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

Don Stewart :: Does the Old Testament Apocrypha Give Evidence of Being Holy Scripture?

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Does the Old Testament Apocrypha Give Evidence of Being Holy Scripture?

Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament? – Question 7

The Roman Catholic Church claims the Old Testament Apocrypha has the right to be received as part of Holy Scripture. It claims that these writings, when properly understood, do not contradict the rest of the Bible, but actually are consistent with everything else which is taught in God’s Holy Word. We also find others in the church saying that the Old Testament Apocrypha, while not Scripture, is useful for study because it teaches nothing contrary to Scripture. However, as we shall see, the evidence leads us to conclude that neither of these statements are true.

There are a number of reasons as to why the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha do not meet the standard of Holy Scripture. They are as follows:

The Old Testament Apocrypha Is Not Necessary

The first point we wish to make is that the Old Testament Apocrypha is unnecessary. We discover this by looking at the conclusion of Old Testament history and the beginning of New Testament history. Chronologically, the last book of the Old Testament prophets is the Book of Malachi. Interestingly, we find that the final sentences in his divinely inspired writing prepare the people of God for the next revelation that is to come. It says:

Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to [their] children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:4-6 HCSB)

According to this promise, which chronologically ends the Old Testament revelation, the next thing to occur as far as biblical history is concerned, is that the Lord was going to send the prophet Elijah to His people. This passage also said that if they rejected the message of Elijah, the Lord would then judge the people as well as their land.

When the New Testament period begins, as the Lord once again speaks to humanity, it was to fulfill Malachi’s prophecy. New Testament history starts with the angel Gabriel appearing to a man named Zechariah and announcing that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son. This son will come to the people of Israel in the spirit and power of Elijah. The Bible explains it this way:

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John... And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.” (Luke 1:13,17 NET)

In speaking to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel cites this prophecy of Malachi; the child of Zechariah and Elizabeth will fulfill this prediction. The fulfillment of the promise of the coming of Elijah links the end of the history of the Old Testament with the beginning of the history of the New Testament. We have the promise and then the fulfillment.

Thus, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, written in these intervening years, are not necessary.

They add nothing to the final promise recorded in the Old Testament.

Indeed, the fact that there was no divinely inspired prophet in these intervening years is actually admitted by the writer of one of the apocryphal books! The author of First Maccabees, writing around the year 100 B.C., and describing events which occurred around 165 B.C., acknowledges that it had been a long time since a genuine prophet had come to Israel. We read:

So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them. (First Maccabees 9:27 NRSV)

Biblical history ended around 400 B.C. at the time of Nehemiah and the last of the writing prophets; Malachi. The Old Testament Apocrypha, written after God ceased speaking to the people through His prophets, contributes nothing to the biblical story. This was a period when the Lord was silent. The next time He would speak to humanity would be to announce to the world the coming of Elijah. He would be the person who would prepare the way for the One whom the Law and Prophets looked forward; the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

Indeed, in the New Testament, when references are made to past events and persons, the references only cover the Old Testament period. The time period between the testaments, when the Old Testament Apocrypha was written, is seemingly ignored by the New Testament writers.

The Old Testament Apocrypha Has Doctrines and Practices Which Contradict Holy Scripture

Not only is the Old Testament Apocrypha unnecessary, there are doctrines and practices contained in these writings that are contrary to what the Scripture teaches.

They include the following:

1. They Teach That a Person Is Saved by Works

In the Old Testament Apocrypha, proof texts can be found to support the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by human works and not by faith alone. The Book of Tobit says giving of alms can wipe out sin:

Almsgiving preserves from death and wipes out sin. Givers of alms will enjoy a full life. (Tobit 12:9 REB)

In another place in the Book of Tobit, it says the following about what happened to a man named Ahikar who gave alms:

Because he gave alms, Ahikar escaped from a deadly trap... See what comes of almsgiving, my children, and what comes of wickedness, death! (Tobit 14:11 REB)

In the Book of First Maccabees, it says:

Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. (First Maccabees 2:52 NRSV)

This seems to teach that Abraham’s faithfulness is what made him righteous.

In the Book of Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, it says this about atonement for sin. It says:

Respect for a father atones for sins... As water quenches a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sin. (Ecclesiasticus 3:3,30 REB)

According to these passages, sin can be wiped out through human works. The Bible, on the other hand, says that a person is saved by grace through faith. It is not based upon our good works. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not of works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9 NET)

Jesus explained what the work of God actually consisted of. We read about this in the Gospel of John. It says:

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 TNIV)

The work of God consists of belief in Jesus Christ; it is not something that we do. Therefore, we find a different doctrine of salvation in the Old Testament Apocrypha than what is taught in the Bible. There is no way to reconcile the two. Either we are saved by faith plus our good works or by faith alone.

2. The Non-Biblical Doctrine of Purgatory Is Taught in the Old Testament Apocrypha

The doctrine of purgatory, a place of purging for believers which is somewhere between earth and heaven, is derived from the teaching of the Old Testament Apocrypha. We read the following description in Second Maccabees:

So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (Second Maccabees 12:41-45 NRSV)

Here we have an example of the living praying for the dead as well as making atonement for their sin. The idea is that the dead can benefit from the prayers, as well as the good deeds, of the living.

We should note that the doctrine of purgatory is not actually taught in this passage. There is nothing said about the righteous dead suffering or being purged of their sin.

However, the Bible teaches that, upon death, one either goes to be with the Lord, or is sent away from Him ? there is no middle place between earth and heaven. Paul wrote:

Therefore, though we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight-- yet we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 HCSB)

The translation, God’s Word, puts it this way:

So we are always confident. We know that as long as we are living in these bodies, we are living away from the Lord. Indeed, our lives are guided by faith, not by sight. We are confident and prefer to live away from this body and to live with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 God’s Word)

To live away from this body is to live with the Lord; not in some place of purging.

The writer to the Hebrews said:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Hebrews 9:27 NIV)

After death comes judgment. We find no examples in Scripture of any person praying for the soul of someone who has already died nor doing any good deed which would help that person escape purgatory. Purgatory does not exist. There is no waiting place between heaven and earth.

Interestingly, the modern discussion about the Old Testament Apocrypha goes back to a dispute over this passage in Second Maccabees.

In 1519, Martin Luther was debating Johannes Eck at Leipzig, Germany. Luther admitted that Eck had correctly cited the passage in Second Maccabees which encouraged praying for the dead.

However, Luther denied that Second Maccabees, as well as the other Old Testament apocryphal books, were part of the Old Testament canon. This set the stage for the modern debate on the issue.

3. According to the Old Testament Apocrypha, God Hears the Prayers of the Dead

Not only are believers encouraged to pray for the dead in the Old Testament Apocrypha, we are also told that the dead actually pray for the living!

We find the Book of Baruch teaching that God hears the prayers of those who have died. It says the following:

O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel, the children of those who sinned before you, who did not heed the voice of the Lord their God, so that calamities have clung to us. (Baruch 3:4 NRSV)

The dead do not pray for the living. They do not pray for anyone! Only the living people upon the earth pray for the other living ones on the earth. Prayer is from the living and for the living. The dead do not pray, neither can they be helped by our prayers.

4. The Old Testament Apocrypha Teaches the Pre-Existence of Souls

The doctrine of the pre-existence of souls seems to be found in the Old Testament Apocrypha. We read in the Book of Wisdom:

As a child I was naturally gifted, and a good soul fell to my lot; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body. (Wisdom 8:19,20 NRSV)

Scripture does not teach that souls have any separate existence before they are united into a body. The soul only comes into existence at the time of conception.

5. The Old Testament Apocrypha Teaches Creation Out of Pre-Existent Matter

The doctrine of creation out of pre-existent matter is taught in the Old Testament Apocrypha. We read the following in the Book of Wisdom:

For your all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions. (Wisdom 11:17 NRSV)

The Bible says that God’s creation of the universe was out of nothing; there was no pre-existing matter. The writer to the Hebrews stated it as follows:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3 TNIV)

God spoke and the universe came into existence; there was no pre-existing matter which He used.

6. The Old Testament Apocrypha Says the Body Weighs Down the Soul

The idea of the body as a weight upon the soul is found in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The thought is that the human body is somehow evil. Again, we read in the Book of Wisdom:

For a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind. (Wisdom 9:15 NRSV)

The doctrine that the body weighs down the soul is not biblical ? the body is not evil.

7. Sirach Teaches That We Should Not Help Sinners

We are told in the Book of Sirach that believers should not help sinners. We read the following admonitions:

Give to the devout, but do not help the sinner. Do good to the humble, but do not give to the ungodly; hold back their bread, and do not give it to them, for by means of it they might subdue you; then you will receive twice as much evil for all the good you have done to them. For the Most High also hates sinners and will inflict punishment on the ungodly. Give to the one who is good, but do not help the sinner. (Sirach 12:3-7 NRSV)

These instructions are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Lord Jesus. Listen to what He said:

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47 HCSB)

It is clear that the so-called wisdom found in Sirach directly contradicts the teachings of the Lord Jesus.

8. Second Esdras Says the World Was Created for the Sake of Israel

While the Roman Catholic Church does not accept Second Esdras as part of the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, and other ancient communities do. According to the Book of Second Esdras, the world was created for the nation Israel. It reads as follows:

All this have I spoken before thee, O Lord, because you made the world for our sakes. (2 Esdras 6:55 NRSV)

The Bible says the world was created for God’s glory and purposes ? not for any nation on the earth. This is another example of an error in these books.

All of these doctrines that we have just listed are contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture. They cannot be reconciled with what is taught in God’s Word.

The Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Contradict Each Other

Not only are there theological and historical errors that are found in the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, there are also contradictions between the various books. This can be readily seen in the comparison between the Book of First and the Book of Second Maccabees.

They include the following contradictions:

1. Was the Defeat of Lysias Before or after the Death of Timothy

First Maccabees says the defeat of Lysias was after the death of Timothy (4:26-35). However, Second Maccabees says this occurred before the death of Timothy (2 Maccabees 10:37-11:12).

2. How Did the King Die?

Second Maccabees says the king was struck with a terrible physical ailment and died from it (2 Maccabees 9:5-12).

This contradicts 1 Maccabees 6:8-9, which says he died from disappointment. It reads:

When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. He lay there for many days, because deep disappointment continually gripped him, and he realized that he was dying. (1 Maccabees 6:8-9 NRSV)

The King then said:

I know that it is because of this that these misfortunes have come upon me; here I am, perishing of bitter disappointment in a strange land. (1 Maccabees 6:13 NRSV)

This is another contradiction.

3. Did the Jews Flee in Terror or Triumph?

In another example, Second Maccabees 13:16 contradicts First Maccabees 6:47 concerning whether or not the Jews fled in terror or withdrew in triumph.

According to Second Maccabees, they withdrew in triumph:

In the end they filled the camp with terror and confusion and withdrew in triumph. (Second Maccabees 13:16 NRSV)

However, it says something different in First Maccabees:

When the Jews saw the royal might and the fierce attack of the forces, they turned away in flight. (First Maccabees 6:47 NRSV)

As we have observed, the contradictions between these two books are numerous. They both cannot be true at the same time.

There Are Demonstrable Historical and Geographical Errors in the Old Testament Apocrypha

The Old Testament Apocrypha not only contains theological errors, it also contains demonstrable historical errors. We can cite a number of examples.

1. There Are Errors in the Book of Tobit

According to the first chapter of the Book of Tobit, Tobit was supposedly alive when Jeroboam staged his revolt in 931 B.C. It says:

I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I performed many acts of charity for my kindred and my people who had gone with me in exile to Nineveh in the land of the Assyrians. When I was in my own country, in the land of Israel, while I was still a young man, the whole tribe of my ancestor Naphtali deserted the house of David and Jerusalem. This city had been chosen from among all the tribes of Israel, where all the tribes of Israel should offer sacrifice and where the temple, the dwelling of God, had been consecrated and established for all generations forever. All my kindred and our ancestral house of Naphtali sacrificed to the calf that King Jeroboam of Israel had erected in Dan and on all the mountains of Galilee. (Tobit 1:3-5 NRSV)

This text also says that Tobit was still alive when the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. This means that he lived over two hundred years!

However, the Book of Tobit says he lived only 112 years. We read the following:

So ended Tobit’s words of praise. Tobit died in peace when he was one hundred twelve years old, and was buried with great honor in Nineveh. (Tobit 14:1,2 NRSV)

This is an obvious contradiction. Those who believe in an inerrant Scripture cannot accept the Old Testament Apocrypha as God’s Word.

2. There Are Numerous Errors in the Book of Judith

Another example of a clear error can be found in the opening verse of the Book of Judith. It says the following:

It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. In those days Arphaxad ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana. (Judith 1:1 NRSV)

There are two historical errors in this verse. Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, and he ruled from Babylon, not Nineveh. Nineveh fell to Babylon seven years before Nebuchadnezzar ruled. Consequently, the very first verse of this work shows its non-biblical character.

According to the Book of Judith, Nineveh supposedly fell when the Jews had returned from captivity in Babylon, when in actuality, they were still being deported to Babylon when this occurred.

Other historical errors are found in this book. Nebuchadnezzar did not capture Ecbatana (1:4) or make war on Media (1:7). The rebuilding of the temple occurs a century too early (4:13).

Furthermore, the Jews are represented as being governed by a High Priest in the Book of Judith. This did not actually occur until hundreds of years after these events supposedly took place.

In Judith, we are told that Holofernes moves an immense army almost three hundred miles in only three days. These errors clearly show the non-biblical character of this writing.

3. There Are Errors in Second Esdras

Second Esdras, a book not accepted as part of the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church but received by other ancient communities as part of the Old Testament. It has a number of errors in it. For example, we find the Lord making geographical errors in Second Esdras! The writer has Him saying the following:

All the nations have I destroyed before them, and in the east I have scattered the people of two provinces, even of Tyrus and Sidon, and have slain all their enemies. (2 Esdras 1:11 NRSV)

Tyre and Sidon are west of the Media Persian Empire, not east as stated in Second Esdras. The Lord God does not make geographical errors.

This work also says God created the earth as 1/7th water. We read the following words:

Upon the third day you did command that the waters should be gathered in the seventh part of the earth: six parts hast you dried up, and kept them, to the intent that of these some being planted of God and tilled might serve you. (2 Esdras 6:42 NRSV)

However, water makes up about 70% of the surface of the earth; not one seventh.

4. There Are Errors in the Additions to the Book of Esther

According to the additions to Esther, Mordecai was taken captive in 597 B.C. but his dream did not occur until 485 B.C. That would make him at least 112 years old. There is no indication in Scripture that he lived this long.

5. There Are Errors in Bel and the Dragon

The Book of Bel and the Dragon, or Bel and the Snake, records a visit of the prophet Habakkuk to Daniel. It records it as follows:

The prophet Habakkuk, who was in Judea, had made a stew; he broke bread into the bowl, and he was on the way to his field, carrying it to the reapers, when an angel of the Lord said to him, ?Habakkuk, carry that meal you have to Babylon for Daniel, who is in the lion-pit.’ (Bel and the Snake 11:33,34 REB)

Habakkuk lived and wrote some 75 years before the time of Daniel. It is not very likely that he would have been alive at that time.

6. Historical Errors in First Maccabees

While First Maccabees generally has reliable information, we also find historical errors in this work.

For example, the writer, in explaining the route taken by Antiochus IV, says he went by the road to Gilgal. We read:

They went by the road that leads to Gilgal and encamped against Mesaloth in Arbela, and they took it and killed many people. (First Maccabees 9:2 NRSV)

First century historian Flavius Josephus says Antiochus took the road to Galilee, not Gilgal. (Antiquities 12:11.1)

While First Maccabees is generally a reliable account of the Maccabean period, it seems that it is in error in this particular instance.

7. Historical Errors in Second Maccabees

The Second book of Maccabees also contains a number of historical errors. For one thing, it speaks of the nation Israel being led captive to Persia. It says:

For when our ancestors were being led captive to Persia, the pious priests of that time took some of the fire of the altar and secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where they took such precautions that the place was unknown to anyone. (2 Maccabees 1:19 NRSV)

However, the nation was led captive to Babylon, not Persia. Persia conquered Babylon.

Conclusion: It Is Not Possible to Defend the Historical Accuracy of the Old Testament Apocrypha

While it is possible for Bible scholars, using the most up-to-date archaeological knowledge, to defend the historical accuracy of the books of the Bible, it is not possible to argue for the historical accuracy of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. The books have demonstrable errors that cannot be reconciled.

The evidence shows that eleven out of the fifteen books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, which includes the Septuagint plus, have either historical or theological errors. Therefore, we find the Old Testament Apocrypha with errors in theology, errors in history, and contradictions between the various books.

Each of these three things disqualifies it as being part of God’s holy Word.

1. There Is No Objective Evidence of Divine Authority in the Apocrypha

The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha do not contain anything like predictive prophecy, or the firsthand testimony of miracles, that would give evidence of their divine authority. If God divinely inspired these books, then we should expect to see some internal evidence confirming it. But there is none. There is no objective evidence of any type of divine authority in any of these books.

2. None of the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Claim Divine Authority

From the documents themselves we find no claim of divine authority. There is not one instance in any of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha where an author claims God’s authority is behind the things that are written. Nowhere do we find the author saying such things as, “Thus says the Lord,” or “the Word of the Lord came to.” Therefore, it is not logical to attribute God’s authority to the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha when they themselves make no claim to divine authority. In fact, we find statements in the Old Testament Apocrypha that seemingly rule themselves out as being divinely inspired.

For example, we note the following admissions in Second Maccabees. First, the writer says that his work is merely a summary, or an abridgement of the work of Jason the Cyrene. It reads:

All this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book. (2 Maccabees 2:23 NRSV)

The writer admits that he is merely summarizing the work of another person.

Not only is this writing an abridgement of the work of someone else, the author also laments about the quality of his job of summarization. He wrote:

This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor, and from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I will here end my story. If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired; if it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do. (2 Maccabees 15:37,38 NRSV)

He apologizes, ahead of time, if his work turns out to be poorly done. What a contrast between these words and the words of the divinely inspired biblical authors! As we have seen in one of our previous questions, Question 7, every Old Testament book, with the exception of the Book of Esther, has some sort of claim in it. Each work was either written by a prophet or one who was under God’s divine authority. Indeed, the authority of these writings is evident.

We also find this statement in the Book of Sirach. It says:

Instruction in understanding and knowledge I have written in this book, Jesus son of Eleazar son of Sirach of Jerusalem, whose mind poured forth wisdom. (Sirach 50:47 NRSV)

The wisdom found in Sirach came from his own mind. There is no claim of divine inspiration. Indeed, his grandson, who translated this work from Hebrew to Greek, makes the distinction between the sacred writings, the Law and the Prophets, and his grandfather’s work. This is another indication of the lack of divine inspiration in these writings.

3. The Writers of the Old Testament Apocrypha Recognized the Old Testament Canon

There is something else. The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, though not claiming divine authority for themselves, recognize the divine authority of the Hebrew canon. There are many examples of this.

We read in Ecclesiasticus of the encouragement to follow God’s covenant:

Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults. (Ecclesiasticus 28:7 NRSV)

There is also the encouragement to study the law of God. It says:

He seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients, and is concerned with prophecies; he preserves the sayings of the famous and penetrates the subtleties of parables; he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs and is at home with the obscurities of parables. He serves among the great and appears before rulers; he travels in foreign lands and learns what is good and evil in the human lot. (Ecclesiasticus 39:1?4 NRSV)

In Baruch, we also have the recognition of God’s commandment to Moses to write down the Mosaic law. It says:

As you spoke by your servant Moses on the day when you commanded him to write your law in the presence of the people of Israel, saying. (Baruch 2:28 NRSV)

We also find that the prophets were God’s spokesmen. In Sirach, the prophetic status of Isaiah is acknowledged. The writer said:

For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he kept firmly to the ways of his ancestor David, as he was commanded by the prophet Isaiah, who was great and trustworthy in his visions. In Isaiah’s days the sun went backward, and he prolonged the life of the king. By his dauntless spirit he saw the future, and comforted the mourners in Zion. (Ecclesiasticus 48:22?24 NRSV)

There is the recognition that Jeremiah was a prophet. He spoke “from the mouth of the Lord.”

But Josiah did not turn back to his chariot, but tried to fight with him, and did not heed the words of Jeremiah the prophet from the mouth of the Lord. (1 Esdras 1:28 RSV)

The list goes on and on. Consequently, we find that the Old Testament Apocrypha testifies to the Hebrew canon, but not to itself. Never does the Old Testament Apocrypha cite another writing, from this collection of writings, as Scripture. Never!

4. Not Every Book of the Old Testament Apocrypha Has a Hebrew Original

While all of the books of the present Old Testament canon were written in Hebrew, with small parts in Aramaic, some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha have no Hebrew original behind them. They were composed in Greek. These include Susanna, the Letter of Jeremiah, and the additions to Esther.

While the Hebrew language is not a determining factor as to what books should be part of the Old Testament canon, all of the undisputed books of the Old Testament were composed in Hebrew ? none of them were composed in Greek. Greek did not become the international language till about 330 B.C. This was about seventy years after the close of the Old Testament. The fact that a number of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were originally written in Greek shows their late date and their lack of claim to be part of the Old Testament.

5. Some of the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Forgeries

There is something else. A number of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are forgeries; they falsely used the name of a well-known Old Testament character as the author. However, that person did not write the work. For example, the Wisdom of Solomon was not written by Solomon, the Letter of Jeremiah was not composed by Jeremiah, Baruch did not write the book bearing his name, and Ezra did not write the works attributed to him. Therefore, these works were deliberately falsified to give the impression that a biblical character wrote them. This type of deception is not consistent with the God of the Bible who does not lie. Paul wrote:

From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, in hope of eternal life, that God who does not lie promised before the ages began. (Titus 1:1,2 NET)

These five writings were deliberate attempts to misrepresent the identity of the author to the reader. The Jews certainly would not have accepted such a deceptive work as Scripture ? especially when the sacred Scripture comes from the God of truth.

There is something else which we should note. These forgeries forged the names of biblical characters; not characters who lived between the two testaments. This is another indication that they understood biblical history as consisting of events ending around the time of Nehemiah and the last of the writing prophets.

One more observation. Except for the books of the Maccabees, which tell of the events between the testaments, all of the other writings of the Old Testament Apocrypha are set in the biblical period. This includes Judith, Tobit, Baruch, the letter of Jeremiah, the additions to Esther, and Daniel. We can also add First and Second Esdras to this list. The only other exception to this is the Book of Sirach, who, in his writings, makes the distinction between biblical history and all other history.

Thus, the forged books of the Old Testament Apocrypha forge the name of biblical characters while the setting for these writings is also placed in the biblical period. This is another indication that they understood when biblical history ended. It also testifies as to when the last of the genuine biblical books could have been composed; in the biblical period ending around the time of Nehemiah.

6. There Is Nothing New Added to God’s Truth

The teaching of the Old Testament Apocrypha adds nothing new to the faith that God has revealed to humanity. There is nothing in these books that adds to our knowledge of God’s character or His plan. At the very best, they simply repeat what is already revealed in the Old Testament. At worst, they contradict what has already been revealed. Consequently, they do not contain any further revelation for the human race.

7. There Is Sub-Biblical Content in the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha

The content of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha is below that of canonical Scripture. Several of the books including Judith, Tobit, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon read like legends. When one reads these books alongside canonical Scripture, the differences become obvious. For example, in the Old Testament Apocrypha, we find such superstitious things as the burning of the liver and the heart of a fish to exorcise a demon. From the Book of Tobit, we read the following:

He replied, “As for the fish’s heart and liver, you must burn them to make a smoke in the presence of a man or woman afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, and every affliction will flee away and never remain with that person any longer.” (Tobit 6:8 NRSV)

These instructions supposedly came from an angel of God! This superstitious type of content in the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha illustrates the differences between these books and the teaching of Holy Scripture.

8. Jesus’ Testimony as to the Extent of Scripture Is Definitive

It is clear that in the first century A.D., the Hebrew Scripture, or the Old Testament, was complete. Jesus Christ is a witness to this. Indeed, He said that the Scripture testified to His identity. We read Him saying:

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. (John 5:39 NRSV)

Notice that the Scripture “testified,” or “witnessed” to Him; they were a legal testimony to His identity as the Messiah. For this statement to have any meaning whatsoever, there must have been a collection of well-known divinely inspired writings called the “Scripture.”

Jesus also gave testimony to the extent of the Old Testament canon on the day of His resurrection. He said the following to two disciples walking with Him on the road to Emmaus:

“You foolish people?how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27 NET)

Jesus told them they should have believed “all that the prophets had spoken.” He also interpreted the things written about Him “in all the Scripture.” This Scripture consisted of the “Law and the Prophets.”

Later that day, He explained the extent of “all that the prophets had said.” We read:

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44 TNIV)

Jesus referred to the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. This is a reference to the Hebrew Scripture. They constitute “all that the prophets said.” There is no reference whatsoever to any of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. These works would not have been part of the Law, Prophets, or the Psalms; the Old Testament. Everyone recognizes this.

9. Conclusion: the Old Testament Apocrypha Is Not Holy Scripture

As the evidence is examined, it becomes clear that the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha should not be accepted with the same divine authority as the books found in the Hebrew Old Testament. There is no evidence whatsoever that they belong in Holy Scripture. Consequently, they have no binding authority on believers. The Westminster Confession of Faith gives the correct response to the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. It states:

The books commonly called the Apocrypha... [are not] to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings. (Westminster Confession 1:3)

This is the proper way in which to view these non-authoritative writings. The Old Testament Apocrypha are mere human writings; they are not human/divine writings. It is essential that believers make the distinction between the human and the divine. Because they are not Scripture, it is wrong to have them bound in a single volume with Holy Scripture. Doing so will only mislead and confuse believers.

The Old Testament Apocrypha Does Have Value

The fact that the Old Testament Apocrypha is not considered to be Holy Scripture does not mean that this collection of documents is worthless. The books can be highly useful. They were composed after the close of the Old Testament era and shed much light on the period between the testaments. The Old Testament Apocrypha helps us with the understanding of that period which immediately preceded the time of the New Testament.

For example, the Book of First Maccabees has some valuable historical references about the time between the testaments. However, any particular value that these books do have is as historical works ? not as divinely inspired Scripture.

Decisions about Canonical Books Could Only Be Made by Believers Living at the Time the Works Were Written

This brings us to our final point. All of the arguments that we have looked at, in favor of the Old Testament Apocrypha as being part of Holy Scripture, fall short of the mark. However, the main problem is that the Roman Catholic Church really had no right to decide this issue. In contrast to all the books of the Old Testament, which were immediately recognized as Scripture, there was no constant recognition of these works among the Jews from the time they were composed. To the contrary, there was no recognition whatsoever!

In contrast, the genuine books of the canon of Scripture were instantly recognized by the people of God in the generation in which they were written. We find no example of any of these divinely inspired books gaining recognition long after they had been composed. It was only the people of God who were contemporaries with these authors who were in a position to make decisions on the nature of these writings. Nobody else had that responsibility.

Consequently, since the Old Testament Apocrypha was not part of the Christian writings of the New Testament period, it was not the Christian church that was to decide their status. These writings were the responsibility of the Jews who were living at the time of their composition. Although the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were written by Jews, and for Jews, the Jews were clear in their verdict; these works did not belong in the canon.

Therefore, there should be no debate about the divine authority of these writings after the fact. Nobody, after the time these works were composed, would have been in the same authoritative position, as was the immediate audience, to know whether these writings came from a genuine prophet of God.

Thus, the Christian church cannot be the judge of the Old Testament Apocrypha because the New Testament church did not exist when these books were composed. Those who had the authority to acknowledge their canonicity were the Jews living at the time of the composition of each of these books. We find that they exercised this responsibility during the entire Old Testament period. They did this by examining one writing at a time. When these individual works were recognized as Holy Scripture, they were then placed in the temple. Doing so, guaranteed their canonical status.

However, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were never given that status by the only ones who could have done so; the ancient Jews. Those living between the testaments also exercised their authority by not placing these works with the divinely inspired writings. Those in the church are making a mistake by thinking that they somehow have the authority to make decisions about these writings centuries after the fact.

The church can only discover the views of the people of God living at the time of the composition of these books. After the church discovers the view of these people of God, they then must adhere to their views. The Roman Church did not do this with the Old Testament Apocrypha. They forgot that the ultimate Judge is God Himself. It was through His people, living at the time of the composition of these books that their divine status was to be decided. These people of God have made their decision; the Old Testament Apocrypha does not belong in the canon of Scripture!

Summary – Question 7
Does the Old Testament Apocrypha Give Evidence of Being Holy Scripture?

While Roman Catholics, and other ancient religious communities, give the Old Testament Apocrypha divine status, Protestants deny the canonical status of these books. There are a number of reasons as to why these books should not be considered as Holy Scripture. This evidence includes the following:

To begin with, the Old Testament Apocrypha is unnecessary. The New Testament picks up where the final promise of the Old Testament leaves off. Thus, there is no need for the writings which makeup the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Furthermore, the Old Testament Apocrypha contains doctrines and practices that contradict what is revealed in the genuine Scripture. Such contradictions cannot come from the God of truth who does not lie or contradict Himself. In addition, there are historical and geographical errors in the Old Testament Apocrypha. This is also inconsistent with the God of the Bible who gives His work to the human race in an error-free manner.

We also find that there are a number of contradictions between two books of the Old Testament Apocrypha - First and Second Maccabees. This is further proof of the non-canonical character of these writings. In addition, there is nothing in these apocryphal books of spiritual value which we do not find in the canonical Scripture, and there is much that is contrary to what is taught. Furthermore, some of these works are actually forgeries. The stated author is not the actual author. This type of deception is certainly inconsistent with the God of truth.

As we examine these works, we find that a number of them seemingly eliminate themselves. First Maccabees admits that no genuine prophet existed at the time of its writing. The author of Second Maccabees, who merely abridged the work of someone else, basically apologizes for his effort. The writer of Sirach tells us that these things he wrote came from his heart and mind; not from the divine inspiration of the living God. Yet, these books of the Old Testament Apocrypha recognize the Hebrew canon of Scripture as being authoritative.

Jesus accepted a limited group of writings known as the “Scripture.” The Bible of Jesus did not include the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. His Bible consisted of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament canon as accepted by Protestants and Jews. The same holds true for the writers of the New Testament; none of them regarded these outside books as Holy Scripture.

Finally, it is not the job of the church to decide this issue. The decision, as to the canonicity of these works, was that of each particular generation to whom these writings were addressed. The Jews exercised this authority. They received the books of the Old Testament canon but rejected the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

What Has Been the Historical View of Christians Toward the Old Testament Apocrypha? ← Prior Section
Why Did Some Early Christians Assume the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Holy Scripture? Next Section →
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