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

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Don Stewart

How could it have happened that some early Christians accepted a number of books as Holy Scripture if these books were not divinely inspired? How could they have made such a mistake?

How Did Some Christians Come To Accept The Apocrypha?

First, it must be understood, that it was from Christian use, not Jewish use, that the Apocrypha became Scripture to some Christians. After the time of the Apostles there were some Christians who accepted these books as authoritative.

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

1. There Was Early Agreement On The Extent Of Scripture

During the time of Jesus Christ the books of the Apocrypha were not considered Scripture by anyone. There were no quotations from the Apocrypha in the New Testament. Jesus Christ acknowledged the books of Old Testament by their current titles - the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings - and accepted the traditional order. He said nothing about the Apocrypha.

The Jews Were Clear As To The Extent Of The Canon

The Jews were clear as to the extent of the Hebrew canon. 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 Greece, Syria, and Rome. Learned Jews such as Josephus and Philo knew these works. Yet they did not consider them to be writings that were equal to Scripture. No one put them on the same level as Scripture.

Therefore, in the first century A.D., both Christians and Jews accepted the Hebrew Scriptures as authoritative but did not accept the books of the Apocrypha.

2. At An Early Time Christianity Broke With Judaism

Although the early Christians and the Jews were unanimous in their rejection of the Apocrypha as Scripture - this 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.

The Church Began To Spread To Non-Jewish Areas

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 understanding of the canon.

This became apparent with their lack of use of the Hebrew Scriptures. For the early church their Old Testament Scripture was the Greek Old Testament - not the Hebrew. When the Hebrews Scriptures were translated into other languages such as the Old Latin, the translation was made from the Greek Septuagint not from the Hebrew text.

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

3. Some Early Church Fathers Began To Use The Apocrypha

Sadly, some early church Fathers started to cite the Apocrypha in the same manner as they cited Old Testament Scripture. For a number of inadequate reasons they came to believe that these books were to be received as having some sort of authority.

4. Eventually Miraculous Stories About The Septuagint Arose

Eventually miraculous stories about the origin of the Septuagint began to be circulated among Christians. Since some of the books of the Apocrypha were mingled with the Septuagint their origin was likewise felt to be miraculous.

5. There Were Charges That Jews Didn't Want The Apocryphal Books Known

There were also some false charges made by early Christians. It was alleghed that the Jews did not want the Apocrypha 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 inclusion of the Apocrypha with the Old Testament.

Some Christians 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 Apocrypha could be placed in the canon without necessarily being divinely authoritative.

These are the basic factors that caused the Apocrypha to be eventually accepted as authoritative Scripture by some believers in the early church.

Summary

The rise of the Old Testament Apocrypha to the status of Scripture among some Christians was a process. It did not start out that way. All the evidence leads us to believe that the 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. 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 an authoritative 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.

Finally, 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.

These factors brought about a certain degree of acceptance of the books of the Apocrypha among some Christians. However the reasons for the acceptance of the Apocrypha are completely inadequate.

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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