Apocrypha is Apocry-fun!

Why do some Bibles only have 66 books while others have over 70? What are these funny “extra” books of the Bible sometimes called “apocrypha” and what does Anglicanism teach about them? Find out the answers to these questions and more in the latest episode of the Conciliar Anglican video podcast.

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About Fr. Jonathan

Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
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19 Responses to Apocrypha is Apocry-fun!

  1. Joshua says:

    How is this different from the Lutheran view?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I’m not a Lutheran scholar by any means, but from what I’ve read of the Book of Concord, I think the difference is that these books are explicitly denied to be Scripture by Lutherans whereas the only thing that the 39 Articles deny is that they can be used to establish doctrine. The Lutheran position is permissible in an Anglican context, but the Anglican approach allows more room for those like me who would argue for the divine inspiration of these books.

  2. Joshua says:

    The lists of books that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox (especially Ethiopian) Bibles have are different. What about the book of Enoch or 4 Maccabees?

  3. Fr. Jonathan says:

    Enoch is pretty universally seen as apocryphal. The Orthodox do have a slightly longer list than even Rome has, depending on which Orthodox you’re talking to. I’m not really sure why 4 Maccabees, for instance, is not included in the list in Article VI, although I suspect that some of the issue here may be about how these books are ordered and numbered rather than about leaving them out entirely. Personally, I would be open to a wide and gracious interpretation of what is and is not to be included. The conciliar lists are the best sources for this, but they have to be sort of piecemeal put together and compared with actual reception over time in the Church in order to be useful.

    In terms of why not to establish doctrine, I think this is a matter of caution rather than a matter of these books not having value. Since these books are later and were not quite as universally in use in the Church than others, the safest course is to read them as clarifying, reiterating, and even explaining things that Scripture already has presented. That does not denigrate them or deny their divine origin. In fact, all Scripture is read this way. In the New Testament, for instance, there is a pre-eminence to the Gospels over the other books, and to Paul over the other epistles, in part because of when and how these things came into the canon. We interpret the rest through the lens of that which is first. The Book of Revelation is no less Scripture than the Gospel of Mark, but it would be a profound mistake to interpret Mark based on Revelation rather than the other way around.

    • Joshua says:

      I have always understood the scriptures to be inspired and inerrant. I understand them to be men writing exactly what God the Holy Spirit instructed them to write. Would Anglicanism agree? I see the importance of the Apocrypha but would not hold it to be men writing exactly what the Holy Spirit instructed them to write. This seems to give the apocrypha more standing than it gives itself. When I read the apocrypha I don’t see God speaking or anything from the authors suggesting that God is speaking to them. 1 Macc. 9:27; 14:41 Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been seen since the time that Prophets ceased to appear among them…..The Jews and their priests were pleased that Simon would be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise……Don’t get me wrong I agree with everything else you have written and said in your video about the value of the Apocrypha, but I think we may have a different understanding of what “divinely inspired” means. From a classical Anglican perspective am I missing something or looking at something wrong?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        You’re making me realize that at some point I should probably do a post or posts on what is meant by the inspiration of Scripture. Anglicanism’s claim for Scripture is that it “containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” (Article VI). The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral expands on that: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” Anglicans often talk about the inspiration of Scripture, which is of course the word that Scripture uses to speak of itself (2 Timothy 3:16), but “inerrant” is another matter. I can go with that only so far, that the Scripture is without error in its testimony to the truth of God and of salvation. To say that it is inerrant in any other sense is to imbue the Scriptures with something they do not attest to having and thereby to inadvertently impose an authority upon them rather than receiving their authority over us. It is completely possible for the Scriptures to contain, for instance, grammatical errors or small discontinuities, that do not in any way affect the Scripture’s ability to convey to us the truth they are meant to convey.

        You said, “I understand them to be men writing exactly what God the Holy Spirit instructed them to write. Would Anglicanism agree?” That’s not a construction that I would use because it implies that the authors of Scripture were merely dictating. This is much more similar to the way Muslims understand the Koran than it is to the way that Christians historically have understood the Scriptures. Inspiration is in some measure a mystery. The writers of Scripture obviously wrote in their own hand, reflecting their own thoughts and ideas, utilizing their own sources. God did not, as far as we know, whisper the words in their ears. Nevertheless, we believe that God was guiding the process and that the words they ended up with, the words we have now in the Bible, are the words that God wanted us to have. In other words, God used a natural process to do a supernatural work. So something like Paul’s letters then are God’s revealed Word, but they are also Paul’s words. I would say the same about the disputed books. They are works of their human authors, which may very well contain discrepancies and certainly contain the particular style and influences of their writers, but which are nevertheless words that are revealed by God. But as I say in the video, it is perfectly permissible for Anglicans to disagree about this, so long as you somehow make peace with the way that we have historically used the so-called “apocrypha,” which aside from the question of “establishing doctrine,” has been pretty much identical to the way that we use other Scripture.

      • Cadog says:

        Fr. Jonathan’s suggestion to himself for a post on inspiration of holy scripture would be most welcome. After many year of hearing endless debates and sometimes tirades over the differences between inerrancy, authority, infalliblity and so forth — only to have so many folks decide for themselves what scripture actually means (so much for authority) — I am not terribly worried about it anymore. “All things necessary to salvation” is plenty argument for me.

  4. RW Davis says:

    Hmmmm, I’ve heard very convincing arguments that NONE of the rabbis of Jesus day considered the Apocrypha canonical, and in fact when Jesus or the Apostles used the term “the law and the prophets” or just “the law” it was a common term for the law, the prophets and the writings…which are our OT canon, and simply did not—among 1st Century Jews—include the extra books of the Apocrypha.

    Even in the LXX the translation of the Apocrypha was done after the initial canonical books, and the extra books were placed in a different section–set apart, indicating non-canonical, i.e. not inspired, not God’s Word. Jamnia’s council too made clear that no Jewish scholars before or since have considered the Apocrypha canonical…which seems pretty decisive to me, that the Jews would know what in their ancient writings was canonical and not. Doctrines such as:
    • Prayers and offerings for the Dead (2 Maccabees 12:41-46),
    • Atonement and Salvation by Almsgiving (Ecclesiasticus 3:33; Tobit 4:11),
    • Pre-existence of Souls (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20),
    • Suicide is OK, (2 Maccabees 14:41-46),
    • Cruelty to Slaves Justified (Ecclesiaticus 33:25-29),
    • and overtly sexist, female-disparaging statements, along with superstitious practices can all be found taught there–and NOT taught in the Bible.

    Tobit and Bell and the Dragon are both rather ridiculous tales, with contradictory, superstitious, and clearly legendary qualities…unfit for God’s Word.

    Even though the 39 Articles did not overtly condemn the Apocrypha, there are very good reasons why the Anglican Reformers there forbade its use for making authoritative doctrine. It seems very likely the only reason for not condemning the Apocrypha more stridently—is the Roman Catholic influence in tradition on the state Church of England, with Cranmer trying to diplomatically hold everyone together.

    Rome only officially called them canon in the 1560s in response to Luther’s excluding them—and the fact that certain practices of theirs have no biblical basis except in the books the Jews rejected as canon.

    The Apocryphal books are interesting, enlightening, contextual reading, helpful in understanding the culture of bible times, but, they simply aren’t God’s Word. St. Jerome (long before the Protestants) was right in coining the term “Apocrypha” for these books.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi RW,

      You said:

      I’ve heard very convincing arguments that NONE of the rabbis of Jesus day considered the Apocrypha canonical, and in fact when Jesus or the Apostles used the term “the law and the prophets” or just “the law” it was a common term for the law, the prophets and the writings…which are our OT canon, and simply did not—among 1st Century Jews—include the extra books of the Apocrypha.

      I’m afraid I have not heard similar arguments, which is not to say that they do not exist, but I am simply unfamiliar with them. All of the historical arguments I have read have pointed in the opposite direction. Of course, what the Rabbis did or did not consider Scripture does not affect what the Church has received as Scripture.

      Even in the LXX the translation of the Apocrypha was done after the initial canonical books, and the extra books were placed in a different section–set apart, indicating non-canonical, i.e. not inspired, not God’s Word.

      I’m afraid that’s simply not true. First of all, these books were not translated at all, for the most part, since they were largely written in Greek. Second, they were not set apart so as to indicate being non-canonical or not inspired. I’m not sure where you’re getting that idea from, but it is not the case. Moreover, as I tried, perhaps poorly, to explain in the video, being set apart does not indicate being non-canonical or non-inspired. Saint Athanasius sets his books apart in all sorts of different ways. We use Scripture in different ways, depending on what the book is and how the Church received it. Contrary to the popular notion in some forms of Protestantism, all Scripture is not exactly the same.

      In terms of your objections to some of the other things in the longer canon, I can only say that if you turned the same kind of scrutiny on the books that we all agree are Scripture you could come up with a similar list of complaints. Doctrine is not established by Scripture but by the Church reading and using Scripture.

      You said:

      Tobit and Bell and the Dragon are both rather ridiculous tales, with contradictory, superstitious, and clearly legendary qualities…unfit for God’s Word.

      One could say the same thing about Jonah, or Balaam’s ass, or the idea of magicians from the east following a star halfway across the world to give impractical gifts to a peasant baby. The fact that something is improbable does not make it impossible, nor is it an argument for excluding it from Scripture. If it were, we’d be left with little more than the Jefferson Bible.

  5. Joshua says:

    I understand some of that Fr. Jonathan. I have a statement of inspiration from my church. I was hoping you could tell me if it was compatible with Anglicanism.?

    We believe and teach that all Scripture (that is, all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments) is given by inspiration of God and is in its entirety, in its parts, and in its very words inspired by the Holy Spirit. God revealed Himself personally and directly to such men as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. Some of these He called to transmit His message to men orally or in writing. Their message was thus not their own, but God’s Word. They were moved by the Holy Spirit, so that He is the true Author of their every word. Inspiration means, then, that mighty act of God whereby He spoke His Word in the words of men and made them the effective and final vehicle of His revelation. Hence these words do not merely inform us concerning God’s past action; they also convey God’s action now. 1 Th 2:13; 2 Pe 1:19-21; 2 Ti 3:15-17; 1 Co 2:13; Jer 23:29; Ro 1:16,17.
    In giving men His message by inspiration, God had men express His Word in their own language (Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek), and in their own style (personal, historical, poetic, oratorical). (Cf. the superscription on the cross, Mt 27:37; Mk 15:26; Lk 23:38; Jn 19:19,20.) Thus the holy writers felt personally responsible for every word they wrote (cf. 2 Co 7:8), while they at the same time knew that their words were given by the Holy Spirit (1 Co 2:12,13).

    We reject as a distortion of the true conception of verbal inspiration any idea which makes the act of inspiration a mere mechanical dictation.

    We condemn and reject any and all teachings and statements that would limit the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, or that deny the divine authorship of certain portions of Scripture. Inspiration applies not only to such statements as speak directly of Christ, but also to such as may seem very remote (e.g., in the field of history, geography, and nature). For since God is the Lord of history and has revealed Himself by acts in history and has in the person of His Son actually entered into man’s history, the historical framework in which the Gospel message is set in Scripture is an essential part of the inspired Word just as much as the spiritual truths revealed in it.

    We reject the idea that verbal inspiration is called into question by accidents in the transmission of the text and the resultant variants in the manuscripts. Inspiration pertains in the first instance to the original autographs of Scripture. But by His gracious providence God has given us such a fullness and variety of witnesses to the original text that Christian scholarship reproduces it with great fidelity. God has so watched over the transmission of the text that the variant readings nowhere affect the doctrines of Scripture. We gratefully acknowledge also that translations of Scripture, though not under particular inspiration, are by God’s providential care adequate vehicles of His revelation in the inspired Word. Heb 2:3; 1 Pe 1:25; Mk 13:31; Jn 17:20; Mt 28:19,20.

    • Joshua says:

      Been doing some research on it and it appears that some of the continuing Anglicans do believe in verbal inspiration while others and ECUSA do not. I found this, “The Anglican Churches historically, and the Anglican Catholic Church today, do not bind their members or scholars to any single theory of Biblical inspiration or interpretation. But with freedom goes responsibility. The Anglican Biblical scholar is responsible to the whole Church, and ultimately his work is judged by its fidelity to the faith and doctrine of the Church.
      There are many theories concerning the way in which God inspired Holy Scripture. These theories range from the idea that God immedi­ately and directly caused the biblical writers to produce the biblical texts, so that those writers really were nothing more than secretaries for the Holy Spirit, to the idea that God worked in an entirely natural manner within the history of his people and thereby permitted the nat­ural abilities and interests and needs of the Church and her writers to produce what is now recognized as Scripture. Between the idea of inspiration as an almost wholly supernatural process and that of inspiration as almost wholly natural lies a variety of intermediate theories involving more or less direct divine control over the process of writing.” I wonder if you could go with the 66 books being supernaturally inspired by God and the apocrypha being naturally inspired by God? Hmmmm

  6. Trent says:

    Hey there!
    I was reading your post from last year on Eastern Orthodoxy and I am just wondering where, when and why did the Eastern Orthodox come up (or didn’t really come up depending on how you look at it) with a different sort of soteriology/justification?

  7. CarterS says:

    Thanks for the video, Fr. Jonathan, it was most helpful! I have not read the apocrypha through, and my evangelical background strictly prohibits it. But as an Anglican, I am continuing to come to appreciate the historical resources that help delineate these issues. I don’t have much to add, just to express my appreciation for covering this topic at my request!

  8. Rev. Daniel says:

    Fr. Jonathan, I’m a United Methodist pastor and our Articles or Religion are an abridgement of the Anglican articles. Someone recently pointed out to me that the Book of Lamentations is not included in the canonical list in the Anglican/Methodist article on the OT. I said, “I guess it would be included as Jeremiah’s work in “Four Prophets the greater” – since the KJV calls the book “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” though I guess if he were not the author, this would mean that Lamentations was left out of the Anglican and Methodist canon…? Your thoughts?

  9. The Pilgrim says:

    This is the list of OT books in my Orthodox Study Bible… I am an Orthodox convert from the Episcopal Church, I was chrismated about 12 years ago.
    The Five Books of the Law:
    The Books of History:
    : Joshua (Jesus Navi)
    First and Second Kingdoms
    I Kingdoms (I Samuel)
    II Kingdoms (II Samuel)
    Third and Fourth Kingdoms
    III Kingdoms (I Kings)
    IV Kingdoms (II Kings)
    First and Second Chronicles
    I Paraleipomenon (I Chronicles)
    II Paraleipomenon (II Chronicles)
    I Esdras
    II Esdras (Ezra)
    The Final Books
    Tobit (Tobias)
    I Maccabees
    II Maccabees
    III Maccabees
    Wisdom Books
    Prayer of Manasseh
    Song of Solomon (Song of Songs or Canticle of Canticles)
    Wisdom of Solomon
    Wisdom of Sirach (Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus)
    Major Prophets
    Jeremiah includes book of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah
    Minor Prophets
    Some jurisdictions also include:
    IV Maccabees
    Book of Odes
    Psalm 151

  10. Michael Frost says:

    Anyone interested in either the Apocrypha or the Lutheran view of same really should study magnificent work, The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes (Concordia, 2012), which uses the ESV edition.

    Note that Luther’s German bible, unlike the KJV, did NOT include 1 Esdras or 2 Esdras. So the Anglican “canon” is slightly longer than Luther’s.

    The primary Lutheran confession, Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession (1530) is silent on the canon of scripture. Melanchthon used or discussed them when he felt need (e.g., his Loci Communes in the 1550s make mention of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Sirach.

    Rome doesn’t finalize her canon until the Council of Trent (1540s-1560s) as realized in the Sixtine (1590) and Clementine (1592) Vulgates.

  11. Michael Frost says:

    Anyone interested in the Apocrypha should also be interested in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the OT, pre-Christ. One of the most comprehensive recent attempts at translating it and looking at its texts is the NETS: A New English Translation of the Septuagint (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007). This uses the NRSV as its reference foundation, similar to how the OSB uses the NKJV for its Septuagint reference foundation. The introductory and explanatory material is quite extensive and most informative.

    One thing even the most casual reader will quickly see is the “mess” of possible variants. So one finds versions A & B of Judges, versions Old Greek and Alpha of Esther, versions GI (shorter) and GII (longer) of Tobit, and versions Old Greek and (much later) Theodotion for all of Daniel (including all the additions like Susanna & Bel). This massive work has all of the major books in the Septuagint except for the Odes.

  12. Michael Frost says:

    Another fascinating resource for the Apocrypha is the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series, OT Vol. XV, Apocrypha (InterVarsity Press, 2010). This was originally slated to be a 2-vol. commentary but ended up only being 1 because of the relative paucity of patristic commentary on these works. The editior, Sever J. Voicu, only has comments for the following books:

    – Tobit (pgs. 1-33),
    – Wisdom of Solomon (pgs. 34-175),
    – Sirach/Ecclesiasticus (pgs. 176-415),
    – Baruch (pgs. 416-438),
    – Letter of Jeremiah (pgs. 439-442), and
    – The Additions to Daniel (pgs. 443-474): The Prayer of Azariah & the Song of the Three Young Men (443-457), Susanna (458-468), and Bel & the Dragon (469-474).

    Only two works, Wisdom & Sirach, got much ancient commentary, and most of that was on Sirach.

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