The Apocrypha: Is it scripture?

The Apocrypha consists of a set of books written between approximately 400 B.C. and the time of Christ.  The word "apocrypha" (απόκρυφα) means "Hidden."  These books consist of 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Rest of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, (also titled Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Additions to Daniel, The Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

The Protestant Church rejects the apocrypha as being inspired, as do the Jews; but in 1546 the Roman Catholic Church officially declared some of the apocryphal books to belong to the canon of scripture.  These are Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch.  The apocryphal books are written in Greek--not Hebrew (except for Ecclesiasticus, 1 Maccabees, a part of Judith, and Tobit) and contain some useful historical information.

Is the Apocrypha Scripture?  Protestants deny its inspiration, but the Roman Catholic Church affirms it.  In order to ascertain whether it is or isn't, we need to look within its pages.

Not quoted in the New Testament

First of all, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever quoted from the Apocrypha. There are over 260 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament and not one of them is from these books.  Nevertheless, a Roman Catholic might respond by saying that there are several Old Testament books that are not quoted in the New Testament, i.e., Joshua, Judges, Esther, etc.  Does this mean that they aren't inspired either?  But, these books had already been accepted into the canon by the Jews--where the Apocrypha had not.  The Jews recognized the Old Testament canon, and they did not include the Apocrypha in it.  This is significant because of what Paul says:

"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?  2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." (Rom. 3:1-2).

Paul tells us that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.  This means that they are the ones who understood what inspired Scriptures were, and they never accepted the Apocrypha.

Jesus' references the Old Testament: from Abel to Zechariah

Jesus referenced the Jewish Old Testament canon from the beginning to the end and did not include the Apocrypha in his reference. "From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation." (Luke 11:51).

"The traditional Jewish canon was divided into three sections (Law, Prophets, Writings), and an unusual feature of the last section was the listing of Chronicles out of historical order--placing it after Ezra-Nehemiah and making it the last book of the canon. In light of this, the words of Jesus in Luke 11:50-51 reflect the settled character of the Jewish canon (with its peculiar order) already in his day. Christ uses the expression "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah," which appears troublesome since Zechariah was not chronologically the last martyr mentioned in the Bible (cf. Jer. 26:20-23). However, Zechariah is the last martyr of which we read in the Old Testament according to Jewish canonical order (cf. II Chron. 24:20-22), which was apparently recognized by Jesus and his hearers."1

This means that the same Old Testament canon, according to the Jewish tradition, is arranged differently than how we have it in the Protestant Bible today.  This was the arrangement to which Jesus was referring when he referenced Abel and Zechariah, the first and last people to have their blood shed--as listed in the Old Testament Jewish canon. Obviously, Jesus knew of the Apocrypha and was not including it in his reference.

Jesus references the Old Testament: The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms

Catholics sometimes respond by saying that the Old Testament is referred to in three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  It is these writings that are sometimes said to include the Apocrypha.  But this designation is not found in the Bible.  On the contrary, Jesus referenced the Old Testament and designated its three parts as the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms--not as the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

"Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44).

So we see that the designation offered by the Roman Catholics is not the same designation found in the Bible, and their argument is invalid--as their argument is incorrect.  Nevertheless, even if it did say "writings," it would not include the Apocrypha for the above-mentioned reasons.

Church Fathers

Did the Church fathers recognized the Apocrypha as being Scripture?  Roman Catholics strongly appeal to Church history, but we don't find a unanimous consensus on the Apocrypha.  Jerome (340-420), who translated the Latin Vulgate which is used by the RC church, rejected the Apocrypha since he believed that the Jews recognized and established the proper canon of the Old Testament. Remember, the Christian Church built upon that recognition. Also, Josephus the famous Jewish historian of the First Century never mentioned the Apocrypha as being part of the canon either. In addition, "Early church fathers like Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius, and the great Roman Catholic translator Jerome spoke out against the Apocrypha."2 So, we should not conclude that the Church fathers unanimously affirmed the Apocrypha.  They didn't.

 

This article is also available in: Español

__________________________________________________
See Related Articles

  • 1. http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/bible/bahnsen_canon.html.
  • 2. http://www.inplainsite.org/html/apocrypha.html.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison