Inspired of God?
Article description: Why is the Apocrypha not a
part of the inspired canon of Scripture?
In the ever urgent work of
winning souls for Christ, the Christian occasionally will
encounter members of the Roman Catholic Church who note,
with perhaps some degree of pride, that their version of
the Bible contains more books than standard translations
used by non-Catholics. More often than not, the average
Christian is at a loss to explain why there are forty-six
books in the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible, yet only
thirty-nine books in the Old Testament of the common versions.
The qualified teacher needs
to be able to give a reasonable explanation to his Catholic
friends for the absence of those seven books in the versions
The “Apocrypha” is a collection
of documents, generally produced between the 2nd century
B.C. and the 1st century A.D., which were not a part of
the original Old Testament canon. The names of these books
are: I Esdras, II Esdras, The Rest of Esther, Song of the
Three Holy Children, History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon,
Prayer of Manasses, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus,
Baruch, I Maccabees, and II Maccabees. The last seven of
these are incorporated into Roman Catholic editions of
the Bible. The Catholic Council of Trent (1546) affirmed
the canonicity of these books, as found in the Latin Vulgate,
and condemned those who reject them.
The title, “Apocrypha,” is
a transliterated form of the term apokruphos, meaning “hidden.” A
plural form of the word is used in Colossians 2:3, where
Paul declares that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
are “hidden” in Christ. The adjective “apocryphal” has
come to be applied to those books that do not bear the
marks of divine inspiration. There are several reasons
why the Apocrypha is to be rejected as part of the Bible.
There is abundant evidence
that none of these books was ever received into the canon
(that which conforms to “rule”) of the Hebrew Old Testament.
Though they appear in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament – known
as LXX), that is not necessarily a reliable criterion.
Professor G.T. Manley notes: “[These books] do not appear
to have been included at first in the LXX [3rd/2nd centuries
B.C.], but they found their way gradually into later copies,
being inserted in places that seemed appropriate…” (The
New Bible Handbook, Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962,
The apocryphal books are not
in those most ancient works which allude to the Old Testament
Scriptures. For example:
(1) Philo, the Jewish philosopher
of Alexandria (20 B.C. – A.D. 50), wrote prolifically and
frequently quoted the Old Testament, yet he never cited
the Apocrypha, nor did he even mention these documents.
(2) Josephus (A.D. 37-95) rejected
them. He wrote: “We have not an innumerable multitude of
books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one
another, but only twenty-two books, which contain the records
of all the past times; which are justly believed to be
divine…” (Against Apion 1.8). By combining several
Old Testament narratives into a “book,” the thirty-nine
of our current editions become the twenty-two alluded to
(3) The most ancient list of
Old Testament books is that which was made by Melito of
Sardis (cf. A.D. 170); none of the apocryphal books is
included (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14).
(4) In the early 3rd century
A.D., neither Origin nor his contemporary, Tertullian,
recognized the books of the Apocrypha as being canonical.
(5) Though some of the apocryphal
books were being used in the church services by the 5th
century A.D., they were read only by those who held inferior
offices in the church (see: T.H. Horne, Critical Introduction
to the Holy Scriptures, Philadelphia: Whetham & Son,
1841, Vol. I, p. 436).
(6) The apocryphal books were
produced in an era when no inspired documents were being
given by God. Malachi concludes his narrative in the Old
Testament by urging Israel: “Remember ye the law of Moses
my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all
Israel, even statutes and ordinances.” He then projects
four centuries into the future and prophesied: “Behold,
I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and
terrible day of Jehovah come…” (Mal. 4:4-5). This text
pictured the coming of John the Baptist (cf. Mt. 11:14;
Lk. 1:17). The implication of Malachi’s prophecy is that
no prophet would arise from God until the coming of John.
This excludes the apocryphal writings.
Josephus confirms this when
“It is true, our history has
been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has
not been esteemed of the like authority with the former
by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact
succession of prophets since that time.”
He further says that no one “has
been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take
any thing from them, or to make any change in them . .
.” (Against Apion 1.8).
F.F. Bruce contended that there “is
no evidence that these books were ever regarded as canonical
by any Jews, whether inside or outside Palestine, whether
they read the Bible in Hebrew or in Greek” (The Books
and the Parchments, London: Pickering & Inglis,
1950, p. 157).
(7) Jesus Christ and His inspired
New Testament penmen quoted from, or alluded to, the writings
and events of the Old Testament profusely. In fact, some
1,000 quotations or allusions from thirty-five of the thirty-nine
Old Testament books are found in the New Testament record.
And yet, significantly, not once is any of these apocryphal
books quoted or even explicitly referred to by the Lord,
or by any New Testament writer. Noted scholar Emile Schurer
argued that this is really remarkable since most of the
New Testament habitually quoted from the LXX (Schaff-Herzog
Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, New York: Funk & Wagnalls,
1894, Vol. I, 99).
“Despite the fact that New
Testament writers quote largely from the Septuagint rather
than from the Hebrew Old Testament, there is not a single
clear-cut case of a citation from any of the fourteen apocryphal
books . . . . The most that can be said is that the New
Testament writers show acquaintance with these fourteen
books and perhaps allude to them indirectly, but in no
case do they quote them as inspired Scripture or cite them
as authority” (Merrill F. Unger, Introductory Guide
to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951,
(8) Finally, it must be observed
that the apocryphal books, unlike the canonical books of
the Old Testament, make no direct claims of being inspired
of God. Not once is there a, “thus says the Lord,” or language
like, “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying.” In fact,
some of the documents actually confess non-inspiration!
In the Prologue of Ecclesiasticus, the writer states:
“Ye are intreated therefore
to read with favour and attention, and to pardon us, if
in any parts of what we have laboured to interpret, we
may seem to fail in some of the phrases” (The Apocrypha, New
York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1894).
(9) Too, there is the matter
of literary style. Dr. Raymond Surburg has written:
“When a comparison is instituted
of the style of the Apocrypha with the style of the Biblical
Hebrew Old Testament writings, there is a considerable
inferiority, shown by the stiffness, lack of originality
and artificiality of expression characterizing the apocryphal
books” (The Christian News, November 24, 1980, p.
The Apocrypha contains a great
variety of historical, geographical, chronological, and
moral errors. Professor William Green of Princeton wrote: “The
books of Tobit and Judith abound in geographical, chronological,
and historical mistakes…” (General Introduction to the
Old Testament, New York: Scribner’s & Sons, 1899,
p. 195). A critical study of the Apocrypha’s contents clearly
reveals that it could not be the product of the Spirit
of God. The following examples are ample evidence of this:
(1) Rather than the creation
being spoken into existence from nothing by the word of
Almighty God, as affirmed in the Scriptures (Gen. 1:1;
Psa. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3), the Apocrypha has God creating
the world out of “formless matter” (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17).
(2) According to the prophet
Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar burned Jerusalem on the tenth
day, fifth month, or the nineteenth year of his reign (Jer.
52:12-13). Subsequent to this, both the prophet and his
scribe, Baruch, were taken into Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7). According
to the Apocrypha, however, at this very time Baruch was
in Babylon (Baruch 1:1-2).
(3) There are two contradictory
accounts of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, that dreaded
enemy of the Jews. One narrative records that Antiochus
and his company were “cut to pieces in the temple of Nanaea
by the treachery of Nanaea’s priests” (2 Maccabees 1:13-16),
while another version in the same book states that Antiochus
was “taken with a noisome sickness” and so “ended his life
among the mountains by a most piteous fate in a strange
land” (2 Maccabees 9:19-29).
(4) Tobit is said to have lived
158 years (14:11), yet, supposedly, he was alive back when
Jeroboam revolted against Jerusalem (931 B.C.), and then
still around when the Assyrians invaded Israel (722/21
B.C.) – a span of some 210 years (Tobit 1:3-5)!
(5) The Apocrypha teaches the
erroneous doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul, suggesting
that the kind of body one now has is determined by the
character of his soul in a previous life. “Now I was a
goodly child, and a good soul fell to my lot; Nay rather,
being good, I came into a body undefiled” (Wisdom of Solomon
8:19-20). The foregoing was a common belief among heathen
peoples, but certainly it is contrary to the biblical view
that the soul of man is formed with him at conception (Psa.
139:13-16; Zech. 12:1).
(6) The Apocrypha teaches that
prayer may be made for the dead. “Wherefore he made the
propitiation for them that had died, that they might be
released from their sins” (2 Maccabees 12:45). Roman Catholics
cite this passage to find support for their dogma of praying
for the dead to be released from purgatory (obviously there’s
no New Testament passage to buttress the notion), but the
effort is vain.
(7) The Apocrypha suggests
that one may atone for his sins by the giving of alms. “It
is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms doth deliver
from death, and it shall purge away all sin” (Tobit 12:9).
The moral tone of the Apocrypha
is far below that of the Bible. Note some examples:
(1) It applauds suicide as
a noble and manful act. Second Maccabees tells of one Razis
who, being surrounded by the enemy, fell upon his sword,
choosing “rather to die nobly” than to fall into the hands
of his enemy. He was not mortally wounded, however, and
so threw himself down from a wall and “manfully” died among
the crowds (14:41-43).
(2) It describes magical potions
which are alleged to drive demons away (Tobit 6:1-17).
(3) The murder of the men of
Shechem (Gen. 34), an act of violence which is condemned
in the Scriptures (cf. Gen. 49:6-7), is commended and is
described as an act of God (Judith 9:2-9).
These, along with various other
considerations, lead only to the conclusion that the Apocrypha
cannot be included in the volume of sacred Scripture.
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