As we continue our study on Bibliology in this month’s newsletter, we move from the transmission of the Bible to a somewhat mysterious subject, the Apocrypha. I am often asked questions related to the authority of the Apocrypha, that section which is in the middle of Roman Catholic Bibles but not necessarily in ours. How are we, as Evangelicals, supposed to perceive this list of books? Why do certain Christian traditions adhere to it as authoritative and others do not? These are all very good questions that I hope to answer in this edition of the newsletter.
First, we will begin by describing the nature of the Apocrypha. The word apocrypha relates directly to the Greek concept of “hidden,” relating to the ideas of something being secretive or well, hidden. In the early church, the word took on the meaning of non-canonical, and was perceived as such for centuries. These fifteen books or additions to books first arose in the Alexandrian canon of the Greek Old Testament, often called the Septuagint. The books include The First Book of Esdras (150—100 B.C.); The Second Book of Esdras (c. A.D. 100); Tobit (c. 200—150 B.C.); Judith (c. 150 B.C.); The Additions to the Book of Esther (140-130 B.C.); The Wisdom of Solomon (c. 30 B.C.); Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach (c. 180 B.C.); Baruch (c. 150-50 B.C.) The Letter of Jeremiah (c. 300-100 B.C.); The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (2nd - 1st century B.C.); Susanna (Daniel 13 in the Catholic Bible) (2nd – 1st century B.C.); Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14 in the Catholic Bible) (c. 100 B.C); The Prayer of Manasseh (2nd or 1st century B.C.); The First Book of the Maccabees (c. 110 B.C.); and The Second Book of the Maccabees (c. 110-70 B.C.). Twelve of these books are included in the Catholic Douay Bible.
Second, we will answer the question “why do we as Evangelicals not accept the Apocrypha as authoritative?” The main reason that these apocryphal books are not in our Bibles is because, simply put, they were never included in the Hebrew canon to begin with. Jesus, Himself, infers that the canon of the Old Testament was closed around the time of the prophet Micah (Luke 24:44; Luke 11:51; Matthew 23:35). Further, Jesus nor His Apostles ever quote the Apocrypha as authoritative or even refer to it. They, however, do quote extensively from the Old Testament canon in recognition of its authority. The apocryphal books were not considered authoritative by Jews like the historian Josephus, the philosopher Philo, those who composed the council of Jamnia, and the writers of the Talmud. Further, most of the apocryphal books were written in the post-biblical era according to men like Josephus and the writers of the Talmud. Early Christian writers like Origen and Jerome also communicate that these books, called the Apocrypha, were not authoritative.
Another point that strongly opposes the authority of the Apocrypha relates to its content. The Apocrypha includes information that is inaccurate, including issues of doctrinal concern. 2 Maccabees 12:45-46 promotes prayers for the dead, which contradicts a proper interpretation of Hebrews 9:27 and Luke 16:25-26. Also, Tobit 12:9 teaches salvation by works, which the Scriptures firmly oppose in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 3:11. In fact, the Apocrypha was never considered authoritative until the Council of Trent, which met in the 16th century AD. And this acceptance appears to be a response to the strong criticism from many, during the time of the Reformation, who were questioning the teachings and practices of the Church at that time.
Thirdly and finally, the question is posed as to whether the Apocrypha is of any benefit? The answer of course is . . . absolutely yes! Though it is not part of the canon of Scripture, many of the books in the Apocrypha, like 1 Maccabees, give us historical information. They also help us understand the origin of certain feasts, like the Feast of Lights which is also known as Feast of Dedication, found in John 10:22.
In conclusion, we do not recognize that the Apocrypha is part of the recognized canon of Scripture, but we do consider it valuable as we do many non-inspired works. We simply must understand that these books were written by humans in a non-inspired state; and therefore, read them in a spirit of discernment. Until next time, this is Pastor Daniel writing, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
*Special thanks to Michael Vlach for the use of his notes on this subject