Saturday, January 14, 2012

What are Apocrypha and why they are not scripture?

What are the Apocrypha?
When Malachi penned his book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, 400 years passed until God would once again speak a word to men like Matthew to pen inspired scripture.  In between Malachi and Matthew history saw the rise and fall of four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  During that period, the Jews wrote 14 non-inspired books of history and devotional reflection that are referred to today as "The Apocrypha".  The word "Apocrypha" means "that which is hidden" or "concealed".  You have perhaps heard about them or have seen them in a Catholic Bible.  For reference sake, the Apocrypha are as follows:
1. 1st Esdras
2. 2nd Esdras 
3. Tobit (a fictional account of a Jewish man by the name of Tobit)
4. Judith (an alledged addition to the Book of Daniel)
5. Bel and the Dragon (an alleged addition to the Book of Daniel)
6. The Song of the Three Holy Children (an alleged addtion to the Book of Daniel)
7. Additions to Esther (supposed extra verses for the biblical book of Esther)
8. Susanna
9. 1 Macabbees (historical record of the Jewish opposition to Rome)
10. 2 Macabbees (reflections on Jewish opposition to Rome)
11. Prayer of Mannasseh (supposed prayer of repentance prayed by the biblical King Mannasseh)
12. Wisdom of Solomon (also called Sirach)
13. Book of Baruch (an alledged addition to Jeremiah)
14. Ecclesiasticus (a Jewish Philsophical work trying to prove the Jewish faith from reason)

Just as you would walk into a book store and find many non-inspired books reflecting on the contents of scripture or giving a history of the church, the Apocrypha functioned in much the same way for the Jewish people.  Though written by the Jewish people, these 14 books were never accepted as equal or inspired to the Old Testament Books stretching from Genesis to Malachi.  As one reviews the history of these 14 books, it is evident as to why they cannot be deemed as inspired scripture like the 66 books of the Bible.

How did the Apocrypha end up in some Bibles?
The world's first Bible translation included the Apocrypha due to their popular use
As the Jewish people came to speak the Greek language, the time came for the need of a Greek translation of the Old Testament.  The project of translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek occured from 275 b.c up until almost the time when Jesus came on the scene.   The Hebrew Bible continued to be copied and interpreted by the Jewish Rabbi's (Teachers) and Scribes (guys who hand-copy manuscripts), however the vast majority of the Jewish world came to use the Septuagint.  The Apocrypha, though not being recognized as inspired scripture, were included in the Greek Old Testament due to their wide use by the Jews.  This version of the Old Testament was used by the Early Church, since most of it spoke Greek.  Think of our English Bibles that have study notes, maps and Topical indexes.  Though not inspired, they have been found to be of wide use among God's people.

The Apocrypha were never acknowledged by the Jews and Early Church as inspired scripture
Jewish Historians such as Josephus in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" and the Greek speaking Jew "Philo" both refer to the Old Testament in their writings.  Josephus in particular writes about how the Old Testament books were recognized, accepted and in full use before the close of the Old Testament.  In his work, there are listed the documents of the Old Testament that are found in our English Bibles. Interestingly Josephus does not mention the apocrypha, reflecting the widely held Jewish view of the non-inspired nature of the Apocrypha. 

The early church also had this same general opinion.  Documents such as the Muritorian Canon (composed over 100 years after the death of the Apostles) and the work "The History of the Church" by the church father "Eusebius" (written in the 300's A.D) mention the books of the Old and New Testament as being inspired.  Yet the Apocrypha are not included in those lists.  The reason why the church came to this conclusion is mainly because we never see the Apocrypha quoted as scripture by the Apostles in the New Testament. 

The Roman Catholic Church's continued use and gradual elevation of the Apocrypha
By the 400's A.D the church in the Western Roman Empire was speaking more Latin and less Greek.  A man by the name of Jerome translated the Old and New Testament into the Latin Version known as the Vulgate.  It would be this Bible that would be used by the Roman Catholic Church for the next 1,000 years.  Though Jerome in his writings never acknowledged the Apocrypha as inspired, they were included in his version due to their wide use.  The Catholic Church would gradually come to value the Apocrypha more and more over the centuries as it saw the need to justify some of its beliefs not taught in the inspired books of the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church deems the Apocrypha as equal to scripture in the 1500's
By the days of the sixteenth century (1500's), the Roman Catholic Church was in need of reform, both theologically and morally.  In partial response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church needed a way of supporting its doctrines that it knew were not in the Bible.  Since they already had been using the Apocrypha, the church convened a meeting, The Council of Trent, in the 1500's.  It was at that council that the Roman Catholic church declared the Apocrypha to be "equal" to scripture, a "second canon". 

For over 1500 years the testimony of the early church and the Jews was that the Apocrypha, though useful in some sense, were not inspired.  Yet The Roman Catholic Church ignored that testimony. To this day, in Roman Catholic Bibles, you will find the Apocrypha being referred to as "The Deutro-canonical" books, which simply mean that they are regarded as scripture (by the Roman Catholic Church).

Why the Apocrypha are not included in many Modern Non-Catholic English Bibles
In the 1500's the Church in England broke away from the Catholic Church, under the leading of King Henry VIII.  The Church of England, known as the Anglican Church, retained the Apocrypha in the various English translations, including the King James Bible.  In all editions of the King James Bible, the Apocrypha were inserted in between Malachi and Matthew until the 1700's.  By influence of the Reformation, Christian leaders, especially in America, recognized the original position of the early Christians and Jews, and from the 1800's onward, no edition of the King James Bible included the Apocrypha.  

In 1881 English Scholars did the English translation known as the "Authorized Standard Version".  This version, as well as most English versions produced today (other than Catholic Bibles and the New Revised Standard Version), do not include the Apocrypha. 

Practical Considerations
So how is the Bible believing Christian to regard the Apocrypha?  Some of the books, such as 1 Macabbees,, are valuable historical records of what the Jews were dealing with between the Old and New Testaments.  1 Macabees 9:27 reminds us that there was no word from God in the times following Malachi, thus showing how the Apocryphal writers themselves viewed what they were doing - namely non-inspired work.  Other Apocryphal books, such as Tobit, teach salvation by works, and provide no value.   The Apocrypha as a collection are uneven in their usefulness, and must be cautiously approached or avoided all together.  

To know what is authoritative for living the Christian life is crucially important for growing in Christ.  1 Peter 2:1-2 reminds us to crave the pure milk of the word, so that we may grow in our faith.  Knowing which books are inspired is important, since only by the written Word of God can anyone be converted to saving faith and grow in Christ.  My prayer is that you, dear reader, have found today's blog helpful in understanding the value of knowing God's word, the 66 inspired books.

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