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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Quick Thoughts on the Apocrypha

I thought I'd provide just some quick points in regard to the Apocrypha as it pops up now ang again. Primarily it is used in defense of praying for the dead (or praying to the dead). Readers of this blog, and listeners to the podcast, know that I believe the dead are dead until resurrection. But be that as it may, I'll try to gently give some framing to this question.

I'll start by suggesting you do not get caught up in this debate. It tends to lead to endless appeals to authority. As for me (one who grew up with the Apocrypha in my Bible - it's also in the 1611 KJV), just reading the texts suggest it is not inspired. But that is hardly a factual basis for anything (just a personal confirmation). A few early reformers included it in their translations, but they were sure to mark the Apocrypha as "uninspired" (as Tyndale did). 

We'll look quickly at direct and indirect thoughts I have about the books.

Let's start with just one verse from the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees for reference and to highlight how specific practices in the books conflict with the witness of scripture.

And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. -2 Macc 12:45-46

In regard to appeals to "authorities" such as "the early church fathers," as Luther argued at Leipzig, it matters not how many "authorities" approved of anything or not. They varied on the truth and means of redemption and handled scripture carelessly. And they did not agree on the Apocrypha in any case. Their opinions did not fully prevail on the matter (more on that later). 

Older doesn't equal truer. The epistles were written to combat grave heresy among believers. In the Acts Age, Paul warned the Ephesians that "grievous wolves would come in" after he left, "not sparing the flock." In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul warns of "Satna's ministers." In Colossians and Philippians he warns of those who would deprive believers of rewards by false teachings. In his final epistle (the close of the canon), Paul wrote that "all in Asia" had abandoned him. All this in the first century. What do I care what anyone after Paul had to say? They are no more inspired than I am.

And even among Catholics, they do not practice Lent (for example) in its oldest form. The rules changed drastically over the years and they currently practice a fairly recent version. Vatican II and the new catechism contradict previous Popes and Councils. Almost endless contradictions among the Popes (and there was period in which there were two Popes, each condemning the other, yet all are on the official list of succession).

Let's look at the claim of canonicity.

  • The Apocrypha wasn't canonized by the Catholic Church until AD1546, the Council of Trent.
  • The Apocrypha is in Greek and is not accepted as part of the Hebrew/Jewish Canon. It first appeared in the Greek Septuagint among Hellenistic Jews.
  • There isn't even agreement as to which apocryphal books should be considered canon. The RCC accepts only 12 of the 15 (in one form or another, 7 titles are listed as independent books).

Even the name given the 12 by the Catholic Church speak of their late inclusion.

Deuterocanonical (AD 1684) - "Later" or "Second" Canon

The list varied west to east, "church father" to "church father." Clement of Alexandria recognized II Esdras (not recognized by Trent). Origen inserted II Esdras on his list. No agreement. "Older" lists rejected at Trent. Augustine wanted it all included and sought to crush opposition.

Jerome at first refused to include any books of the Apocrypha in his translation (tells you what he thought of them as part of the canon). Then he, reluctantly, added Judith, Tobit, and the extensions to Esther and Daniel. The other apocryphal books in the Vulgate were added after Jerome's death

The lauding of the Apocrypha, in my experience, is often coupled with attacks on dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism (in its most basic form) rescues the gospel from those who try to find it in words never meant for them. I understand why they want the Apocrypha and why they hate dispensationalism: they want to deny the finished work of Christ and our liberty in him. And unless you are headed to Jerusalem for Pentecost, you're a dispensationalist whether you like it or not. Even in the light of the Apocrypha, dispensationalism (the right division of the word of truth) keeps us safe.

"Dispensation" is a biblical word. It means a "stewardship." We may define it differently, but to one degree or another, unless you're an Orthodox Jew, you're a dispensationalist. And, to be honest, even the Orthodox Jew is too. He just doesn't know it. How many times did Abraham go to the temple to offer a sacrifice on a feast day? Never. Why? Dispensations. But we've covered that in more detail elsewhere.

I end with this list from the site https://watch.pairsite.com/apocrypha.html, should you care to read further:

  • They are not, and have never been, in the Jewish canon.
  • Josephus explicitly excluded them from his list.
  • Philo (20 B.C.-50 A.D.) neither mentions or quotes them.
  • They were never quoted or alluded to by Jesus Christ or any of the apostles. The sermons in the Book of Acts, which outline Jewish history, do not included apocryphal events.
  • Jewish scholars meeting at the Council of Jabneh did not recognize them.
  • Most Church Fathers in fact rejected them.
  • None of the Apocrypha claim inspiration or divine authority.
  • Many of the Apocryphal books contain historical, geographical, and chronological errors.
  • Many of the Apocryphal books teach heresy, contrary to the Word of God.
  • Their literary style is legendary and fantasy. Some stories are grotesque and demonic.
  • They lack the power and distinctive elements of the Word of God.

I'm not interested in a debate on this topic (for various reasons outlined above). I am well-convinced the Apocrypha has no standing with scripture (although valuable for Greek word studies and historical purposes). If you chase this rabbit, you will find ten thousand different lists and opinions. 

Finally, we've noted in our entries and dealings with the Gospel of John, that is has everything one need to have life in His name. It relies, in no way, on any teaching of the Apocrypha and John 11 (the raising of Lazarus) is in direct contradiction to the verse from 2 Maccabees (no matter how you want to slice it).