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

Don Stewart :: Why Did Some Early Christians Assume the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Holy Scripture?

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Why Did Some Early Christians Assume the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Holy Scripture?

Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament? – Question 8

How could it have happened that some early Christians accepted a number of books as Holy Scripture if these books were not divinely inspired? Why did they recognize the Old Testament Apocrypha as God’s Word if indeed it was not? How could they have made such a mistake? Several important observations need to be made about this important question.

It Was Certain Christians, Not Jews, That Accepted the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture

First, it must be understood, that it was from early Christian usage, not Jewish usage, that the Old Testament Apocrypha became Scripture to some Christians. Long after the time of the Apostles of Christ, there were some Christians who accepted these books as authoritative. But, this was never true of the Jews. This being the case, then why did some Christians take a different direction than the Jews and accept the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture?

Historical Reasons for Some Christians Accepting the Old Testament Apocrypha

The way in which the Old Testament Apocrypha came to be part of the Old Testament for some Christians occurred as follows:

1. There Was Early Agreement on the Extent of Scripture

During the time of Jesus Christ, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were not considered to be Holy Scripture by anyone. Neither Jesus, nor His enemies, accepted these books as canonical Scripture. The Jews of Jesus’ day were clear as to the extent of the Hebrew canon; it was a closed collection of books which did not include the Old Testament Apocrypha.

However, there were a number of other books that were popular and widely read. These books gave hope to those who had been under the control of a number of invaders in Israel’s recent history. Learned Jews, such as Josephus and Philo, knew of these works, yet they, along with all other Jews, did not consider them to be writings that were equal to Scripture. There is no evidence that anyone placed these writings on the same level as Holy Scripture.

Therefore, in the first century A.D., both Christians and Jews accepted the Hebrew Scriptures as authoritative but they did not accept the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. Everyone had the same canon of Scripture; there were no competing canons.

2. At an Early Time, Christianity Broke with Judaism

Although the early Christians and the Jews were unanimous in their rejection of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture, this slowly began to change.

There was a significant development that happened early in the history of the church ? the church broke with Judaism. As time went by, these two groups became more separated from the other. Contact was limited.

There is more. The church began to spread to non-Jewish areas. These Gentile believers were unfamiliar with Jewish history as well as Jewish practices. They had no understanding of the traditional Jewish view of the canon.

This became apparent with their lack of use of the Hebrew Scriptures. For the early church, which became made up of primarily Gentiles, their Old Testament Scripture was the Greek Old Testament ? not the Hebrew. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into other languages such as the Old Latin, the translation was made from the Greek Septuagint, not from the Hebrew text. The Greek version had precedence over the Hebrew in their eyes.

With the separation of Christians from the Jews, the knowledge of Hebrew, as well as Jewish traditions, became less and less known. Thus, the early church had no means of evaluating Jewish practices.

3. Some Early Church Fathers Began to Cite the Old Testament Apocrypha

We then find that some of the early church Fathers started to cite the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha in their writings. However, this does not mean that they accepted these works as canonical or divinely inspired. Not all of their citations were made with the assumption that they were citing Scripture. Therefore, the mere fact that a passage from the Old Testament Apocrypha was cited does not indicate that the person citing it believed it to be Holy Scripture. This is particularly true when all the early lists of canonical books exclude the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Yet the fact that some of these fathers did, at times, cite from the Old Testament Apocrypha, set the stage for the eventual inclusion of these works into the canon of Scripture.

4. Eventually, Miraculous Stories Circulated about the Origin of the Septuagint

As time went by, the church was basically using the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their Old Testament. Eventually, miraculous stories about the origin of the entire Septuagint began to be circulated among Christians. There had been stories among the Jews that claimed that the Law of Moses was translated miraculously. The Christians went even further and extended the miracle to the entire translation. Since some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha began to be mingled with the Septuagint, their origin was likewise felt to be miraculous.

5. There Were Charges That Jews Didn’t Want the Old Testament Apocryphal Books Known

There were also some false charges made by early Christians. It was alleged that the Jews did not want the Septuagint translation to be regarded as Scripture because of the clear teachings about Christ that was found in them. This caused some Christians to take a definite stand for the Septuagint and against the Hebrew text as the divine Word of God. To many, this meant taking a stand for the Old Testament Apocrypha. It became, “us against them.”

6. Some Christians Who Used the Old Testament Apocrypha Did Not Equate the Canon with Scripture

There is another matter. To certain people, the issue was the definition of the canon itself. While some people argued that only divinely authoritative works should be part of the canon, others thought the canon should include all books that were edifying to the church. To them, the canon contained authoritative books along with other books that could be helpful to believers. Therefore, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha could be placed in the canon without necessarily being divinely authoritative. This led to further confusion as to which books could be used to discover Christian doctrine and which books were merely helpful to the church.

7. It Was Because of Popular Usage in the Western Church That These Books Were Included in the Canon

It seems that it was the popular usage of these Apocryphal books in the Western Church, which led to their eventual inclusion into the canon. The churches in the East, with closer ties, and closer in proximity to the land of Israel, did not accept these works as canonical. However, the situation was not the same in the Western Church. They were further removed in distance from the Jews and their practices. For the first three centuries we find no canonical list coming out of Western Christianity. When these lists started to appear, it seems that the popular usage by the people of these apocryphal books was part of the reason for their acceptance.

For example, the great theologian, Augustine, living at the end of the fourth century and into the fifth century, had an enormous influence on the issue of the canon. He was the first theologian who insisted that the church had the right to add certain books to the Old Testament canon, though neither the Jews, Jesus, nor His apostles recognized these books. Unfortunately, his opinion prevailed, though he was not an expert in this field of study, neither had he any real contact with Christians in the Eastern part of the empire.

Consequently, at the councils of Hippo and Carthage, under the influence of Augustine, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were added to Holy Scripture. This is despite the fact that the Eastern Church rejected their canonicity and that Augustine’s contemporary, the great translator Jerome, insisted that these books were not worthy to be called Scripture. Augustine’s view of this issue, unqualified as it was, became the prevailing view in the Western Church.

This gives a simple explanation as to why these non-inspired, non-canonical writings, ended up as Holy Scripture to those in the early years of the church.

Summary – Question 8
Why Did Some Early Christians Assume the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Holy Scripture?

The rise of the Old Testament Apocrypha to the status of Scripture among some early Christians was a process. It did not start out that way. All the evidence leads us to believe that Jesus, the apostles, and Judaism all accepted the same Old Testament. As Christianity made its break with Judaism, the understanding of Jewish beliefs and customs became less and less. This includes the understanding of the extent of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Some early church fathers began to cite passages from the Old Testament Apocrypha. However, they did not always cite them as Scripture. Often their citations were merely to prove a point. In time, these books took on a certain degree of authority. Eventually, miraculous stories were circulating about the origin of the Septuagint. This added to the perception that it was a divinely inspired work.

The fact that the Jews rejected the Old Testament Apocrypha caused some Christians to think that they purposely did so because it spoke of Jesus as the Christ. However, this was not the case.

There is also the matter of what should be contained in the canon. To some, the canon consisted of all works that the church found edifying ? not necessarily Holy Scripture.

What settled the issue in Western Christianity was not so much a close examination of the history of the canon, or the teachings found in the Apocryphal books, it was the popular usage among the people. The people were used to hearing these books read alongside the canonical books.

When lists of the canonical writings began to appear, it seems that the view of the majority took precedence over the biblical and historical evidence. Augustine actually argued that the church had the right to include these books, though they were not the Scripture of Jesus, His Apostles, or the first century Jews.

This sums up, in a very simple way, why these works made it into the canon of Scripture for certain Christians.

Does the Old Testament Apocrypha Give Evidence of Being Holy Scripture? ← Prior Section
How Has the Old Testament Apocrypha Been Placed in Bible Translations? Next Section →
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