By Keith Thompson
The ancient Israelites did not believe Apocrypha was scripture
Roman Catholics accept the Old Testament apocrypha as inspired scripture. However, to do so flies in the face of early Israelite belief. In Romans 3:2 Paul declared, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). To be “entrusted” with something entails that you know what you are to take care of. Thus, the ancient Jews must have known what the oracles of God were since they were entrusted with them. The same Greek word for “entrusted” is used in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 of the apostles being entrusted with the gospel. This likewise means the apostles must have known what the saving gospel message was. Hence, since the ancient Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God and must have therefore known what the oracles of God were, we must examine what they said the Hebrew canon was by studying history and then give their canon weight. Their canon did not include the apocrypha.
In the first century Jesus affirmed the long standing three-fold division of the Hebrew Old Testament canon which existed in his day among the Jews: that is, the law, the prophets and the Psalms. Jesus often spoke of “the Law and the Prophets” or “Moses and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16, 29; 31). And in Luke 24:44 he succinctly stated, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The “Psalms” here refer to the Hagiographa which, as we know from the Talmud and the prologue to Ecclessiasticus, were the books of Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, [Oxford University Press, 1957], p. 8; Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, [Eerdmans, 1985], p. 200). Hence, Christ did not include the Apocrypha as canonical scripture. The Hebrew canon he used ended with these Hagiographa books. We will demonstrate this three-fold division of the Hebrew canon was the common position of the ancient Israelites.
In the section of the Babylonian Talmud called Baba Bathra 14 containing a baraitha tradition formulated between A.D. 70 to 200, this three-fold division of the Hebrew canon is also affirmed with all the books listed in order. 24 books are listed and they do not include the apocrypha (F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, [InterVarsity, 1988], pp. 29-30).
In 130 B.C. the Israelite grandson of Jesus ben Sira wrote in the prologue of his Greek translation of the apocryphal book Ecclestiasticus that such apocryphal books were not part of the Hebrew canon which was divided into three sections. In the prologue mention is made of “the law and the prophets, and others that have followed their steps.” It continues noting, “And not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language” (Prologue to Ecclesiasticus quoted in The Apocrypha, trans. Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha, [Hendrickson, 1990], p. 74). Expert on the apocrypha Roger Beckwith notes the implications of this text: “The translator explicitly distinguishes ‘these things’ (i.e. Ecclesiasticus, or uncanonical Hebrew compositions such as Ecclesiasticus) from 'the Law itself and the Prophets and the rest of the Books.' Moreover, he regards even the Hagiographa as 'ancestral' (patrivwn) books long enough esteemed to have been translated into Greek, and their number as complete. And not only does he state that in his own day there was this threefold canon, distinguished from all other writings, in which even the Hagiographa formed a closed collection of old books, but he implies that such was the case in his grandfather’s time also” (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, [Eerdmans, 1985], p. 111). Notice here the Hebrew canon likewise ended with the aforementioned Hagiographa books and did not include the apocrypha.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus likewise affirmed the three-fold division of the Hebrew canon, though he divided it a bit differently. Nevertheless, he did not include the apocrypha. He wrote: “we do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with one another, [as the Greeks do]; but our books, those which are justly believed, are only 22 . . . Of these, five are the books of Moses . . . the prophets after Moses wrote the events of their own times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life” (Josephus, Against Apion 1.8). Thus, Josephus held to only 22 books thereby excluding the apocrypha. Other ancient Jews said there were 24 books (such as the Talmud in Baba Bathra, 14) since they did not attach Ruth to Judges and Lamentation to Jeremiah as Josephus did. Protestants hold the same Old Testament canon as Josephus and the other ancient Jews, we just number them differently and do not combine certain books as the ancient Jews did. As even The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits: “For the Old Testament Protestants follow the Jewish canon” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. III, Biblical Canon, p. 29). Beckwith explains Josephus’s 22 book canon consisted of “the five books of Moses,” the “thirteen books” of the prophets which were Job, Joshua, Judges (with Ruth), Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah (with Lamentations), Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets (combined as one), Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther. Then the four “remaining books” Josephus mentions were Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, [Eerdmans, 1985], p. 253). Hence, Josephus did not include the apocrypha as canon.
The first century Alexandrian Jew Philo affirmed this three-fold division of the Old Testament canon when describing the scriptures of the Jewish sect known as the Essenes or Theraputae, thereby rejecting the apocrypha as well. Philo mentions “the laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns and psalms and all kinds of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection” (Philo, Contemplative Life, 25 quoted in R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures, [Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995], p. 135). R. Laird Harris notes Philo’s third division of the canon which is “hymns and psalms and all kinds of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection” is very similar to Josephus’s third division of the canon which, again, is “hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life.” And as we explained earlier, Josephus’s third division here did not contain the apocrypha. Thus, as Harris argues, Philo was agreeing with Josephus’s 22 book canon which excluded the apocrypha. Harris also notes F. F. Bruce is in agreement on this point (R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures, [Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995], pp. 135-136).
Hence, Jesus and the ancient Jews affirmed a Hebrew canon which did not include the apocrypha. And since the oracles of God were entrusted to these ancient Jews, which entails they knew what they were entrusted with, we must agree with them on the identity of the Hebrew canon and reject the apocrypha. It makes no sense for Catholics to hold to apocryphal books the ancient Israelites did not consider canonical.
Finally, in A.D. 90 the Jewish elders at the assembly at Jamnia discussed if the canonical books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (or possibly just Ecclesiastes) were truly canonical (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], p. 275). Roman Catholics claim this assembly proves the Hebrew canon was not closed or settled. However, William Webster’s remarks are important: “The fact is, the discussion of the books was not over whether certain books, previously deemed uncanonical, should be raised to canonical status, but whether those traditionally held as canonical [Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs], should remain so” (William Webster, Holy Scripture, Vol. 2, [Christian Resources Inc., 2001], pp. 322-323 brackets mine). Or as Beckwith observes, “The theory that an open canon was closed at the Synod of Jamnia about AD 90 goes back to Heinrich Graetz in 1871, who proposed (rather more cautiously than has since been the custom) that the Synod of Jamnia led to the closing of the canon. Though others have lately expressed hesitations about the theory, its complete refutation has been the work of J.P. Lewis and S.Z. Leiman. . . . The decision at Jamnia dealt only with Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs – or, according to Rabbi Akiba, with Ecclesiastes alone. How, then, can it have decided the canonicity of books which, as far as we know, the assembly there did not even discuss?” (Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], pp. 275-276).
Many Apocryphal books can be shown to not have been written by purported authors
The Letter of Jeremiah is included in Catholic bibles as the final chapter of Baruch. This text is purported to be written by the biblical Jeremiah who lived in 7th and 6th centuries B.C. during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and exile. However, Metzger notes, “Contrary to its title and opening sentence (1:1), this little pamphlet is not a letter nor was it sent by Jeremiah to those who were about to be led into Babylonian exile. . . . A hint as to the date when it was written may be found in verse 3, where the author speaks of the captivity of the Jews as lasting for seven generations. This would suggest a date of composition some time about 300 B.C., or thereafter” (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, [Oxford University Press, 1957], p. 96). Gerald Hammond and Austin Busch also note, “A Greek fragment of the Epistle of Jeremiah from ca. 100 B.C.E. found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, taken together with the allusions to the work in 2 Maccabees (2:2), mandates a date of composition before the first century B.C.E. – most likely in the second or third century, but perhaps as early as the late fourth century” (Gerald Hammond, Austin Busch, The English Bible, Vol. 2, [W. W. Norton & Company, 2012], p. 850).
Another Apocryphal book is known as the Wisdom of Solomon. Roman Catholics accept this spurious work. It purports to be written by the biblical Hebrew King Solomon who lived during the 10th century B.C. However, Metzger notes it was “composed in Greek sometime about 100 B.C. and A.D. 40. In order to gain a wider audience for his literary work, the author writes in the name of Solomon” (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, [Oxford University Press, 1957], p. 67). Emerson B. Powery agrees with this dating and based on the internal evidence in Wisdom of Solomon 19:13-16 notes the author was a Hellenized Alexandrian Jewish immigrant and not King Solomon (Emerson B. Powery, Wisdom of Solomon, ed. Gale A. Yee, et al., The Apocrypha: Fortress Commentary on the Bible Study Edition, [Fortress Press, 2016], pp. 979-980). It is a shame Roman Catholic accept such spurious forgeries as scripture.
2 Esdras was attached to an appendix in the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate Bible. It purports to be written by the biblical Ezra who lived in the 5th century B.C. during the Babylonian exile of the Tribe of Judah. However, the evidence shows 2 Esdras was not actually written by the biblical Ezra, nor was it written any time close to the biblical Ezra. As biblical scholar and textual critic Bruce Metzger confirmed, “The author of these chapters [3 to 14] was an unknown Jew who probably wrote in Aramaic about the end of the first Christian century. Near the middle of the next century an unknown Christian author added in Greek an introductory section, which is now chapters 1 and 2. About the middle of the following century another unknown Christian author appended chapters 15 and 16, also in Greek. The original Aramaic text of chapters 3 to 14 has perished” (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, [Oxford University Press, 1957], p. 22). The scholars Gerald Hammond and Austin Busch agree and also note the first two chapters and the last two chapters “allude to writings from the Old and New Testaments and are conversant with ancient Christian ideas (e.g. God’s privileging of the church over Israel) and with historical events datable to the third century” (Gerald Hammond, Austin Busch, The English Bible, Vol. 2, [W. W. Norton & Company, 2012], p. 632).
Apocrypha contain errors and are thus not scripture.
The author of 1 Maccabees affirms at the time of his writing there was not a prophet in Israel, and that Israel needed one (I Maccabees 4:46). This means the author of this book admitted he was not a prophet and thus his book should not be considered inspired or canonical.
Moreover, 2 Maccabees 15:38-39 asks its readers to forgive the book of its shortcomings. It says: “38I also will here make an end of my narration. 39Which if I have done well, and as it becometh the history, it is what I desired: but if not so perfectly, it must be pardoned me” (2 Maccabees 15:38-39). This is not something a book inspired by the Holy Spirit of God would say. The Holy Spirit makes no mistakes or shortcomings, nor does He need to be "pardoned" for anything.
There are so many historical inaccuracies in the apocryphal book of Judith that some Catholic scholars go so far as to attribute them to copyists mistakes or they say Judith should not be read as a real history but instead as fiction or allegory (Daniel J. Harrington, S. J., Invitation to the Apocrypha, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999], p. 42). Indeed, Gerald West notes the “number of historical and geographic inaccuracies [makes it] difficult to date its composition” (Gerald West, Judith, eds. James D. G. Dunn, John W. Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003], p. 748). Regarding Judith’s glaring errors, Metzger notes, “the story is, sheer fiction . . . the book teems with chronological, historical, and geographical improbabilities and downright errors. For example, Holofernes moves an immense army about three hundred miles in three days (2:21). The opening words of the book, when taken with 2:1ff. and 4:2f., involve the most astonishing historical nonsense, for the author places Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over the Assyrians (in reality he was king of Babylon) at Nineveh (which fell seven years before his accession!) at a time when the Jews had only recently returned from the captivity (actually at this time they were suffering further deportations)! Nebuchadnezzar did not make war on Media (1:7), nor capture Ecbatana (1:14) . . . The rebuilding of the Temple (4:13) is dated, by a glaring anachronism, about a century too early. Moreover, the Jewish state is represented as being under the government of a high priest and a kind of Sanhedrin (6:6-14; 15:8), which is compatible only with a post-exilic date several hundred years after the book’s presumed historical setting” (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, [Oxford University Press, 1957], pp. 50-51).
Scholars note the apocryphal book Tobit falsely claimed Sennacherib was the son of Shalmaneser (1:15). However, he was actually the son of Sargon II. Tobit also falsely claims Nineveh was captured by Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus (14:5). However, it was actually captured by Nabopolassar and Cyaxares. In fact, Josh McDowell notes, “Tobit was supposedly alive when Jeroboam staged his revolt in 931 B.C. and was still living at the time of the Assyrian captivity (722 B.C.), yet the book of Tobit says he lived only 158 years (Tobit 1:3-5; 14:11)” (Josh McDowell, Answers to Tough Questions, [Tyndale House Publishers, 1988], p. 48).