Should Christians Read the Apocrypha?

I have had evangelicals ask about the Apocrypha, seemingly concerned about their nature. Should Christians read the Apocrypha?

My short answer is yes, but more information is needed.

I have heard people describe the Apocrypha as “those Roman Catholic books.” Let me be clear, the Roman Catholic Church had nothing to do with the creation of these books. These are Jewish books, many of them written before there was any form of Christianity, much less the Roman Catholic Church. It just so happens that Roman Catholics include them in their Bibles. But feelings for or against Catholicism should not influence our attitude toward the Apocrypha. By the way, Martin Luther included the Apocrypha in his translation of the Bible, he just moved them to a separate section.

What is the Apocrypha?

The word means it ‘hidden,’ although that is a name given later by Christians and not the original Jewish authors. There is some variety in the actual contents of the Apocrypha, but most often it is the following:

1 Esdras
2 Esdras
Tobit
Judith
Rest of Esther
Wisdom
Ecclesiasticus
Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy
Song of the Three Children
Story of Susanna
The Idol Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasses
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees

How should we interpret these books?

They are all different genres and so they should be interpreted carefully. Other than the books of Maccabees, none of them are history. Some of them are historical fiction, but I use historical very loosely. Second Esdras is an apocalypse much like Revelation and even written near the same time. I really enjoy 1 and 2 Maccabees. They are history with a lot of theological reflection. If you ever wondered where Hanukkah came for, you will find it there. I think every Christian should read them. My favourite for pure entertainment value are the Story of Sussana and Bel and the Dragon, which are ancient detective stories featuring Daniel.

Why should Christians read the Apocrypha?

We should not read them for theological information. They are not inspired and we have everything we need in the Bible. We should read them to better understand the Judaism of the first century. Many of these are the stories that were popular in the days of Jesus. So if you have never taken a look, now is the time to read the Apocrypha.

Although there are many places to find the KJV of the Apocrypha online, you might find this translation easier to read. If you want to learn more, you might like these books:

Invitation to the Apocrypha

Introduction to the Apocrypha

 

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