The word ‘apocrypha’ comes from the Greek ‘apókruphos’, meaning hidden or secret.
The Apocrypha is a set of fourteen books that are included between the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments of certain Bibles used by some Christian groups. The books are:
- 1 Esdras
- 2 Esdras
- The rest of Esther
- Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah
- Song of the Three Children
- The Story of Susanna
- The Idol Bel, and the Dragon
- The Prayer of Manasses
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
These books were included in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible by St Jerome that is used by the Catholic church).
There are also some other books included in other versions of the Apocrypha, such as the Book of Enoch, 3 and 4 Maccabees, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Apocalypse of Moses, the Book of Jubilees, the Life of Adam and Eve, Psalm 151, etc.
Traditionally, these apocryphal books are included in Bibles used by the Catholic church, as well as the Greek and Russian Orthodox church and are called ‘deuterocanonical’ books, meaning a second canon of scripture, but are not accepted by other denominations.
We do not recognise these books as scripture, for many reasons. This article will explore the inconsistencies and problems with the books listed above and some of the different reasons that they do not belong in the Bible as the inspired word of God.
Why is it important?
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”.
We can stand by our Bible, knowing that every word written in it is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for us in these four different areas.
If we start adding man’s words to our Bibles, they are no longer by inspiration of God.
We are warned against man’s wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
If we accept books as part of the canon of the Bible that were not authored by God, we can no longer trust our Bible as the preserved and inspired word of God. We have to be sure that our Bibles only consist of the books that God ordained to be in there, otherwise we will no longer know what we can trust.
Another reason it is important to make sure our Bible is pure is because of the warnings God gives about adding to his word.
Deuteronomy 4:2 – “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
Proverbs 30:5-6 – “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”
Revelation 22:8 – “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”
We must take heed to these verses and be careful not to call the Apocryphal texts the word of God if they are not. We must also be careful not to “diminish ought from it” either though. Therefore, we must have a means of determining which books should be in the Bible, and which shouldn’t.
What criteria can we use to determine what is scripture?
The Christian Bible contains sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven in the New Testament.
When we consider any of the apocryphal books, we must first acknowledge that God is the authority on whether these books belong in our Bible. Texts belong in our Bible because they are inspired by God, not because we choose them as canon.
When the early church developed the list of books that we have in our Bible today, they considered the following guidelines:
- Was the book written by a prophet or apostle of God?
- Was the book confirmed by miracles or acts of God?
- Does the book tell the truth about God?
- Does the book have the power of God?
- Was the book accepted by the people of God?
If we consider the book’s author, origins, purpose, power, message and status amongst believers, we have a good standard to apply to see whether the book was inspired by God.
By comparing scripture with scripture, and comparing spiritual things with spiritual (2 Corinthians 2:13), we can make sure that we are not polluting our Bible with texts that create a contradictory image of God.
The power of our Bible is described in Hebrews 4:12; “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
If we allow books to be added to the canon of scripture that were not inspired by God, we dampen the Bible’s power and authority. We must be careful to not add any of our own words or ideas to God’s word.
We know that the Christian Bible, as it stands, is the whole counsel of God.
In Luke 22:44, Jesus referred to the Old Testament using a three-fold division; “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
Jesus divided the Old Testament into “the law”, “the prophets”, and “the psalms”. All of the books in our Old Testament fit into these three categories.
This same method of division was used by the Jews in Jesus’ day, who accepted the same thirty-nine books that we have today.
If we look at the books of the Old Testament, we can see that almost all of the books were penned by prophets of God. These were people that God directly used or communicated with to create the books we have today.
One of the clearest examples of this is shown in Jeremiah 30:2, which says, “Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book.”
This adds authority to the books written by prophets, as we know they were used of God.
We also know that the Old Testament is inspired by God, because Jesus and the apostles quoted hundreds of times from almost all of the Old Testament books. They used the scriptures to show fulfilment of prophecy, the arrival of Jesus Christ, and to repeat key messages God wishes for us to know.
We can also use similar methods to see that the books in our New Testament give us the complete counsel of God.
For example, all of the New Testament writers were either Jesus’ apostles, companions or relatives. All of the books in the New Testament were all written within a fifty year period. The vast majority of these books have never been disputed.
This makes the books of the New Testament easy to accept as the inspired word of God.
Another way we can determine that the sixty-six books of the Bible were all intended to be in the Bible, is that there are no contradictions or errors. If we begin to mix the word of God with the word of man, there will be inconsistencies and problems that arise.
We know that our Bible only has one author, and its author is divine! Therefore, we can expect to see no mistakes or unreliability. This is exactly what we see when reading the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament.
When examining the books of the Apocrypha, we can only have confidence in their authority if we see this same consistency and perfection. If they create any contradictory ideas about God, his nature or his word, they must be rejected as canon.
Should the Apocrypha be accepted?
There are a multitude of reasons why we do not accept the Apocrypha as part of the Bible. For example:
- First century Jews and Christians did not accept the Apocryphal books as scripture.
- Even secular writers from the first century acknowledged that they were not akin to the Bible. Josephus wrote that the Apocrypha was “not… worthy of equal credit” with the Old Testament.
- The Apocryphal books were never quoted by the New Testament writers. In comparison to the hundreds of times the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, this reveals to us that they did not see them as authoritative.
- Even the Catholic church did not officially call the Apocrypha as canon until 1546.
- St. Jerome (who translated the Bible into Latin for the Catholic church) said the Apocrypha were not “books of the canon” but “books of the church.”
2 Timothy 4:3 warns us, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;”.
One of the reasons we have the Apocryphal books today is because people desire more revelation than God has given them. However, the wisdom in the Apocrypha is purely from man – it provides man’s perspective on world history, man’s understanding of heaven, angels and end times, not God’s perspective, as we have in the Bible.
We cannot create our own interpretations of the Bible and our own thoughts and conclusions, and then add these to the Bible and call them scripture.
Scripture is defined in the Bible as “given by inspiration of God” and therefore must only include books that God has ordained.
We will now examine some of the errors and inconsistencies in the Apocryphal books that clearly contradict the teachings of the Bible.
The Apocrypha teaches the doctrine of purgatory:
In 2 Maccabees 12, Judas Maccabeus leads his army into battle. Those that die in battle are found to be carrying tokens of idols.
Verse 42 then tells us, “and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out.”
The first error this passage makes is that Judas instructs his army to pray for the sins of the dead. We are never told in the Bible to pray for the dead.
Furthermore, verse 45 goes on to say, “…Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”
Judas takes a collection from each individual in his army, to make atonement for the dead to deliver them from their sin.
This contradicts many passages in scripture that tells us that our spiritual state when we die will determine how we spend eternity.
Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”.
If we die trusting in the righteousness of Christ, we will spend eternity in heaven. If we die rejecting Christ and his sacrifice for us, we will spend eternity in hell in the absence of God’s presence.
After death, this judgment is made instantly, and based on our own personal decision in life. To make atonement for the dead is foolish and will contribute nothing to their eternity.
The Bible does not teach the doctrine of purgatory. The Bible does not teach that we can deliver the dead from their sin by our own sacrifice or by giving our money or prayers.
The Apocrypha teaches that alms can take away sin:
Tobit 12:9 says, “For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.”
The character speaking is Raphael, an archangel not named in the Bible. The archangel is teaching that to give alms (giving to others, especially in the sense of a church offering) will purge away sin and save from death.
Hebrews 1:2-3 reads, “Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:”
The Bible tells us that Jesus “by himself purged our sins” – when we get saved, our sins are washed away permanently by the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross.
1 John 1:7, “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Giving money or possessions cannot purge away our sins and the Apocrypha is wrong to say that it can. Our salvation is not impacted by any works that we do on this earth.
The Apocrypha contains historical errors:
Judith 1:7 – “Then Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, sent messengers to all who lived in Persia and to all who lived in the west, those who lived in Cilicia and Damascus, Lebanon and Antilebanon, and all who lived along the seacoast,”.
The Apocrypha incorrectly states that Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Assyrians, when he was actually king of Babylon.
Baruch 6:2 says, “And when you are come into Babylon, you shall be there many years, and for a long time, even to seven generations: and after that I will bring you away from thence with peace.”
The book of Baruch falsely prophesied that Israel would be in captivity to Babylon for seven generations. The book of Jeremiah was perfectly accurate when it prophesied that the captivity would last for seventy years.
The Apocrypha is derogatory about women:
Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) 22:3 says, “It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son, and the birth of a daughter is a loss.”
Ecclesiasticus 25:19 – “Any iniquity is small compared to a woman’s iniquity; may a sinner’s lot befall her!”
Ecclesiasticus 25:24 – “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.”
These verses teach a wildly extreme view of women, that is not only completely inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible, but dangerous! What blasphemy to say that these verses were inspired by God.
These are just some of the passages that clearly show that the Apocryphal books should not be placed alongside the books of the Bible or viewed as scripture.