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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

The Apocryphal Books—What is in them for us?

Bob Burns responds to Kent's questions

Bob Burns

Christians are aware that some editions of the Bible have more books than others. Kent Philpott is one of these. Bob Burns is a Christian who has made a study of these “hidden books” of the Bible and considers them well worth knowing.

This page will consist of an interview of Bob by Kent to get at just what the Apocryphal books are all about. Some Christians consider the books to be inspired, but less so than the forty books found in all the bibles. Others, notably most Protestants, do not consider the books to be inspired. The question is whether there is anything in them that is worth knowing.

Question: Bob, what first motivated you to study the Apocryphal books?

Answer: I was raised Catholic, but only found Christ in the early 1970’s; at that time I became Baptist in my way of thinking about God and Scripture.  So, you can believe me when I say the subject of the “Apocrypha” has not been a point of interest for me during these decades since then.  However, not long ago a certain chain of events caused me to give the subject a closer look.

The Book of Enoch

In September of 2006, I pulled a volume on ancient Jewish extra-biblical literature from my bookshelf, and the Book of Enoch was the first book featured.  After reading the Book of Enoch, I decided to research further about that book’s history and preservation.  I found out the Book of Enoch can rightly be considered as part of an “expanded Apocrypha,” because the book has been considered Scripture by some in the history of the Church, and is included in the Bible of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity even today.

Scripture, Apocrypha, or Deuterocanon?

This led me to a reconsideration of the rest of the books in that body of literature to which we Protestants usually refer as “Apocrypha,” a term Apocrypha which is deemed pejorative by Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  This is due to the fact the word Apocrypha literally means that which is hidden, casting the books in a negative light as something secret or esoteric in nature. The argument has been made to the contrary that these books cannot be viewed as hidden since they have been the heritage of Christians for 2,000 years.  The term “Apocrypha” has another negative connotation as that which is apocryphal, as if the books are of dubious origin, content and value.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians prefer to call these books “Scripture” and at times “deuterocanon,” meaning “second canon;” Eastern Orthodoxy sometimes uses the term “Anaginoskomena” for these books, a term coined by the fourth century Church Father Athenasius, which means “readable items.”

Question: What are these books exactly and how many of them are there?

Answer: The body of literature which comprises the Apocrypha, or Deuterocanon, are books of the Old Testament with less than universal acceptance among Christians.  These are books of Jewish composition written before the time of Christ and the Apostles.  This body of literature was formerly preserved by Jews, but since the early centuries after Christ has been preserved exclusively by the Church.

No universal Christian canonical list

It is important to point out that in the history of the Church there never has been, nor is there now, a list of canonical books of the Old Testament to which all Christians have universally subscribed.  In today’s world there are at least five different lists of books of the Old Testament to which Christians adhere.  The records of the early councils of the Church record variant lists of accepted Old Testament books, but in fact, the practices of the Church have not been uniform in this regard.

Arriving at a concrete number of “how many” of these books there are is  complicated by the fact that some of these “books” are simply chapters which exist in the context of otherwise accepted Old Testament books such as Daniel, Esther and the Psalms; others, such as The Letter of Jeremiah and The Rest of the Words of Baruch, have historically been combined with other books, so they also do not always show up on lists.  The following is an attempt at a comprehensive list of books and parts of books.

Table Listing of Books Considered Apocryphal

The Shorter Deuterocanon
The Broader Deuterocanon
Books which have had prevalent acceptance: (Accepted in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy)

8 chapters of Esther
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
The Wisdom of Solomon
The Wisdom of ben Sirach
The Letter of Jeremiah
3 chapters of Daniel
+ 8 books
+ 2 books with additional chapters

Books which have had limited acceptance:
(Accepted in one or more branch of Orthodoxy)

The Book of Enoch
The Book of Jubilees
The Prayer of Manasseh
1 Esdras
2 Esdras (The Ezra Apocalypse)
3 Maccabees
Psalm 151
Psalms 152-155
The Ascension of Isaiah
The Rest of the Words of Baruch
The Apocalypse of Baruch
+ 9 books
+ 1 book with additional chapters

Other Books under consideration
Books with limited acceptance in historic times:

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
Joseph and Asenath
The Lives of the Prophets
The Psalms of Solomon
+ 4 books

Books placed only in a biblical appendix:

4 Maccabees
+ 1 book

In total, then, the books under consideration in this body of literature are twenty-two, with additional chapters to three books that are otherwise universally accepted by Christians.

Question: What is their history as a body of literature?

Answer: It is difficult to discuss the history of this body of biblical literature as a uniform whole; those books listed in the chart above within the “broader Deuterocanon” each have distinct histories detailing each book’s preservation and acceptance.  However, of the books listed above within the “shorter Deuterocanon,” it is somewhat more possible to speak of their history as a group.

Early Church attitude of acceptance

Of the shorter group of books, it is possible to quote from early Church fathers who quote from them as Scripture and from early Church fathers who do not accept them as canonical. However, there was an early, significant, widespread practical acceptance of these books as Scripture in the usage of the Church.

 There are at least four early text traditions of the Bible in which these books are to be found: the Greek Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitto, the Old Latin traditions, and the Ethiopic Geez text.  The reader should bear in mind that these text traditions of the Bible developed over centuries and with a certain degree of independence from one another.  Despite some differences between these traditional texts of the Bible, they all bear testimony to the pervasive acceptance of these books as legitimate inclusions to the Old Testament.

Reformers versus the Roman Catholic Church

In the history of the Church in the West, the subject of these books became a point of controversy between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church.  This is the context within which most of us have come to be acquainted with this subject.  Martin Luther translated the books as valuable reading material for Christians, but since he did not deem them to be inspired Scripture, he removed them to an appendix to the Old Testament.  In English, this innovation was carried forward in early editions of the Geneva Bible and the King James Bible.  Over time, this appendix to the Old Testament came to be devalued and of decreasing relevance and has been dropped from most Protestant Bibles, in order to produce a thinner, less expensive Bible.

Today's debate

In our own day one often hears the broad outlines of this Protestant/Catholic debate on this subject taking predictable lines of reasoning.  For many Protestants, the books of the “Apocrypha” were added to the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church in order to prove certain erroneous doctrines; for many Roman Catholics these books of “Scripture” were removed from the Bible by Protestants in order to eliminate passages which contradict Protestant doctrines.

Take a closer look

This Baptist finds the above-referenced debate as generating more heat than light.  It is my belief that this subject is better approached from the practical perspective of what has been the dominant traditional place afforded these books in the 2,000-year history of the Church.  I contend they are of value, and they deserve our closer examination.

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