I received the following question:

Would you give me a firm opinion on the value if any of Biblical Apocrypha?  I know that none of the apocryphal books are said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit as the canon books of the Bible are, but could they be useful in other ways, such as historical reference or anything else?  I firmly believe that scripture is the only real source of God’s word, but if I could learn anything from these other books that would help me better understand scripture, then I may be open to reading some of them, but if not I would rather just continue to focus on scripture. 

Also, weren’t those who chose what books are confirmed scripture and which are not motivated by and working for the churches of the time?  It’s no secret that for centuries the churches have preferred to keep information more to themselves and not just make it widespread knowledge as it mostly is today but wasn’t as much in the past.  I guess I am just curious if they had a valid screening process to decide if these books should be considered scripture.  I read that the apocryphal book of Enoch was actually in most bibles in most countries before the first meetings in Rome which decided which of these were to be considered scriptural and which were not, I believe this first was done in the 1200s, but it’s hard to find much information on that also.  I suppose in a way I fear that we may be missing out on books that should be part of scripture, but perhaps I am just being paranoid in that sense.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and respond to it.

My initial thoughts when I was still fairly new in Bible study was that I didn’t want to read the apocryphal books right away. The reason was that I realized that I still did not have a good, solid grasp of what was in the Scriptures that I could depend on. I was still working on getting the whole thing in my head at that point, to be called to the surface when asked for. I was afraid if I got into reading apocryphal books that my brain might get mixed up, and something from one of them might come up when I thought it was actually Scripture. So I avoided reading apocryphal books until I had a better mastery of the real ones.

That would be my advice to you as well. You are still quite new, and cannot have those truths that are in the Scripture sealed into your brain as of yet. You still have plenty of studying to do. I am not saying don’t ever read the apocryphal books. I am saying that that is something that you should save for later.

I know what you are saying about the church being the keeper of the Scriptures for so many years. We find them very untrustworthy on many things, so why not on the canon of Scripture? Yet I think that in the case of the Bible Itself, we have something else entering into the equation. That is, that we have the work of God Himself on the Word’s behalf. We have God’s promise in Acts 28:28 that the “salvation-bringing message has been made freely available to the nations, and that they will hear it.” For this to happen, that message has to be protected. I believe that God has been working against all the corrupting influences to keep His Word in spite of all attacks against it. I am not saying there have not been many, or that they have not sometimes had a partial success. But what I am saying is that there has been power on the other side countering the attacks and keeping the Word. He has worked through faithful men to do this.

When you do get around to reading the Apocrypha, I do say there is some value to it. For one thing, once you have a good knowledge of Scripture, I think reading the Apocrypha will really illustrate for you the truth a wise man said, that the Bible is not the sort of book one would write if he could, nor the sort of book that one could write if he would. That is, it is not a human creation. To read an apocryphal book, written in the same original languages as the Bible, sometimes translated by the same people, put in the same style of chapters and verses, and yet falling so far short of the Scriptures…this will really illustrate to you what a precious thing the Word of God really is. What is the silver to the dross? Reading the dross can really give you an appreciation for the silver. If you go into it thinking “maybe this is a real book, maybe I’ve been missing something,” I don’t think it will take you very long (if you have established that good, working knowledge of the real Scriptures that I suggested) before you realize that you haven’t been missing anything, and that to even think that this book might have the same Author as the true Scriptures would be foolish.

Another thing the Apocrypha is good for is that, just like the Septuagint, it can help us learn how Greek words are used and what their meaning is. This is relevant to the study of words in Scripture, though not to finding any truth in what is written in the Septuagint.

As for the canon, it was settled long before the 1200s. I do not believe that there was any church council that really decided this. Rather, this truth was revealed to believers at the time of the apostles. What happened was that corruptions took place, false books were added in, and Christians who didn’t like certain books took them out. All the manuscripts back then were hand copied, and were generally ordered by rich people. They would ask the scribe for a copy of the Bible, and he might ask them what they wanted in, and what they wanted out. In this way many perversions of the Bible took place very quickly. Some of the worst were in the second century. Yet faithful men rightly decried this behavior, and through their actions the perversions were largely done away with and the true text restored. The councils that most credit with “choosing” the canon were actually confirming the truth that had long been known, but some through unfaithfulness had called into question.

The book of Enoch was a fairly common book back early on, but other than in an Ethiopic translation, all the complete copies of it have disappeared. This tells us that it was rejected very early, long before the 1200s. The Ethiopic split seems to have taken place not too long after the days of the apostles.

I have read the book of Enoch, and it is generally worthless. You can read my analysis of it at https://precepts.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/the-book-of-enoch/

As for the Catholic Apocrypha, these books were not written by Catholics. They are Jewish books from the inter-testamental period. Some were written in Hebrew, some in Greek. Currently, most of them survive only in Greek, coming from the Septuagint.

I have read these books. I can say that most of them were not worth much. A few that I would recommend as having some value, however, are as follows:

One is the book of I Maccabees. This is a good history of some of the events in Israel between the Old and New Testaments (the inter-testamental period.) It is valuable only from that aspect. You will definitely get the feeling that the author is leaving out details that would have been the first ones God would have brought in, however.

II Maccabees is less factual, and more fantastic, so less worth reading. Of the others, really the most interesting part I found is in II Maccabees 7, and repeated in more detail in IV Maccabees 8-12, giving an account of a mother and her seven children who are martyred before her eyes. They are cruelly slaughtered from oldest to youngest, with the others being forced to watch, yet each one encourages his younger siblings to be strong, and each goes to his own death refusing to deny his God. It is a great illustration of Hebrews 11:35, “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” This might even be a reference to this well-known story. It is probably based on truth, and is a great illustration of the sufferings the Jews went through between the writings of Malachi and Matthew for their LORD. The end of that list in Hebrews 11 probably is talking about inter-testamental Jewish believers. However, the books themselves are far too morally heavy-handed and verbose to ever suggest themselves as inspired.

Other than that, the only thing I can remember that I found interesting was in one of the “extra chapters” in Daniel when he fights a dragon, since I believe dragons=dinosaurs, and men found them living contemporarily with themselves in early days. Other than that, though, the story has little point, and promotes the “hero” Daniel more than Daniel’s God, which definitely points to it not being inspired.

Other than these things, I cannot think of much valuable in the apocryphal books that I have read.