The Apocrypha: Is it scripture?


by Matt Slick

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.

APENDIX

  1. Athanasius (300? – 375)

    1. Athanasius condemns the apocryphal books as non-scripture:  2 “But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation; and since I fear lest, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtility of certain men, and should henceforth read other books–those called apocryphal–led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books; I beseech you to bear patiently, if I also write, by way of remembrance, of matters with which you are acquainted, influenced by the need and advantage of the Church. ….3. In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the Evangelist, saying on my own account: ‘Forasmuch as some have taken in hand,’ to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and that he who has continued stedfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance. … 4 There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second(4a) are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and[5] the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.  5 Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament.. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.  ” (Festal Letter 39:4-5)
      1. 2 “But since we have made mention of heretics as dead, but of ourselves as possessing the Divine Scriptures for salvation…some few of the simple should be beguiled from their simplicity and purity, by the subtility of certain men, and should henceforth read other books–those called apocryphal–led astray by the similarity of their names with the true books…3…to reduce into order for themselves the books termed apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture…it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as Divine; to the end that any one who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led him astray; and… 4 There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews;5 Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament…” [the apocryphal books are excluded!] (Athanasius, Festal Letter 39:2-5)
  2. Jerome (347 – 420)
    1. Jerome says Judith, Tobit, Maccabees not scripture:  “As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.” – (Jerome, Prefaces to the Books of the Vulgate Version of the Old Testament, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs).
  3. Julius Africanus (160 – 240)
    1. Julius Africanus says the apocrypha book of Susanna is a forgery. “In your sacred discussion with Agnomon you referred to that prophecy of Daniel which is related of his youth. This at that time, as was meet, I accepted as genuine. Now, however, I cannot understand how it escaped you that this part of the book is spurious. For, in sooth, this section, although apart from this it is elegantly written, is plainly a more modern forgery. There are many proofs of this….But a more fatal objection is, that this section, along with the other two at the end of it, is not contained in the Daniel received among the Jews.” (Julius Africanus, A Letter to Origen from Africanus About the History of Susanna)

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

2. http://www.inplainsite.org/html/apocrypha.html.