Biblical Origins and Purpose of Deuterocanonical Books
The Bible consists of several books of scripture considered relevant to the faith by Christianity, with most Protestant and Catholic denominations recognizing 66 books as part of the canon, an official list of sacred writings. As the Old Testament includes 46 books and the New Testament just 27, the majority of the distinct books come from the Old Testament, largely due to their differences in content and viewpoint. These 46 books are divided into the protocanonical books, which were accepted as divinely inspired by all Christian denominations and the deuterocanonical books, which were only accepted by certain denominations.
The discussion of which books were divinely inspired predates any written Bible and dates back to the second century of the common era. Prior to the fourth century, many Jews excluded the deuterocanonical books from their written version of scripture. Later, many non-protestant denominations retained the deuterocanonical books but moved to incorporate them into the Apocrypha, a collection of non-canonical books.
Historically, churches have had different views on the validity of these texts but generally accepted the books as part of broader Christian scripture, although the Protestant tradition does not accept them as part of the canon. An important variation among the denominations emerged in 1967 when the Eastern Orthodox church canonised 15 of the non-canonical books, suggesting there was some degree of common reverence attached to them.
Ancient and Modern Meaning of Apocrypha
The term Apocrypha was first coined by theologians in the 1700s who wanted to separate certain writings from what they considered the authentic scripture of the Bible. It is derived from the Greek term meaning “hidden things” and is used to apply to a broad range of non-canonical religious books, many of which are held in high regard by various Christian denominations.
These books tend to come from two major literary genres, including those that provide additional historical context to the biblical record and those that provide a collection of early Jewish religious sayings and teachings. Since the Bible only contains some of the traditional religious sayings and teachings of early Judaism, some theologians have seen fit to include full collections of written traditions from antiquity.
In modern times, scholars have studied the lives of Jesus’ Apostles and their beliefs, as well as their teachings, which are written largely in the non-canonical books of the Bible. As such, some churches have adopted the Apocryphal books as part of the divinely inspired scripture and have subsequently canonised them. It has also been argued that the Apocrypha provides greater detail and understanding of the teachings of Jesus, as it often presents different perspectives compared to the canonical texts.
Implications of Non-canonical Books
The decision to consider certain books part of the canonical literature of the Bible has important implications, as many of the books in the Apocrypha suggest alternative perspectives to the ones presented in the canonical books. This can create difficulties when attempting to consult a single source for the interpretation of the Bible’s teachings because of the diverse viewpoints.
Since the Apocrypha takes up substantial amounts of space and sometimes even contradicts the teachings of other canonical books, some denominations do not accept it as divinely inspired literature. Consequently, many denominations find themselves in the difficult position of having to reconcile the teachings from these books with their own. As a result, some have found it necessary to exclude them from the canon of scripture altogether.
Reasons for Removal
The lack of consensus among the different denominations and the large number of writings included in the Apocrypha created an environment for debate and eventually caused some books to be excluded from the canon. The Protestant tradition eliminated seven books from the Bible, which explains their absence from many versions of the Bible today.
Throughout the 16th century, the disconnection between differing interpretations and divergent technologies such as the printing press created further divisions, thereby doing away with some of the works and making them increasingly obscure. A further factor in the death of the seven books was the Reformation movement, which reacted to what was seen as Catholic corruption.
Responsibility for Exclusion
The actual decision to remove the seven books of the Apocrypha from the Bible is attributed to the very man who started the Reformation, Martin Luther. The German theologian and founder of Lutheranism advocated for the exclusion of these books, making the official comment that “these are indeed Apocrypha.”
While it is often said that Luther removed the apocryphal books from Protestant versions of the Bible, it is important to note that this was not a unilateral decision as there were a number of other participants involved in the process. As such, Luther’s contemporaries, particularly those from a more radical perspective, cannot be said to have had no part in the decision to remove the books from the Bible.
Role of the Catholic Church
There is also a consensus in the Catholic Church that these omitted books were never part of the canon and that the seven Apocryphal books were simply moved to an appendix by Luther. The Catholic Church maintains that no books were ever removed from the Bible, instead having been relegated to a supplementary position in collections such as the Douai-Rheims Bible to provide a level of perspective and context to the Christian faith.
Further, advocates of this position point to the Catholic Church’s continuous authority as having since been passed down from its Apostolic beginnings, with the Church never having removed any books from the Bible during its existence. This argument is further strengthened through the Eastern Church’s acceptance of the 15 books commonly referred to as the Apocrypha, canonizing them and arguing for their essential relevance to life as a Christian.
Analysis and Interpretation
The debate surrounding the Apocrypha can be seen in the context of the reinterpretation of the Scripture due to evolving technologies and ideas of the 16th century, as it eventually led to a revision of the canon by at least some of the prominent denominations at the time. This balance between the received texts and the re-examination of texts has led to such criteria as Protestant scholars placing limits on writing that purports to fill gaps or express doctrine in a manner that conflicts with the accepted 66 books of the Bible.
For example, there are some books considered non-canonical today that nonetheless remain key to understanding different religious traditions and customs. Also, from a Christian perspective, some additional books are proposed but have since been abandoned due to their incompatibility with the teachings of Christianity.
Modern Use of Non-Canonical Books
Whilst the books excluded from the Bible have never been formally accepted into the canon by either Protestant or Catholic churches, there are still many believers who accept the authenticity of some of these books, particularly the Apocrypha. In recent times, the Apocrypha has assumed a more prominent role within certain denominations, particularly those involved in the practice of Orthodox Christianity.
The Orthodox Church sees the Apocryphal books to be essential to its life and practice as a whole, often including them as part of spiritual readings during services. Similarly, certain denominations also permit their members to consult the Apocrypha for life guidance and spiritual enrichment, provided they are read in the same spirit as canonical texts.
Impact of Including Non-Canonical Books
The acceptance of non-canonical books is seen to have both positive and negative effects on Christianity, as there are some who view their inclusion as enriching their faith, while others believe it does not belong in the Bible at all. The simple answer is that it depends on the individual perspective, as the acceptance of non-canonical and alternative books depends largely on the attitude of the reader.
From a purely spiritual point of view, the books in the Apocrypha provide a unique perspective and contain alternative views to traditional biblical teachings, often offering a different interpretation of passages found elsewhere in scripture. This has the potential to bring different aspects of Christianity into the light while presenting alternative ways of thinking.
Modern Study of Non-Canonical Books
Despite their exclusion from the Bible, there exists a wealth of material to be drawn from these seven books. In modern times, Biblical scholars have invested considerable effort into interpretative studies, as scholars attempt to capture the essential message these books are attempting to convey.
These interpretative studies seek to understand why these books were excluded, while also attempting to gain insight into what they actually meant to the broader Church. With this in mind, many theologians and scholars of faith continue to read and interpret these books, seeking to understand the history of Christianity and its place in religious thought.
Conclusions Regarding Non-Canonical Books
Ultimately, the answer to the question “who removed the books from the Bible” is far from clear, as a range of factors contributed to their exclusion from the 66-book canon. The Apocrypha is a vast collection of non-canonical religious books, often held in high regard by various Christian denominations.
The removal of these books has been largely attributed to Martin Luther and the Reformation movement, however Luther was not the only one responsible for this decision. Despite the exclusion of these books, certain denominations still revere them and regard them as essential to spiritual readings. As such, the Apocrypha can still be a source of understanding and insight into the teachings of Jesus, as it provides additional historical context and alternative perspectives.