The Clear Truth About the Apocrypha
By James Scott Trimm
The term “Apocrypha” can be confusing at times, because it can be used in many different ways. For the purpose of this article, the term “Apocrypha” refers to the following collection of tthirteen books:
- 1 Esdras
- 2 Esdras
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Wisdom of Ben Sira
- Letter of Jeremiah
- The Prayer of Manasseh
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
These are books which are regarded as canon by some, but not all groups of Christians. I have not included in this list:
- Additions to Esther
- The Prayer of the Three Young Men
- Bel and the Dragon
- Psalm 151
These are not actually books, but rather extracts from “long versions” of the books of Esther, Daniel and Psalms. Whether or not the “long” versions of these books should be used is another, very important question, but not the question we are dealing with in this article.
We will also not discuss other books which are not part of these thirteeen books, which have some claim to authority (such as 1 Enoch and the Book of Jasher). The thirteen books mentioned above were originally part of the Tanak (the so-called “Old Testament”) and were taken out of your Bible! In the following article I intend to prove beyond any doubt, that these thirteen books were originally part of the Bible and have since been removed. The word “Apocrypha” means literally “hidden” indicating that these books were being removed from their place in Scripture, and placed or “hidden” in an appendix in the back of the book.
THE ANCIENT CANONS
None of these thiteen books are to be found in the canon of the Masoretic Text. However, the Masoretic Text is a rather late compilation, being a product of the Masorites between the 7th and 11th centuries C.E..
However the much older canon of the Greek Septuagint text, the translation of which was begun by the third century B.C.E. and completed before 132 B.C.E., included all of these books with the exception of 2 Esdras. Also the canon of Aramaic Peshitta Tanak which was translated from the Hebrew, probably in the second century C.E.. contains all of these books except for 1 Esdras. The books are also to be found in the fifth century canon of the so-called Christian Palestinian Aramaic Version. These books are also to be found in the canons of the Old Slavonic, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Old Coptic and Old Ethiopic versions of the Tanak. These books are also to be found in the canon of the Old Latin version of the Tanak, and all but 2nd and 3rd Maccabees (though in modern editions 1st and 2nd Esdras are moved to an appendix). In short, the earliest canon to omit these thirteeen books, is that of the Masoretic Text, which does not arise until the 7th to 11th centuries CE!
THE CHURCH FATHERS
One critic of the Apocrypha claimed: “The majority of the early church writers rejected these books as being inspired.”
This is absolutely false. Originally when writing this article, I intended to include quotations in which the pre-Nicean “Church Fathers” quote from the books of the Apocrypha as “Scripture”. I began gathering these quotes and soon realized that this task was well beyond the scope of this article. These “Church Fathers” do not just occasionally quote the books of the Apocrypha, they quote these books with as much consistency as the quote the other books of the Tanak And in quoting these books they refer to them as “Scripture” and even “Divine Scripture.” Among these “Church Fathers” are Ignatius, Polycarp, Pseudo-Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Cyprian and Tertullian. This clearly demonstrates that the earliest “Christians” used these books and regarded them as canon.
ANCIENT JEWISH USAGE
Some or all of these books were used by the Essene community at Qumran. Among the manuscripts of Biblical books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls are also included many manuscripts of books of the Apocrypha including Ben Sira, Tobit and the Letter of Jeremiah. These texts are all Hebrew and Aramaic except for one fragment of the Letter of Jeremiah in Greek. There is every reason to believe that the Qumran Community accepted these books as part of their canon.
Josephus in his historical works makes use of historical portions of the Apocrypha. He makes use of both 1st and 2nd Maccabees and follows 1 Esdras as his primary source over the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, including the account of the competition in 1 Esdras 3:1-5:6 which is not to be found in Ezra or Nehemiah. The Talmud quotes Ben Sira as “Scripture” three times (b.Hag. 13a; b.Yev. 63b; b.Ket.110b) six times in Midrash Rabbah (X:6; LXXIII:12; XCI:3; XXXIII:1; VII, 19; XII,11) and once in the Zohar (Raya Mehemna 42b). The stories of the books of Tobit, Judith and the Maccabees also find themselves transcribed, usually in an abridged form, into the Midrashim.
USED IN THE NT
One critic of the Apocrypha wrote “These books existed before New Testament times, yet there is not one single quotation from the Apocrypha is in the New Testament.”
This is at the very least misleading, and at the very most, false. These books were clearly used by the earliest believers in Messiah. While they are never quoted outright in the “New Testament”, they are often strongly alluded to. The following comparisons are all taken from the KJV version for consistency.
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,"
Clearly alluding to:
"For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen. ... Howbeit neither are they to be pardoned. ...They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traiterously, or grieved him by adultery.... For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil."
(Wisdom 13:5, 8; 14:24,27)
"Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour. What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,"
Certainly alluding to:
"For who shall say, What hast thou done? or who shall withstand thy judgment? or who shall accuse thee for the nations that perish, whom thou made? or who shall come to stand against thee, to be revenged for the unrighteous men?... For if thou didst punish the enemies of thy children, and the condemned to death, with such deliberation, giving them time and place, whereby they might be delivered from their malice:... For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge."
(Wisdom 12:12, 20; 15:7)
"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.... For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
(2 Corinthians 5:1, 4)
No doubt Paul is alluding to:
"For the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things."
"Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:"
Well it does not take much to figure out that Paul did not invent the "full/complete armour" of Elohim , but drew the idea from:
"He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise."
"...he [Eleazar] conqured the besiegers with the shield of his devout reason. ... Therefore let us put on the full armour of self-control. .."
(4 Maccabees 7:4; 13:16 RSV)
"Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.: The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ"
(1 Peter 3:20-21)
Kefa is alluding to the allegory in 4Maccabees:
"For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory....
Just as Noah's ark, carrying the world in the universal flood, stoutly endured the waves, so you, O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms that assail religion."
(4 Maccabees 7:1-3 15:31-32 RSV)
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:"
A near quote from Sirach:
"Be swift to hear; and let thy life be sincere; and with patience give answer."
"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:"
Again Ya'akov (James) draws from Sirach:
"Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I fell away: for thou oughtest not to do the things that he hateth. Say not thou, He hath caused me to err: for he hath no need of the sinful man."
"Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth."
Seems to allude to Tobit:
"Let not the wages of any man, which hath wrought for thee, tarry with thee, but give him it out of hand: for if thou serve God, he will also repay thee: be circumspect my son, in all things thou doest, and be wise in all thy conversation."
"And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets."
This concept draws from Tobit:
"I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One."
"And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:... And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;: The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.: And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."
(Revelation 19:1; 21:19-21)
Again the idea draws from Tobit:
"And the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl and carbuncle and stones of Ophir. And all her streets shall say, Alleluia; and they shall praise him, saying, Blessed be God, which hath extolled it for ever."
Another case if found in comparing Jude 1:6-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-6 with 3 Maccabees 2:4-5:
"And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
(Jude 1:6-7 KJV)
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;"
(2 Peter 2:4-6 KJV)
This reference to the fallen angels event of Gen. 6 which brought the birth of “giants” wiped out by the flood immediately followed by a reference to the judgment of Sodom certainly alludes to:
"It was thou who didst destroy the former workers of unrighteousness, among whom were the giants, who trusted in their strength and hardihood, by covering them with a measureless flood. It was thou who didst make the Sodomites, those workers of exceeding iniquity, men notorious for their vices, an example to after generations, when thou didst cover them with fire and brimstone."
(3 Maccabees 2:4-5)
(Notice also the common phrase “an example to after generations/those after”)
SETTING SOME THINGS STRAIGHT
There are many claims made by those who oppose the Apocrypha, which need to be addressed:
1. "the lack of any Hebrew originals"
This argument fails on three levels.
First of all it fails because we do have Hebrew originals for at least parts of several of the books of the Apocrypha including Tobit, Judith, Ben Sira and 1Maccabees. We also have Aramaic Peshitta versions of all but 1Esdras, and we have good reason to believe (based on comparing the Hebrew of the Tanak and Ben Sira with the Aramaic of the Peshitta) that most or all of these were translated directly from the Hebrew and very literally. (For those that do not know, Aramaic is very similar to Hebrew, so a literal Aramaic translation of a Hebrew original is almost as good as having the Hebrew itself).
Second of all, at the time Rabbinic Judaism rejected these books most of all of them still existed in Hebrew, and at the time Protestantism rejected them, more of them existed in Hebrew than exist now. This is circular thinking. The Hebrew originals have largely been lost (or in some cases fallen into obscurity) because Protestantism and Rabbinic Judaism rejected them, and now they should be rejected because the Hebrew originals have been lost or fallen into obscurity.
A similar situation exists with certain books of the "New Testament". For example we can now establish beyond any real doubt that Revelation was originally written in Hebrew, but the original Hebrew is now lost and only Aramaic and Greek remain. Even for those of us who maintain Hebrew and Aramaic origins for the books of the NT, no good contenders for the original Hebrew or Aramaic of 2Kefa, 2 & 3 Yochanan and Jude are currently known. Would one also have us reject these books?
2. "and many of them contain theologically or factually problematic statements"
Again, those who reject all or part of the Bible make the same argument against the books that are in the canon. Antimissionaries make the same arguments against the NT. Certainly the canonical books contain statements which have been used by various groups as proof texts to "prove" various false doctrines. Moreover we are still trying to resolve just exactly what the original Hebrew and Aramaic of these books actually says.
1 and 2 Macabees disagree on how Antiochus IV died. 1 Mac 6:8-16 says he became grief stricken and died of sorrow in his bed. 2 Mac 9 says God struck him with a disease in his bowels on the battlefield and he was hurled from his chariot, dieing painfully on the ground with worms coming out of his eyes and his flesh rotting as the army looked on. Obviously, both accounts cannot be true, but both accounts appear in the Catholic edition of "Scripture".
This reminds me of anti-missionary arguments that Matthew and Acts disagree on how Judas died. When the various manuscript versions are compared in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek we find that the two accounts can be resolved. In fact the original Hebrew of 1Maccabees has many agreements with 2Maccabees on the death of Antiochus Epiphanies against the Greek version of 1 Maccabees.
2 Macabees encourages us to pray for the dead, a common Catholic practice. This practice is justified by this passage...
"Judas urged the people to keep themselves free from all sin,....he took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmae, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for the sin offered, an altogether fine and noble action, in which he took full account of the resurrection. For if he had not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superflurious to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. This was why he had this atonement sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin."
(2 Maccabees 12:42-45, The Jerusalem Bible)
This passage was used to support the Catholic idea of indulgences – that money can buy atonement for one's sins by someone other than the sinner even after he died!!!!
Just because a certain passage has been misused by some group does not mean the book should be rejected. If that were the case we would reject the canon based on its misuse by the Jehovah's Witnesses.
2 Maccabees 5:12-16 claims that Jeremiah prayed for Israel after he died, which provided the Catholic Church it's basis for praying to Mary and other cannonized "saints". In fact that essentially means that there were corruptions in the Catholic Church that did not come from paganism but from ancient writings written by Jewish men .... but rejected by the overwhelming majority of Jewish leaders.
Although Catholics have justified this doctrine from this passage this is only rationalizing of a doctrine they transferred from paganism. They pray to various "saints" as to pagan gods. This event was much more akin to that of the mount of transfiguration event in Matthew 17.
Sirach, found only in the Apocrypha, also promotes this concept by saying "almsgiving atones for sins." (Sirach 3:33) and Tobit also says "alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness." (Tobit 4:11).
I assume they refer to Sira 3:29 which is 3:30 in some versions. The Hebrew may be understood as "Therefore the almsgiver shall be atoned for his sins" (no cause and effect indicated) and the Aramaic literally reads "Therefore the almsgiver forsakes his sins". The KJV of Tobit 4:10-11 reads:
"Because that alms do deliver from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness. For alms is a good gift unto all that give it in the sight of the most High."
The Hebrew of Tobit 4:11 reads:
"… and alms do deliver from death; and everyone who occupies himself in almsgiving shall behold the face of Elohim, as it is written, "I will behold your face by almsgiving" (Ps. 17:15)
Likewise we read in Proverbs “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of YHWH men depart from evil.” (Prov. 16:6)… should we remove Proverbs from the canon?
Sirach 10:26 even says "Do not try to be smart when you do your work.". Why not? My career would be in ruins if I followed that advice.
The Aramaic says "Be not lazy when you do your work"
Judith 1:1 incorrectly claims that Nebuchadnezzar was king of Assyria when he was king of Babylon and claims that he reigned from Ninevah, contrary to the Scriptures which tell us he reigned from Babylon.. Keep in mind that it was the Assyrians that captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim and the Babylonians that captured the southern kingdom of Judah.
Another critic says:
They [The Apocrypha] abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms. [referring to the book of Judith]
This "problem" is just plain silliness. The proper names in the Book of Judith were encoded. The Book was written during the Maccabean rebellion and names were changed to protect Judith herself as well as anyone possessing a copy pf the book. "Nebuchadnezzar" stood in place of "Antiochus Epiphanies" because both names have the same numerical value (gematria) in Hebrew. "Assyria" is used as code for the Seleucid Empire, and "Nineveh" is the codeword used for "Antioch". These facts are well recognized in the Midrashim which refer to this story with that decoding scheme.
HOW DID WE GET OUR CANON?
Now it is very unlikely that early Christians, after their split from Nazarene Judaism would have adopted any books from Rabbinic Jews. Thus any “Old Testament” books used as canon by the earliest Christians would have to have been inherited to them from their Nazarene forefathers.
The evidence is overwhelming, these books were originally part of the Bible and have since been removed.
All English-language Protestant Bibles in the 16th Century included the books of the Apocrypha—generally in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments; However, Puritan theologians were inclined to reject books which owed their inclusion in the Biblical canon to ecclesiastical authority. Starting in 1630, volumes of the Geneva Bible were occasionally bound with the pages of the Apocrypha section excluded. After the Restoration in 1660, Dissenters tended to discourage the reading of the Apocrypha in both public services and in private devotion.
The 1611 KJV included the Apocrypha but many publishers sought to satisfy a demand for cheaper and less bulky Bibles. In 1615 public notice was made that no Bibles were to be bound and sold without the Apocrypha with a penalty of one year in prison. None the less publishers continued seeking to increase their profit margin and soon it became difficult to find an ordinary edition of the KJV which contained the Apocrypha. (Today publishers are doing the same thing with the rest of the Tanak, simply printing the New Testament alone).