Friday, February 27, 2015

P16 Why the Bible has 66 books: Defining and understanding the Apocrypha

Revelation 22:18 "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book"

Introduction and review
Yesterday we considered the history of the canon of scripture and aimed to answer the question why the Bible has only 66 books. The main focus was more on the New Testament than the Old Testament. In today's post we want to consider a set of books that were originally written by the Jews in between the Old and New Testament eras called "The Apocrypha". As will be explained in a moment, much confusion and differences of opinion have ranged throughout the history of these books. To make it as simple as possible, though the "Apocrypha" were respected, they were never considered inspired books of the Old Testament nor considered part of the overall canon of scripture until relatively recently in church history. Today in our continuing series: "Why the Bible", we want to take a closer look at these 14 books called "The Apocrypha".

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 the ending of Malachi and beginning of Matthew, history saw the rise and fall of four major world empires: Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  During that period, the Jews wrote 15 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 an edition of the Roman Catholic Bible (Douay-Rheims, New American Bible) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  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)

15. Letter of Jeremiah (normally attached as "chapter six" in the Book of Baruch, #13 above). 

Evaluating the value and place of the Apocrypha
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. In terms of understanding what went on between the testaments, the Apocrypha can provide some valuable insights into Jewish beliefs and history. 

As a collection, these 14 books were never regarded by the Jews as equal or inspired to the Old Testament Books.   Whenever one turns to a copy of the Hebrew Bible, none of the Apocrypha will be found. Even though we do see these books in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint), even then the Apocrypha never enjoyed the same level of status as the 39 Old Testament books we find in our English Bibles. In as much as the Apocrypha may had been respected and seen as valuable, they were never considered sacred scripture. 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 Apocrypha, though respected, yet were never originally acknowledged by the Jews and the first few centuries of the 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. 

As already mentioned, 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 world's first Bible translation included the Apocrypha due to their popular use
As the Jewish people came to speak the Greek language in the time between the testaments, the need arose for 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 (people 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. It would not be until nearly 400 years into the history of the church that the opinion toward the Apocrypha began to shift. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter Elwell, notes the following about the Apocrypha:

"How did the Apocrypha secure a place in some of the English Bibles? The Jews uniformly denied canonical status to these books, and so they were not found in the Hebrew Bible; but the manuscripts of the Septuagint include them as an addendum to the canonical OT. In the second century A.D., the first Latin Bibles were translated from the Greek Bible and so included the Apocrypha. Jerome's Vulgate distinguished the books of the church (i.e the Apocrphya) from the books of the Canon (i.e our familiar 66 books), with the result that the Apocrypha were accorded secondary status. At the council of Carthage (397), however, which Augustine attended, it was decided to accept the Apocrypha, accepting 1-2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses, as having unqualified canonical status."  

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.  A few in the church of the Middle Ages tried to push for Apocrypha as being on par with the canonical 66 books, however that decision by the Roman Catholic Church would not become official Church Doctrine until the 16th century (see below). The Roman 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), Martin Luther and others were calling for spiritual, moral and doctrinal reform in the Roman Catholic church.  In partial response to the Reformation movement, the Roman Catholic Church needed a way to defend doctrines that it knew were not in the Bible.  Since they already had been using the Apocrypha, the church convened a series of meetings called collectively "The Council of Trent" from 1545-1563. Among the many subjects discussed, the choice was made to adopt the Apocrypha officially as on equal par with the canonical 66 books of the Bible. Even in modern day editions of Roman Catholic Bibles, these books will be called "Deutero-canonical", meaning "second canon". The Roman Catholic Church as a rule does not term these books "Apocrypha", since they are accorded by them with equal status as the other 66 books.

Why the Apocrypha are not included in many Modern Non-Catholic English Bibles
After the Council of Trent was done, events transpired that led to the Church in England breaking away from the Roman 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 1611 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. 

Pro's and con's about the Apocrypha
So how is the Bible believing Christian to regard the Apocrypha? To be as fair as possible, 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.  With that said, we must note at this point that even the authors of the Apocryphal books did not view their works as inspired scripture. For example, 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.  

The theology of the Apocrypha is in some places contrary to revealed scripture. For instance, in one of the books called "Tobit", salvation by works is clearly taught. Though there maybe some valuable historical and even at times devotional insight, yet the Apocrypha as a collection are uneven in their usefulness, and must be used with caution if they are consulted.  

Final thoughts: Focus on the 66 books revealed by God
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. As we have labored again and again in this series of posts, only the 66 books of the Bible are revealed by God, and thus profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) 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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