Should the Apocrypha Be Counted as Scripture?
By Bill Lockwood
Fundamental attitudes toward Scripture have dramatically shifted within the last 50 years. Fifty years ago, destructive rationalism, excising the miraculous from the Bible, was confined to elite religious schools which in turn imbued these attitudes in their trainees. These preachers of old-line denominations then spewed atheistic slants of the Bible into their flocks, but churches of Christ remained relatively untouched and members demanded of its preachers simple book, chapter, verse preaching. But no more. Churches of Christ have come of age. Our preachers now long for degrees of higher learning, which, in spite of some advantages, has also exposed our rank and file to the same tommyrot that has eaten the heart out of the once - conservative denominations. One of the questions which will be at center among our people therefore, will not be whether a baby might be baptized by authority from God, but which books belong in the Bible? The latter, of course, is fundamental to the very core of the religion of Jesus Christ.
The Five Gospels?
Under the above title, a recent book has been published by a group designating themselves The Jesus Seminar, edited by Robert Funk and Roy Hoover. The full title is The Five Gospels, What Did Jesus Actually Say? Clearly, the effort is throwing into question whether the canon—the "books" which have been counted by Christians throughout centuries as inspired—are what should solely constitute our "sacred literature." Not here examining the arguments themselves set forth by this coterie of "scholars," I turn attention to the Apocrypha, drawing attention only to this fact—the hour has come in which our own people are beginning to question whether we have ever possessed "the Bible" that God desires.
The Apocrypha, a group of fourteen "books" composed during the four hundred years of silence between Malachi and Matthew, and counted by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Bible, should not be accorded a place in Holy Scripture, as they are not inspired. Alfred Edersheim in his Prophecy and History, (p. 289ff) rehearses some of the reasons this is the case.
First, the everywhere evident general direction of the Apocrypha as compared with the Old and New Testaments. It is within the apocryphal period that "Judaism" becomes "rabbinism," a systematic menace by which to control the ordinary people. A rabid particularism arose which was staunchly nationalistic in its scope. This, of course, is completely foreign to the spirit of the Old Testament.
Second, the earliest apocryphal writings lament the absence of prophetic inspiration. Consider the statements made in 1 Maccabees 9:27 where Judas Maccabees is gathered with his friends and this is said, "There was great tribulation in Israel, such as was not since the time that no prophet appeared unto them." In the same book, chapter 14, verse 41, we read, "that the Jews and the priests were well pleased that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until there should arise a faithful prophet: and that he should be captain over them, and should take charge of the sanctuary."
Third, the apocryphal admission is that the Jewish canon excludes the Apocrypha; in the Prologue of Ecclesiasticus the Son of Sirach states that "my grandfather Jesus, having much given himself to the reading of the law, and the prophets and the other books of our fathers and having gained great familiarity therein ... but the law itself, and the prophecies, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their original language." Note that there was already a solidified Jewish canon studied by writers of the Apocrypha!
Fourth, the Apocrypha refers to biblical books in an exceptional manner, unlike references to itself. "Isaiah" is recognized in Ecclesiasticus 48:22 as "the prophet" who was "great and faithful in his vision. ... He showed the things that should be until the end of time." In chapter 24:23ff the Apocrypha states, "All these things are the book of the covenant of the Most High God, even the law which Moses commanded." 1 Maccabees 12:9- 10 speaks of the Old Testament as "the holy books which are in our hands" which Nehemiah had gathered up in his return from captivity (2 Macc. 2:13) and Judas had preserved the sacred books during the Maccabean war (v. 14). The "words of Jeremiah" are said to be "spoken by the mouth of the Lord" (1 Esdras 1:28). Quite in contrast to the self-admission of the Maccabean era that it lacked the prophetic spirit, 1 Esdras 6:1 recalls the prophets "Aggaeus [Haggai] and Zacharias the son of Addo [Iddo] prophesied unto the Jews in Jewry."
Fifth, apocryphal writings such as Tobit descend to the low level of superstitious views regarding angels.
Sixth, the high hopes of Messianic expectation recedes behind a purely nationalistic spirit in the Apocrypha. A strong anti-Gentile disposition gains prominence in for example, Baruch 4:25, where Israel will "tread upon the necks" of the nations. Ecclesiasticus 39:26 predicts that the "nations" shall inherit his wrath just as God turns "waters into saltness." Added to these condemnations of the nations in a zealous Jewish spirit, we find an exaltation of national Israel. As Edersheim comments, the Apocrypha diverges on all main points from the lines followed by the canonical books of the Old Testament (p. 309)
In sum, the Apocrypha centers its hope upon the nation of Israel while the Old Testament focuses attention upon the Messiah. "The Messianic future is Judeo-national, not universalistic. And this marks the one essential difference between these Apocalyptic visions and the inspired prophecies of the Old Testament" (Edersheim, p. 314).
(Editor's comment: Brother Lockwood has done a good job discussing the 14 apocryphal books accepted by the Catholic Church as inspired and belonging in the Bible. It should be noted there are many other apocryphal and pseudepigraphic books from the same general time frame that are not contemplated in this article. These spurious, uncertain books are often used, as if they were creditable, by scholarly unbelievers in an attempt to defame the Bible. All such efforts fail — Dobbs.)
Published May 1996