The Lost Books

The Hidden Books

The Lost Books

There is a saying that comes up from time to time that I find intriguing: ‘The instruments of a man’s sin are the instruments of his punishment’. The idea is that the bad things we do tend to be done to us; a more specific version of, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). I have even heard it expressed something like, “God uses the evil a man does to punish him”.

This is an interesting idea because it explains how God, who is love, can also be the God of justice, without compromising his essential nature.


Of course, I  wanted to know if this idea, and the saying that expresses it, is found in the scriptures. If it doesn’t then we cannot take it as more than just a good thought. So, I set about tracking it down and found it in the Wisdom of Solomon (Chapter 11, verse 16). “Say what now? Solomon I know, but there is no book by that name in the bible!” This is because the Wisdom of Solomon is one of the books in a collection of writings called the Apocrypha.

The Apocrypha

Approximately four hundred years before Jesus was born into the world, several Jewish wise men/philosophers/theologians wrote several books that were later grouped into a collection that became known as the Apocrypha, or Hidden Books.

In the 3rd century BC the Jewish sacred writings we know as the Old Testament were translated into Greek, the most widely used language in the parts of the world inhabited by Jewish people. This version of the scriptures, known as the Septuagint contained at least seven of the books of the Apocrypha. In 1546 the Roman Catholic Church included ten books of the Apocrypha and inserted them between the Old and New Testaments, thus accepting them as divinely inspired. The Reformation started in 1517 and the Protestant churches birthed by this movement rejected the books of the Apocrypha and did not include them in their versions of the bible.

This is all quite interesting, but what interests me more is that some of the New Testament authors cited or alluded to texts from the Apocrypha.

The Influence of the Apocrypha on the New Testament

Here are some examples of traces of the Apocrypha in the New Testament:

  • Jude 6 reflects the influence of 1 Enoch and Jude 14 mentions Enoch prophesying in a way that most likely comes from 1 Enoch 1:9.
  • 1 Peter 3:19 may have its source in 1 Enoch 14 and 15.
  • Hebrews 11:34-35 reflects a familiarity with 2 Maccabees 6:18 – 7:42.
  • 2 Timothy 3:8-9 refers to Jannes and Jambres’ opposition to Moses, which is not in the Old Testament but is in The Assumption of Moses.
  • Ephesians 6:13-17 echoes The Wisdom of Solomon 5:18-20

This is not surprising because the version of the Old Testament used by the Apostles was the Septuagint. However, those references do not mean that the writings referenced are inspired; it just means that the writers were familiar with them and thought it appropriate to include snippets from them. I am comfortable with this, but those who believe that God more or less dictated the bible word for word to his human scribes would have a real problem here. If theologians believed that the entire bible was ‘dictated’ then they would have to accept several doctrines not taught in the Protestant bible. For instance, the book of Sirach teaches that good works are an essential qualification for salvation. Baruch teaches we can pray for the dead and Maccabees advocates the intercessory role of Saints. The Wisdom of Solomon teaches that human souls exist before they relocate into humans at birth.

The New Testament gives evidence that the Jews of Jesus’ day believed these teachings. For instance, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:29 ‘Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?’ The people in that church were going beyond just praying for the dead, they were being baptised as proxies for dead family members and friends. Even the disciples were influenced by the doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul because they asked Jesus concerning a man who was blind from birth, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  (John 9:1-2)

How we should regard the Apocrypha

Considering what I have written above, I think that we shouldn’t discount the Apocrypha, but we should not consider it as divinely inspired. It is useful in that it provides background material and, in some cases, helps us to understand some of the things we find in the bible.

It appears that the Fathers of the early church adopted this approach. Teachers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria cited some of the apocryphal writings as scripture. Origen held that the quotation in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that ‘things which eye has not seen or ear heard’ was from the Apocalypse of Elijah. Ambrose, Jerome, Philip of Side, the venerable Bede, and Theophylactus all mention a work called the Gospel of the Twelve.

OK, now back to the saying that caused me to delve into these things.

What the Bible Reveals

The question, for me at least, is does the bible contain something like ‘The instruments of a man’s sin are the instruments of his punishment’?

  • Proverbs 22:8 states that ‘He who sows wickedness reaps trouble…’, but this does not mean quite the same thing. It simply declares that, in general terms, wicked acts result in some form of trouble.
  • Job 4:8 makes the equally general observation that, ‘those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it’.
  • Paul writes that ‘a man reaps what he sows’ (Galatians 6:7), but he then elaborates in a general, more than a specific, way’.
  • Hosea 8:7, however, gets us to a very similar expression to the one from the Apocrypha when it states that ‘They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’. Like for like but to a greater and more destructive extent.
What Did Jesus Say

I have a friend who routinely challenges dodgy church practices with the question, “So where do you find that in the bible?” When it comes to doctrine, my habitual question is, “What did Jesus teach or model concerning this?” The Lord Jesus is our plumb line for finding the straight line through teachings. Therefore, as always, I turn now to what Jesus taught.

Now, I normally start with what Jesus said and did and then work out from there, but I have structured this article as a discovery, so, although I referenced him right upfront, I will conclude with what the Lord said. He said, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. (Mark 4:24) So, Jesus set out the principle, but his emphasis was on the degree and proportionality of a person’s acts.

I guess I will have to be satisfied that Hosea set it out, more or less, as the Wisdom of Solomon later articulated it and that the Lord Jesus confirmed it in general terms. The book in the Apocrypha does not add a new truth, but it does help us to understand more fully what Hosea and Jesus taught.

So What?

All left now for us to ponder on is what the saying means to us and how it affects our lives.

The nub of it is that what we put out in life comes back to us in one way or another and to much the same extent. Sow faith, hope, and love and reap back positive and life-giving input. Sow doubt, fear, and hopelessness and the chances are that the harvest will be of the same nature only much worse.

Something that has stuck with me from a very early age is my mother quoting her father who was fond of giving Ecclesiastes 1:1 an amusing twist when he stated “cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back to you as a ham sandwich”. Yes indeed, and I do so enjoy a ham sandwich!


Appendix:  A Short Summary of Apocryphal Books

For those interested in knowing more, here is a brief description of what the various ‘Hidden Books’ are about (with acknowledgement to an Artificial intelligence programme I use quite often):

The books recognised by the Roman Catholic Church are:

  1. Tobit: Tobit is a narrative about a righteous Israelite named Tobit who experiences various trials but is ultimately rewarded for his faithfulness to God. It includes themes of obedience, charity, and divine providence.
  2. Judith: Judith tells the story of a courageous Jewish widow named Judith who saves her people from the Assyrian general Holofernes by using her beauty and wit to deceive him and then assassinate him.
  3. Wisdom of Solomon: This book emphasises the importance of wisdom and righteousness, contrasting them with folly and wickedness. It also discusses the immortality of the soul and the rewards of righteousness.
  4. Sirach (Ecclesiasticus): Sirach is a collection of wise sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus Ben Sirach.  It covers a wide range of topics, including wisdom, virtue, friendship, family life, and social conduct.
  5. Baruch: Attributed to Baruch, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah. It contains prayers, confessions, and reflections on the exile of the Jewish people and their hope for restoration.
  6. Letter of Jeremiah: This short letter warns against idolatry and emphasises the powerlessness of idols, contrasting them with the one true God.
  7. Additions to Daniel: These additions include the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, as well as the story of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew version of Daniel.
  8. Additions to Esther: These additions include prayers and reflections not found in the Hebrew version of Esther, emphasizing God’s providence in the salvation of the Jewish people.
  9. 1 Maccabees: 1 Maccabees is a historical account of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire, focusing on the leadership of Judas Maccabeus and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  10. 2 Maccabees: 2 Maccabees provides a parallel account of the events in 1 Maccabees, highlighting the martyrdom of certain Jewish leaders and emphasizing the importance of prayer for the dead.

The following are included in some bible translations but are not accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic church:

  • 1 Esdras: Also known as the Greek Ezra, 1 Esdras is an ancient text that includes stories and events parallel to those found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It includes the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, the dispute over the king’s decree regarding the temple construction, and the prayer of Ezra for God’s mercy.
  • 2 Esdras (4 Ezra): 2 Esdras is a Jewish apocalyptic work that deals with themes of divine justice, theodicy, and the end times. It contains visions and dialogues between the prophet Ezra and an angel, exploring questions about the suffering of the righteous, the fate of the wicked, and the nature of God’s judgment.
  • Letter of Jeremiah: The Letter of Jeremiah is a short text included as Chapter 6 of the Book of Baruch in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is addressed to the exiled Jews in Babylon and warns against the worship of idols,  emphasising the folly of idolatry and the superiority of the one true God.
  • The Book of 1 Enoch is an ancient Jewish text attributed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It is a collection of several separate works, most of which are apocalyptic in nature. The oldest part, the “Apocalypse of Weeks,” was written around the Maccabean uprising of 167 BC. The book includes various themes such as messianism, celibacy, and the fate of the soul after death, and it reflects a blend of Iranian, Greek, Chaldean, and Egyptian elements.
  •  The Assumption of Moses, also known as the Testament of Moses, is a 1st-century Jewish apocryphal work that contains prophecies Moses revealed to Joshua before passing on leadership. It is characterised as Moses’ final speech and includes a prophecy of the future relating to Israel. The text is thought to have been originally written in Hebrew or another Semitic language and later translated to Greek. However, only a 6th-century Latin translation survives, and it is incomplete.


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