From time to time, somebody will email me with a question about the Apocrypha, or the 'extra' books found in certain versions of the Bible. The Douay version (approved by the Vatican) includes the Apocrypha. So do some King James Versions, although the Apocryphal books are set apart.
First, what is the 'Apocrypha'? The word itself is derived from ecclesiastical Latin apocrypha scripta meaning 'hidden writings' which was itself derived from the Greek apokruphos meaning 'to hide away'.
The Apocryphical books of the Bible fall into two categories: texts which were included in some canonical version of the Bible at some point, like Tobit or Baruch, and other texts of a Biblical nature which have never been canonical, like the Gospel of Thomas or the Book of Enoch.
The thirteen books that are included in the Douay Version and are recognized by the Vatican are called Deuterocanonical, which literally means 'secondary canon'. The term was coined by the fifth-century biblical scholar St. Jerome and refers to the biblical books included as part of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), but not included in the Hebrew Bible.
Several works ranging from the fourth century B.C.E. to New Testament times are considered apocryphal - including Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, various additions to the Book of Esther (10:4-10), the Book of Daniel (3:24-90;13;14), and the Prayer of Manasseh.
The apocrypha have been variously included and omitted from bibles over the course of the centuries. The original King James 1611 Version of the Bible included them, although collecting them together as the 'Books of the Apocrypha' and placing them in an appendix.
The Apocrypha consists of 15 books of Jewish literature written during the intertestamental period. The Rheims-Douay Version (1582 A.D.) lists 7 additional books, adds to Esther and Daniel, and combines the "Letter of Jeremiah" with "Baruch" - thus including 12 of the 15 apocryphal books to the Old Testament.
These same books are referred to by Protestants as the "pseudoepigrapha."
In other words, it is not the Inspired Word of God, and as such, not part of the collection of works that Timothy says is "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (2nd Timothy 3:16)
The question that most often results from saying the Apocryphal books are NOT Divinely inspired is, "Oh, yeah? How do you know?" The best most Christians can do in reply is something like, "Well, they aren't in MY Bible," or try and explain that the early Church Fathers rejected them, without really being able to explain why. Which then has you explaining why you trust the early Church Fathers so much, etc., etc. That argument usually collapses when somebody points out that there WERE early Church Fathers who cited them in their writings and listed them as Canonical.
It can be frustrating, since you don't REALLY know.
But the most compelling reason why the Books of the Apocrypha were excluded is also the most obvious. God's Word does not contradict itself elsewhere.
Let's take a look at some of the legitimate reasons for rejecting the Books of the Apocrypha and see if they hold water on their own merits.
First off, (and I think this is compelling) although Jesus and the Apostles quoted extensively from Old Testament Scripture, not once did they quote from the Apocryphal books.
Ok, maybe that isn't compelling enough for you. Try this. Reading through them, they lack both the power and the majesty of God's Word. To one who has bathed his spirit in God's Word, the Apocrypha just doesn't FEEL right.
We've discussed many times what effect it would have on Judeo-Christianity if somebody conclusively proved that something in the Bible was wrong, historically, scientifically, medically, etc., since the Bible claims its authorship is of God and therefore without error. If such a claim of fraud could be proved, then the Scripture would lose its authority and would join the ranks of the Book of Mormon, the Koran, the writings of Buddha or Zoroaster and become just another 'holy book'. It then follows that if the Apocryphal Books are Divinely inspired, they should pass the same test of inerrancy and harmonize with the rest of the Revealed Word.
But the Apocrypha contains chronological errors and statements not just contrary to established doctrine, it contains errors contrary to history.
God doesn't make mistakes. But the Apocrypha does.
- Baruch 1:2 (compared to Jeremiah 43:6-7)
- Bel and the Dragon 22 (Xerxes did it); Bel and the Dragon 33
- Tobit 1:4 (He could not have been "still a young man," or even born yet.
- The rebellion of the northern tribe against Jerusalem in 1 Kings 12:19-20 took place around 922 B.C.)
- 2 Maccabees 12:44, 45 condones prayers for the dead.
- Sirach 3:34, 14, 30; 30:11-12 2; Esdras 7:7; 8:33, 36; Tobit 12:9, 8a; 14:11 all teach salvation by good works.
- Tobit 6-8 teaches the use of magic in demon exorcism.
- Tobit 11 teaches the use of magic in healing.
- Sirach 8:19 teaches the use of magic to obtain good fortune.
- Tobit 12:15 teaches of the intercession of angels (Rafael)
- 2 Maccabees 14:41-46 contradicts Scripture regarding suicide.
- Sirach 38:16-23 (especially verses 20-21) teach mourning for the dead, also in contraction of the Canon of Scripture.
- In the Prayer of Manasseh 8, it teaches of the 'sinless' lives of OT personalities.
- Tobit 6:2-7, 16-17 describes 'miracles' that can best be described as just plain silly. Unless one believes that placing incense smoke on the organs of a man eating fish can ward off evil spirits. Or that a demon who fell in love with a woman killed off her last seven husbands on their wedding night.
Either the Bible is true, or it is not.
If one were to include the Books of the Apocrypha, then one could easily prove the Bible was no different than any other holy book, containing great wisdom, but also containing some 'inconsequential' errors.
While the other great religions of the world have sacred books, not even Muslim scholars will go so far as to say the Koran is without error and unchanged down through the centuries. The same can be said of Buddhists, Mormons, JW's Muslims, etc., etc. (One of Islam's major arguments is that the Jews changed the Old Testament) Other religions also have other authorities of equal weight to their sacred writings. Islam has imams and fatwas that are equal in authority to the Koran and its traditions and interpretations. Buddhism has the Dalai Lama and Buddhist tradition. Mormons have revised the Book of Mormon dozens of times. The JW's declared the world ended in 1914 and that Jesus is not God - and they have revised Scriptures to 'prove' it.
The Bible is unique. It remains unchanged, its claim of infallibility unchallenged, and its authority unmatched by any other religious sacred book - unless one includes the Apocrypha.
The easily-proved contradictions and historical errors contained in the Apocrypha are part of the reason that, over the years, the Catholic Church has developed its theological view that Vatican teaching and tradition are of equal weight and authority with the Bible.
It is an undeniable fact that those who trust the accepted Canon of Scripture cannot assign it equal authority to the pronouncements of men. To argue otherwise is to deny all accepted Scripture as false, while defending the historically inaccurate and doctrinally contradictory Apocryphal books as true, since things that are different can never be the same, no matter how convincingly one tries to argue otherwise.
Why exclude the Books of the Apocrypha? One might as well ask, why not include the Koran and the Book of Mormon? Either the Bible is Divinely inspired and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, and for instruction in righteousness, or it is not.
There is no middle position.