Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 12 Page 14 December 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

The Apocrypha
And English Bibles

By Dennis Gulledge

The Apocrypha is a collection of books dating from the period between the testaments, produced by Alexandrian Jews, after the Old Testament books were written. The word “apocrypha” identifies those uncanonical religious writings, which are of doubtful authority. The collection consists of the books of 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Rest of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch with the Epistle of Jeremiah, the Song of the Three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manassas King of Judah and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

The apocryphal books are included in Catholic Bibles and regarded as inspired and worthy of a place in Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes eleven of the fourteen apocryphal books as canonical, with four of the eleven being added to canonical books (Esther and Daniel). They were included in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Latin Vulgate, but not included in the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.

A recent bulletin article discussing the Apocrypha and its inclusion in the New Revised Standard Version (1989) has come to my attention. The author makes the point that some of the modern versions are including these uninspired writings and parading them as the Word of God. It is true, as the author states, “These books are not the Bible and must not even be venerated to a status of being placed within the same cover.” Yet, it is not merely a problem of modern versions, nor is it a recent intrusion upon the canon or Scripture, to include the Apocrypha between the covers of the Bible.

Some people would be surprised to learn that all of the older English Bibles, including the King James Version, contained the apocryphal writings. I have a reprint of the 1611 edition of the King James Version which includes the Apocrypha. Not only that, but the cross references employed in the 1611 also reference the Apocrypha along with Scripture. In 1629 the apocryphal books were first omitted from some editions of the King James Version, and in 1827 were excluded altogether. I do, however, own an 1873 family Bible (KJV) that contains the Apocrypha between the testaments. Why did King James include them in his version? The Church of England (1562) had said of the apocryphal books, “The Church doth read them for example of life and instruction of manners, it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.” They were included because they were deemed “valuable.”

These books may have been valued then, as they are today, for their contribution to the history of the period between the Testaments. When I was a student doing graduate work at, what was then Alabama Christian School of Religion, Rex A. Turner, Sr. taught a course in the history of this period called “The Inter-Tesamental Period.” The history of this era is taken largely from apocryphal sources and the writings of Josephus. If it were not for these books we would understand very little of the struggles of the Jews against pagan rulers. These books are especially interesting in the depiction of the Maccabean warriors against very difficult circumstances.

Other English translations both before and after the King James Version included them, perhaps because of the “value” factor. John Wycliffe, in his English version of both 1382 and 1388, included the Apocrypha along with this statement: “Whatever book is in the Old Testament besides these 25 (39) shall be set among the apocrypha, that is, without authority of belief.” William Tyndale (1525) set them apart as uninspired. Coverdale’s Bible (1535) published them under the title “Apocrifa.” Matthew’s Bible (1537) placed them between the testaments as uninspired. The Apocrypha is also included in Taverner’s Bible (1539), the Great Bible (1539, 1540), the Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishop’s Bible (1568) and the King James Version (1611).

The Apocrypha was not included in the English Revised Version (1885) or in the American Standard Version (1901). It was translated and published in a separate volume as The Apocrypha, Revised Version (1895). Some modern versions include the Apocrypha, such as the New English Bible (1970), the Revised English Bible (1989) and the New Revised Standard Version (1989).

The modern versions must stand or fall on their own merits or demerits. Fall they will because of the danger they represent in their perversion of Scripture and not merely because they include the Apocrypha. If it is a trend once again to include the Apocrypha in the more modern versions, mark it down as a bad one. But, also note that it is not a new trend, but an old one of which many “Bibles” have been guilty.

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