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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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books not admitted into the sacred canon, being either spurious, or at least not acknowledged to be divine. The word Apocrypha is of Greek origin, and is either derived from the words απο της κρυπτης , because the books in question were removed from the crypt, chest, ark, or other receptacle in which the sacred books were deposited whose authority was never doubted, or more probably from the verb αποκρυπτω , to hide or conceal, because they were concealed from the generality of readers, their authority not being recognised by the church, and because they are books which are destitute of proper testimonials, their original being obscure, their authors unknown, and their character either heretical or suspected. The advocates of the church of Rome, indeed, affirm that some of these books are divinely inspired; but it is easy to account for this: the apocryphal writings serve to countenance some of the corrupt practices of that church. The Protestant churches not only account those books to be apocryphal and merely human compositions which are esteemed such by the church of Rome, as the Prayer of Manasseh, the third and fourth books of Esdras, the addition at the end of Job, and the hundred and fifty-first Psalm; but also the books of Tobit, Judith, the additions to the book of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch the Prophet, with the Epistle of Jeremiah, the Song of the Three Children, the Story of Susanna, the Story of Bel and the Dragon, and the first and second books of Maccabees. The books here enumerated are unanimously rejected by Protestants for the following reasons:—

1. They possess no authority whatever, either external or internal, to procure their admission into the sacred canon. None of them are extant in Hebrew; all of them are in the Greek language, except the fourth book of Esdras, which is only extant in Latin. They were written for the most part by Alexandrian Jews, subsequently to the cessation of the prophetic spirit, though before the promulgation of the Gospel. Not one of the writers in direct terms advances a claim to inspiration; nor were they ever received into the sacred canon by the Jewish church, and therefore they were not sanctioned by our Saviour. No part of the apocrypha is quoted, or even alluded to, by him or by any of his Apostles; and both Philo and Josephus, who flourished in the first century of the Christian aera, are totally silent concerning them.

2. The apocryphal books were not admitted into the canon of Scripture during the first four centuries of the Christian church. They are not mentioned in the catalogue of inspired writings made by Melito, bishop of Sardis, who flourished in the second century, nor in those of Origen in the third century, of Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius, Jerom, Rufinus, and others of the fourth century; nor in the catalogue of canonical books recognised by the council of Laodicea, held in the same century, whose canons were received by the catholic church; so that as Bishop Burnet well observes, we have the concurring sense of the whole church of God in this matter. To this decisive evidence against the canonical authority of the apocryphal books, we may add that they were never read in the Christian church until the fourth century; when, as Jerom informs us, they were read "for example of life, and instruction of manners; but were not applied to establish any doctrine." And contemporary writers state, that although they were not approved as canonical or inspired writings, yet some of them, particularly Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, were allowed to be perused by catechumens. As a proof that they were not regarded as canonical in the fifth century, Augustine relates, that when the book of Wisdom and other writings of the same class were publicly read in the church, they were given to the readers or inferior ecclesiastical officers, who read them in a lower place than those which were universally acknowledged to be canonical, which were read by the bishops, and presbyters in a more eminent and conspicuous manner. To conclude: notwithstanding the veneration in which these books were held by the western church, it is evident that the same authority was never ascribed to them as to the Old and New Testament until the last council of Trent, at its fourth session, presumed to place them all (except the Prayer of Manasseh and the third and fourth books of Esdras) in the same rank with the inspired writings of Moses and the Prophets.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Apocrypha'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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