Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off.

The Testimony of the Apocrypha

The Apocrypha clearly and unequivocally prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they should not be included within the inspired OT canon. The following verses demonstrate why:

“and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there SHOULD COME a prophet to tell what to do with them.” 1 Maccabees 4:46

“So they trusted him; but he seized sixty of them and killed them in one day, in accordance with the word which was written, ‘The flesh of thy saints and their blood they poured out round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them.’ Then the fear and dread of them fell upon all the people, for they said, ‘There is no truth or justice in them, for they have violated the agreement and the oath which they swore.’” 1 Maccabees 7:16-18

“Thus there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets CEASED TO APPEAR among them.” 1 Maccabees 9:27

“And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet SHOULD ARISE.” 1 Maccabees 14:41

“Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the HOLY BOOKS which are in our hands,” 1 Maccabees 12:9

“One finds in the records that Jeremiah the prophet ordered those who were being deported to take some of the fire, as has been told, and that the prophet after giving them the law instructed those who were being deported not to forget the commandments of the Lord, nor to be led astray in their thoughts upon seeing the gold and silver statues and their adornment. And with other similar words he exhorted them that the law should not depart from their hearts. It was also in the writing that the prophet, having received an oracle, ordered that the tent and the ark should follow with him, and that he went out to the mountain where Moses had gone up and had seen the inheritance of God. And Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense, and he sealed up the entrance. Some of those who followed him came up to mark the way, but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned of it, he rebuked them and declared: ‘The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated.’ It was also made clear that being possessed of wisdom Solomon offered sacrifice for the dedication and completion of the temple. Just as Moses prayed to the Lord, and fire came down from heaven and devoured the sacrifices, so also Solomon prayed, and the fire came down and consumed the whole burnt offerings. And Moses said, ‘They were consumed because the sin offering had not been eaten.’ Likewise Solomon also kept the eight days. The same things are reported IN THE RECORDS AND IN THE MEMOIRS OF NEHEMIAH, and also that he founded a library and collected THE BOOKS ABOUT THE KINGS AND PROPHETS, AND THE WRITINGS OF DAVID, and LETTERS OF KINGS about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession.” 2 Maccabees 2:1-14

Encouraging them from THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS, and reminding them also of the struggles they had won, he made them the more eager.” 2 Maccabees 15:9

“While he was still with you, he taught you the law and the prophets. He READ to you about Abel slain by Cain, and Isaac who was offered as a burnt offering, and of Joseph in prison. He told you of the zeal of Phineas, and he taught you about Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the fire. He praised Daniel in the den of the lions and blessed him. He reminded you OF THE SCRIPTURE OF ISAIAH, which says, ‘Even though you go through the fire, the flame shall not consume you.’ He sang to you SONGS OF THE PSALMIST DAVID, who said, ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous.’ He recounted to you SOLOMON’S PROVERB, ‘There is a tree of life for those who do his will.’ He confirmed THE SAYING OF EZEKIEL, ‘Shall these dry bones live?’ For he did not forget to teach you THE SONG THAT MOSES TAUGHT, which says, ‘I kill and I make alive: this is your life and the length of your days.’” 4 Maccabees 18:10-19

Not only do these citations refer and appeal to the writings of the OT, thereby clearly distinguishing the Apocrypha from these sacred books, they even admit to being composed at a time when God had stopped raising up prophets for his people.

As such, these books cannot be inspired according to the verses we presented from the NT since according to the Lord and his followers, a writing must have been composed during the time when there were prophets receiving revelation from God in order for it to be considered canonical.   

Moreover, one of the writers of the Apocrypha makes mention of the threefold division of the OT which the Lord Jesus confirmed was already known during his time: 

“Whereas many great teachings have been given to us through THE LAW and THE PROPHETS and THE OTHERS that followed them, on account of which we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom; and since it is necessary not only that the readers themselves should acquire understanding but also that those who love learning should be able to help the outsiders by both speaking and writing, my grandfather Jesus, after devoting himself especially to the reading of THE LAW and THE PROPHETS and THE OTHER BOOKS of our fathers, and after acquiring considerable proficiency in them, was himself also led to write something pertaining to instruction and wisdom, in order that, by becoming conversant with this also, those who love learning should make even greater progress in living according to the law. You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labor in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language. Not only this work, but even THE LAW itself, THE PROPHECIES, and THE REST OF THE BOOKS differ not a little as originally expressed.” Introduction to the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)

This is quite significant since it shows that the author did not view his work as part of this threefold division, but as something distinct from these sacred writings. As Beckwith notes:

“It appears, then, that for this writer there are three groups of books which have a unique authority, and that his grandfather wrote only after gaining great familiarity with them, as their interpreter not as their rival. The translator explicitly distinguishes ‘these things’ (i.e. Ecclesiasticus, or uncanonical Hebrew compositions such as Ecclesiasticus) from ‘the Law itself and the Prophets and the rest of the Books.’ Moreover, he regards even the Hagiographa as ‘ancestral’ (patrivwn) books, long enough esteemed to have been translated into Greek, and their number as complete (‘the others that have followed in their steps’, ‘the other Books of the fathers’, ‘the rest of the Books’). And not only does he state that in his own day there was this threefold canon, distinguished from all other writings, in which even the Hagiographa formed a closed collection of old books, but he implies that such was the case in his grandfather’s time also.” (Beckwith, p. 111; bold emphasis ours)

And here is what an official Catholic Bible says concerning Sirach’s allusion to the threefold division of the Hebrew canon:

1 The law, the prophets, and the rest of the books: the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament written before the time of Sirach, according to the threefold division of the present Hebrew Bible. (New American Bible (NAB))

In fact, some of the Pseudepigraphal and Apocryphal writings list the inspired books as 24 or 22 which, as we mentioned earlier, corresponds to the 39 OT books found in the Protestant canon:

“As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, ‘Make public THE TWENTY-FOUR BOOKS that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people.’" 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 14:43-46

“There (were) twenty-two heads of mankind from Adam to Jacob, and twenty-two kinds of work were made until the seventh day; this is blessed and holy; and the former also is blessed and holy; and this one serves with that one for sanctification and blessing. And to this (Jacob and his seed) it was granted that they should always be the blessed and holy ones of the first testimony and law, even as He had sanctified and blessed the Sabbath day on the seventh day." Jubilees 2:23-24

Here is what Roger Beckwith says concerning the testimony of Ezra in regards to the number of revealed books:

"In ch. 14 of 2 Esdras, it is stated that some of the things revealed to Moses he was told to publish openly and some to hide (vv. 4-6), but that when the Babylonians conquered Judah God's Law was burned (v. 21). Ezra is therefore represented as being inspired by the Holy Spirit to dictate God's Law all over again to scribes, and as receiving the command ‘when thou hast done, some things shalt thou publish openly, and some things shalt thou deliver in secret to the wise’ (vv. 22-26). All this is carried out in the space of forty days (vv. 36-43).

So in forty days were written fourscore and fourteen books. And it came to pass, when the forty days were fulfilled, that the Most High spake unto me, saying, ‘The first that thou hast written publish openly, and let the worthy and unworthy read it: but keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them to such as be wise among thy people: for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the streams of knowledge.’ And I did so (vv. 44-8).

“Of these 94 books, the seventy which Ezra is bidden to keep for the specially privileged few are doubtless the numerous pseudonymous apocalypses of which 2 Esdras is itself an example, books cherished in limited circles, whereas the 24 which he is bidden to publish openly for worthy and unworthy alike to read must be the books of the canon.” (Beckwith, pp. 240-241; bold emphasis ours)

This obviously means that these writers did not consider their works to be on the same level with the inspired OT Scriptures. Authors such as Sirach and the writers of 2 Ezra did not include their writings within the collection of the 22/24 inspired books, but clearly viewed their works as being separate from the canon, indicating their awareness that their books shouldn’t be part of canonical Scripture.

Finally, some of the writers of the Apocrypha candidly admitted that their writings might contain mistakes since they were compiled in a haphazard manner and may have been imperfectly translated and/or transcribed:

“all this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book. For considering the flood of numbers involved and the difficulty there is for those who wish to enter upon the narratives of history because of the mass of material, we have aimed to please those who wish to read, to make it easy for those who are inclined to memorize, and to profit all readers. For us who have undertaken the toil of abbreviating, it is no light matter but calls for sweat and loss of sleep, just as it is not easy for one who prepares a banquet and seeks the benefit of others. However, to secure the gratitude of many we will gladly endure the uncomfortable toil, leaving the responsibility for exact details to the compiler, while devoting our effort to arriving at the outlines of the condensation. For as the master builder of a new house must be concerned with the whole construction, while the one who undertakes its painting and decoration has to consider only what is suitable for its adornment, such in my judgment is the case with us. It is the duty of the original historian to occupy the ground and to discuss matters from every side and to take trouble with details, but the one who recasts the narrative should be allowed to strive for brevity of expression and to forego exhaustive treatment. At this point therefore let us begin our narrative, adding only so much to what has already been said; for it is foolish to lengthen the preface while cutting short the history itself." 2 Maccabees 2:23-32

“This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor. And from that time the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story. IF IT IS WELL TOLD and to the point, that is what I myself desired; IF IT IS POORLY DONE AND MEDIOCRE, that was the best I could do. For just as it is harmful to drink wine alone, or, again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious and enhances one's enjoyment, so also the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work. And here will be the end.” 2 Maccabees 15:37-39

And notice again what Sirach had to say concerning his own writing:

You therefore are now invited to read it in a spirit of attentive good will, with indulgence for any apparent failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages. For words spoken originally in Hebrew are not as effective when they are translated into another language. That is true not only of this book but of the law itself, the prophets and the rest of the books, which differ no little when they are read in the original. (NAB; bold emphasis ours)

Contrast the above with the following NT citations:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know THE CERTAINTY of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:1-4

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many CONVINCING PROOFS that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.’” Acts 1:1-4

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain." 2 Peter 1:16-18

“That which was from the beginning, which we have HEARD, which we have SEEN WITH OUR EYES, which we have LOOKED AT and OUR HANDS HAVE TOUCHED - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3

Hence, not only were the Apocryphal writings composed during a time when there were no prophets receiving revelation, they do not even sound like or even write with the assurance and boldness which we find the inspired authors of sacred Scripture writing with.

As such, these Apocryphal books must be rejected from the OT canon since they were written at a time when God had stopped raising up prophets from amongst the people and, in some cases, even deny inspiration for their writings.

To summarize the evidence from the Apocrypha why these books should be rejected:

  1. They were written at a time when prophets had ceased from Israel.
  2. Some of the authors clearly make a distinction between their writings and the inspired writings of their ancestors.
  3. Some even allude to the threefold division of the OT, a division which excluded the Apocrypha.
  4. Some of the authors were aware that their writings might contain error.

It is time to turn to our final part where we take a look at the writings of some of the early church fathers to see what they had to say about the Apocrypha.