The Apocrypha is a collection of books that are typically included in the canon of Roman Catholic scripture, but are excluded from the canon of Protestants and Jews.
Contents of the Apocrypha
The entirety of these books consists of the following:
- Wisdom of Solomon - a didactic writing from 30 BC
- Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) - a didactic writing from 32 BC
- Tobit - a religious novel from around 200 BC
- I Esdras - a historic and legendary writing from around 150 BC
- I Maccabees - a historic writing from 110 BC
- II Maccabees - a historic and legendary writing from 100 BC
- Judith - a romantic novel from 150 AD
- Baruch - a prophetic writing from 100 AD
- Letter of Jeremiah - a prophetic writing from 200 BC
- II Esdras - a prophetic writing from 100 AD
- Additions to Esther - a legendary writing from 130 BC
- Prayer of Azariah - a legendary writing from 100 BC
- Suzanna (Daniel 13) - a legendary writing from 100 BC
- Bel & the Dragon (Daniel 14) - a legendary writing from 100 BC
- Prayer of Manasseh - a legendary writing from 150 BC
The Apocrypha and Church History
Throughout the history of the early church there was much discussion and division as to whether these writings should be considered scripture or not. The earliest Christian evidence is actually strongly against regarding the Apocrypha as scripture, but the use of it gradually increased in some parts of the church until the Reformation (1517-1648).
In Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible which was completed in 404 AD, he included the books of the Apocrypha but stated the he did not believe that they were books of the canon, but books of the church, which were helpful and useful for believers. However, due to their lack of Hebrew original, their exclusion from the Jewish Canon, and the lack of New Testament citation, many began to be suspicious of their authority.
In their descriptions of the canonical books, Melito (?-180 AD), Origen (185-254 AD) and Eusebius (263-339 AD) all confirm nearly all of our current Old Testament books, but do not include any of the Apocryphal writings. In fact Eusebius actually directly states that the books of Maccabees are outside the list of canonical books.
Athanasius of Alexandria (293-373 AD) who wrote the Paschal Letter in 367 AD listed all the books of our present New Testament and all the books of the Old Testament except for Esther. He also listed some of the Apocryphal books including the Wisdom of Solomon the Wisdom of Sirach, Judith, and Tobit but said that they were not “included in the canon, but appointed by the fathers to be read by those who newly joined us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness.”2
The theologian E.J. Young (1907-1968) in his study of Revelation and the Bible said of the Apocrypha:
There are no marks in these books which would attest a divine origin.... both Judith and Tobit contain historical, chronological and geographical errors. The books justify falsehood and deception and make salvation depend upon works of merit. Almsgiving, for example, is said to deliver from death (Tobit 12:9, 4:10, 14:10-11).... Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon inculcate a morality based upon expediency. Wisdom teaches the creation of the world out of preexistent matter (Wisdom 11:17). Ecclesiasticus teaches that the giving of alms makes atonement for sin (Ecclesiasticus 3:30). In Baruch it is said that God hears the prayers of the dead (Baruch 3:4), and in I Maccabees there are historical and geographical errors.3
In 1546, at the Council of Trent which was held by the Roman Catholic Church, it was declared that Apocrypha was to be included as part of the canon with the exception of 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manesseh. These collections are also often referred to as the deuterocanonical books, which is to be understood as the writings that were later added to the canon (the prefix deutero means second).
It should be noted that the Council of Trent was primarily the response of the Roman Catholic Church to the teachings of Martin Luther and the increasing Protestant Reformation. Including the books of the Apocrypha gave the Roman Catholic Church support for the teaching of prayers for the dead and salvation by faith plus works, which Luther and the Protestants strongly opposed.
Is The Apocrypha Inspired?
The writings of the Apocrypha should not and are not regarded as part of divinely inspired scripture for four primary reasons:
- They do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings.
- They were not regarded as God’s words by the Jewish people from whom they were originated.
- They were not considered to be Scripture by Jesus or the New Testament authors.
- They contain teachings that are inconsistent with the rest of the Bible
While they do have a number of beneficial features that aid historical and linguistic researchers as well as show the courage and faith of many Jews, they have never been part of the Old Testament canon and should not be recognized as a part of the Bible. Even the greatest first century Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 AD) knew and spoke of the Apocrypha when he said that “from Artaxerxes to our own times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (Against Apion 1.41).
While the Apocrypha may be good for reading and study, it should not be held nearly on the same level as divinely inspired scripture, for the reasons given above, because we hold God’s word as the final authority (Sola Scriptura) in everything it claims and nothing else.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 57-60
- Athanasius, Letter 39 in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 551-52
- Edward J. Young, "The Canon of the Old Testament," Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958 / London: The Tyndale Press, 1959), 167-68