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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Reading Non-Canonized Books of the Bible

Dear Father John, I recently came back to the Church and one of the things that has really awakened me, other than the “Catholics Come Home” book, was the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft. I have found that in my ‘older' age, theology is something that I am really enjoying reading and thinking about. My question is, is it ‘safe' to read non-canonized books of the Bible? I want to understand more about Adam & Eve and the beginnings of everything, I have recently found out that there are non-canonized books of the Bible and wondering if reading them as ‘background information' is ‘safe' or not.

Thank you for your encouragement, and welcome home to the Catholic Church!

Still_life_with_BibleMost of the apochryphal writings (the “non-canonical” books of the Bible), at least the ones written after the time of Christ, were written with hidden agendas, agendas that were linked to incipient heresies. Unless you are studying them in a scholarly context, I would recommend avoiding them, just because they can cause (and have caused) a lot of confusion.

On the other hand, we have a wealth of theological and spiritual writings that the Church has produced over twenty centuries that can serve as a truly endless supply of learning more about our faith. For the Old Testament, for example, I can recommend Warren Carroll’s first volume of Church History, “The Founding of Christendom.” And his many notes and vast bibliography will point you to all kinds of works that deal with more specific questions, like Adam and Eve. You will love it! Also, I highly recommend the works of Frank Sheed – especially “Theology for Beginners” and “Theology and Sanity.” You will love those too! And if you want to understand Scripture better, dive into the almost 40 volumes of very readable expositions published by Scott Hahn, a fellow convert.

So, there is no need to go to questionable and confusing sources in order to learn more about our faith; we have a treasure trove of reliable and insightful sources to go to instead!

 

Art: Still Life with Bible, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885, PD-Art, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Jan England

    +
    Fr. Bartunek thank you for your very wise answer. It seems to me this is also a good answer for those drawn to supposed apparitions that haven’t been authenticated by the Church. God bless you! Jan E.

  • top8305

    There is no such thing as “non-canonical books of the Bible.” These apocryphal writings are ridden with error which is why, in considering them for the Cannon of Scripture, the Church rejected them as not being the inerrant, Inspired Word of God.
    Holy Scripture is inerrant, therefore nothing that is with error can be of the Bible.

    • LizEst

      You are right! The term “non-canonical books of the Bible” was the description used by the person asking the question. Father John was simply responding to the questioner. Notice that he put “non-canonical” in quotation marks! Thank you for your comment top8305…and God bless you!

      • top8305

        Thank you Sis; may God Bless always you and yours.

        For the Greater Glory of God.
        Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
        — Saint Ignatius of Loyola 1491-1556

        • LizEst

          …and thank you for your service, top! Where did you serve?

    • Dear TOP – just curious – did you read the post before you commented?

    • top8305

      Yes Sir.

  • Catharine

    Father is entirely correct in that there is no such thing as “non-canonical books of the Bible.” One would unwittingly be glorifying these books; very many of them are indeed riddled with heresy and many of them were written with agendas in mind, such as denying the divinity of Christ or some other heresy.
    I tried reading some of this materal after I came back to the Catholic Church (after 22 years of absence) in the early 90’s. The very best of this material was written by popes, fathers of the primtive church, and canonized saints and approaches the scriptures in spiritual insight and truth.. The very worst of it comes off as semi-comic book material, some of it slightly pornographic, with the child Jesus as a sort of super-hero baby God, striking dead anyone who “crosses” him, and aimed very much at a pagan, earthy mindset.
    However, to put it all in proper context, one would need a very solid grounding in the eternal teachings of the Catholic Church, as well as the truly canonical books of the Bible. I think it would be a better idea to get a very solid grounding in the Catholic faith by reading the books recommended by Father B, as well as the commentaries on scripture by the well-known scholars throughout the ages. Otherwise, I believe there is a real risk that one’s understanding could unwittingly become contaminated with Gnostic or even pagan thinking.

  • Patricia Bustamante

    I’m a little confused. So we are not to read Non-Canonized Books, or “apocryphal” books. I was not sure what this term meant or which books these were at first when I read this post but I went online to see which ones these were. The Catholic Bible includes these books, though. Aren’t these Macabees, Judith, Tobit, etc…??? I am starting to delve into my catholic faith so I may not truly understand what this means. If I seem ignorant to the topic I apologize. If it is recommended that we not read these books, why are they in the Catholic Bible to begin with? I would doubt that the church would have a Catholic Bible which is different from the Protestant Bible, and then ask its followers not to read the books included therein. Can someone provide a little insight into this? Thanks!

    • LizEst

      What you’ve read about apocryphal books was written by a non-Catholic.

      Yes, the Protestant Bible is indeed different from the Catholic Bible.

      There was no Bible when Christ established His Church. The Church Fathers fixed the canon of the Bible (the approved books) by discerning what was truth versus what was false, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was fixed in its current form somewhere in the 300s, with subsequent Church Councils confirming the same list of books.

      Then, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, various Protestant leaders began to take books out of the Bible. They thought they were not used by the Jewish people because they didn’t find them in some forms of the Jewish Scripture. Protestants consider the books that they took out of the Bible–that are included in the Catholic Bible–such as the ones you mentioned, to be apocryphal. We do not as they are obviously in the Catholic Bible, the original Bible!

      As far as Catholicism is concerned, non-canonized books are things like the Acts of St. Peter, The Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Gamaliel, the Gospel of St. Peter, the Gospel of St. Thomas, the Gospel of St. Phillip, the Gospel of St. Bartholomew, the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles, the Gospel of Joseph of Arimathea, the Pseudo-epistles of the Virgin Mary, etc. Most people are not going to be finding these books in the normal course of their day-to-day Biblical studies. That’s why these titles may seem rather unfamiliar. So, I don’t think you are in any danger here. A person who is working on a theological degree may come into contact with them.

      You can find the above titles and many others in this long post on the New Advent site: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01601a.htm

      Oh yes, incidentally, most scholars today now affirm that the apocryphal books that were taken out by the Protestant reformers were indeed used by the Jewish people. They have found evidence to support this.

      • Judy Silhan

        Thank you Fr. Bartunek and also Liz. I was recently trying to explain all of this and where she could look if she really wanted to find trustworthy sources about bible and church history. I shall forward this post to her.

  • Alice

    Here is part of the confusion: In the Catholic biblical canon we have the Deutero-canonical books. The Protestant bible removed some of those, but the ones they kept they call the Apochrypha. Some of the same books, but renamed as a group. They eliminate Maccabees which contain the biblical support for praying for the deceased, for example .

    • LizEst

      Pay attention only to the original Bible, which is what the Catholic Church believes and teaches. Don’t listen to voices that tell you to look elsewhere. The intent of those voices (whether intentional or unintentional) is to sow confusion and doubt in you and get you to stray. If you stick to the fullness of truth found in the Catholic Church, you will walk confidently to God.

      • Alice

        Agreed. That is what I was trying to say. You said it much better!

        • LizEst

          To God be the glory!…May He bless you abundantly, Alice.

  • wendyjoseph

    Heresy or not, some of the writings that didn’t make the Biblical cut are downright amusing, and edifying to the extent that they show what Catholicism does not teach. It helps in studying Church history to find out who was holding to these views, when, where, and why, and what the Church’s response was. Gnosticism could really go off the deep end mystically, with its circular logic, and it’ s refreshing to take a look at Paul’s epistles for a more rooted, pragmatic approach to living as Christ taught us to live. Many heresies have continued in one form or another to the present, and it helps to know what they are and how to fight them today.

    • LizEst

      Yes, they are interesting from a scholarly standpoint. But, for general purposes, it’s best to stay away. Not all folks are secure enough in the faith to know the difference between what is true and what is false. The best policy is not to go in that direction, unless one is required to do so. Curiosity is not a sufficient reason. Some people fall away because they do not practice custody of the senses. God bless you, wendyjoseph…and thank you for your input.

  • wendyjoseph

    A guided tour of these writings by a well informed teacher/apologist would be the way to approach them, with an eye to recognizing why they are heretical and thus help one’s ability to spot other heresies. Seeing what the Church is not, and most importantly why, can help bolster and strengthen one’s faith and enable the believer to fight and argue convincingly against heresy and other evils.

    • LizEst

      Good points! Thank you!

  • Maricruz Osorio

    These books have caused arguments in my family, when you mention these books written with hidden agendas, is there a couple of concrete examples you could give me so that when the these “writings” come up again, I can tell them exactly why? Ohh by the way. I love your book “The better part” it is full of wisdom and put this wisdom to work in a concrete way.

    • LizEst

      Here are two examples:
      1. From the “Gospel of St. Thomas”: “This pseudo-Gospel is unique among the apocrypha, inasmuch as it describes a part of the hidden life of Our Lord between the ages of five and twelve… much that is fantastic and offensive in the pictures of the exploits of the boy Jesus. His youthful miracles
      are worked at times out of mere childish fancy, as when He formed clay
      pigeons, and at a clap of His hands they flew away as living birds; sometimes, from beneficence; but again from a kind of harsh retribution.”
      2. From the “Apocalypse of Mary”: “…of medieval origin, and is probably merely the outcome of an extravagant devotion. It describes the Blessed Mother’s descent to Limbo…”

      New Advent has a very lengthy post that deals with these non-canonical
      books. You will find both of the above examples and more at this link:
      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01601a.htm

  • Patricia

    I believe it would be more confusing for me to read another book apocrypha that was not in the bible especially as a new convert.

    • LizEst

      God bless you Patricia. You are a wise new convert!

      • Patricia

        Liz And Whoever can answer this question
        I have a question I take care my confessor’s mother in a retirement home would this be a conflict of interest if I still go to confession to this priest?

        • LizEst

          Generally speaking, no.

          …but if you have a sin to confess which deals with say, something between you and your confessor’s mother, then it could be a conflict of interest. And, it also depends on the nature of the sin. Put yourself in the priest’s place. How would you feel if someone came to you and told you they did or said something sinful to your mother, or your child? And, if it were serious (and I’m not saying that you would ever do something serious), you’ve just tied his hands because now he knows and he is prohibited from acting upon any information he receives in the confessional, otherwise he would be breaking the seal of confession.

          • Patricia

            That is exactly what I feared by putting him in a tough situation it does not seem right I confess to him. I think this could cause interfearance. I think this is a wise advice. There would always be by human nature that I would have conflicts at work so by default I could break HIPPA law since confidentiality is of the essence in the medical field. I saw this as huge dilemma.

            Thanks for your advice

            Prayers and blessings always

          • LizEst

            Just remember, when you confess, you must confess all your sins, you must not hold anything back. But, there is usually no need to give someone else’s name in confession. The circumstances would be important for the priest to assess the situation and give the proper advice and penance. Keep in mind that the priest stands in the place of Christ…and he himself cannot divulge anything you tell him.

          • Patricia

            Thank you for your response Liz the priest said he has no problems being my confessor

          • LizEst

            Good that you checked that out with him.

          • patricia

            I have my spiritual director who is a catholic priest in which I can discuss things in greater detail. Especially about issues or things like conflict in work. I see my spiritual director once a month. I am going to get more parity from him regarding this issue.

            Prayers and blessings always

  • My very humble advice to anyone who wishes to remain faithful to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, is to confine themselves to reading what the Church has approved. That is the only way to avoid being confused or starting unnecessary arguments as those Maricruz Osorio mentions

  • disqus_yqeotfOrSf

    Second Book of Esdras????

    • LizEst

      Not sure what you are asking here. The Second Book of Esdras was renamed Nehemiah.

  • disqus_yqeotfOrSf

    Second Book of Esdras(Apocrypha Scripture) is found in the Good News Bible-Catholic Study Edition. Revelation of 7 Visiions of Esdras (Shealtiel) in 556 B.C. See: Amazon Books titled “ShelTiel.”

    • LizEst

      What you are talking about is found in IV Esdras, which is named II Esdras in Protestant (English) Apocrypha. It is not an accepted part of the Catholic Canon of Scripture. The Good News Bible is a product that comes out of a Protestant effort. I would stay away from it. Obviously, if you are seeing this in what you have, it is not very Catholic. Just because someone puts “Catholic” in a title, doesn’t mean it necessarily is. Many have been led astray by such manipulations.

      The US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) does not list the Good News Bible as an approved translation for private use and study by Catholics. So, were I you, I would get something from their approved list, in order not to fall into error. Not every so-called “Catholic” Bible is approved. Please take a look at this list: http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations/

      Please note that students who are formally studying theology, for example at the seminary or other institute of higher learning, may have reason to access other Biblical versions. Here, they are guided in a Catholic understanding of the differences between the various translations.

  • disqus_yqeotfOrSf

    My oldest boy was given this Catholic Study Edition of the Good News Bible (Sadlier Publishing) for Confirmation classes. ESDRAS is stated as a additional book of the Second Book of ESDRAS along with the First Book of ESDRAS. These books are not among those books accepted as canonical in 1546 by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. Roman Catholics consider these books as acocryphal, useful for edifying reading but without the authority of Holy Scripture. Introduction lists: Fr.Jerome Kodell O.SB., S.T.L., of Formation and professor of Scripture; author of book on biblical spirituality and many articles., Fr. Eugene A. LaVerdie, S.S.S.., M.A.., S.T.L.., S.S.L , Professor of Scriptures at Jesuit School of Theology (Chicago, IL. Sr. Carolyn Osiek, R.S.C.J., Ph.d. in New Testamentand Christian origins.Fr. Donald Senior, CP., Phd.Fr. Carroll Stulmueller, CP., S.T.L., S.S.D.,. Orland R. Barone, M.A. Ph.D Cand .in Education, Chief Administrator of Loyola sacred Heart High School, Missoula, Montana. etc. In closing, I found this book very interesting for edifying reading as it gives 7 visions given to Esdras (Shealtiel) by the archangel Uriel in 556 B.C. pertaining to past,present, and future revelations as it relates to New Testament Revelation by John. God Bless!!!

    • LizEst

      Please read my responses back to you. This Good News Bible is not on the USCCB approved list which I gave you a link to. So, it doesn’t really matter that your son was given this for confirmation classes; it is not approved for private study. So, whoever gave him that, though well-meaning, was in error. And, the fact that that specific Esdras book is in there proves it is not authentically Catholic. Get something that it approved. That’s the bottom line. “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching (Hebrews 13:9a).

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