'The Lord knoweth all that may be known, And He beholdeth the signs of the world. He declareth the things that are past, and for to come, And revealeth the steps of hidden things.'
Apocrypha. Ecelesiasticus 42:18, 19.
THE Books of the Apocrypha, except 2nd Esdras, although not included in the Palestinian Canon, ie., the Hebrew Bible, are included in the Alexandrian, ie., the Greek translation known as the Septuagint.
Apocrypha is a Greek word meaning "hidden," "secret." It occurs, for example, in Colossians 2: 3:
"In whom are hid (apokruphos) all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Mark the sense in which the word is used. Unfortunately it has passed through different stages of meaning, and in process of time came to have a bad sense differing little from spurious. In the Septuagint the Apocryphal Books, standing without any mark of distinction, were employed by some of the Greek fathers in the same way as the other Books, and are referred to by Origen, Clement and others as " Scripture," "Divine Scripture" and "Inspired."
The Book of Common Prayer (Articles of Religion V].) tells us "The other Books (ie., the Apocrypha) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine." The books there referred to as "The Third Book of Esdras" and "The Fourth Book of Esdras" are now more commonly known as 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras.
The Apocryphal Books were first separated from the canonical in the earliest Protestant edition of the German Bible (1530). When the Reformation came, however, Luther reverted to the Hebrew Canon and placed these Books apart under the title of Apocrypha. At the same time he segregated Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation at the end of the New Testament as "Books of lesser value." (p. 219, Our Bible and Ancient MSS. Kenyon.) Coverdale's English Bible (1535) includes the fourteen Books of the Apocrypha in the same order as they appear today.
During the last century, some bitter, controversies have raged over the Apocrypha, resulting in the exclusion of these Books from most of the Bibles now issued. The degree of estimation in which the Apocryphal Books have been held has varied much according to place and time.
The attitude of the various branches of the Christian Church towards these Books may be stated thus: (1) The Roman Catholic Church says these Books are "Inspired and Canonical." (2) Anglican and Lutheran Churches say these Books are "Inspired but not Canonical." (3) The Reformed or Protestant Free Churches says these Books are "Neither Inspired nor Canonical." References from the Apocryphal Books are included in the "Calendar with the Table of Lessons" (Book of Common Prayer), and, therefore, the Apocrypha is included in the Lectern Bibles of the Church of England. Whatever attitude we may take as to the authenticity of these books, it will be seen that not all authorities condemn them, and Bible students will find therein further fields of exploration. For example, the Second Book of Esdras, chapter 13, includes, among many prophecies relating to the Latter Days, a reference to the Ten Tribes "Which were led away out of their own land at the time of Osea the King." The Book of Tobit, of the tribe of Naphtali, gives an insight into life among the Ten Tribes in captivity in Assyria. The First Book of Maccabees. chapter 12, identifies the Spartans (Lacedemonians) with Israel.
The Second Book of Esdras [ Ezra ] is worthy of special comment. The general opinion seems to be that: "the book is not all by one hand. The oldest part-chapters 3 to 14- seems to have been written by a non-Christian Jew of Alexandria about A.D. 81-96; chapters 1, 11, 15 and 16, are by a Christian Jew there about 263." Ewald (1803-1875) claims a Hebrew origin for this Book, and both Wellhausen and Charles point out that a Hebrew origin must be assumed on various grounds; but we are dependent upon Latin manuscripts for our present translation, although some fragment of the Greek texts are still available. From the earliest centuries of the Christian era the Book enjoyed widespread popularity, and apart from the Latin translation there are ancient versions in Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Armenian. This widespread dissemination in itself testifies to the popularity of the work, and it is interesting to note that Clement and Ambrose refer to Second Esdras as "Prophetic Scripture."
Esdras is charged by the Lord with a visit to the Ten Tribes who set him "at naught" and despised the Commandment of the Lord. However, he delivers his message telling them to "Be ready to the reward of the Kingdom" (2 Esdras 2:33-35). Most commentators regard the Book as written in the First century of the Christian era, but the Book itself is dated (3:1, 29). Esdras is concerned for Israel and for the Covenants and beseeches the Lord to let him have understanding (4:22-23). His requests are answered in the subsequent chapters, sometimes called the Apocalypse of Esdras. These eschatological visions take up the major portion of the remainder of the Book. Chapter 7:43 says "the day of doom shall be the end of this time" chapter 8:63 gives a message for "the last times;" chapter 10:59 speaks of "the last days;" chapter 12:9 shows that the visions refer to "the last times;" chapter 14:9 refers to "until the times be ended." Since the Book contains question and answer regarding the last times, it obviously holds interest for all students who have the restoration of Israel and the fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant at heart. It is not desired to give the Book a status it does not deserve, but any book which claims to give information regarding our own age, and our own people, is worthy of consideration.
The Apocrypha has had the last word of many a critic who, during his lifetime, has argued against its authenticity, when, at his funeral service, his mourners have found comfort through a reading of the gracious words which open the third chapter of the Wisdom of Solomon.