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APOCRYPHAL BOOKS, THEIR ORIGIN—IMPORTANCE OF DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN CANONICAL AND APOCRYPHAL BOOKS—SIX BOOKS OF THIS CLASS PRONOUNCED CANONICAL BY THE COUNCIL OF TRENT—NOT IN THE HEBREW, NOR RECEIVED BY THE JEWS, ANCIENT OR MODERN.
THE word Apocrypha signifies concealed, obscure, without authority. In reference to the Bible, it is employed to designate such books as claim a place in the sacred volume, but which are not canonical. It is said to have been first used by Melito, bishop of Sardis.
An inquiry into this subject cannot be uninteresting to the friends of the Bible; for it behoves them to ascertain, on the best evidence, what books belong to the sacred volume, and also, on what grounds other books are rejected from the Canon. This subject assumes a higher importance from the fact, that Christians are much divided on this point; for, some receive as of canonical authority, books which others reject as spurious, or consider merely as human compositions. On such a point every Christian should 37form his opinion upon the best information which he can obtain.
In controversy with the Romanists this subject meets us at the very threshold. It is vain to dispute about particular doctrines of Scripture until it is determined what books are to be received as Scripture.
This subject gave rise to a very unpleasant controversy between the British and Foreign Bible Society and some of the leading ministers of Scotland. The principle adopted at the beginning by the Bible Society was, to circulate nothing but the text of the Holy Scriptures, without note or comment. But in order to get the Scriptures into the hands of the Romanists, Bibles containing the Apocrypha were circulated, which proceeding gave just offence to the ministers of the Church of Scotland, and to the efficient auxiliaries of that country.
A strong remonstrance was therefore made to the Managers of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and their answer not being entirely satisfactory, the Scotch ministers withdrew from the Society in London, and established one independent of the mother Society; and this breach has never been healed. But it is due to the British and Foreign Bible Society to state, that in consequence of the discussion, they adopted a correct principle for their future proceedings.
The whole subject was referred to a select and learned sub-committee; who, after mature deliberation, brought in a report which was adopted, and led to the following wise resolution in the General Committee, viz. “That the funds of the Society be applied to the printing and circulation of the canonical books of Scripture to the exclusion of those books 38which are termed apocryphal; and that all copies printed, either entirely or in part, at the expense of the Society, and whether such copies consist of the whole or of any part of such books, be invariably issued bound, no other book whatever being bound with them; and further, that all money grants to societies or individuals be made only in conformity with the principle of this regulation.”
“In the sacred volume, as it is to be hereafter distributed by the Society, there is to be nothing but divine truth, nothing but what is acknowledged by all Christians to be such. Of course all may unite in the work of distribution, even should they regard the volume as containing but part of the inspired writings; just as they might in the circulation of the Pentateuch or the Book of Psalms, or the Prophets, or the New Testament. Such harmonious operation would not, however, be possible, if the books of the apocrypha were mingled or joined with the rest; and besides, those who have the strongest objection to the apocrypha, are, ordinarily, those who are most forward in active and liberal efforts to send the word of God to all people.”
This judicious decision of the Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society depends for its correctness on the supposition that the books of the apocrypha are not canonical; for, whatever may be said about circulating a part of the Bible, it was undoubtedly the original object of this Society to print and circulate the whole of the sacred volume. Hence appears the practical importance of the inquiry which we have here instituted, to ascertain whether these 39books have any claim whatever to a place in the sacred Canon.
At a very early period of the Christian church, great pains were taken to distinguish between such books as were inspired and canonical, and such as were written by uninspired men. It has never been doubted among Christians, that the canonical books only were of divine authority, and furnished an infallible rule of faith and practice; but it has not been agreed what books ought to be considered canonical and what apocryphal. In regard to those which have already been enumerated, as belonging to the Old Testament, there is a pretty general consent of Jews and Christians, of Romanists and Protestants; but in regard to some other books there is a wide difference of opinion.
The council of Trent, in their fourth session, gave a catalogue of the books of the Old Testament, among which are included Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and two books of the Maccabees.1414See Note A. Besides, they include under the name Esther and Daniel, certain additional chapters, which are not found in the Hebrew copies. The book of Esther is made to consist of sixteen chapters; and prefixed to the book of Daniel, is the History of Susannah; the Song of the Three Children is inserted in the third chapter; and the History of Bel and the Dragon is added at the end of this book. Other books which are found in the Greek or Latin Bibles, they rejected as apocryphal; as the third and fourth books of 40Esdras;1515The first and second books of Esdras are very frequently called the third and fourth; in which case the two canonical books, Ezra and Nehemiah, are reckoned the first and second: for both these books have been ascribed to Ezra as their author; but these are not included in the list of canonical books sanctioned by the Council of Trent, and therefore they do not come into controversy. Indeed, the second of these books is not found even in the Greek, but only in the Latin Vulgate, and is so replete with fables and false statements that it has never been esteemed of any value. They are both, however, retained in our larger English Bibles, and are honoured with the foremost place in the order of the apocryphal books. the third book of Maccabees; the cli. Psalm; the Appendix to Job; and the Preface to Lamentations.
Both these classes of books, all denominations of Protestants consider apocryphal; but as the English church, in her Liturgy, directs that certain lessons shall be read from the former, for the instruction of the people, but not for confirmation of doctrine, they are retained in the larger copies of the English Bible, but are not mingled with the canonical books, as in the Vulgate, but placed at the end of the Old Testament, under the title of Apocrypha. It is certainly to be regretted that these books are permitted to be included in the same volume which contains the lively oracles,—the word of God,—the Holy Scriptures; all of which were given by inspiration; and more to be regretted still, that they should be read in the church promiscuously with the lessons taken from the canonical books; especially as no notice is given to the people, that what is read from these books is apocryphal; and as in the Prayer Book of the Episcopal church the tables which refer to the lessons to be read, 41have this title prefixed—“Tables of lessons of Holy Scripture to be read at Morning and Evening Prayer, throughout the year.” The Rev. Doctor Wordsworth, in his work on the Canon, defends the practice of retaining in the Bible, and publicly reading in the church, certain lessons from the apocryphal books, principally because this was done by the ancient church; and he apologizes for the practice by saying, that these lessons are never read on the Lord’s day. But as he acknowledges that they are not inspired, and are not canonical, the inference is plain, that they ought not to be included in the same volume with canonical books, and ought not to be read as Scripture in the churches. Now, however good and instructive these apocryphal lessons may be, it never can be justified, that they should thus be put on a level with the word of God.1616See Tables prefixed to the Book of Common Prayer; also, the Sixth Article of Religion of the Episcopal Church.
But it is our object at present to show, that none of these books, canonized by the Council of Trent, and inserted in our larger English Bibles, are canonical.
1. The first argument by which it may be proved that these books do not belong to the Canon of the Old Testament, is, that they are not found in the Hebrew Bible. They are not written in the Hebrew language, but in the Greek, which was not known to the Jews, until long after inspiration had ceased, and the Canon of the Old Testament was closed. It is rendered probable, indeed, that some of them were written originally in the Chaldaic. Jerome testifies this to be the fact, in regard to 1 Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus; 42and he says, that he translated the book of Tobit out of Chaldee into Latin; but this book is now found in the Greek, and there is good reason for believing that it was written originally in this language. It is certain, however, that none of these books were composed in the pure Hebrew of the Old Testament.
Hottinger, indeed, informs us, that he had seen the whole of the apocrypha in pure Hebrew, among the Jews; but he entertains no doubt that it was translated into that language, in modern times: just as the whole New Testament has recently been translated into pure Hebrew.
It is the common opinion of the Jews, and of the Christian Fathers, that Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Books written by uncertain authors afterwards, have no claim to be reckoned canonical, and there is good reason for believing that those books were written long after the time of Ezra and Malachi, and some of them perhaps later than the commencement of the Christian era.
2. These books, though probably written by Jews, have never been received into the Canon by that people. In this, the ancient and modern Jews are of the same mind. Josephus declares, “That no more than twenty-two books were received as inspired by his nation.” Philo, who refers often to the Old Testament in his writings, never makes the least mention of them; nor are they recognized in the Talmud as canonical. Not only so, but the Jewish Rabbies expressly reject them.
Rabbi Azariah, speaking of these books, says, “They are received by Christians, not by us.”
R. Gedaliah, after giving a catalogue of the books 43of the Old Testament, with some account of their authors, adds these words, “It is worth while to know, that the nations of the world wrote many other books, which are included in their systems of sacred books, but not in our hands.” To which he adds, “They say that some of these are found in the Chaldee, some in the Arabic, and some in the Greek language.”
R. Azariah ascribed the book called the Wisdom of Solomon to Philo; and R. Gedaliah, in speaking of the same book, says, “That if Solomon ever wrote it, it must have been in the Syriac language, to send it to some of the kings in the remotest parts of the East. “But,” says he, “Ezra put his hand only to those books which were published by the prophets, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and written in the sacred language; and our wise men prudently and deliberately resolved to sanction none, but such as were established and confirmed by him.”
“This book,” says he, “the Gentiles (i. e. Christians) have added to their Bible.” “Their wise men,” says Buxtorf, “pronounced this book to be apocryphal.”
The book called Ecclesiasticus, said to be written by the son of Sirach, is expressly numbered among apocryphal books in the Talmud. “In the book of the Son of Sirach, it is forbidden to be read.”
Manasseh Ben Israel has this observation, “Those things which are alleged from a verse in Ecclesiasticus are nothing to the purpose, because that is an apocryphal book.” Another of their writers says, “The book of the son of Sirach is added to our twenty-four sacred books by the Romans.” This book also they call extraneous, which some of the Jews prohibit to be 44read. With what face then can the Romanists pretend that this book was added to the Canon not long before the time of Josephus?
“Baruch,” says one of their learned men, “is received by Christians,” (i. e. Romanists,) “but not by us.”
Of Tobit, it is said in Zemach David, “Know, then, that this book of Tobias is one of those which Christians join with the Hagiographa.” A little afterwards, it is said, “Know then, that Tobit, which is among us in the Hebrew tongue, was translated from Latin into Hebrew by Sebastian Munster.” The same writer affirms of the history of Susannah, “That it is received by Christians but not by us.”
The Jews, in the time of Jerome, entertained no other opinion of these books than those who came after them; for, in his preface to Daniel, he informs us, “That he had heard one of the Jewish doctors deriding the history of Susannah, saying, ‘It was invented by some Greek, he knew not whom.’”1717See the Thesaurus Philologicus of Hottinger.
The same is the opinion of the Jews respecting the other books, which we call apocryphal, as is manifest from all the copies of the Hebrew Bible extant; for, undoubtedly if they believed that any of these books were canonical, they would give them a place in their sacred volume. But will any ask, what is the opinion of the Jews to us? I answer, much on this point. The oracles of God were committed to them; and they preserved them with a religious care until the advent of Messiah. Christ never censures them for adding to the sacred Scriptures, nor detracting from them. Since their nation has been in dispersion, copies of the Old Testament in Hebrew have been scattered all over 45the world, so that it was impossible to produce a universal alteration in the Canon. But it is needless to argue this point, for it is agreed by all that these books never were received by the Jewish nation.
3. The third argument against the canonical authority of these books is derived from the total silence respecting them in the New Testament. They are never quoted by Christ and his apostles. This fact, however, is disputed by the Romanists, and they even attempt to establish their right to a place in the Canon from the citations which they pretend have been made from these books by the apostles. They refer to Rom. xi. and Heb. xi., where they allege that Paul has cited passages from the Book of Wisdom. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?” “For before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God.” But both these passages are taken directly from the canonical books of the Old Testament. The first is nearly in the words of Isaiah; and the last from the book of Genesis; their other examples are as wide of the mark as these, and need not be set down.
It has already been shown that these books were not included in the volume quoted and referred to by Christ and his apostles, under the title of the Scriptures, and and are entirely omitted by Josephus in his account of the sacred books. It would seem, therefore, that in the time of Christ, and for some time afterwards, they were utterly unknown or wholly disregarded.46
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