WHAT IS APOCRYPHA AND
ARE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS CANONICAL?
ARE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS CANONICAL?
THE Old Testament canon is consists of 39 books only. These 39 books are those recognized as “canonical” or those books which are regarded as divinely inspired. However, there were great numbers of Jewish literature that composed and circulated during the intertestamental period (the period between the Old testament and the New Testament which is about 400 years) and up to the first century A.D.
These extra-canonical books or Jewish literatures are known as “Apocrypha.” The Roman Catholic Church inculded these to their Old Testament and declared them as canonical and equal of the 39 books of the Old testament. This is the reason why the Old Testament of the Roman Catholic Church is consists of 46 books.
What is the meaning of the term “Apocrypha”? Why these extra-canonical books are called Apocrypha? Is the Roman Catholic Church right to include these books to the Old Testament canon?
THE TERM “APOCRYPHA”
The name “Apocrypha” literally means “hidden, concealed.” One of the difficulties in explaining the meaning of the word “Apocrypha” arises from the fact that the meaning of the word differs to different people.
“Originally the word seems to have been entirely appropriate, for it was given to such works as were prepared for certain sects or companies of heretical believers, who carefully concealed them from the public. The evidence of this fact is seen in some of the titles of these sacred books; for example, a papyrus of the first century has as its title, “A Holy and Secret Book of Moses, called the Eight or Holy.” The term “apocryphal” in its original sense was thus honorable, but later it came to specify books that were rejected.”1
“Apocrypha as those books hidden
or withdrawn from common use”
Originally, the term applied to those books that were held to be so mysterious and profound that in the views of some Jews they were to be hidden from ordinary readers, or to be withdrawn from common use.
“We have already referred to the fictitious story in which Ezra is said to have restored all the books after they had been destroyed during the exile, and that he produced ninety-four volumes, twenty-four to be published and seventy to be kept secret from the ordinary person because they were too lofty. This story illustrates the view that ‘apocryphal,’ to begin with, described those books that were too deep for the common person.”2
“Apocrypha as those books not
found in the Jewish Canon”
Then the term came to be meant as “those books not found in the Jewish canon.” Jerome seems to have been the first to use the word “apocrypha” as applicable to all the books not found in the Jewish canon:
“Jerome, however, the greatest Biblical scholar of the Western Church, made a clear distinction between canonical and apocryphal books; it is to him, in fact, that we owe the term ‘apocryphal’ as applied to them…Jerome’s use of the word, however, has nothing to do with its etymological sense, nor yet does it mean ‘unauthentic’ or ‘untrue’; he simply meant by the term what others meant when they called them ‘ecclesiastical books’ (books suitable for reading in church) as contrasted with ‘canonical books’ (books which may be used for the establishment of doctrine).”3
Indeed, the Jewish canon is consists of only 39 books. The Holy Scriptures during the time of the Lord Jesus and His apostles (the first century AD) were consist of 39 Old Testament books only. Even up to the time of Jerome (the translator of the Latin Vulgate) in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the Jewish canon still doesn’t include the apocryphal books.4 It was Jerome who first used the word “apocrypha” to refer to these books not included in the Jewish canon. Thus, from that time, those books not included in the Jewish canon came to be called “apocrypha.”
The Catholics and the Protestants diverged markedly
in their attitude towards Apocrypha
At the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation the Roman Catholics and the Protestants diverged markedly in their attitude to these books:
“In the time of the Reformation, Protestant churches adopted as their Old Testament Scriptures the books that had formed the Jewish canon, and thus came to disregard all other books found in the Vulgate and Septuagint versions. The Roman Catholic church, on the other hand, declared the same books to be canonical as had the Alexandrian Jews, and applied the word “apocryphal” to books outside of the Vulgate and Septuagint versions, which were often included in some versions. The Protestant churches called the later, that is, those spurious books not contained in the list of the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha.”5
The Protestants disregard all other books outside the Jewish canon, but found in the Vulgate and Septuagint6 and called them “Apocrypha.” However, the Protestants called those spurious books not contained in the list of the Apocrypha, “Pseudepigrapha.”
On the other hand, the Roman Catholics declared the same books to be canonical and called them “deutero-canonical,” and applied the word “apocrypha” to those books outside of the Vulgate and Septuagint (or those called by Protestants as “Pseudepigrapha”).
The use of the word “Apocrypha” today
How is the word “apocrypha” use today?
“That, however, is not the way we use the word ‘apocryphal’ today. Nowadays, when something is described as apocryphal, we mean that it is fictitious. An apocryphal story is simply not true. The word is used of legendary tales that tend to gather around distinguished people. In this popular sense of the word, ‘apocryphal’ is really a derogatory term. In fact, early Christians used the term apocryphal for those books that were withheld from general circulation, not because they were so profound but because of doubts about their authenticity.”7
We use the word “apocryphal” to refer to that collection of Jewish books that are not found in the Hebrew Bible, or not included in the Hebrew canon. Apocryphal are those books having inferior status (not-canonical and not authorized) as compared to the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible.
The Historical books
The Prophetic books
1. I Maccabees
2. II Maccabees
3. III Maccabees
4. IV Maccabees
5. I Esdras
(III Esdras in the Vulgate, but II
Esdras when Ezra and Nehemiah
are counted as one book, as in the
11. The Epistles of Jeremiah
12. The Prayer of Manasseh
13. II Esdras
(IV Esdras in the Vulgate; but III
Esdras when Ezra and Nehemiah
are counted as one book)
The Legendary books
The Didactic books
6. Additions to Esther
7. Additions to Daniel
a. The Song of the Three
c. Bel and the Dragon
14. Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach
(also called Ecclesiasticus)
15. Wisdom of Solomon
ANSWERING ARGUMENTS FOR APOCRYPHA
THE Roman Catholic Church declared the 11 books of the Apocrypha to be canonical, while the Greek Orthodox declared only 4 books of the Apocrypha to be canonical. Let us scrutinize the arguments for the canonicity of the Apocrypha, and let us also enumerate the arguments against the Apocrypha.
The evidences appealed for this contention deserve careful study. Let us enumerate the arguments for the canonicity of the Apocrypha and scrutinize each argument.
“The Early Versions contained them”
The first argument in favor of the Apocrypha is that “the early versions of the Old Testament contained them.” This however is partially true, because enough evidence suffice that different early versions of the Old Testament in their earliest form do not contained the Apocryphal books.
“The first argument in favor of Apocrypha is that the early versions contained them. This however is only partially true. Certainly the Aramaic Targums did not recognized them. Not even the Syriac Peshita in its earliest form contained a single Apocryphal books; it was only later that some of them were added. We have just seen that Jerome, the great translator of the Scripture into Latin, did not recognize the Apocrypha as being equal authority with the books of the Hebrew canon. A more careful investigation of this claim narrows down the authority of the Apocrypha as resting upon only one ancient version, the Septuagint, and those later translation (such as the Itala, the Coptic and Ethiopic, and later Syriac) which were derived from it.”8
The Aramaic Targums did not recognized them, the Syriac Peshita in its earliest form contained a single Apocrypha, and even Jerome the great translator of the Latin Vulgate did not recognize them as being equal authority with the Old Testament books. But, how about the Septuagint?
“Even in the case of the Septuagint, the Apocryphal books maintain a rather uncertain existence. The Codex Vaticanus (‘B’) lacks I and II Maccabees (canonical according to Rome), but includes I Esdras (non-canonical according to Rome). The Sinaiticus (‘Aleph’) omits Baruch (canonical according to Rome), but includes IV Maccabees (non-canonical according to Rome). The Alexandrinus (‘A’) contains three ‘non-canonical’ Apocrypha: I Esdras and III and IV Maccabees. Thus it turns out that even the three earliest MSS of the LXX show considerable uncertainty as to which books constitute the list of Apocrypha, and that the fourteen accepted by the Roman Church are by no means substantiated by the testimony of the great uncials of the fourth and fifth centuries.”9
“The Alexandrian Canon”
The protagonists of Apocrypha contend that the presence of the Apocryphal books in the Septuagint indicates the existence of a so-called “Alexandrian Canon.” For them, Alexandrian Canon is larger and different from the “Palestinian Canon” of 24 books (equivalent to our 39 books).
However, the presence of the Apocryphal books in the Septuagint did not necessarily means these books were considered canonical.
“But it is by no means certain that all the books in the LXX were considered canonical even by the Alexandrian Jews themselves. Quite decisive against this is the evidence of the writings of Philo of Alexandria (who lived in the first century A.D.). Although he quotes frequently from the canonical books of the ‘Palestianian Canon,’ he never once quotes from any of the Apocryphal books. This is impossible to reconcile with the theory of a larger ‘Alexandrian Canon,’ while others did.”10
One of the decisive evidence against the so-called “Alexandrian Canon” that includes the Apocryphal books as canonical was the writings of Philo, a well-known Alexandrian Jew. Philo never once quotes from any of the Apocryphal books. In fact, Philo completely ignored the Apocrypha.
“Philo, who was an Alexandrian Jew (died c. 50) adhered strictly to the Hebrew canon and ignored the Apocrypha completely. It does not follow, however, that all Alexandrian Jews were equally strict.”11
Another evidence against the claim that Alexandrian Jews considered the Apocryphal books canonical is the fact that Alexandrian Jews in the second century A.D. accepted Aquila’s Greek Version although it did not contain the Apocrypha.
“Secondly, it is reliably reported that Aquila’s Greek Version was accepted by the Alexandrian Jews in the second century A.D., even though it did not contain the Apocrypha.”12
Why Septuagint includes the Apocryphal books
If the Alexandrian Jews, like Philo, did not considered the Apocryphal books as canonical, why they include it along with the canonical books? The answer, what Jerome puts it, is that the Alexandrians include in their version of the Old Testament both books recognized as canonical (authoritative and divine) and those “ecclesiastical” (those considered valuable and edifying though not inerrant):
“A reasonable deduction from these evidences would be that (as Jerome himself put it) the Alexandrian Jews chose to include in their edition of the Old Testament both the books they recognized as canonical, and also the books which were ‘ecclesiastical’ – i.e., they were considered valuable and edifying though not inerrant.”13
Another evidence for this supposition that extracanonical books may be preserved and utilized along with canonical is that in the Qumran cave 4, at least two Apocryphal books are found (Ecclesiasticus and Tobit), and also this cave has yielded pseudepigraphical works.
“Additional support for this supposition (that subcanonical works may be preserved and utilized along with canonical) has recently been found in the discoveries of Qumran Cave 4. There in the heartland of Palestine, where surely the ‘Palestinian Canon’ should have been authoritative, at least two Apocryphal books are represented – Ecclesiasticus and Tobit. One fragment of Tobit appears on a scrap of papyrus, another on leather; there is also a leather fragment in Hebrew. Several fragments of Ecclesiasticus were also discovered there, and so far as they go, at least, agree quite exactly with the eleventh century MS of Ecclesiasticus found in the Cairo Genizah back in the 1890’s (cf. Burrows, MLDSS 177, 178). For that matter, the Fourth Qumran Cave has yielded pseudepigraphical works like the Testament of Levi in Aramaic, the Testament of Levi in Hebrew, and the book of Enoch (fragments from ten different MSS!). Surely no one could seriously contend that the straight-lacent Qumran sectarians considered all these Apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works canonical simply because they cherished copies of them.”14
The New Testament employs the Septuagint
Another argument of the protagonists of the Apocrypha is that the New Testament usually employs the Septuagint in its quotations from the Old Testament, and since the Septuagint did contain the Apocrypha, thus, the New Testament apostles must have recognized the authority of the entire Septuagint as it was then constituted.
However, the protagonists of the Apocrypha fail to realize that the testimony of the New Testament, on the contrary, is most decisive against the canonicity of the Apocryphal books.
“On the contrary, the testimony of the New Testament is most decisive against the canonicity of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha. Virtually all the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are quoted from as divinely authoritative, or are at least alluded to. While it has just been pointed out that mere quotation does not necessarily establish canonicity, nevertheless it is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them.”15
However, G. Wildeboer (Origin of the Canon of the Old Testament, 1895), and C. Torrey (The Apocryphal Literature, 1845) have collected all possible instances of New Testament quotations or allusions to Apocryphal works. But, G. Archer concluded that several of these are only suspected.16
In fact, the clear quotations the New Testament made were only in Jude 1:9 and 1:14, quoting from the book Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch, and quotations from pagan Greeks authors such as Acts 17:28 were Paul quotes from Aratus’ Phenomena, and I Corinthians 15:33 was quotes from Menander’s comedy, Thais.
This line of argument is really irrelevant: first, because none of these quotations were from the books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha; second, that surely no one would suppose that such quotations as these establish the canonicity of either Aratus or Menander, thus, also the case as the quotations from Assumption of Moses and the Book of Enoch.
The Early Church Fathers quote from
Apocryphal books as Authoritative
Another major argument the protagonists of Apocrypha uses is that the Church Fathers quote from these books as authoritative. However, as G. Archer said, “It would be more correct to say that some of the early Christian writers appear to do so.”
“The second chief argument in favor of the Apocrypha is that the Church Fathers quote from these books as authoritative. It would be more correct to say that some of the early Christian writers appear to do so, while others take a clear-cut stand against their canonicity. Among those in favor are the writers of I Clement and Epistle of Barnabas, and most notably Jerome’s younger contemporary, Augustine of Hippo. Yet we must qualify this advocacy as only apparent, or at least presumptive, for we have already seen that Jude could quote Enoch as containing a true account of one ancient episode without necessarily endorsing the whole book of Enoch as canonical. As for Augustine, his attitude was rather uncertain and inconsistent. On the one hand, he threw his influence at the Council of Carthage (397) in favor of including the entire fourteen as canonical; on the other hand, when an appeal was made by an antagonist to a passage in II Maccabees to settle an argument, Augustine replied that his cause must be weak if he had to resort to a book not in the same category as those received and accepted by the Jews.”17
Only individual persons and churches acknowledged the Apocrypha. In fact, there were more early Church Fathers that accepted the Hebrew Canon of 39 books, that those who advocated the acceptance of the Apocrypha as canonical. These early Church Fathers cast doubt on the Apocrypha, excluding them from the “canon,” and “appointed them to be read only.”
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE APOCRYPHA
Let us now enumerate the arguments against the Apocrypha, and that proves that the canonical Old Testament books limit only to 39 books.
Why the canonical books limits only to 39, and the so-called Apocrypha being rejected? The following are the reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha.
1. The Hebrew Canon does not contain them. The Hebrew Canon is consists of 39 books only, and does not contain the Apocryphal books though to the Jews were committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:2 and 9:4). The Apocryphal were never part of the Hebrew Canon. There is no evidence that these Apocryphal books were even considered as Scripture by the Jews, inside or outside Palestine. The Jews never regarded it as Scripture, as canonical, nor “sacred” or “holy.”
2. The Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles never quoted from the Apocrypha. This is not because they do not have any knowledge of the existence of the Apocryphal books. The New Testament writers in their quotations from the Old Testament usually used the Septuagint. The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples never viewed Apocrypha as Scripture. They all ignored the Apocrypha completely.
3. The Lord Jesus Christ acknowledges the three-fold division of the Hebrew canon (Luke 24:44). The Lord Jesus Christ mentioned in Luke 24:44 and Matthew 23:35 the three-fold divisions of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Psalms). Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ acknowledges the Hebrew canon of 39 books.
4. Only the 22 books were laid up in the Temple, and no Apocryphal books were laid up in the Temple. Only those considered by the Jews, especially the temple priest and the Levites, as “holy” and “authoritative” were laid up in the Temple. If only the 22 books of the Hebrew canon were laid up in the Temple, therefore, only these were recognized as “holy” and “authoritative.” And because there were no Apocryphal books were laid up in the Temple, thus, the Temple authorities never recognized the Apocryphal books as “holy” or canonical.
5. Only “Christian” manuscripts of the Septuagint contain the Apocrypha. Only “Christian” manuscripts of the Septuagint contain the Apocrypha, e.g. Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus. And even in the “Christian” manuscripts of the Septuagint, the Apocryphal books maintain a rather uncertain existence. The Codex Vaticanus lacks I and II Maccabees, but includes I Esdras. The Codex Sinaiticus omits Baruch, but includes IV Maccabees. The Codex Alexandrinus includes I Esdras and II and IV Maccabees. Thus, even these three earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint show uncertainty as to which books constitute the list of Apocrypha.
6. Early Church Fathers opposed the Apocrypha. Early Church Fathers like Origen, Athanasius and Cyril of Jerusalem did not recognized the Apocryphal books as canonical.
· Origen. He gave a list of canonical Old Testament books that he enumerates as twenty-two, and did not recognized the Apocryphal books as having equal status as the 22 canonical books.
· Athanasius. He also arranged the Old Testament books so as to yield a total of twenty-two. Athanasius stated that, “There are also other books outside this list which are not canonical, but have been handed down from our fathers as suitable to be read to new converts…the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith and Tobias.”18
7. Philo never refers to it. Philo, adhered strictly to the Hebrew canon and ignored the Apocrypha completely, never attached divine authority to the Apocrypha.
8. Josephus in his historical writings rejects it. Josephus, the well-known Jewish historian of the first century AD, stated that the Hebrew canon has 22 books only.
9. Jerome, in translating the great Vulgate, refused to acknowledge it. Jerome refused to translate the Apocryphal books into Latin for his Vulgate. He wished to limit the Old Testament to the Hebrew Canon, but was overruled by the Latin Church. Because of bishops’ pressure, he allowed the Apocrypha to be included in his Vulgate, but in Old Latin Form.
10. The writers themselves never claim inspiration. The writers of the Apocryphal books themselves never claim inspiration. They confess their own lack of the prophetic gift, as in the age before or in that to come (1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41).
11. They contain false doctrines, not conformable to Scriptures.
· Tobit 6:1-8 sanctions quackery.
· Judith 9:10, 13, and chapters 10 to 13, teach deceit.
· Wisdom 8:19, 20, teaches purgatory and reincarnation.
· Baruch 3:4 and 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 teach prayers of and for the dead.
12. They contain historical errors, inaccuracies, and evidently fictitious stories and speeches. The book of Judith, for example, contains “the most astrocious historical blunders.
“The book contains the most astrocious historical blunders; Holofernes, for example, is the general of ‘Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh.’ If any historical situation at all is reflected in the book, it is an expedition to Syria and Asia Minor by the Persian king, Artaxerxes III (359-338 B.C.); the name Holofernes (Orophernes) was borne by a general of this king.”19
1 Price, Ira Maurice. The Ancestry of Our English Bible. 3rd revised edition by William A. Irwin and Allen P. Wikgreen. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1956. p. 140.
2 Ewert, David. A General Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990. p. 73.
3 Bruce, F.F. The Books and the Parchment. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984. p. 162.
4 This proves that it was only the Catholic Chhurch that included the apocruyphal books the Old Testament. But, from the very beginning, the Old testament is consists of 39 books only.
5 Price, p. 141
6 Only the Septuagints from later period that included the apocryphal books. However, earlier manuscripts of the Septuagint did not.
7 Ewert, pp. 73-74
8 Archer, Gleasson. Survey of Old Testament Introduction 2nd Ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974. p. 65.
9 Ibid., pp. 65-66
10 Ibid., p. 66
11 Ewert, p. 77
12 Archer, p. 66
14 Ibid., pp. 66-67
15 Ibid., p. 67
17 Ibid., pp. 67-68
18 Ibid., 68
19 Bruce, F.F. The Books and the Parchment. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984. p. 167.