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

Don Stewart :: What Conclusions Can We Make about the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha?

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What Conclusions Can We Make about the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha?

Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament? – Question 12

After looking at the writings known as the Old Testament Apocrypha and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, we can make the following observations and conclusions with respect to their relationship to the Old Testament canon.

The Canon Was Settled for Both Jews and Christians: These Writings Were Not Part of It

All of the early evidence makes it clear that the canon of the Old Testament was set for both Jews and Christians; there was no such thing as a flexible canon as some have argued. This is especially the case with those living at the time of Jesus. While they disagreed on many issues, there was a common consensus as to the extent of the Old Testament canon. Of all the charges that Jesus laid against the religious rulers, He never charged them with adding or subtracting to the canon of Scripture. The canon was set and it did not contain the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, or the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. This includes the canon of the Sadducees, those Jews who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, as well as the ones who lived by the Dead Sea; they all accepted the same books.

A close examination of the New Testament bears this out. Indeed, we find Jesus and the New Testament writers, quoting various books from the Old Testament as being divinely authoritative about three hundred separate times. In fact, almost all of the books of the Old Testament are directly quoted or cited in some manner.

Yet, never once do we find the New Testament writers citing the Old Testament Apocrypha, or any other writings for that matter, as being Holy Scripture. Since we have frequent references to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures, but no references to the Old Testament Apocrypha, it makes it clear that the Old Testament canon consisted of the Hebrew Scriptures alone.

Later in the first century, the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus said that the Jews only had twenty-two sacred books. While he does not list the books individually, we find that his writings contain references to every Old Testament book except Chronicles and Job. No books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are cited. This is a further indication of the existence of a fixed canon of Scripture with well-known contents.

1. The Jews Did Not Make a Distinction Between the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

In one sense, the common terms to designate the books outside of the Hebrew canon, the Old Testament Apocrypha and Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, are actually misleading. These terms do not refer to two separate collections of writings which were made by the Jews. To the Jewish people, all religious literature was either canonical or non-canonical; either God divinely spoke through the writings or He did not. Therefore, it would probably be more accurate to speak of this entire group of writings as Jewish apocryphal literature rather than separating it into categories of the Old Testament Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.

The Old Testament Hebrew canon was a distinctive set of writings. From all Jewish sources we find the sacred writings numbered at either twenty-two or twenty-four books; the difference between these numbers merely depends upon how they were divided, not the contents. While later in Jewish history certain interpretations of the Rabbi’s were given some type of authority, it was never considered to be on par with Scripture. Consequently, while the Jews did view various writings apart from Scripture as possessing some type of authority, these writings were never considered to be divinely authoritative. Furthermore, this secondary authority was never given to any of the writings of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

2. The Earliest Canonical Lists Do Not Contain These Works

Not only did the Jews reject the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture, the earliest canonical lists which the Christian church produced also omitted these writings. In fact, for the first three hundred years of the church, every canonical list of Scripture, which still exists, lists the canon of the Jews as the Old Testament canon. None of them include the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. This shows that the early church continued in the tradition of the ancient Jews, Jesus, and His apostles.

As we look at the history of the church, there is no evidence that these writings were accepted as authoritative by all believers. To the contrary, leading Roman Catholic theologians, scholars, cardinals, and even popes, denied their divine status. Church history does not testify to the continuous acceptance of these writings as Holy Scripture.

3. The Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Never Claim to Be Part of Scripture

One of the strongest arguments against the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture comes from these very writings. None of the books, which are part of this collection, ever claim to be Holy Scripture. This is in contrast to almost all of the recognized Old Testament books where we find such statements as “thus says the Lord,” or the writer claiming that the Word of the Lord came unto him in a unique way.

4. The Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Recognized the Old Testament as Scripture

While the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha did not claim scriptural status for themselves, they recognized the Hebrew Old Testament as Scripture. This is very important to note. For example, we read in First Maccabees about the Jews being in possession of the holy books. It says:

Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the holy books that are in our hand. (1 Maccabees 12:9 NRSV)

At this time in history, about 165 B.C., a set of holy books was recognized. The Torah, or the Law of Moses, was especially sacred to these people. We read about this in Second Maccabees. It says:

But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades... and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws. When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. (2 Maccabees 6:23, 28 NRSV)

Here it speaks of the Law of Moses as holy and God-given.

In fact, if we combine the testimony from the various books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, we find that they cite each of the books of the Hebrew canon as Holy Scripture! On the other hand, they cite none of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as divine.

Therefore, while the Old Testament Apocrypha testifies to a group of sacred writings, none of the books, which make up this collection, are included as part of this authoritative list or canon of Holy Scripture. Consequently, from all the available evidence we can conclude that the Old Testament Apocrypha, while helpful in certain historical matters, has no claim whatsoever to be part of the Old Testament Scripture.

5. It Was Not the Responsibility of the Church to Determine the Old Testament Canon

Our final point in this section re-emphasizes something we have already stressed. It was never the job of the New Testament church to determine which books belonged in the Old Testament canon. The only role the church could have would be to discover which books were recognized as canonical by those who were given the authority. This is the nation of Israel.

In fact, the New Testament is clear that the Jews were given the responsibility of receiving and safeguarding the oracles of God. Paul wrote:

So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God. (Romans 3:1-2 HCSB)

There is no biblical evidence whatsoever that they ever violated this trust.

Therefore, if we are going to be consistent with the Scripture, we should hold to the same canon as is found among all the ancient Jewish writings which exist. This canon does not include the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Summary – Question 12
What Conclusions Can We Make about the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha?

There are a number of observations that can be made about the books known as the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. To begin with, all ancient sources give consistent testimony to the Hebrew canon as being the only sacred books that God has revealed to humanity. They do not include the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Actually, there is no warrant for dividing books into the categories of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha because books were either canonical or non-canonical.

There is also the consistent testimony of the earliest canonical lists. All the books of the Hebrew canon, with the sometimes exception of Esther, show up on all of these lists. However, the Old Testament Apocrypha shows up on none of them.

We also find that while the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha recognize the Old Testament as Scripture, none of these books make any claim for divine inspiration. All things considered, these books in the category of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha may be helpful in historical and other matters, but they certainly are not part of God’s divine Word to the human race. Therefore, they should never be treated as part of Scripture or even bound together in the same volume as God’s Holy Word. Humanity needs to have a clear distinction between what God said and what humans have said.

Finally, we again emphasize that it has never been the job of the church to determine the extent of the Old Testament canon. God gave this responsibility to the nation of Israel; they recognized the divine writings. While all of the books of the Hebrew canon were individually recognized as Scripture, none of the books which make up the Old Testament Apocrypha were accorded divine status.

The accepted writings would have been placed in the temple archives the moment their divine status was recognized. The church could not perform this task; only those living at the time these books were written were in a position to make the determination of their status. The testimony of the Jews is loud and clear; the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha do not belong in Holy Scripture.

Does the New Testament Quote as Scripture Writings That Are Not Presently in the Bible? ← Prior Section
Are the Right Books in the New Testament? Next Section →
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