Generally speaking, this collection of books is known by Protestants as ‘The Apocrypha’, and is known by Catholics as ‘The Deuterocanonicals’. It is a collection of diverse Hebrew literature, written between about 300 BC and AD 70. These books were not part of the 39 books that made up the original Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), and were never considered by the Jewish people of the time to be Sacred Scripture. However, they were well known to many Jewish people, and were still greatly valued because of the high moral teaching portrayed in the various stories, myths and legends.
When the Hebrew Scriptures were first translated into Greek, many of these Hebrew stories were incorporated into the Greek translation (the Septuagint), and so became familiar to the early Greek-speaking Christians as well as the Jews. These stories were integrated throughout the Old Testament and gradually came to be accepted by many as part of the Scriptures. However, there had always been much debate about whether these extra books really belonged with the Holy Scriptures.
In AD 70 when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans, and at a time when the early Christian church was expanding at an astonishing rate, the Jewish community felt that its culture was again under threat, and in a bid to permanently secure their Jewish identity, the Canon of Scripture was closed, which meant that nothing more was to be added. The original Hebrew Scriptures were accepted and affirmed as Sacred Scripture, but these additional books (that were only found in the Greek Septuagint) were rejected. However, the early Christians, who had only ever used the Greek Septuagint, continued to assume that all the writings were of equal value.
In the 4th Century AD a Latin translator, Eusebius Jerome, was commissioned to make the first translation of the Scriptures into Latin. This became known as the ‘Vulgate’ or ‘Peoples’ Bible’ (the word ‘vulgar’ at that time meant ‘common’ or ‘popular’). Although Jerome retained these extra writings, he realised they were different, that they were only found in the Greek translations, and were not part of the authoritative Hebrew texts. So he collected them together and placed them separately between the Old and New Testaments, and called them ‘The Apocrypha’, a Greek term meaning ‘hidden’.
Still the debate continued, and the Western Catholic Church re-integrated these books back in amongst the Old Testament. In the 16th century, although many Protestant Reformers tried to exclude them again, in 1534 the great Reformer, Martin Luther, surprisingly included the Apocrypha in his German translation of the Bible, but kept it separate, as Jerome had done, and placed the writings in a group together between the Old and New Testaments. Martin Luther’s comment on the Apocrypha was: ‘These are books, which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.’
It is interesting to note that the New Testament authors quote extensively from the Old Testament, and many times they use the Septuagint version, but none of them make a direct quote from any of the apocryphal books.
Catholics and many Orthodox Christians still retain some of these extra writings throughout the Old Testament section of their Bibles. But they are now classified as ‘Deuterocanonical’ books (the Greek word ‘deuteros’ means ‘second’), signifying that they are not regarded with the same significance as the ‘Protocanonical’ books, which are the original Hebrew Scriptures. However, even among Christians who do not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture, there are many who see the value of these books from a literary point of view, and value them as an excellent insight into the historical and cultural situation that existed during the last two hundred years that led to the time of Christ.
(For an intriguing insight into the astonishing influence the Apocrypha has had on the course of history, click the right-hand button at the end of this page, and enjoy the surprise.)
Books of the Apocrypha
1. The First Book of Esdras
Esdras is the Greek name for Ezra. The book is another version of the accounts given in 2 Chronicles Chapters 35 to 36; Ezra; and Nehemiah Chapters 6 to 8. These Apocryphal versions vary in detail and order, and have additions and omissions.
2. The Second Book of Esdras
Classified as apocalyptic writing, this is an account of a series of seven visions supposedly given to Ezra by the angel Uriel. The writing deals with the problems of evil, suffering, persecution, end times, judgement and the new world.
A romantic tale about a pious man
called Tobit who became blind. The story
is derived from ancient folklore, and was written to preserve
A fictitious story (and historically inaccurate) about a woman who dramatically rescues her nation by killing Holofernes, an Assyrian general.
5. Additions to the Book of Esther
These are six passages found in the Greek Septuagint, but not in the original Hebrew account.
6. The Wisdom of Solomon
A poem using borrowed Greek philosophy, by an unknown author, designed to encourage a love of wisdom.
7. Sirach or The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
A wisdom book designed to encourage
the notion that wisdom is to be found in
A collection of four short discourses. Baruch was the name of the prophet Jeremiah’s secretary. Although this writing is attributed to him, it was not actually written until the first or second century BC.
9. The Letter of Jeremiah
This is sometimes presented as Chapter 6 of Baruch. It was written in 300 BC. It is in the form of a letter, and urges people who live under foreign powers not to worship false idols.
10. The Additions to the Book of Daniel
The three young men are the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. (Abednego’s Hebrew name was Azariah.)
Beautiful and virtuous Susanna is falsely accused of adultery, and is rescued, cleared and vindicated by Daniel who displays great wisdom by his cross-examination of her accusers.
Two very short stories. The first: Daniel reveals the falseness of the idol Bel. The second: Daniel destroys a dragon which the Babylonians worshipped as a god. This story involves Daniel being thrown into a lion’s den.
11. The Prayer of Manasseh
A prayer of repentance. Supposedly the prayer of the wicked king Manasseh as he repented. (See 2 Chronicles 33:11-13; 33:18-19) The writing has been dated around the 1st century BC.
12. The First Book of the Maccabees
A description of the events in the Maccabean revolt that overthrew Antiochus Epiphanes – historically reasonably accurate.
13. The Second Book of the Maccabees
Another account of the same period. A condensed version of a lost five-volume history by Jason of Cyrene. This book concentrates more on theology than historical detail.
14. The Third Book of the Maccabees
Not the same period of history as 1
& 2 Maccabees. This story depicts
events in the late 3rd century BC when Jews, living in
15. The Fourth Book of the Maccabees
A discussion using borrowed Greek philosophy to show that emotion should be ruled by Godly reason. The argument uses characters and stories from the Maccabean times.
16. Psalm 151
The psalm describes David killing Goliath and then being chosen by God to be king. The psalm is attributed to David, but in fact was not actually written until 3rd century BC, and therefore was not part of the original Psalter.
PS: Don’t forget to click the link and read about the astonishing influence the Apocrypha has had on several significant bits of human history!
Back to overview of the
Amazing influence of the Apocrypha