What, if any, is the role of the apocryphal books and the early church fathers in helping us with understanding the Scriptures?
The Old Testament Apocrypha can be found in some Bibles but is mostly separate from Bibles today. There are roughly 14 books of the Old Testament Apocrypha between the time of the Old Testament and New Testament, about 400 BC to 50 AD. Some of the most helpful to Christians are Enoch and the Maccabees.
The Maccabees describe the history of Israel in the time between the old and new Testaments. They highlight the priestly brothers who used guerrilla warfare to fight back against the Greeks, especially Antiochus Epiphanies IV.
When he took over the area of Palestine he put a statue of Zeus in the Hebrew Temple and sacrificed pigs on the altar. All of these were extremely offensive to the Old Testament laws. Pigs were unclean animals and Israelites just got back into the land from a 70 yearexile because of idolatry.
Maccabee means “hammer” and these brothers were used as God’s hammer to save the Jews. The first thing they did when they won their war was to cleanse the temple. The books of Maccabees help us to understand these historical events.
The book of Enoch and the other books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are very helpful because they show us what the Jews of the first century in Palestine, the Jews of Jesus’ and apostles’ day believed and what influenced their beliefs.
Some of these books were very popular. Jude quotes from the book of Enoch because it is so popular and everyone knows about it. He uses it as an illustration in his book. This doesn’t make it an inspired writing but it does show how popular the beliefs inside of it were held by the people.
The New Testament was written from about 53-96 AD. After the writing of the New Testament came the writing of the second generation, and beyond, of Christian leaders known as the early church fathers. They wrote from anywhere in the 100s AD to the 400s AD.
These church leaders are very valuable to us because they quoted from the New Testament manuscripts, perhaps original ones. They provide the understanding of the second generation of Christians and beyond who had direct contact and were trained by the original apostles.
There is a scholar that many other scholars quote (perhaps improperly) named Dalrymple. They say that he has researched all of the early church fathers and found that only 11 verses of the New Testament have not been quoted by them.
Even if he is not completely accurate in his claims, although no one can find this quote from him in his writings, the early church fathers of the first through fourth centuries do quote the New Testament often and describe the same Jesus we meet in the New Testament.
The early church fathers confirm that Jesus is exactly who the New Testament says he is. The on the fact that they quoted from the New Testament, they also show us how the New Testament doctrines and teachings were applied to the second generation of Christians and beyond.
They help us to see how the New Testament doctrines and teachings affected Christians beyond the New Testament. They also had more complete copies of the New Testament then in the first century. Most people don’t realize that the first century Christians did not have an entire Bible.
The Bible was still being written in the first century, which is why apostles were so important. They guided the church in its early years. As issues arose, they wrote letters to these churches which became the inspired books of the New Testament.
Each church would receive a letter from Paul or Peter or one of the other writers of the New Testament books. They read it to their congregations, copied the manuscript, and then passed it on to another church. Through this process, churches eventually did have the entire New Testament.
There are also several scholars and church councils that finally included all 27 books in the canon of the New Testament. The latest this list was affirmed is at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. But scholars had the complete 27 books listed by about 167 AD. This is only about 70 years after the New Testament was completed!
So the Old Testament Apocrypha, although not inspired by the Holy Spirit, helps us to understand the history and beliefs of the Jews in the first century when Jesus and the apostles walked the earth. And the writings of the early church fathers help us to see how they applied New Testament scriptures and teaching in the second generation of Christians.
These books are helpful for church and Bible history as well as applying Christian doctrine from the Bible to subsequent generations of Christians throughout the centuries.