The Wisdom and “Inspiration” of the Apocrypha

By Thomas C. Hickey

The October, 1978, issue of Reader’s Digest carries an article by Ernest O. Hauser dealing with the fourteen apocryphal books which are usually bound together with the inspired writings in Catholic editions, some Masonic editions and a few “Protestant” editions of the word of God. Although the article is informative and interesting it must be regarded as undocumented since it consists primarily of summary statements by the author. Occasional statements enclosed in quotation marks are never credited to a source.

While Hauser represents the viewpoints of different groups, he never quite gets around to clearly representing his own views of the apocrypha. The article seems calculated to recommend the study or the apocryphal books to “Protestants” along with the Bible, but several questions arise:

1. Is the Bible the inspired word of God?

2. Are we being encouraged to consider the apocryphal books as being inspired of God in the same sense as the books of the Bible?

3. Or are the apocryphal books merely being recommended as exciting religious source books in the Judeo-Christian tradition?

4. Does the author have a very limited conception of the inspiration of the scriptures, and is he merely recommending that the apocryphal books be received as “inspired” in this very limited way?

Hauser does state correctly that “the books of the Apocrypha were not part of the Hebrew Old Testament, which consisted of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.” He further said that when the sacred scripture was translated into Greek (I suppose he is referring to the Septuagint Translation, made about 280 B.C. – TH) that several added works found their way into its text. By this I presume that he is referring to the fact that when the Greeks had the Hebrew scriptures translated for the library at Alexandria, Egypt, they did also have the Old Testament apocryphal books translated, and these were sometimes circulated along with the books of the Hebrew scriptures. It should be remembered that the Greeks were not interested in the Hebrew scriptures because they conceived of them as the word of God necessarily, but because they viewed them as being important Hebrew literary traditions.

In all of Hauser’s article the thing which troubles me most is his final statement; “Thus Protestants the world over are able to enjoy as an extra treat the wisdom and inspiration of the Apocrypha.” This statement troubles me for three reasons: first, I do not know what he means by “inspiration”; secondly, most people have little or no knowledge of the apocryphal writings; and thirdly, I fear that the average reader will take this as a claim that the apocryphal writings should be received on a par with the word of God!

1. What is meant by the word “inspiration”?

2. Is the Old Testament apocrypha inspired?

What Is Inspiration?

There are three commonly held views of inspiration:

1. Some hold that inspiration is nothing more than a flash of insight of purely naturalistic origins. Accordingly these people view an artist as “inspired” to produce a great painting. In actuality such a person may be talented and imaginative, but he is not inspired in the scriptural sense of the term!

2. Others hold that biblical inspiration involves God in some nebulous way implanting ideas or thoughts in the minds of prophets and apostles who in turn expressed those ideas however they chose from their own experience and background. This idea, sometimes called thought inspiration, could not be relied upon to produce an error free revelation since its quality would obviously be limited by the personal initiative and reliability of the men involved. As one might naturally expect, those who argue for the thought inspiration of the Bible often place a low estimate on the value and authority of its writings.

3. The Bible itself claims to have been produced by a process which is often called verbal and plenary inspiration. By definition, inspiration means “God-breathed” as translated from the Greek term theospneustos in 2 Tim. 3:16. Verbal means that the very words are each inspired as they were given by the Holy Spirit through the various apostles, prophets, etc. Plenary means that the whole thing is inspired and authoritative so that certain parts should not be thought of as mythological or imaginative.

The defense of the concept of verbal and plenary inspiration might justifiably exhaust many volumes, but a few reasons are outlined here:

1. Paul taught that the scriptures were breathed out by God, that is, spoken by Him (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2. Scripture did not come by the will of the men who wrote it, but they wrote as they were moved to do so by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

3. The very words of scripture were given by the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:13).

4. The function of prophets primarily involved vocalizing God’s will (Ex. 3:13-15; 4:1-16; 6:28 thru 7:1).

5. Declarations of religious responsibility were prohibited except to the extent that they were oracles from God (1 Pet. 4:11).

6. The Old Testament contains some 2,600 claims for inspiration.

7. Although not as prolific in making such claims for inspiration as the Old Testament is, the New Testament makes several dozen such claims.

8. Finally, we observe that Jesus (who claimed to be the Son of God) stressed that a receiving of the words of the apostolic messengers was tantamount to a receiving of Himself and of God the Father (Matt. 10:40; John 12:48; 13:20).

Is The Old Testament Apocrypha Inspired?

While there are some who argue for accepting the apocrypha as inspired, there are also others who only argue for the acceptance of the apocryphal books on a par with the scriptures. These are not the same as, in the latter case, their attitude toward the scriptures may be quite low. Still others, including myself, argue that the apocryphal books have some value from a historical perspective because they provide insight into Jewish history, culture, literary traditions and religious background of the biblical and immediate post-biblical era. But I deny that the apocryphal works are inspired or that they should be regarded on a par with scripture!

I now offer a few reasons for rejecting the apocryphal books as being inspired:

1. The fourteen Old Testament apocryphal books under consideration never make any claim to being inspired! If the authors themselves did not claim inspiration, why should we? The author of the Maccabees makes it very clear that there were no prophets or inspired men alive in his day, and that there had not been any for some time (1 Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41)!

2. The Hebrews did not accept the apocrypha as part of the scriptures. Josephus listed the books of the Old Testament without making any allowance for the apocrypha.

3. There are some 280 direct quotations of the Old Testament in the new having been taken from some 28 of the 39 books of the Old Testament, but there is not one clear quotation from the apocryphal books.

4. According to Westcott and Hort, Paul himself quoted 192 times from 25 of the Old Testament books. But not once is there a clear quotation from the apocryphal books in Paul’s writings. Hauser’s article claims that echoes of the book Wisdom are found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, but he failed to cite these “echoes” or to give references.

5. Philo and Josephus, early Jewish writers, rejected the apocrypha. So did Origen and Jerome, early Christian writers. So did the council at Jamnia (90 A.D.). Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate widely used by the Roman Catholic Church, branded the works as apocryphal or spurious and denied their admission into the translation of the scriptures.

6. While Hauser alluded to the Catholic affirmation of the sanctity of the apocryphal books which was given at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent on April 8, 1546, he failed to mention that they did not approve 1 and 2 Esdras or the Prayer of Manasseh. Furthermore, Roman Catholic approval of the apocryphal works at such a late date could hardly be considered unbiased since a number of cardinal church doctrines such as purgatory and prayer for the dead have absolutely no biblical support and just rest solely on the feeble support of obsecure apocryphal texts such as 2 Macc. 12:43-45.

7. The widespread uncertainty and lack of support for the apocryphal books which has generally characterized them as contrasted with the widespread acceptance cf the biblical books make the two different as day and night.

In conclusion, may I suggest that the historic worth of the apocryphal books may elevate them somewhat above the pseudepigrapha, but they fall far short of the mark of even being worthy of comparison with the books and letters which make up the Bible!

Truth Magazine XXIII: 28, pp. 455-457
July 19, 1979