Robert J. Sargent

The word "apocrypha" means "hidden" or "concealed," but after c. 450 A.D. came to refer to the non-canonical books, especially those of the Old Testament period.

Consideration of the Apocrypha usually centers around the highly contentious issue of additional books contained in Roman Catholic bibles, and, more increasingly, in several modern Protestant versions.


The Apocrypha consists of 15 books of Jewish literature written during the intertestamental period. Come of them have historic value, but all are spurious, of unknown authorship, and without claim of inspiration or authority. Some are legendary and fantasy. Many of them are written to reinforce post-exilic Jewish opposition to idolatry.

All extant copies of the Apocrypha are written in Greek.


The following list gives the books referred to as the Apocrypha:

 Wisdom of Solomon  30 B.C.  Didactic
 Ecclesiasticus  32 B.C.  Didactic
 Tobit  c. 200 B.C.  Religious Novel
 I Esdras  c. 150 B.C.  Historic & Legendary
 I Maccabees   c. 110 B.C.  Historic
 II Maccabees  c. 100 B.C.  Historic & Legendary
 Judith  c. 150 A.D.  Romantic Novel
 Baruch  c. 100 A.D.  Prophetic
 Letter of Jeremiah  c. 200 B.C.  Prophetic
 II Esdras  c. 100 A.D.  Prophetic
 Additions to Esther  c. 130 B.C.  Legendary
 Prayer of Azariah*  c. 100. B.C.  Legendary
 Suzanna (Daniel 13)  c. 100 B.C.  Legendary
 Bel & the Dragon (Daniel 14)  c. 100 B.C.  Legendary
 Prayer of Manasseh  c. 150 B.C.  Legendary
*The "Prayer of Azariah" is also called the "Song of the Three Hebrew Children," and follows after Daniel 3:23.


As a general summary:

  • The Jews do not accept the Apocrypha as part of their Scriptures.
  • Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture, though some ascribe to them value as "good and useful reading" and "for example of life and instruction of manners."
  • The Roman Catholic 'Church' in effect accepts 12 of the apocryphal books as canonical (omitting I & II Esdras and the Prayer of Manassah from the above list.) Because of this the Roman Catholic 'Church' speaks of the Apocrypha as "deutero-canonical" books, and in turn labels as apocrypha what we may term "pseudoepigraphical" books."
    The Apocrypha are contained in the following:

    a. The Septuagint (LXX) - Except II Esdras.
    b. Codex Alexandrinus (A) - Also contains III & IV Maccabees
    c. Codex Vaticanus (B) - Except I & II Maccabees and The Prayer of Manassah
    d. Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph)
    e. Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C) - Includes Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus
    f. Chester Beatty Papyri - Fragments of Ecclesiasticus
    g. The Dead Sea Scrolls - Some apocryphal writing was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls - interestingly written in Greek.
    h. The Writings of Church Fathers

    In general, the Apocrypha were more favoured by the Western (Latin) Church Fathers. For example, Irenaeus (115-200 A.D.) quoted from the Book of Wisdom.

    However, in the East, Clement of Alexandria (150-217 A.D.) recognized II Esdras. Origen (185-254 A.D.) inserted II Esdras, the Maccabees, and the Letter of Jeremiah to his canonical list.

    Jerome (340-420 A.D.) reluctantly inserted Judith, Tobit, the Additions to Esther, and the Additions to Daniel into his Latin Vulgate after some "friendly" pressure. The rest of the apocryphal books were added to the Vulgate after his demise.

    The most influential benefactor of the Apocrypha was Augustine (354-420 A.D.), the "Father of corrupt theology." He influenced the Councils of Hippo (393 A.D.) and Carthage (397 A.D.) to declare the Apocrypha canonical.

    In his usual form, Augustine also saw to it that any opposition to the Apocrypha was suppressed.


    The Apocrypha were formally canonized by the Roman Catholic 'Church' on April 8, 1546 A.D. at the Council of Trent.

    The Council of Trent was actually a series of 3 Church councils held between 1545 and 1563 A.D. and dominated by the newly-formed Jesuits. It was called as an integral part of the counter-Reformation which had begun 28 years earlier, sparked by Martin Luther. The Papal bull convening this council required 3 things:

  • The defining of Catholic dogma
  • The reformation of Catholic 'Church' life
  • The extermination of heresy
  • One of the catch-cries of the Reformation was 'sola-Scriptura' (i.e., "The Bible says!!"). In order for the Roman Catholics to say the same thing, the Apocrypha were added to give "Scriptural" proof for their false teachings.

    The resolution of the Council was: "...if anyone receives not as sacred and canonical the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church...let him be anathema (accursed!)."

    Some of the unscriptural Catholic doctrines supported by the Apocrypha are:

    a. Purgatory - II Maccabees 12:39-45
    b. Salvation by Almsgiving - Ecclesiasticus 3:30
    Other unscriptural things found in these books are the justification of suicide (II Maccabees 14:43-46), slavery and cruelty (Ecclesiasticus 33:24-28), and reincarnation (Wisdom of Solomon 8:19-20). Lying, assassination and magical incantations are also approved.

    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.

    The Council was selective in this exercise, because it did not include II Esdras, which in its chapter 7:105 speaks against prayers for the dead!


    Many of the early English versions contained the Apocrypha, for two basic reasons - because of the general acceptance of the Apocrypha during the Dark Ages, and/or (in case of the Authorized, King James Version) for Scriptural analysis.

    In each case, the Apocrypha were delineated either in an appendix and/or with an explanation showing them to be non-canonical.

    a.     Tyndale's Bible (1525 A.D.) places them by themselves as "uninspired."
    b.     Coverdale's Bible (1535 A.D.) does likewise, and with the following title:
            "Apocrifa. The bokes & treatises which amonge the Fathers of old are not rekened to be of
            authorite with the other bokes of the Byble, neither are the foude in the Canon of the Hebrews." (1)
    c.     Matthew's Bible (1537 A.D.) and Taverner's Bible (1539 A.D.) place the Apocrypha between
            the Testaments.
    d.    The Authorized, King James Version (1611), like the Great Bible, (1539 A.D.), the Geneva
            Bible (1560 A.D.) and the Bishop's Bible (1568 A.D.) before it, places them in an appendix.
    Apocrypha began to be omitted from the Authorized Version in 1629, and by 1827 were excluded permanently.


    The following arguments are most generally advanced for granting the Apocrypha canonical authority:

    a. The New Testament alludes to Apocryphal events.

    Hebrews 11:35 is thought to refer to II Maccabees & and 12. (In actual fact, it is referring to I Kings 17:22 and II Kings 4:35.
    Jude 14 cites the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch. Does it? It cites Enoch, whose words the Holy Ghost knew.
    II Timothy 3:8 is also supposed to refer to some Apocryphal literature. Again, the Holy Spirit can reveal the names of the Egyptian magicians when He chooses.

    b. Early Manuscripts include the Apocrypha.

    More will be said about this later.

    c. Early Christian art includes Apocryphal scenes.


    d. Early Church Fathers cited them and listed them as Canonical.

    More will be said about this later.

  • They are not, and have never been, in the Jewish canon.
  • Josephus explicitly excluded them from his list.
  • Philo (20 B.C.-50 A.D.) neither mentions or quotes them.
  • They were never quoted or alluded to by Jesus Christ or any of the apostles. The sermons in the Book of Acts, which outline Jewish history, do not included apocryphal events.
  • Jewish scholars meeting at the Council of Jabneh did not recognize them.
  • Most Church Fathers in fact rejected them.
  • None of the Apocrypha claim inspiration or divine authority.
  • Many of the Apocryphal books contain historical, geographical, and chronological errors.
  • Many of the Apocryphal books teach heresy, contrary to the Word of God.
  • Their literary style is legendary and fantasy. Some stories are grotesque and demonic.
  • They lack the power and distinctive elements of the Word of God.

  • Landmarks of English Bible: Manuscript Evidence, pp. 70-75
    Robert J. Sargent
    Lecture 5 CANONIZATION
    Miller, H.S., General Biblical Introduction. Houghton, New York: The Word Bearer Press, 1960: p. 117.

    Another Bible ~ Another Gospel