The Apocrypha


The word Apocrypha as used in this paper refers to a small group of ancient writings whose status has long been subject to debate and controversy. In Classical Greek the word Apocrypha was used to describe something “hidden away”. The early church writers like Jerome and Irenaeus used the word to describe noncannical books, including the Pseudepigrapha (false writings). However, since the Reformation, the word has come to mean the Old Testament Apocrypha.The Apocrypha is the collection of Jewish writings included in the Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate, but are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament canon. The contents of the Septuagint and the Vulgate differ slightly. Some Septuagint manuscripts include III-IV Maccabees and Psalm 151, which are never found in the Vulgate. A psalm that is said by some to have been composed by David after he defeated Goliath.

In Roman Catholic Bibles these books are interspersed among other canonical Old Testament books. The Basic list for the Apocrypha includes the following:

  1. The First Book of Esdras
  2. The Second book of Esdras
  3. Tobit
  4. Judith
  5. The Additions to the Book of Esther
  6. The Wisdom of Solomon
  7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
  8. Baruch
  9. The Letter of Jeremiah
  10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  11. Susanna
  12. Bel and the Dragon
  13. The Prayer of Manasseh
  14. The First book of Maccabees
  15. The Second book of Maccabees

Only eleven of these fourteen or fifteen books are accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church, which includes all but I and II Esdras (which are called III and IV Esdras) and the Prayer of Manasseh. However, according to the numbering of books in the Douay Old Testament, only seven additional books are indicated, making forty-six. The reason for this is that Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah were combined into one book, having six chapters; the additions to Esther were added at the end of the book of Esther; the Prayer of Azariah was inserted between the Hebrew Daniel 3:23 and 24, making it Daniel 3:24-90 in the Douay Version; Susanna was placed at the end of the book of Daniel (chap. 13); and Bel and the Dragon was attached as chapter 14 of Daniel. Because three of the fifteen books were rejected, the remaining twelve books were incorporated into eleven, since four of these books were incorporated into eleven, and since four of these books were added to the existing Old Testament books, only seven extra books appear in the Douay Old Testament table of contents. Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church has actually added eleven (twelve if Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah are separated) pieces of Apocryphal literature to the Hebrew canon, in contrast to the Protestants who followed the Hebrew canon.1


I Esdras (about 150 BC) is the Greek form of Ezra. It tells of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine after the Babylonian exile. It draws material from Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, but the author adds a lot of legendary material.
II Esdras (AD 100) is an apocalyptic work, containing visions given to Ezra. It is also called the Apocalypse of Ezra. It contains seven visions. It is also said, that Martin Luther was so confused by these visions that he threw the book into the Elbe River.

Tobit (early 2nd century BC) is a short novel. It emphasizes the Law, clean foods, ceremonial washings, fasting and prayer. It is clearly unscriptural in its statement that alms giving atones for sin. It contains a romance of a rich young Israelite captive of Ninevah, who was led by an angel to marry a virgin widow who had lost seven husbands.
Judith (about the middle of 2nd century BC) The heroine of the novel is Judith, a beautiful widow. She offered some food to an attacking general. He was so enamored by her beauty that he gave her a place in his tent. Judith took his sword and cut off his head, and thus saved her city.

Additions to Esther (about 100 BC) the additions have long prayers attributed to Esther and Mordecai, along with a couple of letters supposedly written by Artaxerxes.
The Wisdom of Solomon (about 180 BC) was written to keep the Jews from falling into skepticism, materialism, and idolatry. It is very similar to parts of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. An Alexandrian Jew who impersonated as Solomon wrote it. A Platonic concept of the preexistence of the soul was upheld by the author of this book.
Ecclesiastes, or Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach (about 180 BC) shows a high level of religious wisdom. John Wesley quotes from this Apocrypha book several times in his sermons. And it is widely used in the Anglican Church. It extols a long list of Old Testament heroes. The characteristic themes of Proverbs were expounded and illustrated with examples from the experience of the author.

Baruch (about AD 100) supposedly was the scribe of Jeremiah. The book urges the Jews not to revolt again, but to be in submission to the emperor. It consists mostly of paraphrases from Jeremiah, Daniel, and other Prophets.

Susanna. She was the beautiful wife of a leading Jew in Babylon. Two elders became enamored with her, while she was bathing, and tried to seduce her. When she cried out, the two elders said they had found her in the arms of a young man. She was brought to trial. Since there were two witnesses who agreed in their testimony, she was convicted and sentenced to death. Daniel interrupted the proceedings and began to cross-examine the witnesses. When they gave different answers they were put to death and Susanna was saved.

Bel and the dragon was to show the folly of idolatry. However, the stories are viewed simply as fiction. It contains stories that are embellishments of the canonical book of Daniel.
Song of the Three Hebrew children follows Daniel 3:23 in the Septuagint and the Vulgate. It borrows heavily from Psalms 148. It is supposedly a prayer while in the fiery furnace, and their triumphal song of praise for deliverance. The Apocryphal works usually attempt to supply information that is missing in the canonical books. For example, the bible does not tell what the young Hebrew children were doing in the fiery furnace.

Prayer of Manasseh (2nd century BC) supposedly a prayer of Manasseh, the wicked King of Judah, which is spoken of in II Chronicles 33:12-13.
I Maccabees (1st century BC) is perhaps the most valuable book in the Apocrypha. Along with Josephus it is the most important source of history of the intertestimental period, relating events of the Jews’ heroic struggle for liberty (175-135 BC).II Maccabees (same time) is not a sequel to I Maccabees, but a parallel account. It is generally thought to be more legendary than I Maccabees. It confesses to be an abridgement of a work written by a certain Jason of Cyrene.

There is another group of religious writings produced by the Jewish people between the Testaments. They have never been accepted by any Christian group, not even the Roman Catholic Church. They are called the Pseudepigrapha; this word means “false writings”. One work of the Pseudepigrapha, the Book of Enoch. Is quoted in Jude 14,15.2
Some describe this book as an Apocryphal book while others put it into the category of Pseudepigrapha. But I mention it here because it is one of the books written during the intertestimental period, and because it quoted by Jude.


All of the books of the Apocrypha were written by Jewish authors whose names, with the exception of Jesus the son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 50:27), are unknown. (II Maccabees is the summary of a five-volume history of Jason of Cyrene).

The books of the Apocrypha (except I-II Esdras) were written presumably during the last two centuries BC.

The Apocryphal books represent several types of writing; there are pieces of fiction, legends and ancient folklore, wisdom books and historical books.

These documents can be studied to learn about religion, political, and social conditions of the Jews at the end of the Old Testament period.

The Jews in the early Christian centuries had two translations of the Bible. There was the Hebrew Bible, which did not include the Apocrypha. This was called the Palestinian Canon (containing twenty two books in Hebrew. These are the same as the thirty-nine books found in most English Bibles today). This Bible was circulated around Palestine and Babylon. And there was the Greek Version (LXX) used by the Greek speaking Jews everywhere, which included the Apocrypha. This was called the Alexandrian Canon. This Greek translation of the Hebrews Scripture occurred about 250 BC.

Some of the apocryphal books may have originally been written in Hebrew but there were only known to exist in their Greek versions – one of the reasons the rabbis rejected them as part of Hebrew Scripture.3


  1. The New Testament reflects the thought of the Apocrypha, and even refers to it (cf. Heb. 11:35 with II Macc.7,12).
  2. The New Testament quotes mostly from the Greek Old Testament (LXX), which contained the Apocrypha.
  3. Some of the early Church Fathers quoted and used the Apocrypha as scripture in public worship.
  4. Many of the Fathers accepted all of the books of the Apocrypha as canonical, for example, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria.
  5. Catacomb scenes depict episodes from the Apocrypha.
  6. The great Greek manuscripts (Aleph, A, and B) interpose the Apocrypha among the Old Testament books,
  7. The Syriac Church accepted them in the fourth century.
  8. Augustine and the councils he presided over at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) accepted them.
  9. The Greek Church accepts them.
  10. The Roman Catholic Church proclaimed them canonical at the Council of Trent (1546).
  11. The Apocryphal books continued in the Protestant Bibles as late as the nineteenth century.
  12. Some Apocryphal books written in Hebrew have been found among other Old Testament canonical books in the Dead Sea community at Qumran.4


  1. There may be New Testament allusions to the Apocrypha, although few are indisputable, but there are no clear New Testament quotations from it. In any event, the New Testament never refers to any of the fourteen Apocryphal books as authoritative or canonical.
  2. It has not been proven that the Greek Old Testament (LXX) of the first century contained the Apocrypha. The earliest Greek manuscripts which include them date from the fourth century AD. In addition to this, if they were in the LXX of apostolic time, Jesus and the apostles implied their view of them by never quoting them, although they are supposed to have been included in the very version of the Old Testament that they quoted.
  3. While some individuals in the early church had a high esteem for the Apocrypha, no council of the entire church during the first four centuries favored them, and there were many individuals who vehemently opposed them, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Origen, Jerome.
  4. Scenes form the catacombs do not prove the Canonicity of the books whose events they depict. Such scenes at best could only prove the belief of those Christians in the historicity of the events portrayed.
  5. The fact that the Apocrypha books were a part of the Greek manuscripts in the fourth century AD does not prove that they were considered canonical by the apostolic church.
  6. The Syrian Church did not accept these books until the fourth century AD. In the second century AD the Syrian Bible (Peshitta) did not contain the Apocrypha.
  7. Augustine is the single significant voice of antiquity that recognized the Apocrypha. But, even in his case several things should be noted; He omits Baruch and includes I Esdras, thus accepting one and rejecting the other in contrast to the Council of Trent; other writings of Augustine indicate that he held to a “secondary Canonicity” for the Hebrew canon; the councils at Hippo and Carthage were small, local councils dominated by Augustine and had no qualified persons present to judge the issue of Canonicity. Augustine, not a trained Hebrew scholar, led early opposition to Jerome’s use of the Hebrew Old Testament for his Latin Vulgate. Later, however, he recognized that the Septuagint was not inspired, and reverted to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  8. The Greek Church has not always accepted the Apocrypha, nor is its present position unequivocal. Not until the synods of Constantinople (1638), Jaffa (1642), and Jerusalem (1672) were these books declared canonical. And, even as late as 1839, their larger Catechism expressly omitted the Apocrypha on the grounds that “they do not exist in the Hebrew.”
  9. The Council of Trent was the first official proclamation of the Roman Catholic Church on the Apocrypha, and it came a millennium and a half after the books were written, in an obvious polemical action against Protestantism. Furthermore, the addition of books that support “salvation by works” and “prayer for the dead” at this time (1546), only 29 years after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, is highly suspect.
  10. Apocryphal books appeared in Protestant bibles prior to the Council of Trent, and were generally placed in a separate section as they were not considered to be of equal authority. Even Roman Catholic scholars through the Reformation period made the distinction between the Apocrypha and the canon. Cardinal Ximenes made this distinction in his Complutensian Polyglot (1514-17) on the eve of the Reformation. Cardinal Cajetan, who opposed Luther at Augsburg in 1518, published a Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament that did not include the Apocrypha in AD 1532. Luther spoke against the Apocrypha in his bible published in 1543 by placing its books at the back.
  11. The discoveries at Qumran included not only the community’s Bibles but their library with fragments of hundreds of books. Among these were some of the Old Testament Apocryphal books. While the argument from silence is in itself generally a weak one, it may be said that as far as the present evidence goes, the fact that no commentaries on the noncanonical books have been discovered tends to support the contention that the Apocryphal books were not viewed as canonical by the Qumran community.5


  1. Some of the additional books have teaching which is unbiblical or heretical. Two of the main doctrines in dispute during the reformation are supported by the Apocrypha: “prayers for the dead” (II Macc. 12:45,46) and “salvation by works” (Tobit 12:9). The canonical books of the Bible are against praying for the dead (Heb 9:27; Luke 16:25-26; II Sam.12:19). They are also strongly against salvation by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:5; Gal. 3:11).
  2. Some of the Apocryphal stories are extrabiblical and fanciful. The story of Bel and the Dragon is a good case in point. In it, the pagan priest of Bel try to deceive Daniel by using a trapdoor to go in and consume the food offered to Bel to prove that Bel is a “living God” who “eats and drinks every day” (v. 6). So, in order to assist the “living God,” Bel, “in the night the priest came with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and ate and drank everything” (v. 15). The same unauthentic ring may be heard in the legendary books of Additions to Esther, Prayer of Azariah, and Susanna, as well as Tobit and Judith.
  3. Much of the teaching of the Apocrypha is subbiblical and, at times, even immoral. Judith was assisted by God in a deed of falsehood (Judith 9:10,13), while both Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom teach a morality based upon expedience. Besides this low morality, the subbiblical nature of the Apocrypha can be seen in its historical and chronological errors. It is claimed that Tobit was alive when the Assyrians conquered Israel (722 BC) as well as when Jeroboam revolted against Judah (931 BC), yet his total life span was only 158 years (14:11; cf. 1:3-5). Judith speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as reigning in Ninevah instead of Babylon (1:1). William H. Green concisely summarizes this evidence, as he writes, ‘The books of Tobit and Judith abound in geographical, historical mistakes, so as not only to vitiate the truth of the narratives which they contain, but to make it doubtful they even rest upon the basis of fact’.
  4. Most of the Old Testament Apocrypha was written in the postbiblical, intertestamental period. According to Josephus, the prophets wrote from Moses to Artaxerxes, and he adds, ‘It is true our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of the prophets since that time’. The Talmud adds a similar thought, as it records, ‘After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah…and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.’ Since the Apocryphal books were written long after Artaxerxes time (Malachi’s day, 400 BC), namely, after about 200 BC, then they could not be considered inspired. Not only does the Talmud testify to this end, but the canonical books of the Old Testament also imply this (see Zech. 1:5; Mal. 4:5), as do some of the statements in the Apocryphal books themselves. In fact, there is no claim within the Apocrypha that it is the Word of God. It is sometimes asserted that Ecclesiasticus 50:27-9
    29 lays claim to divine inspiration, but a closer examination of the passage indicates that it is illumination and not inspiration that the author claims to have….
  5. Finally, all of the books of the Apocrypha are nonbiblical or uncanonical since none of them was ever accepted by the people of God as canonical books were. In order for a book to be canonical, it must satisfy the tests of canonicity:
    1. Was written by a ‘Prophet’ of God? There is neither claim and/or proof that they were.
    2. Did it come with the authority of God? No! There is a striking absence of the ring of authority in the Apocrypha….
    3. Did it have the power of God? There is nothing transforming about the Apocrypha. Its truth is not exhilarating, except as it is a repetition of canonical truth in other books.
    4. Did it tell the truth about God, man, etc.? …there are contradictions, errors, and even heresies in the Apocrypha. It does not stand the test of canonical truth.
    5. Was it accepted by the people of God? It is this final question upon which the Apocrypha takes the final and fatal fall.6


For example, some will cite that there were several early church writers who accepted the Apocrypha.

First Clement (d. AD 95) included quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon, while Polycarp of Smyrna (d.c. AD 156) quoted from Tobit. Tertullian (d.c. AD 225) and Irenaeus (d.c. AD 200) cited certain books of the LXX Canon as scriptural and were followed in this by Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Cyprian in the 3rd cent. AD.”7

Others have said that, some books (Judith, Tobit, Baruch, and Epistle of Jeremy) had qualifications for inclusion into the canon; the early date, Hebrew or Aramaic language, sound orthodox teaching, and the literary quality of these books. Some feel were on par with (if not superior to) the other parts of the canonical Old Testament.

Declaring itself supremely authoritative in all matters involving the canon of Scripture, the Roman Catholic Church has pronounced the Apocrypha canonical, and of equal value for doctrine with the Old and New Testaments.8

In fact the decrees made by the Council of Trent (1546) pronounced any man anathema who did not accept the canonical nature of the Apocrypha.


According to the Interpreter’s Bible the Jews were warned that other literature was useless or dangerous. Whoever brings together in his house more than twenty four books (the Hebrew Old Testament) brings confusion. (Midrash Qoheleth 12:12). Rabbi Akiba (died ca. 132) even declared that readers of apocryphal literature had no part in the future world. (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 100B).9

Furthermore this quote gives additional feelings that Jerome had concerning the Apocrypha.

The non-canonical works, said Jerome, were like the crazy wonderings of a man who senses have taken leave of him.” Labeling these books Apocrypha (for hidden), Jerome placed them outside the Christian Canon as well.10

Some will also bring up that Jude quotes from the Apocrypha in Jude 14,15.
14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones
15 to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

However consider what Neil R. Lightfoot has to say about these verses:

Jude 14,15 gives reportedly a prophecy of Enoch, and it is true that this prophecy is found in the Apocryphal book of Enoch (1 Enoch 1:9). But here several things need to be said: (1) It is possible that Jude is acquainted with this prophecy from a different source. (2) It is possible that both the book of Enoch and the book of Jude draw upon a common source of oral tradition. (3) It is probable, however, that Jude quotes directly from the book of Enoch. If so – and the form of the quotation is almost precisely in the agreement with the book of Enoch – Jude does not quote Enoch as “scripture” nor does he say “it is written.” When a writer cites another work, this does not mean that he necessarily regards the work as divine. Paul quotes from heathen poets (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). He also names evidently from a noncanonical source, Jannes and Jambres as magicians of Pharaoh (2 Timothy 3:8); but in doing so he does not sanction it from being from God.11

Furthermore, Henry H. Halley offers these thoughts on the quotation from Enoch.

This is the only scripture allusion to the prophecy of Enoch. The brief story of his life is told in Genesis 5:18-24, but there is no mention of any of his words. Jude’s quotation is from the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, which was written about 100 BC. He evidently regards it as a genuine word of Enoch….Jude’s sanction of one passage in the book does not sanction the whole book.12

Moreover, Josh McDowell adds that the oldest list of the Old Testament canon that we can date (c. 170 AD) does not include the additional Apocryphal books.

Melito, Bishop of Sardis drew up the oldest list of the Old Testament canon that we can date (c.170 AD). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History IV.26) preserves his comments. Melito said he had obtained the reliable list while traveling in Syria. Melito’s comments were in a letter to Anesimius, his friend; ‘their names are these…five books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy. Jesus Naue, Judges, Ruth. Four books of Kingdoms, two ofChronicles, the Psalms of David, Solomon’s Proverbs (also called Wisdom), Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job. Of the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Twelve in a single book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra.

F.F. Bruce comments that ‘It is likely that Melito included Lamentations with Jeremiah, and Nehemiah with Ezra (though it is curious to find Ezra counted among the prophets). In that case, his list contains all the books of the Hebrew canon (arranged according to the Septuagint order), with the exception of Esther. Esther may not have been included from the list he received from his informants in Syria.13


One early Reformer, Andreas Bodenstein used the term “Apocrypha” to designate the excess of the Alexandrian over the Palestinian Jewish canon of the Old Testament. Bodenstein held that the books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith and Tobit, I and II Maccabees had some value, but that others, including I and II Esdras, Baruch, and the Prayer of Manasseh, were clearly Apocryphal. Martin Luther, a fellow student of Bodenstein, was in agreement of his conclusions, and in his 1534 German Version of the Bible the “outside books” were placed at the end of the canonical Old Testament, describing them as “Apocryphal”. John Calvin and his followers explicitly rejected any authority that the Apocrypha might have claimed or received, holding that the contents were not divinely inspired. The fact that the apocrypha was absent from the Hebrew canon must have had some influence on the minds of the Reformers. Moreover, it contained doctrines inconsistent with Protestant principles.

The Westminister Confession of Faith, which is representative of the Protestant Churches, says that the Apocrypha is of no authority in the Church of God nor to be otherwise approved or made use of other than human writing.14


The King James Bible of 1611 followed the normal custom in printing the Apocrypha as a separate work and inserting it between the Old and New Testaments. Subsequent issues of the KJV, however, were printed without the Apocrypha. Other Protestant Bibles included the Apocrypha up to 1827.

The Protestant churches today have emphatically rejected the Roman Catholic position concerning the inspiration and authority of the Apocrypha, maintaining that the Old Testament and New Testament are alone to be regarded as Scripture.

However, since the Bible does not contain the history of the Jews between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New. Today we have three chief sources available to us concerning that period of history: secular history, the works of Josephus, and the Apocryphal writings. And from these three sources a student is able to learn important facts in the life of the Jewish people during the intertestimental period. However, it is going too far to give the Apocrypha a “semicanonical status”, as the Church of England has done. They read them for examples of life but do not apply them to establish any doctrines. However, the Apocrypha should not be viewed as part of the theological canon of 14Pryor, Trust. 52.

Scripture. The canon of the Hebrew Bible today includes the same material as the thirty-nine Old Testament books found in most editions of the English Bible.

1Noman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978) , 168.
2Neale Pryor, You Can Trust Your Bible (Abilene: Quality Publications, 1976) , 51.
3Kenneth Davis, Don’t Know Much About The Bible (New York: Eagle Brook, 1998) , 319.6
4Geilser & Nix, Introduction 169,170.
5Geilser & Nix, Introduction 171-173.
6Geilser & Nix, Introduction 173-175.
7Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. one, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) , 205.
8Roland Kenneth Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Peabody: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) , 1192
9George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible (New York: Abingdon Cokesbury Press, 1952) , 393
10Robert V. Huber, The Bible Through The Ages (Pleasantville: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1996) , 223.
11John T. Willis, The World and Literature of the Old Testament (Abilene: A C U Press, 1979) , 56
12Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927) , 683
13Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict (San Bernardino: Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1972) , 36



Buttrick, George Arthur. The Interpreter’s Bible. New York: Abingdon Coksbury Press, 1952.

The Bible. New International Version.

Davis, Kenneth. Don’t Know Much About The Bible. New York: Eagle Brook, 1998.

Geisler, Norman L. & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible.
Chicago: Moody Press, 1978.

Halley, Henry H. Halley’s Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927.

Harrison, Roland Kenneth. Introduction to the Old Testament. Peobody: William
B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999.
Huber, Robert B. The Bible through the Ages. Pleasantville: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1996.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict. San Bernardino: Campus
Crusade for Christ, 1972.

Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. One.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.

Willis, John T. The World And Literature Of The Old Testament. Abilene: A C U
Press, 1979.

Posted in Topical Papers.