Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Baptists and the Apocrypha

What is the Apocrypha? The books known by most Baptists and Protestants as the Apocrypha are fourteen extra books included in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate. These are also found in the Greek Septuagint. There is some variation in what Protestants, Roman Catholics the Greek Orthodox consider to be the books of the Apocrypha.

The fourteen books as found in my King James Version 1611 (Thomas Nelson Publishers) are: I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of the Chapters of the book of Esther (usually called Additions to Esther), The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch (the Epistle of Jeremiah appears as Chapter Six of Baruch), The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, The History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasseh King of Judah, I Maccabees, and II Maccabees.

Should we read and study them? Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox accept them as inspired. Since we do not recognize these books as inspired, what should be our relationship to them? On one extreme are those who advocate that we should read them in order to understand the Scriptures, almost making them an interpreter of Scripture. On the other extreme are those who advocate must not read them at all, rather avoiding them like the plague.

The testimony of our forefathers in the 1689 London Confession of Faith (which follows the Westminster 1647) is good advice. They wrote, "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings."

Approach the Apocrypha cautiously, as you would any human writing. These books are not inspired. They contain mixtures of truth and error, historical accounts and fanciful tales. Unless you are willing to swear off reading all human writings (including this blog and whatever you just wrote!), then do not say we cannot read them. On the other hand, do not imply that we must read them in order to understand and interpret the Scriptures. The Scriptures are given by inspiration of God and are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness and completely furnish us.

1689 London Baptist Confession


Anonymous said...

We tend to forget that a "protestant" Apocrypha was printed in every King James Version up to the turn of the last century. It was between the Old and New Testaments. But we never accepted it as part of scripture..just helpful notes; never to formulate doctrine. Use it the same as we do the writings of Josephus.



R. L. Vaughn said...

I guess probably one thing that makes people afraid of the Apocrypha as opposed to, say, Josephus, is that some people think it is scripture. This is an overreaction, IMO. We just need a proper understanding of what it is.

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RSR said...

I think you're on the right track, Robert. While they may not be scripture, sometimes they shed some light upon the mileu in which the inspired writers lived. Just as the NT apocryphal works can show what the early Fathers were opposing in their upholding of orthodoxy.

It's a bit humorous to me (and I admit I have an odd sense of humor) that some folks will rail against the Apocrypha yet swallow all of Josephus whole — if he says something that tends to support their suppositions.