The Apocrypha

D&C 91

John Tvedtnes

Book of Mormon and Bible“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha-There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.” (D&C 91:1-6)

D&C 91 was revealed as part of Joseph Smith’s work to revise the Bible. The copy of the King James version (KJV) of the Bible he used contained these twelve additional books, which were later removed and are usually found today only in Roman Catholic Bibles. Still, Cambridge University Press, which has responsibility for publishing the KJV, continues to publish the Apocrypha under separate cover.

As Christianity began to grow in western Europe and North Africa, it became necessary to translate the Bible into Latin, the language of Rome, which dominated that area. When St. Jerome prepared his Latin Vulgate Bible in the fourth century AD, he included some books that he considered to be questionable, calling them “the Apocrypha.” While purporting to be from Israelite times, they were known only in Greek, but not in Hebrew or Aramaic, like the rest of the books of the Old Testament. Earlier Christian writers had also questioned their authenticity.

The Apocrypha consists of thirteen additional books that were preserved in almost all manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint Bible of the second or third century BC, but not the Hebrew Old Testament. These books are: 2 Ezra, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther (after KJV Esther 10:3), Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called Ben-Sirach or Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach), 1 Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah (added to the book of Jeremiah), Prayer of Azariah with the Song of the Three Young Men/Holy Children (between verses 23 and 24 of Daniel 3), Susanna (end of Daniel), Bel and the Dragon (end of Daniel), 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. All but Tobit (which is perhaps much earlier) are thought to have been composed in the latter part of the third century BC. Later manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate included other books, such as 4 Ezra 1-2, 15-16. The book of 3 Maccabees has sometimes been added to the Apocrypha, though Jerome left it out of his Bible. Though Jerome’s reason for rejecting the Apocrypha was based on the fact that they were available only in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic versions of some of these books were discovered during the 20th century in the region of the Dead Sea.[i]

In his 1534 edition of the Bible, Martin Luther called the Apocrypha “books not on a level with Holy Writ and yet profitable and good to read.”[ii] Early German Bibles even included 4 Ezra, though many Protestant Bibles excluded all of the Apocrypha. On 15 April 1546, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, reacting against the Protestant rejection of the Apocrypha, declared as canonical the thirteen basic books in the collection, i.e., Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, 1 Baruch, 1-2 Maccabees. It also accepted the additions to Esther, Baruch (the Letter of Jeremiah) and Daniel, but excluded the two books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses. Interestingly, when the next official Vulgate was issued in 1592, it included these three as well. The canon of the Council of Trent was reaffirmed at the Vatican I council in 1870.

The  books of the Apocrypha were part of the original 1611 edition of the King James version of the Bible and were usually printed as part of that version until the middle of the 19th century, though they were occasionally omitted (e.g., in the 1666 edition). The first official American printing of KJV, in 1782, omitted the Apocrypha. In 1816, the American Bible Society condemned the Apocrypha as “objectionable books.” In 1826, the British and Foreign Bible Society decided to never again include the Apocrypha in its Bibles. The first English Revised Version in 1885 comprised only Old and New Testaments, but the 1895 edition included the Apocrypha. The 6th of the 39 Articles in the Prayer Book of the Church of England quotes the opinion of Jerome that the Church reads the Apocrypha “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The KJV Apocrypha contains two books not included in Luther’s list: 1-2 Esdras.

Whenever a British monarch is crowned, (s)he is presented a copy of the King James Bible which includes the Apocrypha. At the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, the British and Foreign Bible Society had prepared a sumptuous copy of the Bible for use in the solemnities, but it was refused because it did not contain the Apocrypha, and another copy was substituted. At the coronation of Elizabeth II, in 1953, for the first time in history the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (which is Presbyterian) was present and took part in the solemnities. The Queen took the coronation oath, hand on the Bible, then kissed the book. After she had signed the oath, the Bible was delivered to the Dean of Westminster, who handed it to the Moderator, the Right Rev. Dr. Pitt Watson, who presented it to the Queen, with a brief speech in which he said, “Herein is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.” This Bible contained the Apocrypha, which is expressly excluded from the canon by the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Some portions of the Apocrypha are actually quoted or referenced in the New Testament, along with other noncanonical books. It is clear from this and the writings of some of the Church Fathers that early Christians sometimes acknowledged books that did not make it into our Bible and that discussions of what should be part of the canon went on for several centuries after the councils had accepted our current biblical canon. The rightful status of the Apocrypha is a question that continues to be discussed today.

[i] It is possible that the Greek portions of Daniel were used because the original Hebrew of those sections had disappeared. The same seems to be true of those parts of Daniel that are in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, “Nebuchadnezzar or Nabonidus? Mistaken Identities in the Book of Daniel,” The Ensign, September 1986.

[ii] Luther was also doubtful about some of the books in the official biblical canon. For a discussion, see John A. Tvedtnes, “Will the Real Martin Luther Please Stand Up,” posted on the FAIR web site.