Have you ever read the Apocrypha?

Have you ever read the Apocrypha?  Do you own a copy?  What if you should?

Recently a friend from church asked me about the Apocrypha.  Here were her questions:

  • Why were the books of the Apocrypha (I’ve read that’s what the Catholic books are called) removed from the Protestant Bible?
  • I’ve also read that it was Martin Luther that removed them.  Since they were there since the canonization, how does that not run afoul of the book of Revelation warning us not to add to or subtract from the bible (or is that just referring to the Book of Revelation itself)?
  • What is in the books that is found not to reach the level of God-breathed truth? (I’ve never read them)
  • As a protestant, are they also something I should study, once I understand whatever issues there are?

While this isn’t cutting edge cultural stuff I usually write about, it is important to think about in terms of what is the Bible and how do we know it came from God.  The Apocrypha is an interesting case study.

Here are my answers:

First, the Reformers clearly did pass over the Apocrypha as being worthy of Biblical inclusion.
  Here are the words of Westminster about the Apocrypha:
WCF 1.3  The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.(1)
(Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2; 2 Pet. 1:21)
As for the warning from Revelation.  It reads:

Revelation 22:18-19  18 ¶ I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,  19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

This warning was, I believe that one should not tamper with the book of Revelation alone, not necessarily to the whole canon, since it says “this book” and “this prophecy,” and the Canon was not collected yet.  These verses have been misapplied to refer to the whole Bible.
How are books identified in the cannon?  
The process of Canonization is a process not of making something become the Bible, but of recognizing them to the be the Bible.
The Apocryphal books are not quoted in the NT (only alluded to in the book of Jude).  It seems the Apostles did not quote them and view them as scripture (one of the reasons to believe a book was inspired).  Jesus, for example quotes Deuteronomy and Isaiah, a lot, but has nothing to say about Tobit or Judith.  At most He celebrates Hanukkah (Rededication of the Temple.)
Perspectives on the Apocrypha:
The books of the Apocrypha are writings mostly of the inter-testamental period (some historical–Hannukah/Maccabean Revolt for example) and some apocalyptic (predicting the future–following Daniel’s lead).
There is nothing wrong with reading them, but the Reformers disagreed with the view that they were inspired as the rest of the OT or NT.   The Roman Catholic Church preferred them, in part because they fill in historical gaps, and because arguments for purgatory can be made from some passages.  Purgatory/indulgences was the pivotal issue that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

According to Tobit: Tobit 12:9-10  9 For alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin. Those that exercise alms and righteousness shall be filled with life:  10 But they that sin are enemies to their own life.

Brief synopsis of the first two books (and comment about the rest):
Tobit is the autobiography of a man during the exile who goes blind after sparrow dung goes in his eyes, but is healed 8 years later.  Tobias, whom Tobit writes about, travels to Rages with the angel Raphael who tells him to have his new wife sleep on perfumed ashes with the heart and liver of a fish on their marriage bed to send Satan away.  (I know that’s a little weird right?  Kind of hard to preach that one.)
Judith. Holofernes, the Captain of the Armies of Nebuchadnezzar marched against the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the days of Joacim the High Priest.  The people pray fervently and God raises up a woman named Judith who is something of a combination of Esther (beauty) and Jael (assassin).  She uses her beauty and wiles to become accepted by Holofernes and then beheads him in bed and then sings praise to God like Miriam after being commended by priest and people.   There are many works of art depicting this event named “Judith and Holofernes.”  A google image search will reveal some gory scenes.
Wisdom is a book of Proverbial statements.
Sirach is a book of wisdom and history of Israel.
Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees are also part of the Apocrypha.
Also included are: Esdras, Second Esdras, Epistle of Jeremiah, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, Prayer of Azariah, and Laodiceans.
So should a person read the Apocrypha?  Sure why not?  But I believe that as one reads it he or she will see a qualitative difference between those books and Holy Writ.  I’d be interested to know what you think.


Filed under Bible and Theology

10 responses to “Have you ever read the Apocrypha?

  1. Todd Nado

    Have gone through them a little bit. Only because I do like a lot of the translating of the New Jerusalem Bible version, and when I got it, the books were included in it. I do think those who took part (that is of the Protestants) did a good job in not including any of those books, and the reasons why. I do know the Holy Spirit was very much at work in their decisions, and that we have what we have now preserved by the Holy Spirit. They do have some use as far as historical background studies may go, but other than that, I agree on all points with those who came to the conclusion that they are not “God Breathed,” or “God Breathed out,” or “inspired,” or “exhaled” (through the writers) as the books which are included in the Canon we have now.

    • revtimbrown

      Thanks for the comment, Todd. However, it is vague to say you think the Reformers were relying on the Holy Spirit and imply that earlier church fathers were not. Westminster is helpful when it says that councils have and do err (and are not perfect).

      • Todd

        Indeed, even “councils” are not infallible, and the Holy Spirit in a way did correct some things eventually. I don’t see the Holy Spirit in such isolated or vague texts in which Purgatory has been tried to be derived from, nor any other man made or conceived system of “works” (though those who err in such things as a “Purgatory” will insist that Christ still does it all). Anything that diminishes God’s Power and Right to immediately be able to transport us from “one glory to another” and diminishes the Perfect and completely effectual work of Christ alone on behalf of His elect, I can’t say I see the Holy Spirit involved in (or at least approving of!).

        • revtimbrown

          Yes, Todd, and that’s exactly my point. You are now appealing to the decisions they made to evaluate the work of the council. We would say that their decisions don’t measure up to clear revelation from God (purgatory, salvation, etc.), therefore not Spirit led. Rather than begin with “not Spirit led” therefore wrong about purgatory, salvation, etc. Thanks for the interacting on this one.

  2. Tim, What qualified the book of Esther?

    • revtimbrown

      Good question. I’m not sure.

      • Todd Nado

        I’m not sure about that either. Though God is not mentioned at all in the book. I get the impression it has to do with a lot of the “types” in the book. It’s like if Jesus could use an image of an “unjust judge” (which God is not, of course), then that could relate to the pagan king in that book, and what he finally did what he did? Well, Jesus was using a kind of “how much more than…” argument there.

  3. Amy Wokas

    I have to say that I was very disappointed to read your statement about Revelation 22:18-19. I have used that verse my whole Christian life in response to anyone who says they have or know of someone or some source that has the “unanswered questions of the Bible.” It has also been my response to anyone who tries to twist, take out of context, or render not relevant anything in the Bible. Aside from the Apocrypha, there are many books misleading a great number of people, like the Book of Mormon or, heaven forbid, something like the Queen James Bible! So, my question to you is, what do I say now?

    • revtimbrown

      Yeah, I know! That truth is not so convenient. You might have to take back a few plagues from people you’ve pronounced them upon. 🙂
      But faithful reading of the text demands that we take scripture at it’s own word.

      I believe the basic answer is that any other book being considered to be scripture (whether the Apocrypha, The Book of Mormon, Qur’an, etc) must pass the same testing that Canonical books faced:
      1) have been included in OT Canon (which was affirmed by Christ),

      or for the New Testament–all of the following:
      2) written by an apostle or associate of an apostle
      3) claims to be God’s Word or speaks with divine authority (not merely the words of men)
      4) no contradictions to the rest of Holy Scripture, and
      5) approved by a duly appointed gathering of Christian church elders to confirm that God’s this is the Word of God.

      • Amy Wokas

        Thanks Tim! That works. A few more words than my old stand-by, but I think I can do it. 🙂