Are the Deuterocanonical Books part of the Christian Bible?

Numerous Christians have difficulties with the Deuterocanonical Books, being unsure whether these books are part of Scripture or not. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge these books, yet the Protestant Churches do not. 

Prior to looking at their authenticity, what are the Deuterocanonical Books and why are these books named as such? The terminology ‘’deuterocanonical’’ was introduced in the 16th century by Pope Sixtus V from the Roman Catholic Church (see http://wiscopts.net/spiritual-library/145). Pope Sixtus V made a distinction between ‘’protocanonical’’ and ‘’deuterocanonical’’ books, where protocanonical books are the books of the first Old Testament canon (hence, proto and canon) and the deuterocanonical books are the books of the second Old Testament canon (hence, deuteron and canon). As Orthodoxy does not make this distinction, and both ‘’groups’’ are seen as protocanonical books, the term deuterocanonical is nevertheless used as this term is widely used in literature. The Deuterocanonical Books are: The Book of Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, 1 and 2 Esdras, the prayer of Manasseh and additions to the Books of Esther and Daniel. These books were removed from the Bible during the Reformation (16th century). The one who removed these books was Martin Luther, who first removed these books to the appendix of the Bible and subsequently removed them from the Bible. He also tried to remove several books from the New Testament, such as: The Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James and the Revelation of John (see episode 10 of ‘’Introduction to the Bible’’ podcast by ‘’Ancient Faith Ministries’’)

What are arguments against the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books?

Argument 1: The Deuterocanonical Books are not included in the list of books organized by Ezra the Priest in the library of Nehemiah. As Ezra had collected all books acknowledged as scripture, and he did not include the Deuterocanonical Books, these books are not supposed to be in the Old Testament Canon. 

Refutation: The information about the library of Nehemiah is, interestingly, only mentioned in the deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees (2 Maccabees 2:13). Therefore, this argument is invalid as one cannot reject the Deuterocanonical Books based on information exclusively found in the Deuterocanonical Books. Another point is that the Israelites were divided back then, consisting of roughly three groups: Israelites in Jerusalem, Israelites in exile and Israelites returning home from exile. Furthermore, not all books were written prior to Ezra, some books, such as Sirach, were written after the time of Ezra and were written in other cities such as Jerusalem. As back then there were no databases, it was practically impossible for Ezra to collect Scripture from over the whole world. This, however, does not mean that Ezra purposely rejected these books, but he simply did not know of their existence or they were not even written. 

Argument 2: The average Bible does not contain the Deuterocanonical Books, therefore they are not important (enough) as they are not included in most Bibles. 

Refutation: That the average Bible does not contain these books does not mean that they are not part of Scripture. For instance, if I would remove books from the Bible and copy my Bible numerous times, would that mean that the books which I removed are not part of scripture? Of course not. More importantly, Orthodox and Catholic Bibles do contain the Deuterocanonical Books. Furthermore, ancient copies of the Old Testament also contain the Deuterocanonical Books, such as the Septuagint (3rd c. BC), the Peshitta (2-4th c. AD) and the Vulgate (4th c. AD). The copy which does not contain the Deuterocanonical Books is the Masoretic Text, which is a Jewish ‘’Bible’’. In addition, Bibles prior to the 16th century all contained the Deuterocanonical Books, as the ‘’controverse’’ started during the Reformation. 

What are arguments in favour of the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books?

Argument 1:  The Biblical Canon has been discussed during several councils, such as: The Council of Laodicea in 363 (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 126-160), the Council of Hippo in 393, the Councils of Carthage in 397 (B. Westcott. General survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, pp. 440, 541–42) and 419 (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 438-510). During these councils, the Deuterocanonical Books were mentioned to be 1) part of Scripture and 2) to have the same authenticity as the rest of Scripture. For instance, Canon 59 of the Council of Laodicea mentions: ‘’No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments’’, and Canon 60 lists the Deuterocanonical Books as part of the Old Testament Canon (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 438-510). As the Deuterocanonical Books were highly used by the Church Fathers, one can come to the conclusion that these were truly a part of Scripture. The Council of Carthage mentioned the Biblical Canon of the Old and New Testament, and this list contained the Deuterocanonical Books. Despite that most acts of this council has been lost, they are cited, however, in the acts of the Council of Hippo. Furthermore, Canon 24 of the 2nd Council of Carthage listed the Deuterocanonical Books as part of the Old Testament Canon. 

Argument 2: Church Fathers listed the Deuterocanonical Books as part of their Biblical Canon. Several Church Fathers explicitly mentioned the Deuterocanonical Books in their Biblical Canons, such as Melito of Sardis (Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History, Book 4.26.12-14), Athanasius of Alexandria (373 AD) (Festal Epistle, 39), Cyril of Jerusalem (386 AD) (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 4.33-37), Gregorius Nazianzus (390 AD) (Hymns, Hymn 1.1),  Amphilochius of Iconium (403 AD) (see his work ‘’Lambics to Seleucus’’), Epiphanius of Salamis (403 AD) (see his work ‘’On the Weights and Measures, 49’’), Augustine of Hippo (420 AD) (see his work ‘’Retractions, 2.2-3’’) and Innocent I of Rome (417 AD) (see his Epistle to Exsuperius, 7) are some of these Fathers. In addition, Church Fathers often cited Deuterocanonical Books in their works, also they never objected to the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books. Significant Church Fathers cited the Deuterocanonical Books in multiple instances, such as Athanasius of Alexandria (373 AD), Basil of Caesarea (379 AD), Gregory Nazianzus (390 AD), John Chrysostom (407 AD) and Cyril of Alexandria (444 AD). Also, the Apostolic Fathers cited the Deuterocanonical Books, such as Clement of Rome (1st c. AD), Polycarp of Smyrna (2nd c. AD) and the Didache (2nd c. AD). 

Noteworthy is that several Church Fathers counted the books of the Old Testament as 22, symbolising the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This did not mean, however, that these Fathers did not acknowledge all books of the Old Testament, rather they used another counting method. The counting method which they used, grouped the twelve minor prophets as one book and books such as Samuel, Chronicles and Kings were not numbered as 1 and 2. Church Fathers who used this method to count books from the Old Testament were Hilary of Poitiers (367 AD) (see his ‘’Prologue to the Psalms, 15’’), Athanasius of Alexandria (Festal Letters, Letter 39), Gregory Nazianzus (Poems, Book 1, Section 1,12), Origen of Alexandria (254 AD) (Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History, Book 6.25), Jerome of Stridon (420 AD) (see his Letter to Paulinus, 6-8) and Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 4.35)

Argument 3: The New Testament and Jesus Himself quoted several times from the Deuterocanonical Books. For example, 

  • Jesus quotes Sirach 26:7 when He stated that “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16,20). 
  • Jesus said: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)
  • The Book of Sirach states that: “Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.” (Sirach 7:14)
  • Matthew mentions that the people who were observing the crucifixion said: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:43)
  • The Book of Wisdom prophesied that He, referring to Jesus “boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true” (Wisdom 2:15,16)
  • Jesus said: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31)
  • Tobit states that: “Do to no one what you yourself hate” (Tobit 4:15)
  • Jesus quoted from Tobit 4: “Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, so that God’s face will not be turned away from you. Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little. You will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness. Almsgiving is a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who practice it” (Tobit 4:7-11)
  • Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34) 
  • Book of Wisdom: “For who can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills?” (Wisdom 9:13)
  • Pauls instructs the believers that “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Sirach 35:11: “With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness.” (Sirach 35:11)
  • Paul wrote on Jesus as the Wisdom of God that He “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3) 
  • Solomon wrote on the Wisdom of God that “she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26)

Coptic Apologetics