Inclusion of the Apocrypha

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Puritan Board Freshman
I am trying to settle in my mind the canon of the Bible. The hang up for me is not the NT canon, but the use and inclusion of the Apocrypha in the early church.

Philip Schaff says:
Soon after the middle of the fourth century, when the church became firmly settled in the Empire, all doubts as to the Apocrypha of the Old Testament and the Antilegomena of the New ceased, and the acceptance of the Canon in its Catholic shape, which includes both, became an article of faith.

The first Council which expressly legislated on the number of canonical books is that of Laodicea in Phrygia, in Asia Minor (held between A.D. 343 and 381, probably about 363). In its last canon (60 or 59), it enumerates the canonical books of the Old Testament, and then all of the New, with the exception of the Apocalypse"¦

In the Western church, the third provincial Council of Carthage (held A.D. 397) gave a full list of the canonical books of both Testaments, which should be read as divine Scriptures to the exclusion of all others in the churches.

The Council of Laodicea (about A.D. 363) and the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) canon lists are not the same.

The Carthage list includes Tobias, Judith, and the two books of the Maccabees. Was the canon closed in 397 or not? If it was, did all the known Church accept it?

I know the WCF says, "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the 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", but did the Church go from 397 A.D. to 1546 A.D. with this view?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
"Protestantism claims the liberty of the ante-Nicene age and the right of renewed investigation into the origin and history of every book of the Bible."

This penultimate sentence in Schaff's excerpt (linked above) is the most relevant sentence in the whole page. Protestants should not accept the authority of the received canon Scripture on the basis of Church pronouncements, as valuable as they may be (and they do establish for us a consistensy of witness down through the ages). It is Rome's assertion that the church has legislated the canon (and has added to it in fact). Rather, we recognize the Voice of our Master in the Word. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (Jn. 10:27; cf. 4, 5, 16).

But to address your specific questions:
Was the canon closed in 397 or not?
The canon was "closed" when the last inspired author put down his pen. The question you might ask is: how has the church always (not just then, or today) recognized what was inspired and what wasn't? Back in the early centuries of the church we find what is actually remarkable unanimity about where God's Word is heard distinctly. And this without a bunch of meetings to determine what should be authoritative and what shouldn't. When there is a council meeting, we find the attenders all agreeing that these books (a, b, c, ...) are without dispute, and there are a few that some have questions about. But the general consensus is: that what constitutes our familiar NT is God's Word. Those who questioned this or that book either have their questions answered or submit to the gathered wisdom of the church. "In a multitude of counselors there is safety." And these books alone, then, will be used to establish this or that doctrinal argument.
did all the known Church accept it?
Again, the church in existence already accepted God's Word. The councils merely stated what the church already acknowledged. As the Schaff shows (in the linked page), later witnesses' lists, where they are found, give no evidence of new views arising within the church.

Regarding the OT canon and the issue of the Apocrypha: Schaff writes: "The canon of the Old Testament descended to the church from the Jews, with the sanction of Christ and the apostles. The Jewish Apocrypha were included in the Septuagint and passed from it into Christian versions." Your question
did the Church go from 397 A.D. to 1546 A.D. with this view?
references the WCF statement, and also a listing from Carthage that I did not find on the Schaff page (linked above) and cannot verify, but accept your research. From the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, to Josephus, to the early church, we find the Apocrypha excluded from the Old Testament. All along the way of the formation of the OT canon, the people of God had to do the same thing that the Christian church did--recognize God's Voice when He spoke by his servants, the prophets. The Apocrypha, which has little Hebrew text extant, was included in the Greek Septuagint (translated Hebrew Bible). And being found together with the Bible, may occasionally have been deemed authoritative. But that was clearly the exception, not the rule. R. Laird Harris, in his book, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures, (an invaluable resource) mentions the singular uniqueness of the councils of Carthage in admiting Apocryphal writings as canonical.

Bottom line: All the witnesses up to ca. AD 400 (that is until Carthage) are uniform in defining the OT canon, excluding the Apocrypha. This includes Jerome (ca. 400), who only includes a Latin translation of the Apocrypha in his Vulgate because of pressure from above.

Here are two references from the middle ages, beginning and end(provided by Harris, p.186):
1) Pope Gregory the Great (ca. AD 600) quoting from 1 Macc. "We address a testimony from books, though not canonical, yet published for the edification of the church."
2) Cardinal Ximenes, preface to Complutensian Polyglot (pub. just prior to the Reformation) "'dedicated to Pope Leo X and approved by him' states that the Apocryphal books printed therin were not in the canon but used for edification."

Hope this points you in the right direction...
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