History of the Bible and the books called Apocrypha
Most translations of our current "modern" Bible only contain 66 books. Let's see what happened...
"Apocrypha" comes from the Greek word apokrypha [aipovkrufo], which means "things that are hidden, secret."
The books known as the Apocrypha:
The Rest of Esther
The Wisdom of Solomon
Wisdom of Sirach - also called Ecclesiasticus (written by Joshua)
Letter of Jeremiah
The Prayer of Azariah/Song of the Three (Shadrach [Hananiah], Meshach [Mishael], & Abednego [Azariah] )
Susanna (more from Daniel)
Bel and the Dragon (more from Daniel)
The Prayer of Manasseh
Let's dig into the history and discover the truth about these books and the people involved in determining their "authenticity" and "canonicity". As always, don't take our word for it. Be sure to test all things yourself, and hold fast to what is true and good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
The apocryphal books were included in the greek translation of the Old Testament, named the Septuagint or LXX (70). That translation came from the original Old Testament Scriptures - which Yahusha/Jesus and his apostles would've studied. Since the Septuagint was the Old Testament translated into Greek, it was likely the Bible of the apostle Paul and the gentiles who only understood Greek. Long story short - those 18 books were part of the original scriptures and were used in the New Testament churches in the days of the apostles.
What is the canon? The apostles did not leave a defined set of new scriptures; instead the canon (rule) of the Bible developed over time and was set as the authoritative rule in....
On August 28, 397AD, the Council of Carthage held an assembly in Africa. They made a canon (rule) that the New Testament books should be put together with the Old Testament and officially "canonized" as one giant book.
A section from their council code/canon:
"It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two books of Paraleipomena, Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John. Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon, because we have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church."
Let's take a quick look at the 5 laws of canonicity:
1. Is it authoritative (“Thus saith the Lord”)?
2. Is it prophetic (“a man of God” 2 Peter 1:20)?
3. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?
4. Is it dynamic – demonstrating God’s life-changing power (Hebrew 4:12)?
5. Is it received (accepted and used by believers – 1 Thessalonians 2:13)?
405AD-Latin Vulgate = The standard Bible for the Western world
Jerome finished translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew text into Latin. He called his translation the Vulgate, and it became the standard bible for the western world. It included 78 books.
The Old Testament divided into verses by the Ben Asher family.
The Bible was divided into chapters by Stephen Langton. The Bible he used was the Latin Vulgate by Jerome.
Towards the end of John Wycliffe's life, he translated the Bible into Middle English. A few years later, after he passed away, his translation was revised and re-written by others. The Wycliffe team worked directly from the Latin Vulgate (78 books).
In addition, Wycliffe included not only what came to be called the Apocrypha, he threw in "Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans" as a bonus.
1534 - Apocrypha first printed as a separate section in the Bible
Martin Luther translated the Bible into German and released it in 1534. His Bible was the first major edition to have a separate section called "Apocrypha". He moved those books out of the Old Testament, placed them between the Old and New Testaments, and labeled them "The Apocrypha". He also considered moving the book of Esther to the apocrypha section because it doesn't mention God (but "The Rest of Esther" does!!).
Luther also expressed some doubts about the canonicity of four New Testament books: Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He did not put them in a separate named section, but he did move them to the end of his New Testament.
In his preface to the New Testament, Luther gave several books of the New Testament different degrees of doctrinal value. Here's what he said about the book of James:
"In a word, St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle (1st John), St. Paul’s epistles - especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it"
Here's what Luther said about the book of Hebrews:
"Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them, but accept this fine teaching with all honor; though, to be sure, we cannot put it [Hebrews] on the same level with the apostolic epistles."
Here's what he said about the books he called Apocrypha:
"Apocrypha are books which are not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read."
It's important for us to know his opinion if we want to understand why he removed books out of the Old Testament.
1546-The Council of Trent keeps the apocrypha in the canon
The council of Trent deemed to keep all the scriptures including apocrypha..
"And it has thought that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one's mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.
Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.
Let all, therefore, understand, in what order, and in what manner, the said Synod, after having laid the foundation of the Confession of faith, will proceed, and what testimonies and authorities it will mainly use in confirming dogmas, and in restoring morals in the Church."
1551- New Testament divided into verses
Modern verse division for the New Testament was the work of Robert Stephanus (Stephens), a French printer. He divided the Greek text into verses for his Greek New Testament published.
The original authors of Scripture did not intend that their writings be divided up into chapters or verses. They intended that the books be read straight through from the beginning. A number of the books of Scripture can be read through in one sitting. This is the best way to discover what the author is trying to say.
Dividing up the Scripture into chapters and verses encourages people to read only small parts at a time. This is not always helpful. This is why the Bible should be read the same way as the original authors intended it to be read.
1576 - Geneva Bible
The Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to have both chapter and verse divisions. It was the first to produce an English Old Testament translation entirely from the Hebrew text. It was the first cross-reference bible. Like its predecessors, it included the Apocrypha. It preceded the King James Version by 51 years. It was used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, and John Bunyan - author of "The Pilgrim's Progress (1678). It also was one of the Bibles taken to America on the Mayflower.
Pope Clement Vlll published his revised edition of the Vulgate called the Clementine Vulgate. He moved three books not found in the canon of the Council of Trent from the Old Testament into an appendix "lest they utterly perish". Those 3 books were:
The annotations which are an important part of the Geneva Bible were disliked by King James l, who commissioned the "Authorized Version", called the King James Bible, in order to replace it.
As Alister McGrath was later to note, the King James Version (KJV), or Authorized Version, of the early 1600s (in several editions including the 1611) was not an original translation of the Bible into English but instead a rather whole-scale taking over of Tyndale’s translation with some help from the Geneva Bible and other translations.
The King James Bible followed the lead of the Luther Bible in using an inter-testamental section labeled "Books called Apocrypha". The section contains the following:
- 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
- 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
- Judith ("Judeth" in Geneva)
- Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4 – 16:24)
- Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach)
- Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy ("Jeremiah" in Geneva) (all part of Vulgate Baruch)
- 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
(All King James Bibles published before 1666 included the Apocrypha)
1647 - Apocryphal books removed from the Biblical canon
Later, during the English Civil War, the Westminster Confession of 1647 excluded the Apocrypha from the canon and made no recommendation of the Apocrypha above "other human writings".
Westminster Confession of Faith 1.3 states:
“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”
Thus, Bibles printed by English Protestants who separated from the Church of England began to exclude these books.
The British and Foreign Bible Society (a non-denominational Christian Bible society) threw down the gauntlet and said, “These 66 books and no others.” But this was not the Bible of Luther, Calvin, Knox, or even the Wesleys, who used the Authorized Version.
the National Bible Society of Scotland petitioned the British and Foreign Bible Society not to print the Apocrypha, resulting in a decision that no BFBS funds were to pay for printing any Apocryphal books anywhere. They reasoned that not printing the Apocrypha within the Bible would prove to be less costly to produce. Since that time most modern editions of the Bible and reprintings of the King James Bible omit the Apocrypha section. Many reprintings of older versions of the Bible now omit the apocrypha and many newer translations and revisions have never included them at all.
The American Bible Society lifted restrictions on the publication of Bibles with the Apocrypha. The British and Foreign Bible Society followed two years later in 1966.
The "Expanded Apocrypha" was added to the Revised Standard Version. The 3 additional books called the apocrypha are:
All 18 apocryphal books were also included in the 1989 New Revised Standard Version.
Again, the word apocrypha literally means hidden away.
"In an esteemed sense, these writings were “‘hidden’ or withdrawn from common use because they were regarded as containing mysterious or esoteric lore, too profound to be communicated to any except the initiated."
- Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957)
Other translations that included the apocrypha
Matthews Bible (1537), Great Bible (1539), Geneva Bible (1560), Bishop's Bible (1568), and the King James (1611)
From the beginning, the English bible was translated with the Apocrypha. When the New Testament writers quote the scriptures, they are quoting the Septuagint - which contains the full scriptures (which includes the apocrypha).
So why wouldn't you want to read the FULL and COMPLETE scriptures????
For every believer that has told us "I only read the Bible" or "Sola Scriptura ", they don't even realize that they haven't read the FULL Bible/Scriptures as it was intended for us to read!
Thanks be to Yahuah (LORD) that he is allowing these books to make a comeback, but only the ones seeking will find...
God conceals the revelation of his word in the hiding place of his glory.
But the honor of kings is revealed by how they thoroughly search out the deeper meaning of all that God says. - Proverbs 25:2 TPT
Today, we have over 5,000 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, most of which have been unearthed in the last 150 years and some of which go back to the second and third centuries A.D. We have the discoveries at the Dead Sea providing us with manuscripts more than 1,000 years closer to the original Old Testament source texts than the Masoretic text (the traditional basis for the Old Testament text). God in his providence, is drawing us closer to himself by drawing us closer to the original inspired text in these last days.
"But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the scroll until the end of time. Many will go back and forth and search anxiously [through the scroll], and knowledge [of the purpose of God as revealed by His prophets] will [greatly] increase.” - Daniel 12:4 AMP
There are plenty of writings that form our understanding of history, [man-made] theology, and spirituality. Can the same be said of the Apocrypha? Can it benefit believers in the same way? Read them for yourself and see how the Spirit moves and teaches you!
Click here to read on our website
The Bibles we personally own that include these books:
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Cepher Bible (87 books)
Some reviews about the books called Apocrypha from fellow believers:
"I'm just finding out about these old books once used and read to the early church and Beyond. I ended up buying the books on Audible for my long travels to work. Also because I find it very difficult to read at home. This audiobook was very long, so I figured it was well worth the purchase and all the content I would receive. Well I must say I was just floored and filled with so much excitement and joy and all I was hearing for the first time. I haven't felt this way in many years as the Holy Spirit stirred in me. I couldn't control my emotions at all! I could barely drive my car as I wept uncontrollably in all I heard. I felt like a child hearing a story for the first time as I was filled with wonder and awestruck. I listened intently to each Stories the time flew by. My Hunger to hear more grew intensely as each chapter was so rich and so intense. Why haven't I ever heard about this till now I kept thinking. So life moving, so much depth and awe-inspiring!" - T. Holland
"I can say so much as to how this has moved me and has opened up a deeper hunger to dig deep into the mysteries of the Lord. But I think that beautiful journey is something each believer deserves to have one-on-one with the Spirit. This is definitely something beautiful and needed for all people who hunger to understand the Bible on a deeper level. This might not be for all, but for those who it's for - it will change your life! I haven't been this excited in years! It's like a new spiritual door has been open and God's revealing so much of himself to me in a beautiful and intimate way. This experience was priceless!" - Carla Nichols
"I don't understand why many say it's not scripture, I completely disagree. I've learned more and got the understanding bridging the Old and New Testaments together. I recommend this to all believers." - Darrell
Most if not all of this should be included in the Bible in my opinion. Especially since most of it was in the Bible at one point. I think reading this helps form many connections throughout the Bible and history that are missing in the mainstream 66 books. These should be required reading for Christians as it has helped greatly strengthen my faith. - Dean G.
I bought a book with the apocrypha specifically because I wanted to read the prayer of Mannasah that touched the heart of God. What I didn't expect was to be taken on a journey as old as time itself, which opened up my knowledge and understanding about a lot of Biblical text and characters. I think, to some extent, the canonization did us all some injustice with what was left out. It serves it purpose however because maybe we could not handle the revelations the apocrypha brings to the table. Thank God we can handle it now and I highly recommend that every believer in Christ read the apocrypha along with the Bible because all Scriptures are indeed spiritually inspired and good for doctrine, correction, etc. - C. Orville