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Apocrypha Value for Today?

By November 1, 1993November 9th, 2022No Comments


I’ve never seen or read the Apocrypha, but does this writing have any value for us today?

Your question is particularly relevant at this time because a major evangelical publisher included the Apocrypha in a Bible that came off the press earlier this year! Bible-believing Christians have traditionally rejected this writing. Have we been wrong?

The Apocrypha (which means “hidden,” “secret” or “false, fraudulent”) is a collection of 14 books written after the closing of the Old Testament canon around 425 B.C. and during the 400 “silent years” before the New Testament. Thus we must also consider the matter of canonicity.

The word “canon” comes from a Greek term meaning “ruler.” The term indicates a standard or rod of measure. When we speak of the canon of the Scriptures, we refer to the standard by which the books in the Scriptures were deemed (and remain) authoritative, God-inspired, God-given books. The canon of Scripture is the collection of bona fide books that make up the Bible. We believe God superintended both the writing and the inclusion of the books that make up the Word of God.

You know that the Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore we have two canons: the Old Testament and the New Testament canons. Scholars believe that Ezra (the Jewish priest who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem during Artaxerxes’ reign and helped his people reestablish themselves) compiled the Old Testament canon, which was completed around 425 B.C. Other devoted Jewish men, known as the “Great Synagogue,” assisted Ezra.

From the time of Moses, who wrote the first five books of the Bible, the scrolls of Scripture were kept by the side of the ark of the covenant (see Deuteronomy 31:24–26). Later, during a period when Israel had strayed far from God, Hilkiah the high priest rediscovered Moses’ writings among the rubbish of the temple, which King Josiah had ordered Shaphan to repair (see 2 Chronicles 34). As other Old Testament books were written, the priests placed them with Moses’ writings. God guided Ezra and others in this work of compiling the Old Testament canon. During His public ministry, Jesus Christ often quoted from the Old Testament, showing that He acknowledged the Old Testament as His Word.

The books of the New Testament canon were circulated among the early New Testament churches and were gradually put into one book. The local churches viewed the books as truly authentic. The councils involved in deciding what belonged in the canon of the New Testament had exceedingly strict tests for the particular books in question: (1) the churches had to have accepted them as authentic; (2) they had to be written by an apostle or his close associate; (3) their teaching had to be consistent with Old Testament teaching; (4) they had to possess both internal evidence and external evidence of divine inspiration. Church fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandna, Origen, and Tertullian also influenced the confirmation of the authentic books, since the Church regarded them as authoritative witnesses concerning doctrine and practice.

If we don’t regard the Apocrypha as a part of the canon of Scripture, why do the Roman Catholics have it in their Bibles? I should first point out that the Hebrew canon never included the Apocrypha and that the Jews never accepted these books. Jesus Christ, Who frequently quoted from the Old Testament, never quoted from the Apocrypha. Neither did the writers of the New Testament. Also, the books of the Apocrypha do not claim to be divinely inspired. These books contain many historical and doctrinal errors, and they sanction practices that are contrary to the Scriptures.

The Roman Catholic acceptance of the Apocrypha came because the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) included it. Back around the 200s B.C. the Greeks were developing a great library in Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy II wished to add a copy of the Torah to his library and commissioned at least 70 scholars to translate the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) from Hebrew to Greek. For this reason, the Septuagint is sometimes labeled with the Roman numerals LXX (70). Eventually the scholars translated all the Old Testament into Greek, but they translated the apocryphal materials as well. In the meantime the ancient Hebrew language died out in common use.

Even New Testament writers used the Septuagint more frequently than the Hebrew. Not until the Protestant Reformation did Bible scholars understand the importance of going back to the Hebrew canon. Thus Protestants and Bible-believing Christians came to disregard the Apocrypha.

Just to give you an idea of the true nature of these apocryphal books, let me run through the list and offer a comment or two.

First Esdras (Greek for Ezra): Contains an old Persian tale, along with the debate of three soldiers.

Second Esdras: A book of apocalyptic visions.

Tobit: Contains a false doctrine that people can buy salvation with money. “For alms deliver from all sin, and from death and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness” (Tobit 4:11). The book also contains some bizarre accounts. We find an angel named Raphael instructing Tobias to anoint the eyes of his father Tobit with fish gall in order to heal him of blindness. This gall came from a fish he had caught in the Tigris River. The angel also told him to save the heart, the liver and the gall of the fish for the future, which he did.

Judith: Another fictional narrative. An immoral tale in Judith implies that the end justifies the means.

Esther: Seven chapters were added to this authentic book in our Old Testament.

Wisdom of Solomon: An imitation of the book of Proverbs. It also teaches false ideas of Neoplatonism and the idea that a person’s parents, rather than God, produce his soul as well as his body.

Ecclesiastics (the wisdom of Jesus): Chapter 33 of this book is noteworthy in its contradiction to Deuteronomy 23:15 and 16, which forbids cruelty to slaves.

Baruch: An imitation of Old Testament prophecy.

Song of the Three Holy Children: An addition to Daniel 3.

Susanna: Added as a prefix to Daniel.

Bel and the Dragon: A writing placed at the end of the Book of Daniel.

Prayer of Manasseh: A compilation of Old Testament passages.

First Maccabees: Valuable as a history of the Maccabean revolt, which occurred between 175–130 B.C. I might point out that while we do not accept the Apocrypha as the Word of God, some historical matters in the books provide information for us.

Second Maccabees: In contrast to First Maccabees, this book has little historical value. Chapter 12, verses 41–46, mentions and advocates prayers and offerings for the dead; chapter 14, verses 41–46, justifies suicide!

In addition to the Apocrypha, false writings (pseudepigrapha) of both Old and New Testaments were generally circulated under false titles, and they had unknown authorship.

As one reads the Apocrypha, he can readily see the difference between this material and the true Word of God.

A final note: Don’t confuse the Apocrypha with a similar sounding word, the Apocalypse. The latter is another word for the last book in our Bible, the Revelation.

This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin (November 1993) by Norman A. Olson. 

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