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Should We Embrace the Apocrypha as Inspired and Authoritative Scripture?

I’ve been slowly working my way through John Piper’s excellent new book, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (Crossway). In one of the early chapters Piper asks and answers the question: Which Books Make Up the Old Testament? Continue reading . . . 

I’ve been slowly working my way through John Piper’s excellent new book, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (Crossway). In one of the early chapters Piper asks and answers the question: Which Books Make Up the Old Testament?

Protestant Christians have traditionally affirmed that there are 39 books in what we call the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. These constitute what we call the “canon” of Scripture. Besides the 39 books that are in our Old Testament, other Jewish books were written in the period between the two testaments, among which were such as 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. These additional writings were called the Apocrypha, a word that in Greek means hidden or secret or obscure. Should we affirm these books, together with the 39 we already recognize as Scripture, as inspired and authoritative for the beliefs and behavior of Christian people? No.

Piper proceeds to cite several reasons why our answer must be No. For example:

(1) “Neither in Jesus’s day nor in ours did the Jewish people consider the Apocrypha to have the authority of the canonical books” (44). He cites several Jewish authors from that time who admit that, after the latter prophets such as Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi had died, the Spirit of God ceased his unique work of inspiring authors of Scripture (until the coming of the Christ).

(2) Piper then quotes Roger Nicole to the effect that “the New Testament quotes various parts of the Old Testament as divinely authoritative more than 295 times, but not once does it cite any statement from the books of the Apocrypha, or any other writings, as having divine authority” (45). It is true that Jude (vv. 14-15) quotes from 1 Enoch 60:8 and 1:9, and that Paul quotes pagan authors in Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12, “but none of these citations is quoted as Scripture or as having divine authority” (45).

(3) Timothy had been carefully instructed in “the sacred writings” (2 Tim. 3:14-15) by his Jewish mother and grandmother. “Therefore, there is good reason to believe that he had been raised as a good Jew with the understanding that the Hebrew canon, not the Apocrypha, was the inspired, authoritative word of God. And as Paul affirms its inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16, he makes no attempt to include any other books than those that would be assumed as part of the ‘sacred writings’ of his and Timothy’s Jewish upbringing” (46).

(4) In all the disputes between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of his day there is no record that they differed on the extent of the Scriptures. Jesus assumed that their Bible was his Bible. And “given Jesus’s pervasive dependence on the Hebrew Scriptures, it is almost certain that Jesus would have been criticized by his adversaries if he took the position that the Jewish Scriptures should be supplemented by other books such as the Apocrypha. There is no evidence that Jesus did so. And there is no evidence that he was ever criticized for his understanding of the extent of the Hebrew canon. Jesus and his adversaries disagreed over the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, not their scope” (46).

(5) When Jesus referred to the whole Hebrew Bible he used terms that reflect the standard Jewish division into Law, Prophets, and Writings (see Luke 24:44). In this passage in Luke, Jesus spoke of the “Psalms” instead of the “Writings” because the “Psalms was the first and the largest book in the Writings and probably came to stand for the whole” (47). We then read in Luke 24:45 that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” In other words, “what Jesus had just designated ‘Law of Moses, Prophets, and Psalms,’ Luke now calls ‘the Scriptures’” (47).

(6) Additional proof that Jesus’s Bible consisted of only the books of the Hebrew Bible, and not the apocryphal books of the Septuagint, “is the assumption he shared with his people that the Bible began with Genesis and closed with 2 Chronicles (unlike the Septuagint)” (47). This is seen in Luke 11:49-51 where Jesus spoke of the blood of the prophets extending “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (not the Zechariah who wrote the book that bears his name). If we should wonder why Zechariah is treated as the final prophet in the line of those martyred, “the reason is that 2 Chronicles, where Zechariah’s murder is described, was the last book of the Hebrew canon. So when Jesus said, ‘from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah,’ he meant all the prophets from the beginning to the end of the Bible – the Hebrew Scriptures. This means that Jesus was using the Hebrew Bible, which, unlike the Septuagint, ended with Chronicles” (48).

(7) Finally, the NT authors often quoted from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) which itself contains the Apocrypha. But nowhere do the NT authors cite any Apocryphal book as Scripture.

So, should we embrace the Apocrypha as inspired and authoritative Scripture, as does the Roman Catholic Church? No. Only the 66 books of the Protestant canon warrant that place in our lives.

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