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Are the Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture?


Addressing Some Arguments in Support of the Apocrypha

Sam Shamoun

In this particular section we want to address three main arguments often used to support the inclusion of the Apocrypha within the OT canon of inspired Scriptures.


1. The NT documents contain dozens of allusions to the Apocrypha, and in some places the NT writers are actually dependent upon material from the Apocryphal works. These allusions conclusively demonstrate that the Lord Jesus and his followers accepted the canonical status of these writings.


First, neither the Lord Jesus nor the Apostles ever quote any Apocryphal book with the formulaic expressions denoting canonicity, i.e. “Thus saith the Lord,” “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet,” “The Scripture says,” “It is written,” etc.

Now someone may wish to say that this is also true with many of the OT books which the Jews and Christians both accept as canonical. The problem with this objection is that we do know that the Lord Jesus and his Apostles, as well as the NT documents as a whole, often appealed to the Scriptures in the possession of the Jews at that time. And, as we documented in the previous parts of our discussion, one will find many references to “the Law and the Prophets,” or to “the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms” (cf. Luke 24:25, 27, 44-45). These divisions of the Scriptures did not include the Apocryphal books, but did contain the OT books found in the Jewish and Protestant canons.

Second, just because the NT may allude to material from the Apocrypha doesn’t mean that the NT writers viewed them as inspired or canonical. For instance, the apostle Paul in several places quotes pagan poets and writers such as Epimenides, Aratus and Menander:

"for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’" Acts 17:28

"Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’" 1 Corinthians 15:33

"One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’" Titus 1:12

Jude cites books from the Pseudepigrapha, namely the Assumption of Moses and 1 Enoch 1:9:

"But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’" Jude 1:9

"It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’" Jude 1:14-15

The Old Testament is replete with references to non-canonical books, i.e. the book of Jashar, the book of the wars of Yahweh etc.

Hence, to argue that the NT allusions to the Apocrypha somehow prove that these writings are canonical would also mean that the writings of certain pagan poets and the Jewish Pseudepigrapha are canonical as well. Yet despite the fact that the NT writers such as Jude explicitly reference the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t been led to accept these writings as canonical and authoritative.

Besides, a careful examination of these alleged parallels proves unconvincing. As Catholic theologian Daniel J. Harrington admits:

“Can one prove that Jesus or the New Testament writers knew and used the apocrypha? One way to answer this question is to consult the list of loci citati vel allegati in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. Both Sundberg and McDonald have culled this source for references to the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and have produced their own lists that are very impressive at first glance. But what do such lists prove?

“The first problem emerges with the Latin adjective allegati. How strong are those alleged references? This in turn raises the question whether we are dealing with verbal similarities, or background information, or conceptual parallels, or merely ‘will-o-the-wisps’ proposed by modern scholars. Each of these references must be weighed on its own merits. On closer examination many of the alleged sources or parallels disappear.

“The second problem is that even if one could prove that Jesus or a New Testament writer did use one of the apocrypha, this alone would not prove that they regarded the text as sacred scripture or as canonical. After all, Acts 17:28 has Paul quoting the Greek poet Aratus, and no one regards Aratus as canonical. Also Jude 14-15 contains a quotation from 1 Enoch 1:9. In the rhetorical context of both passages, the quotations are presented as possessing some intrinsic authority but not necessarily as scriptural or canonical. Moreover, neither Jesus nor any New Testament author introduces a real or alleged quotation from the apocrypha with a fulfillment formula such as ‘all this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet’ (Matt 1:22).

“The most that can be proved from the loci citati vel allegati is that Jesus and the New Testament writers may have used some of the apocrypha. Nothing can be inferred about the authority, canonicity, or sacred character that they may or may not have attributed to these books.” (Harrington, The Canon Debate, "The Old Testament Apocrypha in the Early Church and Today," Lee Martin McDonald & James A. Sanders eds. [Hendrickson Publishers, 2002; ISBN: 1-56563-517-5, hardcover], Chapter 12, p. 200; bold emphasis ours)

This brings us to the second objection.


2. The OT version which the NT Church used as authoritative and inspired was the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint contained the Apocrypha and therefore proves that the Apocrypha should be included in the OT canon.


First, although it is true that the NT documents primarily use the Septuagint, at times they also use different versions or text types of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Second, the oldest extant manuscripts (MSS) of the Septuagint, which contain a substantial portion of the Old Testament, are all dated to a time long after Christ, somewhere between the 4th and 5th centuries respectively. They are obviously Christian in origin and do not, therefore, tell us anything about the canon of the Septuagint in Jesus’ day. As we have already demonstrated elsewhere, both Josephus and Philo used the Septuagint quite extensively and from their writings we can see that they did not consider the Apocrypha as a part of it.

Thirdly, these extant Septuagint MSS are not uniform in their listing of Apocryphal works. They either omit books accepted by the Rome or include books which are not part of the deutero-canonicals.

Codex Vaticanus (B), at Rome, 4th century AD. Does not include I & II Maccabees or The Prayer of Manassah, but includes Psalm 151 and 1 Esdras.

Codex Sinaiticus (aleph), at Petersburg and Leipzig, 4th century AD. Omits II Maccabees and Baruch, while it includes Psalm 151, 1 Esdras and IV Maccabees.

Codex Alexandrinus (A), British Museum, probably 5th century AD. Includes Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, the Psalms of Solomon and III and IV Maccabees.

Codex Ephraemi rescriptus (C), Paris, probably 5th century, a palimpsest. The Codex received its name from the treatises of St. Ephraem the Syrian that were written over the original text. Only some of the Old Testament survives in 64 leaves. These leaves contain nearly all of Ecclesiastes, fragments of Proverbs and Song of Songs, and approximately half of Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. Thus, we cannot be too certain how many of the Apocryphal books were included within it.

Hence appealing to the Septuagint for the proof that the Apocrypha is inspired causes more problems for the Roman Catholic position.

And now to the third question.


3. According to Psalm 74:9 and Lamentations 2:9 there were no longer any prophets functioning in Israel during the time these particular books were written. If a book must have been written by a prophet in order for it to be canonical wouldn’t this therefore imply that Protestants are being inconsistent for rejecting the Apocrypha on the grounds that they were not written during the period when prophets were receiving revelations from God when some of the very OT books which both camps (e.g. Catholics and Protestants) receive as canonical were composed at a time when God ceased inspiring prophets?


The underlying assumption here is that these particular texts are somehow suggesting that there were absolutely no prophets speaking on God’s behalf at all during this period. The reality, however, is that the immediate context of both of these verses are speaking of the exile, during the time when God sent his people into captivity and brought in the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the temple:

"Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins; the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary! Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their own signs for signs. They were like those who swing axes in a forest of trees. And all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground. They said to themselves, ‘We will utterly subdue them’; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land. We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?" Psalm 74:3-10

"The Lord is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel. He has swallowed up all her palaces and destroyed her strongholds. He has multiplied mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah. He has laid waste his dwelling like a garden; he has destroyed his place of meeting. The LORD has made Zion forget her appointed feasts and her Sabbaths; in his fierce anger he has spurned both king and priest. The Lord has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary. He has handed over to the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have raised a shout in the house of the LORD as on the day of an appointed feast. The LORD determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; he stretched out the measuring line; he did not restrain his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament; they languished together. Her gates have sunk into the ground; he has ruined and broken her bars; her king and princes are among the nations; the law is no more, and her prophets find no vision from the LORD." Lamentations 2:5-9

It is obvious that the inspired author of Lamentations didn’t mean that the Law of God completely vanished since there were prophets in Babylon who had access to and were reading from the Law of Moses:

“In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom- in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes… All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you… Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth.” Daniel 9:1-3, 11, 13

The only way for Daniel to know what was written in the Law of Moses concerning God’s judgment falling upon his people if they disobeyed is if he had access to a copy of the Law itself.

This clearly demonstrates that the point that these writers were making wasn’t that prophets ceased to appear altogether, but that there were no prophets functioning in the land of Israel, particularly in Jerusalem when the Babylonians came to destroy both the city and the sanctuary.

There is corroborating evidence that this is the intended meaning of these passages since during this time God had raised up prophets in Babylon, such as Ezekiel and Daniel:

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.” Daniel 1:1-7

“In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-3

In fact, Ezekiel himself implies that there will be a time when prophecy would cease in the land of the Jews:

“Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the LORD.’” Ezekiel 7:23-27

Ezekiel could say this even though he was a prophet who was receiving revelation during his captivity in Babylon.

Thus, these particular Biblical texts do not provide any support for viewing the Apocryphal books as inspired and therefore canonical, since the latter were written at a time when God had ceased communicating with Israel through inspired prophets.

For more on this subject we highly recommend the following article

We also highly recommend the Apologetics ministry of Dr. James R. White, one of the best Reformed Evangelical Apologists today. He has debated dozens of Roman Catholic Apologists, and has even debated the issue of the Apocrypha. You can find his material and debates here.

To purchase his debates on the Apocrypha you can go to the link above and search their bookstore.