Questions from last week:

Q1: Why did the Catholic Church forbid vernacular translations (recall the Oxford Convocation of 1408)?
A1: The Roman Catholic Church forbade translations performed without episcopal authorization.  This was intended to preserve doctrinal purity (as defined by Rome) and to prevent private translation and interpretation of Scripture.   Perpetuation of certain church practices, such as indulgences and the penitential system, was dependent on an ongoing Scriptural ignorance, on the part of the clergy as well as laity.  This is why the Reformers believed so strongly in the need to have vernacular translations of the Bible.

Recall Tyndale’s quote from week one of this study: “I had perceived by experience how that it is was impossible to stablysh the laye people in any truth, excepte the scripture were plainly layde before their eyes in their mother tongue.”   It was not enough for the Reformers to teach and preach Biblical doctrines; the people needed to read these truths for themselves from the Word of God. 

Q2:  Does the NT contain any citations from the Apocrypha; specifically, what about Jude 9? 
A2:  See discussion below

Up to this point in our study, we have looked at some of the “nuts and bolts” of translation work:  In week one I addressed the role of manuscripts (the “raw materials” of translation) and the importance of language expertise.   Last week I presented some of the governing principles of translation (accuracy and readability, chief among them).

Before proceeding with our historical survey of English translations, I wish to address two additional topics relevant to Bible translation: the content of English translations (which books are contained therein) and the order of these books (how they appear in the Bible).

Content of the Bible (which books belong?)

Let’s start with what Protestants today accept as the canon, and then look back in time.

Protestants recognize 66 books of the Bible: 39 OT books, and 27 NT books.[1]   The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (and a few smaller churches including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) have larger canons that include the 66 books found in Protestant Bible plus other books, which Protestants know as the Apocrypha.   Although Protestants do not accept the canonicity of apocryphal writings, historically they have enjoyed a certain staying power, as evidenced by the fact that they appeared in all English Bibles until 1599, and they continue to be published in one form or another in several Protestant Bibles to this day.

An in-depth discussion of the Apocrypha would take us too far afield; nonetheless, we need to have at least a basic understanding of what the Apocrypha are, and why they do, or do not, appear in certain versions of the Bible.


It is easier to define what the Apocrypha are than to say what place, if any, they should have in Holy Scripture.  The name “Apocrypha” was coined by the Latin ecclesiastical scholar, Jerome (c340-420).  The word “Apocrypha” is a Latin transliteration of a Greek work that means hidden or concealed.

In short, the Apocrypha are a collection of more than a dozen books of Jewish literature written during the intertestamental period.[2]  All extant copies of the Apocrypha are written in Greek.  They appear in the Septuagint (LXX)[3] but do not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is key to understanding why some churches accept them as canonical while other do not.
The Church Fathers were divided in their opinion of the rightful place of these books.

Jerome, for one, did not accept the authority of these books, but allowed them some place for edification.  In his Preface to the Books of Solomon, Jerome shares his opinion of some of the apocryphal writings, which he considered “ecclesiastical” but not canonical:

“As the Church reads the books of Judith and Tobit and Maccabees but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also it reads Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus for the edification of the people, not for the authoritative confirmation of doctrine.”[4]

Despite his misgivings, Jerome reluctantly included four of the books of the Apocrypha in his Latin Vulgate after some “friendly” pressure from Augustine and others. The rest of the Apocrypha were added to the Vulgate after his death.

The Roman Catholic Church refers to twelve of these books as “deuterocanonical” (or “second canon”, which is not meant to imply that these books are less authoritative than the rest of the Old Testament, but rather indicating the books which were more recently accepted by Rome as canonical.  The rest of the books of the Bible they refer to as “protocanonical”.)  The Apocrypha were formally canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1546 at the Council of Trent.[5]

Inclusion of the Apocrypha in English Versions of the Bible

The Apocrypha
were included in all English Bibles until 1599, when for the first time an English Bible appeared without the Apocrypha.  (This was a revision of the Geneva Bible, which we are about to discuss.)  The Apocrypha began to be omitted from the Authorized Version (King James Bible) in 1629, and by 1827 were excluded permanently.  Subsequently, the Apocrypha appeared in some, but not all, Protestant Bibles, and it has remained so down to the present day.  Some Bible translations today are available with, and without, the Apocrypha (two separate publications).

If these books have any staying power in Protestant Bibles (and they do), it is because of their historical interest, not because they are recognized as canonical.   The Church of England includes the Apocrypha in its Bible editions, but stipulates that they can’t be used for any point of doctrine.[6]  The Lutheran church typically views the Apocrypha as useful for study, (following Luther’s lead) but they are not considered canonical.  Of the major denominations today, only the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church consider them canonical, however these two church bodies do not agree on exactly which apocryphal writings rightfully belong in the canon.

Exclusion of the Apocrypha from the canon recognized by Protestant Churches of the Reformation

The Reformers and their evangelical Protestant descendants rejected the canonicity of the apocryphal writings for the following reasons:

  • The apocryphal books were not acknowledged by the Jewish Church to be canonical
  • They were not written in Hebrew
  • They were written after the time of Malachi, the last of the authentic OT prophets
  • They are never cited in the NT as authoritative by Christ or his Apostles
  • There is internal evidence in these writings that their authors did not view themselves as inspired (2 Mac. 15:38; 2:23-27; prologue to Ecclesiasticus in which the author begs pardon from his readers for all inexactitudes)
  • There are numerous historical mistakes, absurd stories and commendations of dubious morality[7]
  • They were not recognized by the general consent of the early church

Reformed Confessions and the Apocrypha

Both the Belgic Confession[8] and the Westminster Confession of Faith rejected the canonicity of the Apocrypha, however the two confessions differed in the their opinion of the role of the Apocrypha:  the BC (which governed the low countries on the continent) allowed for the Apocrypha to be used in public worship[9], whereas the WCF (which was the voice of Puritanism in England) did not allow for a public role.[10]

Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha: what is what?

Not to confuse matters, but there is another term that is relevant to our discussion, and that is pseudoepigrapha (“falsely ascribed”).  These are religious writings composed between 200 BC and 100 AD that no church accepts as canonical.[11]   The Roman Catholic Church refers to this collection of writings as “apocrypha” but we have already seen how Protestants use the same term (apocrypha) to refer to another set of writings.

I mention the pseudoepigrapha because the book of Jude in the NT contains two references to pseudepigraphical works: the Assumption of Moses (Jude 9) and The Book of Enoch (Jude 14-15).  We haven’t time now to consider the details of  Jude’s references to non-canonical sources.   For those who are interested in learning more, I point you to Pastor Rayburn’s sermon series on the book of Jude from 1997.[12]   Returning to Q2 at the beginning of this lesion—Does the NT contain any citations from the Apocrypha; specifically, what about  Jude 9?—the answer depends on whose definition of Apocrypha you wish to use.  If you are using Apocrypha in the Catholic sense, then the answer is “yes”; however, if you mean what Protestants understand by this term, then the answer technically would be “no”, because the Assumption of Moses and Book of Enoch are pseudepigraphical writings and not part of the Apocrypha as Protestants understand it.

To the best of my knowledge, the only NT reference to material found in the Apocrypha is found in some of the later verses in Hebrews ch. 11, specifically vv. 34-36.  Most Bible commentators agree that the author of Hebrews had in mind the heroism of the Maccabean resistance to the brutal tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes.  This history is recorded in two Apocryphal writings: the first two books of Maccabees.   The fact that the author of Hebrews includes historical material from the books of Maccabees does not elevate those books to a canonical level; nor does it denigrate, or lower, the canonical status of Hebrews itself.

Order of books of the Bible

I don’t wish to spend much time on this topic, because quite frankly, I don’t think that the exact order of the books of the Bible is critical.  We have spent considerably more time discussing which books are included in Holy Scripture, which is critical.

Modern English translations of the Bible all have the same order of books (+/- the Apocrypha, as we have seen), however in the history of Bible translation there was a relatively short period during which the order of the NT books differed a bit from the “norm”.  This occurred during the early years of the Reformation.  The different order of the NT books originated with Luther, who separated out four books for inclusion at the end of the NT: Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation.  “Luther did not think that these four books had the same high canonical quality as the “capital books”, and expresses his opinion vigorously in his prefaces to the books in question.”[13]  Tyndale followed the same order, although “there is no particular reason to suppose that Tyndale shared Luther’s estimate of the “deuterocanonicity” of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation; he simply followed Luther’s arrangement of the list of books, as also did his successors, until the “Great Bible” of 1539 reverted to the more usual order.”[14]

Geneva Bible

It might be said that the English Reformation cuts its teeth on Tyndale’s Bible, which we looked at last week, but it reached maturity with the Geneva Bible and King James Bibles.  By the time that the Puritan Divines in the mid 17th century penned the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which form the doctrinal foundation of our church, they had access to several English versions of the Bible, most notably, the Geneva Bible and the “Authorized Version”.   In the time remaining today, we will consider the Geneva Bible; next week we will look at the history behind the Authorized Version, and the subsequent “King James only” controversy.
The Geneva Bible derives its name from the city in which the translation was done.

During the rein of Mary Tutor (“Blood Mary”) in the mid-16th century, several able theologians and translators from English speaking lands gathered in exile in Geneva, Switzerland.  This was a time of great persecution for Protestants in England.   (It was during this period, for example, that John Rogers, the anonymous author of  Matthew’s Bible, was martyred.)

Working in the relative safety of Geneva, and under the tutelage of Calvin and other like-minded Reformers, the group of translators set out to produce an entire English Bible that would be suitable for study by Reformed Christians, as well as for use in public worship.  The New Testament appeared in 1557, and the Old Testament in 1560.  “Although no names of the translators appear in the Geneva New Testament…the work is mainly credited to William Whittingham, a brother-in-law of John Calvin…and the successor of John Knox as minister to the congregation at Geneva.”[15]  The rein of Mary ended in England before the Old Testament was finished, however several of the translators remained in Geneva to complete the task of translation before returning to their homeland.

Some distinguishing features of the Geneva Bible include:

  1. the use of a more legible roman type, instead of heavy, black-letter type (which looks like a fancy form of what we would call “cursive” handwriting).  This change in text type no doubt helped to increase its popularity.
  2. The use of numbered verses, which formed the standard for later English Bibles
  3. The inclusion of extensive marginal notes, which had a distinct Calvinistic flavor.  The marginal notes at points were not flattering to the authority of the crown, and certainly not flattering to the Pope, who was equated with the Antichrist in the book of Revelation.

The Geneva Bible was exported from Switzerland to England, and soon became the most popular English Bible for almost a century.  “It was the Bible of Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Cromwell’s Army, the Puritan pilgrims to the New World, and even (!) of King James himself.  About 180 editions of various kinds, 96 complete, were published, 8 of them appearing after the publication of the King James Version in 1611.”[16]

Bishops’ Bible

Despite its popular appeal, the Geneva Bible never received formal approval from the Church of England or the crown.  This should come as no surprise given the challenging tone of its marginal notes.   This situation gave rise to another version known as the Bishops’ Bible, which became the second “authorized” English version (recall from last week that the first “authorized” version was Matthew’s Bible: “set forth with the kinges most gracious lycence”).   The Bishops’ Bible was fostered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, who intended to produce a version of the Bible in English that would supplant the Geneva Bible and all previous versions.  Eventually the Bishops’ Bible displaced the Great Bible as the one “appointed to be read in the Churches”.

Douai-Reims Bible

The other translation from the latter half of the 16th c. worth mentioning is the Douai-Reims Bible (a Catholic translation).[17]  Just as the reign of Mary Tutor sent English Protestants into exile, likewise the reign of Queen Elizabeth caused English Catholics to seek exile on the Continent.  Among the scholars who took up residence in France were William Allen, who founded in the city of Douay a Catholic seminary for the training of English priests, and Gregory Martin, a Jesuit who was the principal translator.  Martin translated the OT before the NT, although the NT was published first in 1582.   By this time the school had moved to Reims.  Funds were not available for completion of the OT until several years later, when in 1610 the OT was published (by this time the school had moved back to Douai). 
A few points about this Catholic translation in closing:

  • This translation was in the tradition of Wycliffe—from the Latin Vulgate into English.  The reason is based in the opinion of the Council of Trent regarding the Vulgate, this “ancient and vulgate version, which is approved by the long use of so many centuries in the Church herself, be held as authentic in public lectures, dusputations, sermons and expository discourses, and that no one may make bold or presume to reject it on any pretext.”[18]
  • According to the preface to the Reims NT, a Catholic translation was rendered necessary by the circulation of many “false translations” by Protestants.
  • The English language in this translation is highly Latinized (reflecting a tendency to use abundant transliterations from the Latin)
  • It tends to be a very literal translation of the Latin, which makes it painfully difficult to read in English in many places.  As a result, Hebrew idioms are often lost in the translation.
  • The Apocrypha are not gathered together in an appendix, as they are in the Protestant versions from Coverdale onwards; they appear in the positions which they have in the Vulgate.[19]
  • This first English Bible for Roman Catholics had extensive marginal annotation,  as did the Geneva Bible, and was even more polemical.
  • A major revision of the Douai-Reims Bible dates to the middle of the 18th century, when a convert from Protestantism, Bishop Challoner, undertook the task of making the English Bible more intelligible to the rank and file of English-speaking Roman Catholics.  At this point the translation became known as the Douai-Rheims-Challoner Bible.
  • It was not until 1943 that the Pope allowed Catholics to translate the Scriptures directly from the original languages.  This came in the form of a papal encyclical known as Divino Afflante Spiritu authored by Pope Pious XII.  The Second Vatican Council later affirmed this decision in its Dei Verbum: “…up-to-date…translations be made in the various languages, by preference from the original texts of the sacred books.”

Next week: KJV and “King James only” controversy
Following week: the rise of modern versions
Final week: gender-neutral controversy and a closer look at the ESV


[1] By the way, when you read historical descriptions of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures—such as by the Jewish historian, Josephus—they  often speak of a smaller number of OT books, which simply reflects a different way of reckoning the Hebrew Scriptures.  For example, some of the books, such as the minor prophets, were counted as one.

[2] List of 15 books commonly referred to as the Apocrypha (listed in no particular order): Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (aka Sirach), Tobit, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Judith, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Additions to Esther (10-16), Song of the Three Hebrew Children (aka defaulter of Azariah), Suzanna (Daniel 13), Bel & the Dragon (Daniel 14), defaulter of Manasseh (aka Prayer of Manasseh), and 1 & 2 Esdras (the latter three, by the way, are not recognized as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church)

[3] recall that this was a 3rd c. BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures

[4] Jerome in his Preface to the Books of Solomon.  Compare the position of Luther (similar)

[5] The Council of Trent was actually a series of 3 church councils held between 1545 and 1563 and dominated by the newly formed Jesuits.   Concerning the content of Holy Scripture, the Council decreed:
“And so that no doubt may arise in anyone’s mind as to which are the books that are accepted by this Synod, it has decreed that a list of the Sacred books be added to this decree.   They are written here below:
Books of the Old Testament: The five books of Moses, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is called Nehemias, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Psalter of David consisting of 150 psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, that is Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Michaeas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.  Books of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke the Evangelist, fourteen epistles of Paul the Apostle, to the Romans, to the Corinthians two, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the Apostle, three of John the Apostle, one of the Apostle James, one of the Apostle Jude, and the Apocalypse of John the Apostle. If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and canonical, entire with all their parts, as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition, and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid traditions let him be anathema.

[6] Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles: “And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:  The Third Book of Esdras, The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Tobias, The Book of Judith, The rest of the Book of Esther, The Book of Wisdom, Jesus the Son of Sirach, Baruch the Prophet,
The Song of the Three Children, The Story of Susanna, Of Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses,
The First Book of Maccabees, The Second Book of Maccabees”

[7] Unscriptural things found in these books are the justification of suicide (II Maccabees 14:43-46), slavery and cruelty (Ecclesiasticus 33:24-28), and reincarnation (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20).  Lying, assassination and magical incantations are also approved.

[8] The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church is the Confession of Faith (1561), popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation “Confessio Belgica.” “Belgica” referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession’s chief author was Guido de Bräs, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567.

[9] BC: “The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.”

[10] WCF: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

[11] Examples of pseudoepigrapha: Assumption of Moses, Ascension of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Elijah, Book of Enoch, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Fourth Book of Maccabees.


[13] F.F. Bruce, The English Bible: A History of Translations, p.34

Ibid, p.34

[15] Metzger, The Bible in Translation, p.64

Ibid, p.66

[17] other spellings include Douay-Reims and Rheims-Douay

[18] Bruce, p. 113

[19] Also included at the end of the OT were two books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh