Most Protestants have never read the Apocrypha – the books contained in the Catholic Bible but not found in ours. I certainly hadn’t, but a friend of mine did a study on these books in his church a number of years ago, and it made me curious. One of the first things I discovered is that the content of the Apocrypha is not easy to define because the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include different books in addition to those to which we are accustomed. When I read through the books, my first thought was, “How could anyone possibly mistake these for the Word of God?” While some of the stories are interesting and the poetic works contain worthwhile wisdom, the significant number of historical and theological errors and contradictions clearly remove them from the realm of inerrancy. I purchased a good introduction to help me understand them better and proceeded to work through them. The result is a series of lessons that provide background, give an overview, discuss the extent to which the books have been influential in both Judaism and Christianity, and list reasons why they are clearly not the inspired Word of God. They are nonetheless worth studying for a number of reasons. They give considerable insight into the state of intertestamental Judaism – the Jewish thought contained in these books provided the thought environment within which first-century Christians lived and worked, and reading them helps us to understand why Jesus and Paul, in particular, were so critical of that mode of thinking and belief. Secondly, a knowledge of the Apocrypha helps us to understand Catholic thought as well. A number of key Catholic doctrines are first taught in the Apocrypha, including prayers for the dead, which is an essential foundation for the idea of Purgatory. Understanding these books can thus help us to communicate more fruitfully with Catholics in seeking to bear witness to the Gospel.
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