John Lawton Jeffcoat III–an expert authority on rare and antique Bibles — brings an interesting issue to the table: the Apocrypha and how it was taken out of the Protestant Bible. Many Protestants say, “Oh, the Apocrypha, that’s just a Catholic thing.”
John, who is a very conservative Protestant, disagrees — and that surprises many people he talks to.
This is part two of a very intense, in-depth interview that Rocking God’s House completed with John about The Topic of Rare, Antique Bibles — and anything and everything related to that topic.
Before we present the interview and hear John’s thoughts about the Apocrypha, we’d like to extend an invitation: after you read the interview, please comment with your opinion on the topic! We want to hear what you think. Should Christians study the Apocrypha? Please let us know what you think. (Note: We will only publish comments that are relevant to the discussion.)
And, to be clear, John is not saying that the Apocrypha is the inspired Word of God. Also, Rocking God’s House is not necessarily endorsing John’s viewpoint or the viewpoints of those commenting. We’re simply hoping to facilitate a discussion. [Editor’s Update 4/10: And it looks like there’s already a lively discussion developing! Thanks for keeping the conversation respectful and civil everyone, even when there are disagreements.]
Also, because this interview picks up where we left off in part one, this will require some introduction. John is taking us through the history of the Protestant Bible. And he begins below by discussing the Geneva Bible. In case you need a refresher, here is a quick overview of the Geneva Bible and its importance in history. According to Wikipedia:
The Geneva Bible is one of the most historically significant translations of the Bible into English, preceding the King James translation by 51 years. It was the primary Bible of 16th century Protestantism and was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne, and John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. It was one of the Bibles taken to America on the Mayflower, it was used by many English Dissenters, and it was still respected by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers at the time of the English Civil War in the booklet Cromwell’s Soldiers’ Pocket Bible.
Why did people love the Geneva Bible so much?
A lot of people loved their Geneva Bible because it was a no-nonsense Bible of the time. When we read it today a lot of people would say, “What are you talking about, that’s in a very old Elizabethan dialect.” Well, yeah, it is by our standards today, but it was a little bit easier for people to understand at the time.
So King James comes out with his Bible, which has one thing in common with all ancient Bibles before it — the Geneva, the Coverdale, the Matthew, the Tyndale, the taverner’s, all of them. It is an 80 book Bible, not a 66 book Bible. It contains the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha has 14 books, and it comes after the Old Testament, but before the New Testament. It has books with names like first and second Maccabees, Judith, Tobit, etc.
Now today, 99 out of 100 Protestants look at that and they say, “That’s not part of my Bible. That’s those Roman Catholic books.” Now where does that myth come from that there’s something Roman Catholic about the Apocrypha?
It comes from a fallacy of logic. We’re all familiar with logic. If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C — different properties of logic, transitive and associative properties of logic. The basic fundamentals of our brain should work, but it kind of got derailed with the Apocrypha. People say, “Well, my Catholic friends have the Apocrypha in their Bible.” They actually don’t. They have 12 of the 14 Apocrypha books, not quite all of it. But anyway, my Catholic friends have the Apocrypha in the Bible, my Protestant and Anglican friends do not. And it’s been that way for over a century. Therefore the Apocrypha is Catholic. Well, what utter nonsense! What a narrow view of history.
The Apocrypha was written 400 years before Christ. 400 years before Christianity. Hundreds and hundreds of years before Roman Catholicism. Over 1000 years before what we call Protestantism. It can’t be Christian! It can’t be Catholic! It can’t be Protestant! It was written 400 BC. It is Jewish. It’s Jewish. It’s like the Old Testament that was written BC — before Christ — it’s Jewish. And so it documents the history of what happened to the Jewish people just before Christ came. And it was part of the scrolls, and the temple. It was part of Jesus’ bible. When He walked the earth as a human, He went into the temple to read from the scrolls. He would have had the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. Obviously He wouldn’t have had the New Testament because it was written about Him, after he died and rose and ascended into Heaven.
So what happened? Where did the Apocrypha go? Why was it taken from the Protestant Bible?
Well, the Apocrypha was a part of every Jew’s Bible, if you will, if I can use that term in the looser sense. It was part of every Jew’s Bible, but it was also a part of every Christian’s Bible all the way up to 1881. In 1881, due to the influence of wildly liberal textual critics, Westcott and Hort, the Apocrypha was removed from non- Catholic Bibles. The Catholics ignored Westcott and Hort, but the Protestants and the Anglicans fell into line, and when the influence of the popular textual critics said, “Well, this should not be in the Bible,” amazingly, everybody just fell like dominoes. And starting in 1881, Bibles that are Protestant or Anglican don’t have the Apocrypha.
Now that’s really modern times. We had electricity in 1881. We had some crude automobiles and internal combustion engines. I mean this is somewhat modern times! The dawn of the Industrial Revolution. We’re not talking about some ancient time or the Crusades or the Dark Ages. This is modern day. Removal of 14 books from God’s Word!
Now, when I encounter a lot of Christians and say, “How many books are in your Bible?” Well, I got 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 books in the New Testament. We don’t have that Apocrypha, that’s Catholic. And I tell them no it’s not Catholic! The Catholics have nothing to do with it. It was robbed from your Bible. It’s not even something that supports Catholic theology. They say, “Well, hmmm, I’ll have to look into that.”
But that’s one of the great mysteries of Christianity today. Particularly, again getting back to the fallacy of logic thing. When I ask most mainline Christians “Why are you not, for example, a Mormon?” And I’m not specifically picking on Mormons, I’m just using them as an example of a more modern type of faith. Something that didn’t exist until a couple hundred years ago. It’s not ancient like Judaism, Christianity, or even Islam. It’s a very, very new religion. “Why are you not a Mormon?” They’ll look at me and they’ll say “Well, because Mormonism originated in 1800s with the teachings of Joseph Smith. I don’t believe in that. My faith does not rest on the foundation of something that is not even 200 years old.”
And I say, “I respect that,” and by the way that’s also why I’m not a Mormon. But are you telling me then that you do not abide by alleged major changes in God’s will for humanity that originated within the past 200 years? You don’t go for that? You says that’s a cult. “Yeah, that’s right.” Okay, well great. Well then, why do you accept that the Apocrypha was taken out of your Bible for the first time in over 2000 years; it was taken out in 1881. That’s more recent than Joseph Smith. That’s far more recent than the birth of the Mormon Church. They were birthed in the early 1800s. This is the late 1800s. So if you apply logic, it doesn’t make any sense. So when you look at the Bibles that we sell, because we deal exclusively in Bibles that were printed before 1850 — in fact, most of what we deal in is from the 1500s and 1600s — almost 100% of our Bibles contain the inter-testament books, the deuterocanonical books, the Apocrypha, and there’s nothing Catholic about them.
As a final point of logic, I will mention one more thing about the Geneva Bible, the most fiercely anti-Catholic Bible ever put to press — a Bible that, in its commentary notes, proclaims the pope an antichrist. That Bible of the Protestant Reformation contains the Apocrypha. So one of the things that we try to communicate to people is, “Hey buddy, your Bible’s missing 14 books.”
Now there are a lot of people out there that say, “Well, the Apocrypha, there’s a reason was separated off. Wasn’t the Apocrypha a series of books that contains things that contradict the rest of the Scripture? Isn’t that why it was removed?” And you know there are Christians today who believe the Apocrypha is the Word of God. There are Christians today who say, “It’s not the Word of God; it’s profitable for Christian reading.”
But the argument is not, “Is the Apocrypha the Word of God?” I’m not here today to tell you the Apocrypha is the Word of God; that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying the Apocrypha was a part of the Bible up until 1881. There are a number of things in the Bible that are not the Word of God. For example, the table of contents page is not the Word of God. The concordance in the back is not the Word of God. The maps of Paul’s missionary journeys are not the Word of God. And if you have any popular commentary Bibles out there — “The Men’s Study Bible,” “The Woman’s Study Bible,” “The New Life Bible,” “The Reformation Bible,” “The Recovery Bible,” “The Teen Bible” — there are all these target demographic Bibles that have commentary notes in them — all those commentary notes are not the Word of God.
So we are not people who shun pages that are not the Word of God. No, it’s okay if it’s between the pages of the Bible if it doesn’t contradict God’s Word and it helps you to study and understand. That’s considered acceptable. So the issue then is what’s going on that’s causing that controversy? We have to understand there are two types of literature in the Bible. There are a lot of different types of literature, but all that actually falls into two categories. It is either descriptive or prescriptive. Descriptive literature describes something, it is descriptive. It’s describing. Prescriptive literature prescribes a course of action for you the reader.
So for example, when we read in the Bible that Cain murdered Able. That is descriptive. It is not telling you to go kill your brother; it is telling you a story about someone who went and killed their brother. When we read that David committed adultery with Bathsheba and was responsible for her husband’s murder, it’s not telling you to go commit adultery with your neighbor and have her husband killed. It’s telling you a story about someone who did that. That’s descriptive. Prescriptive on the other hand is thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Honor your father and your mother. And, of course, much of what Jesus said is prescriptive — particularly His Sermon on the Mount. He is speaking to you the reader. It is saying, “Hey buddy, I’m not telling you a story. I’m telling you the reader, ‘You need to do this or don’t do this.'”
So when we read the Apocrypha we have to read it as we read the rest of the Bible. We have to read it with an understanding of what portions of it are descriptive, and what portions of it are prescriptive. So if you come across something in the Apocrypha, and it’s about prayers for the dead, maybe instead of saying, “Oh, this is promoting prayers for the dead; that seems to contradict the rest of Scripture, I’m going to throw this out.” Hey, maybe it’s telling a story about people who were praying for the dead. Maybe it’s not prescribing that you should do that.
I’m not a liberal. I’m very conservative. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. So I’m not some liberal textual critic like Westcott and Hort trying to draw people away from the truth. I believe in the Virgin Birth, I believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I’m not saying these things as a liberal; I’m very conservative.
Do you believe the Apocrypha is the inspired Word of God?
Well, you know, I don’t have a firm opinion on the matter. Part of me says, “Why is it that this was part of the Bible for over 2000 years?” God kept these books within His Word. He preserved them for over 2000 years. That seems to be an argument that we should consider, “Hey, is this the Word of God?”
The other argument is that it has been removed from almost 100% of non-Catholic Bibles for the past almost century and a half. So what’s going on there? Again, that’s a bit of a mystery to me. What I’m curious about is why has our Lord preserved these 14 books within His Word for two millennia and then not preserved them for a century and a half? That’s a bit of a quandary to me. I would say, well, just from a standpoint of logic, if this is the Word of God and God preserves His Word, shouldn’t it still be in the Bible?
[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article had the year 1881 in the title as the year the books were removed. This was an error and was removed from the title.]
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