Several gracEmail readers have asked about the Apocrypha, books found in the Catholic Old Testament but not in most Protestant Bibles.
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The term “Apocrypha” is a Greek word meaning “hidden (books),” and it usually refers to 13-15 books of Jewish origin, written between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 120. The Palestinian rabbis did not include these books in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the “Old Testament”). The Egyptian Jews did include them in the Septuagint, however, which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made in Alexandria a century or two before Christ.
Later Christians viewed the Apocrypha in different ways. The Catholic Church followed a fifth-century Latin translation (Jerome’s “Vulgate”) based on the Septuagint and included most of the Apocrypha in their Bible. Protestants generally followed the Hebrew canon and ignored the Apocrypha. Anglicans accepted the Apocrypha as morally valuable but less than scriptural in authority.
Regardless of their attitude about the “inspiration” of these books, modern scholars recognize that, along with other intertestamental Jewish writings sometimes called the Pseudepigrapha, the “apocryphal” books provide an important link in understanding the development of Jewish spiritual thought during the time between Malachi and Matthew. No issues involving salvation depend on the apocryphal books, although the Apocrypha provides the best basis for both the doctrine of purgatory (held by Catholics) and the doctrine of everlasting torment (held by many Christians of all sorts).