How We Got the Old Testament

Apocrypha (610x350)This lesson is part of adult catechesis after studying the Small Catechism.  It in, we look at how we received what we call the Old Testament.  Warning: This may be upsetting, for Church history does not affirm the content of the Old Testament that most read today.


As a frame of reference, we start by looking at the Bible of Jesus and his Apostles: The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which also included some texts written in Greek.


The Septuagint

In Jesus’ day, Greek was the “universal” language around the Mediterranean basin, even in Judea.  Even before Jesus was born, Jews had lost the ability to read and speak Hebrew.  Hebrew became the domain of rabbis, who had to learn it to read the Hebrew-language scriptures.  We see the Old Testament reveal the Israelites’ loss of Hebrew after they returned from their captivity in Babylon.

Read Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1, 7-8

So it made sense for Jesus and His Apostles to use a Greek-language Old Testament, 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.  When we include the New-Testament’s use of what we call the “apocrypha,” which is only in the Septuagint, the case is closed.


How We Got the Bible, Septuagint vs Masoretic Text


If you want to go crazy after this lesson, you can look up the differences by referencing the footnote.[1]

In Jesus’ day, and centuries after, the Old Testament of the Christian Church was the Greek-language Septuagint.  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)!


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.”

Bottom Line: The books in the Septuagint are the books in the Roman-Catholic Bible (or Protestant Bible with the Apocrypha intact). 


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 the other books in the Masoretic Text. They also included Tobit, Sirach (in the Septuagint), 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 these books in the Masoretic Text: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Esther.
    • The school of Hillel affirmed all the books within the Septuagint to be 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 the Jews of 2,000 years ago, most of whom denied Jesus as the Messiah!


What Old Testament books did Jesus 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 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.


1 and 2 Maccabees

Jesus celebrated a Jewish religious festival of the Feast of Dedication (for Jews today it has morphed into Chanukah).  Backdrop: Antiochus IV, the Syrian ruler over Israel, turned the Jerusalem Temple into a shrine for Zeus (1 Maccabees 1:41-61, 2 Maccabees 6:1-2).  He insisted on being called “Epiphanes,” meaning that he was a manifestation of God.  The Jews saw this as being blasphemous and attempting to be “equal to God” (2 Maccabees 9:12, 28).  Judas (Judah) Maccabee, a Jewish military leader, led a revolt to cleanse and rededicate the Temple in 164 BC (1 Maccabees 4:36-59, 2 Maccabees 10:1-8).

John 10:22

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem.

1 Maccabees 4:59

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at the season the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed.


Some other New-Testament uses of the Apocrypha

2 Corinthians 9:7: References the Septuagint (Only) and the Apocrypha

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Sirach 35:11

With every gift show a cheerful face and dedicate your tithe with gladness.

Proverbs 22:9a (Septuagint only; not in Masoretic Text)

God blesses a cheerful man and a giver…

Masoretic Text: A generous person will be blessed…



Hebrews 1:3: Jesus is described as the Radiance of God

He is the radiance [Greek: apaugasma] of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:26

For she [Wisdom, a feminine-gendered word in the Greek] is a reflection [Greek: apaugasma] of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.



Hebrews 11:35: Extolled martyrs

Women received back their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

2 Maccabees 7:1, 13-14

It happened also that seven brothers and their mothers were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh…. When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourths in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him.  But for you there will be no resurrection to life.


Life in the early Church

Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire until Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD.  After that, when the Church met to resolve differences, she first focused on Jesus.  If the Church got Jesus wrong, nothing else mattered.  The result of these meetings (councils) were the Nicene Creed.

Only after that did the Church consider the books of Scripture to be important enough to specify.  The Church had to resolve what was Old-Testament Scripture because three traditions had developed.

  • Athanasius (295-373), the Bishop of Alexandria, held all the books of the Septuagint were Scripture. Some books, however, were anagignoskomena, books worthy of being read, studied, and preached on in the Church.  However, he held that doctrine was not to be created from such books.  These anagignoskomena books are the same books we call “apocrypha.”
  • Cyril (315-386), the Bishop of Jerusalem, considered all the books of the Septuagint to be Scripture. However, among the books, he put the “original” Greek-language books into a category called deuterocanon, a second-tier level of canon.  He considered them canonical books (used to make doctrine), but of secondary rank.  This classification changes, in practice but not wording, later within the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Jerome (347-420), Translator: He was commissioned to make a new translation of the Bible into Latin, which became the Vulgate. Jerome was the first Church father who wanted to remove the “original” Greek-language books of the Old Testament, which he called “apocrypha.”

The Church met at Carthage in 397 AD (today in Tunisia), declaring that Athanasius’ and Cyril’s views were acceptable, but not Jerome’s.  Irony: The Lutheran Church adopted Jerome’s use of language (apocrypha) and moved toward the Eastern Church’s anagignoskomena view.  We adopted the term “apocrypha” because Luther did want to remove those books from the Bible, although he did not.


Biblical versus Canonical

How We Got the Bible, Biblical vs Canonical


1100 Years after Carthage: The Lutheran Church

1120 years later, the Roman-Catholic Church excommunicates Martin Luther.  That starts the beginning 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.  So, he didn’t, 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.[2]  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!  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.[3]  For example, “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 adopted 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 were to examine the German-language Bibles printed by the Missouri Synod’s publishing house, you’d find all the books of the Apocrypha intact.


Next Week: The New Testament and How to Read the Bible


Click here to go to How We Got the New Testament.


[1] Enoch was not, because God translated him, Gen 5:24 in Heb 11:5.  To your seed Gn 12:7 in Ga 3:16.  Jacob ::: worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff, Gen 47:31 in Heb 11:21.  Would you kill me, as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?, Ex 2:14 in Ac 7:27-28.  My name might be published abroad in all the earth, Ex 9:16 in Ro 9:17.  A royal priesthood, Ex 19:6 in 1 Pe 2:9.  The Lord knows those who are his, Nu 16:5 in 2 Tm 2:19.  You will worship the Lord your God, Dt 6:13 in Mt 4:10 and Lk 4:8.  Put away the wicked man from among yourselves, Dt 17:7 in 1 Cor 5:13.  Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, Dt 21:23 in Ga 3:13.  Cursed is everyone who does not continue, Dt 27:26 in Ga 3:10.  Let all the angels of God worship him, Dt 32:43 in He 1:6.  Why did the Gentiles rage?, Ps 2:1-2 in Ac 4:25-26.  Their throat is an open sepulchre, Ps 5:9 in Ro 3:13.  Out of the mouth of infants, Ps 8:2 in Mt 21:16.  What is man, that you are mindful of him?, Ps 8:4-6 in He 2:6-8.  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, Ps 10:7 in Ro 3:14.  They have together become unprofitable, Ps 14:1-3 in Ro 3:10-12.  You will not leave my soul unto Hades, Ps 16:8-11 in Ac 2:25-28.  Their sound went out into all the earth, Ps 19:4 in Ro 10:18.  I will declare your name to my brothers, Ps 22:22 in He 2:12.  Sacrifice and offering you would not, Ps 40:6-8 in He 10:5-6.  That you might be justified in your words, Ps 51:4 in Ro 3:4.  They have together become unprofitable, Ps 53:1-3 in Ro 3:10-12.  Let their table be made a snare, Ps 69:22-23 in Ro 11:9-10.  He gave them bread out of heaven to eat, Ps 78:24 in Jn 6:31.  Today, if you will hear his voice, Ps 95:7-8 in He 3:15 and He 4:7.  Today, if you will hear his voice, Ps 95:7-11 in He 3:7-11.  And they all grow old as does a garment, Ps 102:25-27 in He 1:10-12.  I believed, and therefore did I speak, Ps 116:10 in 2 Cor 4:13.  The Lord is my helper, Ps 118:6 in He 13:6.  The poison of snakes in under their lips, Ps 140:3 in Ro 3:13.  For whom the Lord loves he disciplines, Pr 3:11-12 in He 12:5-6.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, Pr 3:34 in James 4:6 and 1 Pe 5:5.  And if the righteous is barely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear, Pr 11:31 in 1 Pe 4:18.  If your enemy hungers, feed him, Pr 25:21-22 in Ro 12:20.  Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we should have been as Sodom, Is 1:9 in Ro 9:29.  By hearing you will hear, and in no wise understand, Is 6:9-10 in Mt 13:14-15 and Mk 4:12.  By hearing you will hear, and in no wise understand, Is 6:9-10 in Ac 28:26-27.  Lest they should see with their eyes ::: and I should heal them, Is 6:9-10 in John 12:40.  Behold, the virgin will be with child, Is 7:14 in Mt: 1:23.  I will put my trust in him, Is 8:17 in He 2:13.  It is the remnant who will be saved, Is 10:22-23 in Ro 9:27-28.  On him will the Gentiles hope, Is 11:10 in Ro 15:12.  When I will take away their sins, Is 27:9 in Ro 11:27.  He who believes on him will not be put to shame, Is 28:16 in Ro 9:33, 10:11, and 1 Pe 2:6.  Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men, Is 29:13 in Mt 15:8-9 and Mk 7:6-7.  I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, Is 29:14 in 1 Cor 1:19.  All flesh will see the salvation of God, Is 40:3-5 in Lk 3:4-6.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Is 40:3 in Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3, and Jn 1:23.  All flesh is as grass, Is 40:6-8 in 1 Pt 1:24-25.  Who has known the mind of the Lord?, Is 40:13 in Ro 11:34 and 1 Cor 2:16.  And in his name will the Gentiles hope, Is 42:4 in Mt 12:21.  A people for God’s own possession, Is 43:21 in 1 Pe 2:9.  To me every knee will bow, Is 45:23 in Ro 14:11.  At an acceptable time I hearkened unto you, Is 49:8 in 2 Cor 6:2.  For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, Is 52:5 in Ro 2:24.  They will see, to whom no news of him came, Is 52:15 in Ro 15:21.  Who has believed our report?, Is 53:1 in Jn 12:38 and Ro 10:16.  He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, Is 53:7-8 in Ac 8:32-33.  Neither was guile found in his mouth, Is 53:9 in 1 Pt 2:22.  Rejoice you barren who does not bear, Is 54:1 in Ga 4:27, The holy and sure blessings of David, Is 55:3 in Ac 13:34.  To set at liberty those who are bruised, Is 58:6 in Luke 4:18.  He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob, Is 59:20-21 in Ro 11:26-27.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Is 61:1-2 in Lk 4:18-19.  I was found by those who did not seek me, Is 65:1 in Ro 10:20.  A disobedient and gainsaying people, Is 65:2 in Ro 10:21.  Behold, the days come, Jer 31:31-34 in He 8:8-12.  I will put my laws on their heart, Jer 31:33-34 in He 10:16-17.  I will call them my people who were not my people, Ho 2:23 in Ro 9:25. I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, Ho 6:6 in Mt 9:13 and 12:7.  O death, where is your sting?, Ho 13:14 in 1 Cor 15:55.  I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh, Jl 2:28-32 in Ac 2:17-21.  You took up the tabernacle of Moloch, Am 5:25-27 in Ac 7:42-43.  I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen, Am 9:11-12 in Ac 15:16-17.  For I work a work in your days, which you will in no wise believe, Hab 1:5 in Ac 13:41.  But my righteous one shall live by faith, Hab 2:3-4 in He 10:37-38.

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

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