by: Keith Wolfenbarger
The Apocrypha is a term designating a group of books of Jewish origin held to be in Scripture by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. These books are not accepted as Scripture by Jews and Protestants.
Most of these books were a part of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. This version was used by Jews and Early Christians from the Second Century B.C. till the Third Century A.D. The Jews formally rejected these books as canonical in the Second Century A.D.
The Apocryphal books were included in most Christian Bibles until the Protestant Reformation. At the Council of Trent in 1546 the Roman Catholic Church in response to Protestant criticisms of the Apocrypha, officially declared as canonical the following books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), I and II Maccabees, Addition to Esther, and additions to Daniel.
At the Westminister Confession of 1643 the Protestants officially rejected the Apocrypha. The Orthodox Churches accepted all of the books accepted by the Roman Catholics as well as the Prayer of Manasseth, Psalms 151, I Esdras and III Maccabees. The Greek Orthodox Church has IV Maccabees in its appendix of the Old Testament. The Slavonic Orthodox Churches accept II Esdras (which they call III Esdras.)
What Value is there in Reading these Books?
1. Some of these books are historical works that give additional history of God's people and work. They fill in gaps that are left by the books we have in the Bible. I, II and III Maccabees and I Esdras are in this category.
2. They help us to understand some of the beliefs of Judaism at the time of Jesus and the New Testament Church.
3. Many of these books were part of the Septuagint version of the Old Testament used by the early New Testament Church. They were read by and had influence on the Church. Clement of Rome, a disciple of Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians mentions Judith as a woman of faith in I Clement 22:22. He obviously was familiar with the book of Judith, one of the books of the Apocrypha.
4. Certain of these books, have been used to prove unbiblical doctrines, especially the doctrine of the "Immortality of the Soul."
Being familiar with the Books of the Apocrypha helps us to understand the basis for others beliefs and gives us an opportunity to study and refute error.
Books of the Apocrypha
Apocrypha (lit. "obscure, hidden) the term designating a group of books of Jewish origin held to be Scripture by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. These books are not accepted as Scripture by Jews and Protestants.
Tobit tells the story of Tobit, a righteous man of the Tribe of Naphtali taken into captivity into Assyria. After Tobit becomes blind by bird droppings falling in his eyes, Tobit sends his son Tobias to retrieve some money left with a relative in Media. Tobias retrieves the money, finds a good wife and is able to heal Tobitís blindness with the aid of an angel.
Judith is the story of a righteous Jewish woman used by God to save the Jewish nation from an Assyrian king named Nebuchadnezzar. Judith gains the confidence of the Assyrian general and kills him in his sleep.
Esther (with Additions)
The Greek version of Esther has additions explaining Godís role in using Esther and Mordecai to save the Jews. It portrays Esther and Mordecai as righteous and willing instruments of God. This version of Esther was in the Septuagint.
Wisdom of Solomon
The Wisdom of Solomon purports to be a discourse on wisdom by Solomon. Most likely written by an Alexandrian Jew in the first century B.C. or first century A.D. The author combines the keeping of the law with Greek philosophy. Wisdom shows the entry into Judaism of the belief of the immortality of the soul.
Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach
Sirach was written by Jesus, son of Eleazer, son of Sirach between 200 and 180 B.C. It teaches the pursuit of wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Wisdom is found in obeying the Law and seeking God.
Baruch is a letter allegedly written by Baruch, the secretary of Jeremiah, from Babylon to the survivors in Jerusalem. It is a confession of national sin, a petition to God for deliverance and encouragement to the readers to have faith in God that deliverance will come.
Letter of Jeremiah
The Letter of Jeremiah is a letter claiming to be written by Jeremiah to the Jews taken to Babylon warning them against idolatry.
Additions to Daniel
1. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews consists of a prayer by Azariah (Abednego) when he, Hananiah (Shadrach) and Mishael (Meshach) were in the furnace in Babylon and a song of praise to God was given by all three men.
2. Susanna tells the story of Susanna, a young Jewish woman in Babylon. Two elders try to seduce her, she refuses and they, in turn, accuse her of committing adultery with a young man. She is put on trial and condemned to death. Daniel takes up her cause and proves her innocent.
3. Bel and the Dragon tells of two incidents in the life of Daniel. In both Daniel proves that the gods of King Cyrus are not gods at all.
I Maccabees gives the history of the Maccabean uprisings in Judea and the establishment of an independent Jewish state by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers Jonathan and Simon and Simonís son John Hyrcanus.
II Maccabees gives information about the events leading up to the Maceabean revolt and the early campaigns of Judas Maccabeus.
I Esdras gives a narrative of certain important events in the history of Judah, from the Passover of Josiah to the reading of the Law by Ezra.
Psalms 151 was a psalm attributed to David.
III Maccabees describes the deliverance of the Jews in Egypt from genocide during the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopater.
II Esdras claims to be a book of visions that were given to Ezra. It is made up of three works: an apocalypse by a Jewish author and two Christian supplements.
IV Maccabees is a philosophical book demonstrating the superiority of "religious reason" over the emotions. It gives the examples of the martyrdoms of the priest Eleazar, of the seven brothers, and of their mother as a proof of this principle.
IV Maccabees demonstrates the beginning of the belief in the "immortality of the soul" in Judaism.
Prayer of Manasseh
The Prayer of Manasseh claims to be the prayer of repentance given by King Manasseh of Judah.
In Conclusion: Becoming familiar with the Books of the Apocrypha can be an interesting and educational study. It can also help us to understand the beliefs of others and prepare us to be able "to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15.)
Note: For more information on this topic, see Halleyís Bible Handbook - Chapters: "Between the Testaments" page: 406 and "How we Got the Bible" page: 747.