The canon of Scripture is a settled issue, isn’t it? You’ve got your 66 books total, 39 in the Old Testament (24 by the Jewish counting) and 27 in the New Testament. However, when you do the research, things are not so simple. There are many “other” books claiming to be Scripture, a number of them accepted by various denominations and/or included in various Bibles over the years. Are they Scripture? Or just heretical additions?
The most well-known (and most widely accepted) body of these “extra” works is the Apocrypha (which means “Hidden”). People disagree as to which books constitute the Apocrypha. For the purpose of this article, the word refers to the following 18 books:
- Letter of Jeremiah
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Psalms 151-155
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Wisdom of Ben Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus)
- “Additions” to Esther
- Prayer of Azariah
- Bel and the Dragon
- 1 Ezra
- 2 Ezra
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
So, are these books inspired Scripture? That is what we are about to find out.
THE ANCIENT CANONS
The logical place to go first is the ancient canons.
The oldest single Biblical canon is the Greek Septuagint, translated by 72 Jewish scholars between the 3rd century BC and 132 BC, contains ALL of the books of the Apocrypha, with the exceptions of 2 Ezra and Psalms 152-155 (although they significantly included 151).
The other oldest witness to Scripture is the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), a collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and a few Greek manuscripts, some dating as early as the 3rd century BC. Many of these are Biblical manuscripts. Among these Biblical manuscripts are many of the books of the Apocrypha, almost all in Hebrew or Aramaic (apart from one fragment of the Letter of Jeremiah in Greek). Despite the claims of some misinformationists, we have every reason to believe that these books were used and accepted as Scripture by the Essene community there.
In other words, the two oldest witnesses to Scripture in the world included the Apocrypha.
In addition, the Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh (Old Testament) – translated sometime between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD – included all of the books of the “Apocrypha”, with the exception of 1 Ezra and Psalms 152-155 (although other Old Syriac [Old Aramaic] manuscripts include those Psalms) (and at least some Peshitta manuscripts include Psalms 151).
The so-called Christian Palestinian Aramaic translation from the 5th century AD contains the Apocrypha, as does the Old Slavonic, Old Armenian, Old Georgian, Old Coptic and Old (and current) Ethiopic canons. Notably, the Ethiopian-based Beta Israel Jews – the oldest Jewish sect in the world – accepts most of these books.
In addition, the Old Latin and Latin Vulgate translations included most of the Apocryphal books.
In short, the earliest canon to omit the Apocrypha was the Masoretic Text, which was not compiled until the 7th to 11th centuries AD.
In the words of the Cepher translation of the Bible: the Protestant exclusion of the Apocrypha “cannot be justified historically”. The ancient canons alone provide overwhelming evidence that the books we call “the Apocrypha” are, in fact, inspired Scripture.
ANCIENT JEWISH USAGE
It is commonly claimed by Protestants that the Jews never accepted the Apocrypha. This is simply false. The ancient canons – particularly the Dead Sea Scrolls – prove this. However, other Jewish texts and historians indicate this.
Josephus, the famed 1st century AD Jewish historian, used 1 & 2 Maccabees and 1 Ezra as sources for information. In fact, he uses 1 Ezra over the Ezra and Nehemia, “including the account of the competition in 1 Esdras [1 Ezra] 3:1-5:6 which is not to be found in Ezra or Nehemiah.” (James Trimm, Channukah and the Last Days, appendix 1, “The Clear Truth About the Apocrypha”, page 124.) He also draws from the “long” version of Esther – including the details about when she went before Ahasuerus, which are not contained in the Masoretic version (which incidentally closely match the movie One Night with the King‘s portrayal of that scene).
The Talmud quotes Wisdom of Ben Sirach (which I will from henceforth simply call Sirach) as “Scripture” 3 times: b.Hag. 13a; b.Yev. 63b; and b.Ket. 110b. The Midrash Rabbah quotes Sirach as Scripture 6 times: X:6; LXXIII:12; XCI:3; XXXIII:1; VII, 19; AND XII, 11). The Zohar quotes the book as Scripture once: Raya Mehemna 42b.
In addition, the stories of the books of Tobit, Judith, long Esther and the Maccabees are transcribed (usually in an abridged form) in the Midrashim.
SURPRISING ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONFIRMATION
Bel and the Dragon tells the story of how Daniel proves two Babylonian “gods” to be not real “gods”. The second one is a dragon – a living, breathing dragon – that is worshipped in the temple. To prove it a mortal, Daniel (with the king’s permission) prepares its next mean – and poisons it to death. In the last century or so, following Babylon’s excavation, archaeologists have discovered BABYLONIAN confirmation of the existence of Daniel’s dragon! World Book’s somewhat skeptical publication Mysteries and Fantasies, in the section, “Mysterious Things from Long Ago”, for the question “What was the Sirrush of Babylon?” writes:
In 1902, a group of scientists and workmen dug up part of the wall of a 2,500-year-old city. On that wall was a mystery.
The city was Babylon, which once stood on the banks of the Euphrates River in the Near East, in what is now the nation of Iraq. Babylon was once the capital of the kingdom of Babylonia, and one of the world’s greatest cities. It was a huge square of houses, temples, and palaces, surrounded by a high wall made of shiny, colored bricks. At several places in the wall there were huge gateways with gigantic plates of bronze.
What the scientists discovered and dug up was a part of the wall with a gateway. The gateway was decorated with sculptures of three kinds of animals, arranged in rows. One animal was a lion and another was a bull. The third was a strange creature such as none of the scientists had ever seen.
The creature had a scaly body with a long tail and a long snakelike neck. A forked tongue, like the tongue of a snake, stuck out of its mouth, and a long horn stuck up from its forehead. Its front legs looked much like the legs and feet of a cat. But it had scaly back legs, with clawed feet like those of a bird or reptile.
Thus, it seemed to be a creature made up of parts of several different animals. The artists had shown the muscles and skin and hair of the lion and bull so well that those animals looked almost real. And what they showed of this creature, too, looked almost real. It looked as if it had been copied from a live animal! In fact, Professor Robert Koldeway, the scientist who discovered the wall, said that if it weren’t for the difference between the creature’s front and back legs, “…such an animal might actually have existed.” [Some dinosaur had very different front and back legs – T-Rex, for example – so this objection doesn’t really count.)
Surprising though it seems, even though the scientists had never seen this creature before, they knew what it was supposed to be. For the king who had the gate decorated with these animals – the Babylonian king we know as Nebuchadnezzar (nehb uh kuhd NEHZ uhr) – had left writings that described the decoration. These writings had been found and translated. King Nebuchadnezzar had call the creature a sirrush, which was the Babylonian word for – dragon!
There is an ancient story, which can be found in some versions of the Bible, that tells of a live sirrush, or dragon, that was kept in a temple in Babylon during the days of King Nebuchadnezzar. The creature was worshiped as a god. According to the story, the Hebrew prophet Daniel proved that the creature was not a god by feeding it poisoned food that killed it.
Because of that story, and because the sculptures look so real, the sirrush on the wall of Babylon is a mystery for some people. They wonder why the sirrush on the wall is shown with two real animals, as if it, too, were real. They wonder if it is just an imaginary, made-up creature, or if it really was copied from a live animal [which it was] – the dragon that was said to live in the temple during the days of King Nebuchadnezzar. (Pages 156-159)
So, despite the claims that the stories in the Apocrypha (apart from the widely-acknowledged-to-be-historical books of the Maccabees) are too fantastical to be true (a ludicrous charge, indeed), archaeologists have confirmed that one of the more “fantastic” stories is true. The following are a couple of the depictions of the sirrush:
HOW JEWS AND PROTESTANTS CAME TO REJECT THEM
Of course, the Jewish rejection of the Apocrypha had to start sometime before they were officially removed by the Masoretes. Sure enough, the earliest “church fathers” recorded that the first two centuries following Yehoshua’s (Jesus’) death and resurrection, the Jews has started removing books from the Bible – especially ones that prophecy (or might be prophesying) Yehoshua. It was even recorded that the Book of Isaiah was almost removed!
Then, in the early 300s, after Constantine founded the Roman Catholic Church, he called the Council of Nicea (in 325) and, together with the attending bishops, attempted to limit the canon of Scripture. They specifically attempted to remove the books of the Apocrypha (apart from Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah, which they kept), but that attempt failed due to popular opinion – simply put, everyone knew these books were Scripture.
Then, later in the century, Jerome (when translating the Vulgate) tried to go the way of Constantine and the Rabbis, and remove the “Apocrypha” from the Bible. He also attempted to remove the Book of Jude. However, this time Pope Damasus himself personally intervened because again, these books were traditionally accepted by everyone since antiquity as Scripture.
(Incidentally, many critics of the Apocrypha will eagerly point out Jerome’s skepticism, but always neglect to mention his later change of heart.)
However, during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther tried to use the anti-Catholic sentiment as an excuse to defy Biblical commandment and remove books from the Bible. He attempted to remove Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation because they contradicted his personal beliefs. At the same time, he removed a number of widely-accepted books of the “Old Testament” and removed them to a section he called “the Apocrypha”, as he decided he didn’t like them either. He also tried to remove the Book of Esther, because without the original “additions”, there is no mention of God in the book (although there is in the original “long” version). (What circular thinking. “I’ll remove half of this book, the half mentioning God. Now, since the remaining half doesn’t mention God, I’ll remove that as well.”) However, like his attempted removal of the New Testament books, his attempted removal of Esther met with too much popular opposition (once a regularly recurring problem when attempting to remove books from the Bible).
However, Portestant Christianity continued to accept these books, and they were included in the King James Version (KJV) in 1611. Despite passing a law forbidding removing any books from the Bible (good on him!), just a few decades later, dishonest printers realised, “Hey, we can sell just as many Bibles at a lower cost and greater profit if we remove the Apocrypha!” Almost every other Protestant Bible has followed suit. (And yes, that’s all real history; the ingloriously winding, broad, crooked and questionable path to Protestantism’s current rejection of the Apocrypha.)
THE CHURCH FATHERS
You will sometimes find people claiming that the early pre-Nicean “church fathers” rejected the Apocryphal books as Scripture. One outright stated, “The majority of the early church writers rejected these books as being inspired.”
This is, in fact, absolutely false. The pre-Nicean “church fathers” quote these books just as much as they do the rest of the Scriptures, and in doing so refer to them as “Scripture” or even “Divine Scripture”. These church fathers include Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Eusebius, Cyprian, Tertullian, and even pseudo-Barnabas.
The following article, while Catholic, provides many of these quotes:
(Note to remember when reading some of the references: Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah were originally part of Jeremiah, while Prayer of Azariah, Susannah and Bel and the Dragon were originally part of Daniel. Tobit was also known as Tobias.)
NEW TESTAMENT USAGE
One often-heard criticism is that these books are never once quoted from or alluded to in the “New Testament”, despite existing from beforehand. This fails for 2 reasons: 1) the “New Testament” never once references or alludes to the Book of Esther; should it be removed from the canon? and 2), the NT books, while rarely directly quoting from them (although they occasionally certainly seem to), often strongly allude to them.
Compare the following:
Romans 1:20-29 with Wisdom [of Solomon] 13:5, 8; 14:24, 27
Romans 9:20-23 with Wisdom 12:12, 20; 15:7
2 Corinthians 5:1, 4 with Wisdom 9:15
Ephesians 6:11-17 with Wisdom 5:17-20 and 4 Maccabees 7:4; 13:16
1 Peter 3:20-21 with 4 Maccabees 7:1-3; 15:31-32
James 1:19 with Sirach 5:11
James 1:13 with Sirach 15:11-12
James 5:4 with Tobit 4:14
Revelation 8:2 with Tobit 12:15
Revelation 19:1; 21:19-21 with Tobit 13:17-18
Jude 1:6-7 and 2 Peter 2:4-6 with 3 Maccabees 2:4-5
2 Peter 2:7f with Wisdom 10:6; 19:17
Acts 17:30 and Romans 2:4 with Wisdom 11:23
1 Corinthians 14:20 with Sirach 19:22-24
Mark 11:25 with Sirach 28:1-4
Colossians 1:17 with Sirach 43:26
Hebrews 11:35 with 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:14
Hebrews 1:3 with Wisdom 7:26
Hebrews 4:12-13 with Wisdom 7:22-24
Hebrews 8:2, 9, 11 with Wisdom 9:8
Hebrews 12:6-11 with Wisdom 3:5
Hebrews 13:7 with Wisdom 2:17
James 1:5 with Sirach 20:15
James 1:8 with Sirach 1:28; 2:12
James 1:12 with Sirach 1:11, 16, 18
James 1:23 with Sirach 15:11
Matthew 2:16 with Wisdom 11:7 (which appears to have prophesied Herod’s slaughter of the babies)
Matthew 6:19-20 with Sirach 19:11
Matthew 7:12 with Tobit 4:15
Matthew 7:16, 20 with Sirach 17:6
Matthew 9:26 with Judith 11:19
Matthew 11:25 with Tobit 7:18 (common phrase “Lord of heaven and earth”)
Matthew 16:18 with Wisdom 16:13
Matthew 22:25, Mark 12:20 and Luke 20:29 appear to reference Tobit 3:8; 7:11
Matthew 27:43 with Wisdom 2:17-18
Mark 4:5, 16-17 with Sirach 40:15
Mark 9:44, 46, 48 with Judith 16:17
Luke 1:42 with Judith 13:18 (Elizabeth’s declaration of Mary’s blessedness is quoting Uzziah in the Book of Judith)
Luke 1:52 with Sirach 10:14 (Mary’s declaration is quoted from Sirach)
Luke 13:29 with Baruch 4:37
Luke 21:24 with Sirach 28:18
Luke 24:4 and Acts 1:10 with 2 Maccabees 3:26
John 1:3 with Wisdom 9:1
John 3:13 with Baruch 3:29
John 5:18 with Wisdom 2:16
John 6:35-59 with Sirach 24:21
John 10:22 with 1 Maccabees 4:59
John 10:36 with 1 Maccabees 4:36
John 15:6 with Wisdom 4:5
Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6 with Sirach 35:12
Acts 17:29 with Wisdom 13:10
Romans 5:12 with Wisdom 2:24
1 Corinthians 2:16 with Wisdom 9:13
1 Corinthians 6:12-13; 10:23-26 with Sirach 36:18; 37:28-30
1 Corinthians 8:5-6 with Wisdom 13:3
1 Corinthians 10:1 with Wisdom 19:7
1 Corinthians 10:20 with Baruch 4:7
Ephesians 1:17 with Wisdom 7:7
1 Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 17:14 with 2 Maccabees 12:15; 13:4
2 Timothy 4:8 with Wisdom 5:16
Hebrews 12:12 with Sirach 25:23
James 2:23 with 1 Maccabees 2:52
James 3:13 with Sirach 3:17
James 5:3 with Sirach 29:10-11
James 5:6 with Wisdom 2:10-20
1 Peter 1:6-7 with Wisdom 3:5-6 and Sirach 2:5
1 Peter 1:17 with Sirach 16:12
Revelation 1:4 with Tobit 12:15
Revelation 1:18 and Matthew 16:18 with Wisdom 16:13
Revelation 2:12 with Wisdom 18:16
Revelation 5:7 with Sirach 1:8
Revelation 8:3-4 with Tobit 12:12, 15
Revelation 8:7 with Wisdom 16:22 and Sirach 39:29
Revelation 11:19 with 2 Maccabees 2:7
OTHER CLAIMS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
There are a number of other misleading claims and misconceptions that need to be addressed.
“The lack of any Hebrew originals”
This fails on several levels. For one, we have the original Hebrew of many of the books of the Apocrypha – including Tobit, Judith, Sirach and 1 Maccabees. Plus, we have Aramaic translations for most of them – and Aramaic is a language very similar to Hebrew; in the words of James Trimm, “so a literal Aramaic translation of a Hebrew original is almost as good as having the Hebrew itself” (Channukah and the Last Days, appendix 1 “The Clear Truth About the Apocrypha”, pages 130-131).
And as Trimm continues:
Second of all, at the time Rabbinic Judaism rejected these books most or all of them still existed in Hebrew, and at the time Protestantism rejected them, more of them existed in Hebrew than exist now. This is circular thinking [like Martin Luther’s objection of Esther]. The Hebrew originals have largely been lost (or in some cases fallen into obscurity) because Protestantism and Rabbinic Judaism rejected them, and now they should be rejected because the Hebrew originals have been lost or fallen into obscurity.
Also, the New Testament was definitely written in Hebrew and Aramaic. (A read through Trimm’s introductions and prefaces to his Hebraic Roots Version (HRV) leaves no doubt whatsoever as to that fact.) Some books were definitely written in Hebrew, while others probably in Aramaic. There are no good contenders for the original Hebrew or Aramaic for 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John and Jude. Would one have us remove these books? (Incidentally, until just a few years ago, no good Hebrew manuscripts of Revelation were known; at least one has now been discovered. So, just a few years ago, the “logic” of some in the anti-Apocrypha crowd would mean removing Revelation as well.)
“Many of them contain theologically or factually problematic statements”
That depends on what you view as a “theologically or factually problematic” statement. Remember, such statements are made by Antimissionaries against the New Testament. Others who reject all or part of the Bible say the same things about the traditional books. And remember: even the traditional books contain statements used by various groups to “prove” false doctrines. By this argument, the entire canon should be rejected because of misuse by a few. In addition, remember that almost all translations of the Apocryphal books are based on the Greek or (in the case of 2 Ezra) Latin translations of these works, not on the Hebrew and Aramaic. They could easily contain errors not found in the original. And the process of translating the Hebrew and Aramaic is still an ongoing one.
“1 and 2 Maccabees disagree on how Antiochus IV died. 1 Mac 6:8-16 says he became grief stricken and died of sorrow in his bed. 2 Mac 9 says God struck him with a disease in his bowels on the battlefield and he was hurled from his chariot, dying painfully on the ground with worms coming out of his eyes and his flesh rotting as the army looked on. Obviously, both accounts cannot be true, but both accounts appear in the Catholic edition of “Scripture”.
Again, wrong on many levels. 2 Maccabees does not say Antiochus died on the ground, but that after God struck him and filled him with flesh-eating worms, he was carried to his palace where he died in his bed. In addition, the Hebrew on 1 Maccabees agrees with 2 Maccabees on Antiochus’ death more than the Greek of 1 Maccabees.
This is also an argument used by antimissionaries about the alleged contradictions between Matthew and Acts about how Judas died. Resolution is possible (especially when one considers Michael Rood’s argument that “hung himself” means he hung himself “on his sword”, as a rope would have been more difficult to acquire).
“2 Maccabees encourages us to pray for the dead”
This is referring to the following passage, which Catholics use to justify praying for the dead:
Judas urged the people to keep themselves free from all sin….he took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmae, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for the sin offered, an altogether fine and noble action, in which he took full account of the resurrection. For if he had not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superflurious to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. This was why he had this atonement sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin. (2 Maccabees 12:42-45, The Jerusalem Bible)
First of all, it should be noted that the Jerusalem Bible is a Catholic translation. If one compares this passage with Protestant and Messianic translations of this passage, the Jerusalem bible has tweaked with the wording a little bit to praise the act more than the original did.
And second of all, this is just another passage misused and twisted by a group trying to justify their false doctrine. Similar to the twisting of 1 Corinthians 15:29 (which actually says something similar to the above passage from 2 Maccabees). By that argument, 1 Corinthians and the whole canon should be thrown out based on its misuse by the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and the Catholics, and the Mormons, and other groups).
“Sirach, found only in the Apocrypha, also promotes this concept by saying ‘almsgiving atones for sins.’ (Sirach 3:33) and Tobit also says ‘alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness.’ (Tobit 4:11).”
This objection appears to refer to Sirach 3:29 (3:30 in some versions). The above objection takes offense with the reading of the Greek translation. The Hebrew may be translated as “Therefore the almsgiver shall be atoned for his sins” (no cause and effect indicated) and the Aramaic literally reads “Therefore the almsgiver forsakes his sins”.
The above reference to Tobit actually quotes 4:10 (not 4:11), while verse 11 continues (in the KJV) “For alms is a good gift unto all that give it in the sight of the most High.” However, the Hebrew of the two verses reads, “… and alms do deliver from death; and everyone who occupies himself in almsgiving shall behold the face of God, as it is written, ‘I will behold your face by almsgiving.'” (Quoting Psalms 17:15)
This is like what it reads in Proverbs, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged; and by the fear of YEHOVAH men depart from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6). Should Psalms and Proverbs be removed from the canon?
“Sirach 10:26 even says, ‘Do not try to be smart when you do your work.’ Why not? My career would be in ruins if I followed that advice.”
The Aramaic of the passage says, “Be not lazy when you do your work”.
“Judith 1:1 incorrectly claims that Nebuchadnezzar was king of Assyria when he was king of Babylon and claims that he reigned from Nineveh, contrary to the Scriptures which tell us he reigned from Babylon. Keep in mind that it was the Assyrians that captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim and the Babylonians that captured the southern kingdom of Judah.”
“They [the Apocrypha] abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms [referring to the Book of Judith].”
James Trimm explains it perfectly; in his appendix to Channukah and the Last Days, he writes:
This “problem” is just plain silliness. The proper names in the Book of Judith were encoded. The Book was written during the Maccabean rebellion and names were changed to protect Judith herself as well as anyone possessing a copy of the book. “Nebuchadnezzar” stood in place of “Antiochus Epiphanies” because both names have the same numerical value (gematria) in Hebrew. “Assyria” is used as code for the Seleucid Empire, and “Nineveh” is the codeword used for “Antioch”. These facts are well recognised in the Midrashim which refer to this story with that decoding scheme.
So, that’s basically “it”. Judith, Maccabees and 2 Ezra all have incredible prophetic significance, and believers are really missing out on a bit of essential information by excluding them from their Bibles. these are generally explained by Trimm in his book that I keep quoting.
The fulfilled prophecy of 2 Ezra is explained at the following link (by Trimm):
King James Version (KJV) of 1 Ezra:
KJV of 2 Ezra [note that chapters 1, 2, 15 & 16 are later Catholic additions found only in the Latin]:
KJV of Tobit:
KJV of Judith:
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the unabridged Esther:
KJV of the Wisdom of Solomon:
KJV of Wisdom of Ben Sirach:
KJV of Baruch:
KJV of the Letter of Jeremiah:
KJV of the Prayer of Azariah:
KJV of Susanna:
KJV of Bel and the Dragon:
KJV of the Prayer of Manasseh:
KJV of 1 Maccabees:
KJV of 2 Maccabees:
Common English Bible (CEB) of 3 Maccabees:
CEB of 4 Maccabees:
I hope this has opened your mind (and your canon!) to the truth. I intend this message to be given (and received) in love.
YEHOVAH be with you.