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Considering the Apocrypha as Canon?

Kevin Williams in his article “Spiritual Ecstasy,” which appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of the Pneuma Review, says: “While not considered canon by either the Jewish or Christian camps …” referring to 2 Esdras (also known as Ezra 4). I thought that Roman Catholics, the Amish, Anglicans, and no doubt some other “Christian” groups use the Apocrypha and consider it on the level of canon.

- AC

Response from Kevin M. Williams

Great comments. Let’s see if we can narrow in on the scope and turbulent history of the canon. In truth, the Roman Catholic canon is not the same as the Evangelical canon. But before anyone decides that was a byproduct of the Reformation, read on. What was once considered a “closed canon,” that is to say with nothing left to be added or deleted has had, from time to time, theological hands in the scriptural cookie jar. Most recently, for instance, the Church of Latter Day Saints opened the canon to add their own “sacred” texts known as the Book of Mormon.

On the other side of history is the Bryennios Manuscript, dated to around 100 AD. Written in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew with 27 Old Testament books including Jesus Nave, 2 of Esdras, and many of the books of the Septuagint.

Several other attempts were made to codify what books should be canon over the next two hundred years. Not until Eusebius, around 300 AD do we find something that comes close to what we recognize today as canon. But even so, such books as the Didache, Barnabas, Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, and the Apocalypse of Peter were disputed. As you can see, at least three in the list were later adopted (though in some camps, the debate continues over the author of Hebrews).

During the years of the Roman Catholic Church, the canon came to be what we know today, as well as the apocryphal books. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther attempted to have the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation removed and declared apocryphal. The original King James Bible of 1611 included the modern canon as well as the apocrypha, which was adopted whole-heartedly by the Church of England. Today, most Evangelical organizations reject the authority of any apocryphal texts.

The study of the canon of Scripture is a lengthy study, and requires far more than space here allows. That said, I would venture an opinion (which does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Pneuma Review).

Nothing, in my opinion, can replace reading and studying the Word, allowing it to interpret itself. Nevertheless, we are left with all of this traditional literature that was an important part of Jewish life and the early life of the Church, and can be dealt with in a way that edifies without compromising the Word of God.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2006

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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