The Apocrypha: An Introduction

The Apocrypha: An Introduction

The Apocrypha: An Introduction 1024 683 Andrew Hicks

One set of questions I get a lot as a minister and a teacher is about the Apocrypha:

  • “What is the Apocrypha?”
  • “Why do Catholics have extra books in their Bible?”
  • “Are those extra books inspired?”
  • “Why don’t we have those books in our Bible?”

This article is for those curious about the Apocrypha. I do NOT claim to be an authority on it. I do NOT claim to have the definitive position on the Apocrypha, but I love to learn and I love to share what I learn. So here is a short intro of what I have learned about those “extra books” in the Bibles of our Christian neighbors.


What is the Apocrypha?

The word apokryptein in Greek means “to hide away.” So “the Apocrypha” means something like “the hidden things.” Why “hidden”? Originally, the term indicated books that were considered to be too sacred or too mysterious for the average reader. Eventually, through time, the term came to negatively indicate the uncertain origins and the questionability of their belonging in the canon of scripture.

Also, the word “Apocrypha” can be used to describe different collections. When we mention the Apocrypha we really mean the Old Testament Apocrypha. There is a different collection called the New Testament Apocrypha. To complicate matters further, The various Orthodox groups and the Roman Catholic Church have different books in the Apocrypha of their Bibles.

These books are in all Apocrypha collections:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Esther (with additions)
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Ecclesiasticus (AKA Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach)
  • Baruch
  • Letter of Jeremiah
  • Daniel (with additions) [Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon]
  • 1-2 Maccabees

In addition to the above, the Greek Orthodox Bibles also include the following books in their Apocrypha:

  • Prayer of Manasseh
  • Psalm 151
  • 1 Esdras
  • 3-4 Maccabees (4th Maccabees is in an appendix)

In addition to the above, the Slavonic Orthodox Bibles include the following books in their Apocrypha:

  • 3 Esdras

In addition to the above, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church includes the following books in their Apocrypha:

  • 1 Enoch
  • Jubilees
  • 1-3 Meqabyan
  • Paralempoinia of Baruch

Our Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends do not call these books “Apocryphal.” Some don’t call them anything. They are just considered part of the Old Testament. Some do distinguish them by calling them “Deuterocanonical” books. That is, “second canon.” This term does not indicate any subordination in status. Those who have the Deuterocanonical books in their Bible hold them as equally authoritative as any other part of scripture. It is merely an acknowledgment that these books were not originally part of the canon of the Old Testament, but was added to it later. In their understanding, these books were added by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.


Why Don’t We Have the Apocrypha in Our Bibles?

Assuming you are Protestant, we do not have the Apocryphal books in our canon of scripture because they were composed in Greek and added as additions to the original Jewish canon of scripture.

The books of the Old Testament were originally composed in Hebrew and a little bit of Aramaic. Eventually, they were translated into Greek. We call this translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek the Septuagint. Eastern Orthodox Churches base their Old Testament on the Greek (Septuagint) rather than the Hebrew text. They believe that any place where a change, addition, or subtraction was made it was done by the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Other Old Testaments are based on the Hebrew and Aramaic originals.


Should Christians read the Apocrypha?

Yes! I like to say that reading the Apocrypha is like going back in time and going to Barnabas and Nobles Book Sellers. You park your camel in the parking lot and you go in and look at the Jerusalem Times Bestseller’s List and you find one that interests you and you purchase it to read. In other words, these books are like an ancient equivalent of popular levels books that are perhaps deeply inspirational, but not canonical.

The Anglican position is that the Apocrypha is good for reading in the church and for encouragement, but is not afforded the status of canonical inspired scripture. Personally, I fall into this category. Even the KJV 1611, held by many fundamentalist Christian groups to be the preferred version of scripture, included the Apocrypha. Martin Luther, that famous reformer, did not hold the Apocrypha to be scripture, but still included the books in an appendix in his translation of the Bible.

Should we fellowship with those who have these extra books in their Bible? Notice that any of these additional books are all included as part of the Old Testament in the Bibles of those who hold these texts as sacred scripture. The New Testament Canon is not disputed. Also, the canonicity of the other, “typical” 39 books of the Christian Old Testament are not disputed. Though I disagree with my Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends that these other books are canonical, I would still fellowship with them and embrace them as my brothers and sisters in Christ. For a fuller treatment on my thoughts on Christian Unity see here.


Further Research

Beginners:

  • Here is an episode of the podcast Theology in the Raw about the Apocrypha titled, “Why Christians Need to Read the Apocrypha.”
  • The NRSV and CEB have translations of the Apocrypha and can be read online for free at Bible Gateway.
  • Apocrypha for Beginners: A Guide to Understanding and Exploring Scriptures Beyond the Bible. Purchase here

Advanced:

  • An Introduction to the Apocrypha. Purchase here.
  • The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha. Purchase here.
  • The Cambridge Annotated Study Apocrypha. Purchase here 

Leave a Reply