15 Myths, Mistakes, and Misrepresentations about the Deuterocanon

Gary Michuta

Mistake #1: The New Testament is Silent in Regard to the Deuterocanon

Of all the myths, mistakes, and misrepresentations about the Deuterocanon, this one is made most frequently. It says:

The New Testament quotes from practically every book in the Old Testament, but it never makes a clear, definite quotation from the Deuterocanon. Therefore, the Deuterocanon was not considered Scripture by Jesus, his apostles, or the writers of the New Testament.

At first glance this mistake may appear to be more of a myth – as in, "the myth of the Apocrypha-less New Testament" – but there is some truth to the claim. It's true that the New Testament does not quote the Deuterocanon in a clear and definite manner. However, the claim is mistaken on a number of other points.

First, it doesn’t explain why the lack of a clear and direct quotation is a make-or-break condition for canonicity. In other words, the restriction seems to be arbitrary. After all, who said that unless the New Testament clearly and definitely quotes a book, it can't be considered Scripture? Scripture doesn't teach this. Moreover, if a clear and definite quotation really is the sine qua non for being Scripture, we have a problem. The New Testament doesn't make a clear and definite quotation from the books of Ruth, First and Second Chronicles, Ezra, Esther, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Ezekiel, or Daniel, either. Aren't they considered Scripture?

Second, why restrict the evidence to only clear and direct quotations? The New Testament uses the Old Testament in a number of different ways besides direct quotations. Sometimes it paraphrases Old Testament passages. Other times, it alludes to a text or references something in it. Don't these items also have evidentiary weight? Before you answer that question, consider the book of Jonah. What’s interesting about the book of Jonah is that the New Testament never quotes it, yet you won't find Jonah listed as a book that the New Testament never quotes. Pretty strange, isn’t it? The reason why is that, although Jonah is never directly quoted, it is referenced by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 12:39-42, 16:1-4; Luke 11:29-32). Therefore, these references count as an affirmation of Jonah. If a reference is as good as a direct quote to approve the book of Jonah, why can’t the references to the Deuterocanon (e.g., Hebrews 11:35) also count as evidence for the Deuterocanon? Clearly, the insistence of a clear and direct quotation as evidence to affirm a book as Scripture is simply too restrictive.

Instead of looking only at explicit quotes, what needs to be done is to look at all of the evidence (quotations, allusions, references, etc.) and see what it has to tell us about the inspired status of the Deuterocanon. The results of such a study will reveal that the New Testament does indeed use the Deuterocanon as inspired Scripture (See Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger, 30-42, also The Case for the Deuterocanon, 1-37).

What about formal Quotes?

It's funny to see how many times the claim that the New Testament never clearly and directly quotes the Deuterocanon is followed by the claim that the New Testament never "formally quotes" the Deuterocanon, either. If there are no "clear and direct" quotations, of course there wouldn't be any formal quotations. Be that as it may, here is how the "formal quote" mistake is commonly given:

The New Testament never formally quotes the Deuterocanon with such words as "The Scripture says...," "It is written...," or "Thus says the Lord..." Even though the New Testament practically quotes every protocanonical book with these formal introductions, the Deuterocanon is not once quoted in such an authoritative way.

The mistake here is one of exaggeration. If you broke down how many books are quoted by these introductory formulas, you'll find that the statement that "practically every protocanonical book" is quoted is a bit of a stretch. Let's look at each of the three formal introductions. Using the standard Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (27th edition), let’s discover how many times these formal introductions are used and how many books are quoted using these introductions.

"The Scripture says..." (Greek, eipen hē graphē) occurs 9 times in the NA27.* It introduces quotes from the books of Genesis (twice), Psalms, Zechariah, Exodus, Isaiah, 1 Kings, and Deuteronomy. James 4:5 also uses this introduction to formally quote a book that cannot be identified. Therefore, only 7 books of the Protestant Bible (plus one unknown book) are quoted with this introduction.

* John 19:28, 37; Romans 4:3, 9:17, 10:11, 11:2; Galatians 4:30; 1 Timothy 5:18, James 4:5

* Matthew 2:5, 4:4, 6, 7, 10, 11:10, 21:13, 26:24, 31; Mark 1:2, 7:6, 9:12, 13, 11:17, 14:21, 27; Luke 2:23, 3:4, 4:4, 8, 10, 7:27, 10:26, 19:46, 24:46; John 8:17, 20:31; Acts 1:20, 7:42, 13:33, 15:15, 23:5; Romans 1:17, 2:24, 3:4, 10-11, 4:17, 8:36, 9:12-13, 33; 10:15, 11:8, 26-27, 12:19, 14:11, 15:3, 9, 21; 1 Corinthians 1:19, 31, 2:9, 3:19, 4:6, 9:9, 10:7, 14:21, 15:45; 2 Corinthians 8:15, 9:9; Galatians 3:10, 13, 4:22, 27; Hebrews 10:7; 1 Peter 1:16; Revelation 13:8, 17:8. [This includes "gegrammenon" used in John 6:31, 45].  

"As it is written…" (Greek, gegraptai) occurs 69 times in the NA27.* It introduces quotes from Micah, Deuteronomy (11 times), Psalms (10 times), Malachi (4 times), Isaiah (16 times), Zechariah (3 times), Exodus (4 times), Amos (twice), Habakkuk, Genesis (twice), 2 Samuel, Jeremiah, Job, and Leviticus. Therefore, these 67 formal quotations cover only 14 books of the Protestant Old Testament.

"Thus says the Lord" (Greek, legei kyrios) occurs 11 times in the NA27.* It introduces quotes from the books of Isaiah (5 or 6 times), Amos, Deuteronomy (or Psalms), either 2 Samuel or Jeremiah (3 times), and Exodus. Therefore, these 11 instances reference, at the most, only 7 books of the Protestant Old Testament.**

* Acts 7:50, 15:18; Romans 12:19, 14:11, 1 Corinthians 14:21; 2 Corinthians 6:17; 8:18; Hebrews 8:8, 9, 10, 10:16; Revelation 1:8  

** Matthew 26:24, Mark 9:12, 13, 14:21, Luke 24:46, John 20:31, 1 Corinthians 4:6, Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 do not introduce a formal quotation

When all three formal introductions are combined and the duplicates discarded, a sum total of only 15 Old Testament books receive one or more of these formal quotations. This means that 24 books of the Protestant Old Testament are never formally quoted with these introductions. As you can see, there certainly are a lot of formal quotations in the New Testament, but only from a few books. Moreover, even if the New Testament did formally quote the Deuterocanon, critics would be quick to point out that such a formal quotation really means nothing, since James 2:23 formally quotes an unknown work with the introduction "the Scripture says" (Greek, hē graphē hē legousa). Therefore, the presence or absence of a formal quote really isn’t a make-or-break issue for determining whether the New Testament considered a book to be inspired. All of the data needs to be considered.