What is the Apocrypha

Older copies of the Bible include a section that may be unfamiliar to many Bible readers. This section includes books with names like Maccabees, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Esdras, and Susanna. These just a few of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha, a collection of books written after the book of Malachi and before the birth of Jesus.

Some of these books, like Maccabees, are historical. They help fill in the gaps of what happened to Israel between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Some of these books present further stories about Biblical characters, such as Daniel and Esther. Some of them may be aids in worship, like the Prayer of Azariah. Most Protestants do not believe the Apocrypha ought to be considered part of the Bible, while Catholic doctrine teaches that it should.

The Apocrypha was included as part of the Septuagint, a very early Greek translation of the Old Testament. This has lead many to conclude the translators of the Septuagint considered the Apocrypha to be Scripture. The Council of Carthage, a church council held in 397 A.D., declared the Apocrypha to be part of the Bible. This led to the Catholic church viewing the Apocrypha as Scripture. During the Council of Trent in 1547 they officially declared the Apocrypha to be Scripture.

The New Testament may contain some allusions to Apocryphal books, but this is not certain. Even if the Apostles did reference the Apocrypha this does does not mean they considered the Apocryphal books to be Scripture. The Apostles quoted other books they did not consider to be Scripture. For example, Jude quotes the book of Enoch and seems to treat is as an accurate history. Though he quotes Enoch, Jude does not refer to it as Scripture. In the book of Titus Paul quoted a Greek poet and said the poet’s words were true. His use of the poet is hardly an affirmation that those words are Scripture. The New Testament never directly quotes the Apocrypha and it most certainly does not claim that any portion of the Apocrypha is Scripture.

The Apocrypha cannot be Scripture because it teaches several significant errors. Portions of 2 Maccabees seem to present the ideas of praying for the dead to be forgiven of their sins. This passage is a part of the Roman Catholic basis for their doctrine of purgatory. Another example of false doctrine in the Apocrypha is found in the book of Tobit. “Alms do deliver from death and keeps you from going into the darkness.” (Tobit 4:10) Tobit also says, “Alms … shall purge away every sin.” (Tobit 12:9) This Apocryphal book clearly teaches that salvation can be earned by giving to the poor. The Bible plainly teaches that salvation can never be accomplished by any works we do. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6) These apocryphal books cannot be considered the Word of God because they contradict the plain teaching of Scripture.

The Apocrypha is not Scripture, but it does have historical value. The histories presented help us better understand the silent years between the Old and New Testaments. However, this information must be treated like any other ancient historical work. The Apocrypha is helpful and interesting but its teachings must be verified before accepting them as true. Most importantly, no doctrine should ever be developed based upon the Apocryphal writings for they are not the words of holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)