Bible Apocrypha

Are there other books of the bible besides the 66 canonical ones? There are various groups of non-canon books all with different classifications. Today we are going to talk about the Bible Apocrypha. Apocrypha is a term for works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin.

There are four categories of bible books:
1) Homologounmena: books that weren’t debated at all, which is most of the bible.

2) Antilogoumena: books that did make it into the main bible canon but were originally debated, like Hebrews, James, Jude, 2nd & 3rd John, 2 Peter, Revelation. As well as some OT prophecy books like Ezekiel, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Ester, and Proverbs.

3)Pseudepigrapha: Books that were written way later than the new testament, usually falsely written in the names of the apostles way after they died. These books also philosophically contradict the bible because they have a lot of gnostic elements. Includes the gospel of Judas, Thomas, the Book of Truth, and more.

4)Apocrypha: These books were written between the Old and New Testaments. These are in Catholic and in orthodox bibles but not in protestant bibles. They were even in the original versions of the KJV, however, it is believed by many modern theologians that they were not spiritually inspired. These are debated still today.

Let’s focus on the Apocrypha. There were apocryphal 14 books in the original KJV. They are 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras), 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras), Tobit, Judith (“Judeth” in Geneva), Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4 – 16:24), Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach), Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy (“Jeremiah” in Geneva), Song of the Three Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24–90), Story of Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13), The Idol Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14), Prayer of Manasseh (Daniel), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees. There are other books that are in the Latin Vulgate as well but these are the bulk. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), excluded the Apocrypha from the canon because they believed they were not spiritually inspired. So bibles printed by English Protestants who separated from the Church of England began to exclude these books.

Some of them are more historical than religious, like secular history books. The Books of Maccabees 1 and 2, for example, include historical events like the revolt of Judah Maccabee which is retold in the story of Hanukkah. One of the Apocryphal books is mentioned in Jude, he references The First Book of Enoch, but he doesn’t extrapolate anything for the new covenant, but rather just uses it to reiterate historical events to illustrate a point about the paring of spiritual rebellion with natural rebellion. The tricky thing about the book of Enoch is that there are three of them and they all have major differences between them, so it’s hard to know which one is the true version, although from what I’ve read it seems the First Enoch is the most popular.

Did Jesus reference the Apocrypha?
Jesus says in Luke 24:44 “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” When Jesus says this he is talking about the Tanakh. The 5 laws books (Torah), the Prophetic books (Nevi’im), and the writings/psalms (Ketuvim). This is the TaNaKh which is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim, also known as the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament in Christian Bibles.

In Matt 23:35 (and Luke 11:49-51), Jesus references the history of martyrs recorded in the bible from Abel who is murdered by Cain in Genesis 4, to Zechariah son of Berekiah, who is the author of Zechariah. Zechariah and Malachi were post-exile prophets, and their books are the last of the old testament prophets chronologically. This was around the time of Ezra & Nehemiah, and the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple in the 6th to 5th century BC. The last books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) were written at this time, and the Gospels start just under 500 years later so the Apocrypha was written in this time gap. So it seems Jesus only considers the Tanakh scripture and not the Apocrypha after he never quotes it in the Gospels. There is some debate about Zechariah’s identity, while the latest Greek manuscripts do say Berekiah, some earlier ones say Zechariah son of Jehoiada, whose death was actually recorded in the bible in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. This Zechariah was killed before the Babylonian exile, meanwhile, the book of Zechariah was written by a post-exile prophet. However, the argument that Jesus didn’t acknowledge the Apocrypha is not affected since the death of Zechariah son of Jehoiada is recorded in Chronicles, which is the last book in the Tanakh, so it still ends around the same time in history.

There are 24 books in the Tanakh, 5 in the Torah, 8 in the Nevi’im, and 11 in the Ketuvim. A first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in “Against Apion Book 1”, says there are 22 books, in the Tanakh. Some have suggested Ruth was a part of Judges and Lamentations part of Jeremiah at the time, as an explanation for the count being 2 books short. Others have said that at Josephus’ time, Ester and Ecclesiastes weren’t canonical, so these two are omitted. Either way, there were 22 counted at the time of Jesus according to Josephus and that did not include the Apocrypha.

The Christian old testament has 39 books because it splits some of the books into smaller parts, like Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles which each have two parts. Or the book Trei Asar (Twelve) which is a composite of 12 prophets from the Old Testament period. In the Christian bibles, those get split into individual prophets like Micah, Hosea, Jonah, etc. So if we combine books that were split, it turns the 19 prophetic books in the Christian bible, into the 8 prophets (Nevi’im) books of the Hebrew Bible: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and The Twelve. The Ketuvim has the rest, Ezra-Nehemiah, Ruth, Lamentations, Chronicles, Daniel, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Job, and Ester which is 11 books. 11 writings plus 8 prophets equals 19 books. Then add that to the 5 books of Moses in the Torah and we get 24. Side Note: Daniel was not a part of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, instead his book was in the writings. The only explanation I could find for this was that Daniel was a “seer” and not a prophet since he did not preach to the people like the other prophets.

It seems to me that Apocrypha is either true but irrelevant to Christianity or a bunch of man-made commentary or filler canon that includes some historical writings. Jesus only references the writings of Moses (Torah), the Prophets, and the Psalms. Typically he calls out the Law and Prophets (Matt 7:12, 22:34-40, Luke 16:16 & 29). I see no reason to believe the Apocrypha has any sculptural authority, but they are useful for insight into the cultural beliefs of 2nd temple Judaism and theological insight into the life of the Jews at the time of Jesus. In other words, they have value but we don’t need to stake our theology on them.

As for the reference to First Enoch 1:9 by Jude in Jude 1:14-15, is that really an important theological spiritual reference, or is it more of a cultural reference? Jude was making about how living in sin and rebellion against God as a human, will cause one to get the same judgment as the heavenly rebels when they sinned against God in Genesis 6. Paul quotes Greek poets like Epimenides in Titus 1:12 and Acts 17:28. In Titus, he is making a point about Cretan Christians distinguishing themselves from the stereotypical Cretan, because Cretans were known to be untrustworthy liars according to Epimenedes who himself was a Cretan. Acts 17:28 also quotes Epimenides saying “In him[God] we live and move and have our being” when talking to the Epicureans and Stoics about the gospel. He wanted to show that all humanity is unified as one blood from Adam created by God and we are his “offspring” which appeals to some greek beliefs about being connected to Zeus (patron god of Crete). Furthermore, in 2 Peter 2:4 the Greek word Tartarus (ταρταρώσας) is used where English translations say hell. In this verse, Peter is referring to fallen angels bound in hell awaiting judgment day. In Greek myth, the word Tartarus refers to (from Wiki): “the deep abyss that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans. Tartarus is the place where, according to Plato’s Gorgias (c. 400 BC), souls are judged after death and where the wicked received divine punishment.” Peter could have been using this word to equivalate the Titans with the Nephilim. This is the only time Tartarus is used in the new testament it too seems like a cultural reference to help connect with Gentiles.

When Christian missionaries traveled the world and encountered various languages, cultures, and religions, they needed to learn their words and belief systems in order to find equivalent concepts and words, so that they could share the gospel with them effectively. So Peter is likely using this Greek myth word to explain the fact that while Judeo-Christianity is monotheistic, there are other spiritual beings, but none of them are considered gods. These beings are creations and servants of God like us, but when they rebel they don’t get a second chance and are waiting for judgment in a harsher prison separate from the place of the rebellious humans who rejected God’s mercy and salvation awaiting their own judgment. Neither Peter nor Paul was interested in syncretism with Greek myth, it seems more like the cultural reference is simply a way to connect with an audience. Jude was reaching out to the Jews of his time who were familiar with the apocryphal stories like the Book of Enoch which expounds upon Genesis 6, so he made a point to use that to connect to the idea of our sin being an equivalent act of rebellion and we must repent and stay holy since Christ paid for us to be free from sin.

Some more resources on the topic:
“According to Gerald A. Larue, Josephus’ listing represents what came to be the Jewish canon, although scholars were still wrestling with problems of the authority of certain writings at the time that he was writing. Significantly, Josephus characterizes the 22 books as canonical because they were divinely inspired; he mentions other historical books that were not divinely inspired and that he, therefore, did not believe belonged in the canon.”
Read More from the Wiki page on the Hebrew Bible Canon

More resources:
This video goes over the first three categories of bible books
A Video on The Book of First Enoch
A Video on the Second Book of Enoch
AiG Article on why there are 66 books in Christian bibles
Commentaries on Matthew 23:35 provide more info on the Zechariah debate
A video on the subject of the Apocrypha