Over ten years ago I authored a piece on this blog called Baptists and the Apocrypha. In it I tried to offer a consistent cautious conventional approach for Baptists to what are known as the apocryphal books, sometimes set between the Old and New Testaments. Today I want to consider “King James and the Apocrypha”. At times some Baptists and others attack the King James Bible on the basis of it originally containing these 14 books.
The King James Bible in 1611 included 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament, as well as 14 other books usually called the Apocrypha.[i] The presence of the Apocrypha in the first King James Bible is set forth by the anti-KJVists as “proof positive” that the King James Bible cannot be defended,[ii] often asking, “Why do advocates of the King James Bible reject the Apocrypha, since the original 1611 version contained the Apocrypha?”[iii]
Some history regarding the Apocrypha
Jerome, in the Latin Vulgate, “introduced the term ‘Apocrypha’ to denote ‘books of the church’, as distinct from ‘books of the canon’.”[iv] All English translations of the Bible (e.g. Tyndale, Matthew’s, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishop’s) printed up to the 16th century included an Apocrypha, though it was not identical in all of them. This section was also found in Bibles in other languages, such as Luther’s translation, the Zürich Bible, the Spanish Reina edition, and so forth. Its long historical connection to the sacred writings goes back to inclusion in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. One can complain that these books were there, and argue about why they were there – but they were there nonetheless. There is nothing unusual or particularly significant about its inclusion in the King James Bible of 1611. King James Bibles may have officially included the Apocrypha until 1666, but various printings without it – dated as early 1619 – have been found. The much-touted Revised Version “replacement”[v] of the King James Bible included these books,[vi] as did the Revised Standard Version (1946-1957).[vii] Other modern English Bibles which contain the Apocrypha include New English Bible/Revised English Bible, Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Millennium Bible, World English Bible.
These books were placed at the end of the Old Testament and before the New, to set them apart from the canonical Scriptures. “…the historical context for Protestant English translations of the Bible out of which the KJB would emerge was one that included placing the books of the Apocrypha as a separate collection at the end of the Old Testament.” The Geneva Bible included a preface that the books of the Apocrypha “were not to be read or expounded publicly in church and could only prove doctrine inasmuch as they agree with the” Old and New Testaments.[viii] “[I]t was not until the 19th century that the removal of the Apocrypha from all Protestant Bibles became the norm.”[ix]
King James Translators and the Apocrypha
“The proposal for a new translation came from Dr. John Reynolds [Rainolds], President of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, a leader of the Puritan side in the Church of England, and one of the greatest scholars of his day. Reynolds’s proposal caught King James’ fancy and he set in order the machinery to bring about the translation.”[x]
As yet I have not found much in the way of direct statements on the Apocrypha by the King James Bible translators. King James himself perhaps preferred it more than the Puritans, but did not count the books inspired (See The King James Version at 400, pages 348-349).
Translator George Abbot, when later the Archbishop of Canterbury, issued an edict “that forbade the publication of Bibles without the Apocrypha.”[xi] But both the Puritans and High-Church Anglicans apparently subscribed to “Article VI on the Holy Scriptures” from the Book of Articles which was “agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops of both provinces and the whole clergy in the convocation holden at London in the year 1562...” Referencing the Apocrypha, Article VI stated, “And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
“The Third Book of Esdras. [I Esdras]
“The Fourth Book of Esdras. [II Esdras]
“The Book of Tobias. [Tobit]
“The Book of Judith. [Judeth]
“The rest of the Book of Esther. [The rest of the Chapters of the Book of Esther]
“The Book of Wisdom. [The Wisdom of Solomon]
“Jesus the Son of Sirach. [The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus]
“Baruch the Prophet. [Baruch]
“The Song of the Three Children. [The Song of the Three Holy Children]
“The Story of Susanna. [The history of Susanna]
“Of Bel and the Dragon. [The history of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon]
“The Prayer of Manasses. [The prayer of Manasses, King of Judah]
“The First Book of Maccabees. [The first book of the Maccabees]
“The Second Book of Maccabees. [The second book of the Maccabees]”[xii]
Other evidences that indicate the King James translators (and publishers) did not hold the Apocrypha as inspired include:
- The King James Bible segregates these apocryphal books together in a section between the Old and New Testaments, unlike Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles.
- Notations in certain book titles hint at a lower view of the Apocrypha. For example, the title of “The rest of the Chapters of the Booke of Esther” adds, “which are found neither in the Hebrew, nor in the Calde.” The additions to Daniel are marked as “That which followeth is not in the Hebrew” [The Song of the three holy children] and “it is not in Hebrew” [The history of Susanna].
- There is other material added between the covers, which is obviously not intended to be on the same level as inspired Scipture; for example, the genealogy on page 76 (lxxvi).
Many modern scholars consider the Codex Vaticanus one of the best Greek texts, with the Codex Sinaiticus an important support for critical studies. The Codex Vaticanus contained most of the Apocrypha and the surviving Codex Sinaiticus contains seven books the Apocrypha – as well as the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas in the New Testament. These codices are the dual support of popular Greek New Testaments and the modern translations founded on them. Those who advocate these texts and translations should be ashamed to harp about the Apocrypha being in the King James Bible, when it is found in their favored texts and sometimes in their favorite translations.[xvi]
Fourteen books of the Apocrypha are found in the King James Bible. It is a matter of historical record. It is no stain on the King James Bible. Modern proponents of the King James Bible may well follow the precedent of the translators and others – “The books commonly called Apocrypha” are not divinely inspired and are not part of the canon of Scripture. They are not authoritative as a rule of faith and practice, but may be read like any other human writing.
[Note: For other points made against the Apocrypha as scripture, see Against the Apocrypha as Scripture.]
[i] I use “Apocrypha” as a singular noun standing for fourteen non-canonical books associated with the Bible.
[ii] A recent exchange with a closet anti-KJVist provided the impetus for this post. “Closet” anti-KJVists often couch their objections in “I love the KJV, but…” There are people who sincerely use this phrase, but closet anti-KJVists use it to deflect objections when their obvious motives are about to be uncovered.
[iii] The design of this rhetorical question is to posit that “the KJV as preferred text” is indefensible. If supporters of the King James Bible have rejected the Apocrypha, then if follows (so they say) that they should reject the King James Bible as well.
[iv] Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011, Gordon Campbell, London: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 44; Much can be found online claiming that the Roman Catholic Church had an early and long-established canon including the “Apocrypha,” or deuterocanonical works (literally meaning a second canon; to the Catholics this means second in chronology, while to the Orthodox it means second in authority). Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic 2001 Pontifical Biblical Commission study, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (English translation copyright 2002) admits that the “Apocrypha” or “deuterocanonical” works “were accepted only after centuries of hesitation” and this was not resolved (for them) until the Councils of Florence in 1442 and Trent in 1564. The Apocrypha of the Church of England and the section in the King James Bible is distinct from the Roman Catholic deutero-canon. The King James Bible includes three books (1 Esdras/3 Esdras, 2 Esdras/4 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh) which were not included in the list of the Council of Trent. The Eastern Orthodox deuterocanonical books vary somewhat from both of these.
[v] Of Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort fame.
[vi] And included 70 more verses of 2 Esdras; this comes out as 140 verses in chapter 7 rather than 70 verses.
[vii] Though they are often printed without them.
[viii] The King James Version at 400: Assessing Its Genius as Bible Translation, edited by David G. Burke, John F. Kutsko, Philip H. Towner, Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013, p. 347
[xi] The King James Version at 400, edited by David G. Burke, John F. Kutsko, Philip H. Towner, p. 349
[xii] The first book name in the list is from the “Book of Articles,” while the book name that follows in brackets is from the King James Bible.
[xiii] Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Vol. III, London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1865, p. 15
[xiv] The Summe and Substance of the Conference: Which It Pleased His Excellent Majestie to Have with the Lords, Bishops, and others of his Clergie...at Hampton Court, William Barlow, n.p. 1804, pp. 44-45; German Reformer Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt divided the Apocrypha into non-inspired but good books and “foolish writings ‘worthy of the Censor’s ban’.” Martin Luther’s Bible set them apart, noting that these books “are not held equal to the sacred scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading.” (See The Apocrypha, Martin Goodman, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 3.)
[xv] The Apocrypha in Early Modern England, Ariel Hessayon, p. 143; See also The Use of the Apocrypha in the Christian Church, p. 106
[xvi] KJV-Onlyists often invite these kinds of arguments with ill-advised and hypocritical arguments of their own.