Archives For The Apocrypha

God wrote the Bible. (More specifically, God inspired human authors to write each of the 66 books contained in our Bibles.) But God didn’t lower the completed Bible from the heavens leather-bound and double-columned.

The Bible is a unique book. It was written over the course of 1,500 years or so by more than 40 different authors from backgrounds as diverse as prophets, doctors, tax collectors, and kings. It was written in Greek and Hebrew, with a little Aramaic thrown in for good measure.

So how did these diverse writings come to be bound together in the bestselling book of all time?

First comes the Old Testament. The Old Testament “canon” (the collection of authoritative books that make up our Bibles) has been pretty well established for a long time. For our purposes, we can begin with the view of Jesus and the apostles regarding the validity of the Old Testament.

Hebrew BibleThe books we have in our Old Testament had all been written for a few centuries prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth. They were collected into three “parts:” The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Not only did Jesus affirm the validity and authority of most of the books individually (he quoted from every Old Testament book except for Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon), he also affirmed the three parts of the Old Testament canon:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” (Luke 24:44)

So the Old Testament in its three parts (Law, Prophets, Writings/Psalms) was the canon accepted by the Jews and affirmed by the New Testament.

A question that many people will have at this point is how the apocrypha fits in. The Roman Catholic Bible adds an additional 14 or 15 books (though not officially until 1546) that we don’t have in our Protestant Bibles. To oversimplify, we Protestants follow what is called the Palestinian Canon—this arose in Palestine, was written in Hebrew, and was accepted by the Jews. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, follow the Alexandrian Canon—this arose in Alexandria (Egypt) and was based on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The issue is too complex for a blog, but Protestants believe this Palestinian Canon is the right one, so we leave out those extra books. This doesn’t mean that the apocrypha is useless (see Preston’s post on why we should read the apocrypha), it just means that it’s not Scripture.

Greek BibleWhen we turn to the New Testament, it’s important to first take note of the way the New Testament authors viewed the Old Testament. They looked at these books as a collection of authoritative documents that God himself had written. Paul refers to the Old Testament as Scripture, says that it is able to make a person wise for salvation, and then explains that all Scripture is actually breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:15–16). Peter says:

“No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20–21).

So these New Testament authors believed that there was such a thing as Scripture, which they defined as authoritative documents written by human beings under the guidance of the Spirit of God. And here’s where it gets interesting. They were conscious that they, too, were writing Scripture. Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture and places these writings on the same level as the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:16).

In an interesting passage, Paul cites two quotations as Scripture:

“For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” (1 Tim. 5:18)

The first citation is from Deuteronomy 25:4, and the second is a quotation of Jesus in Luke 10:7. This verse reveals that the early church saw both the Old and New Testaments as Scripture. It is also worth noting that the epistles sometimes end with a directive to have the letter spread around and read in various churches—a practice that signified their Scriptural importance.

So here’s where we stand. God’s people have long believed that there is such a thing as Scripture, they believed that the Old Testament ought to be considered Scripture, and they believed that their New Testament writings ought to be considered Scripture as well. But it still took centuries for the 27 books that make up our New Testaments to be gathered together under the same table of contents. So tomorrow I will finish the story of how the New Testament came to be bundled together and placed at the end of our Old Testaments.

 

Why are Protestants scared of the Apocrypha? I think it’s because we think that it’s Catholic, and since we’re Protestant, we don’t want to taint our theology with the dogma of Rome. But such fear is based on an inaccurate understanding of what these books are. The books of the so-called “Apocrypha”—yes, the ones that are placed inside the Bible of Roman Catholics—were not written by Catholics, for Catholics, nor did its authors set out to expound Catholic doctrine. The Apocrypha wasn’t even included in the so-called “Catholic canon” until hundreds of years after it was written, and many of its authors would probably be appalled that it was.

So what is the Apocrypha?

The Old Testament Apocrypha (to distinguish it from the New Testament Apocrypha, which is much different) is a collection of 7 (or sometimes 10 or more) books written by faithful Jews living during the intertestamental period. Here’s a snapshot of their content:

  • 1-2 Maccabees. A history of the Greek persecution of the Jewish people, and the subsequent Maccabean revolt (around 180-140 B.C.).
  • Wisdom of Solomon. A Jewish philosophical treatise about the righteous and wicked
  • Tobit. A tale about a righteous male Jew, similar to Job
  • Judith. A tale about a righteous female Jew, similar to (though in many ways, quite different from) Esther
  • Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus). Wisdom literature similar to Proverbs
  • Additions to Daniel and Esther. Like it sounds, these contain bits that are left out of the biblical books.
  • Baruch. A book that longs for God’s restoration of Israel.

Now again, these books were written by God-fearing Jews—not Catholics nor Protestants. And they were written before Christ, so its authors did not have a chance to accept Jesus as Lord and Savoir. The books ended up being collected in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) and then the Latin Vulgate, and since the Vulgate was the standard Bible of the church for over 1,000 years (around AD 400-1500), the Apocrypha became part of the canon. However, they were considered “deuterocanical,” or in layperson’s terms “not as important as the 66 books of the canon.” When the Reformation hit (1500s), the Reformers rejected the Apocrypha as part of inspired Scripture.

Interestingly, however, the Reformers didn’t rip out and burn the Apocrypha when they stood against the Catholic Church. In fact, Martin Luther and others continued to print their Bibles with the Apocrypha in it. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when even Protestant King James Bibles began to be printed without the Apocrypha.

The fact that you don’t have the Apocrypha in your English Bible is a rather recent phenomenon.

So the Apocrypha is not Catholic. It’s a collection of Jewish books written between the Testaments, when faithful Jews were seeking to live righteously in the midst of a pagan environment. And I’m pretty convinced that we will see and embrace its authors in the New Creation.

So why are Protestants so scared of the Apocrypha? We’ve already shown that it’s not Catholic, so there should be no fear of transforming into a worshipper of Mary by flipping its pages. I’ve also heard people raise the question: “Since it’s not inspired, then we shouldn’t read it.”

Hmmm…do I even need to address this, or is the inconsistency as glaring to you as it is to me? If we should only read inspired literature, then our libraries need a serious renovation.

What about all the supposed doctrines in the Apocrypha that are dangerous? I mean, even though it wasn’t written by Catholics, it contains stuff that leads to Catholic doctrine, right?

Well, sort of, but not really. Yes, there are certain passages that Catholics will go to in order to support certain doctrines (praying for the dead, purgatory, salvation by works), but you’d be surprised at how unclear such passages are. If you read the Apocrypha and weren’t looking for these doctrines, you’d probably pass right over them. Moreover, there are passages in the NT that could (but don’t) suggest the same thing: 1 Corinthians chapters 3, 15, and James 2 all could be taken to support purgatory, praying for the dead, and salvation by works respectively (again, I don’t think they do). But we still read them.

So what benefit is there in reading the Apocrypha? Here are a couple.

First, it helps us breathe the ancient air that Jesus and the apostles breathed. Books like 1 Maccabees acquaint us with the history that branded the idea of the kingdom of God on the hearts and minds of first century Jews. Wisdom of Solomon helps us see a blend of Jewish and philosophical reasoning that we see in Hebrews and (to some extent) in John. Plus, Paul was probably in critical dialogue with the Wisdom of Solomon when he wrote Romans. Other books such as the apocalypse of 2 Esdras (or 4 Ezra, which is in some versions of the Apocrypha) helps us to interpret the book of Revelation. It too talks about weird creatures coming out of the sea. In short, these books help us to situate the NT in its own context.

Second, these books can be downright inspiring. No, I didn’t say inspired, but inspiring. Many of the faithful Jews who wrote and resonated with the books of the Apocrypha lived in a time where obedience meant death and apostasy could result in much wealth and cultural acceptance. The Apocrypha, therefore, may be a healthy alternative than much of the fluffy junk that inundates our Christian bookstores today. And, if we are going to read non-inspired literature (John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Beth Moore, etc.), then why not read stuff that was written right around the time of Jesus?

All in all, I’ve been tremendously blessed by reading the Apocrypha and have a better handle of the NT because of it.