Hello, my question is about apocrypha. I know that it is a collection of books that most Christians don't believe to be canonical. I would like to know why that is and I can't seem to get a good answer from anyone I talk to. I know that some denominations believe they are as good as any other scripture in the Bible and at the end of the Bible it states that no one shall remove anything from it. So if these books are scripture then why do so many believe they are not? This has been on my mind for awhile, I believe that all scripture is good and just for teaching and if there's a whole collection of books that have been left out then we should be studying them and learning from them.
There are two things to distinguish here in the term “apocrypha,” which means hidden.
First, there is an official list of books that are accepted by the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church but not by most Protestants. Many Bible translations can be purchased either with our without them included. This set of writings is called the Apocrypha. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
That first group of writings gets confused with others because writings that are outside of the canon entirely are often called “apocryphal” (small a). That includes all kinds of things and shouldn’t be confused with the specific group of texts that appears in many Bibles.
So, going back to the Apocrypha (capital A). These are writings from what Christians would consider the Old Testament period. Some are complete books and others are additional portions of books already in the Bible (like Daniel and Esther, for example). For centuries scholars have argued about what to do with them. The questions arose because, unlike the rest of the Old Testament, we don’t have any copies of these writings in Hebrew. They’re all in Greek, primarily composed in the couple hundred years before the birth of Christ. The canon of the Hebrew Bible (the Jewish scriptures which are basically our Old Testament in a different order and with some differences) was set before the texts in the Apocrypha were written, so we also can’t rely on the acceptance of Judaism to validate them. They are not Scripture for the Jews, who don’t consider them divinely inspired.
When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin (a fourth-century translation called the Vulgate), he wasn’t sure what to do with these books. They were widely used in the church, so he didn’t want to exclude them, but since the Old Testament was basically the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew Bible didn’t include them, he was unsure what to do. So he included them but put them in a separate section.
In time, the Catholic and Orthodox traditions fully embraced them, so their Bibles include the writings where they would belong—as opposed to being set apart in a separate section. They call them the Deuterocanonical books—a second canon, basically. Protestants have done different things with them. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he adopted Jerome’s solution of a separate section for them and when you find the Apocrypha in Bibles used by Protestants today, that’s still where they sit…in the middle in-between the Old and New Testaments. Some Protestant traditions don’t think they should be in there and so you also have lots of Bibles that don’t include them at all.
I have read them all and encourage Christians to do the same. For starters, there’s a whole bunch of history in the four books of the Maccabees that give some great context for what was happening in the period right before Jesus was born. It’s much easier to understand what Jesus’ world was like politically when you have that history. Did you know Judas was named for a war hero? The history of the Hanukkah holiday is here, also.
There are also some great stories, wisdom literature, and a fantastic chapter added to the book of Daniel where Daniel exposes the farce of one of the gods of Babylon. In a Catholic Bible it shows up as the 14th chapter of Daniel and the story is called Bel and the Dragon. You can read it online here: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=DIV1&byte=4210813.
There is also some evidence that Paul was familiar with these writings and perhaps references them in places in the New Testament, although those references are disputed.
If you’re interested, the first volume in a Bible study series that I wrote and the Massachusetts Bible Society published outlines how the entire canon of Scripture was decided, including the questions about the Apocrypha. You can find it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0990721205/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1. The Old Testament volume in that series covers the contents of all of the Apocrypha in addition to the regular books of the OT. Here’s the link to that one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/099072123X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.
Lastly, the words you reference at the end of the book of Revelation about not changing anything refer only to the book of Revelation. Because Revelation sits at the end of the Bible, it’s easy to forget you’re reading a whole library of texts that are bound together rather than one integrated work. The writer of Revelation wasn’t sitting there with all the scrolls for all the other books, somehow knowing that his would one day be bound at the close of a thing called the Bible. That verse means nothing should be changed within the book of Revelation, not that the canon of all of Scripture was closed.
-- Rev. Anne Robertson - Executive Director - Massachusetts Bible Society