In response to my article “Should additions to the biblical texts be treated as canon?” Simon K posed the following question:
“Did Protestants do the right thing by rejecting the deuterocanon? Should that decision be reconsidered? You are discussing here whether people should accept textual variants as inspired; but which books should be accepted in the canon seems at least a somewhat related question.”
(For those unfamiliar with the Deuterocanon, the Wikipedia article offers a decent overview of the topic.)
To be sure, while this is a different question than the one I posed, there is a shared principle: I was discussing whether we should grant canonical status to later interpolations in canonical books while Simon K was asking whether we should grant canonical status to a later canonical list (i.e. the Deuterocanonical list of seven books). Moreover, there is also a point of direct overlap insofar as the Deuterocanon includes additions to two Old Testament books, Esther and Daniel.
Certainly one could argue in the way Simon K has proposed. To illustrate, let’s return for a moment to the extended process of canon recognition in the early church. It would appear that by the early second century a nascent canon of four gospels and a collection of Paul’s letters had already formed. Thus, by the second century many Christians recognized the Nascent Canon.
Over the next two centuries various additional books — and thus various enriched canonical lists — would be proposed for acceptance (e.g. the Muratorian Canon of the late 2nd century). By the fourth century, it would appear the majority church had settled on the Protocanon that is accepted by the church today.
This brings us to the key point, the 27 book Protocanon is to the Nascent Canon as the Protocanon cum Deuterocanon is to the Protocanon alone. (Hopefully that makes sense!) In both cases we have Christian communities which had initially accepted a shorter canon then coming to accept a longer canon.
To sum up, this provides us with two reasons to consider the Deuterocanon. To begin with, just as I argued that a later form of a New Testament book (e.g. Matthew, Mark, or John) could be accepted as having the divine imprimatur, so a later canonical list could be accepted as having the divine imprimatur. Second, I pointed out that just as the early church embraced a later canon (the Protocanon) so likewise the later church could embrace a later canon (the Protocanon cum Deuterocanon).
To be sure, none of this means that Protestants should accept the Deuterocanon. It only means they should not exclude it in principle.