Just for Catholics

Are the Apocrypha Quoted in the New Testament?

Question: Catholic apologists claims Jesus and His apostles quoted from the deuterocanonicals (the apocrypha), contrary to what you and others claim. It is said that there are many such references. [1]

Answer: Is it true that there are many references in the New Testament to the apocrypha? And if there are any references, do they imply that the authors considered these writings as divine scripture? I took several hours comparing the New Testament verses given by the Catholic authors with the supposed references to the apocrypha. (I did not look up all of them, but I took a large enough sample to get a good idea). Here are my conclusions:

1. Many of the supposed references are so vague that they could either be a reference to other works or else the similarity may simply be coincidental. They may not even be references to anything at all. That's why the Catholic apologist often says that one is "similar to" the other. I'm sure he'll find many "similar to's" if he compares the Bible to the Sunday newspaper!

For example, we are told that Matthew 13:43, "Then the just will shine forth..." is found in Wisdom 3:7. This is "found in", so we should think that the link is very clear. Well, let's see what Wisdom 3:7 actually says: "And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble." What do you think? Both speak of 'shining', but can you really say that Jesus is quoting Wisdom? Hardly! By the same token Jesus may be referring to the Book of Daniel, which says: "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament" (Daniel 12:3). Or perhaps Jesus is referring to neither one of them. After all Jesus actually said, "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43). Wisdom is speaking about "sparks"; Jesus is speaking about a brightness like that of the sun! We are not impressed by the long list of this kind of references!

2. There are some examples that are certainly not referring to the apocrypha at all. Luke 2:37 is supposedly found in Judith 8:4-6. "...as a widow...She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer." Give us a break! Luke is speaking about a the prophetess Anna, who lived many years after Judith; the former "never left the temple" whereas the latter "was a widow in her house."

3 There are few examples that may be references to the apocrypha, the most clear one being Hebrews 11:35b (compared with 2 Maccabees 7:1-29). The incident recorded in Second Maccabees could have been in the mind of the author of Hebrews, but then, similar incidents are recorded in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus. [2] It is difficult to be certain what he had in mind. However, even if this is a reference to the apocrypha, by no means is the author of Hebrews implying divine authority to Maccabees (or to Josephus for that matter).

The New Testament authors also draw from works other than the Holy Scriptures. For example, the apostle Paul quotes pagan poets and writers (1 Corinthians 15:33; Acts 17:28); Jude quotes from the Jewish apocryphal books of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses. Obviously an author may cite something from a work that he takes to be true without thereby ascribing divine authority to that work. Just as no one considers the Greek poets or the Jewish "Assumption of Moses" as inspired, the same applies to any references to the apocrypha. In a sermon, the preacher may quote Shakespeare or Socrates or whoever else he wants, as long at the particular statement fits his purpose, and yet he does not imply that all that Shakespeare and Socrates ever wrote is gospel truth!

4 By contrast to the possible and vague references to the apocrypha, the references to the Old Testament books are both clear, and more importantly they imply that those books carried divine authority. For example in John 10:34,35 the Lord Jesus quotes from Psalm 82:6, and immediately comments that the scriptures cannot be broken. For the apostle Paul, "it is written" (in the Old Testament books) was the sure ground for his doctrinal teaching. Thus the New Testament testifies to divine authority of the Old Testament. Significantly there are no such quotations to the apocrypha that imply divine inspiration of these books.

As an example of how the Jesus uses the Scriptures, itís profitable to study a specific portion of the New Testament, say Mark chapter 12 (I chose this chapter simply because we read it at church tonight). You notice first of all, that Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament books - Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the Psalms - and that there are no similar quotations from the apocrypha. Moreover, they are not the kind of vague allusions, but clear-cut quotations (almost word for word). And finally, it is clear that Jesus is using the Old Testament quotations because He believes (as well as His Jewish audience) that they have the authority of the Word of God. He uses prophecy to explain why the Jews had rejected Him; to establish an important doctrine about the resurrection and to determine which commandment is the greatest; and to show that He is not a mere man (He is Lord of David, not only the son of David, and therefore Divine). Obviously, His arguments would have not carried any weight if He and the Jews did not believe that the Scriptures quoted were inspired and part of the canon.

In brief, the quotations and references to the Old Testament by Jesus and the NT writers provide strong evidence in favour of the Jewish canon (as in the Protestant Bible); whereas the absence of similar quotations to the apocrypha argues against the canonicity of these books.


[1] See The Canon of Scripture and The Deuterocanonicals [back]

[2] "The martyrdom of a heroic mother and her seven sons occupies a prominent place in the Chanukah story, and has inspired generations of Jews. Although a brief version of this story is presented in the Talmud and Midrash, the Book of Maccabees and Yosipon (Josephus) give much lengthier and detailed accounts, with significant variations." [Link] [back]

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A