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Deuterocanonical books

Deuterocanonical books is a term used since the 16th century in the Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity to describe certain books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the current Hebrew Bible. The term is used in contrast to the protocanonical books, which are contained in the Hebrew Bible. This distinction had previously contributed to debate in the early Church about whether they should be classified as canonical texts. The term is used as a matter of convenience by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and other Churches to refer to books of their Old Testament which are not part of the Masoretic Text.

The deuterocanonical books are considered canonical by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East, but are considered non-canonical by most Protestants. The word deuterocanonical comes from the Greek meaning 'belonging to the second canon'.

The original usage of the term distinguished these scriptures both from those considered non-canonical and from those considered protocanonical. However, some editions of the Bible include text from both deuterocanonical and non-canonical scriptures in a single section designated "Apocrypha". This arrangement can lead to conflation between the otherwise distinct terms "deuterocanonical" and "apocryphal".


Deuterocanonical is a term coined in 1566 by the theologian Sixtus of Siena, who had converted to Catholicism from Judaism, to describe scriptural texts of the Old Testament considered canonical by the Catholic Church, but which are not present in the Hebrew Bible today, and which had been omitted by some early canon lists, especially in the East.[1][2][3]

Their acceptance among early Christians was widespread, though not universal, and the Bible of the early Church always included, with varying degrees of recognition, books now called deuterocanonical.[4] Some say that their canonicity seems not to have been doubted in the Church until it was challenged by Jews after AD 100,[5] sometimes postulating a hypothetical Council of Jamnia. Regional councils in the West published official canons that included these books as early as the 4th and 5th centuries.[2][6]

At Jerusalem there was a renewal, or at least a survival, of Jewish ideas, the tendency there being distinctly unfavourable to the deuteros. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, while vindicating for the Church the right to fix the Canon, places them among the apocrypha and forbids all books to be read privately which are not read in the churches. In Antioch and Syria the attitude was more favourable. St. Epiphanius of Salamis hesitated about the rank of the deuteros. While he esteemed them, they did not hold the same place as the Hebrew books in his regard. The historian Eusebius attests the widespread doubts in his time by classing them as antilegomena, or disputed writings. Like Athanasius, Eusebius places them in a class between the books received by all and the apocrypha. On the other hand, the Oriental versions and Greek manuscripts of the period are more liberal. They have all the deuterocanonicals and, in some cases, certain apocrypha.[7]

In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages, there is evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. One is favourable, the other unfavourable to their authority and sacredness. Wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those is St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity. The prevailing attitude of Western medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers. The chief cause of this phenomenon in the West is to be sought in the influence, direct and indirect, of St. Jerome's depreciating Prologus.[7]

Meanwhile, “the protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants.”[7]

Dead Sea scrolls

Fragments of three deuterocanonical books have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, in addition to several partial copies of I Enoch and Jubilees from the Ethiopic deuterocanon. Sirach, whose Hebrew text was already known from the Cairo Geniza, has been found in two scrolls (2QSir or 2Q18, 11QPs_a or 11Q5) in Hebrew. Another Hebrew scroll of Sirach has been found in Masada (MasSir).[8]:597 The Book of Tobit has been found in Qumran in four scrolls written in Aramaic and in one written in Hebrew.[8]:636 The Letter of Jeremiah (or Baruch chapter 6) has been found in cave 7 (7Q5) in Greek.[8]:628 It has been theorized by recent scholars[9] that the Qumran library was not entirely produced at Qumran, but may have included part of the library of the Jerusalem Temple, that may have been hidden in the caves for safekeeping at the time the Temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 AD.

Influence of the Septuagint

The large majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are taken from the Greek Septuagint (LXX) —editions of which include the deuterocanonical books, as well as apocrypha —both of which are called collectively ἀναγιγνωσκόμενα anagignoskomena (things that are read or "profitable reading").[10] No two Septuagint codices contain the same apocrypha,[11] and the three earliest MSS of the LXX show uncertainty as to which books constitute the complete list of the Apocrypha. Codex Vaticanus (B) lacks 1—4 Maccabees but includes 1 Esdras, while Sinaiticus (Aleph) omits Baruch, but includes 4 Maccabees.[12]

Codex Alexandrinus includes the LXX, and Greek Psalm manuscripts from the fifth century contain three New Testament ‘psalms’: the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis from Luke’s birth narrative, and the conclusion of the hymn that begins with the ‘Gloria in Excelsis.’[13] Beckwith states that manuscripts of anything like the capacity of Codex Alexandrinus were not used in the first centuries of the Christian era, and believes that the comprehensive codices of the Septuagint, which start appearing in the fourth century AD, are all of Christian origin.[14]

Some deuterocanonical appear to have been written originally in Hebrew, but the original text has long been lost. Archaeological finds, however, discovered some original texts among the Dead Sea scrolls. The Septuagint was widely accepted and used by Greek-speaking Jews in the 1st century, even in the region of Roman Judea, and therefore naturally became the text most widely used by early Christians, who were predominantly Greek speaking.

In the New Testament, Hebrews 11:35 is understood by some as referring to an event that was recorded in one of the deuterocanonical books 2 Maccabees.[15] Other New Testament authors also quote period literature which was familiar to the audience but that was not included in the Old Testament or the deuterocanonical books. For instance, Paul cites Greek writers and philosophers, and the author of Hebrews references oral tradition which spoke of an Old Testament prophet who was sawn in half in Hebrews 11:37, two verses after the 2nd Maccabees reference.

The Jewish historian Josephus speaks of there being 22 books in the canon of the Hebrew Bible,[16] a Jewish tradition reported also by the Christian bishop Athanasius. However, included in Athanasius's list of 22 Old Testament books are Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. At the same time, he mentioned that certain other books, including five deuterocanonical books but also the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, while not being part of the New Testament canon, "were appointed by the Fathers to be read". He excluded what he called "apocryphal writings" entirely.[17]

In the Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, "the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon"[18] was that defined by the Council of Trent.[19] Among the minority, in Trent, that showed opposition to these books' inclusion were Cardinals Seripando and Cajetan, the latter an opponent of Luther at Augsburg.[20][21][22] However, Trent confirmed the statements of earlier and less authoritative regional councils which also included the deuterocanonical books, such as the Synod of Hippo (393), and the Councils of Carthage of 397. Much later (15th century), the Council of Florence taught the divine inspiration of these books, but "did not formally pass on their canonicity."[18][23]

In the canonical debate between Catholics and Protestants controversy remains as to the significance of Trent's omission of the Septuagint version of 1 Esdras which Carthage may have ratified.[24] However, there is ambiguity over the naming of the books of Esdras. The Canon of Carthage[25] lists two books of Esdras. This could mean 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as in the Septuagint or Ezra and Nehemiah as in the Vulgate.

The Catholic deuterocanonical scriptural texts are:

Influence of the Vulgate

Jerome in the Vulgate's prologues[28] describes a canon which excludes the deuterocanonical books, possibly excepting Baruch. In his Prologues, Jerome mentions all of the deuterocanonical and apocryphal works by name as being apocryphal or "not in the canon" except for Prayer of Manasses and Baruch. He mentions Baruch by name in his Prologue to Jeremiah and notes that it is neither read nor held among the Hebrews, but does not explicitly call it apocryphal or "not in the canon".[29] The inferior status to which the deuterocanonical books were relegated by authorities like Jerome is seen by some as being due to a rigid conception of canonicity, one demanding that a book, to be entitled to this supreme dignity, must be received by all, must have the sanction of Jewish antiquity, and must moreover be adapted not only to edification, but also to the "confirmation of the doctrine of the Church".[30] Eventually however, Jerome's Vulgate did include the deuterocanonical books as well as apocrypha. Jerome referenced and quoted from some as scripture despite describing them as "not in the canon". In his prologue to Judith, without using the word canon, he mentioned that Judith was held to be scriptural by the First Council of Nicaea.[31] In his reply to Rufinus, he affirmed that he was consistent with the choice of the church regarding which version of the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel to use, which the Jews of his day did not include:

What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the Story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us. (Against Rufinus, 11:33 [AD 402]).

Thus Jerome acknowledged the principle by which the canon would be settled —the judgment of the Church, rather than his own judgment or the judgment of Jews, though he wondered why one would sanction the version of a heretic and judaizer.[32]

The Vulgate is also important as the touchstone of the canon concerning which parts of books are canonical. When the Council of Trent listed the books included in the canon, it qualified the books as being "entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition".[33] This decree was clarified somewhat by Pope Pius XI on June 2, 1927, who allowed that the Comma Johanneum was open to dispute, and it was further explicated by Pope Pius XII's Divino afflante Spiritu.

Reception in Orthodox Christianity and other churches

Outside the Roman Catholic Church, the term deuterocanonical is sometimes used, by way of analogy, to describe books that Eastern Orthodoxy, and Oriental Orthodoxy included in the Old Testament that are not part of the Jewish Tanakh, nor the Protestant Old Testament. Among Orthodox, the term is understood to mean that they were compiled separately from the primary canon, as explained in 2 Esdras, where Esdras is instructed to keep certain books separate and hidden.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Churches have traditionally included all the books of the Septuagint in their Old Testaments. The Greeks use the word Anagignoskomena (Ἀναγιγνωσκόμενα "readable, worthy to be read") to describe the books of the Greek Septuagint that are not present in the Hebrew Tanakh. When Orthodox theologians use the term "deuterocanonical," it is important to note that the meaning is not identical to the Roman Catholic usage. In Orthodox Christianity, deuterocanonical means that a book is part of the corpus of the Old Testament (i.e. is read during the services) but has secondary authority. In other words, deutero (second) applies to authority or witnessing power, whereas in Roman Catholicism, deutero applies to chronology (the fact that these books were confirmed later), not to authority.[34]

The Eastern Orthodox books included in the Old Testament are the seven deuterocanonical books listed above, plus 3 Maccabees and 1 Esdras (also included in the Clementine Vulgate), while Baruch is divided from the Epistle of Jeremiah, making a total of 49 Old Testament books in contrast with the Protestant 39-book canon.[35]

Like the Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, these texts are integrated with the rest of the Old Testament, not printed in a separate section.

Other texts printed in Orthodox Bibles are considered of some value (like the additional Psalm 151, and the Prayer of Manasseh) or are included as an appendix (like the Greek 4 Maccabees, and the Slavonic 2 Esdras).[35]

Ethiopian Orthodoxy

In the Amharic Bible used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church), those books of the Old Testament that are still counted as canonical, but not by all other Churches, are often set in a separate section titled "Deeyutrokanoneekal" (ዲዩትሮካኖኒካል), which is the same word. The Ethiopian Orthodox Deuterocanon, in addition to the standard set listed above, along with the books of Esdras and Prayer of Minasse, also includes some books that are still held canonical by only the Ethiopian Church, including Enoch or Henok (I Enoch), Kufale (Jubilees) and 1, 2 and 3 Meqabyan (which are sometimes wrongly confused with the "Books of Maccabees").

Jewish position

Judaism and most Protestant versions of the Bible exclude these books. It is commonly said that Judaism officially excluded the deuterocanonicals and the additional Greek texts listed here from their Scripture in the Council of Jamnia (c. 70–90 AD), but this claim is also disputed.[36]

Reception in Christian churches having their origins in the Reformation


There is a great deal of overlap between the Apocrypha section of the original 1611 King James Bible and the Catholic deuterocanon, but the two are distinct. The Apocrypha section of the original 1611 King James Bible includes, in addition to the deuterocanonical books, the following three books, which were not included in the list of the canonical books by the Council of Trent:

These books make up the Apocrypha section of the Clementine Vulgate: 3 Esdras (1 Esdras); 4 Esdras (2 Esdras); and The Prayer of Manasseh, where they are specifically described as "outside of the series of the canon". The 1609 Douai Bible includes them in an appendix, but they have been dropped from recent Catholic translations into English. They are found, along with the deuterocanonical books, in the Apocrypha section of Protestant bibles.

Using the word apocrypha (Greek: hidden away) to describe texts, although not necessarily pejorative, implies to some people that the writings in question should not be included in the canon of the Bible. This classification commingles them with certain non-canonical gospels and New Testament Apocrypha. The Style Manual for the Society of Biblical Literature recommends the use of the term deuterocanonical literature instead of Apocrypha in academic writing.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England lists the deuterocanonical books as suitable to be read for "example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine." The early lectionaries of the Anglican Church (as included in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662) included the deuterocanonical books amongst the cycle of readings, and passages from them were used in the services (such as the Benedicite)

Readings from the deuterocanonical books are now included in most, if not all, of the modern lectionaries in the Anglican Communion, based on the Revised Common Lectionary (in turn based on the post-conciliar Roman Catholic lectionary).


The Westminster Confession of Faith, a Calvinist document that serves as a systematic summary of doctrine for the Church of Scotland and Presbyterian churches worldwide, recognizes only the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon as authentic Scripture. Chapter 1, Article 3 of the Confession reads: "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of 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."

Reformed churches

The Belgic Confession, used in Reformed churches, devotes a section (Article 6) to "The difference between the canonical and apocryphal books" and asserts that "All which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy as that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less to detract from the authority of the other sacred books."

New Testament apocrypha and deuterocanonicals

Main article: Antilegomena

The term deuterocanonical is sometimes used to describe the canonical antilegomena, those books of the New Testament which, like the deuterocanonicals of the Old Testament, were not universally accepted by the early Church, but which are now included in the 27 books of the New Testament recognized by almost all Christians. The deuterocanonicals of the New Testament are as follows:

See also


  1. ^ Canon of the Old Testament, II, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915
  2. ^ a b 12px "Canon of the Old Testament". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  3. ^ Commonly cited include (1) Melito of Sardis, who went east, to Palestine, and recorded the canon he found being used in the synagogues, as recorded in Eusebius' Church History 4.26.13–14, (2) Athanasius of Alexandria, (3) Council of Laodicea, (4) Jerome residing in Bethlehem
  4. ^ J.N.D. Kelly, "Early Christian Doctrines", p.53
  5. ^ Stuart G. Hall, "Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church", p.28
  6. ^ e.g. the Council of Carthage, the Council of Rome, the Gelasian decree
  7. ^ a b c Herbermann, Charles George (1913). The Catholic encyclopedia Volume 3. pp. 269, 272. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c Abegg, Martin; Flint, Peter; Ulrich, Eugene (1999). The Dead Sea Scroll Bible. HarperOne. ISBN 978-0-06-060064-8. 
  9. ^ Lena Cansdale 1997, Qumran and the Essenes p. 14 ff. cites Rengstorf 1963, Golb 1980, and several others, as well as detractors of this theory.
  10. ^ Prof. Petros Vassiliadis defines the work thusly
  11. ^ Ellis, E. E. (1992). The Old Testament in Early Christianity. Baker. p. 34. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Archer, Gleason, L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago, IL, USA: Moody Press. p. 75. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  13. ^ Hengel, Martin (2004). The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Baker. pp. 58–59. 
  14. ^ Beckwith, Roger (1986). The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Eerdmans. p. 382. 
  15. ^ James Akin, Defending the Deuterocanonicals
  16. ^ Josephus writes in Against Apion, I, 8: "We have not 10,000 books among us, disagreeing with and contradicting one another, but only twenty-two books which contain the records of all time, and are justly believed to be divine." These 22 books make up the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
  17. ^ Athanasius of Alexandria, Excerpt from Letter 39
  18. ^ a b Canon of the Old Testament, Catholic Encyclopedia
  19. ^ Council of Trent, Session 4, 8 April 1546.
  20. ^ Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), pp. 270–1, 278.
  21. ^ Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, In ult. Cap., Esther.
  22. ^ Bill Webster Responds to Gary Michuta, Part III
  23. ^ Council of Florence, Session 11, 4 February 1442
  24. ^ Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog, Bill Webster Responds to Gary Michuta, Part II
  25. ^ Schaff's Seven Ecumenical Councils: The Canons of the CCXVII Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage: Canon XXIV
  26. ^ See also Esther in the NAB.
  27. ^ An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, Henry Barclay Swete, Cambridge University Press, 1914, Part II, Chapter III, Section 6, "Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah were regarded by the Church as adjuncts of Jeremiah, much in the same way as Susanna and Bel were attached to Daniel. Baruch and the Epistle occur in lists which rigorously exclude the non-canonical books; they are cited as 'Jeremiah' (Iren. v. 35. I, Tert. scorp. 8, Clement of Alexandria Paedagogus i. 10, Cyprian, Testimonia ii. 6); with Lamentations they form a kind of trilogy supplementary to the prophecy."; The Canon of Trent specifies "Ieremias cum Baruch" (Jeremiah with Baruch).
  28. ^ Prologues of St. Jerome, Latin text
  29. ^ Since some ancients counted Baruch as part of Jeremiah, it is conceivable though unlikely that Jerome counted Baruch under the name of Jeremiah when he enumerated the canon in his Prologus Galeatus.
  30. ^ New Advent, "Canon of the Old Testament"
  31. ^ Jerome’s Prologue to Judith
  32. ^ Ray Aviles, "Did Jerome change his mind on the apocrypha"
  33. ^ Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, The Fourth Session, 1546.
  34. ^ Orthodox Answer To a Question About Apocrypha, Canon, Deuterocanonical – Answer #39
  35. ^ a b S. T. Kimbrough (2005). Orthodox And Wesleyan Scriptual Understanding And Practice. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-88141-301-4. 
  36. ^ Albert C. Sundberg, Jr., "The Old Testament of the Early Church" Revisited 1997

Further reading

  • Harrington, Daniel J. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999. ISBN 978-0-8028-4633-4
  • Roach, Corwin C. The Apocrypha: the Hidden Books of the Bible. Cincinnati, Oh.: Forward Forward Movement Publications, 1966. N.B.: Concerns the Deuterocanonical writings (Apocrypha), according to Anglican usage.

External links