Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What about the Apocrypha?

"As for the other events of the reign of Ahaz, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah?" (2 Kings 16:19).

We do not have the Annals of the Kings of Judah, but we do have some ancient Hebrew writings that are not part of what the Protestant church regards as the Bible. The Apocrypha is the term we use to describe a set of books which comes down to us from the ancient Hebrews. Jewish writers beginning in the first century, most notably the Jewish historian Josephus, made it clear that these books were not deemed inspired, as were the canonical books.

As we read yesterday, the Alexandrian canon of the Old Testament, in Greek, seems to include the Apocrypha. While we can dig up copies of the Greek Old Testament in Alexandria and find included with them copies of the apocryphal books, this does not mean the Alexandrian Jews believed these books were inspired. Our Bibles today often contain introductory articles and guides, but we know these are not part of the Word of God. While we cannot be sure how the Alexandrian Jews regarded the apocryphal books, we know for certain that the Palestinian Jews regarded them simply as edifying literature.

The Roman Catholic Church has declared eleven of the fourteen apocryphal books to be canonical. This was stated at the Council of Trent and again at the First Vatican Council in the nineteenth century. While these decisions are in error, it is unfortunate that Protestants have come to disregard totally the Apocrypha. The Protestant Reformers, while declaring that the apocryphal books were not inspired, still maintained that they were very valuable and important specimens of literature. They provide the closest view we have of the period between Malachi and John the Baptist. Many of the Reformers believed that apart from the Scripture the second most important body of literature in the world was the Apocrypha.

Nowhere does the New Testament quote the Apocrypha, and beyond this there are questionable teachings and fantastic magical acts in some parts of it. For these reasons, the Apocrypha is clearly uninspired literature, but it is important and Christians should be familiar with it.

Your education is not complete if you have never read the Apocrypha. You will find some marvelous stories and some interesting wisdom, as well as some things to reject. Consider taking a quarter in Sunday School in your church to survey it.