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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Identification of the Apocrypha as a Distinct Corpus.

1.

Treatment of the apocryphal books as quasi-Scripture precluded recognition by patristic authors of these books as constituting a distinct literary corpus. Even Jerome, who applied the term ‘apocrypha’ to these writings (above, A.2), treated them only negatively: the apocrypha were defined as the books found in Greek and Latin Bibles but not in the Hebrew. The insights of Jerome were for the most part ignored during the Middle Ages. Most Christians treated all the books found in the Septuagint and the Vulgate as of equal value, and many of the books of the apocrypha were widely read and popular. None the less some scholars continued to distinguish the apocrypha from the distinctive authority of the books found in the Hebrew OT, from Nicholas of Lyra and Wycliffe in the fourteenth century to Cardinal Ximenes, editor of the Complutensian Polyglot edition of the Bible in 1514–17.

2.

The attitude of Protestant scholars in the Reformation was thus not entirely a break with recent Christian practice. In 1520 Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt published a tracture distinguishing the apocryphal books from those in the Hebrew OT and dividing the apocrypha itself into two groups of non-canonical but holy books (e.g. Tobit, Wisdom, and Sirach) and foolish writings ‘worthy of the Censor's ban’ (i.e. 1 and 2 Esdras, Baruch, the Prayer of Manasseh, and the Additions to Daniel). Following this lead, many Protestant Bibles in the vernacular, most influentially Luther's German translation completed in 1534, placed the books of the Apocrypha in a separate appendix after the books of the OT, with a preface stating that these books ‘are not held equal to the sacred scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading’. The treatment of the Apocrypha as a separate corpus became standard in Protestant Bibles, although there continued to be rare exceptions, such as the place of the Prayer of Manasseh in the Geneva Bible published in English in 1560, between 2 Chronicles and Ezra, with a note about its apocryphal status.

3.

This attitude in Protestant churches provoked a vigorous response by the Catholic church, with the declaration in the Council of Trent in 1546 of an anathema on anyone who did not recognize as sacred and canonical all the books found in the Vulgate, although the same Council rather inconsistently denied the canonical status of the Prayer of Manasseh and 1 and 2 Esdras; as a result, these books were after 1593 regularly printed as a separate appendix, while the rest of the books treated by Protestants as the apocrypha continued to be printed as part of the biblical text as in older editions of the Vulgate. None the less it remained useful for Catholics to distinguish the Apocrypha as a separate corpus and these books were thus often termed by Catholics ‘deuterocanonical’.

4.

The books of the Apocrypha do not play a major role in contemporary Christianity even among Roman Catholics. Among Protestants the lower status given to these books early led to their omission altogether in many printed Bibles. Among Calvinists the Apocrypha was rejected altogether as wholly without authority, and arguments about the value of these books continued among Protestants in many countries through the nineteenth century. Among the Protestant churches, the most positive attitude towards the apocrypha is found in the Anglican church, in which extensive use is made of these books in the liturgy.

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