Is Sirach Inspired?
There is confusion over whether or not the Apocrypha are inspired and whether or not they belong in the canon of the Bible. We can have confidence in knowing these books were not authored by God.
In between the last book of the Old Testament and the first book of the New Testament is a period of about 400 years. God gave no revelation to men at this time. It was during this time that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek language to accommodate the many Greek-speaking Jews in the world. This Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was called the Septuagint, which means “seventy” in Latin, because of the seventy scholars used to translate the text. It was the most common text used by Jews at the time of Jesus. “Most of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are taken from this Greek Bible” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. 167).
In addition to the Septuagint was the formation of a collection of 14 books known as the Apocrypha, which were published during this same period. These books were never recognized by the Jews as being inspired or part of the Hebrew canon (the 39 books of the Old Testament), but were included in the Septuagint for historical and religious purposes. It is no small coincidence that no Bible author ever quoted from the Apocrypha, even though many quoted from the Septuagint. Neither the Jews nor the first Christians considered them the writings of God. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in A.D. 1546 that the decision was made to treat them as inspired Scripture, which is why modern Catholic Bibles include them. (The Roman Catholics do not consider the books of 1 & 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh to be inspired.)
It is nothing new for men to want to add their writings to the inspired words of God. Joseph Smith did it in the 1800s in New York with his Book of Mormon and other writings. Mohammad did it in Saudi Arabia in the 600s with teachings that were compiled into the Koran after his death. Men have been claiming inspiration and tampering with the word of God for years and will continue to do so until time ends. There are people not yet born who will claim to receive something from God outside of the Bible. Nevertheless, as Peter wrote, in quoting the Septuagint, “All flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (I Peter 1:24-25). A careful examination of the Apocrypha will expose its inconsistencies with the inspired writings of God. A few examples are:
- “Whoso honoureth his father maketh an atonement for his sins” (Sirach 3:3). While the Law of Moses taught Jews to honor their parents, it never said Jews could atone for their sins with such kindness. Atonement for sin required a specific sacrifice (Exodus 29:36).
- “If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh, and give her a bill of divorce, and let her go” (Sirach 25:26). The Law of Moses permitted a divorce for a woman’s uncleanness (Deuteronomy 24:1), but it never told a man to divorce his wife if “she go not as thou wouldest have her” (for not doing what you told her to do). God hates divorce for the treachery involved (Malachi 2:14-16). The Apocrypha does not.
- “Blessed is the man that hath a virtuous wife, for the number of his days shall be double” (Sirach 26:1). Like the writings of Joseph Smith, the Apocrypha mixed Scriptures with ideas that make no sense.
- “Wine is as good as life to a man, if it be drunk moderately…for it was made to make men glad” (Sirach 31:27). The Hebrew Scriptures took a different position: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
The introduction in the Apocrypha I have, published in 1970, says, “These works are outside the Palestinian canon; that is, they form no part of the Hebrew Scriptures” (The New English Bible with Apocrypha, Oxford University Press, 1970, p. x). The author was correct. These works are not part of the Hebrew Scripture and should not be treated as such. Jesus acknowledged the divine authority of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44), but never the writings of the Apocrypha. They were no different to Him than any other uninspired writings of men.