The Apocrypha

Yesterday my family and I continued reading Chapter 3, “The Canon of Scripture,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time, reading parts of the second half of its section on the canon of the Old Testament. It considers the Apocrypha, a collection of books included in the canon of the Old Testament by Roman Catholics but not by Protestants. Here I’ll sketch its historical background, list its contents, and give reasons why Protestants don’t include it in the canon.

In the third century B.C. Jews in Alexandra, Egypt, translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Generally referred to as the Septuagint (from the Latin for “seventy”) or LXX (the Roman numerals for “seventy”) because of the tradition that 70 Jewish scholars did the translation in 70 days, it included the Apocrypha. In the second century A.D. the church undertook a translation of the Bible into Latin. Because it translated the Old Testament from the LXX rather than from the Hebrew Bible, it included the Apocrypha although generally recognizing that the Apocrypha lacked the authority of the Hebrew Bible.

The Protestant Reformers argued that since Jesus and his disciples used the shorter Hebrew Bible and since some of the books in the Apocrypha included incorrect historical information, the Apocrypha should not be included in the canon of the Old Testament or used as a basis for beliefs and practices. The Roman Catholic Church reacted by reaffirming at the Council of Trent (1545-47 A.D.) the inclusion of the Apocrypha in the Old Testament. Thus we have Roman Catholic and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.

The Apocrypha includes the following books: Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:24-90), Susanna (Daniel 13), Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, and Prayer of Manasseh. I’ve given them in the order that they’re given in the NRSV. That version also includes Psalm 151, 3 Maccabees, 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), and 4 Maccabees. Note that the NRSV’s being produced by an ecumenical committee of scholars, it places the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments rather than integrating it into the Old Testament as Roman Catholic Bibles do.

In his Systematic Theology Grudem gives these reasons why the books of the Apocrypha shouldn’t be included in the canon:
– they don’t claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the books of the Old Testament
– the Jews didn’t include them in the canon
– Jesus and the writers of the New Testament didn’t treat them as Scripture
– they contain teachings inconsistent with the rest of the Bible.

He concludes that we can be confident that the Old Testament in our Bible contains all that it should contain and doesn’t contain anything that it shouldn’t contain. Thus we can put our trust in it.


4 thoughts on “The Apocrypha

  1. Rose Spillenaar Harmer

    Thanks for listing all the books. I know I have read of couple when I was very young but had never seen the entire list. Apparently that was something they had not covered in the correspondence course I took from EPBC

  2. Bob Hunter Post author

    I started reading the Apocrypha at least once but can’t remember whether I ever read all the books in it.

    I don’t remember its being referred to in any of the courses that I took at EPBC either.

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Personally I don’t see any need for the Protestant lay person to become familiar with or even read the Apocrypha. However, as Wayne Grudem points out, “They [the writings] of the Apocrypha] have value for historical and linguistic research, and they contain a number of helpful stories about the courage and faith of many Jews during the period after the Old Testament ends” (Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, page 60).


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