Is the Apocrypha inspired scripture?
The term apocrypha has several meanings. From its Greek root, it means hidden, or concealed. However, it also referred to a book whose origin was unknown. Over time, this term came to be used to describe any book that was non-canonical. Today, due to the apocryphal books included in the Catholic Bible, most Protestants understand this term to refer to those books in the Catholic Bible that are not in the Protestant Bible.
Since the Catholic church believes it is infallible, and since they state that the Council of Trent issued infallible decrees, and since at the Council of Trent the Catholic church “infallibly” declared the apocryphal books to be canonical (i.e., God breathed Scripture), it is worth looking at these books and the reasons why the Jews and Protestants do not include them in their OT canon.
At Trent (Session IV), the Catholic church explicitly named the books of both the OT and NT: “It [the Council] has thought it proper, moreover, to insert in this decree a list of the sacred books, lest a doubt might arise in the mind of someone as to which are the books received by this council.” Going even further, the Council of Trent pronounced that those who do not accept the apocryphal books as Scripture are accursed:
“If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.”
If one believes the Catholic church is infallible, then it would be very important to follow their decree so as not to be anathematized (i.e., accursed). As we examine the apocryphal books, however, we’ll see that the Catholic church is not only not infallible, they are in gross error to include the apocryphal books.
Before we examine these books, it’s important to point out how we received the apocryphal books. The original OT canon was Jewish, and contained the twenty two books (the same thirty nine in today’s Protestant Bible). This canon was known as the Palestinian canon. When the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) in Alexandria, Egypt, included in the canon were fifteen books known as the Apocrypha. These were likely included due to the tradition of many churches viewing these books as “useful”, but not canonical, as we will see. It should also be noted that not all of these books were accepted by the Council of Trent. Per Vlach:
“Of the fifteen books mentioned in the Alexandrian list, twelve were accepted and incorporated into the Roman Catholic Bible. Only 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh were not included. Though twelve of these works are included in the Catholic Douay Bible, only seven additional books are listed in the table of contents. The reason is that Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah were combined into one book; the additions of Esther were added to the book of Esther; the Prayer of Azariah was inserted between the Hebrew Daniel 3:23 and 24; Susanna was placed at the end of the book of Daniel (ch. 13); and Bel and the Dragon was attached to Daniel as chapter 14.”
Vlach also provides a very useful summary of each of these fifteen books, as shown below.
1. The First Book of Esdras (150—100 B.C.) (not included in Catholic Bible) – This work begins with a description of the Passover celebration under King Josiah and relates Jewish history down to the reading of the Law in the time of Ezra. It reproduces with little change 2 Chronicles 35:1—36:21, the book of Ezra and Nehemiah 7:73—8:13a. It also includes the story of three young men, in the court of Darius, who held a contest to determine the strongest thing in the world. 1 Esdras has legendary accounts which cannot be supported by Ezra, Nehemiah or 2 Chronicles.
2. The Second Book of Esdras (c. A.D. 100) (not included in Catholic Bible) Differs from the other fifteen books in that it is an apocalypse. It has seven revelations (3:1—14:48) in which the prophet is instructed by the angel Uriel concerning the great mysteries of the moral world. It reflects the Jewish despair following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
3. Tobit (c. 200—150 B.C.) The Book of Tobit describes the doings of Tobit, a man from the tribe of Naphtali, who was exiled to Ninevah where he zealously continued to observe the Mosaic Law. This book is known for its sound moral teaching and promotion of Jewish piety. It is also known for its mysticism and promotion of astrology and the teaching of Zoroastrianism (The Bible Almanac, eds. Packer, Tenney and White, p. 501).
4. Judith (c. 150 B.C.) Judith is a fictitious story of a Jewish woman who delivers her people. It reflects the patriotic mood and religious devotion of the Jews after the Maccabean rebellion.
5. The Additions to the Book of Esther (140-130 B.C.) 107 verses added to the book of Esther that were lacking in the original Hebrew form of the book.
6. The Wisdom of Solomon (c. 30 B.C.) This work was composed in Greek by an Alexandrian Jew who impersonated King Solomon.
7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach (c. 180 B.C.) This book is the longest and one of the most highly esteemed of the apocryphal books. The author was a Jewish sage named Joshua (Jesus, in Greek) who taught young men at an academy in Jerusalem. Around 180 B.C. he turned his classroom lectures into two books. This work contains numerous maxims formulated in about 1,600 couplets and grouped according to topic (marriage, wealth, the law, etc.).
8. Baruch (c. 150-50 B.C.) This book claims to have been written in Babylon by a companion and recorder of Jeremiah (Jer. 32:12; 36:4). It is mostly a collection of sentences from Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah and Job. Most scholars are agreed that it is a composite work put together by two or more authors around the first century B.C.
9. The Letter of Jeremiah (c. 300-100 B.C.) This letter claims to be written by the prophet Jeremiah at the time of the deportation to Babylon. In it he warns the people about idolatry.
10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men (2nd— 1st century B.C.) This section is introduced to Daniel in the Catholic Bible after Daniel 3:23 and supposedly gives more details of the fiery furnace incident.
11. Susanna (Daniel 13 in the Catholic Bible) (2nd — 1st century B.C.) In this account, Daniel comes to the rescue of the virtuous Susanna who was wrongly accused of adultery.
12. Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14 in the Catholic Bible) (c. 100 B.C.) Bel and the Dragon is made up of two stories. The first (vv. 1-22) tells of a great statue of Bel (the Babylonian god Marduk). Supposedly this statue of Bel would eat large quantities of food showing that he was a living god who deserved worship. Daniel, though, proved it was the priests of Bel who were eating the food. As a result, the king put the priests to death and allowed Daniel to destroy Bel and its temple. In the second story (vv. 23-42), Daniel, in defiance of the king, refuses to worship a great dragon. Daniel, instead, asks permission to slay the dragon without “sword or club” (v. 26). Given permission, Daniel feeds the dragon lumps of indigestible pitch, fat and hair so that the dragon bursts open (v. 27).
13. The Prayer of Manasseh (2nd or 1st century B.C.) (Not in Catholic Bible) This work is a short penitential psalm written by someone who read in 2 Chronicles 33:11-19 that Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah, composed a prayer asking God’s forgiveness for his many sins.
14. The First Book of the Maccabees (c. 110 B.C.) “The First Book of Maccabees is a generally reliable historical account of the fortunes of Jewish people between 175 and 134 B.C., relating particularly to their struggle with Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his successors. . . . The name of the author, a patriotic Jew at Jerusalem is unknown” (Metzger, p. 169). The book derives its name from Maccabeus, the surname of a Jew who led the Jews in revolt against Syrian oppression.
15. The Second Book of the Maccabees (c. 110-70 B.C.) This book is not a continuation of 1 Maccabees but an independent work partially covering the period of 175-161 B.C. This book is not as historically reliable as 1 Maccabees.
Why Christians Reject the Apocrypha
Why do Christians reject the Apocryphal books as canonical? There are at least eight good reasons why Christians reject the apocryphal books as being included in the OT canon. These include history and evidence from some of the books themselves.
First, no apocryphal books were written by a prophet. All of the OT Scriptures were written by prophets, while none of the apocryphal books were; therefore, the apocryphal books are not canonical. Scripture attests to this view in that the OT is referred to as the Scriptures of the prophets. Specific references include (with emphases added):
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
But now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; (Romans 16:26)
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old. (Luke 1:70)
But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” (Luke
Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the
things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in
many ways (Hebrews 1:1)
More Scripture could be quoted, but clearly, the prophets are equivalent to the OT, as God spoke His word solely through prophets. Furthermore, it is generally agreed (especially among the Jews) that Malachi was the last prophet before John the Baptist. Yet most of the writers of the apocrypha lived after Malachi. In addition, the apocrypha was not written in Hebrew as was all of the OT (most were written in Greek). If inspired, it would only make sense that the writers would write in the language of Israel.
Second, the apocryphal books were not accepted by the Jews as part of the OT. If these books were part of the canonical OT, then surely Jesus would have criticized the Jews for excluding them from Scripture, yet He never does.
Third, Jesus and the apostles never quote from the apocryphal books. The OT testifies of Christ, and He gives testimony to the validity of the OT by quoting from many of its books. The apostles, likewise, quote from the OT. Yet they never quote from any of the apocryphal books.
Why does Jude quote the Book of Enoch then? This book was not one of the apocryphal books of which we’re speaking; rather, it was part of the Pseudepigrapha, which were a set of supposed scripture that were universally rejected as false writing. Nevertheless, Jude mentions the book because it was well known in his day, and evidently it contained some useful information despite not begin inspired scripture.
Just because Jude quotes this book does not mean Enoch is inspired. If that logic were true, then we’d have to say that heathen writings are also inspired. This is because Paul quotes from certain heathen poets, such as Aratus (Acts 17:28), Menander (1 Corinthians 15:33), and Epimenides (Titus 1:12). Just because Scripture quotes a truthful source does not make that source automatically inspired Scripture.
Fourth, many Jewish scholars and early church fathers rejected the apocryphal books as canonical. Jewish writers such as Philo and Josephus, and the rabbis at the Council of Jamnia all rejected the apocryphal books as canonical. Most of the early church also rejected them, including Origen, Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril, Epiphanius, Ruffinus, and Jerome. Interestingly, cardinal Cajetan, the man the Catholic church sent to debate Luther, also rejected these books as canonical. In his commentary of the history of the OT, he writes the following:
“Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find any where, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorized in the canon of the bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.”
This is interesting because not only is cardinal Cajetan a Catholic, he also provides evidence for how some viewed the apocryphal books as canonical, the most famous of which is Augustine. There is other evidence from Augustine that corroborate this view, meaning when he said the apocrypha was canonical, he did not mean it in the sense of being inspired. Rather, it was meant in the sense of being useful for edification.
Indeed, Athanasius, after naming the twenty two Hebrew OT books (thirty nine in Protestant Bibles), says “But, besides these, there are also other non-canonical books of the old Testament, which are only read to the catechumens.”, and then he names the apocryphal books. This is why Jerome included those books in the Latin Vulgate, which he translated.
Fifth, some apocryphal books contain many historical and geographical inaccuracies. As we have shown in our prior study on the inspiration of Scripture, the Bible does not contain such inaccuracies. These errors prove the books that contain them are non- canonical. Some of the errors are shown below:
- There are several inconsistencies in the additions to Esther, one of which in chapter 6 mentions Ptolemy and Cleopatra. Both lived after the times of Mordecai, so including these two later historical figures clearly shows this addition was written well after Esther was completed. In addition, the added chapters were written in Greek, not Hebrew.
- In the book of Judith, Holofernes is incorrectly described as the general of “Nebuchadnezzar who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Ninevah” (1:1). In truth, Holofernes was a Persian general, and Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon.
Sixth, the apocryphal books often contradict Scripture. Examples include:
- The Book of Tobit teaches magic (Tobit 6:4,6-8). The Bible clearly condemns magical practices such as this (consider Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Leviticus 19:26,31; Jeremiah 27:9; Malachi 3:5).
- 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 states: “He also took up a collection ... and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. ... For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen asleep would arise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead ... Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” This teaches prayers for the dead, as well as salvation by works, both of which contradict Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 makes clear that judgment comes after death, while numerous Scriptures clearly show that salvation is solely by faith in Christ alone.
- The Book of Tobit 12:9 states: “For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin.” This clearly contradicts Scripture (e.g., Leviticus 17:11, Titus 3:5, Romans 4 and 5, etc.).
Seventh, the apocryphal books were never accepted by the church until the Council of Trent. Roughly 1,500 years after these books were written, the Catholic church decided to “officially” recognize the apocrypha as Scripture. As we’ve seen above, these books were not accepted as canonical Scripture by either the Jews or the early Christian church. It is clear that the Catholic church adopted these books as canonical in opposition to Protestantism, as some of the apocrypha (falsely) supported Catholicism’s teaching regarding salvation.
And finally, no apocryphal book makes the claim that it is the word of God. While most OT books do claim to be God’s word, none of the apocrypha claim this status.
While some of the apocryphal books are useful, especially from a historical perspective, it’s clear they are not inspired, and therefore do not belong in the OT canon. We encourage believers to read these books, however, so they can judge for themselves as well.
You may also be interested in another article on why we can trust the Bible.