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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: What Is the Old Testament Apocrypha?

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Question 1

What Is the Old Testament Apocrypha?

Protestant Christianity and Judaism accept the exact same books as authoritative Old Testament Scripture. While the Jews do not call it the “Old Testament,” since they do not recognize the New Testament, the contents are exactly the same. The only difference is the way in which the books are divided. The Protestants have thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, while the Jews have twenty-two or twenty-four in their ancient division of the sacred Scripture and thirty-six books in their modern division. Thus, there is no difference to the extent of the Hebrew Scriptures as far as Jews and Protestants are concerned.

Yet, there is a group of writings which are considered part of Old Testament Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and some other Christian communities. However, these writings, known as the “Apocrypha,” or the “Old Testament Apocrypha,” are not accepted as authoritative by the Protestant Church or by Judaism. These particular works, which are about the size of the New Testament, were written between the years 300 B.C. and 100 B.C.

What are we to make of these books? Should they be considered part of Holy Scripture? Have the Protestants and the Jews left certain books out of the Bible?

We can make the following observations about this important issue:

  1. “Apocrypha” Is a Technical Term

    The word, “Apocrypha” is a specific term that is used to refer to the particular books, or parts of books, that are considered Holy Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church as well as other religious communities. The Roman Catholic Church does not call these books, “the Apocrypha,” but rather, “the Deuterocanonical” (second canon) books.

    This means they were added later on in history to the canon of Scripture. The books that had already been accepted as Scripture are called the “proto-canonical,” or, “first canon,” books. These are the same sixty-six books that Protestants accept as God’s Word; thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament.

  2. The Word, “Apocrypha” Means Hidden

    While the term Apocrypha simply means, “hidden,” it is used in a special sense by the Protestant Church to refer to a group of books that are considered to be Holy Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church but are rejected by Protestants. This use of the term, “Apocrypha” to refer to these non-canonical books goes back to the fifth century, A.D. At that time, the church father Jerome said that the certain books found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, as well as in some Latin Bibles, but not found in the Hebrew Canon, were called the “Apocrypha” or “hidden books.”

  3. The Word Apocrypha Is Used in a Positive and a Negative Sense

    The idea of the Apocrypha as “hidden books” has been used in both a positive and negative sense. On the positive side, it was argued that the books were hidden from use for the uninstructed or the unlearned. Only the wise could use them. This is why they were hidden.

    The word is also used in the negative sense of books that are not worthy to be used by believers—they are not divinely inspired, but rather were heretical or legendary. Therefore, they were hidden from the public.

The Content of the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha consists of eleven or twelve books, or parts of books, depending upon how they are divided. The reason we say eleven or twelve books is because one of the books; the letter of Jeremiah, is sometimes added to another one of the books; Baruch.

The Apocrypha Is Part of the Septuagint Plus

The Old Testament Apocrypha is part of a group of books written and translated between the testaments. The first time the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek was the Septuagint translation. The word, “Septuagint,” is Latin for seventy. It is derived from the idea that seventy scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek.

During the era in which the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek, from about 250 B.C. to 100 B.C, a number of other works were also translated. This includes some of the books that eventually became part of the Old Testament Apocrypha. Apart from the eleven or twelve books of the Apocrypha, there were three other books that eventually became part of what is known as “the Septuagint plus.” These other books are First and Second Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh.

The Contents of the Septuagint Plus

The Septuagint plus contains the following books:

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. The Additions to Esther
  4. The Wisdom of Solomon (The Book of Wisdom)
  5. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach)
  6. Baruch
  7. The Letter of Jeremiah
  8. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  9. Susanna
  10. Bel and the Dragon
  11. First Maccabees
  12. Second Maccabees
  13. First Esdras (Third Esdras)
  14. Second Esdras (Fourth Esdras)
  15. The Prayer of Manasseh

This listing is generally the way these books are cataloged.

  1. Not All of the Books of the Septuagint plus Are Accepted as Scripture by Roman Catholics

    The Roman Catholic Church accepts the books of the Septuagint plus as Scripture—with the exception of First and Second Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. These books are not considered to be part of the Old Testament. Therefore, the Old Testament Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books, are made up of the Septuagint plus minus three books. However, some people label all the books of the Septuagint plus as the Old Testament Apocrypha. This adds to the confusion when discussing this subject.

    There is also some confusion about the way in which these books are named. First and Second Esdras are known as Third and Fourth Esdras in the Roman Catholic reckoning (the Rheims/Douay Version and the Latin Vulgate). For Roman Catholics, First and Second Esdras are the same as the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. In addition, in the Septuagint translation, Second Esdras chapter 1 to 10 is the Book of Ezra and chapter 11 to 23 is the Book of is Nehemiah! This adds to the confusion in speaking about these books.

  2. The Apocrypha Is Included in Some Non-Roman Catholic Translations

    Many non-Roman Catholic translations include the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. These translations usually place the books as a separate unit between the testaments.

    For example, when translating the Old Testament into German, Martin Luther followed the church Father Jerome and separated the Apocrypha from the Old Testament instead of mingling them with the other books.

  3. There Are Seven Extra Books Added to the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church

    When the books of the Apocrypha are added to the Old Testament in Roman Catholic translations, they are put at different places within the canonical Old Testament—they are not placed as a separate unit. For example, in the Rheims/Douay Bible, we find the books of the Apocrypha are added differently to the Old Testament than the way the Protestants place them.

    The same holds true for modern Roman Catholic translations such as the New Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible

    When added to the Roman Catholic Old Testament, these writings constitute only seven extra books because some of them are attached to existing books.

    Consequently, the Roman Catholic translations would add only seven new writings to the existing Old Testament for a total of forty-six, or six new books to the Old Testament if the Letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch rather than standing on its own. Obviously, all of this is not easy to follow.

  4. The Way in Which the Apocrypha Is Placed Within the Old Testament

    As mentioned, some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are not listed as separate books but rather added to existing books. The books of the Apocrypha that are interspersed with the Old Testament are done so in the following way:

    The additions to Esther placed at the end of the canonical Book of Esther. (Esther 10:4-16:24)

    The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men is added to Daniel 3. (Daniel 3:24-90)

    Susanna is added as a chapter to Daniel. (Daniel 13)

    Bel and the Dragon is also added as a chapter to Daniel. (Daniel 14)

    Therefore, the books of the Apocrypha would consist of eleven separate writings when added between the testaments in non-Roman Catholic Bibles, but only as seven books in Roman Catholic. These seven are Baruch, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, First and Second Maccabees, and the Letter of Jeremiah.

    Sometimes it is only six books because the Letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch. The other four are interspersed with the Old Testament books. Because of the different ways these books are included in the Old Testament, there is a lot of confusion when discussing the subject.

Summary - Question 1
What Is the Old Testament Apocrypha?

Although the Jews and Protestants have the same Old Testament, there are certain books that have been rejected by both Jews and Protestants as Holy Scripture, but that the Roman Catholic Church, as well as some other Christian communities, considers them to be divinely authoritative. These are known as the Apocrypha, or the Old Testament Apocrypha. These books were written between the completion of the Old Testament, and the beginning of the New Testament era; from about 300 B.C. to 100 B.C. The Old Testament Apocrypha is part of a larger group of writings known as the Septuagint plus.

In many Protestant translations of Scripture, the Apocrypha is placed as one unit of books between the testaments. Other translations do not have them at all. Roman Catholic translations place the books of the Apocrypha in various places in the Old Testament. Therefore, the Roman Catholic translation would add six or seven extra books to the Old Testament. The difference between six and seven depends upon whether the Letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch or stands on its own.

The real issue, however, is not how these books are divided or where they are placed in printed Bibles. The real issue is this: do these writings belong to the Old Testament Scripture, or are they merely human works?

The Old Testament Apocrypha ← Prior Section
What Are the Contents of the Various Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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