The deuterocanonical books
The books which follow: Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach are not in the Hebrew Bible, nor in the Bibles of Protestants. This was also true for the books of the Maccabees. This raises a very serious question: if there is disagreement about some books, what were the criteria for accepting the other books? Should we not go beyond that and admit there is no certainty for any book, but only a common opinion?
Here we should repeat that we have not always had the Bible. For centuries, God’s Word was primarily what the priests and the prophets passed on orally. The very concept of a Bible, a collection of sacred writings, appeared only little by little, after the return of the Old Testament Jews from the Exile, starting especially with Ezra. The Bible originated with the prophets and also with the believing community, Jewish at first, then Christian. In Jesus’ days, everyone considered the books of Moses as Scripture. The Sadducees gave the prophetic books a lower ranking even though all the other religious groups, including the Pharisees themselves, considered them to be inspired. With time, however, other books grouped under the name of Writings, or Wisdom Books, were added to the first books without any particular sequence, and without clearly knowing what degree of authority they should be given.
Some of these books were not written in Hebrew but in Greek, because most Jews were living in Greek-speaking countries. Therefore these books were added in the Greek translation of the Bible before appearing in Palestine where many people understood Greek. As a result there were more books in the Greek Bible used abroad and often even in the synagogues of Palestine.
It was only when the Romans destroyed their nation that the Pharisees called a council in Jamnia in order to recognize the Jewish community (in the year 95). At this council they established a list of inspired Scriptures and systematically excluded all the books written in Greek: as they perceived, God could only have spoken in the language of the Jewish people.
The early Christian church already had its own practice. The apostles used the Greek Bible without differentiating between the various books, and their discussions were focused in the newly written Christian books to determine which ones should be included in the New Testament. In 384, a decree of Pope Damasus definitively established the canon of the Christian Bible, already generally accepted. They kept some books from the Greek Bible, books which the Jews had rejected in Jamnia. They are the so-called deuterocanonical books, that is to say, the books of the second collection.
Twelve centuries later, when the Protestants broke away from the chruch, they did not dispute the “canon,” namely the choice of the New Testament books. They did disagree, though, about the deuterocanonical books. In the end, they thought it would be safer to exclude them and called them “apocryphal,” that is to say, not authentic.
If we accept that God gradually taught his people all through the Old Testament times, then we can understand the importance of these books which are products of the last three centuries before Christ. They are the connecting links between the Hebraic books and the New Testament books written in Greek. They witness the beginning of the belief in the resurrection of the dead and the first insights that prepare the revelation of the Word and the Spirit.
The discussions concerning the deuterocanonical books remind us that if there is not a Church to determine safely which are the inspired books, no one will be able to say what is word of God and what is not. For a Christian Bible to exist, there must first be a Church which is the heir of the apostles.
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