What Is the Apocrypha? Are Apocryphal Books Really Scripture?

The word “apocrypha” comes from the Greek word meaning "hidden" or "secret." Originally, the term was reserved for books with content considered too sacred and grand to make accessible to the general public. Over time, "apocrypha" took on a more negative connotation, due to the questionable origins and doubtful canonicity of these books.
Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is the Apocrypha? Are Apocryphal Books Really Scripture?

The word “apocrypha” comes from the Greek word meaning "hidden" or "secret." Originally, the term was reserved for books with content considered too sacred and grand to make accessible to the general public. Over time, "apocrypha" took on a more negative connotation, due to the questionable origins and doubtful canonicity of these books.

Those who don’t accept these books as canon call them the Apocrypha apocryphal. But those who do accept them call them the Deuterocanon or deuterocanonical books, meaning “belonging to the second canon.”

History of the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha in the Septuagint

In the third century B.C., Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) into Greek, resulting in the Septuagint. Several books were included in the Septuagint that were not considered divinely inspired by Jews but were included in the Jewish Talmud, which is a supplement, of sorts, or interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

“That version incorporated a number of works that later, non-Hellenistic Jewish scholarship at the Council of Jamnia (AD 90) identified as being outside the authentic Hebrew canon. The Talmud separates these works as Sefarim Hizonim (Extraneous Books),” according to Britannica.

Jerome Doubts the Apocrypha

In the late fourth century A.D., St. Jerome was tasked with translating the Greek Septuagint into Latin (to become the Latin Vulgate in 405), but he also based his translations on the original Hebrew in the Old Testament. Referring to the original Hebrew in translation was highly against common practice at the time and even discouraged. In the translation process, St. Jerome doubted that the apocryphal books were divinely inspired.

According to Don Stewart on BlueLetterBible.org:

“Jerome explicitly denied that they should have the status as Scripture. Jerome said they were not books of the canon but rather books of the church. He believed they could be helpful to people, but he clearly stated his belief that they were not divinely authoritative. His assessment of the Apocrypha was ignored.”

The Apocrypha Printed in Bibles

Despite doubts, the Council of Rome (382) affirmed the apocryphal books as canonical. And in response to the Reformation and Martin Luther’s views on the Apocrypha, the Council of Trent (1546) further affirmed nearly all of Latin Vulgate as canonical, including most of the apocryphal books.

Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible was the first to separate the Apocrypha as an intertestamental section with a note explaining they are not divinely inspired. The Geneva Bible followed this example in 1599. The 1611 King James Bible also printed the Apocrypha, but it was removed in 1885.

Why was the Apocrypha removed?

Apocryphal books endorsed doctrine incompatible with the message of the Bible.

1. Giving money to atone for sins.

  • Sirach 3:30 “As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sin.”
  • Tobit 4:10 “For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness.”

2. Praying for the dead (and giving money to atone for their sins).

  • 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 “He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”

3. Praying to saints in heaven and asking them for prayer.

  • 2 Maccabees 15:12-16 “What he [Maccabeus] saw was this: Onias [deceased at the time], who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then in the same fashion another appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Onias spoke, saying, "This is a man who loves the family of Israel and prays much for the people and the holy city—Jeremiah [deceased at the time], the prophet of God." Jeremiah stretched out his right hand and gave to Judas a golden sword, and as he gave it he addressed him thus: "Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with which you will strike down your adversaries."

These are a few of the key issues that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers challenged during the Protestant Reformation.

Apocryphal books were not recognized as the word of God by their writers, Christ, nor the Apostles.

During the years of growth that the Greek culture enjoyed in Palestine, many books were written by the Jews. These books were never considered as Scriptures by Christ nor the Apostles, but the early church saw lessons that were profitable in some of these books.

The Bible teacher Harry Ironside explained the difference:

"But all of these were written ere the voice of prophecy was suspended; all the books now in our Bibles, and none other, were in the Bible loved, quoted and honored by the apostles, and endorsed as divinely-given by the Lord Jesus. He expressly refers to ‘Daniel the prophet,’ and ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah,’ in language that admits of no doubt as to the high plane on which He placed their writings.

“But in the Maccabean age (2nd century B.C.) and later there were other books of instructive character, making no claim of inspiration, which the Jews have always valued, and which the early Christians sometimes read in their meetings for the sake of the lessons they contained, though with no thought of putting them on a level with the Hebrew Scriptures or the Greek New Testament."

This section was taken from "Lessons of these 400 Silent Years" by John Barnett and Discover the Book Ministries (used by permission).

Which churches accept the Apocrypha books as canon?

The Catholic Church

Since the Council of Rome in 382 (and reaffirmed by the Council of Trent in 1546), these apocryphal (deuterocanonical) books below have been considered canonical by the Catholic Church:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Additional chapters of Esther and Daniel
  • 1st and 2nd Maccabees
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Sirach (or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)
  • Baruch

The Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church also accepted the Apocrypha (Deuterocanon) as divinely inspired texts and canonical with the Old Testament. The Orthodox tradition includes the same list of books as the Catholic Church along with these below, which are considered canonical only by the Orthodox Church:

  • 3rd Maccabees
  • 1st Esdras
  • Prayer of Manasseh
  • Psalm 151

The Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church

The 39 Articles, which is used by both the Anglican and Episcopalian Churches, expresses in section six rejection of the apocryphal books as divinely inspired.  The document does, however, view the books as useful to the church:

“And the other Books (as [Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine,” according to section six of the 39 Articles.

The United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church, like most other Protestant denominations, do not recognize the Apocrypha as authoritative Scripture. But they do allow apocryphal books to be read aloud during lectionaries in church services.

The Lutheran Church

The Apocrypha was included in Luther’s 1534 Bible, which printed between the Old and New Testaments with this explanatory note:

“Apocrypha: These books are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading.”

Sources

Photo Credit: Pexels/Suzy Hazelwood


Originally published April 25, 2019.