Burning Question: Why is it that we have the specific 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, but ignore the Apocrypha and other “gospels” and “epistles”?
For those who come from a Catholic background, there is often greater familiarity with the Apocrypha than for those from a Protestant background. What exactly is the Apocrypha? In a simple explanation, it is a collection of books written by men but without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some of the books contain doctrinal and historical inconsistencies and others are outright heretical in their content. Though the Roman Catholic church includes the Apocrypha as part of Scripture, the Protestant church does not.
In the Catholic church, some of the more aberrant theological positions that are found nowhere in the Old or New Testaments (prayers for the dead, justification by faith plus works, etc.) are supported by the Apocrypha. However, the books of the Apocrypha should not be considered as part of inspired Scripture. According to notable theologian Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology (p. 59), this is so for the following reasons:
1) The books of the Apocrypha do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings;
2) The books of the Apocrypha were not believed to be God’s Word by the Jewish people from whom they originated;
3) The books of the Apocrypha were not considered to be God’s Word by Jesus or the New Testament authors;
4) The books of the Apocrypha contain teachings that are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.
In addition to the Apocrypha, we sometimes hear of other books claiming to be considered God’s Word. Sometimes these are presented as the “lost” books of the Bible or the “other” books of Scripture. We must keep in mind that the canon of Scripture is closed. We can have complete confidence that the 39 books which comprise the Old Testament and the 27 books which comprise the New Testament are the only books rightly considered to be “God’s Word”.
Interestingly, the Bible supports itself internally as God’s Word. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Greek word “graphe” is translated for us as “Scripture”. Each time this Greek word is used in the New Testament (over 50 times), it refers to the Old Testament writings. So Paul is saying in this verse that the Old Testament is God-breathed, or inspired by God, and this inspiration did not include the writings of the Apocrypha. Obviously, we can also see this passage as supportive of the New Testament, as well.
Concerning the New Testament, 2 Peter 3:15-16 affirms the inspiration of the New Testament as Peter equates Paul’s letters with God’s Word. 1 Timothy 5:18 also affirms the inspiration of the New Testament books as Paul affirms Jesus’ words with Scripture. The Old Testament prophets often recorded or spoke “the word of the Lord”. Again, in each of these instances, the writings of the Apocrypha were not included but only that which we consider to be the 66 books of Scripture.
Do not be led astray when new voices today claim new inspiration on level with Scripture. Whether a counter-Christian cult group that embraces “another” book of authority outside of the Bible, a popular preacher claiming a “new” word from God, or a New York Times bestseller that puts outside writings on level with Scripture, remember that we only have one Word of God. Thankfully, well translated and presented in 66 books written by over 40 human authors across a span of approximately 1500 years, inspired by the One, True God with the overarching theme of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.
So what are you waiting for . . . go read it today!