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What is it?   

Q. I'm curious. Just what is the Apocrypha? Where does it come from? Why isn't it included in Protestant Bibles? Why do Catholics include it in their Bibles?


Good question - let's look at this from an historical viewpoint.


The fifth-century bible scholar, Jerome, first coined the term "apocrypha." The apocrypha refers to extra biblical books included in the Greek translation of the Bible that the Jews used from 200 B.C. onward. This Greek translation is called the "Septuagint." Interestingly, Jesus quoted from the Septuagint translation (which should make us feel better about our need to use translations from the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures). The early Christian church also used the Septuagint translation.

Dr. Klein points out,
"The OT Apocrypha consists of thirteen books: eleven written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and the other two in Greek. Though some early Jews considered these books inspired, the final consensus of Jewish leaders in antiquity was to exclude them from the Canon. Jews today don't consider them part of the Bible, adopting only books authorized in their authoritative commentaries on the Scriptures and oral laws: the Mishnah (c. 200) and the two Talmuds (c. 300s and 500).

However, several major fourth- and fifth-century Christian Greek manuscripts of the Bible (given the names Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus) did include these thirteen books. In fact, the OT apocryphal books are preserved only in these Greek versions of the Bible, not in their original Semitic languages or by the Jews."

(Klein 2008, 38).

Jews Later Rejected Septuagint

In simplistic terms, after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. the Jews decided to exclusively use their original Hebrew Bible. They rejected the Septuagint probably (at least partly) because the Christians used it.

Early Greek Manuscripts

Remember, the early Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament - such as Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and Codex Alexandrinus (c. 450) include the apocryphal writings. The church councils at Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 and 419 listed these books plus the other 66 books as "Scripture." Finally, the Council of Trent confirmed this canon which included the apocrypha in the 16th. century.

Martin Luther

It was Martin Luther who finally deleted the apocryphal books, however. Catholics say that when Luther discovered that "scriptural texts did not support his teaching he tended to deny the authority of the books in which those texts were found" (The New Catholic Answer Bible, notes N-1).

King James included Apocrypha

The apocrypha has been excluded and included during various times of church history. It surprises many students to learn that the 1611 King James Version included the apocrypha. These books include Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, additions to the Book of Esther, verses 10:4-10, the Book of Daniel, chapter 3:24-90 and 13, 14, and the Prayer of Manasseh.

The apocryphal books contain passages which support offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead, the idea of purgatory, and other doctrines unacceptable to Protestants.

The apocryphal books are similar in style to other Old Testament books. Wisdom and Sirach are like Proverbs. Tobit is similar to Job. Judith resembles Esther. First and Second Maccabees are historical narratives much like the Books of Kings and Chronicles. Baruch is similar to prophetic literature such as Jeremiah.

Deuterocanonical Books

Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches still include the apocrypha in their Bibles. They call these books "deuterocanonical" books which to them means "second canon" books. They are considered inspired although not as inspired as the canonical books.

Protestants consider them problematic. For one thing, they were never deemed 100% sacred by the Jews or early Christians. Nevertheless, they contain valuable wisdom and some historical content.


Protestants should know that the basis for the Catholic doctrine of purgatory is found in 2 Maccabees 12:43-45.

Works Salvation&Indulgences

The idea of salvation by works and indulgences may be found in Ecclesiasticus 3:30 …"alms maketh atonement for sin."

Tobit 12:8-9, 17 - "It is better to give alms than to lay up gold, for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin."

Immaculate Conception

The idea of Immaculate Conception is found in Wisdom 8:19-20…"And I was a witty child and had received a good soul. And whereas I was more good, I came to a body undefiled."

New Testament Allusions?

Catholic scholars say that the New Testament alludes to the apocryphal writings. For example, they believe that Revelation 1:4 and 8:3-4 appear to make reference to Tobit 12:15. They claim that Paul referred to 2 Maccabees 12:44 in 1 Corinthians 15:29. This is the verse which makes the odd statement, "Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29). And they suggest that Hebrews 11:35 reflects the thought of 2 Maccabees 7:29.

In a time when there is so much cultural emphasis on the Gnostic Gospels, extra biblical writings, and the Qumran writings or the Dead Sea Scrolls, Christians need to understand what these writings offer, what they are and where they came from. To do so should enrich your faith and understanding.

Also, understand that there is a difference between what Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches accept as canonical. There is some disagreement on acceptable historical methodology as well. Students should attempt to understand both. With the exception of works salvation none of these differences affect essentials of doctrine or saving faith.

Suggested Library Acquisitions:

I suggest that Protestant Christians have at least one copy of the Apocrypha in their libraries. Here are two suggestions:

New Catholic Answer Bible, NAB

1. The New Catholic Answer Bible, NAB (New American Bible - not to be confused with the NASB - is a valuable source of information in a good translation. The NAB translation is considered to be close to the new English Standard Version in translation reliability. (Wichita, Kansas: Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2002). In addition, the Catholic Answer Bible explains how Catholics defend their traditions.

RSV With Apocrypha edited by the late Dr. Metzger

2. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, RSV, Revised Standard Version (not the NRSV - New Revised Standard) with the Apocrypha, expanded edition edited by Bruce Metzger and Herbert May, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962). The late Dr. Metzger is a well loved Bible scholar.

Suggested Library References:

Comfort, Philip, ed. (Includes Bruce, F.F., J.I. Packer, Philip Comfort, Carl F.H. Henry). 1993, 2003. The origin of the Bible. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale.

Evans, Craig A. 1992. Noncanonical writings and New Testament interpretation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Klein, William W. 2008. Handbook for personal Bible study. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Lightfoot, Neil R. 1963, 2003. How we got the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Author Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in history from UCLA focusing upon Christian origins.

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