The term Apocrypha is used to designate a collection of ancient Jewish writings that were written between about 250 B.C. and the early Christian centuries. The Apocryphal books have come to be regarded as inspired Scripture in the theology of the Roman Catholic Church, but the historic Protestant and Jewish viewpoint ascribes no real inspiration to them.
WHY PROTESTANTS REJECT THEM
While Protestants study the Apocrypha for the light it throws on the life and thought of pre-Christian Judaism, they reject it as inspired Scripture for the following reasons:
(1) The Apocryphal Books were not a part of the Old Testament of Jesus and the early Church. The threefold division of the Old Testament: The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings, still used in Hebrew Bibles and Jewish versions of the Old Testament, does not include the Apocryphal Books and never did. While the Apocrypha was known to Jesus and His disciples, they never quote from it as authoritative Scripture.
(2) Ancient Jewish writers who used the Greek Bible, notably Philo and Josephus, were acquainted with the Apocrypha but never quote it as Scripture. The Apocryphal book of IT Esdras mentions twenty-four books, corresponding to the Hebrew Bible as it is known today, and seventy other writings which are esoteric in nature (II Esdras 14:44-48). It is significant that this Apocryphal book shows an acquaintance with the acknowledged Old Testament canon as known in the synagogue and in the Protestant churches.
(3) Church Fathers who were familiar with the Hebrew canon clearly distinguish between Canonical and Apocryphal writings. The writings of Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Jerome show recognition of the difference between inspired Scripture and Apocrypha.
(4) The Apocryphal Books were never declared to be authoritative Scripture until the Council of Trent (A.D. 1546). At that time the following Apocryphal books were declared Canonical: Tobit, Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah), I and II Maccabees, the additions to Esther, and the additions to Daniel (viz. Susanna, The Song of the Three Young Men, and Bel and the Dragon). Many Roman Catholic scholars distinguish between proto-canonical books (i.e., our Old Testament) and deutero-canonical books (i.e., the Apocrypha).
(5) Most readers feel that the Apocryphal books represent a lower level of writing than that of the Canonical Scriptures. They contain numerous historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms and do not breathe the prophetic spirit so evident in Canonical writings. The Westminster Confession (1643) states that “the books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of-Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, or to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writing.” The Reformed Churches have not encouraged the use of the Apocrypha, and as a consequence, it is seldom used in contemporary Protestantism. The Anglican Church in its Thirty-nine Articles takes a mediating position, holding that, “the Church doth read (the Apocryphal Books) for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to confess any doctrine.”
In addition to the books commonly called Apocrypha, there is a wide variety of other ancient literature, both Jewish and Christian, to which the name Pseudepigrapha is often applied. Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, sectarian literature from the Qumran Caves, and a wide variety of other ancient writings provide helpful material for understanding the world of the New Testament and the early Church. While not on a par with inspired Scripture, such writings merit close examination.
THE BOOKS COMMONLY TERMED APOCRYPHA ARE:
I. Esdras (Vulgate, III Esdras). The first book of Esdras, relates a series of episodes from Old Testament history, beginning with the Passover celebrated in Jerusalem by Josiah (ca. 621 B.C.) and ending with the public reading of the Law by Ezra (ca. 444 B.C.). It reproduces the substance of II Chron. 33:1—36:23, the whole of Ezra, and Nehemiah 7:73—8:12. An addition to the Biblical narrative appears in I Esdras 3:1—5:6, the Tale of the Three Guardsmen. Three young men who were acting as bodyguards to King Darius were keeping themselves awake by debating what was the strongest force in the world. One said wine, because of its peculiar power over men; another suggested the king, with unlimited power over his subjects; and the third (Zerubbabel), affirmed that woman, who gives birth to a man, is strongest, but the truth is victor over all things. The king, who was asked to decide the winner, favored Zerubbabel’s answer and offered him any reward he might choose. Zerubbabel asked permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The section ends with a description of the Jews departing from Babylon on route to Jerusalem. Most scholars suggest that I Esdras was composed in Egypt some time after 150 B.C.
II. Esdras (Vulgate, IV Esdras). The core of II Esdras (chapters 3-14) purports to describe seven apocalyptic revelations granted to Ezra in Babylon, They are concerned with the problem of Israel’s suffering and attempt “to justify the ways of God to .man.” The author was evidently a Jew who looked forward to the advent of Israel's Messiah and the period of blessedness that he would bring. The introduction (chapters 1 and 2) and the conclusion (chapters 15 and 16) contain additions written from a Christian viewpoint. The core was probably written in Aramaic toward the end of the first century A.D. About the middle of the second century an introduction was added (in Greek) and a century later the concluding chapters were written. Oriental versions and many of the best Latin manuscripts contain only the core of the book.
Tobit. Tobit is a book of religious fiction, probably written in Aramaic during the second century B.C. It tells the story of a pious Jew of the tribe of Naphtali in Galilee who, with his wife Anna and their son Tobias, was taken to Nineveh by Shalmaneser (c. 721 B.C., II Kings 18:9-12). In the land of exile, they scrupulously obeyed the Jewish Law. When Tobit lost his eyesight he sent his son to Rages in Media to obtain payment of a debt. An angel led him on to Eebatana where he fell in love with a beautiful widow whose seven husbands had successively been killed on their marriage day by an evil spirit. Tobias married the virgin-widow and escaped death by burning the inner part of a fish, the smoke of which put the evil spirit to flight. As an added blessing, the gall of the fish was used to cure the blindness of the aged Tobit.
Judith. The story of Judith was probably written in Hebrew by a Palestinian Jew during the years following the Maccabean revolt. It tells how Judith, a Jewish widow, delivered her people from the Assyrian commander Holofernes who was laying siege to Bethulia. Risking great personal danger, Judith made her way to the tent of Holofernes where she beguiled the Assyrian with her charms. Getting him into a drunken stupor, Judith took the sword of Holofernes, cut off his head and brought it back to Bethulia as evidence that God had given his people victory over the Assyrians. Judith may be compared with Biblical Jael who killed the Canaanite general Sisera (Judges 4:17-22).