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The Apocrypha, a word meaning “secret writings,” is a collection if intertestamental works (written between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible) that were not included in the Hebrew Old Testament and do not meet the criterion for the New Testament. Even though, by every indication, these works do not belong in the canon of Scripture, there are groups who consider these works to be equal to or a necessary companion to the Biblical canon. A couple groups include some or all of the contents of the Apocrypha in their versions of the Bible.
The Apocrypha is important for our study. One of our church members has asked that I explain what each book of the Apocrypha is, if it is important, and why it is included in the Roman Catholic canon and not in the Protestant canon. I will set out to do this and develop a basic commentary on the Apocryphal works. While our belief is that these books are not Scripture, they provide some very important cultural, socio-economic, and linguistic details that help us to understand the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. Furthermore, they reveal how and what Jews thought about God after the Old Testament was completed.
Why are these books included in the Roman Catholic canon and not in the Protestant canon? The Apocryphal works were translated from Greek and Aramaic into Latin by Jerome under the commission of Pope Damasus toward the end of the Fourth Century C.E. At this time, the Apocryphal works were not considered to be canonical, though they did accompany the later versions of the Greek Septuagint (Early versions only included the Torah). Through the Middle Ages, however, the distinction between the Apocryphal works in Latin and the Old Testament in Latin was lost along with Jerome’s prefaces to the Latin translation of the Apocrypha. Through the Middle Ages, the Apocrypha, in its Latin form, was generally considered to be part of the Old Testament canon. It was not until the protestant reformation that the Apocryphal works were questioned and there was a push for the church to return to the sources (the original Greek and Hebrew). Since the Apocryphal works were not part of the Hebrew Old Testament, the reformers did not regard them as Scripture. At the Council of Trent (1546), the Roman Catholic Church officially decreed that the Apocrypha was part of the Biblical canon in response to the protestant reformation. Their inclusion of these books was based on Jerome’s Latin translation rather than healthy textual criticism, which revealed that the Apocrypha was not Scripture. Consequently, translations of the Bible that were based on the Latin Vulgate (e.g. Authorized 1611 King James Version) would include these books even though they were not historically regarded as Scripture (before 380 CE) and even though it was only the tradition of the Roman Catholic church that precipitated their inclusion in the canon. These books are not included in the Protestant canon because they were never actually a part of the Old Testament text.
Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be considering the Apocrypha and her importance for interpreting Scripture. As we move forward, we remember that the Apocrypha is not Scripture and was not regarded as Scripture by Jesus, the Apostles, or the Patristics- though it was considered to be important. Subscribe to this blog to follow and participate in the conversation.