What are the "Deuterocanonical" Books of the Bible? [1]

The early Christian Church used the same Greek-language Scriptures as the Jews of the time (some of whom spoke no Hebrew), the so-called Septuagint, which consisted of the books of what we now call the Old Testament and the "Apocrypha,"[2] or Deuterocanonical Books.

In about 90 CE, the Jewish Canon of Scripture began to be finalized, and today it looks very much like the Protestant Christian "Old Testament." The Jewish Canon seems to have centered around the so-called Masoretic Text, which is in Hebrew. It is probable that books whose only extant editions were in Greek were considered less authentic; however, more recent manuscript discoveries indicate that the Greek versions of certain canonical books may be closer to the originals, in some respects, than the Masoretic Text.

Nevertheless, Greek-language scriptures, including all books of the Septuagint as well as all of the Greek New Testament, constituted "Holy Scripture" for early Christians. [3]

In about the 4th Century CE, as Greek began to die out of the Western Empire, there was a need for translation of the Christian Scriptures into Latin, the tongue of the common people of the West. The scholar Jerome undertook the task. Jerome used the best texts he could find (including Hebrew when available), and produced the so-called Vulgate bible. Jerome also counseled that the "deuterocanonical" Old Testament, that is, those books not available in Hebrew or not considered canonical by the Jews, were OK as models of faith and conduct, but should not be used to establish doctrine. [4]

During the Protestant Reformation, a certain dislike was evident for portions of the Scriptures, which was a problem for those advocating sola scriptura; for example, Martin Luther disliked portions which contradicted sola fide (such as James, which Luther called "an epistle of straw"). The Protestant Fathers, showing admirable restraint, nevertheless refused to omit anything from the already-established New Testament Canon. They were content to distinguish themselves from the Pope by tossing out the stuff in the Old Testament that St. Jerome had considered suspect. [5]

In the meantime, one of the actions of the Roman Catholic Church's Council of Trent [6] was to finalize the Canon of Scripture, and include most of the deuterocanonical books in the Old Testament, in spite of Jerome's advice. If you examine a Roman Catholic bible (for example, The Douay Version), you will find these books fully integrated into the Old Testament -- not set apart in a separate section as they are in Protestant bibles.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches [7] accept all of the Old Testament books accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as variously accepting a few others. Certain Western (non-Roman) Catholic churches, in particular the Anglican Communion, to which I belong, also accept the Deuterocanonical Books, though often with Jerome's stipulation. Anglicans are particularly fond of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) and Wisdom, and we include readings from these two books in our lectionary.

It must be firmly kept in mind that the Canon of the New Testament is truly catholic, that is, accepted by essentially all Christian bodies. Disagreement centers around a handful of rather minor books which are part of the legacy of ancient Israel to the Church, that is, the Old Testament.

The following Bible sites include the Deuterocanonical Books:

1. This short essay is my own opinion, and puts my own slant on things; nevertheless I believe that the facts are substantially true. Thanks to Loren Johns, who was kind enough to correct some of my misconceptions. -- D.B.


2. Strictly speaking, the books which are accepted as canonical by some but not all of Christendom are called "Deuterocanonical," and the term "Apocrypha" should be reserved for Old and New Testament writings, such as The Shepherd of Hermas, which have been influential but are not accepted as canonical by any current Christian body. However, Protestants typically lump the Deuterocanonical Old Testament with truly noncanonical books, as "Old Testament Apocrypha." All of the books in the "Apocrypha" sections of Protestant bibles are accepted as canonical by at least one Christian body dating from before the Reformation.

The "Apocryphal" 1 Enoch, accepted as canonical only by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, is cited by the canonical Letter of Jude.


3. Some letters of the early Fathers, as well as The Shepherd of Hermas, were seriously considered for inclusion in the Canon of the New Testament, and would also have been considered "Holy Scripture" by most early Christians.


4. So far as I know, Jerome made this recommendation so that religious debates with Jews could not be side-tracked by disputes over whether a particular text was or was not inspired by God.


5. Actually, the radical Protestant revision of the Old Testament canon did not take place until after the Council of Trent. It should be noted that the Church of England's Authorized Version of the Bible (commonly known as the King James Version because it was prepared and published during his reign) included the Deuterocanonical Books. Many of the Protestant Fathers cited the Deuterocanonical Books in their writings.


6. The Council of Trent is not recognized as an ecumenical council by any Christian body except the Roman Catholic Church. The (Roman) Catholic Encyclopedia (1908 edition) lists 20 "ecumenical councils" through Vatican I in 1870, but the Eastern Orthodox Churches, as well as the Anglican Communion, do not recognize any after the seventh, Nicea II in 787, because later councils convened by various Popes did not include representatives of the entire Church Catholic. This followed necessarily from the refusal, until recently, of the Holy See to admit that bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church are true bishops, and the contention that such bishops are schismatic. It should be noted that the Eastern Orthodox Church contends precisely the reverse. The validity of Anglican orders is another matter, though the Holy See does, to the best of my knowledge, recognize the bishops of other schismatic bodies such as the Utrecht "Old Catholics" and the Polish National Catholic Church.

The eighth council, Constantinople IV, is the point at which the Greek Orthodox Church would claim that Roman Catholics began their schism; here Pope Hadrian II and Emperor Basil I threw their support behind one of two competing Patriarchs of Constantinople. The document linked here, maintained by the Roman Catholic Eternal Word Television Network, points out that the decree of Constantinople IV was never signed by Hadrian, and was repudiated by Pope John VIII.


7. The "Eastern Orthodox Churches" site is a link to the Orthodox Church in America, a truly indigenous American Christian Church which was formed in response to the Gospel given by Russian missionaries to the Inuit and Aleut peoples in Alaska. For those interested in a more complete listing of Eastern Orthodox Churches, a rather polemical article is maintained by the (Roman) Catholic Encyclopedia.


Copyright © 1997, 2002 by Daniel J. Berger. This work may be copied without limit if its use is to be for non-profit educational purposes. Such copies may be by any method, present or future. The author requests only that this statement accompany all such copies. All rights to publication for profit are retained by the author.

Minor revisions were made to this document (the addition of material to the footnotes and the updating of certain references to reflect established practice) in 2002.

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