Why the Apocrypha Is Not Scripture

If you have ever done any study of the canon of Scripture, you will notice that Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. In addition to the 66 books Protestants accept, Catholicism also accepts Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch with the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, additions to Daniel, and additions to Esther. In addition to these, Eastern Orthodoxy accepts 1 Esdras or 3 Ezra, the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. While there are many historical arguments for rejecting the Apocrypha as Scripture, I want to focus here on the texts themselves.

It is much easier to prove which books do not belong in the Bible than to prove which ones do. For example, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas teaches polytheism or the belief in many gods. It claims that Jesus said, “Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.” But since the Bible teaches that there is only one God (John 5:44), the Gospel of Thomas is not canonical because it contains doctrinal error and the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. In the same way, the apocryphal books contain doctrinal and historical errors in them which preclude them from being accepted by Christians as coming from the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom 8:19-20 teaches the pre-existence of the soul which Roman Catholicism does not teach. The text reads: “As a child I was by nature well endowed, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.” “Soul” in Wisdom is distinct from the body: “For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind” (Wis 9:15). “A man in his wickedness kills another, but he cannot bring back the departed spirit, nor set free the imprisoned soul” (Wis 16:14). The belief in the pre-existence of the soul was condemned as heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council which is considered to be an infallible ecumenical council by Catholicism.

Another error in Wisdom is the denial of creation ex nihilo, or “out of nothing,” which is taught in Scripture (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3). Wisdom 11:17 says, “For thy all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions.” This also contradicts another text in the Apocrypha which does teach that God created all things out of nothing: “I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being” (2 Macc 7:28).

The book of Judith is filled with historical errors. The first verse of the book reads: “In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad, who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana.” The problem is that Nineveh fell in 612 to Nebuchadnezzar’s father Nabopolassar. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon in 605 after his father’s death and never ruled over Nineveh. The twelfth year of his reign would have been 593, 19 years after Nineveh’s fall. Judith 4:3 teaches that the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity and rebuilt the temple before Nebuchadnezzar died: “For they had only recently returned from the captivity, and all the people of Judea were newly gathered together, and the sacred vessels and the altar and the temple had been consecrated after their profanation.” The Babylonian captivity did not end until 539, but Nebuchadnezzar died in 562. The author of Judith intentionally put historical errors like these into the text to indicate that this is a work of fiction and not meant to be taken as history.

Tobit 1:15 says that Sennacherib was the son of Shalmaneser and reigned in his place after he died: “But when Shalmaneser died, Sennacherib his son reigned in his place; and under him the highways were unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media.” But Sennacherib did not reign when Shalmaneser died, but Sargon II. The reign of Shalmaneser V was from 727-722, the reign of Sargon II was from 722-705, and Sennacherib’s reign was from 705-681. Tobit 6:6-7 teaches that smoke from a fish’s heart and liver drives away demons: “Then the young man said to the angel, ‘Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?’ He replied, ‘As for the heart and liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again.’” Not only is this verse ridiculous (why would an immaterial demon be frightened away by smoke?), but it contradicts God’s Word which teaches that we are not to use magic (Deut 18:9-14; Acts 19:18-19). Tobit 14:15 says, “But before he died he heard of the destruction of Nineveh, which Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus had captured. Before his death he rejoiced over Nineveh.” But Nineveh was not captured by Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus, but by Nabopolassar and Cyaxares.

1 Maccabees 6:8-16 says that Antiochus Epiphanes died in his bed of an illness. But 2 Maccabees 1:14-17 says he was stoned to death. A third contradictory account is found in 2 Maccabees 9:1-29 which says that he died far away in the mountains of an internal pain in the bowels. 2 Maccabees 2:4-5 says that Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave. But this contradicts Jeremiah 3:16 which tells us that the ark was destroyed by the Babylonians: “And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.” The author of 2 Maccabees denied that his book was inspired Scripture when he closed by saying, “If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do” (15:38). This is a far cry from the “thus says the Lord” of the authors of Scripture.

Sirach 3:30 says, “Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.” This verse became the basis for the practice of indulgences which undermines the sufficiency of Christ’s death to save us. Sirach 12:4-5 says, “Give to the godly man, but do not help the sinner. Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back his bread, and do not give it to him, lest by means of it he subdue you; for you will receive twice as much evil for all the good which you do to him.” But Jesus taught the opposite of this in Luke 6:33-35: “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” For more on this subject, I recommend William Webster’s book on the Apocrypha.

Sunday Meditation – The School of the Cross

“Nothing can render affliction so insupportable as the load of sin: would you, therefore, be fitted for afflictions, be sure to get the burden of your sins laid aside, and then what afflictions soever you may meet with will be very easy to you. If thou canst hear and bear the rod of affliction which God shall lay upon thee, remember this lesson – thou art beaten that thou mayest be better. The Lord useth his flail of tribulation to separate the chaff from the wheat. The school of the cross is the school of light; it discovers the world’s vanity, baseness, and wickedness, and lets us see more of God’s mind. Out of dark affliction comes a spiritual light. In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God. Did we heartily renounce the pleasures of this world, we should be very little troubled for our afflictions; that which renders an afflicted state so insupportable to many is because they are too much addicted to the pleasures of this life, and so cannot endure that which makes a separation between them.”

John Bunyan

What Are Indulgences?

The practice of indulgences could never exist apart from a belief in purgatory. Since no one wants to go to purgatory, indulgences exist to reduce or eliminate the amount of time one needs to spend in suffering after death before being allowed entrance into heaven. Because of purgatory, Catholics argue that prayers should be offered for the dead that they might be delivered out of the suffering of purgatory into heaven. An indulgence is the granting of remission from the temporal punishment due to sin through the application of the supererogatory righteousness of the saints in the treasury of merit which the pope has access to through the keys of the church. The practice of indulgences is still alive and well today and is expressed most clearly in the papal encyclical Indulgentiarum doctrina. In it, Pope Paul VI proclaims that by carrying our crosses, we expiate our sins and the sins of others:

“Following in the footsteps of Christ, the Christian faithful have always endeavored to help one another on the path leading to the heavenly Father through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervor of charity, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings, carrying their crosses in expiation for their own sins and those of others, certain that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God the Father of mercies.”

In the church, there is a great treasury of merit which contains the righteous deeds of the saints which help to bring about the salvation of others:

“This treasury also includes the truly immense, unfathomable and ever pristine value before God of the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, who following in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by His grace have sanctified their lives and fulfilled the mission entrusted to them by the Father. Thus while attaining their own salvation, they have also cooperated in the salvation of their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.”

It is rather shocking that the document admits that the practice of indulgences developed over time (the first historical reference to indulgences does not appear for at least a thousand years after Christ) and was not practiced by the earliest Christians:

“The conviction existing in the Church that the pastors of the flock of the Lord could set the individual free from the vestiges of sins by applying the merits of Christ and of the saints led gradually, in the course of the centuries and under the influence of the Holy Spirit’s continuous inspiration of the people of God, to the usage of indulgences which represented a progression in the doctrine and discipline of the Church rather than a change.”

The Catholic Church anathematizes anyone who says that indulgences are useless:

“But the Church, in deploring and correcting these improper uses ‘teaches and establishes that the use of indulgences must be preserved because it is supremely salutary for the Christian people and authoritatively approved by the sacred councils; and it condemns with anathema those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences or deny the power of the Church to grant them.’”

I agree with John Calvin that indulgences are a Satanic mockery of the work of Christ. The righteousness by which we stand before God is not a patchwork righteousness made up of a combination of the righteousness of Christ, Mary, the saints, and ourselves. The doctrine of the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ is essential to justification and the foundation for the Protestant rejection of indulgences. This alone is the gospel.

A common verse used to support indulgences is Colossians 1:24 where Paul says that he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” Therefore, it is argued that the sufferings of Christ on the cross are not sufficient to save us. We need to complete what is lacking in Christ’s atonement through our own suffering. But the affliction of Christ Paul is speaking of is not his suffering of atonement on the cross for sin (Heb 10:10-14), but his lifelong suffering as a minister of God. These are the ministerial sufferings of Christ which Paul continued by acting as a servant of God for the sake of the church through his apostolic ministry. Because Christ and Paul are now in heaven and no longer suffering, it is the church’s responsibility to continue this suffering. This is especially true for pastors as they shepherd and suffer for the church of God. This suffering includes persecution which is the calling of all Christians (2 Tim 3:12).

Sunday Meditation – Sin Bars Our Happiness

“Sin is the great block and bar to our happiness, the procurer of all miseries to man, both here and hereafter: take away sin and nothing can hurt us: for death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, is the wages of it. Sin, and man for sin, is the object of the wrath of God. How dreadful, therefore, must his case be who continues in sin! For who can bear or grapple with the wrath of God? No sin against God can be little, because it is against the great God of heaven and earth; but if the sinner can find out a little God, it may be easy to find out little sins. Sin turns all God’s grace into wantonness; it is the dare of his justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, and the contempt of his love. Take heed of giving thyself liberty of committing one sin, for that will lead thee to another; till, by an ill custom, it become natural. To begin a sin, is to lay a foundation for a continuance; this continuance is the mother of custom, and impudence at last the issue. The death of Christ giveth us the best discovery of ourselves, in what condition we were, in that nothing could help us but that; and the most clear discovery of the dreadful nature of our sins. For if sin be so dreadful a thing as to wring the heart of the Son of God, how shall a poor wretched sinner be able to bear it?”

John Bunyan

What Is Purgatory?

Purgatory is the belief that there will be a state of cleansing after death to purify the saints of their temporal punishments due to sin. The Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott describes it as the place where, “The temporal punishments for sins are atoned for in the purifying fire by the so-called suffering of atonement (satispassio), that is, by the willing bearing of the expiatory punishments imposed by God” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 485). In Catholic theology, while Christ has borne the punishment for our sins so that the saints do not go to hell as long as they die in a state of grace, they still need to make atonement by suffering for the temporal punishments due to sin. If there is any temporal punishment still left on us at death, purgatory is necessary before the saints can enter heaven. I believe the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is an evolution of the purgatorial understanding of hell promoted by universalists such as Origen where hell was viewed as a state of purgatory sinners could eventually leave and this heretical belief existed before the Western doctrine of purgatory developed. The Council of Trent anathematizes everyone who denies the existence of purgatory:

“If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 30).

In contrast to this unbiblical and unhistorical belief, the Bible teaches that Christians will be instantly glorified at the second coming of Christ or at death (Matt 13:43; Luke 23:43; 1 Cor 15:51-52; 2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:23; 1 Thess 4:17; 1 John 3:2). Since the saints on earth are glorified when Christ comes and do not go to purgatory after his coming, they do not need to go to purgatory after death either. If purgatory is true, then death would not be something to look forward to, but something to be feared. Since the suffering of purgatory is worse than this life, it would not be a better thing to depart from this life. Those who die in Christ rest from their labors. As Revelation 14:13 says, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” But they would have no rest if they went to purgatory after death where they continue to suffer and increase in sanctification as they had in life. The doctrine of purgatory was unknown among the earliest Christians as the second century Christian sermon of 2 Clement teaches that there is no more opportunity for repentance or confession of sin after death (8:3). The garments of the saints in heaven are whiter than snow because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, not singed in the fires of purgatory (Rev 7:14).

The most common text in the Bible used to support purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. Since these people are saved “only as through fire,” it is argued that they must undergo a fiery testing or punishment before being allowed entrance into heaven. But to be saved “as through fire” is a metaphor to represent being barely saved. The subordinating conjunction “as” shows that Paul is using the language of simile. The fire of this passage is not applied to the person, but to his work which is burned up resulting in the loss of eternal rewards. It is not a refining fire, but a consuming fire which destroys works which were not done in and for Christ. His work may be burned up, but he is still saved, though just barely. The picture Paul is painting is similar to that of a man who just barely makes it out alive of a burning building before it collapses.

Sunday Meditation – The Joys of Obedience

“Consider how unable and unfit you are to govern yourself. We are blind, ignorant and biased by a corrupted will and turbulent passions. Consider the rewards prepared for obedience and the punishment for disobedience. God is far from being indifferent whether you obey His laws or not. Consider the joys of full obedience. All is at ease within us, our food is pleasant, our sleep is sweet and our labor is easy and our life is a pleasure. God owns us and our conscience speaks peace and comfort to us. Consider our endless rewards: well done, good and faithful servant. God will rule whether you obey or not. Consent to be obedient or He will punish you without your consent.”

Richard Baxter

Should We Pray to Mary and the Saints?

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach that we should pray to Mary and the saints to invoke their help by asking them to appeal to God on our behalf. They believe that because the saints in heaven are without sin and closer to God than we are, their prayers are more effective than saints who dwell on earth. This belief was enshrined into Christian orthodoxy at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787. One of the most popular expressions of prayer to Mary is seen in Saint Alphonsus Liguori’s The Glories of Mary. Because Liguori is a Doctor of the Church, his writings are considered a sure guide to Catholic doctrine.

But this practice of praying to departed saints and angels assigns to them many of the incommunicable attributes of God. Only God is omnipresent, omniscient, and above time. A finite creature by definition cannot receive, comprehend, and act on thousands of different prayers in dozens of languages from all over the world at the same moment in time. That is why one of the titles for God is “O you who hears prayer” (Ps 65:2) because only God by nature can hear all the prayers of the saints. To apply these attributes to anyone else besides God is to fall into practical polytheism. This is why the doctrine of theosis where the saints in heaven are viewed as gods by grace who transcend our human limitations is necessary in order to believe that the saints can hear our prayers.

The cult of the saints is essentially a continuation of the cult of pagan Rome with each saint responsible for one aspect of life for which prayer is made parallel to how each god in pagan Rome was invoked for help in their area of influence. Catholicism has religious shrines dedicated to individual saints parallel to the shrines that pagans have for their gods. The title pontifex maximus for the pope was originally the title for the Roman emperor as the head of the state religion of Rome. In contrast to this idolatrous superstition, the Bible forbids all attempts to communicate with the dead (Deut 18:11; Isa 8:19-20). There is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5). God alone is called the one who can perceive our thoughts from afar (1 Kgs 8:39; Ps 139:2). A mere creature cannot discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

One of the most popular verses in Scripture used in favor of addressing saints in prayer is Hebrews 12:1 which speaks of Christians being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” This is interpreted to mean that the saints in heaven are watching us and therefore we can pray to them. But the “cloud of witnesses” is not a literal cloud or a literal group of people who are looking at us, but the historical testimonies of the faithful followers of Christ the author of Hebrews has been talking about in the immediate context. It is their testimonies of faith that metaphorically surround us which give us encouragement to run the race set before us. But their stories point us ultimately to Jesus, not to themselves. This argument is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Greek word translated as “witnesses” means. It is the word marturos which is where the word “martyr” would eventually come from. It does not refer to looking at or observing, but is a legal term to refer to someone who bears witness to the truthfulness of something in a court of law. They are not witnesses of us, but witnesses for Christ. They are those who bear testimony that God is faithful and is the rewarder of those who seek him through the stories of their lives.

Another popular verse used in favor of praying to departed saints is Revelation 5:8 where the church in heaven is pictured as offering up to God the prayers of the saints as incense. Therefore, it is argued that we should pray to the saints so that our requests might be made known to God. But this argument proves too much since it would not only prove that we should pray to the saints to have them deliver our prayers to God, but that the only way our prayers can be delivered to God is through the mediation of the saints in heaven on our behalf. That would mean we should never pray to God directly because our prayers only ascend to God in these visions through the mediation of saints and angels. The saints in heaven would then become indispensable aids to prayer through whom we must pray if we ever want God to recognize our prayers.

In Revelation 8:3, “all” of the prayers of the saints are offered up to God by the angel. If this verse is meant to teach us that we should pray to angels to have them take our requests to God, then that would mean we should never pray to saints or God directly but only to angels since “all” of the prayers of the saints are delivered to God by the angel which would contradict the argument based on Revelation 5:8. This interpretation would also mean that only those who pray to angels are Christians since the angel offers up “all” the prayers of the saints. It would then teach us that Christians must pray only to angels to have their prayers accepted by God since the angel is depicted as offering up to God the totality of the prayers of the saints on earth. But Jesus says in John 14:14, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father directly (Matt 6:9). Instead, Roman Catholicism presents us with a Jesus who must be placated by Mary’s intercession to turn away his wrath. The imagery in Revelation is not meant to communicate that we are to pray to saints or angels, but to symbolize that our prayers to God are like incense in that they are pleasing to him. These are not prayers directed toward saints in heaven or angels, but to God alone.