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Don Stewart :: What Is the History of the Old Testament Apocrypha?

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Don Stewart

There were approximately four hundred years between the last Old Testament book written (Malachi) and the first New Testament book (Galatians, James, or 1 Thessalonians). A number of significant events occurred during this period. Among them was the writing of a number of books that came to be known as the Old Testament Apocrypha.

The Jews Were Dispersed From The Promised Land

Many Jews were living outside of the Promised Land during the time between the testaments. Earlier, at the time of Jeremiah, a large contingent had sought refuge in Egypt. Then, in 586 B.C., the city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple. The remaining Jews were taken into captivity. When they were allowed to return to the Promised Land a number of years later many of them did not. In fact, the number of Jews who stayed in Babylon after Ezra left to return to Jerusalem was greater than the number of Jews who had left.

There Was A New Language For The Dispersed Jews-Greek

With the conquest of the known world by Alexander the Great (330 B.C.) Greek became the international language. The Jews who lived outside of Israel eventually forgot how to speak Hebrew. Consequently they could no longer read the Scriptures in the original language. Thus, about 250 B.C., the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt began to translate the Old Testament into Greek-the language they spoke and read.

They began with the five books of Moses and, as the years went by, translated all the books of the Old Testament into Greek. In addition to the Hebrew Old Testament, other books written in the period between the testaments were also translated into Greek. This included the books of the Apocrypha.

This Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, became popular among the people since Hebrew was no longer their principle language, even in Israel. Eventually the books the Apocrypha fund their way into the Septuagint translation.

One reason why these books may have been grouped with the Scripture is because they tell important things about Israel's history during the four hundred silent years between the testaments.

The Jews Lived In Turbulent Times During This Period

The period between the two testaments was a turbulent one for the Jews. They were under the authority of Egypt, then Syria, and finally Rome. Much of their literature that was written during this period reflected their struggle. With evil all around them there were hopes for better days when the Messiah would come and bring them into a new golden age of peace. The writings of the Apocrypha reflect this hope.

The Apocrypha Was Not Used As Scripture In The New Testament Period

Jesus and His disciples basically used the Septuagint as their Old Testament. They quoted from it extensively. However they never cited the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture.

The Situation After The New Testament Period After the New Testament period, Christians continued to quote the Old Testament to prove Jesus was the Messiah. Since many of them did not know Hebrew they used the Septuagint as their Old Testament Scripture. Eventually certain other books, that were not part of the Hebrew canon but that were identified with the Septuagint, began to be quoted as authoritative by some Christians. The Jewish Reaction To The Christian's Using The Septuagint

The idea that Christians used the Septuagint as their sacred Scripture angered the Jews. Since the Septuagint became identified with the Christian Old Testament the Jews decided to make their own translations. These included translations by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion.

The Translator Jerome Rejects The Apocrypha As Scripture

A few hundred years after Christ, the church Father Jerome translated the Bible into Latin-the language of the common people at that time in the western Roman Empire. His translation, the Vulgate, included the Apocrypha, but only because the books were popular among his readers. Jerome explicitly denied that they should have the status as Scripture. Jerome said they were not books of the canon but rather books of the church. He believed they could be helpful to people but he clearly stated his belief that they were not divinely authoritative.

His assessment of the Apocrypha was ignored. Eventually the Vulgate became the official Roman Catholic text on which all other translations were based. The tradition of using the Vulgate has continued until the twentieth century.

Augustine Accepts The Old Testament Apocrypha As Authoritative

Another key figure in the history of the Apocrypha was the church father St. Augustine. Augustine believed that the books of the Apocryphal were canonical. Soon thereafter, the councils of Hippo and Carthage, under the influence of Augustine, declared the books of Apocrypha as Scripture. A few years later Pope Leo also testified that the Apocrypha was indeed part of the Old Testament canon.

Except for a few dissenting voices the matter was not really addressed for the next one thousand years.

The Protestant Reformers Reject The Apocrypha

The debate about the extent of the canon did not really come to a head until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's. The Roman Catholic Church had been using the Latin Vulgate translation since the time of Jerome. However Martin Luther, and the Protestant Reformers, argued that one should go back to the original sources - the Hebrew Old Testament. Therefore they rejected the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Septuagint and the Apocrypha. In his 1534 German translation, Luther placed these "outside books" at the end of his version. He declared that these books did not belong in the Old Testament canon of Scripture.

The Council Of Trent Declares The Apocrypha Scripture

The Roman Catholic Church responded quickly to Luther and the reformers. From 1545 to 1563 a church council met at Trent to answer some of their charges. As part of the Counter Reformation (called the Catholic Reformation by Roman Catholics) the Council of Trent affirmed the Apocrypha as Scripture and proclaimed it authoritative for Roman Catholics. From that day to this, the Roman Catholic Church has followed that ancient tradition and included these books in the Old Testament. The Protestant Church continues to reject these works as Holy Scripture.


After the Babylonian captivity most Jews continued to live outside of the Holy land. They forgot how to speak their native language, Hebrew. Consequently the Scriptures were translated into a language they could understand, Greek. Along with the Old Testament, there were other books that were also translated into Greek. These include the books of the Apocrypha.

During the time of Christ, He and His disciples often used the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, when quoting Old Testament Scripture. The Septuagint then became the Scripture for the early church. As time went on some Christians cited books from the Apocrypha, which was translated along with the Septuagint. The Jews reacted to Christians using the Septuagint by doing new translations of the Hebrew into Greek.

Eventually the books of the Apocrypha were considered Old Testament Scripture in Jerome's Latin translation. This was over against the objection of Jerome. Augustine, a contemporary of Jerome, accepted the Scriptural status of the Apocrypha. The Roman Catholic Church followed his lead.

At the time of the Protestant reformation the Roman Catholic Church officially added the books of the Apocrypha to the Old Testament canon. Protestant Christianity has always denied the divine authority of these books. The differences between Protestants and Catholics with respect to the Apocrypha remain to this day.


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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