Some Thoughts on the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha is a set of ancient writings that some Christian denominations accept as ‘authoritative’, that is, as part of the ‘canon’ or list of approved Holy Scripture. Other denominations accept these writings as ‘worthwhile’ or ‘useful’ but not as sources for doctrine. Some reject them as a part of the Bible.

One goal of is to seek “Unity” in the Body of Christ. “Unity” means every Christian preaches the same message (the Gospel) to the Pagan World, in a variety of ways, always working together. It does not mean we do everything exactly the same; nor do we understand everything exactly the same way. However, when we differ, we need to know exactly what that difference is, why it exists, and why it does not detract from the presentation of the Gospel to the World.

My goal here is merely to get you started in understanding this one difference. I can only answer a very few questions about the Apocrypha. It is my hope that the following will help you get started in understanding why some denominations have a slightly different Bible.

The King James Version originally included these writings in a separate section labeled “Apocrypha”. They include Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom, Ben Sira, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, Bel, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasses, and 2 Esdras. Some also count 3 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees or other texts. Please note that some of these documents are actually part of texts that are considered to be Holy Scripture. Esther has some additional material, as does Daniel. More about this below.

As a caution, please do not think that the Early Church actually used these writings as sources for doctrine. My research shows that, even though they were included in the canon, they were not thought to be equal to other writings. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh is considered apocryphal by Jews, Roman Catholics and Protestants. Let’s look at the origin first, then we can discuss some other questions.

Most Protestants know very little about the texts that are called the Apocrypha. Probably, many from the liturgical churches do not, either. I’ve done a bit of research. The following is a summary. This is not a scholarly document. There are not a lot of references to sources. The purpose here is to give my readers a basic understanding of where the Apocrypha originated and why some denominations accept it while others do not. For detailed scholarship there are plenty of resources on the Internet, in Libraries and your pastor may have some reference material to help you. To restate the purpose here, this is merely an overview of the origin and the history of the documents we call ‘apocryphal’; to facilitate unity through understanding.

For the purpose of this comment on the Apocrypha, the Septuagint is a good place to start. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture that was readily available to theologians and scholars during the time of the Apostles.

The Septuagint was one of several versions/translations of Hebrew Scripture available to Jesus and the Apostles; as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees. It was popular with many Jews and, later, with many Christians. Tradition claims that Ptolemy II Philadelphus, king of Egypt, commissioned a translation of Hebrew Scripture into Greek so that Hebrew Scripture could be included in the Library of Alexandria. This translation became know as the Septuagint. (There are some helpful links listed below.)

The Apostles, writing the documents that would become the New Testament, wrote in Koine Greek. The Septuagint is also written in Koine Greek. So, we see many quotes from the Septuagint in the New Testament.

While the Septuagint is the first thing to consider, the second is the multitude of heresies that proliferated during the first few hundred years of Christianity. Some heresies were based on books that were written by the heretics but attributed to either an ancient Jewish authority or someone connected with an Apostle. While the Christian Church struggled against persecution by Nero and other Roman Emperors, it also struggled with the need for orthodox scripture. To make a long, complicated story very short, the canon (the authorized list of scripture) was settled, basically, by around 400AD. This list of Holy Scripture based the first part, the “Old Testament” on the Septuagint and the Hebrew texts written in Aramaic, etc. The writings or texts we now call the Apocrypha were included. This means that around 400 AD, approximately the same time as the council that produced the Nicene Creed, the Church had one set of writings that were considered authoritative. This was a huge effort on the part of the Church to present a unified, orthodox and Biblically based message to the Pagan World.

So the Apocrypha originated in the writings and texts that Jewish theologians considered to be authoritative. These texts were translated into Greek and became part of the Hebrew/Jewish Scripture that the Apostles and others used. When Christians produced a list or canon of Holy Scripture, they used the Hebrew/Jewish Scripture as the basis for the part of the Christian Bible that was called the “Old Testament”. That is where the Apocrypha originated: it was originally a part of Holy Scripture.

After the great effort to bring the Christian Church together, politics worked its way into the Christian Church. The Roman Empire became impossible for one government to manage, so two capitals were created, one in Rome and the other in Constantinople. This led to an argument about which bishop, the one in Constantinople or the one in Rome was the leader of the Christian Church. Pride, Politics and Pettiness produced the “Great Schism” which resulted in the Eastern (Greek, Slavic and Georgian) Church and the Western (Roman and Protestant) Church.

There are other “Eastern” churches, but they were in existence long before the Great Schism. These are sometimes called “Oriental” Orthodox Churches. There’s also an Assyrian Church. I believe each of these churches has a tradition of being founded by one of the Apostles. The tradition of the Eastern and Oriental communions has always included certain texts in their canon that the Greek and Roman traditions left out. However, that history has little to do with the history of the Apocrypha, which is mainly a Western Church story.

To restate the definition of the texts we are considering, the Apocrypha, so far as the Western Church is concerned, is the set of books that are included in the Roman Church canon, but not in most Protestant Church canons. The separation of the Apocrypha from the Christian canon of 400AD has several roots.

First, when the canon was settled around 400 AD the Jewish faith had not bothered to make a definite statement in the form of a canon of scripture. Apparently, from what I have read, the Jews made their decision to make a list of authorized texts because they wanted to make sure that Christian writings were not confused with Jewish writings.

Second, the concepts of sola scriptura and sola fide (Scripture Alone and Faith Alone) brought all of Holy Scripture into question. Martin Luther wanted to remove several books from the canon for this reason. He did move certain Old Testament books into a category called Apocrypha. His idea was that these books were useful and good to read, but not equal to Holy Scripture. The Anglican Church agrees, saying that these texts are good for instruction in life, but not suitable for establishment of doctrine. It is my understanding that the Roman Catholic Church also holds many of these texts to be “Deuterocanonical”.

Eventually, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and most other Protestant denominations agreed with Martin Luther. The Jewish canon had been delineated and the removal of these books from the canon helped separate Protestants from Roman Catholics. Finally, publishers began to publish Bibles that did not contain the Apocrypha. Since these sold very well among Protestants, they became standard.

In general, the Roman Catholic Church often places these texts in the logical context of the Old Testament. The Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical Protestant Churches frequently place these texts in a separate section labeled “Apocrypha”. Most Evangelical and Charismatic Protestant Churches do not include these texts in their Bibles.

Overall, these writings are curious. The Protestant Bible is self-sufficient without these texts. Some of them have verses that seem to me to contradict the principles of sola scriptura and sola fide. That is, there are a few verses that seem to put ‘works’ over ‘faith’. However, one must read the Bible as a whole. Consider Tobit: Tobit seems to be promoting the idea of works over faith. Yet, when one reads it carefully, it is Tobit’s works that prove his faith.

Some of the texts work better in their original context, such as the additional material for Esther. However, the Prayer of Manasseh works better for me if I read it as part of 2nd Chronicles, even though it was always a document unto itself, never part of Chronicles. It fits after chapter 33:13. It is a great prayer of repentance, used in some church liturgies today. (It is a confusion for me that I can’t find it in the Jerusalem Bible. I’m not sure why.)

I will say that my original thinking has changed as a result of the research I did for this little essay. The story I heard was that the Protestant Reformers tossed out those parts of the Old Testament that the Jews did not include in their canon. There’s much more to it than that. It does bother me that writings which were included in the Biblical canon by the Church in 400 AD have been removed. However, many books of the Bible were closely examined to determine if they should be considered as authoritative. More to the point, Luther and the reformers did not toss out these writings, they just gave them a separate category.

My purpose here has been to, hopefully, provide a bit of useful knowledge for the purpose of promoting understanding. Therefore, I offer this: if a friend or acquaintance asks about the Apocrypha, you can safely say that these writings are considered useful, but not always considered as sources for doctrine. Perhaps you might ask your acquaintance to study these writings with you?

One final caution: Please spend most of your Bible Study Time in the books that all Christians accept as canon. Even those who believe that these writings are Holy Scripture spend most of their time reading the entire Bible, not just these texts.

One interesting place to help you sort out all this is the Wikipedia article on the Biblical Canon. It has some charts which show how different denominations view each book.

There’s also which is an article on the Apocrypha.

The next question is where to find these Apocryphal writings, since most Protestant Bibles do not include them. Obviously, the Roman Catholic versions will contain them. So did the original King James Version (you might find a copy that includes these texts). One of my favorite translations is the Jerusalem Bible. (There is a “New” version of this Bible, but I like the original.) Android and iOS versions of both are available. One of the things I like about the Jerusalem Bible is the way these texts are incorporated into the Old Testament. The apocryphal parts are placed within their original context. Some Internet sources are:

Catholic Online has the New-Jerusalem-Bible available for online use. (You’ll have to turn off your ad blocker or send them money…)

Bible Gateway also has several translations, including the Common English Bible, with the Apocrypha included. (You can access most of this site for free.)

If you want to purchase an e-book version of the Bible, there’s always Amazon. Barnes & Noble is another good e-book seller. Also, has been a good resource for me. Google Books is also a useful place for e-books. (NOTE: Always Rejoicing does not get any financial or other reward if you purchase or use these sites. I mention them only as a convenience.)

Other links that you might find helpful:

Bible Study Tools has the New Revised Standard Version online. I just found this site. This is a “for profit” website that appears to have many resources.

There is an article on “Deuterocanonical Books” in Wikipedia, here:

For more on the Septuagint try this link

The lack of understanding is the main source of controversy, anger and fighting among Christians. I do hope that you can accept your Christian Sibling’s opinion about the Apocrypha while maintaining your own opinion. Inclusion or exclusion of the Apocrypha does not change even one letter of the Gospel. As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”


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