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ADD TO YOUR LEARNING - The Philippine Teaching Ministry
The Philippine Teaching Ministry ADD TO YOUR LEARNING

THE BIBLE AND THE APOCRYPHA

John Oakes
[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 spurious writings.
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 Bible.

Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, First Maccabees, Second Maccabees, Wisdom Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch

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 individually.

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[94] 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 Apocrypha.

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).[95] 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...."[96] 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).[97] 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 deceived.

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. (Sirach 19:19).

"For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering-it will take lasting root.

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 Apocrypha freely.
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 (Wisdom 3:11,12).

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 inspired books.

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… (Daniel 3:26 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 Lord… 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 in Daniel.

© 2004-2008 Rolan Monje. All Rights Reserved.