|Posted on January 20, 2019 at 10:10 PM||comments (1)|
Having been recently asked about the “Apocrypha” by a member of the congregation, I decided to write this short item. Briefly stated, the Apocrypha consists of works of dubious origin and authorship. This means that we don’t know much about their origin. They were all written during the period following the Captivity of Judah in Babylon and none of them claims divine inspiration. Although they were known and read by the Jewish people, these works were never accepted as part of the “Law and the Prophets.” Just as we today have good books of great spiritual value which we do not accept as inspired by God, so the Jews, before Christ, had such books. The Apocrypha was especially respected by the Jewish population of Alexandria, in pre-Christian Egypt where the Old Testament was translated into Greek in the early 3rd century B.C.
Some of the works included in the Apocrypha are historical in nature, especially First and Second Maccabees which bridge, to a degree, the period between the Old and New Testaments. The two books of Esdras purport to be historical, but really constitute a reconstruction in Greek of the Biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The books of Esdras should not be accepted as historically accurate.
Some of the books of the Apocrypha are stories about individuals such as Tobit and Judith, persons otherwise unknown. The so-called Book of Esther purports to contain information not included in the Biblical book of Esther. The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus are of the “wisdom literature” genre, somewhat similar to the Biblical books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job. The book named Baruch is falsely ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe of that name. The song of The Three Holy Children concerns the three friends of Daniel who were thrown into the fiery furnace (cf. Daniel 3:8-30). It claims to be a “song” or prayer of praise to God sung by Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego as they went into the furnace. Bibles authorized by the Catholic Church this include this “song,” simply attaching it to the account given in Daniel 3, thus lengthening that chapter. There is a short prayer ascribed to Manasses, king of Judah, while he was a captive in Babylon, and two short, innocent stories, The History of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, both of which are interesting to read.
The New Testament does not allude to any of the books which compose the Apocrypha and they are nowhere cited in support of any New Testament teaching. Not only so, but they contribute nothing new to the Old Testament. They should in no way be considered to be “lost” Biblical books. The Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, who translated the Old Testament into Greek knew them well but did not include them in the Septuagint, the Holy Scriptures referred to by Paul. Jewish authors of note in the early centuries following the crucifixion of Jesus, including Flavius Josephus, were well aware of them. Nevertheless, these books were of some interest to Jews of the Dispersion and were no doubt read by early Christians as well.
During the three centuries following the birth of Christ, many other uninspired books were being circulated, and some believers would have read some of them. The Gnostics were spreading their pernicious doctrines through their own books and It is altogether likely that Paul was warning Timothy about such when he wrote, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and thus gone away from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
The Roman Catholic Church, in 1546, during the Council of Trent, decided that most, if not all, of the books comprising the Apocrypha were “Holy Scripture” and included them in Catholic editions of the Bible. Some Bibles published by Protestants, while not recognizing the Apocrypha as inspired by God, nevertheless include it in a separate section. Because some Christians may wonder why it is included in the Bible, church leaders and teachers need to be able to answer questions about the Apocrypha.
However, as before stated, those books were never received by the Jews or early Christians as inspired texts and could pose some dangers to uninformed believers. We must be careful what we read, always testing and proving everything by the sure word of God. The Bible should remain our favorite book.
Holy Bible, Book divine, precious treasure, thou art mine.
Mine to tell me whence I came, Mine to teach me what I am.
Mine to comfort in distress, Suffering in this wilderness;
Mine to show, by living faith, Man can triumph over death.
Mine to tell of joys to come, And the rebel sinner’s doom.
O thou holy book divine, Precious treasure, thou art mine.
-- Donald R. Taylor