section on their site about Biblical “lost books,” and have written several equally-inaccurate arguments against the Catholic Deuterocanon. Nor am I choosing some fringe Internet loon. By their own reckoning, CARM “has reached more than 7.5 million people in the last year,” averaging “about 23,000 New Visitors to the site daily.” It’s scandalous that a Christian apologetics site would rely upon deceptions, half-truths, and outright lies in this way. More importantly, I’m hopeful that this helps my Protestant readers to become aware of just how bad the case is for the 66-book Protestant Bible.