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.