Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Truth About the Apocrypha: A Bible History Lesson

When I was in college, as an English major, I took a class called "The Bible as Literature." The English Bible that we used contained a section called the Apocrypha. I only knew about the Old and New Testaments. What was this mysterious group of books? It stayed in the back of my mind but did not come up often. Occasionally I would come across a reference to Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) or The Book of Wisdom, and I would wonder what these books were. They were not in my Bible. At some point I heard the Apocrypha mentioned as a set of books added to the Bible by Catholics. Those Catholics had their own Bible! Of course this was not the real Bible, so I would not give much attention to such books, thinking them to be inauthentic. I was under the wrong impression, as I'm sure many Christians are, so here I will provide the history of the Apocrypha. ( I have paraphrased and used direct quotes from Born Evangelical, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie in this essay.)

The first Bibles were all produced by Catholics. The Catholic priest Bede was the first person to translate any part of the Bible into English, in the eighth century. The printer Gutenberg, who was a Catholic, printed the First Catholic Bible centuries later. In 1478, a Low German Bible was printed, so that any literate German could read it. By the end of the Middle Ages, much of the Bible was available in many European languages. Even Luther admitted years later that we would not even have the Bible without the Catholic Church.  

The Apocrypha relates to seven books (or portions) of the Bible included in the Catholic Old Testament but not in the Protestant version. The Septuagint translation (of the Old Testament) was the accepted Greek Bible of the Jews in Palestine and elsewhere for well over a hundred years before Jesus' birth. Both Jews and Christians accepted it as their Bible for over half a century after the Ascension as well. Its canon (list of included books) is not in doubt. The Septuagint included the seven books of the Apocrypha on equal standing with the rest of the inspired Old Testament. There is no doubt that Jesus and his contemporaries all used the Septuagint. The New Testament writers allude to these apocryphal books over two dozen times.

So what happened?  Beginning with Peter's sermon at Pentecost, the Christians and unbelieving Jews were locked in battle over whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. In their arguments, the Christians used Old Testament prophesies extensively, many of which were in the seven books that Evangelicals now refer to as the Apocrypha. The Jewish leaders revised their canon about A.D. 90 to exclude 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Daniel 13-14, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, and 1 Maccabees. By doing this, they excluded many messianic prophesies. The Christians did not confirm this decision. It is a fact that Jesus, his apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church all used a Bible that included the Apocrypha. The Catholic Church did not add them after the Protestant Reformation. Rather, the reformers took these books out of the canon accepted by the early Church, borrowing instead a canon developed by non-Christian Jews. Why would they do this?!

While the Jews had found the messianic prophesies objectionable, the reformers disliked passages regarding salvation, prayers for the dead, and purgatory. In addition, some reformers planned on printing editions of the New Testament without four of its books--Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, which were to be relegated to an appendix. But without any precedent to point to, those four books were reinserted into the main body of the reformers' Bible. The seven apocryphal books, however, were never returned to the Old Testament.

"For evangelicals and reformers alike, there are not objective criteria sufficient for faith. This is most obvious when we discuss the biblical canon. Evangelicals have no good, objective explanation for accepting the canon they do accept. Catholics did not change the canon of the early Church or the deposit of faith to make them fit preconceived ideas. The fact that the reformers did is one of the saddest chapters in all Christendom."  The Catholic Bible is the complete Bible. Now you know the truth; the lid is off. What will you do?

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