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In the 3rd century BC there was a large Jewish population living in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the great centers of Hellenistic culture.  Those Jews were the first to translate the Torah (the first 5 books of the OT — the Law of Moses) into Greek and it became known as the Septuagint (LXX).   Over time other books of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated and added, as well as a number of other texts which were not in the original Jewish Palestinian Canon.  These books were known as the “Apocrypha” and became interwoven with the 39 original books.  This “Alexandrian List” of texts and the Septuagint Greek translation is at the center of the controversy.

The Inter-Testamental Period (from 400 BC to Jesus Messiah)

The OT prophets record a continuous history of revelation from God for a thousand years, starting with Moses around 1450 BC and ending around 400 BC with Malachi.  Their writings are a continuous exposition of the Word of God bound together into one cohesive unit called the “Canon” (Gr: “standard”).  There are indications in Malachi 4:5 and Zechariah 13:2-5 that there would be prophetic silence after they wrote — until just before the coming of Messiah.  That is, there would be no true prophets in the intervening period.

The literature from this “inter-testamental” period confirms the prophetic silence.  The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community stated that they were looking for the “coming of a prophet” (The Manual of Discipline).  The book First Maccabees (1 Macc) says that the people were waiting “until a prophet should arise” (9:27; 14:41).  The Talmud, which is a rabbinic commentary on the laws of Moses, states, “After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.”  Josephus, a famed Jewish historian of the late 1st century confirmed the silence of the prophets after Malachi in Against Apion, 1.8, “the exact succession of the prophets ceased.”

The Apocrypha

The New American Bible (NAB) used by Roman Catholics lists 46 books in the Old Testament rather than the 39 books of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh), and Protestant Bibles (e.g. NASB, NIV).  These additional 7 books (Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch), as well as additions to Esther (10:4-16:24) and Daniel (3:24-90; 13; 14) were written for the most part in the Inter-Testamental period and are known as the Apocrypha.

The Jewish Old Testament canon was completed with Malachi about 400 BC.  It consisted of the 39 books in the Jewish Tanakh and the Protestant OT.  These Scriptures are identical as both are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text.  (There is only a variation in how they are categorized).

The Catholic OT is based on the Greek Alexandrian text (Septuagint) and adds in the Apocrypha based on the Alexandrian list.  The  Jews and Protestants reject these books as Scripture based on the Palestinian Canon.  The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church give the books “quasi-canonical” status. 

Is the Apocrypha inspired, i.e., “God-breathed?”

Today’s Catholic New American Bible (NAB) says in its introduction to 1 Maccabees, “The Book of Maccabees, though regarded by Jews and Protestants as apocryphal, i.e., not inspired Scripture, because not contained in the Palestinian Canon or list of books drawn up at the end of the first century A.D., have nevertheless always been accepted by the Catholic Church as inspired, on the basis of apostolic tradition.” 

There is no doubt as to the good value of the Apocrypha texts for historical and devotional use. But, Protestants do not accept the apocryphal texts as Scripture because:

  1. The Apocrypha does not meet the prophetic test.  It was written in the inter-testamental period when there were supposedly no prophets of God (1 Macc 9:27; 14:41).  It’s delivery was not accompanied by confirming OT signs and wonders which validated true prophets and condemned false prophets (Deu 13:1-5; 18:15-22).  And there was not a continuous acceptance of these texts as Scripture by the Jews (the people who were “entrusted with the oracles of God” – Rom 3:2).
  2. There are several errors of fact in the text, e.g. Judith 1:1 speaks of Nebuchadnezzar ruling from Nineveh rather than Babylon; and Tobit being alive when the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BC as well as when Jeroboam revolted against Judah in 931 BC.  The Bible, however, is inerrant.
  3. Several of the teachings are “sub-biblical” (e.g. Judith 9:10, 13); “fanciful” (Bel and the Dragon); and contain moral expediency (Sirach).  Some of the teaching is even “non-biblical” in that it is in conflict with what God has revealed elsewhere, e.g., prayers for the dead (2 Macc 12:45-46 vs. Heb 9:27, Luke 16:25-26; 2 Sam 12:19), and salvation by works (Tobit 12:9 vs. Gen 15:6; Rom 4:5; Gal 3:11).
  4. The Apocrypha itself never claimed to be Scripture.  Even though Jesus and the apostles frequently quote the OT from the Septuagint translation, they never quote apocryphal texts (they quote most every other book).  Jewish scholars of the first century AD, e.g. Philo, Josephus, and the Council of Jamnia, did not recognize the Apocrypha as Scripture.
  5. Many of the early Church Fathers spoke out against the Apocrypha, including the biblical scholar Jerome who was commissioned by the Pope to make an improved Latin version of the Bible (383 AD).  Jerome started with the Septuagint (Greek version) but soon became convinced that he must return to the original Hebrew text which did not contain the Apocrypha.  He said the Apocrypha was good, “for example of life and instruction of manners,” but the church should not “apply them to establish any doctrine.”  At first he even refused to translate the apocryphal books into the Latin Bible (Vulgate), but eventually did and after his death they were added to it. 

 

Martin Luther and the Reformers (16th century AD) rejected the canonicity of the Apocrypha as did many Roman Catholic scholars of the time.  It was not until the Council of Trent 1546 AD that the Apocrypha received full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church in an apparent counter-Reformation move.  They stated, “… if anyone receive not as sacred and canonical the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church … let him be anathema.”  Vatican I and II reaffirmed this position.

With or without the Apocrypha, however, all traditions believe that the Bible is the Word of God and when it speaks, God speaks!

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3 Comments

  1. This is a great historical background. Thank you for sharing. I have never read any of the books of the Apocrypha as they have never been included in the Bibles I’ve owned. I always wondered the back story on them.

  2. Hi Stuart,I am enjoying your new format. Pretty classy stuff! Thank you for your diligence in keeping us informed on theological and doctrinal issues as well as current ones. SM

  3. I love borderline Bible books like the Apocrypha… or the Didache (an instruction manual for early AD Christians)… or Esther (which almost didn’t make the cut because the name of God was never used even once in it)… or Jude (which draws heavily from the books of Enoch). Whether you think them Scripture or not, they provide such a such a fascinating insight into how people saw and experienced God. Worth a read (ok I haven’t read the Apocrypha yet, but the others I have)…
    Oh, and I must mention this about the Roman Catholic Church vs. Luther comment: during the 1500s, Luther’s camp was far from a united over matters of doctrine. Lutherans, Reformed Church Members, Anabaptists- to name a few- all sparred over their interpretation of Jesus and Christianity while all parading under the Protestant flag.
    It is amazing that even our differences are an integral part of God’s magnum opus, which we live out every day.


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