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The Apocrypha

Apocrypha is the name for 14 books written between about 200BC and AD100. Apocrypha, meaning “hidden” or “secret”, refers to the mysterious nature of their origin. Neither their authors nor the circumstances of their writings are known. Neither the Jews nor the early Christians accepted them as inspired scripture. The books themselves do not claim inspiration. There are no “Thus saith the Lord’s”. Although the New Testament has 263 direct quotations from and 370 allusions to the Old Testament, there is not a single reference to the books of the Apocrypha. It was at the Council of Trent, on April 8th, 1546, that the pope declared tradition and the Apocrypha to be canonical and authoritative. These books teach several false doctrines and contain many inaccurate historical facts.

The fourteen Apocryphal books are:

  1. I Esdras (9 chapters) History of Israel from Josiah to the return from captivity.
  2. II Esdras (16 chapters) A book of seven prophetic visions supposedly written by Ezra (5:1-10; 7:26-32; 15:33-36).
  3. Tobit (14 chapters) A religious fantasy where Tobits son Tobias marries a widow who was married seven times yet was still a virgin having all her husbands killed by the demon Asmodeas (3:7-10).  Tobias dispels the demon through an exorcism (6:1-7; 8:1-3).
  4. Judith (16 chapters) Jewish widow disguises herself as a traitor to her people, gets an Assyrian general drunk and saves her people by chopping off his head and hanging it on the city wall.
  5. Additions to Esther (7 chapters) Visions, letters and prayers meant to bring the mention of God to the book of Esther (10:4).
  6. Wisdom of Solomon (19 chapters) A book of ethics commending wisdom.
  7. Ecclesiasticus (51 chapters) A work of general morality and practical godliness modeled after Proverbs.
  8. Baruch (6 chapters) Prayers and confessions of the Jews in exile.
  9. Song of the Three Holy Children (1 chapter) An addition to Daniel 3.
  10. History of Susanna (1 chapter) Added as the 13th chapter of Daniel.  In it, Daniel uses his wisdom to free a woman falsely accused of adultery.
  11. Bel and the Dragon (1 chapter) Another addition to Daniel telling how Daniel destroys two Babylonian idols.
  12. The Prayer of Manasseh (1 chapter) Supposed prayer of II Chronicles 33:18-19.
  13. I Maccabees (16 chapters) Credible history covering 40 years (175-135BC) from the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of Simon Maccabees.
  14. II Maccabees (15 chapters) Fanciful history covering same period as I Maccabees (2:1-6; 3:23-27; 5:1-4).

Roman Catholic editions of the Bible include the Apocryphal books within the Old Testament. They are mingled in with the true books of scripture. However, the English Protestants changed this practice beginning in the sixteenth century. The English translation by Myles Coverdale (1535) was the first Bible to separate the Apocryphal books from the text of the Old Testament. He explained his approach to these books in an appendix which states in part:

“These books (good reader) which be called Apocrypha, are not judged among the doctors to be of like reputation with the other scripture…And the chief cause thereof is this: there be many places in them, that seem to be repugnant unto the open and manifest truth in the other books of the Bible.”

The Geneva Bible appeared in 1560. It described the Apocrypha as “books which were not received by a common consent to be read and expounded publicly in the Church, neither yet served to prove any point of Christian religion save in so much as they had the consent of other scriptures called canonical to confirm the same.”

Yet, both the Coverdale Bible and the Geneva Bible had the Apocrypha. Why? They considered them of some value for historical and practical instruction. But there were practical reasons as well. These books had been considered scripture by those who were in the Catholic Church. Instead of removing them immediately, they removed them from the text of scripture first. Then, with time, the books began to be taken out entirely. Some copies of the Geneva Bible removed the Apocrypha by 1599. Early copies of the King James Bible did so as well.

Even the “Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion” which established the doctrinal position of the Church of England and was agreed on in 1562 denied the doctrinal authority of the apocryphal books. Men were not to “apply them to establish any doctrine.” King James himself said in his Basilikon Doron: “As to the Apocriphe bookes, I omit them because I am no Papist (as I said before) & indeed some of them are as like the dietement of the Spirit of God, as an Egg is to an Oyster.”

The title page of the King James Bible states: “The Holy Bible Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New.” Notice that the Holy Bible is contained in the Old and New Testaments. Yet, the Apocrypha was distinct and separate from both the Old and the New Testament. The truth is they were never considered a part of the Holy Bible. They were probably included for traditional reasons, but the translators did not allow tradition to sway their knowledge of true doctrine. They knew and made it clear that the Apocrypha was not scripture.

With time, as people got used to not having the Apocrypha, it began to be removed from more and more copies of the King James Bible until very few retain it today. After all, why have books that everyone knows are not scripture within the covers of the Holy Bible? In 1646, the Westminster Confession of Faith stated: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

Information taken from In the Beginning by Alister McGrath (2001) and The English Bible by F. F. Bruce (1961).