What about the Apocrypha?
By E. J. Malone, JD.
You may have read a book, commentary or Facebook posting in which the writer quotes from the book of “Esdras” or “Ecclesiasticus” and wondered if the writer had misspelled “Ezra” or “Ecclesiastes”. No, the writer did not misspell those two books of the Bible of which you are probably familiar. Rather the writer was quoting from two books in a collection of writings known as the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha (from the Greek word apokryphos, meaning hidden or concealed) is a group of writings between the third and first centuries B.C.E. in the period between the Old and New Testaments, not regarded by Jews and Protestants as scripture, but eventually canonized by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and included in their Bible.
The Apocryphal writings for the most part are historical accounts of the Jewish struggle for political independence and freedom of religion against the Greeks during the second century B.C.E. The books generally recognized as constituting the Apocrypha are: I and II Maccabees; Prayer of Manasses; I and II Esdras; Tobit; Judith; Wisdom; Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a. Sirach); Baruch and Epistle of Jeremy; supplements to Esther and three additions to Daniel include: The Song of the Three Children, Susanna and the Elders, the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon; and the Letters of Jeremiah.
What about the Apocrypha? Should followers of Christ regard these writings as inspired of God? Should these writings be attached to the end of the Old Testament?
The answer comes from history as well as the scriptures themselves.
Jews Rejected the Apocrypha
An important source of authority on whether the Apocrypha is inspired are the 1st century Jews. Although the Jewish people at this time were divided into various factions, they nearly all recognized one set of scriptures, the collection of books that we call the Old Testament. Originally written in Hebrew, these scriptures, known to them as the Tanakh, were copied and preserved by Jewish scribes who adhered to strict rules for copying and preserving scriptures. It was under the authority of this Jewish politico-religious system with its collection of scriptures that God’s Son Yeshua was born.
The Apostle Paul even acknowledged the role of the Jews in preserving the scriptures. While assuring Gentile Christians that being a spiritual Jew is more important than being a physical Jew, Paul admits that the Jewish nation was still important because they were entrusted preserving God’s Word.
“Then what advantage has the Jew?
. . “, wrote Paul. “To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Romans 2:1-2).
By oracles Paul meant the actual utterances of Yahweh, given to Moses and the prophets (See Acts 7:38).
As an adult, Jesus had many differences with Herod, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes, but not once did he challenge their fixed canon of scriptures. There were differences in groupings and arrangements of the Old Testament; and there were even various versions, including some Greek translations. However, there was near unanimity as to which books were inspired. With the exception of the Samaritans who only accepted the Five Books of Moses, the Jewish people were all reading “the same Bible”.
If God’s Holy Spirit had influenced the composition of the Apocrypha as it did the other Old Testament writings, then God would have mostly certainly seen fit for the Jews to incorporate it into the very “Bible” that Jesus read. Yet, in their many years of copying and preserving scriptures, the Jews have never recognized the Apocrypha as inspired scripture, and there is no evidence that any of the various versions of the Old Testament at the time of Jesus contained the Apocrypha.
Jesus did not recognize the Apocrypha
Proponents of the Apocrypha might argue that Jesus grew up reading the official Hebrew Scriptures but later incorporated the suppressed Apocryphal writings into the Christian canon. However, there is no evidence supporting this theory.
To the contrary, there is evidence that Jesus — by implication — did not recognize the Apocrypha as inspired by God.
When recalling those killed for the cause of righteousness during the pre-Messianic era, Jesus said, “[F]rom the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it shall be required of this generation” (Luke 11:49-51).
Thus Jesus recognizes Abel as the first martyr recorded in the Old Testament and Zechariah as the last (Genesis 4:8; 2 Chronicles 24:20).
It is important to note that Jesus did not mention the subsequent martyrdom of the woman and her seven sons as told in the ApocryphalBook of 2 Maccabees. Evidently, Jesus did not regard the Apocrypha as inspired scripture 400-years of prophetic lull.
Another piece of evidence against the idea that the Apocrypha is inspired is the apparent 400 years of prophetic inactivity between the time of Malachi and the first coming of Jesus Christ.
This apparent 400-year lull began with the warning in the Book of Malachi that closed the Old Testament and it ended with the coming of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).
And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He replied, “Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).
Even the writers of the apocryphal books acknowledge that there were no prophets in Israel at their time.
So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them (1 Maccabees 9:27.
The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise (1 Maccabees 14:41).
In addition to the above grounds for rejection of the Apocrypha as inspired, please also note that the Apocrypha — unlike the Old Testament — is nowhere quoted in the New Testament. The Apocrypha is also tainted with errors in fact and time and contains fabulous statements which not only contradict the “canonical” scriptures but also itself. For example, Seleucid Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes, the dreaded enemy of the Jews, dies three different deaths in three different locations (1 Maccabees 6:8-16, 2bMaccabees 1:13-16; 2 Maccabees 9:19-29).
And finally, the Apocrypha promotes doctrines inconsistent with scripture, such as offering money for the sins of the dead, (2 Maccabees 12:43-45); the pre-existence of the soul (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20), almsgiving as an atonement for sin (Ecclesiasticus 3:30); and the command to use magic (Tobit 6:5-8).
If God wanted an extra set of writings included in His scriptures, He would have seen fit for the scribes, the early church, or Jesus Christ himself to incorporate them. If God wants his people to hear something, he has no problem delivering the message. “The law of the Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple.”
Although the Apocryphal writings should not be used as a source for moral truth, they could be profitable for historical purposes like the writings of Homer, Josephus, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Indeed, I, your modern-day scribe quoted from the Apocrypha to prove that the Apocrypha is not inspired.
Let us continue to live by every word of God; shun any attempts to supplement His Word; and be satisfied that He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1 Peter 1:3).
The Apocrypha (from the Greek word apokryphos, meaning hidden or concealed) is a group of writings between the third and first centuries B.C.E. in the period between the Old and New Testaments.