Truth about the Apocrypha


      The books which comprise our Bible, sixty-six in number, from Genesis through Revelation, have been subjected to every internal and external test imaginable. Their authenticity and canonicity have been reliably established. There are other books, however, which some believe should be considered part of the Bible. These books are called the Apocrypha. The word "apocrypha" is of Greek origin, actually being simply a transliteration of the original Greek word. "Apocrypha" is used in Mark 4: 22 and is commonly translated "secret." The evolution of the word "apocrypha" simply meaning secret or hidden to how it is commonly used today is of interest and provides a look at the climate that fostered the "apocrypha books." It appears that in the beginning, "apocrypha" was a term used to designate religious books that were circulating among the inner circle of a group and were kept hidden from the public because people at large rejected the authority of these books. There was the thinking that these books contained information that was esoteric and only for special ones; hence, the evolved term "apocrypha" evoked the mysterious and clandestine.

     The apocryphal books. In the main, when the Apocrypha is mentioned the fourteen or fifteen books of the "Old Testament" are meant. However, there are other writings that are known as the New Testament apocrypha. Apocrypha also can have reference to a book whose origin was doubtful or unknown. The "Old Testament apocrypha" are believed to have been written during the period of 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Some of perhaps the better known are "The Wisdom of Solomon," The Additions to the Book of Esther," and "The First and Second Maccabees." The "Catholic Bible" often has twelve of these apocryphal books interspersed among and attached to the undisputed thirty-nine books of the Hebrew scriptures, I understand.

     Involved in a study of the apocrypha is the matter of canonicity. The term "canon" is from the Greek word kanon. Kanon, based on its derivation means a rod or measuring device and came to mean a norm or rule. Canon came to be used to denote the recognized books of sacred writings and was thus used in the fourth century. The act, fact, and science of canonicity or canonizing is a fascinating study (the terms apocrypha and canonicity are basically antithetical and opposite in meaning, climate, and concept).

     The history of the Hebrews does not provide us with real insight as to their process of canonicity or how they determined the authenticity of a book considered as scripture. It is evident, however, that they did have "an act" that so recognized and declared a book as sacred (2 Kgs. 22: 8). One reason we do not have much insight as to the science of canonicity during the time of the writing and acceptance of the thirty-nine Hebrew books that comprise what man calls the "Old Testament" is because there really was no need. I say this because of the strict practices of the Jews relative to the writings of those men such as Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc. whose inspiration was established. The writings were carefully protected and greatly valued (cp. Deut. 31: 9, 24-26, I Kgs. 8: 9). Copies of the original writings were made in the most controlled atmosphere possible and imaginable (cp. Prov. 25: 1). There were no translations, as such, until about 270 B. C.; hence, corruption from translation was non-existent.

     Analysis and "canonicity" determination relative to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament involved both internal and external considerations. The authorship, style of writing, general content, and the extant view of the book by contemporaries were all considerations used in pronouncing a New Testament book as part of the sacred canon. A New Testament book could also be used to verify the canonicity of a Hebrew book, once the authenticity of the New Testament was clearly established. For instance, about thirty-one of the Hebrew books are quoted and acknowledged by New Testament writers (the fact that eight out of the 39 are not quoted does not mean they are non-canonical).

     Just as was the case with the thirty-nine Hebrew books found in our Bibles, the New Testament books were known by their contemporaries as bearing the vestiges of inspiration (2 Pet. 1: 21; 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). In about the year A. D. 90, the Jewish Council of Jamnia ruled though a process of debate, examination, and canonicity that the Hebrew canon should consist of the thirty-nine books commonly found in such translations as the King James (Answers to Tough Questions, by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, pg. 37). In 327 A. D., Athanasius of Alexandria published a list of twenty-seven New Testament books that were recognized in his day as authentic (How we got the Bible, by Neil Lightfoot, pg. 85). These are the same twenty-seven books as are found in our standard New Testaments today. These sixty-six books commonly comprising our Bibles all had the requisite recognition by those who were in a position to really know as to the acceptance of the claims of these books. For instance, Paul wrote:

     "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Cor. 14: 37). (The apocrypha, by contrast, make more of a claim of simply being history books rather than being inspired of God, cp. II Maccabees 2: 23, 15: 38.)

     Arguments in favor of the apocrypha. First, it might come as a surprise but the Catholic Church that is so instrumental in presenting the apocrypha books as part of the sacred canon did not so recognize these apocrypha books until about fifteen hundred years removed from the First Century. It was in the Council of Trent, 1545-1563 A.D. that the Roman Catholic Church declared the apocrypha as canonical, as far as the Catholic Church was concerned.

     There have been many arguments advanced in favor of the apocrypha. The first and foremost of which is based on the first translation made of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint, translated into Greek in about 270 B. C. More of the extant apocrypha books began to be added to the Septuagint as time progressed, that is, to some of the copies of the Septuagint. Since Jesus and New Testament writers often quoted from the Septuagint when quoting Hebrew scriptures (some say that 300 out of the 350 quotations of Hebrew scriptures by Jesus are from the Septuagint), we are told that such a fact proves that the apocrypha books are to be accepted as part of the Bible today. We have noticed that just about all the Hebrew books are referenced by New Testament writers; however, while Jesus and the New Testament writers often quoted from the books of the "Old Testament," even from the Septuagint that had some versions containing apocrypha books, they never once quoted from the apocrypha books.

     In attempting to validate the apocrypha, it is stated that the "Church fathers" referenced the apocrypha books. It is true that Iranaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria recognized the apocrypha, as did the Syriac Church in the fourth century. Augustine, who presided over the Councils at Hippo and Carthage reportedly also held these books as inspired. Later, though, Augustine is said to have rejected these books as outside the canon and inferior to the Hebrew scriptures. Also, just as many leading men in the time period rejected the apocrypha and claimed that they were spurious, such leaders as Origen and Jerome. The mentioned Syriac Church waited until the fourth century A. D. to officially accept the apocrypha. It is significant that the Peshitta, the Syriac Bible of the second century A. D., did not contain them. The Jewish community, in the main, rejected the apocrypha as seen by the fact that the Council of Jamnia (ca. A. D. 90) recognized the sacred Hebrew canon as we have it today, without the apocrypha. Again, it was not until the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church, the big promoter of the apocrypha today, declared the apocrypha as scripture (1545-1563 A. D.).

     One of the main and, I believe, most conclusive arguments against the acceptance of the apocrypha is, again, the fact that not one reference is made to these books by an inspired writer of the New Testament. It is also of interest that the prolific writer and Jewish historian Josephus who also frequently quoted the Hebrews books, did not reference the apocrypha (Josephus lived during the first century).

     Beloved, the sixty-six books found in standard translations (such as the King James, American Standard, etc.) have the stamp of antiquity, authenticity, and canonicity. These books have stood the test and scrutiny of time. These books are profitable because they constitute scripture (see 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). While the apocrypha is of help in providing some historic information during the time called the "the period between the Testaments," (ca. 400 B. C. - 01 A. D), these books are not inspired and should not be considered part of the sacred text, the Bible.   (Be sure to study the material in Bible Truths regarding the inception and production of the Bible.  Go to the Archives page, click on the below "back" hyperlink,  and click on "The Bible" in the Subject Index box.)  (For more study and information, please see, "An Exchange on the Apocrypha")