Christian Pilgrim


The Apocrypha

If we have ever picked up a Bible more than 300 years old, we will immediately notice that, more often than not, it contains the Apocrypha, a collection of 14 books usually situated between the Old and New Testaments. The question must therefore be asked: Why are these books not in our Bibles today? Many enemies of the Bible, including muslims and atheists, notice that at the Protestant Reformation these books were condemned as not being canonical, and consequently these enemies cast aspersions over the validity of the text of the whole Bible, suggesting that if men can add or remove some of it, then it must therefore all be of human origin (although the Koran has also suffered from attempts to change the text and add "satanic verses" into it).

Many modern day Protestants are also attempting to defend these 14 books and trying to suggest that they should be included again in modern Bibles. Some of the allegations are as follows:

(1.) Christ used the Septuagint Greek Bible, which would have contained the Apocrypha.
(2.) New Testament writers quote over 400 times from the Apocrypha.
(3.) Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, had doubts about the Apocrypha only because he was influenced by Jews.
(4.) The council of Carthage canonised the Apocrypha with the other Scriptures.
(5.) Condemning the Apocrypha was a ploy by the "right wing element of the seventeenth century Puritan party."
(6.) Most Bibles of Protestants nearly always contained the Apocrypha up until as recently as the revision led by the higher critical movement in the 1880's.
(7.) Parts of the Apocrypha were found in Hebrew in the Dead Sea Scrolls, therefore the Apocrypha was not originally of Greek origin.

With all these attempts to defend the Apocrypha, we therefore need to know why we do not believe it to be the inspired Word of God, so that we may have confidence in the true Scriptures, which are "given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

The "Apocrypha" as a name was coined by Jerome in the fifth century, from the Latin meaning "hidden writings." It must be asked here: Why would God "hide" his writings away? Of course the answer is that He doesn't, and never has done. It referred in Jerome's day to the fourteen books that had become included in many Bibles by that time, but which were not in the original Hebrew text that the Jews considered to be canonical; rather they were Greek writings that were produced in the period between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. They became widely known after being included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, which was made during this period in Alexandria.

It is commonly thought that the Apocrypha contains the following 14 books:
1. The First Book of Esdras
2. The Second Book of Esdras
3. Tobit
4. Judith
5. The Rest of the Chapters of the Book of Esther
6. The Wisdom of Solomon
7. Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach
8. Baruch (incl. Letter of Jeremiah as chapter 6)
9. The Song of the Three Children
10. Daniel and Susanna
11. Daniel, Bel, and the Dragon
12. The Prayer of Manasseh
13. The First Book of the Maccabees
14. The Second Book of the Maccabees

But this list is not definitive at all, as different churches have their different ideas:

The Roman Catholic church accepted all the above as canonical, except the First and Second books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, although these were still printed as an appendix in Latin Vulgate Bibles.

The Greek Orthodox church accepted all of the above list as canonical except Second Esdras, but they also included Psalm 151 and the Third Book of the Maccabees. The Fourth Book of the Maccabees was included in an appendix.

The Russian Orthodox church accepted all of the above list as canonical, as well as Psalm 151 and the Third Book of the Maccabees.

So we see that the commonly accepted list is not a cut and dried affair at all, as extra books are included or excluded depending on which church one follows. This is in sharp contrast to the acceptance of all the other books in the Old Testament and the books in the New Testament, all 66 books of which are agreed today (in the Lord's providence) in churches right across the "Christian" world. Some individuals have questioned some of the New Testament books, such as Origen questioning James and Jude, Cyril omitting the Revelation and Martin Luther questioning the Epistle of James. However, in the main, there has been total agreement amongst churches on these 66 books.

However, history should not be our guide. As we believe the Bible to be our absolute authority in all things, we can turn only there for our answer. And it is found in Romans 3:1,2:

"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God."

This passage alone proves beyond doubt that, up to the time of Paul's writing, the Jews were the keepers of the oracles of God. God in His providence kept His Word pure through them, in the Hebrew text. This was written before the Greek Apocrypha, which all the Jews rejected. They only held what are the 39 books of our Old Testament to be the sacred canonical writings directly inspired of God. Since Paul's day of course, the Jews' "house is left to them desolate" (Matthew 23:38) and the Christians have since that time been the keepers of the oracles (now to include 27 books of the New Testament as well), which God has preserved throughout the ages. The church is now "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). This argument should therefore end here.

However, let us now come to the above criticisms of our position, and make some more comments on them:

(1.) Christ used the Septuagint Greek Bible, which would have contained the Apocrypha.

Christ used the Bible in the common tongue of the day, which was Greek. The most common translation available at the time was the Septuagint. All this proves to us is that we have authority to translate the Scriptures into the language of the people, seeing as Christ approved of it. Nowhere does Christ quote from the Apocrypha. Just because a particular edition of the Bible contains rubbish in it (which it ought not to do), so long as you avoid the rubbish, it is perfectly all right to use.

(2.) New Testament writers quote over 400 times from the Apocrypha.

This allegation is nonsense. I took the 1560 edition of the Geneva Bible and counted the number of marginal references in the Apocrypha to any passages in the New Testament. (To be honest, I did not do this the other way around and go through the New Testament looking for references to passages in the Apocrypha. I just assumed that references would point both ways). I found 105, a lot less than "over 400." I then discovered that, of these, only three could seriously be considered to suggest the possibility that the corresponding New Testament passage might have been based on it. Amazingly, all of these were in 2 Esdras - a book which only the Russian Orthodox church and no-one else in the world accepts as canonical! They are as follows:

2 Esdras 1:30: "I gathered you together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; but now what shall I do unto you? I will cast you out from my sight" (cf. Matthew 23:37).

2 Esdras 2:42: "I Esdras saw upon mount Sion a great people whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs." (cf. Revelation 7:9).

2 Esdras 8:3: "There be many created, but few shall be saved." (cf. Matthew 20:16).

Even in these passages, let alone all the others, there is not a necessary implication that the New Testament passage MUST have been based on the Apocrypha passage at all. We cannot conclude from these passages that Christ was necessarily quoting from it.

(3.) Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, had doubts about the Apocrypha only because he was influenced by Jews.

Good. I am glad he was influenced by Jews, because the Bible says that the Jews were the "keepers of the oracles of God" until New Testament times (Romans 3:2). Of course Jerome was not so influenced by them that he abandoned the New Testament!

(4.) The council of Carthage canonised the Apocrypha with the other scriptures.

What the councils of men do is neither here nor there. The Bible is our only authority. The council of Carthage was in 397AD. One of the things that it decreed was exactly what the church believed the canonical text of Scripture to be. The New Testament was correctly decreed to be the 27 books we have today. The fact that it took such a long time for men to agree on these books does not prove that the church came before the Bible, as the Roman Catholics would teach, rather it merely shows how difficult men find it to agree on anything! Scripture establishes itself as God's Word at the point of writing, not when or whether men agree on it or not. In any case, the Council of Carthage got it wrong when at the same time it adopted the Septuagint (including the Apocrypha) as the Old Testament canon. The Septuagint was but a Greek translation from the original Hebrew plus the Greek Apocryphal texts (which were written at a later date). As has already been mentioned, the Hebrew text is the true canonical text of the Old Testament, which never had the Apocrypha in it. The first seven Ecumenical councils (of which this one in Carthage was one) are treated by Eastern Orthodox churches as their ultimate authority, above Scripture itself. Similarly the Roman Catholic church invests its ultimate authority in the pope. Neither is necessarily correct or to be relied upon. Scripture alone is our guide.

(5.) Condemning the Apocrypha was a ploy by the "right wing element of the seventeenth century Puritan party."

The Puritans, and indeed all of the Reformers, were concerned about the purity of the church. This reformation in the church happened over time. Amongst other things, they got rid of papal authority, they got rid of the trappings of popery such as vestments, statues, organs etc. and they purified God's Word. The first thing they did with regards God's Word was to collect out of the Old Testament all the Apocryphal writings and put them together in a separate place in the Bible between the two Testaments. This idea was not known before the Reformation, as all Latin Bibles in the 1000 year reign of popery before then, had them dispersed into their chronological place, mixed in amongst the rest of the Old Testament books. Along with the gathering out of these writings, the Reformers printed a warning in their Bibles that these books were not canonical, as a preface to them. Two examples will suffice, firstly from the first complete English Bible ever printed, the Matthews Bible (1536):

"In consideration that the books before [i.e. our Old Testament] are found in the Hebrew tongue, received of all men; and that the other following, which are called Apocrypha (because they were wont to be read, not openly and in common, but as it were in secret and apart) are neither found in the Hebrew nor in the Chaldee; in which tongue they have not of long been written (in less than it were haply the book of Sapience) whereupon it were now very hard to repay and amend them: And that also they are not received, or taken as legitimate and lawful, as well of the Hebrews as well of the whole church, as St. Jerome sheweth: we have separated them and let them aside, that they may the better be known, to the intent that men may know of which books which ought to be received, and of which not. For the said St. Jerome, speaking of the book of Judith (which is Apocrypha) sayeth that the authority thereof is not esteemed worthy and sufficient to confirm and stablish the things that light in disputation. And generally of all the books called Apocrypha, he sayeth that men may read them to the edifying of the people, but not to confirm and strengthen the doctrine of the church. I leave out here the law (as they call it) of Canon c. Sancta Romana. iv. divine, where he sheweth his judgment. Likewise the Gloss of c. Canons, cvi, divine, which sayeth that men read them, but not in general; as though he should say that generally and thoroughly they are not allowed. And not without a cause; for that they have been corrupted and falsified in many places, it appeareth sufficiently by Eusebius in his book called Historia Ecclesiastica; which thing is easy to be known nowadays in certain points, namely in the books of the Maccabees, whose second book St Hiero confesseth that he found not in the Hebrew, by the means whereof it is become unto us the more suspect and the less received. In like manner is it of the third and fourth books of Esdras [N.B. Our books of Ezra and Nehemiah were known as I Esdras and II Esdras, whereas the Apocrypha books we know as I Esdras and II Esdras were known as III Esdras and IV Esdras], which St Jerome protesteth that he would not have them translated, esteeming them for dreams; whereas Josephus yet in his book of his Antiquities, declareth the sum of the matter after the manner of a story, as well of the book of Maccabees as of the third of Esdras; although he esteem the books compiled from the reign of king Artaxerxes but this time to be Apocrypha.
Wherefore then, when thou wilt maintain anything for certain, rendering a reason of thy faith, take heed to proceed therein by the living and pithy Scriptures, following St Peter which sayeth, He that speaketh, let him speak as though he spake the Word of God. He sayeth the Word of God, as a thing most true and certain, opened by the prophets and apostles, inspired with the Holy Ghost; of whom we have witness more clear than the day. Lawyers having great desire to confirm and stablish their opinions by the law of man, say that it is shame to speak without law; how much more fear and dread then ought he to have that sayeth he is a Christian, the which holdeth not himself, or teacheth not in the laws of the living God, but in men's inventions, judging of all things according to them, and leaning to an uncertain imagination and fantasy? Let us therefore that are builded on the foundation of the holy prophets and apostles, and on the head cornerstone (on which they themselves were founded, and which they preached, that is Jesus Christ the sure stone) leave the things that are uncertain to follow the certain; holding us and resting us in them, and fastening our anchor there, as in a sure place. For our Christian faith consisteth not in doubtful things, but in plain and most certain assurance, and in most true persuasion, taken and confirmed by infallible desire. In which God grant us to walk perpetually, to the intent that according to it (fulfilling His holy will in us, and setting aside all inventions contrary unto Him), we may live to His honour, and to the edifying of His church. So be it

Then the Geneva Bible (1560):

"These books that follow in order after the Prophets unto the New Testament, are called Apocrypha, that is books which were not received by a common consent to be read and expounded publicly in the church, neither yet served to prove any point of Christian religion, save inasmuch as they had the consent of the other Scriptures called Canonical to confirm the same, or rather whereon they were grounded; but as books proceeding from godly men, were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history, and for the instruction of godly manners: which books declare that at all times God had an especial care of His church and left them not utterly destitute of teachers and means to confirm them in the hope of the promised Messiah, and also witness that those calamities that God sent to His church were according to His providence, who had both so threatened by His prophets, and so brought it to pass for the destruction of their enemies, and for the trial of His children."

Note also that the Geneva Bible, which contains profuse notes in the canonical material, does not contain any notes at all in the Apocrypha, only references. However, it does have the occasional note where the text clearly teaches what is false. Of course these places prove the Apocrypha's unworthiness to be counted as canonical Scripture. For example:

II Maccabees 12:44 [on prayer for the dead]:

"From this verse to the end of the chapter the Greek text is corrupt, so that no good sense, much less certain doctrine can be gathered thereby. Also it is evident that this place was not written by the Holy Ghost, both because it dissenteth for the rest of the holy Scriptures, and also the author of this book acknowledging his own infirmity, desireth pardon, if he have not attained to that he should. And it seemeth that this Jason the Cyrenean, out of whom he took this abridgement, is Joseph Ben Gurion, who hath written in Hebrew five books of these matters, and in treating this place, makes no mention of this prayer for the dead (lib. 3, chap. 19), for it is contrary to the custom of the Jews, even to this day, to pray for the dead. And though Judas had so done, yet this particular example is not sufficient to establish a doctrine no more than Zipporah's was to prove that women might minister the sacraments (Exod. 4:25), or the example of Razis that one might kill himself, whom this author so much commendeth (II Macc. 14:41)"

[N.B. There is a footnote in the normally footnote-free Matthews Bible at this point as well]

II Maccabees 14:41 [on suicide]: 

"As this private example ought not to be followed of the godly, because it is contrary to the word of God, although the author seems here to approve it; so that place as touching prayer (12:44), though Judas had appointed it, yet were it not sufficient to prove a doctrine, because it is only a particular example."

It must be noted that the original King James Bible (1611) had no such warning about the Apocrypha in it at all.

Later on, Geneva Bibles from 1599 onwards and King James Bibles from 1625 onwards started being produced without the Apocrypha altogether. So we note the progression. First the Apocryphal books were gathered together with a note stating that they were not canonical, and later they were omitted altogether.

(6.) The Bible of Protestants nearly always contained the Apocrypha up until as recently as the revision led by the higher critical movement in 1885.

In 1831 the Trinitarian Bible Society was formed because the British and Foreign Bible Society had passed a motion in 1813 stating that to avoid unnecessary offence in Lutheran and Roman Catholic countries, they would distribute Bibles with the Apocrypha in them in those places (previously they had not done this).

So LONG before the higher critics became influential in the 1880's, Bibles had been purified of all material that was not inspired, and for a few generations at least, a pure Word was being published again. Since the 1880's, the higher critics have done their damage. All the modern translations of the Bible now produced are based on their erroneous modern text. If ever there was another Reformation, what do you think one of the first priorities of the new Reformers would be? Of course it would be to purify the Word of Life again, and get rid of all the erroneous translations and either distribute older translations based on the correct received text again, or indeed make new translations from the same.

(7.) Parts of the Apocrypha were found in Hebrew in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so they were not originally of Greek origin.

The fact that a strange sect by the Dead Sea had some copies of the Apocrypha in their own language hidden away somewhere means nothing. It does not imply that they were in Hebrew first, they could have been translations from the original Greek. Much less does it imply that the Apocrypha is canonical, because God would not have hidden His Word away for centuries in such a sect and nowhere else.

So from all this, we can conclude that the Apocrypha is NOT the Word of God, and should NOT be printed with our Bibles. Today, we have the wonderful gift of having the whole, pure Word of God (with nothing added and nothing taken away) in a language we can understand - something that not many generations in past times have ever had. Let us not go back to the Dark Ages again where the Word is corrupted, but let it be our life, and let us revere it with all the authority that it has, and love it with all our heart.