[footnotes not included]
Why do most Bibles not include the apocrypha?
If one can assume that this question is about the
additions to the Old Testament which are included
in the Roman Catholic Bible, then the bottom line
answer is simple. The canon of the Old Testament was
set by the teachers of Judaism. The Old Testament
Apocrypha was never accepted by any of the Jewish
groups. There are absolutely no grounds for including
the Old Testament Apocrypha in the Bible at all. A
better question is, "How did the Apocrypha end
up in the Roman Catholic Bible?"
This question is answered in some detail in the article
below, which is taken from an appendix to the book
Daniel, Prophet to the Nations on the Apocrypha. This
article discusses the Old Testament Apocrypha as it
relates to the book of Daniel, but it addresses the
question asked above.
So what is the Apocrypha? Actually, there are two
separate terms which must be defined. First, there
is the Apocrypha. The term the Apocrypha refers to
a very specific list of additions to the Old Testament
which were brought into the Latin Vulgate translation
made by Jerome in the fourth century AD. It would
appear that these additions to the Old Testament were
an accidental result of the work of Jerome. The bishop
of the Roman Church, aware that the various Old Latin
versions then in use by the Western churches were
not of the best quality, asked the renowned scholar
Jerome in about 370 AD to produce a brand new Latin
translation of both the Old and the New Testaments.
The translation which Jerome produced was generally
of excellent quality because he attempted to use the
best Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available. The version
prepared by Jerome was far superior to any available
in Latin at that time. His translation eventually
became the standard Latin version of the Bible. It
was the King James Bible of its day. This explains
why it is called the Vulgate version (in Latin, the
versio vulgata). The Latin word vulgata means common.
In fact, the English word vulgar comes from this Latin
root word for common.
When Jerome made his translation of the Old Testament,
he made much use of the Greek version of the Old Testament,
commonly known as the Septuagint. This Greek translation
was already over five hundred years old at the time
Jerome made his translation. It had considerable authority
both to Christian and to Jewish scholars at the time.
It would appear that for reasons that are now obscure,
Jerome translated significant parts of the non-canonical
Greek texts of what we now call the Apocrypha into
Latin and included it in his edition of the Old Testament.
It is important to note that these Greek translations
of Hebrew writings were never considered canonical
(in other words they were never accepted as legitimate
scripture) by any of the Jews. From what is known
of Jerome as a scholar, it is extremely unlikely that
he was confused about the non-canonical nature of
these writings. He studied Hebrew under Jewish rabbis.
He actually openly disparaged the worth of the Apocrypha
even as he translated it. Jerome is the person who
actually coined the word apocrypha to refer to these
Despite Jerome's apparent intentions, once the additions
to the Old Testament were included in his Vulgate
translation, they took on a life of their own. Ultimately,
as what we now call the Roman Catholic Church came
to increasingly rely on the Vulgate translation, the
distinction between the non-canonical books (the Apocrypha)
and those accepted as legitimate by the Jews became
blurred. This process did not occur with the Eastern
Church (later known as the Orthodox Church). The Eastern
Church, with its capitals in Byzantium and Alexandria,
relied on Greek rather than Latin versions of the
Bible. For this reason, Jerome's translation did not
have a significant effect on the Eastern Church. Therefore
the Apocrypha was never accepted at all by the Eastern
Christians. Despite the fact that there is literally
no support whatever for the inclusion of the Apocrypha
in the Old Testament, the tradition of the day ultimately
won out. To this day, when one reads a Roman Catholic
translation of the Bible, one will find the writings
commonly called the Apocrypha included.
It would be appropriate at this point to list these
writings, but before doing this, the second of the
two terms referred to above must be defined. One must
make the distinction between the Apocrypha and the
term apocryphal. The word apocryphal originates from
the Greek word japokavluyi" which means hidden
away. Any writing that is claimed by some to be legitimate
scripture but which was not considered legitimate
by the great majority of the Jews when the Old Testament
canon was established would be apocryphal. In the
case of the New Testament, any book which was not
accepted by general consensus of the early church,
but which some might claim to be inspired would be
called apocryphal. There are a number of apocryphal
books which some have claimed to be "lost"
books of the New Testament, such as the "Gospel
of Thomas" and others. Besides that, there are
other books which some have claimed to be "lost"
books of the Old Testament, but which were not included
in Jerome's Vulgate translation, and are therefore
not part of "the Apocrypha" as defined above.
For the sake of simplicity, in this appendix the term
"the Apocrypha" will be used to refer only
to the additions to the Old Testament which appeared
in Jerome's Vulgate translation, and which are therefore
included in the Roman Catholic Bible. Other unaccepted
books will be referred to as apocryphal.
The writings of the Apocrypha are listed below in
the order in which they appear in the Roman Catholic
Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, First Maccabees,
Second Maccabees, Wisdom Sirach (Ecclesiasticus),
Additions to Daniel: The Prayer of Azariah and The
Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon
The writings of the Apocrypha are of varying quality,
especially in their historical validity. It will be
worthwhile to consider each of the books of the Apocrypha
The books of Tobit and Judith are moralistic and
romantic folk tales with a very dubious historical
accuracy. The book of Tobit includes such quaint details
as using the smoke from the liver and heart of a fish
to drive off a demon. A simple reading of the text
marks it as vastly inferior to the inspired writings
of the Bible. The book of Judith includes the most
obvious historical blunders. These would include having
Nebuchadnezzar listed as a king of the Assyrians!
Even an avowedly Roman Catholic edition of the Bible
includes in an introduction to the book the statement:
"Any attempt to read the book directly against
the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the
empires of the ancient world is bound to fail."
Despite their failings, and obvious non-inspired nature,
these stories make for interesting reading. The reader
is encouraged to get a hold of a Catholic Bible and
check out these stories for themselves. The inspired
nature of the Old Testament books is made more obvious
when they are read in comparison to the writings of
The additions to Esther are a Greek interpolation
into an original Hebrew text. They were clearly added
at a considerably later date, and are intended as
a commentary on the original. It was the tradition
of the Jewish rabbis to write commentaries on the
Hebrew texts and include them in parallel with the
original Biblical writings. The Talmud would be an
example of this type of Jewish commentary. The fact
that the additions were never even written in Hebrew
makes the claim that they are spurious appear undeniable.
These additions are not significant enough to deserve
much comment here.
Of more interest are First and Second Maccabees.
Both are a primarily historical account of the events
which occurred in the time between the Testaments.
They cover the time of the Greek kingdoms, especially
the time of the Seleucid domination of Palestine,
and of the early Jewish/Maccabean Dynasty. The two
are of greatly different value.
First Maccabees is a remarkably accurate historical
account of the same events which Daniel was able to
prophesy about, especially in Daniel chapters eight
and eleven. The biggest difference between the two
accounts is that Daniel wrote about four hundred years
before the incidents happened, whereas the writer
of First Maccabees had the advantage of writing a
generation or so after they occurred.
The quality of First Maccabees is such that it could
pass as inspired, at least in the opinion of this
author. There are no serious historical errors and
no statements which would be in obvious doctrinal
or theological contradiction to the Bible. One might
ask why it was not included in the Hebrew canon of
scriptures. Perhaps it was not included in the Hebrew
canon because, despite its high quality, it is simply
not inspired. It is also possible that the Jews excluded
it from the Old Testament because it puts the Roman
Empire in a relatively favorable light (when compared
to the Greek persecutors). The Jews in the time
of Christ would have struggled greatly seeing anything
good in their Roman overlords, and might have excluded
First Maccabees from the Old Testament on that account.
It is strongly recommended that the reader find a
Catholic version of the Bible and read First Maccabees.
Reading this account in the light of the prophecies
of Daniel can be a real inspiration. It expands greatly
on the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and
the righteous acts of those who refused to compromise
their faith in God.
The book of Second Maccabees is of considerably lesser
quality. It covers a similar period of history as
First Maccabees. However it contains some historical
errors, including mistakes in chronology and obvious
exaggerations in numbers. It does contain some additional
historical details not found in First Maccabees, such
as the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her
seven sons under Antiochus IV Epiphanes for refusing
to eat pork (2 Maccabees 7). There are a number of
other very inspiring incidents of faith under extreme
persecution described in this book. Despite these
strengths, the book contains such colloquialisms as
that found in 2 Maccabees 6:17, "Without further
ado, we must go on with our story...." Most
interesting is the author's quote at the end of the
book. "I will bring my own story to an end here
too. If it is well written, and to the point, that
is what I wanted; if it is poorly done and mediocre,
that is the best I could do" (2 Maccabees 15:37,38).
Can one imagine such a quote at the end of the book
of Acts, or of Second Kings? Clearly, this is not
an inspired book.
The books of Wisdom and Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus)
are written in styles which are obvious imitations
of the book of Proverbs. Both are essentially a list
of wise sayings. The writer of Wisdom pretends to
be Solomon himself in some sections. Because this
book was written in about 100 BC, one can see the
analogy to what the critics claim (wrongly) is the
case with Daniel: that it was written by a pretender.
There was a well-established tradition of Hebrew writers
ascribing a false authorship to a book to give it
greater moral weight. This is the origin of the collection
of pre- and post-Christian writings known as the Pseudepigrapha
(or false letter). The problem, in hindsight,
with the attempt to give greater moral weight through
using a false authorship is that in the end it actually
gives lesser moral weight unless the reader successfully
There are in fact a good number of very wise sayings
collected in these books. For example, What good is
an offering to an idol that can neither taste nor
smell? So it is with the afflicted man who groans
at the good things his eyes behold (Sirach 30:19,20).
Envy and anger shorten one's life, Worry brings on
premature old age. One who is cheerful and gay while
at table benefits from his food (Sirach 30:24,45).
If there are many with you at table, Be not the first
to reach out your hand (Sirach 31:18).
A great number of examples could be cited. One can
assume that the writers of these books were sincerely
trying to impart morality and wisdom to their Jewish
readers. However if a person reads Wisdom or Sirach
as scripture they will run into trouble. Consider
such passages as those quoted below, which have a
dubious doctrinal or theological basis.
Tell nothing to a friend or foe; If you have a fault,
reveal it not (Sirach 19:7).
This passage seems to be in conflict with the strong
advice in Proverbs and elsewhere that those who love
God should not hide their faults and sins, but rather
should confess them and bring them out into the light
in order to find healing in their lives.
There are a number of passages in these books that
seem to defend the idea of works salvation. For example:
Before you are judged, seek merit for yourself, and
at the time of visitation you will have a ransom.
"For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
it will serve as a sin offering-it will take lasting
In time of tribulation it will be recalled to your
advantage, like warmth upon frost it will melt away
your sins (Sirach 3:14,15).
This passage should raise some eyebrows, but what
about Sirach 3:29 following?
Water quenches a flaming fire and alms atone for sins.
One can see some justification for the Medieval Roman
Church practice of selling indulgences here. This
church policy involved people giving money to the
church and receiving a promise of forgiveness of their
sins in proportion to their contribution. One should
be aware that when the official Catholic Church quotes
scripture to support various teachings, it uses the
The books of Wisdom and Sirach take a dim view of
the relative worth of women.
For example consider:
For he who despises wisdom and instruction is doomed.
Vain is their hope, fruitless are their labors, and
worthless are their works. Their wives are foolish
and their children are wicked; accursed is their brood
Those Christian wives who have a difficult situation
with a non-believing husband, yet remain faithful
are certainly not fools, and neither are their children
necessarily wicked or accursed. Consider also:
Worst of all wounds is that of the heart, worst of
all evils is that of a woman.... There is scarce any
evil like that in a woman; may she fall to the lot
of the sinner (Sirach 25:12,18).
Similar strong words about the evil tendencies inherent
in men, might give some perspective to such a strong
statement about women, but both Sirach and Wisdom
are one-sided in their view of women, reflecting the
prejudice of Hebrew men in the second century BC.
This very dim view of women may have provided some
of the justification to the Catholic Church for eventually
excluding married men from the priesthood.
More examples such as the ten-month gestation period
for babies mentioned in Wisdom 7:2 and others could
be mentioned, but the point is made. These books do
indeed show some wisdom, but they definitely are not
The next item in the Apocrypha is the book of Baruch.
This book is pseudepigraphical, in that it pretends
itself to have been written by Baruch, the scribe
to Jeremiah. The book is generally of greater quality
than some of the others in the Apocrypha in that it
is a relatively accurate account from a historical
perspective. Besides this, it does not contain such
theological or doctrinal inconsistencies, as do the
books of Wisdom and Sirach. The sixth chapter purports
itself to be a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles
in Babylon. One cannot absolutely rule out the possibility
that this letter is genuine. It is a stinging rebuke
of idolatry much in the style of Jeremiah's writings.
Despite the quality of this book, there is no evidence
that the Jews ever considered it to be part of the
Old Testament canon.
The last part of the Apocrypha is the part which is
actually included as if it were part of Daniel in
the Roman Catholic Bible. These "additions to
Daniel" include two prayers in the form of psalms
which are inserted into chapter three of Daniel, as
well as two fable-like stories added at the end of
the book. The first of the additions to Daniel are
known as "The Prayer of Azariah" (i.e. of
Abednego) and "The Song of the Three Holy Children."
The Prayer of Azariah follows Daniel 3:23. It begins
with the phrase, "They walked about in the flames,
singing to God and blessing the Lord. According to
this section of the Apocrypha, in the fire, Azariah
stood up and prayed aloud, Blessed are you, and praiseworthy,
O Lord, the God of our fathers
in the Catholic Bible).
What follows is a psalm of praise to God, of confession
of Israel's sins and a plea for deliverance from the
Babylonian captivity. The poem itself contains no
obvious false teachings. The only problem with the
poem is the dubious claim that Abednego while in the
flames of the furnace actually recited the psalm.
Certainly the Jews themselves believed the poem to
be pseudepigraphic. In other words, they believed
that it did not contain the actual words of Azariah.
This is shown by the fact that they never included
it in the accepted text of Daniel.
Following the poem comes an interlude which includes
the statement that "the king's men who had thrown
them in continued to stoke the furnace with brimstone,
pitch, tow and faggots. The flames rose forty-nine
cubits above the furnace
. But the angel of the
drove the fiery flames out of the furnace
and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden
breeze were blowing through it." It seems extremely
unlikely that the servants of Nebuchadnezzar would
have continued to stoke the fire after their compatriots
had already been consumed by its intensity. The forty-nine-cubit
flame height and the dew-laden breeze comment all
make one think that the quality of this supposed scripture
passage is very questionable.
After the interlude mentioned above, the apocryphal
addition to Daniel continues with a second psalm,
commonly known as "The Song of the Three Children."
Again, this is a nice spiritual poem, but it is very
unlikely its authors were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,
as claimed. The Jewish teachers in the time before
Christ-God's chosen arbiters of what became part of
the Old Testament canon-never included this poem.
In the Catholic Bible, what is known as Daniel chapter
twelve is followed by two stories. The first of the
stories is known as "Susannah." In the story,
two hypocritical judges attack Susannah (a beautiful
and righteous Jew) after they are overcome with their
lust when they see her bathing. When they attempt
to rape her, she screams. The servants come rushing
in and the wicked judges accuse Susannah of lying
with another man. In a trial, the judges accept the
story of the wicked judges because they are highly
respected. Susannah is condemned, but as she is led
off to execution, Daniel, who is described as a young
boy, stops the procession. He accuses the judges of
lying and demands a continuance of the trial in which
he tricks the men into revealing their lie.
In the end, Susannah is exonerated, the wicked judges
are cut in two, "And from that day onward, Daniel
was greatly esteemed by the people" (Daniel 13:64).
This is a nice fable with an obvious moral, but it
cannot be taken seriously as belonging to the inspired
book of Daniel!
Next comes the story of Bel and the Dragon. In this
story, Bel is the chief god of Babylon, and the dragon
is an idol in the shape of a dragon which the Babylonians
supposedly worshiped. This story appears so far from
being believable that it does not even seem worth
relating the details to the reader. As a moral fable
to be told by Jewish parents to their children it
might work fairly well. This may very well have been
the original intent of its author. Suffice it to say
that in this absolutely unbelievable story, Daniel
uses his wisdom to prove to Cyrus the king that both
Bel and the dragon are in fact not gods at all. It
must be an embarrassment to anyone who attempts to
pass off the entire Bible as inspired yet must defend
this fable as being among those inspired books.
Remember that those who would attack the authenticity
of Daniel would seek to put it in a group of books
such as Tobit and the additions to Daniel. They would
claim it is, in essence, apocryphal. From the simple
description given here, it is not difficult at all
to see that this claim is outrageous. Daniel contains
none of the blatant historical blunders, quaint moralizing
fables, or obvious teachings in conflict with basic
Bible truths as do the books of the Apocrypha.
In summary, the writings which were included in Jerome's
translation of the Bible into Latin, which later came
to be known as the Apocrypha, include a number of
books and parts of books which vary greatly from one
another in quality. They span the range from poorly
written fables to very valuable historical documents
which can supplement our understanding of some of
the prophecies of Daniel. In the final analysis, despite
the fine quality of some of the writings, there is
no justification for including any of these into the
officially accepted canon of scripture. Claims that
the traditional book of Daniel is in fact apocryphal
do not hold up to careful scrutiny. This is made especially
true when the generally low qualities of the apocryphal
writings are compared to the clearly inspired writing