First Full Video by Apologia Anglicana: The Apocrypha
The Apocrypha was widely read by the early church but not generally accepted as inspired. Here's Apologia Anglican's first full video: on the Apocrypha.
Here's the full script:
Apocrypha Video Script
The Apocrypha. Accepted by some. Rejected by others. Believed from the early church until Martin Luther, right? Not quite. I’m Jacob, and this is Apologia Anglicana.
The Apocrypha is a really complicated issue, that most people aren’t familiar with, because they usually aren’t familiar with their canon as a whole. Roman Catholics, for example, argue that some of the Apocrypha is inspired and belongs in the Bible; Protestants argue that it belongs in the Bible but isn’t inspired; and Eastern Christians are split on this. So, to start, we need to understand: what is the Apocrypha?
The Apocrypha is a collection of 19 works, most of them written or transmitted in Greek. They were written around the time of the inter-testamental period, so 100 BC to AD 1, give or take about 100 years.
These books on the left are accepted by Romanists as equally inspired as the Old Testament. The books on the right have varying levels of acceptance among other Christians, usually in the eastern churches.
These books are found either in the Greek Septuagint or in the Latin Vulgate. The Greek Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and these other Jewish works called the Apocrypha. The Latin Vulgate, translated by St. Jerome, was a translation of those writings and the New Testament from their original languages, for the most part.
So, for most of these works, around Jesus’ time and afterwards, Jews would have been familiar with them. Greek-speaking Christians likewise knew and used them. In the same way, due to the Vulgate, the Apocrypha gets used in the western, Latin-speaking churches regularly. However, as we’ll see, just because the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apocrypha were put together in the same library of books doesn’t mean that the Jews or the Christians saw them as equal.
And that’s the issue. The Apocrypha is in our library of books, but is it of equal worth as the rest of the Scriptures?
The mark of Scripture is that it is God-breathed: inspired. As St. Paul writes to St. Timothy:
“Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.”
As St. Athanasius explains:
“Let us expound, my friend, as best we can, a little of the Christian faith; you could discover it from the words of Holy Scripture, yet are eager also to hear of it from others. To be sure, the sacred and divinely inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of the truth, but there also exist many treatises of our blessed teachers composed for this purpose, and if one reads them he will gain some notion of the interpretation of the Scriptures and will be able to attain the knowledge he desires.”
Here, St. Athanasius shows two things: (1) For us to be good Christians, we need to cling to the Scriptures to know what God has revealed. It’s a big deal. (2) Works that agree with the inspired Scriptures, but aren’t inspired, can also be useful, though lower than inspired Scripture.
It is this unique inspiration of Scripture which motivates St. John Chrysostom to advise potential catechumens to approach those Christians who prove their doctrines from the inspired Scriptures.
As he writes,
“There comes a heathen and says, ‘I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?’ How shall we answer him? Each of you (says he) asserts, ‘I speak the truth.’ No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.”
So, is the Apocrypha that? Is it inspired of God? Is it part of that sufficient exposition of the truth?
Well, this goes into a greater issue: how do we know the Hebrew Bible to be inspired? How do we know the canon of the Old Testament books? Simply speaking: because God spoke them to us. This communication results in two realities.
First, the canon is an artifact of inspiration. When God spoke to Moses, Moses was responsible to believe what the Lord communicated to him. He didn’t need to see the fulfilment of the promises the Lord gave him in order to believe those promises. Likewise, the prophets spoke for God, and the Jews of their days were responsible to listen to the Word of God through them. Eventually, when their writings were written down, Jesus called out the Pharisees and Sadducees for not listening to and trusting in the Scriptures. Why? Because when God speaks, His sheep listen. The sheep of the Good Shepherd know His voice. This happened in a concrete reality of the old covenant church. So, we want to guard against the Enlightenment trap of doubt, requiring new signs for every single generation to personally experience. It isn’t about our experience. It is about accepting the Word of God, because He can neither deceive nor be deceived.
Therefore, the canon is simply what we call the reality of God speaking to man in some books but not others. If you want to really delve deep into the canon of Scripture, I highly recommend Dr. White’s lectures on it.
Second, when God reveals Himself, it is not in a random or scattered way but within a concrete community and covenant that the Lord reveals Himself. As St. Paul writes,
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? Much every way: first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God. For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written,
‘That thou mightest be justified in thy words,
And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment.’”
To the old covenant Jews, before their apostacy, were the Scriptures entrusted. This happened through those scrolls, and not others, being laid up in the Temple. That is why those writings, and not others, were said to make the hands unclean, for example.
So, what was canonical for the Jews? The Hebrew Bible, without the Apocrypha, was considered canonical. For example, Josephus, a contemporary of Jesus Christ, clearly wrote that:
“we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, but only twenty-two books...five belong to Moses...the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”
These 22 Books, as we will see, excluded the Apocrypha. Now some might argue that it was only true of the Jews in Palestine and not in the Diaspora, such as in Alexandria. While the scholarship is not clear that there was such a thing as an “Alexandrian canon,” even if there was, that’s not how Yahweh’s covenant with His people worked. The focal point of old covenant worship and doctrine was found in the Temple, located in Jerusalem, in Palestine. What matters is what is laid up in the Temple there. Because of that, if a custom developed only outside of Jerusalem, we should be suspicious of it. That shows it developed outside of Our Lord’s covenant with the old covenant Church.
And as we saw in Josephus, the only books we know to have been laid up in the Temple are the 22 Books.
Now, if you look in your Old Testament, you’ll find more books than that. So, what are the 22? Well, the Jews categorised the Hebrew Bible differently than we do.
It was divided into three categories: the Torah (or the Law), the Nevi’im (or the Prophets), and the Ketuvim (or the Writings). The Torah has the five books of Moses. The Nevi’im has Joshua, Judges (with Ruth included), 1& 2 Samuel counted as one, 1 & 2 Kings counted as one, Isaiah, Jeremiah & Lamentations counted as one, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the 12 Minor Prophets counted as one book.
You start to see here, especially with 12 Prophets being counted as one book, how they have a lower number. Interestingly enough, this also served as a catechetical tool. With 22 books, there were the same number of books as letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
So, is that it? The new covenant comes, Christ’s Church is established, and the Hebrew Bible is accepted as the Old Testament? Well, yes and no. Because of the Apocrypha’s inclusion in the Septuagint, Christians had access to them and read them, like the Jews. It isn’t clear to all Christians exactly what to make of those books, whether they were accepted by the Jews or not and whether they should consider them inspired. So, while most Church Fathers accepted the Hebrew canon, Africa and sometimes Rome accepted a longer canon.
Notice that not everyone who accepts a longer canon accepts the whole Apocrypha, present in the Septuagint and Vulgate. Usually, they accept some but not others, depending on how influential a book was, which books of the Apocrypha their library had, etc.
So, why is Africa different? Why do some accept the Apocrypha but not others? St. Augustine seems to show the custom and beliefs accepted broadly in the African Church which had three concerns:
1. The Legend of Aristeas
2. Jewish Acceptance
3. Ecclesiastical Acceptance
First, the Legend of Aristeas could be considered the “creation myth” of the Greek Septuagint. The legend goes that 72 translators were commissioned to translate the Jewish Scriptures separately. In 72 days, they finish and come together to find that they translated the Scriptures exactly the same! This is a sign that this translation (the Septuagint) is not merely a translation but, in some way, a work of God. While the legend certainly provides witness to a real event, it was probably just the Torah that was translated, not the whole Hebrew Scriptures, nevermind the Apocrypha. We know this, because we have copies of the Septuagint which differ from each other. There was a history to the Septuagint, with more works being translated and added over time, some differing more or less from the others. For example, the apocryphal book of Tobit has two different editions with differing details, depending on which manuscript of the Septuagint you read.
However, as we’ll see, it seems that St. Augustine took this legend very seriously.
Second, and this is really interesting, it seems that St. Augustine thought that the Jews accepted every book in the Septuagint as canonical. Remember: he didn’t know Hebrew and his Greek wasn’t that great either. Furthermore, he was disconnected from the Jewish community at the time, nevermind the Jews of Our Lord’s time.
Third, St. Augustine was concerned with what the churches accepted. However, due to limits in communication, there was not a shared list of canons that the churches passed around. That’s simply wasn’t a concern for the early churches.
So, what does St. Augustine actually say about all this? Well, in his On Christian Doctrine, he writes:
“And if, as is reported, and as many not unworthy of confidence assert, they were separated during the work of translation, each man being in a cell by himself, and yet nothing was found in the manuscript of any one of them that was not found in the same words and in the same order of words in all the rest, who dares put anything in comparison with an authority like this, not to speak of preferring anything to it? And even if they conferred together with the result that a unanimous agreement sprang out of the common labor and judgment of them all; even so, it would not be right or becoming for any one man, whatever his experience, to aspire to correct the unanimous opinion of many venerable and learned men.”
As we can see, his preference for the Septuagint relied heavily on this legend. Of course, he was not aware of the history of the transmission of the Jewish texts. This is what he knew, and it majorly impacted his view of the Old Testament canon. Here, we need to recognise that just because a Church Father, even a saint, accepted a legend as true, that doesn’t mean we should. In fact, here’s the same issue we saw before. Can God work outside of His covenant? Of course. But once you start ascribing major covenantal events of the Old Testament outside of Jerusalem, or depending on historical narratives outside of Scripture, you’ll run into some problems.
For example, St. Irenaeus believed that the Apostles taught that Jesus died in His 50s. However, that would mean that He was milling about the earth 20 years after His Resurrection, while the Scriptures teach otherwise. Does that make him an heretic? Not at all. However, sometimes, even great saints have blind spots or exaggerations.
Going back to the Septuagint, that isn’t all St. Augustine has to say. He continues:
“Wherefore, even if anything is found in the original Hebrew in a different form from that in which these men have expressed it, I think we must give way to the dispensation of Providence which used these men to bring it about, that books which the Jewish race were unwilling, either from religious scruple or from jealousy, to make known to other nations, were, with the assistance of the power of King Ptolemy, made known so long beforehand to the nations which in the future were to believe in the Lord. And thus it is possible that they translated in such a way as the Holy Spirit, who worked in them and had given them all one voice, thought most suitable for the Gentiles. But nevertheless, as I said above, a comparison of those translators also who have kept most closely to the words, is often not without value as a help to the clearing up of the meaning. The Latin texts, therefore, of the Old Testament are, as I was about to say, to be corrected if necessary by the authority of the Greeks, and especially by that of those who, though they were seventy in number, are said to have translated as with one voice.”
Here we see that the questions: were the 72 translators guided by the Holy Ghost? & what did the Jews believe about the canon? Are intimately related. Because of the Legend of Aristeas, St. Augustine believed that the Jews accepted all the books which were in his copy of the Septuagint and were accepted by the old covenant Jews.
This leads to the final concern: what did other churches accept as the Old Testament? St. Augustine writes,
“Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and to receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such as are held by the smaller number and those of less authority. If, however, he shall find that some books are held by the greater number of churches, and others by the churches of greater authority (though this is not a very likely thing to happen), I think that in such a case the authority on the two sides is to be looked upon as equal.”
So, part of the Catholic Church discerning the canon of Scripture is actively listening to the Good Shepherd’s voice, witnessed in how the Holy Ghost moves in particular churches. And here we see a very interesting connexion once we look at those other churches. Why do those other Churches not accept the Apocrypha as inspired? It is because they do not believe that the old covenant Jews accepted it as Scripture. Here we see common ground and the way to reconcile these two views.
For example, let’s look at the earliest Church Father who spoke on the canon of the Old Testament, Melito of Sardis. As he writes,
“Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting: Since you have often, in your zeal for the word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour and concerning our entire faith, and has also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient book, as regards their number and their order, I have endeavored to perform the task, knowing your zeal for the faith, and your desire to gain information in regard to the word, and knowing that you, in your yearning after God, esteem these things above all else, struggling to attain eternal salvation.”
So, to learn the canon of the Old Testament, where does he go? He goes East. He goes to those who would know the Scriptures. We see the common ground between the different views: which Scriptures were entrusted to the Jews?
Interestingly, he excludes Esther but includes Wisdom of Solomon, yet he excludes the rest of the Apocrypha.
Let’s look to the next witness, Origen. He writes,
“It should be stated that the canonical books, as the Hebrews have handed them down, are twenty-two, corresponding with the number of their letters.”
Here we see that same concern: what did the Jews accept? And he finds what we know the Jews, seen in Josephus, accepted as Scripture, and what was laid up in the Temple: 22 Books.
What about the next oldest: St. Athanasius? He writes,
“There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows.”
Here we see the same reasoning and the same result: 22 Books. However, St. Athanasius strikes a balance. Just because the Apocrypha is not inspired and canonical does not mean that they should not be read. He knows they are in the Septuagint, and that they are good to read, even though they are not equally Scripture. He writes,
“But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.”
Here we see the flexibility of the use of the phrase “Apocrypha.” While the word “Apocrypha” later becomes used in Western canon law to refer to the inter-testamental books not included in the Old Testament, St. Athanasius is using it in a slightly different way to refer to writings like the Gnostic Gospels.
Likewise, St. Cyril of Jerusalem has a general concern for sticking to the inspired writings. He writes,
“Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings: for why dost thou, who knowest not those which are acknowledged among all, trouble thyself in vain about those which are disputed? Read the Divine Scriptures, the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, these that have been translated by the Seventy-two Interpreters.”
St. Jerome ends up striking the balance between what is inspired, what is to be read, and what is to be avoided. He also sets the definition for what “Apocrypha” will mean for the Western Church going forward. He writes,
“That the Hebrews have twenty-two letters is testified by the Syrian and Chaldæan languages which are nearly related to the Hebrew, for they have twenty-two elementary sounds which are pronounced the same way, but are differently written . . . so we reckon twenty-two books, by which, as by the alphabet of the doctrine of God, a righteous man is instructed in tender infancy, and, as it were, while still at the breast . . . This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a ‘helmeted’ introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which generally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon.”
Likewise, in his preface to the books of Solomon, he writes:
“Also included is the book of the model of virtue (παναρετος) Jesus son of Sirach, and another falsely ascribed work (ψευδεπιγραφος) which is titled Wisdom of Solomon. The former of these I have also found in Hebrew, titled not Ecclesiasticus as among the Latins, but Parables, to which were joined Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, as though it made of equal worth the likeness not only of the number of the books of Solomon, but also the kind of subjects. The second was never among the Hebrews, the very style of which reeks of Greek eloquence. . . . Therefore, just as the Church also reads the books of Judith, Tobias, and the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the the canonical Scriptures, so also one may read these two scrolls for the strengthening of the people, (but) not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.”
Here, we see that St. Jerome names these books “Apocrypha.” They are not the 22 Books of the Hebrew Bible. And they are good to read, but they are not inspired. Keep in mind, and this is important, the Apocrypha rightly is called Scripture. Scripture simply means “writing.” These are certainly written and were rightly included in his Vulgate Bible. What St. Jerome recognises is that this section of the Bible, these Scriptures, are not inspired but are merely ecclesiastical, that is, useful for use in the Catholic Church but not to establish doctrine.
This same argument is continued into the Council of Laodicea, Pope St. Gregory the Great, and St. John Damascene who make the same arguments, as seen on the screen.
Here we see where the confusion comes from. The Church Fathers were always concerned with what the old covenant Jews (not the apostate Jews) saw as canonical. However, as we know, it was the Hebrew Bible (the 22 Books alone) that were laid up in the Temple.
And this doctrine continues in the Catholic Church: the Bible contains three parts: the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. Only the Old Testament and New Testament are inspired Scriptures. And the Apocrypha, while not inspired, is Scripture useful and to be read in the churches. For example, in the Gratian Decretals, a medieval commentary reads:
"The Wisdom of Solomon, . . . Ecclesiasticus, the book of Judith, the book of Tobit, and the books of Maccabees are called apocrypha. Nevertheless they are read but not, perhaps, generally."
And this doctrines continues in the Catholic Church until it is rejected by the Roman Church at the Council of Trent. Accepting the inspiration of the Apocrypha is not traditional; it is not patristic. Instead, the traditional, patristic doctrine of Scripture is to accept the Apocrypha and have it in our Bibles but to give it a secondary, non-inspired place.
I hope this video is helpful for those of you who really care about this. It really is a bit more complicated than people think. Please comment below if you have any thoughts or questions. God Bless.