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Article 6 - The Difference Between the Canonical and Apocryphal Books

Article 6.doc



We distinguish these holy books from the apocryphal, namely, 3 and 4 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, additions to Esther, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men in the Furnace, Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. The church may read and take instruction from these so far as they agree with the canonical books. They are, however, far from having such power and authority that we may confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less may they be used to detract from the authority of the holy books.


The Bible consists of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament (Article 4).  These 66 books are ‘canonical’, are authoritative for all mankind because they come from God in heaven.

There was a time after the completion of the 39 Old Testament books that writers arose in Israel who wrote in the vein of these canonical books.  Whereas the 39 of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, new writers wrote 15 more books in Greek.  When the 39 were translated into Greek (approximately 200 years before Jesus’ birth), the 15 were included in the new publication.  Greek-speaking Jews now had a ‘Bible’ of 54 books.  We know this translation as ‘the Septuagint’.  It is from this translation that New Testament writers (who wrote in Greek) took many of their Old Testament quotes.  The early church had to make a decision whether or not these 15 books were canonical, and concluded the answer was No.  The 15 were considered ‘apocryphal’, a term that means ‘hidden’.  Unlike the books of the Old Testament that came from God Himself (be it through prophets as David, Moses, Jeremiah, etc), these 15 had a hidden, undisclosed origin.  Their writers wrote in the vein of the Old Testament, but not with the authority of God.

However, when a man by the name of Jerome translated the Septuagint (the 39 Old Testament books plus the 15 of the apocrypha) into Latin (in a translation known as the Vulgate, around the 400 AD), he chose to include the apocrypha in his final edition.  As a result, the apocrypha in time simply came to be accepted by the Church (of Rome).  Hence, the Reformers of the Great Reformation in the sixteenth century inherited Bibles with the Apocrypha included.  So they had to consider whether or not to continue to accept the Apocrypha, or return to the conviction of the early church.  (Even till today, the Roman Catholic Church prints the Apocryphal books in their official English translation, The Jerusalem Bible.  Appeal is even made to these books to prove points of doctrine, for example, the doctrine of purgatory.)

DeBres, together with the other reformers, maintained that only the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are canonical (see Article 4).  The 15 books of the Apocrypha, he insisted, are not the Word of God.  To make clear which fifteen books deBres distinguished from the canonical books of Holy Scripture, he included a list of names in his confession.


Those who read the apocryphal books will sense quickly enough that they contain a different ‘spirit’ than we are used to from the inspired books of the Bible.

  • They reflect typically Jewish sentiments as opposed to Scriptural sentiments.  For example, they show contempt for women.  The canonical books definitely teach the need for the woman to be submissive to the man, but never do they prescribe or condone contempt for women.

  • The Apocrypha emphasizes salvation through good works.  The canonical books, on the other hand, insist that one is righteous on account of faith, and good works are the inevitable outward manifestation of the presence of faith.

  • The Apocrypha contains distinct historical inaccuracies.  For example, in the Apocrypha Nebuchadnezzar is said to have lived in Nineveh, whereas in fact Nineveh was destroyed years before Nebuchadnezzar’s time. 

  • Many writings within the Apocrypha are sheer fantasy.

God cannot contradict Himself.  The different ‘spirit’ evident in the apocryphal books demonstrates that these books do not come from the Lord God, but are instead the product of man’s mind.  Godly though these writers may have been, they were not moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.


Since the apocryphal books do not come from God, they cannot be used for the regulation, foundation and confirmation of our faith.  One may therefore not build one’s doctrine on the basis of the Apocrypha’s content. 

Rather, since they are man-made books, they have the same value as any other human book.  One may read and take instruction from them, but their message and authority is not to be confused with the message and authority of the Bible.  As deBres writes in Article 6: “The Church may read and take instruction from these so far as they agree with the canonical books.  They are, however, far from having such power and authority that we may confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less may they be used to detract from the authority of the holy books.”  At the same time these books have historical significance, for they tell us many things that happened in the 400 years between the completion of the Old Testament and the coming of John the Baptist.


Beside Apocryphal books dating from the time before Christ’s birth, there also exist apocryphal writings from New Testament times.  These writings are known as pseudepigrapha – writings (‘epigrapha’) falsely (‘pseudo’) attributed to an author in order to make the book acceptable amongst Christians.  In point of fact their authors are unknown, and the church has never recognized them as inspired because they have the same type of characteristics as the Apocryphal books.  The Gospel of Thomas, for example, relates many miracles Jesus purportedly did as a child, all to gain honor for Himself.  The Gospel of Peter describes the Lord Jesus Christ as not being true man; behind this ‘Gospel’ is the same heresy John exposed in his three Letters found in the New Testament.  As non-canonical books, these writings cannot be used for the regulation, foundation and confirmation of our faith.


Printed below, as an example of apocryphal writing, is one of the Apocrypha’s shortest books:

There dwelt a man in Babylon, called Joacim: 2 And he took a wife, whose name was Susanna, the daughter of Chelcias, a very fair woman, and one that feared the Lord. 3 Her parents also were righteous, and taught their daughter according to the law of Moses. 4 Now Joacim was a great rich man, and had a fair garden joining unto his house: and to him resorted the Jews; because he was more honourable than all others.

5 The same year were appointed two of the ancients of the people to be judges, such as the Lord spake of, that wickedness came from Babylon from ancient judges, who seemed to govern the people. 6 These kept much at Joacim’s house: and all that had any suits in law came unto them.

7 Now when the people departed away at noon, Susanna went into her husband’s garden to walk. 8And the two elders saw her going in every day, and walking; so that their lust was inflamed toward her. 9 And they perverted their own mind, and turned away their eyes, that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments. 10 And albeit they both were wounded with her love, yet durst not one shew another his grief. 11 For they were ashamed to declare their lust, that they desired to have to do with her. 12 Yet they watched diligently from day to day to see her.

13 And the one said to the other, Let us now go home: for it is dinner time. 14 So when they were gone out, they parted the one from the other, and turning back again they came to the same place; and after that they had asked one another the cause, they acknowledged their lust: then appointed they a time both together, when they might find her alone.

15 And it fell out, as they watched a fit time, she went in as before with two maids only, and she was desirous to wash herself in the garden: for it was hot. 16 And there was no body there save the two elders, that had hid themselves, and watched her. 17 Then she said to her maids, Bring me oil and washing balls, and shut the garden doors, that I may wash me. 18 And they did as she bade them, and shut the garden doors, and went out themselves at privy doors to fetch the things that she had commanded them: but they saw not the elders, because they were hid.

19 Now when the maids were gone forth, the two elders rose up, and ran unto her, saying, 20 Behold, the garden doors are shut, that no man can see us, and we are in love with thee; therefore consent unto us, and lie with us. 21 If thou wilt not, we will bear witness against thee, that a young man was with thee: and therefore thou didst send away thy maids from thee.

22Then Susanna sighed, and said, I am straitened on every side: for if I do this thing, it is death unto me: and if I do it not I cannot escape your hands. 23 It is better for me to fall into your hands, and not do it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.

 24 With that Susanna cried with a loud voice: and the two elders cried out against her. 25 Then ran the one, and opened the garden door. 26 So when the servants of the house heard the cry in the garden, they rushed in at the privy door, to see what was done unto her. 27 But when the elders had declared their matter, the servants were greatly ashamed: for there was never such a report made of Susanna.

28 And it came to pass the next day, when the people were assembled to her husband Joacim, the two elders came also full of mischievous imagination against Susanna to put her to death; 29 And said before the people, Send for Susanna, the daughter of Chelcias, Joacim’s wife. And so they sent. 30 So she came with her father and mother, her children, and all her kindred.

31 Now Susanna was a very delicate woman, and beauteous to behold. 32 And these wicked men commanded to uncover her face, (for she was covered) that they might be filled with her beauty. 33 Therefore her friends and all that saw her wept.

34 Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head. 35 And she weeping looked up toward heaven: for her heart trusted in the Lord. 36 And the elders said, As we walked in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, and shut the garden doors, and sent the maids away. 37 Then a young man, who there was hid, came unto her, and lay with her. 38 Then we that stood in a corner of the garden, seeing this wickedness, ran unto them. 39 And when we saw them together, the man we could not hold: for he was stronger than we, and opened the door, and leaped out. 40 But having taken this woman, we asked who the young man was, but she would not tell us: these things do we testify.

41 Then the assembly believed them as those that were the elders and judges of the people: so they condemned her to death.

42 Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, O everlasting God, that knowest the secrets, and knowest all things before they be: 43 Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me, and, behold, I must die; whereas I never did such things as these men have maliciously invented against me.

44 And the Lord heard her voice. 45 Therefore when she was led to be put to death, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young youth whose name was Daniel: 46 Who cried with a loud voice, I am clear from the blood of this woman.

47 Then all the people turned them toward him, and said, What mean these words that thou hast spoken? 48 So he standing in the midst of them said, Are ye such fools, ye sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth ye have condemned a daughter of Israel? 49 Return again to the place of judgment: for they have borne false witness against her.

50 Wherefore all the people turned again in haste, and the elders said unto him, Come, sit down among us, and shew it us, seeing God hath given thee the honour of an elder. 51Then said Daniel unto them, Put these two aside one far from another, and I will examine them.

52 So when they were put asunder one from another, he called one of them, and said unto him, O thou that art waxen old in wickedness, now thy sins which thou hast committed aforetime are come to light. 53 For thou hast pronounced false judgment and hast condemned the innocent and hast let the guilty go free; albeit the Lord saith, The innocent and righteous shalt thou not slay. 54 Now then, if thou hast seen her, tell me, Under what tree sawest thou them companying together? Who answered, Under a mastick tree. 55 And Daniel said, Very well; thou hast lied against thine own head; for even now the angel of God hath received the sentence of God to cut thee in two.

56 So he put him aside, and commanded to bring the other, and said unto him, O thou seed of Chanaan, and not of Juda, beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thine heart. 57 Thus have ye dealt with the daughters of Israel, and they for fear companied with you: but the daughter of Juda would not abide your wickedness. 58 Now therefore tell me, Under what tree didst thou take them companying together? Who answered, Under an holm tree. 59 Then said Daniel unto him, Well; thou hast also lied against thine own head: for the angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two, that he may destroy you.

60 With that all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and praised God, who saveth them that trust in him. 61 And they arose against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth: 62 And according to the law of Moses they did unto them in such sort as they maliciously intended to do to their neighbour: and they put them to death. Thus the innocent blood was saved the same day.

63 herefore Chelcias and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, with Joacim her husband, and all the kindred, because there was no dishonesty found in her. 64 From that day forth was Daniel had in great reputation in the sight of the people. 

Points for Discussion:

  1. Explain what the apocrypha is.
  2. Why would the fathers of old have rejected the book of Susanna as not inspired by God?  Put into words how it ‘feels’ different than the books of the Bible.
  3. Discuss the value of the apocrypha for today’s people.