The Old Testament Apocrypha

Peter Ballard,
Last updated: 4-Feb-2002


The Reformers (Luther etc. in the 16th century) threw out the Old Testament Apocrypha, so does that indicate that the Christian scriptures are a result of human manipulation?


The Christian Scriptures consist of:

  1. 39 books of the Old Testament (OT). These are also the Jewish Scriptures, and date from about 1400-400 BC.
  2. 27 books of the New Testament (NT). These are writings of the early Christian church.
  3. Some churches (notably the Roman Catholics, but also the Eastern Orthodox Church) also include the Old Testament apocrypha. These are extra books in the Old Testament. They are Jewish writings from between 400 and 100 BC.

Before we give an answer...

Believe it or not, this is not a very important issue, and does not rank very high on the list of disputes between Protestants and Catholics. There are a number of reasons why this is so.

The first reason is that the most important element to Christianity is not the book (The Bible), but the person (Jesus Christ). All Christians agree that Christians are saved through the work of Jesus, not because we do or do not have exactly the right book. We do not need a perfect book to be saved. We have been saved by the perfect person.

The second reason is that the most important part of the Bible is the New Testament, not the Old Testament. (The Apocrypha, remember, is extra books in the Old Testament). It is the New Testament which tells us about Jesus, and contains the writings of his apostles. God's way of dealing with people is different in the New Testament. Therefore, any doctrine in the Old Testament must first be checked against what is in the New Testament.

So the Old Testament is very rarely (if ever) used to form Christian doctrine. In other words, variations in the Old Testament are not terribly important.

(But the Old Testament is still incredibly useful. It contains, among other things, records of God's action in history, prophecy, songs of praises to God, and books Wisdom which reflect on how God acts in the world.)

So what difference does it make? Well, if the Catholics are right (i.e. the Apocrypha should be in the Bible), then the Protestants are depriving themselves of some very useful writings which are inspired by God. But it does not stop the Protestants from being saved - we are all saved through faith in Jesus.

If, on the other hand, the Protestants are right (i.e. the Apocrypha should not be in the Bible), then the Catholics are wasting some of their time reading and studying books which are not inspired by God. But it does not stop the Catholics from being saved - we are all saved through faith in Jesus.

With all that said, I will now give an answer from the Protestant point of view...

Short Answer

  1. Jews did not (and still do not) regard the Apocrypha as Scripture
  2. The New Testament never quotes the Apocrypha
  3. Until 1548 (at the Roman Catholic Council of Trent), the Apocrypha had a secondary status, and was not regarded as true Scripture. (And the Eastern Orthodox Church still gives the secondary status to the Apocrypha. See Timothy Ware, "The Orthodox Church", Penguin Books, 1963, p.208-209).
  4. Therefore the Protestant Reformers (1520's, 1530's) were clarifying the historical position of the early church when they excluded the Apocrypha.

A Longer Answer

Below (apart from my editorial comments in [square brackets]) is from Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Ed. W.Elwell; USA:Baker Book House, 1984); article "Apocrypha, Old Testament", p,66-67, by D.H.Wallace, Ph.D., (University of Edinburgh. Formerly Associate Professor of Biblical Theology, California Baptist Theological Seminary, Covina, California)

Some 13 books comprise the apocrypha: I and II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Rest of Esther*, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (which is also entitled the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach), Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Additions to Daniel*, the Prayer of Manasses, and I and II Maccabees. [* Esther and Daniel are part of the Old Testament proper].

How did the Apocrypha secure a place in some of our English Bibles? The Jews uniformly denied canonical status to these books [i.e. they did not accept them to be Scripture], and so they were not found in the Hebrew Bible; but the manuscripts of the LXX [the Septuagint, i.e. the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures from the Hebrew, done at around 200 BC] include them as an addendum to the canonical OT.

[The early Christian church was predominantly Greek-speaking so used the LXX as their OT, however, while the NT extensively contains about 250 quotaations from the OT (usually using the LXX), it contains _NO_ quotations from the Apocrypha Reference: New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition (Ed. J.D.Douglas, N.Hillyer; England:IVP, 1982), p. 1005 "Quotations (in the New Testament)", by E.E.Ellis, Ph.D, (Research Professor of New Testament Literature, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Jersey)].

In the second century AD the first Latin Bibles were translated from the Greek Bible [i.e. LXX plus NT], and so included the apocrypha. Jerome's Vulgate [the Latin version Jerome produced in the 4th century AD, and which came to be the official Scripture of the Roman Catholic Church] distinguished between the libri eccesiastici and the libri canonici with the result that the Apocrypha was accorded secondary status. However at the Council of Carthage (397), which Augustine attended, it was decided to accept the Apocrypha as suitable for reading [i.e. still as a lower level then the rest of the OT] despite Jerome's resistance to their inclusion in the Vulgate.

In 1548 [i.e. after, and in reaction to, the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517] the [Roman Catholic] Council of Trent recognised the Apocrypha, excepting I and II Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses, as having unqualified canonical status...

The Reformers repudiated the Apocrypha as unworthy... although Luther did admit they were "profitable and good to read"... Among Protestant churches only the Anglican makes much use of the Apocrypha today. [And even they clearly do not treat them as Scripture. Anglican Article VI says of them: "the Church does read (the books of the Apocrypha) for an example of life and instruction of manners; but yet does not apply them to establish any doctrine"]

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