The Apocrypha—of God or of Men?
IS THE Apocrypha of God or of men? Is it part of “all Scripture [that] is inspired of God” and beneficial for our being “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work”? Or does it belong to “the tradition of men,” to “the elementary things of the world,” against which the apostle Paul warned Christians? What are the facts?—2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Col. 2:8.
The original meaning of the term “apocrypha” is made clear from Jesus’ use of it: “For there is nothing hidden that will not become manifest, neither anything carefully concealed that will never become known.” In time, however, the term took on the unfavorable connotation of “writings or statements of doubtful authorship or authority.” As most commonly used today, “The Apocrypha” refers to the eleven additional writings declared canonical by the Roman Catholic Church in her Council of Trent (1546), but which are challenged by others.—Luke 8:17.
These eleven additional writings are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (of Solomon), Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, a supplement to Esther and three additions to Daniel: The Song of the Three Holy Children, Susanna and the Elders, and The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon. Catholic writers refer to these books as deuterocanonical, meaning “of the second (or later) canon,” as distinguished from protocanonical.
HISTORY OF THE APOCRYPHA
There is little information as to when and by whom the various books of the Apocrypha were written. What evidence there is points to the second and first centuries B.C. The Greek Septuagint Version was produced without the Apocrypha, those writings being added to it later. They became part of the Catholic Bible because Jerome used the Septuagint as a basis for his Latin Vulgate translation.
The writings of the Apocrypha had been placed in the Septuagint wherever they seemed to fit best and there they remained until the time of the Reformation. Luther, due to the influence of able Bible scholar and radical reformer Karlstadt, gathered the Apocrypha in one place, between the Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures, and at the same time noted that these did not have the same weight of authority as did the rest of the Bible.
More than a century previous the Bible lover Wycliffe left the Apocrypha entirely out of his translation. Coverdale, however, who in 1535 produced the first English Bible in print, brought the Apocrypha back into the Bible. The King James Version of 1611 also contained the Apocrypha. In fact, Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbott decreed a year’s imprisonment for anyone who dared to publish a Bible without the Apocrypha! Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the Apocrypha of these Protestant English Bibles contained fourteen writings, the Roman Catholic Church having seen fit, in its Council of Trent, to drop three of those found in the Vulgate. These three were the Prayer of Manasses and 1 and 2 Esdras (also known in the Septuagint as 3 and 4 Esdras, as in that version 1 and 2 Esdras refers to Ezra [Esdras] and Nehemiah).
But the Apocrypha was not to remain in the English Protestant Bible. Those zealots, the Puritans, so opposed its presence that they have been accused of “persecuting the Apocrypha.” A like zeal was displayed by the Scottish Protestants, who felt so strongly about the matter that they gave the British Bible Societies an ultimatum: Cut out the Apocrypha or we will cut out our financial support!
At present the Apocrypha is growing in popularity. Liberal and modernist Bible scholars and theologians claim that the Apocrypha influenced the forming of the Christian religion and that therefore to understand it fully one must be familiar with the Apocrypha. They claim that no Bible is complete without it and that it should be more widely read and taken more seriously. Thus one asks, What advantage has Ecclesiastes over Wisdom and Baruch? Why should Esther be a part of the Bible canon and not Judith? Why are 1 and 2 Chronicles a part of the Bible and not 1 and 2 Maccabees?
Thus we have two opposite opinions today regarding the Apocrypha, with the same result: The liberals and modernists, believing that there is no such thing as divine inspiration or revelation, hold that the Apocrypha is every bit as good as the Bible. The Roman Catholic theologians, believing the Apocrypha to be inspired, hold that the Apocrypha is every bit as good as the Bible and, in fact, a part of it. However, the facts will show both to be mistaken.
EXTERNAL EVIDENCE AGAINST THE APOCRYPHA
Since the authenticity of the Bible has been demonstrated repeatedly in the columns of this magazine by such lines of evidence as fulfillment of prophecy, archaeological discoveries, harmony and candor of the writers, and so forth, the discussion here will proceed with the external and internal evidence showing that the Apocrypha could not possibly have been inspired. Chief external evidence is the fact that not one of the Christian Bible writers ever quoted from the Apocrypha, although they doubtless used the Septuagint, which in their day contained the Apocrypha. While it must be admitted that this of itself is not conclusive, these writers also having failed to quote from certain canonical books, such as Esther, Ecclesiastes and The Song of Solomon, yet the fact that not one of the fourteen writings of the Apocrypha found in the Septuagint is quoted even once indicates deliberate design.
Further arguing against the canonicity of the Apocrypha is the fact that neither the Great Synagogue of the Palestinian Jews nor the historian Josephus nor Philo, leading first-century Jewish apologist, recognized any of the books of the Apocrypha as inspired. Their Hebrew Scriptures consisted solely of twenty-four books, which are the same as the thirty-nine books of the generally accepted Hebrew Scripture canon. (In Hebrew versions 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, are counted as four instead of eight books, and the twelve minor prophets, from Hosea through Malachi, as only one book.)
Not without weight also is the fact that leading Bible scholars and “church fathers” of the first centuries of our common era definitely gave the Apocrypha an inferior position. It also appears that the more learned Bible scholars these were, the more they opposed the Apocrypha. Thus Augustine, who leaned toward recognizing the Apocrypha, was not nearly the Bible scholar that Jerome, translator of the Vulgate, was, and who once wrote Laeta, a lady acquaintance, in regard to the education of her daughter: “All apocrypha books should be avoided; . . . they are not the works of authors by whose names they are distinguished, [for] they contain much that is faulty, and . . . it is a task requiring great prudence to find gold in the midst of clay.”—McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopædia, Vol. 1, p. 290.
1 AND 2 MACCABEES, BARUCH
Foremost among the Apocryphal books must be placed 1 Maccabees, of unknown authorship and uncertain date. A patriotic history of the Jews, it covers forty years, from 175 B.C. to 135 B.C. Its “style is simple, terse and restrained, and objective”; which is remarkable, since it extols the prowess and religious zeal of one Mattathias and his four sons, the founders and leaders of the Maccabees. Good history it is, but is it of God or of men?
Definitely of men. Thus the Jewish Encyclopedia tells us that in it “history is written from the human standpoint.” Its author seems to have been a Sadducee, as he ignores the crimes the chief priests committed during that time, thus betraying his lack of objectivity. Another authority excuses the “few historical and geographical inaccuracies,” but divine history does not thus err. More than that, the prophetic, miraculous and the Messianic elements are entirely lacking as is also any reference to the resurrection hope. The writer even studiously avoids naming the Creator as either “God” or “Jehovah.” How superior in these respects is the inspired book of 1 Chronicles!
What about 2 Maccabees? Contrary to what might be expected, it does not chronologically follow 1 Maccabees as the books of Chronicles follow each other. It was written entirely independently of 1 Maccabees and apparently by a Pharisee who had no aversion to recording the crimes of chief priests. It covers some fifteen to twenty years, from 180 B.C. to 160 B.C., authorities not agreeing on these dates. It begins earlier than 1 Maccabees and covers about one half its time period. Its style is just the opposite: emotional, florid, sensational, and it abounds with references to angels and the miraculous.
It claims that the prophet Jeremiah, at the destruction of Jerusalem, took the tabernacle (which had been replaced by the temple 420 years before) and the ark of the covenant to the mountain from which Moses viewed the land of Canaan. Its reference to the offering of prayers for the dead “is without parallel in Jewish literature.” (2 Macc. 12:43-45) It obviously exaggerates and is filled with glaring historical and chronological errors. But no need to single these out, as the writer himself admits the work is of human origin, saying:
“And here will I end. And if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired: but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain unto. For as it is hurtful to drink wine or water alone, and as wine mingled with water is pleasant, and delighteth the taste: even so speech finely framed delighteth the ears of them that read the story. And here shall be an end.” (2 Macc. 15:37-39) Who says wine and water alone are hurtful and that wine mixed with water is better—and meaning what? Can we find any parallel in the Bible of a writer apologizing for his efforts and confessing to striving for effect?
The Book of Baruch likewise proves itself of human origin by its typically Apocryphal mistakes. It purports to tell of captive Jews in Babylon collecting money and sending it to the priests in Jerusalem in the fifth year of that city’s having been burned by Nebuchadnezzar, when, in fact, at that time there was neither man nor beast there. It shows Jeconiah with the other Jews in Babylon, when, in fact, he was in prison. It tells the Jews that they will be in Babylon for seven generations, whereas the facts are that they were there only seventy years. And it speaks of the Jews having “waxen old in a strange country,” although having been there only five years. No wonder Jerome did not think it worthy of translation!—Baruch 1:2-7; 3:11; 6:3.
WISDOM (OF SOLOMON) AND ECCLESIASTICUS
Even as the Book of Baruch professes to be by Jeremiah’s servant Baruch but is not, so Wisdom professes to speak for Solomon but was written many centuries after Solomon’s time. Not only does it quote from Bible books written long after Solomon’s day but quotes them from the Septuagint Version. A typical example is Wisdom 15:10 taken from Isaiah 44:20. Its human origin is further betrayed by the fact that it contradicts God’s Word about man being created mortal and subject to death if disobedient. Wisdom says: “God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.” “In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, . . . yet their hope is full of immortality.” And not only is immortality repeatedly attributed to man but man’s body is pictured as a mere hindrance to the soul, which at death is “received up.”—Wisdom 2:23; 3:2, 4; 16:14.
Ecclesiasticus has the twofold distinction of being the largest of the Apocryphal books and of having a definitely known author, one Jesus the son of Sirach. It has a lie in its very first Prologue (written by another), for it claims that this Jesus “was not less famous for wisdom and learning” than was King Solomon. The author himself, however, in the second Prologue apologizes: “Pardon us, wherein we may seem to come short of some words, which we have labored to interpret. For the same things uttered in Hebrew and translated into another tongue have not the same force in them.” Actually an apologetic self-justification.
How obviously this book is of man rather than of God can be further seen by its worldly wisdom and, in particular, by the writer’s low opinion of womankind. In contrast to God’s Word, which squarely blames the man Adam for our woes, he says: “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.” “Give me . . . any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman.” (But why want any wickedness?) “All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman.” Yet some would place these two books on the same plane as the Bible’s “wisdom” books.—Ecclesiasticus 25:24, 13, 19.
TOBIT, JUDITH AND THE ADDITIONS
In Tobit we are asked to believe that a pious old Jew was blinded by bird’s dung falling in both of his eyes; that an angel impersonating a human became the traveling companion of his son, whom the old man sent to collect a debt; that on the way the son acquired the heart, liver and gall of a fish; that by burning the heart and liver he caused a stench that drove away a certain demon, who, in jealousy, had killed seven husbands of a certain woman; that this widow then married the son, who, after accomplishing his mission, returned home and restored the sight of his father by placing the gall of the fish on his eyes. Could anything be less creditable in the light of the Scriptures? Could this book be of God?
Proving itself also of human origin but for different reasons is the Book of Judith. It tells of a beautiful woman decapitating the leading general of the enemies of the Jews, resulting in their deliverance. While the story itself is not implausible, the details are so unhistorical as to make its location on the stream of time impossible. On the one hand it purports to tell of conditions after the Jews returned from captivity, yet it mentions Nineveh, the Assyrian armies and King Nebuchadnezzar, all of whom perished long before the Jews returned to Palestine, and even makes Nebuchadnezzar the king of the Assyrians. Authorities state that “the geographical inaccuracies are equally embarrassing,” and their censure that the apocryphal books “demonstrate that all true historical consciousness was deserting the people” applies most of all to the Book of Judith. In view of all this, what doubt can there be as to what is its origin?
What about the supplement to Esther, 10:4 to 16:24, appearing in the Apocrypha? It fares no better in the light of objective criticism. It asks us to believe that Mordecai was “a great man, being a servitor in the king’s court” in the second year of Artaxerxes, 150 years after he was taken captive the first time Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem. And in claiming that Mordecai occupied this position so early in the king’s reign it not only contradicts the canonical part of Esther but also its own reference later on to his being advanced. Profuse with references to God and acts of piety, it obviously was added to give Esther a religious tone. But references to God in themselves do not prove divine origin any more than their lack proves human origin.
The Song of the Three Holy Children reads as though one of them first offered a prayer, in the vein of those of Ezra and Nehemiah, and then the angel of the Lord “smote the flame of fire out of the oven.” After this follows the song, which is very similar to Psalm 148. The song, however, makes reference to Jehovah’s temple, priests and cherubim, which does not at all fit in with the desolated condition of Jerusalem at the time. It consists of sixty-eight verses that were interpolated between verses 23 and 24 of Daniel 3.
Susanna and the Elders, chapter 13 of Daniel, tells of two elders framing a virtuous woman because she refused to have relations with them, causing her to be sentenced to die. Youthful Daniel exposes their duplicity by questioning them separately. The elders die, Susanna is spared and Daniel becomes famous. If this actually happened to youthful Daniel, why does it appear as an appendix and why was it first written in Greek, as also were the other two additions to Daniel, when the book itself was written in Hebrew and Aramaic?
The remaining Apocryphal writing to be considered is the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon. In the first half Daniel exposes a hoax practiced by the priests of Bel in eating food set out for Bel and supposedly consumed by the idol. Commanded to worship a live dragon, he causes it to explode by feeding it a concoction made of pitch, fat and hair. For this its devotees have Daniel thrown into the lions’ den. While there an angel takes the prophet Habakkuk, who happens to be far off, by the hair to the den to give Daniel a bowl of porridge. After seven days Daniel is delivered and his enemies are thrown to the lions. Does such a tale recommend itself to our judgment as the Word of God?
As one authority summed up the case against the Apocryphal writings: “They have not had the sanction of the Jewish and the early Christian Church; . . . are wholly wanting in the prophetic spirit. . . ; not only do not claim inspiration but bewail the want of it; are characterized in many passages by an air of romance and mythology alien to the simple grandeur of the Bible; contradict themselves and some well-known facts of secular history; teach doctrines not contained in the Bible. . . ; and appear never to have been quoted as an authority by the Lord or his apostles.”—Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, Abbott, pp. 50, 51.
Truly the Apocrypha is not of God but of men. What a lack of understanding and appreciation to place its writings on the same plane as those of God’s Word, the Bible! Well can Paul’s warning against paying attention to Jewish fables be applied to the Apocrypha.—Titus 1:14.