Should We Credit Luther for the Apocrypha?

There are many Christian stories not contained in the Bible.  For example, I have reviewed the First Infancy Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of the Birth of Mary, and the Gospel of Judas (to name a few).  These writings are referred to as apocryphal writings.  Some Christians have referred to the Book of Mormon as the “American Apocrypha.”  Often, we refer to “the Apocrypha” as a specific set of books.  So how did we get “the Apocrypha”?

I just watched Biblical Authors?  Dr Steve Kellmeyer, author of Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code said,

The Catholic Bible contains more books than the Protestant Bible because of events that happened long before Christ was born.  During the Babylonian exile, the Hebrews were scattered across the Mediterranean and many never returned.  Those who were in the east and never went back to Jerusalem lost their native language.  They were unable to read or write Hebrew after just a few generations.

But they wanted to maintain their connection with their faith.  In order to do this, the Jewish scriptures had to be translated into Greek.  So a hundred years before Christ is born, we have two versions of the Old Testament.  We have the Hebrew canon of scripture, and we have the Greek version of the Old Testament scriptures, and the Greeks themselves wrote additional books that were never translated back into the Hebrew.

This Greek version of scripture is called the Septuagint, and if we look at the New Testament, 80% of the quotes that Jesus and the apostles make to Old Testament scripture are from the Septuagint.  This is important because the Greek version is much more Christological and much more prophetic than the Hebrew versions of the scriptures.  Isaiah is different, for instance; Jeremiah is different, and the differences in the Greek version point much more clearly to Christ than those in the Hebrew.

So when it came to the point that the apostles were proselytizing those in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Hebrews were seeing enormous numbers of their fellow converting to Christianity, they decided to canonize their Old Testament, and the rule the used was, “anything written in Greek was not scripture.”  Why did they pick that rule?  Because the Greek scriptures were so Christological that people would convert simply by reading them.

But it was the Greek scriptures that were used by Jesus and the apostles, that were used constantly during the early church.  When people attempted to attack the scriptures and question what was part of scripture and what wasn’t, the churches decided what actually was and wasn’t scripture.  By the late 300’s and early 400’s, the popes and the councils of the church had defined scripture according to the Septuagint.  The Septuagint as I said had more books.

By the 1500’s when Martin Luther with the faith alone theology, he found that the excessive Christology of the Old Testament also pointed to elements of doctrine that did not support faith alone theology, so he was forced to move back to the Hebrew canon of scripture in order to support the idea that he was bringing forward.  That is why all of the Protestant scriptures now have fewer books in the Old Testament than those that are present in the Catholic Bible.

The interesting point is, up until 1827, there was no version of Protestant scripture that did not include those books.  Luther did not entirely throw them out of the Bible.  He simply lifted them and placed them into an appendix between the Old and the New Testaments.  The first time a Bible was ever printed without was 1827–the English Bible Society first promulgated a Bible that was missing those books.  Prior to that, centuries before it had even been illegal in England to do such a thing under the Protestant kings.  Anyone who put forward a Bible that was missing those books could be beheaded.

Here is a list of the books of the Apocrypha:

  1. The First Book of Esdras (also known as Third Esdras)
  2. The Second Book of Esdras (also known as Fourth Esdras)
  3. Tobit
  4. Judith
  5. The Additions to the Book of Esther
  6. The Wisdom of Solomon
  7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
  8. Baruch
  9. The Letter of Jeremiah (This letter is sometimes incorporated as the last chapter of Baruch. When this is done the number of books is fourteen instead of fifteen.)
  10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  11. Susanna
  12. Bel and the Dragon
  13. The Prayer of Manasseh
  14. The First Book of Maccabees
  15. The Second Book of Maccabees

I find it a bit ironic that Mormons and Protestants discuss whether faith or works is more important.  Why don’t we use the Catholic Bible?  Should we really be supporting Luther’s Bible?

14 comments on “Should We Credit Luther for the Apocrypha?

  1. Isn’t Luther’s Bible essentially the Catholic Bible? It included the Apocrypha, even if in an appendix. Perhaps your question should be, “shouldn’t we go back to using Luther’s Bible?”

  2. Joseph Smith said of Luther’s Bible: “I find it to be the most correct that I have found.” From the King Follet discourse
    Aparently when Joseph Smith was completing his inspired version. He had taken an interest in studying german and had just finshed reading Luthers bible. Its possible that his translation follows Luthers bible.

    There’s a revelation about the apocrypha D&C 91

    The Prophet was at this time engaged in the translation of the Old Testament. Having come to that portion of the ancient writings called the Apocrypha, he inquired of the Lord and received this instruction.

    Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;

    2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.

    3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated.

    4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;

    so what ever version of the bible he was using included the apocrypha.

  3. Yes Bishop Rick, I see what you’re saying. It seems to me that Luther was the guy who pointed out the difference between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament. Because he created an appendix, he called into question these books as apocryphal, leading to their removal in 1827, just 3 years prior to the restoration of our church.

    I am curious to look for Christocentric references in the Apocrypha. (I’ve intended to read these books, but keep getting to other books.) It seems strange that they’ve been removed. It also seems like Luther may have wanted to remove books that weren’t in line with his “grace only” theology.

  4. Another reason why is possible the apocrypha empasis on salvation through works.

    Ecclesiasticus 3:30, Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms maketh atonement for sin.

    Tobit 12:8-9, 17, It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin.

    another reason is that 2 macc:12 43-45. discusses work for the dead.
    …Whereupon he made reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.

    with the protestants increasing emphasis on salvation through grace. it was easier to get rid of the apocrypha from the Bible than to change their views about grace and works.

    The Apocrypha began to be omitted from the Authorized Version in 1629. Puritans and Presbyterians lobbied for the complete removal of the Apocrypha from the Bible and in 1825 the British and Foreign Bible Society agreed. From that time on, the Apocrypha has been eliminated from practically all English Bibles– except Catholic Bibles and some pulpit Bibles.

  5. Great info Astral_LDS! I knew there had to be a gradual moving away from the Apocrypha and didn’t know the details.

  6. Great minds think alike. Dave has an interesting post on the Apocrypha at http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/digital_faith/2011/02/apocrypha.html

  7. Found this recent very interesting article on BBC News Middle East:

    Early Christian relics/”sealed up scriptures” discovered.
    “Books” written on lead leaves bound by lead rings.


  8. Canute, Many scholars are balking at that “discovery” due to a lot of missing information and hearsay surrounding those plates. The pattern of “facts” surrounding those plates mirrors many fakes. Not saying they are fakes, but the facts don’t line up.

  9. Rick, I live in Norway, Europe. A national Norwegian newspaper had an article on the plates on April fools day. So I had to investigate further and followed the link to BBC, and found out that the BBC article was released the 26th of March.

    As far as I understand there are 70 of these “books” or booklets, and it is kind of convincing that the state of Jordan is working on high diplomatic level to repatriate them

    I guess you have already read this article from Jordan times?

    And this one from Daily Mail Online (UK)?:
    I quite agree with you, Rick. One should be cautious when claims like these are made. Forgeries in the area are often very skillfully produced . However, scientific tests of the material made so fare seem to be promising. Some of the great discoveries in the area, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the scriptures found in Nag Hammadi in Egypt, were uncovered much in the same manner as these lead booklets were.
    It will be interesting to see what comes out of this case in the future.

  10. Canute,

    I have not read those articles yet, but I read this one – http://bit.ly/geAoZf – in the Deseret News from Utah. BYU scholars are among those debunking them.

    I will check out the articles you linked as well, as this sort of thing interests me.

  11. Canute, thanks for the heads up. I love this sort of information, but I have a backlog of posts I’m trying to clear, so I haven’t had time to fully investigate this yet. I’ll definitely look into this issue some more.

  12. Thank you, Rick. An interesting and informative link you provided from the Deseret News. The guys commenting the article are almost killing each other, though……
    One of them comes up with a link to this page http://danielomcclellan.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/peter-thonemann-on-the-lead-codices/#comment-1584 as a final “evidence” that the codices are fake.
    A Peter Thonemann at Oxford is supposed to put his career on stake that the codices are not authentic.
    However, it seems to me, though, that what he has seen are photos taken of a copper codex found in Upper Egypt a year ago(?).

  13. There is a site on Wikipedia now, summing up what is going on:


    I am confused about what is happening. Has any specialist handlet the plates?
    Do they deduce they are fake from photos?
    Some of the plates are not of the recent finds? But from Upper Egypt last year?

  14. There seems to be some disagreement on the origin of some or all of the plates. Most are saying Jordan, but a few are saying Egypt. Its not clear if those examining the plates have done so in person or via photos, but the inscriptions seem to be from different periods, with some being copies from proven fake coins.

    The inconsistent origin stories, lack of patina, mixed alphabet and periods, and clear fake inscriptions point to the entire “find” being a hoax.

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