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

Don Stewart :: How Has the Old Testament Apocrypha Been Placed in Bible Translations?

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Question 9

How Has the Old Testament Apocrypha Been Placed in Bible Translations?

When the Old Testament has been translated from the original Hebrew into other languages, the Old Testament Apocrypha has been dealt with in a number of ways. It is helpful if we understand how the Jews and Christians have dealt with the apocryphal books when translating the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, into different languages.

Consequently, we will look at some of the important translations of the Bible into Greek, Latin, German, and English and summarize our findings.

  1. Greek Translations

    The first language into which the Hebrew Old Testament was translated was Greek. This translation, known as the Septuagint, began about 250 years before the time of Christ. Unfortunately, we only possess a few manuscripts of the Septuagint before the beginning of the Christian era. Thus, most of the manuscripts that do exist were done by Christians after the time of Christ. Consequently, we cannot be certain of the status of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha when the Septuagint was first translated. The three oldest complete, or near complete, Greek manuscripts that contain the Old Testament and New Testament together, have certain books of the Old Testament Apocrypha along with the Old Testament. However, the number of books, and their identity, is always different. We never find the complete Old Testament Apocrypha translated and placed next to the Old Testament.

    Because the Christians made the Septuagint their version, the Jews made a number of other translations into Greek. This includes translations by Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. None of these versions included the apocryphal or deuterocanonical books. To this day, the Jews do not consider the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Holy Scripture.

  2. Latin Translations: the Old Latin and the Vulgate

    The Scriptures were translated into Latin at a relatively early time in the Christian era. It seems that about the end of the first century A.D., some of the books of the Old Testament were being translated into Latin. This earliest translation was known as the Old Latin. The Old Latin Old Testament eventually contained some of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. However, when these books were placed with the Old Latin Old Testament is not known.

    An official revision of the Old Latin was made in the fifth century by the scholar Jerome. He began to revise the Old Testament by referring to the Greek versions. Yet, Jerome was soon convinced that he should go back to the original Hebrew to make his translation. His Latin translation of the Old Testament, using the Hebrew, was completed in A.D. 405.

    When Jerome used the Hebrew, instead of the Greek Septuagint, to translate the Old Testament, he realized the Septuagint which he possessed, contained books that were not found in the Hebrew Scripture. Jerome rejected the idea of placing the Old Testament Apocrypha on an equal level with the Hebrew Bible. He said:

    Whatever falls outside these must be set apart among the Apocrypha. Therefore Wisdom, which is commonly entitled Solomon’s, with the book of Jesus the son of Sirach, Judith, Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. I have found the first book of Maccabees in Hebrew, the second in Greek, as may be proved from the language itself.

    Jerome called the books of the Septuagint plus “Apocrypha.” This is a different use of the term than the Church Father Athanasius had used some fifty years earlier. Athanasius divided the books of Scripture into three categories: canonical, edifying, and apocryphal. What we know as the Old Testament Apocrypha was placed into the second category by Athanasius; they were edifying but not canonical or divinely inspired. When Athanasius spoke of apocryphal books he was referring to books that should not be read in the church.

    However, when Jerome used the term Apocrypha, he was describing the same books that Athanasius designated as edifying. These books could be read in the church if people so desired, but they were not to be used for doctrine. Another Church Father, Rufinus, also put the books into three categories. He called “ecclesiastical” the books that Jerome called “apocryphal.”

    Jerome stated his view on these “apocryphal books” in his prologue to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. He wrote:

    Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.

    Thus, when Jerome spoke of these apocryphal books, he distinguished them from the canonical Scripture. While these writings may be helpful, they certainly were not to be considered part of Holy Scripture.

    Jerome’s distinction between the Hebrew canon and the Old Testament Apocryphal books was not accepted by the Church. The books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, though they were not found in the Hebrew canon, were placed in his translation, by the Roman Catholic Church. This version, which became known as the Vulgate, eventually became the official version of the Roman Church and became the Bible used in the Western Church for the next thousand years. While these Old Testament apocryphal books were included with the Hebrew Scripture, there seemed to be little interest among the common people to make an issue as to the extent of the Old Testament canon.

    In time, some books were added to the Vulgate that Jerome did not even translate. This includes “Third and Fourth Esdras” and “The Prayer of Manasseh.” These three works were never part of the Septuagint, yet they made their way into the Vulgate which became the authoritative Scripture for Latin Christianity.

    It is important to note that during the time the Vulgate reigned supreme, the majority of scholars made the distinction between these Old Testament books and the books of the Hebrew canon. They recognized these apocryphal books were not Holy Scripture, but rather could be used as edifying or helpful to believers. Yet, the issue of the exact extent of the Old Testament canon did not come to the forefront until the Protestant Reformation.

  3. Martin Luther’s German Translation

    In response to abuses that were prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church, a Roman Catholic monk, Martin Luther, tacked 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. The Protestant Reformation had begun. Among Luther’s charges was that the church was practicing a number of things which were contrary to Holy Scripture. This includes such things as praying for the dead, the selling of indulgences, and the belief in Purgatory.

    In response, the Roman Church pointed to passages in the Old Testament Apocrypha to support their practices. This led Luther to contend that doctrine should not come from these books which were outside of the canon of Scripture. Among other things, Luther cited the comments that were made from their own translator; Jerome. Luther then made his own German translation of the Bible. In doing so, he rejected the Septuagint translation and Latin Vulgate.

    His translation of the Scripture, in 1534, placed the Old Testament Apocrypha in a separate section from the Old Testament. The section had the following title:

    The Apocrypha: Books which are not to be held equal to Holy Scripture, but are useful and good to read.

    The differences between the Old Testament Apocrypha and Holy Scripture had already been recognized in other translations of that time. The Swiss reformer, Zwingli, produced the Zurich Bible (1524-1529). In it, Zwingli separated the Old Testament Apocrypha from the Old Testament by publishing the Apocrypha in a separate volume. Later editions to Zwingli’s translation of the Old Testament Apocrypha, added Third and Fourth Esdras as well as Third Maccabees. Yet these works were not considered to be Holy Scripture.

    To sum up, the Protestant reformers recognized the authority of Scripture over the authority of the church. They realized that ultimate authority came from that which was written and not from the pronouncements of the church. The church had no real authority over the Scripture.

  4. A Later Latin Translation: the Clementine Vulgate

    The challenges of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformers called for a response from the Roman Catholic Church. From 1545-1563, the Council of Trent met to decide on a number of issues. Among other things, the issue of the canon of Scripture was addressed. In the fourth session, in April, 1546, it was decreed that the ancient form of the biblical text, the Vulgate, should be appealed to as representing Holy Scripture. No distinction was to be made between the Hebrew Canon and the Old Testament Apocrypha as Jerome himself had made.

    This was the first time a general council of the church had ruled on the issue of the Old Testament canon. Since the Vulgate was the authoritative text of Scripture, an accurate edition of the text was necessary. The Clementine Vulgate of 1592 became the standard text. In this edition, the books of Third and Fourth Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh were put in an appendix, since according to the council of Trent, they did not form any part of the Old Testament canon. For Roman Catholics, this edition of the Vulgate was the text used for translating the Scripture into other languages for the next three hundred years.

  5. Ancient English Translations

    English translations have a history of doing one of three things to the Old Testament Apocrypha. Some translations include the Old Testament Apocrypha within the Old Testament Scripture. Others print the Old Testament Apocrypha as a complete unit and place it between the testaments. Still other translations do not print the Old Testament Apocrypha with their translation of Holy Scripture. Most Protestant translations that contained the Old Testament Apocrypha had some explanatory note that recognized the distinction between these books and Old Testament Scripture.

    We will look at some of the most important ancient English translations as well as some of the significant modern ones with the view of discovering how they dealt with the issue of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

    • Wycliffe

      The earliest translation of the Scripture into the English was that of John Wycliffe (1384, 1395). Since Wycliffe used Jerome’s Latin Vulgate as the basis of his translation, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were included. In Wycliffe’s original version, there is a note which commends the apocryphal Book of Tobit. However, in the 2nd edition, the distinction is recognized between the Old Testament apocryphal books and the books of the Hebrew canon.

      Like Jerome, the distinction was made between those books that could be used for doctrine, the Hebrew Old Testament, and those which might be profitable for ethical lessons, the Old Testament Apocrypha.

    • William Tyndale

      William Tyndale is one of the great names in Bible translation. His contribution cannot be overestimated. For example, the King James, or the Authorized Version is about 90% the work of Tyndale. Unfortunately, Tyndale did not live to complete the Old Testament. Therefore, we do not know what he would have done with the Old Testament Apocrypha. It is assumed that Tyndale would have done something similar as Martin Luther, since he often followed Luther’s lead. If this were the case, then he would have placed the Old Testament Apocrypha as an appendix at the end of the Old Testament. However, we cannot be certain as to what Tyndale would have done with these writings.

    • Matthew Coverdale

      The next English translation to be considered is that of Matthew Coverdale. This translation, made in 1535, separated the apocryphal books, and the various parts of the apocryphal books, from the Old Testament. He wrote an introduction to these books in which he made it clear they did not have the authority of Holy Scripture. However, the Book of Baruch was placed with the Old Testament Scripture. In his 1537 edition, Baruch was removed from the Old Testament and placed with the Apocrypha. In this translation, the Old Testament Apocrypha is introduced this way:

      Title to Apocrypha: APOCRYPHA: The books and treatises which among the Fathers of old are not reckoned to be of like authority with the other books of the Bible, neither are they found in the Canon of Hebrew.

      Here we again have the distinction between the Old Testament Apocrypha and the canonical books; they are not the same.

    • Matthew’s Bible

      Another translation, known as Matthew’s Bible, was produced in 1537. The translator was a man named John Rogers, who was an assistant of William Tyndale. For the first time in English, The Prayer of Manasseh was added to the Old Testament Apocrypha. The Old Testament Apocrypha was placed in a separate section from the canonical books.

    • The Great Bible

      The Great Bible, published in 1539, was really the product of William Tyndale through Matthew Coverdale. It contained Coverdale’s introduction to the books of the Apocrypha, but called them the Hagiographa, or “holy writings.” This title was usually given for the third division of the Hebrew Bible. Since most of the Bishops at that time were Roman Catholic, they resented the fact that the translators had separated the Old Testament Apocrypha from the rest of the Old Testament.

      Thus, in the fifth edition of the Great Bible, published in 1541, Coverdale’s introduction to the Old Testament Apocrypha was omitted. There was a new title page given to the list of apocryphal books preceded by the words, “the fourth part of the Bible containing these books.” This was an attempt to place the books of the Apocrypha on the same level as the Hebrew Scripture.

    • The Geneva Bible

      The Geneva Bible, 1560, was a translation made by the Puritans. The preface to the Geneva Bible has the following to say with respect to the Old Testament Apocrypha:

      The books that follow in order after the Prophets unto the New Testament, are called Apocrypha, that is, books which were not received by a common consent to be read and expounded publicly in the Church, neither yet served to prove any point of Christian religion save in so much as they had the consent of the other scriptures called canonical to confirm the same, or rather whereon they were grounded: but as books proceeding from godly men they were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of history and for the instruction of godly manners: which books declare that at all times God had an especial care of His Church, and left them not utterly destitute of teachers and means to confirm them in the hope of the promised Messiah, and also witness that those calamities that God sent to his Church were according to his providence, who had both so threatened by his prophets, and so brought it to pass, for the destruction of their enemies and for the trial of his children.

      Again, we find the distinction made between the Old Testament Apocrypha and the Holy Scripture.

    • The Bishops’ Bible

      The Bishops’ Bible, published in 1568, was so named because eight of the translators of this work were Queen Elizabeth’s bishops. This work was a revision of the Great Bible. These Bishops were not Protestants, but rather belonged to the High church. In fact, their translation was a reaction to the strongly Calvinistic Geneva Bible. The Bishops’ Bible contained the Old Testament Apocrypha. While the section that contained the Old Testament Apocrypha had a special title, nothing was said to distinguish these books from those of the Hebrew canon.

    • A Roman Catholic Translation: the Rheims/Douay Version

      The Roman Catholic Church produced its own English translation of the Scripture; the Rheims/Douay Version published in 1609-1610. The translation began in the city of Rheims where the New Testament was published in 1582. However, the translators later moved to Douay and then back again to Rheims. Hence, we have the name the Rheims/Douay Version; sometimes called the Douay/Rheims. The translators used the Latin Clementine Vulgate as their text rather than the original languages; Greek and Hebrew. Since this was a Roman Catholic translation, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha were included within the Old Testament and not placed as a separate appendix as is found in Protestant translations. This translation was revised by Bishop Richard Challoner in 1750. Thus, this particular Roman Catholic Bible was then called the Rheims-Douay-Challoner Version.

    • The King James Version

      The King James Version of 1611 was a revision of the last edition of the Bishops’ Bible (1602). Like the Bishops’ Bible, it contained the Old Testament Apocrypha between the testaments. There was an explanatory note indicating that the books were not considered to be on the same level as Holy Scripture. Yet, as early as 1626, copies of the King James Version were produced without the Old Testament Apocrypha.

  6. Modern English Translations

    In the English world, the King James Version reigned supreme. It was not revised until 1881; the English Revised Version. This version also published a revision of the Apocrypha in 1895. However, the 1901 American Standard Version, which was the counterpart to the English Revised Version, never included the Old Testament Apocrypha in its translation.

    While Roman Catholic Versions continued to print the Apocrypha as part of Holy Scripture, many Protestant versions did not. For example, the Old Testament Apocrypha is not included in more conservative translations such as the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Bible, the New International Version, or the English Standard Version. However, it is included in the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible and the Revised English Bible.

    The New Revised Standard Version went further than any other Protestant translation of Scripture. It translated the 66 books of the Protestant canon, the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, and three other texts accepted by Eastern Orthodox churches, namely, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151.

This, in short, is a brief summary of how these writings have been placed in various translations of Scripture until the present time.

We should make one final observation with respect to these English translations of the Old Testament Apocrypha and Protestant usage. As far as Protestants are concerned, Anglicans and Lutherans have traditionally retained the Old Testament Apocrypha in their translations of Scripture. They have placed these writings between the testaments. This can be illustrated by Martin Luther’s German translation and the original arrangement of the King James Version, or the Authorized Version. In addition, Lutherans and Anglicans have incorporated portions of the Old Testament Apocrypha into their lectionary readings. However, Lutherans today, particularly in North America, use Bibles without the Old Testament Apocrypha. Likewise, many Episcopalians in the United States have Bibles which do not include the Old Testament Apocrypha. This is consistent with the Protestant belief that the Old Testament Apocrypha has no claim to be regarded as Holy Scripture.

Summary - Question 9
How Has the Old Testament Apocrypha Been Placed in Bible Translations

The Old Testament has a long history of translation. From two hundred and fifty years before the time of Christ, until the present, the Old Testament has been rendered into other languages. As we examine some of the important translations, we can see how the Old Testament Apocrypha was viewed by those who translated the text. When the Old Testament was first translated, it was rendered into Greek; the Septuagint. Although we do not know the extent of the Septuagint translation, there is every reason to believe that it would have been the same as the standard Hebrew canon. This would not include the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Old Latin translation of the Old Testament, made as early as the end of the first century, eventually came to contain the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha. However, exactly when they came to be placed with the Old Testament is not known. In the fifth century, the translator Jerome produced the official revision of the Old Latin. He refused to consider the Old Testament Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament. Yet, his advice was not taken, and the Old Testament Apocrypha became part of the Latin Vulgate.

Martin Luther, at the time of the Protestant Reformation, followed the example of Jerome in his German translation and placed the Old Testament Apocrypha in a separate unit. He made the distinction between it and the canonical books. The Roman Catholic Church responded to Luther by making the Latin Vulgate, which included the Old Testament Apocrypha within the Old Testament, as their official translation. English translations, from the time of John Wycliffe through the King James Version, all contained the Old Testament Apocrypha. Most of them, however, had some type of introductory note in which they recognized that the Old Testament Apocrypha was distinct from the divinely inspired Old Testament.

In modern times, Protestant translations do not always include the Old Testament Apocrypha. The more conservative translations, the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version, do not contain the Old Testament Apocrypha. On the other hand, the Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and the Good News Bible do have these books.

Therefore, to sum up, we find that the Old Testament Apocrypha is either placed within the Old Testament in some translations, placed at the end of the Old Testament in others, and not included at all in others. Protestants vary in their view of the usefulness of the Old Testament Apocrypha, while Roman Catholics continue to believe that these works are part of canonical Scripture.

Why Did Some Early Christians Assume the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha Were Holy Scripture? ← Prior Section
What Are the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha? (Enoch, Jubilees) Next Section →

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