The Apocrypha, Lesson 2: How We Lost the Apocrypha

Apocrypha RemovedLast week, we learned what the Scriptures were for Jesus and his Apostles: The Septuagint, the Greek-language version of the Old Testament.  Jesus also affirmed this in His Scripture quotes, which favored the Septuagint and when He told the Sadducees they didn’t know the Scripture, referring to the book of Tobit (Matthew 22:29).  In 397 AD, the Church recognized all the book of the Septuagint as Scripture.


Changes within the Roman-Catholic Church—It’s All About Purgatory

In the Western Christian Church, Latin became the predominant language.  Greek remained for the Eastern churches.  Differences grew, and a struggle developed over who would lead the Christian Church.

2, Petros vs PetraRome claimed the be the head of the Church, insisting Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom” specifically to Peter.  Jesus said, “I tell you, you are Peter [petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).  In 1054, East and West split, called “the Great Schism.”

In 1274, the Roman-Catholic Church convened the Council of Lyons, inviting the Eastern Church to attend, and several representatives did.  Though we can find some teaching of purgatory in the earlier Church fathers, this Council was the one which officially defined it as “the place of purification through which souls pass on their way to paradise.”

Later in the 1400s, we see the Roman Catholic Church officially treat the deuterocanon as primary canon at the Council of Florence (1437 AD).  This Council met to try to reconcile relations with Eastern Orthodoxy.  Discussed were the procession of the Holy Spirit, the use of leavened bread in the Supper, purgatory, and the primacy and power of the Pope.

Though the Eastern Christian churches consider the Anagignoskomena as Scripture, unlike Rome, they do not believe in purgatory.  Contrary to the Eastern Church, the Council of Florence declared:

If they [Christians] die repentant for their sins and with a love of God, but did not make satisfaction for what they earlier did or by fruits worthy of repentance, then their souls, after death, are cleansed by the punishment of Purgatory…  The intercessory prayers of the faithful still living are helpful in relieving them from such punishment, which includes the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers, giving money to the poor, and other works of piety which, according to the Church, are offered by the faithful for one another.

To support their views, Rome needed to treat the deuterocanon as primary canon.  The central scripture passage used was 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, which we will study later in this series.

Fast forward a little more than a century, and we find Rome’s position becomes further entrenched.  In response to a growing Lutheranism, Rome convenes the Council of Trent (1545-1563 AD), which issued a decree: “The Sacred Books and the Tradition of the Apostles.”

So that no doubt may arise in anyone’s mind as to which are the books that are accepted by this Synod [that is, the Council of Trent], it has decreed a list of sacred books be added to this decree.  [The Council then listed the Old Testament including the Apocrypha and the New Testament.]

  • At this point, did the Council do anything that was not catholic, that is, different from how the Church before then treated Scripture?


Then the Council went on to say: “If anyone, however, should not accept the listed books as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts … let him be anathema.”

  • With that one statement, what official shift had taken place within the Roman Catholic Church on how they treated and used the Apocrypha?


Pondering Rome’s breaking with the Church’s historical practice by treating the deuterocanon as primary canon, Martin Chemnitz (the Lutheran Church father called the “second Martin”) considered treating the Apocrypha in the opposite way.  Do we have the authority to reject and condemn the Apocrypha?  In his Examination of the Council of Trent, Chemnitz responded, “We by no means seek this” (vol. 1, pg. 189).


The Lutheran Church and the Apocrypha

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

Luther’s most-famous quote about the Apocrypha comes from his preface to the Apocrypha in his German translation of the Bible.  These books “are not held to equal the sacred Scriptures” but are “nevertheless useful and good to read” (LW, vol. 35, pg.337).

Based on his views, Luther moved the Deuterocanon into an unnumbered appendix called “Apocrypha” at the end of the Old Testament.  To give us a perspective, Luther also moved books of the New Testament he didn’t like into its own unnumbered appendix: James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation.  After Luther’s death, his move of the Deuterocanon into its section called “Apocrypha” stuck.  Not so for the New Testament, with all the books being restored to their previous locations.

Despite Luther’s personal opinion, he removed no books of the Apocrypha from the Bible.  This shows he understood he didn’t have the authority to remove any book of Scripture.


The Lutheran Confessions

Put together in 1580, the Lutheran Confessions are a set of documents all pastors and congregations in the Lutheran Church profess to follow.  In them, we highlight our differences with other Christian churches, primarily the Roman-Catholic Church.

In all our stated differences with Rome, we do not even list the books of the Bible.  This shows that what constituted the Bible for Lutherans during the Reformation was not in dispute with Rome.  The Lutheran view of what books are in the Bible is the same (or is supposed to be!) as the Roman Catholic Church.

The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, chapter 21, para 9:

We grant that angels pray for us.  For there is a passage in Zechariah 1:12, where an angel prays, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem?’  To be sure, concerning the saints we grant that in heaven they pray for the Church in general, just as they prayed for the Church in general while alive.  However, no passage about the dead praying exists in the Scriptures, except that of a dream recorded in 2 Maccabees 15:14.

  • What do our Confessions call the book of 2 Maccabees?


We’ll look further into our Confessions later in this series.


So What Happened in the Protestant World?

The Anglican Church in 1562

From its 39 articles:

In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.  Of the names and number of the Canonical Books [lists the books in the current day Protestant Old Testament]…  All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them canonical.  And the other books (as Hierome [Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.  Such are these following [lists the Apocrypha].

  • Is the official position of the Anglican (and Episcopal) Church in line with the Church’s Council of Carthage of 397 AD?


John Calvin (1509 – 1564): Reformed and Presbyterian

These books, called Apocrypha, have always been distinguished from the writings which were without difficulty called Holy Scripture.  For the Church Fathers wished to avoid the danger of mixing profane books with those which were certainly brought forth by the Holy Spirit….  None of these books was in any way accepted by the Hebrews…

  • If you remember last week’s lesson, what incorrect statements did Calvin make concerning the Apocrypha?


  • How do we see Calvin’s erroneous views of the Apocrypha as the current Protestant worldview?


The King James Bible (1611)

The original 1611 edition of the King James Version included the Apocrypha in an appendix placed between the Old and New Testaments.  The King James translators followed the example of Luther’s Die Bibel which, by then, restored all the books of the New Testament in their previous locations.

However, commercial companies, which needed to make a profit, printed these Bibles.  So, economic incentives proved a strong reason to reduce printing costs.  Since the Apocrypha was not “canon,” and most people wouldn’t complain about it not being included in the Bible, publishers began to print Bibles without the Apocrypha.  In 1626, 1629, 1630, and 1633, we find the first examples of this.  In England, between 1632 and 1826, out of the 227 printings of the Bible, only 40% included the Apocrypha.


2, The Bible of the Revolution, the Aitken BibleThe United States

In 1781, a plan was advanced in Congress to print America’s first English-language Bible (called “The Bible of the Revolution”).  On September 12, 1782, the U.S. Congress approved the printing of such a Bible.  This Bible, however, did not include the Apocrypha.  So, other than Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Christian reading German-language Bibles, a Bible lacking the Apocrypha became the norm for citizens of the United States.


So What Happened in the North American Lutheran Church?

In North America, among German-speaking Lutherans, every German-language Bible published by Concordia Publishing House contained the Old-Testament Apocrypha.  The Missouri Synod’s catechetical instruction also presented an awareness of the Apocrypha as part of the Bible.

The edition of Luther’s catechism first used in the Missouri Synod was the one edited by Johann Conrad Dietrich (1575-1639).  The Dietrich Catechism said:

5. Are there any others besides these canonical books contained in the Holy Bible?

Yes, those which are usually called apocryphal.

6. What are apocryphal books?

Apocryphal books are those respecting whose authors and authority there were doubts in the Church of God; therefore, they were publicly used neither to establish, confirm, or judge the articles of faith.

In the Dietrich Catechism, we see the Apocrypha was still considered part of the Bible but not to be used as canon.  As a pastor, Dietrich read from the Apocrypha during the Divine Service and even used those books as sermon texts.  For example, he preached from the Apocrypha book of

Wisdom of Solomon verse by verse in sermons.  [This book], according to Dietrich, is to be highly esteemed, most of all because the Holy Spirit has taken it up and perfected it in the manner of heavenly philosophy. (Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: The History of its Interpretation, II: From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment by Magne Saebo, 2008, pg. 744)

Following the Dietrich Catechism, the Missouri Synod adopted the Schwan Catechism (Heinrich Dietrich Schwan, 1819 – 1905).  In his catechism, the support for the Apocrypha was even less than the Dietrich Catechism.  The Schwan Catechism reads:

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.  Our English Bible is a translation from the Hebrew and the Greek.  The English Bible, which is in ordinary use, is called the Authorized Version, or King James Version.  It is a translation made by a body of learned men and published in England in 1611, during the reign of James I.

  • Based on the Schwan Catechism, what just happened to the Apocrypha in the Missouri Synod (since by then, the King James Version Bibles no longer had the Apocrypha in them)?


When Franz Pieper (1852 – 1931) wrote His Christian Dogmatics text (German, 1917- 1924; English translation, 1950- 1953), he wrote, “There is, however, no historical witness for the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.  Neither the Jewish Church nor Christ recognized them as canonical [vol. 1, pg. 330].”

  • From what you’ve learned from earlier lessons, where did Pieper misspeak concerning the historical witness of the Apocrypha?


Paralleling the move in the Missouri Synod from tepid support, to neglect, and then to rejecting the Apocrypha, was a language change taking place.  In the 20th century, as English became the dominant language, English speakers brought with them Bibles (not from Concordia Publishing House) lacking the Old-Testament Apocrypha.

For the rest of the twentieth century, the dismissal of the Apocrypha became stronger.  By 1943, the LC-MS adopted an edition of the Schwan Catechism, which finally listed the books of the Bible: “There are sixty-six books in the Bible: thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament,” followed by a list of those books.

By only listing 39 books in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha all but disappeared from our Lutheran mind.


2, Change in How the Apocrypha was Viewed in the Western Church

Link to the next Lesson.


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