We’ve been discussing how the Canon of the Bible was made, its inspiration, and authority. This raises several questions about which books belong in the Bible and which books don’t. From time to time in the media and scholarship, someone inevitably discovers an ancient document and asks why it can’t be included in the Canon of Scripture.
There are several books that are sometimes included in the Bible but not considered by Protestants to be inspired. And there are a host of other ancient pieces of literature that beg our attention. So what should we say about these documents?
I want to focus on the Old Testament Apocrypha. Why can we not consider these as inspired works that belong in the Canon? Those are precisely the questions we seek to prompt us into a closer look at these claims as we discuss the Canon of Scripture.
Let me start by defining terms and pointing out the books we’re referring to. Then I will give the reasoning for why these books are not included, and finally, I will state the theological reason for why most people would tell you they don’t deserve to be in the Canon.
The word Apocrypha means “hidden things” and refers to books included in some Bibles and manuscripts. “Apocryphal books” applies not only to works that historically were written between the writing of the Old and New Testaments, but also refers to some works written after the New Testament as well.
We have 39 books that compose the Old Testament in the Canon today. Historically, Rabbis have challenged about 5 of those books for different reasons. The book of Esther, never mentions God’s name. However, others have convincingly argued that the letters of God’s name, YHWH, are used in literary patterns that are purposefully composed, as well as the message that God works behind the scenes and fulfills his plans in our lives.
Many suggest Song of Solomon doesn’t belong in the Canon. It has been interpreted in one of two ways. The first is as an image of Christ and the church. The second is as a romance that gives godly principles for marriage and dating. For these reasons, it has always been included in the Canon.
But the Old Testament Apocrypha was written between Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and about the 200s AD. There are about 20 works, including books and excerpts. Some are extensions of inspired books like Esther and Daniel.
Others are historical accounts like the Maccabees. Some are simply stories or wisdom literature, like the Wisdom of Sirach. Old Testament Apocrypha books are listed in some Bibles and and other literature. Here’s a list of the most common works:
- Addition to Esther
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus)
- The Letter of Jeremiah
- Additions to Daniel
- The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
- Bel and the Dragon
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- 1 Esdras
- 2 Esdras
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Psalm 151
These works are found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. They were also translated in the Vulgate, the Latin translation, and are even found in the earliest editions of the King James Version.
However, not all books are in each one. They are listed in different orders and some are missing from those lists. Because of these differences, we can tell these books weren’t considered as crucial as the inspired books of the Bible. While the biblical Canon is preserved throughout time, the Apocryphal books are not as strongly represented.
Most scholars remind us that the Jews didn’t consider these apocryphal books inspired. But that does not mean that they are not useful. In fact, they tell us a lot about the times in which they were written, as well as the cultural and historical understanding of those eras.
Some books do not contain completely accurate data historically or geographically. These are all reasons why they are not considered inspired. It is enjoyable and interesting to read them. I have not truly studied them myself but I have read all of them.
One book of great interest is Enoch’s work, although Enoch did not write it. It was given his name for credibility. This is another reason that some of these books are not inspired. It is believed that they try to garner the credibility of a true writer of Scripture in their names at times.
Jude quotes from Enoch in Jude 14-15. But quoting from a book by the inspired writers does not give that work inspiration. Paul quotes from secular poets in Acts 17:28 and 1 Corinthians 6:13. Just because biblical authors use these sources, they aren’t inspired. This is especially true when the writer uses the source to deny its premise or as a counterpoint to his argument.
In the early 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, Catholics and Protestants went to war not only over principles of faith but also over the Canon itself. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) decided that the Catholics consider the Apocrypha inspired because the Protestants did not.
Even the Canon became a bone of contention among these two groups. When the Apocrypha is inconsistently translated or absent from Bible versions, this gives us clues about questions of inspiration. Do such inconsistencies measure up to the high standard of the Canon books?
Historically, these books have been used to separate groups of Christians. They do not achieve the goal of unity in Christ’s body. They are of great interest and even profitable for the study of history, but they are not inspired.
There is also one looming theological reason these books are not included in the Canon of Scripture. The Canon was closed with the final book of the New Testament, Revelation, in 95-96 AD. None of the early church fathers considered their writings canonical. Only heretics try to add to Scripture after that date.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read them. Because Jude quotes from Enoch, we can tell what the first century Jews believed in the times of Jesus. What do you think about the Old Testament Apocrypha? Leave a comment and tell me if you’ve ever read them and what you think about them.