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Why the Apocrypha are Excluded from the Bible

From Issue: R&R – Issue 44 #3

What Are the “Apocrypha”? 1

The term “apocrypha” comes from two Greek terms, apo (from) and kruptees (hidden), and is used to refer to books that are of uncertain authorship, obscure origin, and questioned authority. Specifically, the term refers formally to collections of books some have associated with the Old and New Testament.

Old Testament Apocrypha

The following books are typically classified as the Old Testament apocrypha:

  • Baruch
  • Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)
  • Judith
  • 1 & 2 Maccabees
  • Tobit
  • 6 chapters added to Esther
  • 1 & 2 Esdras
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • The Letter of Jeremiah
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Additions to Daniel:
    • Susanna
    • Bel and the Dragon
    • Prayer of Azariah & the Song of the Three Young Men

Do the Apocrypha Meet the Necessary Criteria for Canonicity?

(1) Neither Jesus nor the Apostles quoted from the apocryphal material. While mere quotation would not establish canonicity, it is difficult to think that the New Testament authors would consider the 14 Old Testament Apocrypha inspired but never quote from them. At least 35 of the Old Testament books are quoted in the New Testament entailing some 275 quotations. Not only are there no direct quotes from the Apocrypha in the New Testament, there are no references to incidents or characters found in the Apocrypha.

(2) Jesus alluded to the Old Testament canon by means of the well-established divisional expressions “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,”2 “the Law and the Prophets,”3 “Moses and the Prophets,”4 and the “Law of Moses and the Prophets.”5 These equivalent expressions were intended to encompass the “24” Old Testament books which the Jews early recognized as the only ones received from God, traditionally classified in three categories:

  • Torah (Law)
    Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • Nevi’im (“Prophets”)
    “Former Prophets”: Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel (one book), 1&2 Kings (one book)
    “Latter Prophets”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, 12 Minor Prophets (one book)
  • Ketuvim (“Writings”; Greek, “Hagiographa”)
    Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon (Canticles), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah (one book), 1&2 Chronicles (one book)

These 24 books correspond precisely to the 39 books that characterize modern Bibles. Some later Jewish authorities speak of 22 books in the Hebrew Bible by appending Ruth to Judges, and Lamentations to Jeremiah.

The Apocrypha were never included in the Hebrew canon. Not until the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century B.C. (the Septuagint), were they included. Prominent Jewish figures dismissed the canonicity of the Apocrypha, including Josephus, who firmly rejected them,6 and Philo, Jewish philosopher from Alexandria (20 B.C.-A.D. 50) who neither quoted nor alluded to the Apocrypha, though he frequently quoted the Old Testament. The Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture) were not provided for the Apocrypha. Being the guardians of the “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), it is noteworthy that the Jews did not include or accept the Apocrypha with the 39 Old Testament books (although it was included in the Septuagint many years after the Hebrew canon was clearly defined).

(3) With the arrival of Christianity, early Christian writers and churches rejected the Apocrypha. The early lists of inspired books excluded them. Origen (2nd-3rd century), Athanasius (4th century), and Jerome (4th-5th century) rejected them. Even when included in listings, typically a distinction was made noting that though the Apocrypha were suitable reading material, they were not on a par with Scripture. Roman Catholicism first declared the Apocrypha as canonical at the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546, an action that passed by a narrow majority, yet, even then, rejected 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh.

(4) The internal marks of inspiration are strikingly absent. The Apocrypha writers, for example, did not actually claim inspiration. They committed historical, geographical, and chronological blunders (e.g., Judith 1:1). They contain some legend and fiction, as well as doctrinal contradictions of Scripture (e.g., Baruch 3:4). Further, they are stylistically inferior to Scripture, and the moral/spiritual level portrayed is beneath the grandeur of Scripture.

(5) The books are dated from the intertestamental period—all written long after the Old Testament books were written and the Old Testament canon closed. Some portions were even written during the Christian era.

New Testament Apocrypha

The following books are classified as New Testament Apocrypha:

  • Gospel of Peter
  • Revelation of Peter
  • Shepherd of Hermas
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Acts of Paul
  • 1 and 2 Clement
  • Enoch
  • Et al.

Do the Apocrypha Meet the Necessary Criteria for Canonicity?

(1) To be canonical, a book must not contradict plain doctrines of the New Testament—as the Apocrypha do.

(2) Some were obviously written to support some doctrinal preference.

(3) They deal with frivolous, unimportant, and absurd details.

(4) They contradict history.

(5) They betray evidence of an attempt to imitate New Testament books.

(6) The style is conspicuously unlike the authentic New Testament writings.

(7) They were never acknowledged as genuine by those close to the apostolic age, including Clement of Rome (1st century), Ignatius (1st century), Polycarp (2nd century), and Hermas (2nd century).

(8) Early lists of canonical books exclude them.

(9) Even enemies of Christianity, in attacking the Christian religion, quoted from New Testament books—but not the Apocrypha.

Jude’s Allusion to Enoch

“But isn’t Jude 14-16 a quotation of the apocryphal book Enoch (1:9)?” The Jude passage reads:

Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.

Enoch 1:9 reads:

And lo! He comes with ten thousands of [His] holy ones to execute judgment upon them, and He will destroy the ungodly, and will convict all flesh of all that the sinners and ungodly have wrought and ungodly committed against Him.7

If Jude actually quotes the apocryphal book of Enoch, does it follow that Jude, itself, is an apocryphal book, or that the book of Enoch is inspired? Consider two possible explanations for this circumstance. First, perhaps Jude and Enoch cite a true saying from the biblical character Enoch that was preserved by oral tradition. After all, not everything that prophets and other inspired men said was divinely preserved in written form. If that be the case, Jude was simply citing oral tradition—not the book of Enoch.

Second, perhaps the most plausible explanation is that Jude did, indeed, cite Enoch—but not as Scripture. Rather, he was simply recognizing that what Enoch said turned out to be a true statement in view of the ungodly conduct of the false teachers about whom Jude was writing. Jude could regard the words which he cites as invested with some authority without giving indication of what he thought of the rest of the book. He could accept the validity of the particular incident to which he alludes without giving a blanket approval to the divine authenticity of the entire book of Enoch.

Writing by inspiration did not rule out or exclude the writer’s freedom to use uninspired sources. Rather, the Holy Spirit simply directed the writer in such a fashion that the writer used only information that was true and accurate. Though the inspired writer utilized his own vocabulary, style, educational background, etc. in the writing of Scripture, his efforts were so superintended that the finished product was what God wanted written (2 Peter 2:21). Several passages illustrate this truth:

Luke 1:1-4—Luke was permitted by God to incorporate extra-biblical source materials.

Acts 17:28—Lukefirst quoted from a work of Epimenidesof Crete (“in Him we live and move and have our being”),[8] and then quoted from line five of Phaenomena (“we are his offspring”)—a poem on astronomy, composed by Aratus of Cilicia (cir. 315–cir. 245 B.C.).9

1 Corinthians 15:33 — Paul quoted from the comedy Thais by Greek dramatist Menander (342-291) B.C.10

Titus 1:12-13 — Paul quoted the pagan poet Epimenides of Crete, and declared: “This testimony is true.”11

Observe that in each of these cases, the inspired writer is simply alluding to an uninspired writer’s remarks that happen to coincide with the truth being expounded. No doubt this technique was intended to facilitate a greater likelihood of receptivity to the inspired message by the audience.

Further evidence that inspired writers were guided by God to make use of other source materials is seen in the following passages:12

  • Numbers 21:14—Book of the Wars of the Lord
  • Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18—Book of Jashar
  • 1 Kings 11:41—Book of the Annals of Solomon
  • 1 Chronicles 9:1—Book of the Kings of Israel
  • 1 Chronicles 29:29—the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet, the records of Gad the seer
  • 2 Chronicles 9:29—the records of Nathan the prophet, the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, the visions of Iddo the seer
  • 2 Chronicles 12:15—the records of Shemaiah the prophet, the records of Iddo the seer
  • 2 Chronicles 20:34—the annals of Jehu, the book of the kings of Israel

Conclusion

No doubt many of the apocryphal works were prompted by people’s curiosity about the voids associated with inspired writ.13 Consequently, books were produced that would have been intended to answer such questions as: “What occurred in the lives of Bible characters during those phases/periods that are not elaborated upon in the Bible?” and “What occurred during the intertestamental period when the pen of inspiration was silent?” Legion are those who have fixated on a multitude of unrevealed details of inspired history—from what Jesus was like as a toddler to what eventually happened to famous Bible characters. The satiation of human curiosity is on display in the Apocrypha.14

Endnotes

1 The material contained in this brief review of the Apocrypha was gathered from a number of useful sources, including: Gleason Archer (1974), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody Press), pp. 72-77; F.F. Bruce (1960), The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans); David Ewert (1983), From Ancient Tablets to Modern Translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), pp. 73-83; William Henry Green (1899), General Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon (London: John Murray), pp. 158ff.,195-200; R. Laird Harris (1977), Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), pp. 131ff.; M.R. James (1924), The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press); Neil Lightfoot (1986), How We Got the Bible (Abilene, TX: ACU Press), pp. 68-75; Bruce Metzger (1957), An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press); Merrill Unger (1951), Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan); Henry Vedder (1908), “The Rejected Books” in Our New Testament: How Did We Get It? (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society), pp. 207-240; Clyde Woods (no date), “Fact Sheet: Reasons for Rejecting the Apocrypha From the Canon” (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College); G. Douglas Young’s “The Apocrypha” in Carl F.H. Henry, ed. (1972), Revelation and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

2 Luke 24:44.

3 Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 13:15; 24:14; Romans 3:21.

4 Luke 16:29,31; 24:27; 26:22.

5 Acts 28:23.

6 Against Apion, I.8.

7 R.H. Charles (1893), The Book of Enoch (Oxford: The Clarendon Press), p. 59.

8 See the three articles written by J. Rendel Harris in The Expositor (ed. W. Robertson Nicoll): “The Cretans Always Liars” (1906), October, 2:305-317; “A Further Note on the Cretans” (1907), April, 3:332-337; “St. Paul and Epimenides” (1912), October, 8:348-353.

9 G.R. Mair, trans. (1921), Callimachus and Licophron, Aratus (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons), p. 380.

10 John Freese (1911), “Menander” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Cambridge: University Press), 18:109.

11 See Endnote #8.

12 See Eric Lyons (2017), “A Flawed Assumption Many Make About Kings and Chronicles,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/a-flawed-assumption-many-make-about-kings-and-chronicles-5421/; “Are There Lost Books of the Bible?” (2003), Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/are-there-lost-books-of-the-bible-66/.

13 Yet, one of the remarkable proofs of inspiration is the omissions of the Bible. See Wayne Jackson (1996), “The Silence of the Scriptures: An Argument for Inspiration,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/the-silence-of-the-scriptures-an-argument-for-inspiration-259/.

14 One is reminded of the Bible class children who were creating their own pictures of that day’s Bible lesson. As the teacher walked around the classroom, looking over the shoulders of the students, she asked one little boy: “Johnny, what are you drawing?” Johnny answered: “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher reacted: “But Johnny, no one knows what God looks like.” Johnny retorted: “They will when I finish my picture.”


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