The Apocrypha and the Apostolic Fathers

The Apocrypha and the Apostolic Fathers

Lesson 2

By Pr. Rich Futrell

Jan 9, 2011


Last week, we saw how Jesus called one book of the Apocrypha “scripture” and how Jesus celebrated a festival in the Jewish liturgical church-year calendar that is only mentioned in the Apocrypha.  We also saw how the New Testament routinely referred to content in the Apocrypha from a worldview that simply saw it as authoritative.


Messianic Message of the Apocrypha

Besides the New Testament matter-of-factly referencing the Apocrypha (simply because it was part of the Septuagint, the Greek-language Old Testament of Jesus’ day), the Apocrypha was also profoundly messianic.

Here is simply one example:

Numbers 21:6-9

Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you.  Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set in on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole.  And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Wisdom of Solomon 16:5-7

And [when the Israelites] were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, your wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning and received a symbol for deliverance to remind them of your law’s command.  For he who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw, but by you, the Savior of all.

John 3:14

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

–          The messianic message of John 3:14 does not rest on the Wisdom of Solomon passage.  Yet, how do the Numbers and Wisdom of Solomon accounts together better support the point the Apostle John makes?


We will see later how the strong messianic message within the Septuagint (including the Apocrypha) led to its rejection by Jews in the 2nd century.


The Apostolic Fathers and the Apocrypha

The Apostolic Fathers are a small number of early Christian bishops who lived and wrote in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century.  They are acknowledged as the leaders in the immediate post-apostolic Church.  Their writings were not included in the New Testament.  They include (but are not limited to) Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna.


Clement was the 4th Bishop of Rome (after Peter, Linus, and Cletus).  He may be the Clement whom Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3.  According to Tertullian, the Apostle Peter ordained Clement into the Office of the Holy Ministry.

In 96 AD, Clement wrote a letter to the church in Corinth.  In his letter, Clement references the Apocrypha.  What is interesting in Clement’s letter is how he uses the Apocrypha.

1 Clement 3:4

Instead all follow the lusts of their depraved hearts, for they have absorbed that unrighteousness and ungodly jealousy through which “death entered into the world.”

Wisdom 2:23-24

For God created mankind for incorruption and made him in the image of his own character, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world.

In another place, Clement seamlessly wove together words from Wisdom of Solomon and the Psalms.  The way Clement wove two Old Testament texts into one seamless thought showed that he viewed both as being authoritative.

1 Clement 27:5-7

“Who will say to him, ‘What have you done?’  Or who will resist the might of his strength?”  He will do all things when he wills and as he wills, and none of those things decreed by him will fail.  All things are in his sight, and nothing escapes his will, seeing that the heavens “declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

Wisdom 12:12

For who will say, “What have you done?”  Or will resist your judgment?

Psalm 19:1

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Later in his letter, Clement used the example of two Old Testament saints to encourage his readers in Corinth.  One OT saint was Esther; the other was Judith from the Apocrypha.  That Clement mentions both together in such a way shows that he saw the Apocrypha book of Judith and OT book of Esther as both authoritative.

Clement 55:5-6

The blessed Judith, when the city was under siege, asked the elders to permit her to go to the enemy’s camp.  So she exposed herself to danger and went out for love of her country and her besieged people, and the Lord delivered Holophernes into the hand of a woman.  To no less danger did Esther, who was perfect in faith, expose herself, to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from imminent destruction.

The Didache

This is, perhaps, the earliest writing of the New Testament Church outside the New Testament.  It is so early that the Christians were still mostly Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and the teachings in the Didache were an instruction book for adult Gentile converts (Gentiles were still called “they”).

The Didache makes a statement, which it treats as scripture, but its source cannot be found.  Scholars believe that the following statement is a paraphrase of Sirach 12:1.  If so, it is a very loose paraphrase, indeed.  That being said, Sirach 12:1 is the closest part of Scripture that anyone can find for the quotation.

Didache 1:6

But it has also been said concerning this: “Let your gift sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it.”

Sirach 12:1

If you do a kindness, know to whom you do it.

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of the Apostle John.  While en route to his martyrdom at Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to Christian congregations.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius describes his coming martyrdom at Rome, which he likened to a ransom (antipuschon).  However, the word antipuschon is only found in the Apocrypha, not the New Testament.

To convey a similar idea, the New Testament uses forms of lutron (Mark 10:45, “ransom”; 1 Timothy 2:6, “ransom”) or apolutrosis (Hebrews 9:15), not antipuschon.  That Ignatius uses a Greek word in the Apocrypha to relate his coming martyrdom to a ransom shows that Apocrypha was familiar to him and his readers.

2 Maccabees 7:37

[The young man said,] “I like my brothers, ransom [antipuschon] body and life for the laws of our fathers …

Ignatius’ Ephesians 21:1

I am your ransom [antipuschon] and of those whom you sent for God’s honor to Smyrna.

Ignatius’ Smyrna 10:2

May my spirit be a ransom [antipuschon] on your behalf …

Ignatius’ Polycarp 2:3

May I be a ransom [antipuschon] on your behalf in every respect …

Ignatius’ Polycarp 6:1

I am a ransom [antipuschon] on behalf of those who are obedient to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons …


Polycarp was also a student of the Apostle John, although younger than Ignatius.  He became a 2nd-century Bishop of Smyrna and was martyred for the faith when he was 86.

Only one of Polycarp’s letters survives to this day: his letter to the Philippians.  In that letter, he references the Apocrypha one time.  What is most interesting, however, is Polycarp’s quoting from the Apocrypha followed in immediate sequence with New Testament quotations.  This reveals he viewed the Apocrypha the same way he did the New Testament.

Polycarp’s Philippians 10:2

When you are able to do good, do not put it off, because charity delivers from death.  All of you be subject to one another, and maintain an irreproachable standard of conduct among the Gentiles.

Tobit 4:10

For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness.

Ephesians 5:21

…submitting to one another…

1 Peter 2:12

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable …

The Jewish Rejection of the Septuagint and the Apocrypha

Today, many think the Septuagint is an early “Christian” translation of the Old Testament.  This assertion is not true in that it was a translation authorized by the Jews for Jews into the Greek language.  It became the de facto Old Testament (Bible) that Jews used as Greek became the lingua franca of the Mediterranean basin following the time of Alexander the Great.

When Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted and referenced the Septuagint, they were simply following the norm of what was authoritative.  This is especially noteworthy in differences between the Septuagint and Masoretic Text and which different rendering made its way into the New Testament.  The New Testament has 77 instances where it favors the Septuagint over the Masoretic Text.  It has only 6 where the Masoretic Text is favored!

In Jesus’ day, the Septuagint was the Old Testament.  So a move away from the Septuagint had to take place by the Jews in the Post-Jerusalem-fall era.  And such a movement did take place.

In 70 AD, the Jewish Temple was destroyed.  Differing strains of Judaism died out except the synagogue-based Pharisees, which became the forerunner of today’s Rabbinic Judaism.  However, before the destruction of Jerusalem, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Jamnia (Yavne), about 40 miles north of Jerusalem, where he received permission from the Romans to start a school of Jewish law.

This surviving school became the leading light in Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem.  In 135 AD, Akiba ben Joseph became the head of the school at Jamnia.  It was under his influence that the Jews “officially” rejected the Septuagint, including the Apocrypha.  This school forbade the use of the Septuagint–specifically because Christians were so successful in using it to convert Jews.

Rabbi Akiba disliked the Apocrypha.  A Jewish source states that he wanted to “disarm Christians–especially Jewish Christians–who drew their ‘proofs’ from the Apocrypha.”  Akiba also wanted “to emancipate the Jews of the Dispersion from the domination of the Septuagint, the errors and inaccuracies in which frequently distorted the true meaning of Scripture, and were even used as arguments against the Jews by the Christians.” (

So we find that the Jews–only after they had theological axes to grind–rejecting the Septuagint, which included the Apocrypha.

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