Another Poor Discussion of the Apocrypha

One of my goals this year is to read the Apocrypha. Because of this I’m especially alert to discussions of the Apocrypha. I was looking through Josh and Sean McDowell’s new book The Bible Handbook of Difficult Verses and noticed they had a brief treatment on it. I realize that books of this nature are necessarily short and can’t always be as nuanced as one might like but their discussion of the Apocrypha struck me as particularly poor. I want to make four observations:

They state that the “Apocrypha contains 14 books” and list them as follows:

  • First Esdras
  • Second Esdras
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Additions to Esther
  • The Wisdom of Solomon
  • Ecclesiasticus
  • Baruch
  • Susanna
  • Bel and the Dragon (additions to Daniel)
  • The Song of the Three Hebrew Children (additions to Daniel)
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • First Maccabees
  • Second Maccabees

First of all these are not all “books.” Some are additions to books as they note with Bel and the Dragon and The Song of the Three Hebrew Children which are properly speaking parts of Daniel. Why they don’t note that Susanna is also an addition to Daniel is curious. Both Protestants and Catholics agree on the canonicity of Esther and Daniel but they differ on which edition is canonical. David deSilva explains,

“Daniel and Esther, for example, exist in two forms: the shorter, Hebrew texts and the longer, Greek texts. If Daniel, then, is considered sacred, in which form will it be thus considered? There is evidence that the Greek-speaking Jew, while not regarding books such as 1 Maccabees and Ben Sira as sacred or as part of the core of authoritative texts, would nevertheless regard the Greek form of Daniel this way.” (Introducing the Apocrypha, p.28)

Second, whose list is this? It is not a Catholic collection which accepts only seven of the books on the list. They don’t accept First Esdras, Second Esdras or the Prayer of Manasseh. They do accept the additions to Esther and Daniel but don’t list them as separate books. The Orthodox canon also includes Third Maccabees and Fourth Maccabees among others. So I’m not sure why they picked these 14 books out as “the” Apocrypha.

Third, most disturbing to me is the blanket statement that “the early Church Fathers excluded these added books entirely.” (307) This simply is not the case. The only people they cite in particular are Josephus, Philo and Jerome. But as church historian J.N.D. Kelly wrote:

“In the first two centuries at any rate the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. . . The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary.” (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 54)

And he notes, “For the great majority, however, the deutero-canonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.” (Emphasis mine. 55) Whether or not they are right with regard to Josephus, Philo and Jerome; the books of the Apocrypha were not “excluded . . . entirely” by the early Church Fathers.

Finally, they state that “Jesus never cited any books other than the current 39 books of the Old Testament to indicate there was any other literature that was also God-inspired. And by using the phrase ‘all the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:27) in regard to the Old Testament he showed that he accepted the same completed Jewish canon as did Judaism at that time.” (306) Two comments are called for. 1) The reader could get the impression that Jesus quoted all 39 books of the Old Testament. It is true that we have no recorded quotes from Jesus of the Apocrypha books. However, there are some books of the Protestant canon which Jesus did not quote such as Joshua, Judges or Esther. 2) The McDowells fail to mention here that many of Jesus’ quotations come from the Septuagint which included the Apocrypha. They do acknowledge this earlier in the book, “Jesus accepted the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew text and quoted frequently from it.” (146) Lee MacDonald says that “we cannot reconstruct Jesus’ ‘biblical canon.’” He further notes that it was unlikely that the Old Testament was closed by the days of Jesus and earliest Christians. (Formation of the Bible, pp. 63-64)

I started this post by recognizing that handbooks can’t be as thorough in every discussion as one might like. Brevity is almost a necessity. However, this discussion warrants a little more attention or at least a couple of caveats.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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5 Responses to Another Poor Discussion of the Apocrypha

  1. Clay Knick says:

    deSilva’s the man as far as the Apocrypha is concerned. What translation of the Apocrypha are you using?


    • Louis says:

      Hi Clay,
      I agree that deSilva is very good. I’m enjoying his works a lot. For my Apocrypha reading I’m using the Complete Parallel Bible which has the NRSV, REB, NAB and the New Jerusalem Bible. Of the four I like the New Jerusalem quite and bit and the REB (Revised English Bible). The NAB is the older edition so I sometimes compare it to the newer edition. I was speeding along quite nice but have slowed considerably in Sirach but I’m almost done with it. I loved both Tobit and Judith. The additions to Esther were very enlightning. I had hoped to do some posts as I was reading through but gave up on the idea. I may do a summary of reflections when I’m done.


      • Clay Knick says:

        deSilva, as you probably know, was one of the translators of the Apocrypha in the CEB & ESV. He still prefers the NRSV, I believe. I have that parallel Bible, too. Very nice.


  2. Clay Knick says:

    He has a recent one on the Apocrypha that is quite good.


    • Clay Knick says:

      Of course you know that, you sell books! I’m thinking of his newest, too, not the one he did with you folks at Baker.


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