The Books of the Old Testament: The Apocrypha

TLSB Apocrypha2 (610x352)This article is a supplement to the church bulletin for our Palm Sunday service.  The Old Testament reading is from 2 Maccabees 10:1-7, which gives us a better context for understanding the people’s response as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  The text from 2 Maccabees reads:

With the Lord leading them, Maccabeus and his followers restored the Temple and the city [of Jerusalem].  They tore down the altars and the sacred shrines, which the foreigners built in the public square.  After purifying the sanctuary, they rebuilt the altar of sacrifice, and with fire struck from a flint, they offered sacrifices—the first in two years.  They offered incense, lighted the lamps, and set out the bread of the Presence.  After they had done all this, they bowed to the ground and pleaded with the Lord never again to fall into such misfortune, but if they should ever sin, for the Lord to discipline them with gentleness, not hand them over to blasphemous and pagan nations.  This day of purification of the Temple fell on the same day of the Temple’s defilement by foreigners, the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which is Chislev.  With rejoicing, they celebrated for eight days, as the Festival of Booths, remembering how a short time before they had spent the festival wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.  Carrying rods entwined with ivy, beautiful branches, and fronds of palm, they offered hymns of praise to him who made possible the purifying of his Holy Place.


Here’s the article.


Today’s Old Testament reading is from the Apocrypha.  Your pastor has chosen this reading because the events in Israel’s history during the time of the Maccabees shaped how the people responded to Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem.  But today’s reading from 2 Maccabees may leave you with some questions.  That’s why Pastor has written this article, which he hopes will be helpful.


The Septuagint

In Jesus’ day, and for centuries after, the Old Testament of the Christian Church was a Greek-language translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, called the “Septuagint.”  That’s why if you’ve ever looked up Old-Testament verses, which the New-Testament writers referenced, you’d soon find some differences.

Today, our Old Testaments are translations of the “Masoretic Text,” which Jewish Scholars, known as the Masoretes, put together between the 7th and 10th centuries.  Although the Septuagint is a translation, the texts the translators used were around 1,000 years older than the texts the Masoretes had (which means it is, at times, more accurate)!

Greek was the “universal” language around the Mediterranean basin, even in Judea.  So it made sense for Jesus and His Apostles to use the Septuagint as their Bible.  The New Testament confirms the Septuagint was their Bible, for almost all Old-Testament quotations in the New Testament come from the Septuagint.


Books in the Septuagint

So, what books were in the Septuagint, the Bible Jesus and His Apostles used?  Some of the titles in the Septuagint are different from what we use.  But we can still make sense of it, if we take the time:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings [1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings], Paralipomena [1-2 Chronicles], Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)], the twelve Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, Ezra [two books], Maccabees [two books].

What we find are some books we recognize and some we don’t.  We also find that some books in the Septuagint are longer than the version in the Masoretic Text, such as Daniel (which has Bel and the Serpent and Song of the Three Young Men) and Esther.  We also find books, which today, are part of what we call “the Apocrypha.”


So, what books did the Jews of Jesus’ day affirm to be Scripture?

We sometimes think the Jews of Jesus’ day were a single, monolithic, religious entity.  But we know this wasn’t true because we read about their in-fighting in the New Testament, in particular between the Sadducees and Pharisees.  The Jews separated into competing groups with their different schools, each claiming to be the true expression of Judaism.

Some of these groups held different opinions about which books were Scripture.

  • The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible and rejected the rest.
  • The Essenes didn’t recognize Esther, but they did accept Tobit, Sirach, and Enoch (not in the Septuagint).
  • The Pharisees had separated into two distinct groups: Shammai and Hillel.
    • The school of Shammai believed all the books in the Septuagint were Scripture, except Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Esther.
    • The school of Hillel affirmed all the books within the Septuagint as Scripture.

So, to understand what books make up the Old Testament, we cannot look to the Jews, for they couldn’t agree!  For Christians, only one first-century Jewish group was the real expression of Judaism—the Christians.  Jesus Christ and His Apostles set the norm for Christian belief and practice (1 Corinthians 11:1-2, Philippians 3:17).

So, what matters is what books Jesus and His Apostles accepted as Scripture, not Jews, who denied Jesus as the Messiah!


What Old Testament books did Jesus and His Apostles affirm to be Scripture?

Among the Jews, the Sadducees had the smallest number of books they considered as Scripture: only Genesis through Deuteronomy.  Because someone could only find statements testifying to body’s resurrection outside those books, the Sadducees didn’t believe in it.

So, some Sadducees challenged Jesus, trying to refute body’s resurrection.  They brought up a question about what would happen after the resurrection for a woman who remained childless through seven marriages to seven brothers (Matthew 22:23-28).

Old-Covenant Law commanded that if a man died with no children, his brother was to marry her and raise children for him (Genesis 38:8, Deuteronomy 25:5-6).  That was the “Social Security” of ancient Israel; it also ensured the proper transfer of property.  So, if seven brothers had married the same woman, each dying without any offspring, then whose wife would she be after the resurrection, since each man was her husband?

The Sadducees’ scenario bordered on the absurd.  Seven brothers marrying the same woman is so far-fetched that Jesus could have legitimately responded, “Show me such a woman and I will answer you.”  But the Apocrypha book of Tobit has that exact scenario (Tobit 3:8, 15), which was part of the Septuagint!

So, did Jesus consider the Septuagint as Scripture?  If He didn’t, He could have responded to the Sadducees, asking them, “Show me such a woman.”   If Jesus did consider the book of Tobit as part of Scripture, He would have responded differently, which is what He did.  He replied, “You [the Sadducees] are deceived because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

Jesus’ answer shows us the two points He was making:

  1. “You don’t know the Scriptures” = Tobit, a book in the Apocrypha, is Scripture.
  2. “You don’t know… the power of God” = God has the power even to raise the dead back to life.


1500 Years Later: The Lutheran Church

1500 years later, the Roman-Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther.  That started the beginnings of the Lutheran Church.  What the Lutheran Church did was to receive the Bible the Church has passed down to her: The Roman-Catholic Bible with the Deuterocanon, which included all the books in the Septuagint.

Luther then started to translate the Bible into German.  But he began to consider several books, for various reasons, as not Scripture.  For the Old Testament, he viewed Esther, Song of Songs, and the books of the Apocrypha as not Scripture.

If Luther had his way, he would have removed those books from the Bible (he also would have removed James and Revelation from the New Testament).  However, what we find Luther doing is not removing those books.  Despite his personal opinions, which he included in his prefaces to the books of the Bible, Luther knew he didn’t have the authority to remove any books from the Bible.  Thank God Luther didn’t remove any books from the Bible, despite his personal opinions about any particular book!

What Luther did do was move the Deuterocanon (2nd-level canon) into an unnumbered appendix called “Apocrypha.”  The Lutheran Church then moved from treating those books as Deuterocanon (2nd-level canon) to Anagignoskomena, books worthy of being read and preached from in the Church, but not to make doctrine.[1]  For those books, the Lutheran Church adopted the tradition used in the Eastern Church.

As a side note: Luther also made a similar move for the books of the New Testament that he didn’t like.  He moved James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation into its own, unnumbered appendix!  (I know, sound crazy, doesn’t it?)  With the Old Testament, Luther’s move of the Deuterocanon into its section called “Apocrypha” stuck.  For the New Testament, it didn’t.

Our Lutheran Confessions even refer to the Old-Testament Apocrypha as part of Scripture.[2]  Today’s Old Testament reading was from the book of 2 Maccabees.  Referring specifically to that Apocrypha book in our discussions with Rome, our Confessions say, “No verses exist in Scripture about the dead praying [for a specific person, not in general], except the dream recorded in 2 Maccabees” (AP, XXI, 9).  Our Lutheran Confessions, by name, refer to 2 Maccabees as “Scripture.”

Throughout our history, Lutheran pastors also preached from the Apocrypha books.  We also celebrated saint-day festivals remembering Tobias, Susanna, and Judith, all saints from the Apocrypha.  And in North America, Missouri Synod’s first president (C.F.W. Walther) even preached several wedding sermons from the Apocrypha book of Tobit.

Why, then, do most of our Bibles not have the Apocrypha?  When English became our mother tongue, we wound up adopting the shorter Old Testament that English-speaking Protestants around us were using, which by then had the Apocrypha removed.  (Contrary to myth, the Roman-Catholic Church did not add those books; Protestant churches removed them.)  But if you examine your Grandmother’s German Bible, even those printed by CPH, the Missouri Synod’s publishing house, you’d find all the books of the Apocrypha intact.



[1] We find in Martin Chemnitz’ Enchiridion that the Lutheran Church adopted Athanasius’ view of the Old-Testament Anagignoskomena, but used Jerome’s language, Apocrypha.

[2] For example, Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article 5, paragraph 158 and Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article 21, paragraph 9.