What are the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha?


"The Bible is a wonderful source of inspiration for those who don't understand it."

- George Santayana

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- Edgar Allen Poe

11.1 The Roman Catholic Church on the Apocrypha.

The word apocrypha means hidden or concealed. The early church father Jerome first used this term in the fourth century to address a collection of books written between 300 BC and AD 100. These fourteen books were rejected by the Jews as not being inspired, and thus excluded from the Hebrew Old Testament. It was not until the sixteenth-century AD that the apocryphal writings received official recognition by the Roman Catholic Church as being equal to Scripture. However, Protestant churches as a whole, like the Jews, reject the inspiration of the Apocrypha.

The Roman Catholic Church, a.k.a. Church of Rome, favors apocryphal writings on several points including

1) their appearance in the LXX (Septuagint) - the Greek translation of the Old Testament,

2) the fact that the LXX was accepted by the early church, and

3) the agreement of Augustine that they be included in the Old Testament canon.

In response to this, it is noteworthy that the only ancient collection of Scripture to include apocryphal works was the LXX and the translations derived thereof. The apocrypha never enjoyed broad support as did the canonical books of the Old Testament. Gleason Archer finds,

Even in the case of the Septuagint, the apocryphal books maintain a rather uncertain existence. The Codex Vaticanus (B) lacks 1 and 2 Maccabees (canonical, according to Rome), but includes 1 Esdras (non-canonical, according to Rome). The Sinaiticus (Aleph) omits Baruch (canonical, according to Rome), but includes 4 Maccabees (non-canonical, according to Rome)... Thus it turns out that even the three earliest MSS or the LXX show considerable uncertainty as to which books constitute the list of the Apocrypha, and that the fourteen accepted by the Roman church are by no means substantiated by the testimony of the great uncials of the fourth and fifth centuries. 1

11.2 Problems with the Apocrypha.

Clearly not all copies of the Septuagint included the same apocryphal books. In spite of their appearance along side the traditional canon of the Old Testament, as sporadic as their inclusion was, it was Jerome's belief that occasional apocryphal works were included because they were considered edifying - not because they were inerrant. 2 Edward Young notes the following concerning the apocryphal books:

"Both Judith and Tobit contain historical, chronological and geographical errors. The books justify falsehood and deception and make salvation to depend upon works of merit... Ecclesiasticus teaches that giving of alms makes atonement for sin (3:3), and in I Maccabees there are historical and geographical errors." 3

The apocryphal books neither make the claim that they are inspired of God, nor is there evidence that Christ or any of the apostles regarded the writings with such authority:

There is no record that Christ or any of the apostles ever quoted from the Apocryphal books or that they made any reference to them, although they undoubtedly knew of them. There are in the New Testament about 260 direct quotations from and about 370 allusions to passages in the Old Testament; yet among all of those there is not a single reference either by Christ or any of the apostles to the Apocryphal writings. They quote from every major book of the Old Testament and from all but four of the smaller ones. 4

...the testimony of the New Testament is most decisive against the canonicity of the fourteen books of the Apocrypha. ...While it has just been pointed out that mere quotation does not necessarily establish canonicity, nevertheless it is inconceivable that the New Testament authors could have considered the fourteen books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha canonical and never once quoted from or alluded to any of them. 5

Even Augustine's endorsement of the Apocrypha is not without some question:

On the one hand he threw his influence at the Council of Carthage (397) in favor of including the entire fourteen as canonical; on the other hand, when an appeal was made by an antagonist to a passage in 2 Maccabees to settle an argument, Augustine replied that his cause must be weak if he had to resort to a book not in the same category as those received and accepted by the Jews.

The ambiguous advocacy of the Apocrypha on the part of Augustine is more than offset by the contrary position of the revered Athanasius (who died in 365), so highly regarded by both East and West as the champion of Trinitarian orthodoxy. In his Thirty-ninth Letter he discussed the 'particular books and their number, which are accepted by the church.' In paragraph 4 he says, 'There are, then, of the Old Testament twenty two books in number,' and he proceeds to enumerate the same books as are found in the MT in approximately the same order as in the Protestant Bible. In paragraphs 6 and 7 he states that the extrabiblical books (i.e., the fourteen of the Apocrypha) are 'not included in the canon,' but merely 'appointed to be read.' 6

11.3 First century rejection of the Apocrypha.

Though apocryphal works are generally agreed upon to have some historical value, their authority was rejected in the first century by the Council of Jamnia, the Jewish historian Josephus and the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo. Philo's rejection is notable because if the Apocrypha had early acceptance, it would have begun in Alexandria - a fact that cannot be reconciled by Philo's writings. Neither is there any support for the Apocrypha in early targums (those are basically sermon notes, commentaries, and teachings based on the Old Testament writings).

Even though the details are disputed among historians, there may have been no acceptance whatsoever of the inspiration of apocryphal books until the fourth century. The early church fathers Origen, Athanasius, Tertullian, and Cyril all spoke out against the Apocrypha. As mentioned earlier, even Jerome, translator of the Catholic's official Latin version of the Bible, denied their canonicity. Although the books can be found in Jerome's translation today, they were added only after his death.

11.4 The Apocrypha today.

In the year 1546, the Roman Catholic Church officially pronounced the Apocrypha as always having been equated to Scripture (more on Rome's position on Scripture) 7. According to Loraine Boettner, this was a reaction in an attempt to defend Roman practices which the Protestant Reformation charged as having no scriptural basis.

Prior to the Reformation, the Apocrypha was reportedly rejected by the Catholic church's own Pope Leo X, Cardinal Zomenes, Cardinal Cajetan, Pope Clement VII as well as many of its own scholars. Today, only Protestant churches, as a whole, remain faithful to the original rejection of the Apocrypha as not being inspired of God.

11.5 What is the pseudepigrapha?

The pseudepigrapha, meaning false writings, were written largely in the second century by men using the names of the apostles. Some of these writings were created to pass as the apostles' writings, though many may have been produced as an expression of respect or flattery for the apostles' gospels. Seldom contested as scriptural, yet of some historical value, the pseudepigraphal works are replete with factual errors and conflicting statements.



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See also:

The prehistory of English translations

Infallibility and the Church of Rome

What is inspiration?

Is the Bible complete?

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The apocryphal books are typically included in Catholic Bibles, but not in Protestant ones.

This section addresses whether or not these books are on par with the agreed upon scriptures.

1. RCC on the Apocrypha
2. Problems with the Apocrypha
3. First century rejection
4. The Apocrypha today
5. The pseudepigrapha