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Don Stewart :: What Is the Old Testament Apocrypha?

Don Stewart

Protestant Christianity and Judaism accept the same books as authoritative Old Testament Scripture. While the Jews do not call it the "Old Testament," since they do not recognize the New Testament, the contents are exactly the same. The only difference is the way the books are divided. The Protestants have thirty-nine books while the Jews have twenty-four.

However, there are a group of writings which are considered part of Old Testament Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church but are not accepted as authoritative by the Protestant Church or Judaism. These are known as the "Apocrypha" or the "Old Testament Apocrypha."

Apocrypha Is A Technical Term

The word Apocrypha is a specific term used to refer to the particular books that are considered Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church does not call these books the Apocrypha but rather the "Deuterocanonical" (second canon) books. This means they were added later on in history to the canon of Scripture.

The Word Apocrypha Means Hidden

While the term Apocrypha simply means, "hidden," it is used in a special sense by the Protestant Church to refer to a group of books that are considered to be Holy Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church but are rejected by Protestants. This use of the term Apocrypha to refer to these non-canonical books goes back to the fifth century A.D. At that time, the church father Jerome said that the certain books found in the Septuagint and Latin Bibles, but not found in the Hebrew Canon were called the "Apocrypha" or "hidden books."

The Word Is Used In A Positive And A Negative Sense

The idea of the Apocrypha as "hidden books" has been used in both a positive and negative sense. On the positive side, it was argued that the books were hidden from use for the uninstructed or the unlearned. Only the wise could use them.

The word is also used in the negative sense of books that are not worthy to be used by believers - they are not divinely inspired. Therefore they were hidden from the public.

The Content Of The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha consists of eleven or twelve books (depending upon how they are divided). The reason we say eleven or twelve books is because the letter of Jeremiah is sometimes added to Baruch. They were written between the years 300 B.C. and 100 B.C. The Apocrypha is about the size of the New Testament.

The Apocrypha Is Part Of The Septuagint Plus

The first time the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek was the Septuagint translation. The word Septuagint is Latin for seventy. It is derived from the idea that seventy scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek. Apart from the eleven or twelve books of the Apocrypha, there were three other books that were translated with the Hebrew Old Testament - First and Second Esdras and the Prayer Of Manasseh. All of these books are called the Septuagint plus.

The Contents Of The Septuagint Plus

The Septuagint plus contains the following books.

  1. Tobit
  2. Judith
  3. The Additions to Esther
  4. The Wisdom of Solomon
  5. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach)
  6. Baruch
  7. The Letter of Jeremiah
  8. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  9. Susanna
  10. Bel and the Dragon
  11. First Maccabees
  12. Second Maccabees
  13. First Esdras (Third Esdras)
  14. Second Esdras (Fourth Esdras)
  15. The Prayer of Manasseh
Not All The Books Of The Septuagint Plus Are Accepted As Scripture

The Roman Catholic Church accepts the books of the Septuagint plus as Scripture - with the exception of First and Second Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. These books are not considered to be part of the Old Testament. Therefore the Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books, are made up of the Septuagint plus minus three books. However some people label all the books of the Septuagint plus as the Apocrypha. This adds to the confusion when discussing this subject.

There is also some confusion about the way in which these books are named. First and Second Esdras are known as Third and Fourth Esdras among the Roman Catholic reckoning. For Roman Catholics, First and Second Esdras are the same as the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Apocrypha Is Included In Some Non-Roman Catholic Translations

Many non-Roman Catholic translations include the books of the Apocrypha. These translations place the books as a separate unit between the testaments. For example, when translating into German Martin Luther followed the church Father Jerome and separated the Apocrypha from the Old Testament instead of mingling them with the other books.

There Are Seven Extra Books Added To The Old Testament By The Roman Catholic Church

When the books of the Apocrypha are added to the Old Testament in Roman Catholic translations they are put at different places within the canonical Old Testament - they are not placed as a separate unit. In the Douay Bible, a Roman Catholic translation, we find the books of the Apocrypha are added differently to the Old Testament than the way the Protestants place them.

When added to the Roman Catholic Old Testament, they constitute only seven extra books because some of them are attached to existing books. Consequently the Roman Catholic translations would add only seven new writings to the existing Old Testament for a total of forty-six, or six new books to the Old Testament if the Letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch.

The Way In Which The Apocrypha Is Placed Within The Old Testament

The books of the Apocrypha are interspersed with the Old Testament in the following way.

The additions to Esther placed at the end of the canonical Book of Esther (Esther 10:4-16:24).

The prayer of Azariah is added to Daniel 3 (Daniel 3:24-90).

Susanna is added as a chapter to Daniel (Daniel 13).

Bel and the Dragon is also added as a chapter to Daniel (Daniel 14).

Therefore the books of the Apocrypha would consist of twelve separate writings when added between the testaments in non-Roman Catholic Bibles but only as seven books in Roman Catholic These seven are Baruch, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, First and Second Maccabees, and the Letter to Jeremiah. Bibles. Sometimes it is only six books because the Letter to Jeremiah is added to Baruch. The other five are interspersed with the Old Testament books.


Although the Jews and Protestants have the same Old Testament, there are certain books that have been rejected by both Jews and Protestants as Holy Scripture but that the Roman Catholic Church considers to be divinely authoritative. These are known as the Apocrypha. These books were written between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament era.

The Old Testament Apocrypha is part of a larger group of writings known as the Septuagint plus. Some people use the term Apocrypha in a broader sense referring to all the writings found in the Greek Bible - the Septuagint that are not part of the Old and New Testament.

In many Protestant translations of Scripture the Apocrypha is placed as one unit of books between the testaments. Roman Catholic translations place the books of the Apocrypha in various places in the Old Testament. Therefore the Roman Catholic translation would add six or seven extra books to the Old Testament. The difference between six and seven depends upon whether the Letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch.


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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