What Is the Apocrypha?

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What is the Apocrypha? Why is the Protestant Bible shorter than the Catholic Bible? Should these books be considered inspired by God?

The Apocrypha, which comes from the Greek word meaning “hidden,” is a list of some 13 books written after Malachi and before the New Testament. They are fascinating books about the history and beliefs of intertestamental Judaism. For example, they contain a more developed doctrine of angels and highlight the significance of alms-giving for securing salvation. For parallels between New Testament teaching and the Apocrypha, compare Eph. 6:13-17 with Wis. Sol. 5:17-20 and Heb. 11 and Sir. 44 (view an online source here).

The Greek Bible—or the Septuagint—that Paul and other apostles had probably included the Apocrypha. By 90 AD and definitely into the second century, Jewish and Christian leaders decided not to include them in their official list of an accepted canon. By the time of the Reformation, Christian scholars rejected the Apocrypha as a source of doctrine. It’s safe to say that it is illuminating to read apocryphal books but Christians should not draw doctrine or theology from them.

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Dr. William D. Mounce is a scholar of New Testament Greek and president of BiblicalTraining.org He has written numerous books, including Greek textbooks which are used widely by college and seminary students.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have to chime in here, even though I like Bill personally. First, at 1:13 and 1:34 Bill says “and they weren’t written in Hebrew.” Well, no. Wisdom of Ben Sira, the longest of the Apocrypha, was certainly written in Hebrew, as his grandson says as much in the prologue (the grandson did translate it into Greek, but Hebrew mss. have been found at Qumran and Masada). Tobit was written either in Hebrew or Aramaic; again, fragments in both languages were found at Qumran. It seems highly likely that Judith, Psalm 151, and Prayer of Manasseh were composed in Hebrew as well. Some of the additions to Daniel and the additions to Esther could have been composed in Hebrew prior to the translation of an expanded Daniel or Esther into Greek. (Wisdom of Solomon, 2-4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras were all likely composed in Greek; there’s some uncertainty in other cases).

    At 1:48, Bill falls into the trap of supposing that the “Septuagint” of the first century was fatter than the Hebrew canon (and, of course, there’s the anachronistic notion that “Paul carried around this Greek Bible” at 1:50 — rather, at best a few scrolls and parchments of “must have” books within the canon). The only extracanonical book on which the rabbis made any comment was Ben Sira; there doesn’t seem to have been any perceived need even to address the question of other books, let alone the idea of a fatter Greek Old Testament with which they were confronted (re: 2:38).

    At 3:18, Bill seriously misrepresents Luther’s point of view, that “he really didn’t like the OT Apocrypha.” What Luther himself says in his preface to the Apocrypha is that “These are books that, though not esteemed like the holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.” I wouldn’t mind having THAT on the back cover of any of my own books! 🙂 In his preface to the Wisdom of Solomon, Luther writes: “There are many good things in it, and it is well worth reading. . . .This book is a good exposition and example of the first commandment, . . . and that is the main reason why this book is to be read, so that one may learn to fear and trust God, so that he may help us by his grace.” Similarly, he commends the reading of 1 Maccabees with high praise: “Its words and discourses are almost as enlightening as those of the other books of holy Scripture. And it would not have been wrong to count it as such, because it is a very necessary and useful book, as witness the prophet Daniel in the 11th chapter. For this reason, it is useful for us Christians also to read and know it.”

    If he didn’t want to have the Apocrypha “in his Bible” (3:55), it is more than strange that Luther went through the trouble of translating them all (not easy work!) and printing them between the testaments. Bill speaks of this as if it were part of a master plan to get the Apocrypha to drop out of sight in a century, but I believe, given Luther’s commendations of these books, that he would personally have lamented this outcome.

    4:40: It appears that the Council of Trent merely ratified an earlier but lesser-known ruling at the Council of Florence in 1442, so the claim that “even the Catholic Church had not come out with an official statement” before Trent seems highly suspect. Plus, Trent happened in 1546, not a CENTURY after Luther printed his Bible with the Apocrypha as a middle section (perhaps thirty years at most).

    Bill three times speaks of the “questionable theology” of the Apocrypha, but does not once speak of the solid theology that pervades the majority of it. There’s some bias there — but I’m mainly interested in pointing out the errors here, not the bias. (I’m biased IN FAVOR of the Apocrypha as required non-canonical reading for all Christians!) If the best one can say of the Apocrypha is that “Some of it’s interesting, well… it’s interesting” (5:02-5:014) one is not speaking from Luther’s camp!

    I’m a bit dismayed by this presentation; I would have expected better both from Bill and from Seedbed.

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