Deuterocanonical books is a term used since the 16th
century in the Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity to describe certain
books and passages of the Christian Old Testament that are not part of the
Hebrew Bible. The term is used in contrast to the protocanonical books,
which are contained in the Hebrew Bible.
This distinction had previously
contributed to debate in the early Church about whether they should be
classified as canonical texts.
The term is used as a matter of convenience by the Ethiopian Orthodox
Tewahedo Church and other Churches to refer to books of their Old Testament
which are not part of the Masoretic Text.
The Deuterocanonical books are considered canonical by Catholics and
Eastern Orthodox, but are considered non-canonical by most Protestants. The
word deuterocanonical comes from the Greek meaning 'belonging to the
The original usage of the term distinguished these scriptures both from those
considered non-canonical and from those considered protocanonical.
However, some editions of the Bible include text from both
deuterocanonical and non-canonical scriptures in a single section
designated "Apocrypha". This arrangement can lead to conflation between
the otherwise distinct terms "deuterocanonical" and
History Of The Deuterocanonical Books
Deuterocanonical is a term coined in 1566 by the
theologian Sixtus of Siena, who had converted to Catholicism from Judaism,
to describe scriptural texts of the Old Testament considered canonical by the
Catholic Church, but which are not present in the Hebrew Bible, and which had
been omitted by some early canon lists, especially in the East.
Their acceptance among early Christians was widespread, though not universal,
and the Bible of the early Church always included, with varying degrees of
recognition, books now called deuterocanonical.
Some say that their canonicity seems not to have been doubted in the Church
until it was challenged by Jews after AD 100,sometimes postulating a
hypothetical Council of Jamnia. Regional councils in the West published
official canons that included these books as early as the 4th and 5th
Dead Sea scrolls
Fragments of three deuterocanonical books have been found
among the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran, in addition to several partial
copies of I Enoch and Jubilees from the Ethiopic deuterocanon. Sirach,
whose Hebrew text was already known from the Cairo Geniza, has been found in
two scrolls (2QSir or 2Q18, 11QPs_a or 11Q5) in Hebrew. Another Hebrew scroll
of Sirach has been found in Masada (MasSir)
The Book of Tobit has been found in Qumran in four scrolls
written in Aramaic and in one written in Hebrew. The Letter of Jeremiah
(or Baruch chapter 6) has been found in cave 7 (7Q5) in Greek. It has been
theorized by recent scholars that the Qumran library was not entirely produced
at Qumran, but may have included part of the library of the Jerusalem Temple,
that may have been hidden in the caves for safekeeping at the time the Temple
was destroyed by Romans in 70 AD.
Influence of the Septuagint
The large majority of Old Testament references in the New
Testament are taken from the Greek Septuagint (LXX)—which includes the
deuterocanonical books, as well as apocrypha —both of which are called
collectively a anagignoskomena (things that are read or "profitable
Several appear to have been written originally in Hebrew, but
the original text has long been lost. Archaeological finds, however, discovered
some original texts among the Dead Sea scrolls.
The Septuagint was widely accepted and used by Greek-speaking
Jews in the 1st century, even in the region of Roman Judea, and therefore
naturally became the text most widely used by early Christians, who were
predominantly Greek speaking.
In the New Testament, Hebrews 11:35 refers to an event that was recorded
in one of the deuterocanonical books 2
Maccabees (It is also a reference to 1 Kings 17:22-23 7).
Other New Testament authors also quote period literature which was familiar to
the audience but that was not included in the Old Testament or the
deuterocanonical books. For instance, Paul cites Greek writers and
philosophers, and the author of Hebrews references oral tradition which spoke
of an Old Testament prophet who was sawn in half in Hebrews 11:37, two
verses after the 2nd Maccabees reference.
The Jewish historian Josephus speaks of there being 22 books in the canon of
the Hebrew Bible, a Jewish tradition reported also by the Christian bishop
Athanasius. However, included in Athanasius's list of 22 Old Testament
books are Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. At the same time, he mentioned
that certain other books, including five deuterocanonical books but also
the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, while not being part of the
canon, "were appointed by the Fathers to be read". He excluded what he
called "apocryphal writings" entirely.
In the Catholic Church
In the Catholic Church, "the first infallible and effectually
promulgated pronouncement on the Canon" was that defined by the Council of
Trent. Among the minority, in Trent, that showed opposition to these books'
inclusion were Cardinals Seripando and Cajetan, the latter an opponent
of Luther at Augsburg.
However, Trent confirmed the statements of earlier and less authoritative
regional councils which included also the deuterocanonical books, such
as the Synod of Hippo (393), and the Councils of Carthage of 397. Much later
(15th century), the Council of Florence taught the divine inspiration of these
books, but "did not formally pass on their canonicity. "
In the canonical debate between Catholics and Protestants controversy remains
as to the significance of Trent's omission of the Septuagint version of 1
Esdras which Carthage may have ratified.
However, there is ambiguity over the naming of the books of
Esdras. The Canon of Carthage lists two books of Esdras. This
could mean 1 Esdras and Ezra-Nehemiah as in the Septuagint or Ezra and
Nehemiah as in the Vulgate.
The Catholic deuterocanonical scriptural texts
Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)
Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (or Sirach or
Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to
Jeremiah in the Septuagint)
Additions to Daniel:
Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel
Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)
Influence of the Vulgate
Jerome in the Vulgate's prologues describes a canon which excludes the
deuterocanonical books, possibly excepting Baruch. In his Prologues,
Jerome mentions all of the deuterocanonical and apocryphal works
by name as being apocryphal or "not in the canon" except for Prayer
of Manasses and Baruch. He mentions Baruch by name in his
Prologue to Jeremiah and notes that it is neither read nor held among
the Hebrews, but does not explicitly call it apocryphal or "not in the
The inferior status to which the deuteros were relegated
by authorities like Jerome is seen by some as being due to a rigid conception
of canonicity, one demanding that a book, to be entitled to this supreme
dignity, must be received by all, must have the sanction of Jewish antiquity,
and must moreover be adapted not only to edification, but also to the
"confirmation of the doctrine of the Church".
Eventually however, Jerome's Vulgate did include the deuterocanonical
books as well as apocrypha. Jerome referenced and quoted from some as
scripture despite describing them as "not in the canon". In his prologue
to Judith, without using the word canon, he mentioned that Judith was held to
be scriptural by the First Council of Nicaea.
In his reply to Rufinus, he affirmed that he was consistent with the choice of
the church regarding which version of the deuterocanonical portions of
Daniel to use, which the Jews of his day did not include:
What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he
who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are
wont to raise against the Story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and
the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume,
proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I was not relating my own
personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make
against us. (Against Rufinus, 11:33 [AD
Thus Jerome acknowledged the principle by which the canon would be settled —the
judgment of the Church, rather than his own judgment or the judgment of Jews,
though he wondered why one would sanction the version of a heretic and
The Vulgate is also important as the touchstone of the canon concerning
which parts of books are canonical. When the Council of Trent listed the books
included in the canon, it qualified the books as being "entire with all
their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as
they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition".
This decree was clarified somewhat by Pope Pius XI on June 2, 1927, who allowed that the Comma Johanneum was open to
dispute, and it was further explicated by Pope Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu.
Reception in Orthodox Christianity and other
Outside of the Roman Catholic Church, the term
deuterocanonical is sometimes used, by way of analogy, to describe books
that Eastern Orthodoxy, and Oriental Orthodoxy included in the Old Testament
that are not part of the Jewish Tanakh, nor the Protestant Old Testament. Among
Orthodox, the term is understood to mean that they were compiled separately
from the primary canon, as explained in 2 Esdras, where Esdras is
instructed to keep certain books separate and hidden.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches have traditionally included
all the books of the Septuagint in their Old Testaments.
The Greeks use the word Anagignoskomena ("readable, worthy to be
read") to describe the books of the Greek Septuagint that are not
present in the Hebrew Tanakh. When Orthodox theologians use the term
"deuterocanonical," it is important to note that the meaning is not
identical to the Roman Catholic usage.
In Orthodox Christianity, deuterocanonical means
that a book is part of the corpus of the Old Testament (i.e. is read during the
services) but has secondary authority. In other words, deutero (second) applies
to authority or witnessing power, whereas in Roman Catholicism, deutero applies
to chronology (the fact that these books were confirmed later), not to
The Eastern Orthodox books included in the Old Testament are the seven
deuterocanonical books listed above, plus 3 Maccabees and 1
Esdras (also included in the Clementine Vulgate), while Baruch is
divided from the Epistle of Jeremiah, making a total of 49 Old Testament
books in contrast with the Protestant 39-book canon.
Like the Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, these texts are
integrated with the rest of the Old Testament, not printed in a separate
Other texts printed in Orthodox Bibles are considered of some value
(like the additional Psalm 151, and the Prayer of Manasses) or
are included as an appendix (like the Greek 4 Maccabees, and the
Slavonic 2 Esdras).
In the Amharic Bible used by the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church), those books of the Old
Testament that are still counted as canonical, but not by all other Churches,
are often set in a separate section titled "Deeyutrokanoneekal" , which
is the same word. The Ethiopian Orthodox Deuterocanon, in addition to
the standard set listed above, along with the books of Esdras and
Prayer of Minasse, also includes some books that are still held
canonical by only the Ethiopian Church, including Enoch or Henok
(I Enoch), Kufale (Jubilees) and 1, 2 and 3
Meqabyan (which are sometimes wrongly confused with the "Books of
Judaism and most Protestant versions of the Bible exclude these
books. It is commonly said that Judaism officially excluded the
deuterocanonicals and the additional Greek texts listed here from their
Scripture in the Council of Jamnia (c.70-90 AD), but
this claim is also disputed.
Reception in Christian churches having their
origins in the Reformation
There is a great deal of overlap between the Apocrypha section of the original
1611 King James Bible and the Catholic deuterocanon, but the two
are distinct. The Apocrypha section of the original 1611 King James
Bible includes, in addition to the deuterocanonical books, the
following three books, which were not included in the list of the canonical
books by the Council of Trent:
These books make up the Apocrypha section of the
The 1609 Douai Bible includes them in an appendix, but
they have been dropped from recent Catholic translations into English. They are
found, along with the deuterocanonical books, in the Apocrypha
section of Protestant bibles.
Using the word apocrypha (Greek: hidden away) to describe
texts, although not necessarily pejorative, implies to some people that the
writings in question should not be included in the canon of the Bible. This
classification commingles them with certain non-canonical gospels and New
Testament Apocrypha. The Style Manual for the Society of Biblical
Literature recommends the use of the term deuterocanonical literature
instead of Apocrypha in academic writing.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England lists the
deuterocanonical books as suitable to be read for "example of life
and instruction of manners, but yet doth not apply them to establish any
doctrine." The early lectionaries of the Anglican Church (as included in
the Book of Common Prayer of 1662) included the deuterocanonical
books amongst the cycle of readings, and passages from them were used in
the services (such as the Benedicite)
Readings from the deuterocanonical books are now included in most, if
not all, of the modern lectionaries in the Anglican Communion, based on
the Revised Common Lectionary (in turn based on the post-conciliar
Roman Catholic lectionary).
The Westminster Confession of Faith, a Calvinist document
that serves as a systematic summary of doctrine for the Church of Scotland and
Presbyterian churches worldwide, recognizes only the sixty-six books of the
Protestant canon as authentic Scripture.
Chapter 1, Article 3 of the Confession
"The books commonly called Apocrypha, not
being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and
therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise
approved, or made use of, than other human writings."
The Belgic Confession, used in Reformed churches, devotes
a section (Article 6) to "The difference between the canonical and
apocryphal books" and asserts that "All which the Church may read and
take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they
are far from having such power and efficacy as that we may from their testimony
confirm any point of faith or of the Christian religion; much less to detract
from the authority of the other sacred books."
New Testament apocrypha and
The term deuterocanonical is sometimes used to describe
the canonical antilegomena, those books of the New Testament which, like the
deuterocanonicals of the Old Testament, were not universally accepted by
the early Church, but which are now included in the 27 books of the New
Testament recognized by almost all Christians. The deuterocanonicals of
the New Testament are as follows:
The Epistle to the Hebrews
The Epistle of James
The Second Epistle of Peter
The Second Epistle of John
The Third Epistle of John
The Epistle of Jude
The Apocalypse of John (also known as the Book of