Apocrypha? Or Deuterocanon?

As a pro-lifer, I bristle when I hear people use the term “anti-choice” to describe my views, as if by opposing ending the life of the unborn, I must also embrace some Victorian notions of the place of women, or worse, just hate choice for the sake of it.* I’m sure that pro-choicers similarly bristle at the term “pro-abortionist,” as if they want “Abortions for all!” (to use the old Simpsons line). The way we describe things, from “illegal aliens” to “undocumented workers,” has a major impact on how we understand those things, a fact we’ve known since at least the days of the Roundheads (whose very name suggested their opponents’ must be blockheads). When talking about those books (and parts of books) which the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox churches acknowledge as canonical, but which are rejected by most Protestants, there’s an interesting issue of terminology. Protestants generally refer to them as Apocrypha, while Catholics often use Deuterocanon. I’m increasingly convinced that this choice of words is important.

Catholics sometimes use the terms protocanon and deuterocanon to delineate between those books which were universally accepted at the time, and those where there were disputes. The New Testament has its own deuterocanon, as well, comprised of: Hebrews, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, James, Jude, and Revelation. The New Testament protocanon includes the Gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles, 1st Peter, and 1st John, and the Old Testament protocanon includes modern Protestant Old Testaments. In both cases, the protocanon and deuterocanon are valued equally as the word of God – we just acknowledge that some books were more readily accepted than others, for a variety of reasons.

Now contrast that with the term apocrypha. The term means “hidden,” and is used to refer to anything which is non-canonical. As with the term ‘deuterocanon,’ there is an entire New Testament apocrypha, but it’s made up of very different books. In fact, if you contrast the New Testament deuterocanon (Hebrews, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, James, Jude, and Revelation) with the New Testament apocrypha (the Gnostic “Gospels” of Thomas and Judas, both Apocalypses of Peter, Infancy Gospel of James, etc.), you can see the importance of the terminology.

This is particularly important when (a) people are trying to find out more about the deuterocanon, and (b) when it is being argued against by Protestants. There’s a sort of guilt by association argument. For example, Lorraine Boettner, in his book Roman Catholicism, groups the deuterocanon in with a lot of clearly non-canonical works, including a number of New Testament apocryphal works which are rejected by everyone today. In doing so, readers get a general picture that the “apocrypha” is a collection of weird and unbiblical writings. In reality, few (if any) of the disputes over the deuterocanon revolved about content – the questions were over authorship, language (the Jews in Jerusalem were hesitant to accept Old Testament books written in Greek, because of a belief that Hebrew was the language of Scripture – many Jerusalem-based Christians inherited this susicion of the deuterocanon, even while reading Greek New Testaments), and inspiration by the Spirit. You don’t see one group of Early Church Fathers condemning the others for their acceptance of the LXX (the Greek Old Testament which included the deuterocanon). In fact, it’s the version of the Old Testament most frequently quoted by Christ.

The use of the term “apocrypha,” given its modern connotations, is misleading. It conjures up this ahistorical vision of some sneaky clerics (Jesuits, no doubt) gathered at Trent, deciding to add some half-pagan books to the Bible, so they could use them against the Reformers. Even when you don’t have misleading authors like Boettner, you still have the google issue. If you’re a Christian (Catholic or otherwise) who decides to find out more about these books, it matters a lot which term you put in.

A google search for apocrypha brings up:

  • The wikipedia entries on ‘Apocrypha‘ and ‘Biblical Apocrypha,’ which are accurate, as far as they go, but still group the deuterocanon in with some crazy books (and legendary tales, like Washington cutting down the cherry tree);
  • Internet Sacred Text Archive’s Apocrypha Index, which includes the deuterocanon along with the “Forgotten Books of Eden,” Gnostic ‘Gospels,’ and “oracular Roman scrolls”;
  • Catholic Encyclopedia’s ‘Apocrypha‘ entry (dealing with actual apocryphal works, like the Assumption of Moses, the Book of the Secrets of Henoch, and so on);
  • Interfaith’s apocrypha page, containing “a complete list and index of all the missing books of the Bible, including apocrypha, pseudepigrapha and pseudominous” (pseudepigrapha is defined as “Spurious writings, especially writings falsely attributed to biblical characters or times,” so you can see the company the deuterocanon is in on this list);
  • Wesley Center for Applied Theology’s Noncanonical Writings page (compete with a disclaimer that “Most apocryphal works have been considered fictional or of lesser value than the canonical works.”). Ironically, this page actually can lay claim to being the closest to what a user looking for the “Apocrypha” is probably looking for – it contains a list of Catholic dueterocanonical books, plus a few (Psalm 151, 3rd & 4th Maccabees) which are found in later versions of the LXX, but which were rejected by the early Church. The fact that it’s the closest may make this the best or worst of the picks, in that users will almost certainly think these are all accepted by the Catholic Church.
  • Next up is a definition, courtesy of the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center. It’s factually wrong, stating that “The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches include all of the apocrypha (except for the books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh), but refer to them as ‘deuterocanonical’ books. ” In fact, the Catholic Church rejects Psalm 151, and the Eastern Orthodox Church acknowledges both the books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. (Long story there).
  • And to top it all off, Jesus-is-Lord.com’s page on “Why the Apocrypha Isn’t in the Bible,”which states “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are forgeries.” One of the arguments against the deuterocanon is this:
    There are other spurious books. These include the Pseudepigrapha which contains Enoch, Michael the Archangel, and Jannes and Jambres. Many of these books falsely claim to have been written by various Old Testament patriarchs. They were composed between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. There are lots of these spurious books like The Assumption of Moses, Apocalypse of Elijah, and Ascension of Isaiah.

    The author here is blatantly using the confusion associated with the term “apocrypha” as a catch-all to associate the Catholic deuterocanon with some obvious forgeries, the Pseudepigrapha.

And that is why I think “apocrypha” is a poor choice of terms. Not one of those sites gave the deuterocanon, the whole deuterocanon, and nothing but the deuterocanon. And of them was a Catholic site, which probably only confuses the situation yet more. Contrast that with the google search for deuterocanon:

  • A thorough and accurate Wikipedia entry, distinguishing the Catholic deuterocanon from the Eastern Orthodox, Oriential Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox deuterocanons, explaining the influence of the Vulgate, and so on. Brilliant!
  • St. Takla’s Deuterocanon (Second Canon) page, which is a brilliant Orthodox site. It can be a little into polemics, but barring some issues in tone, it explains what the Protestant arguments are against the deuterocanon, and responds to them, proceeding to offer a ton of NT allusions to the DC. Some of these are weak (things found in the DC, but also in Isaiah, for example), but others are really good. **
  • Handson Apologetic’s masterful defense of the deuterocanon, which has answers to even the most obscure anti-DC arguments (“Did Philo Reject the Deuterocanon?”)
  • Scripture Catholic’s list of DC verses corresponding to NT references.
  • More Handson Apologetic goodness, this time in blog form!
  • WordPress roundup of blogs talking about the deuterocanon.
  • Christianity Wikia’s succinct, helpful entry on the deuterocanon as found in Catholicism, and each major Orthodox branch.
  • Wow. The next result allows you to let Sam Stinson read the deuterocanon to you. Who could say no?
  • A dead link to CCEL. It lets you comment on the NRSV Bible with deuterocanon, but for some reason doesn’t actually link to the NRSV Bible with deuterocanon.
  • Finally, a 45 day reading schedule for people who want to do daily readings of the deuterocanon to improve their knowledge of it. Do this!

The reason I think these results are better isn’t just that they’re pro-deuterocanon (which I imagine biases me). It’s that they deal with the deuterocanon, and not the deuterocanon plus some spurious books (or in the case of the Catholic encyclopedia, just those spurious books). They’re more accurate results, because deuterocanon is a more accurate term.

*Actually, Barry Schwartz gives a great argument against “the Paradox of Choice,” [64 minute version; 9 minute version] but that’s unrelated to the topic at hand.

**My favourite DC prophesy is the angel Raphael appearing to Tobit and saying that he’s one of the seven angels who stand in the presence of God, and then Revelation saying that there are seven angels who stand in the presence of God (Tobit 12:15; Revelation 8:2). If Tobit’s a fake, it’s a darn lucky one, nailing a prediction about the innermost sanctum of Heaven like that. For some reason, St. Takla’s doesn’t list it (Scripture Catholic does), but for me, it’s one of the most compelling.

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