AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | The Law. | Works. | Sin. | Wisdom. | Eschatology. | Miscellaneous.

The doctrinal teaching contained in the Apocrypha, dealt with in the preceding chapter, will have suggested a number of points of contact with important matters of Christian belief as set forth in the New Testament. The fact that we have in this body of literature what constitutes in many respects the background of the New Testament is sufficient to show its importance for the study of the latter. It is essential to recognize that the books of the Apocrypha are not isolated literary pieces thrown up at haphazard. But that they place before us the expression of the spirit of a people in a living development, and definitely related to that development, the continued process of which may be seen in the New Testament writings.

The books of the Apocrypha were written, some before, some during, and one at least (though embodying earlier thought and teaching) at the end of the first Christian century - the period, that is, during which the New Testament writings were composed. The writers of those books represent different types of Jews and different schools of thought.

BenSira was an orthodox Jew, more or less, with a leaning towards Sadduceeism, however, rather than Pharisaism. The writers of the books of Tobit, Judith, and others, were Jews of the more strictly Pharisaic type.

The book of Wisdom represents the standpoint of the Hellenistic Jew.

And the writings comprised in II Esdras are those of the Apocalyptic school of thinkers, orthodox in the main, but holding views which in some particulars were distasteful to official Pharisaism.

Similarly in the New Testament, the Gospels contain much that deals with Sadduceeism, Pharisaism, and Apocalyptic.

And in the Pauline epistles and other writings vital doctrinal questions receive much attention, a number of them being precisely the same as those that exercised the minds of the writers of the Apocrypha.

It is, thus, obvious that a body of literature which contains Jewish thought and teaching as these existed at the beginning of the Christian era, and with which, as the New Testament shows, the early Jewish Christians were familiar, must offer much that is of interest and importance for the study of the New Testament.

This is not the place to work out in detail the parallels, the developments, and the contrasts, between the Apocrypha and the New Testament; but it is worthwhile to indicate certain subjects that play an important part in the doctrinal teaching of each.

I. First, as to THE LAW

We have seen in the preceding chapter the supreme position assigned to the Law, and its literal observance, in the Apocrypha generally. This represents the Pharisaic belief and practice regarding the Law. It need hardly be pointed out that our Lord, in spiritualizing the Law, changed its whole nature; so that here we have a contrast between the Apocrypha and the New Testament which is fundamental; the former illustrates the general background of the Gospels in this particular. On the other hand, it must in fairness be recognized that a conception of the Law in a non-Pharisaic sense is observable here and there in the Apocrypha. See especially II Esdr.iii.22, ix.36, where the Law is represented as inadequate to save from sin. This approximates to St. Paul's teaching in Rom.viii.3, 4:

" For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit" (cp. Gal.ii.21).

For the higher conception of the Law as compared with that of the Apocrypha nothing could be more instructive than what is said in Rom.ii.17-29, iii.19. The value of the Apocrypha on this subject lies in the fact that we find there, especially in Ecclesiasticus, both the abstract ideas of the Law , as well as the details of its observance, as these existed during the New Testament period. It forms the background, and enables us to understand the significance of so much that is written in the New Testament about the Law.

II. Closely connected with this is the subject of WORKS.

The fulfilment of the works of the Law, the merit acquired thereby, and therefore justification, present us again with a Pharisaic doctrine that is sharply combatted in the New Testament. In Tob.iv.7-11, for example, it is said: "Give alms of thy substance ... if thou have little, be not afraid to give alms according to that little; for thou layest up a good treasure for thyself against the day of necessity, because alms delivereth from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness. Alms is a good gift in the sight of the Most High for all that give it" (see also, xiv.11). This is brought out more fully in a number of passages in Ecclesiasticus. We have seen that good works atone for sin (see above, pp. 91f). He who accomplishes good works is "righteous" (tzaddik), i.e. one who is justified in the sight of God (cp. xi.17). His state of justification is due to his good works (cp.iii.31; xi.27; xvii.22; xxix.9; xxxi.9, 10, etc.; II Esdr.viii.33).

With these widespread ideas among the Jews contrast the words of St. Paul:

"By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in his sight " (Rom.iii.20);
"We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom.iii.28);
"This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal.iii.2).

It is quite exceptional, indeed, unique, in the Apocrypha, when we find the thought expressed that divine mercy may be extended to such as have no works to their credit: "For if thou hast a desire to have mercy upon us, then shalt thou be called merciful, to us, namely, that have no works of righteousness" (II Esdr.viii.32).

This again approximates to the teaching of St. Paul; but the passage is remarkable, and does not reflect the normal teaching of the Apocrypha on the subject. Many other quotations in the opposite sense from the Apocrypha could be given, illustrating the belief in the efficacy of works, as well as from the New Testament, showing the error of this belief; but this is unnecessary. We see again, with the one exception mentioned, the religious environment of the early Jewish-Christians reflected in the books of the Apocrypha.

III. Of special importance is the doctrine of SIN,

for in one direction, i.e. the doctrine of the Fall, there are points of attachment between St. Paul and Il Esdras. Most of the relevant passages from this book have been quoted above (pp. 86ff). Here it may be pointed out that, according to the Seer, the entry of physical death into the world is directly connected with the Fall; after Adam sinned it is said: "Forthwith thou appointedst death for him and for his generation " (i.e. the human race descended from him, ii.7, and cp. verse 21), while a spiritual death occurred through the grain of evil seed sown in his heart, the yetzer ha-ra("the evil tendency," see iv,30-32).

With this compare St. Paul's words in Rom.v.12:

"Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men."

According to St. Paul it was through the deliberate act of the will that the Fall took place; this is not quite the same as the Seer's view, who, traces the Fall to the evil inclination of man's heart; yet the difference is not fundamental:

There is no fundamental inconsistency between his (St. Paul's) views and those of his contemporaries. He does not indeed either affirm or deny the existence of the cor malignum before the Fall, nor does he use such explicit language as " but each one of us has been the Adam of his own soul." (Apoc. Of Baruch liv.19.)

On the other hand, he does define more exactly than the Rabbis the nature of human responsibility both under the Law (Rom.vii.7ff.) and without it (Rom.ii.12-15). But here, as elsewhere in dealing with this mysterious subject, he practically contents himself with leaving the two complementary truths side by side. Man inherits his nature; and yet he must not be allowed to shift responsibility from himself; there is that within him by virtue of which he is free to choose; and on that freedom of choice he must stand or fall. (Sanday & Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans, p.138 (1914).)

A point of less importance, but not without interest, is the belief that the merits of the patriarchs can atone for sin: "Cause not thy mercy to depart from us, for the sake of Abraham that is beloved of thee and for the sake of Isaac thy servant, and Israel thy holy one" (Prayer of Azarias 12). The overlooking of sin is implicit here. This doctrine of the merits of the fathers is fully recognized in Rabbinical literature. But in one passage (Manasses 8) there seems to be a tendency to modify this:

"Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the righteous,
hast not appointed repentance unto the righteous,
Unto Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob;
But thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner."

Here one would naturally expect the merits of the patriarchs to be appealed to; that this is not done suggests that their merits were inefficacious.

This recalls Luke iii.8 to mind:

"Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."

Once more, the traditional doctrine of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children is often implied, e.g. Jud.v.17ff, Bar.i.13, iii.4, 7, 8, and elsewhere; in contrast to this we have such a passage as John ix.2, 3:

" ... Rabbi, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."

IV. On the subject of WISDOM

(= the Logos according to Wisd.iv.1, and Philo) there is much in Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and II Esdras, which is important for the study of the background of John i.1-4. A proper investigation of this would take us too far afield, especially as it would involve a discussion on the Philonian doctrine of the Logos. Our present purpose is merely to point to various ways in which the books of the Apocrypha are important for New Testament study. On this particular subject it must, therefore, suffice merely to indicate certain passages in each body of literature; when these are read in conjunction with one another it will at once be seen wherein the importance of the Apocrypha passages lies. The following passages, which are not exhaustive, should be considered in studying John i.1-4:

"By the word of God (are) his works," i.e. were his works created (Ecclus.xlii.15). The context shows that the works of the Creation are meant. "O God of our fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom didst form man..." (Wisd.ix.1, 2); "word" and "wisdom" must be regarded as synonymous.

(Goodrick, wrongly, denies this.
As Gregg says: "The passage is Hebrew in tone, recalling Ps.xxi, 5, 6, and no contrast is intended between the two clauses. They are parallel, and 'wisdom' is used in the second as a poetic variant for 'word' in the first. ... There is no contrast suggested between the functions of Wisdom and the Logos, as if the former were the agent in the making of man, and the latter in the making of things; for Wisdom is the 'artificer of all things' (vii.22, Cp. viii. 6)."
Similarly Holmes - "Word and Wisdom are here synonymous.")

In II it is said: "O Lord, of a truth thou spakest at the beginning of the creation, upon the first day, and saidst thus: Let heaven and earth be made; and thy word perfected the earth."

Again, in several of the Pauline epistles where wisdom or its antithesis is spoken of there is sometimes identity or similarity of thought between what the Apostle writes and what is said in the book of Wisdom. Whether St. Paul was influenced by the earlier writer, or not, is immaterial from our present point of view. Here, of course, Wisdom is presented from a different standpoint from that just considered. Thus, there is much similarity of language, and in some ways parallelism of thought between what is said about wisdom in Wisd.vii.22-viii, ix.6, 9- 17, and what St. Paul says about the influence of the Spirit in I Cor.ii.6-16. In spite of great difference in detail one cannot fail to see some community of thought between Wisd.i-xv and Rom.i.18-32, where the antithesis of wisdom, namely sin, in forms which are more particularly illustrative of folly, are dealt with.

(The whole subject is dealt with in detail by Grafe, Das Verhaltnis der paulinischen Schriften zur Sapientia Salomonis, esp.pp.251-286 (1892), & by Focke, Die Enstehung der Weisheit Salomos, pp.113 ff. (1913). Each of these writers, as it seems to us, exaggerates his own standpoint in their opposing views, the former in favour, the latter against, affinities between St. Paul & Wisdom.)


V. Next there are some matters connected with ESCHATOLOGY

regarding which the teaching in some of the books of the Apocrypha offers material of decided interest to the student of the New Testament.

In the Synoptic Gospels, as is well known, there are certain apocalyptic passages in which are described the "signs" of the last times. It is unnecessary to quote these. Their purport is familiar (e.g. Mark i, Matth.xxiv.29-31). In II Esdr.v.1-12, vi.21-24, vii.39-42 descriptions of these "woes of the Messiah" are given; and we have here echoes of traditional beliefs that lie behind the eschatological picture contained in the Gospels.

In Wisd.ix.15 it is said: "For a corruptible body weigheth down the soul; and the earthly tabernacle oppresseth the care-laden mind"; this is strongly reminiscent of II Cor.v.1:

For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle ('earthly frame') be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (cp. also the verses which follow, where the Apostle shows the fuller Christian belief). It is of profound interest to compare the teaching on immortality in Wisd.iii.1--9; v.15, 16 with such passages as, e.g. 1 Cor.xv; II Cor.v.1-10.

A further interesting point of comparison is the materialistic conception of the risen body in II Macc.vii.10, 11, 22, 23; xiv.46, and St. Paul's teaching on the risen spiritual body (I Cor. M 44).


VI. Finally, a few MISCELLANEOUS points of contact

between the books of the Apocrypha and the New Testament, of a more general character, may be mentioned, as being of interest.

In II reference is made to "the men who had been taken up, and have not tasted death from their birth.... Then shall the heart of the inhabitants (of the world) be changed into a different mind" (or, spirit). (This is doubtless what must be understood by: et convertetor in sensum alium.)

'That Moses and Elijah are meant here is obvious. This recalls what is said in the account of the Transfiguration of the appearance of Moses and Elijah (Mark ix.4ff, cp. Mal.iv.4-6).

In Rom.ii.4, the words: "... not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance," remind one forcibly of Pr. Man.8: "Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee." There is also a distinct community of thought between Hebr.i.3 and Wisd.vii.26; and Hebr. Xi.34, 35 seems to be based on I Macc.v.1-7 and especially II The Ep. of St. James contains numerous points of contact with both Ecclus. and Wisd. (cp. also I Cor.ii.10 with Jud.viii.14).

It is quite possible that St. Paul was indebted to the writer of Wisd.xv.7 for his metaphor of the potter in Rom.ix.21: "Hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?" The Wisdom passage runs: "For the potter laboriously kneading the soft earth mouldeth each several thing for our service; but from the same clay doth he fashion both vessels which serve to clean uses, and those of a contrary sort, all in like manner; but what is to be the use of each of these the potter is judge"; see also Ecclus.xxi.(xxxvi)13. This is one of a number of other passages in the Pauline epistles (a few of which have been noted, see also Rom.i.20-32 and Wisd..24) in which the Apostle seems to be influenced by the book of Wisdom; but so far as the Ep. to the Romans is concerned the remarks by Sanday and Headlam should be noted:

If St. Paul learnt from the Book of Wisdom some expressions illustrating the Divine power, and a general aspect of the question, he obtained nothing further. His broad views and deep insight are his own.

And it is interesting to contrast a Jew who has learned many maxims which conflict with his nationalism but yet retains all his narrow sympathies, with the Christian Apostle full of broad sympathy and deep insight, who sees in human affairs a purpose of God for the benefit of the whole world being worked out. (Op.cit., p.269.)

Again, the well-known passage in on "the whole armour of God" has an interesting parallel in Wisd.v.17-20:

"He shall take his jealousy as complete armour, and make the creation his weapon for the repulse of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and array himself with judgement unfeigned as with a helmet. He shall take holiness as an invincible shield, and shall sharpen stern wrath as a sword."

Doubtless both St. Paul and the writer of Wisdom had Isa.lix.17 in mind, but the much closer parallel of the Wisdom passage with shows that, probably, St. Paul was indebted to Wisdom here.

Once more, in II the epithets "thy firstborn", "thy only begotten" are applied to the nation of Israel. It is of interest to note that in Matth.ii.15, "Out of Egypt did I call my son," the Evangelist is applying to our Lord the title "my son," in the sense of the Son of God, which in Hos.xi.1, from which the quotation is taken, is applied to Israel. It hardly needs saying that "My son" in the Christian sense, in reference to Christ, is equivalent to "the first-born" (Rom.viii.29) and "the only begotten" (John i.18). We have thus epithets originally applied to the chosen nation transferred to Christ "the chosen of God" (Lk.i.35, cp. Isa.xlii.1, "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen").

Two final small, but interesting, points; the idea of the "regeneration" (Matth.xix.28, cp. Rev.xxi.1) of the world occurs in II Esdr.vii.75, " ... those times in which thou shalt renew the creation"; the thought is undoubtedly pre-Christian.

Another old-world thought is that of the sounding of the trumpet in heralding the advent of the last day and the judgement. This is referred to in II

"And the trumpet shall sound aloud, at which all men when they hear it shall be stricken with sudden fear". Similarly in I Thess.iv.16 "the trump of God" is to herald the resurrection, cp. I Cor.xv.22.

The illustrations that have been given are far from exhaustive, but they will have shown in how many directions the books of the Apocrypha offer important material for the study of the New Testament.