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Is There Anything of Value in the Apocrypha?

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Question:   My King James Version Bible still has the preface and the Apocrypha in it. I do not have the heart to disregard it, but then again I love 1st Enoch as well, am I reading the wrong Books? Which Translation do you use? Thank you again.

Response:  The extra-biblical material sometimes associated with scripture is generally called "Apocrypha" and "Pseudepigrapha". The distinction between these two categories is merely that the Apocrypha became associated with the Bible and often bound with it relatively early on in the Church, while works categorized as Pseudepigrapha never have been so closely associated (Enoch falls into this latter category). But in terms of their applicability to Christian doctrine, they share this same essential characteristic: they are equally valueless. That is not because of any inherent faultiness in literary technique. But scripture, after all, is divinely inspired, "God-breathed" (2Tim.3:16), while all other forms of literature (the Apocrypha included) come from the will as well as from the hand of men. Scripture, by way of the starkest possible contrast, does not come about from human thinking and design (2Pet.1:19-21), but it is as David said:

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me. His Word was on my tongue.  
2nd Samuel 23:2

So while the Word of God is "living" and "powerful" (Heb.4:12), everything else falls short by comparison. No matter how wonderful any other piece of literature might be, even genuinely Christian literature which speaks to us in a legitimate and edifying way, we can never use such writings as a basis for faith and practice, only as encouragement and illumination of the faith and practice we have built upon the rock of the Word of God.

The main problem that I see with the Apocrypha and, to a lesser extent, with all pseudepigraphical works (lesser only because they have traditionally been endowed with lesser authority) is that they purport to be of the same inspired nature as the Bible although they clearly are not (something that both Jewish and Christians councils have repeatedly affirmed from early times, and something which is prima facie clear just by reading scripture and non-scripture side-by-side). These writings, therefore, have the potential for leading believers and unbelievers who are seeking God astray, should those who read them place any weight of faith in what is contained therein. For it is only the holy scriptures which come from God Himself and bear testimony about Jesus Christ (cf. Jn.5:39). But these other works were written by who knows whom and for who knows what reason. The one thing that we can say for sure is that any doctrinally true or correct statements contained therein are only incidental and accidental, and can only be deemed such by comparison with the Bible. That is to say, we cannot actually ever "get anything true" of a spiritual nature out of extra-biblical writings of any kind, except to the extent that they remind us of biblically correct principles (in the way that, say, popular inspirational writing may do). The danger, on the other hand, is that we may very well "get something" from them which is not biblical and yet is (wrongly) felt to have biblical authority.

As I say, the problem with the Apocrypha in particular is that many people have, sadly, taken some of the things said therein and built (false) doctrine thereon. The most notable example of this, of course, is what transpired prior to the Reformation. You will recall that Luther's disagreement with Rome began in response to a number of clearly un-scriptural practices which flew in the face of anything that could ever be considered Christian (selling indulgences on behalf of the dead, to take but one example). Support was found for certain of these false practices in the Apocrypha. It is true that the Apocrypha is not primarily concerned with such issues, but the fact that it is not inspired means that, inevitably, there are elements which contradict the truth, and since it was wrongly seen as a source of truth (or at least proffered as such by those with ulterior motives), it became and remains a support for false doctrines, and a stumbling block for many people.

It was not until the Council of Trent in 1453 that the Apocrypha was officially pronounced "canonical" by Rome - as a direct result of the objections adumbrated above. I very much like what Jerome has to say about it. In a letter to his correspondent Paula, he remarks that searching for truth in the Apocrypha is like looking for nuggets of gold in the mud. Jerome did eventually translate the Apocrypha into Latin, but not without a struggle. He resisted doing so, but was eventually prevailed upon by his contemporaries who enjoyed the stories. But it is clear from his statements that he did not consider its works inspired or particularly important.

So to answer your question specifically, I find value in many works of literature. As a Classicist and a student of Thucydides, for example, I see much in the History that is true, specifically in Thucydides' understanding of human nature and its effects upon historical decision-making. But I also understand that a single verse in the Bible outweighs all that Thucydides ever wrote - indeed, all that uninspired human beings have ever written or ever will write.

As to your last question, the original translations in the studies posted at Ichthys are all based upon the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and I make it a point to read my Greek New Testament and my Hebrew Tanak daily. When consulting an English Bible, I generally stick to the New International, the King James, and the New American Standard versions. For a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of these three versions and other pertinent comments, please see the following links:

            The Canonicity of Hebrews

            The Gospel of Judas, and Issues of Canonicity

            The Author of Hebrews

            The so-called "Documentary Hypothesis"

            The Relationship between the Books of Kings and Chronicles

            More on the Documentary Hypothesis

            The Canon (from "Read Your Bible")

            Jesus' use of "I AM" from Exodus 3:14 in John 8:58 (for LXX quotes)

In Him who is the very Word of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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