The Apocrypha

in the King James Bible

by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

© 1999, 2003, 2004, 2006 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

To access the Apocrypha (text only) on the Internet, check out the University of Virginia's Online Text Center KJV with Apocrypha.

To see my response to a Catholic "Apologist" who tried to "refute" this essay, click here.

Some have unwisely used the inclusion of the (Old Testament) Apocrypha in the first printings of the King James Version of the Bible as a basis for criticism of the KJV.  For example, this website essay called "When the Bible Becomes an Idol: Problems with the KJV-Only Doctrine" employs as its first point "The KJV originally contained the Apocrypha," followed by the remark that

"...the Bible that KJV-Only advocates use omits thousands of verses originally contained in the KJV (just over 5,700) – far more than the few verses found in the KJV but omitted in the NASB, NIV, and other modern translations (such as 1 John 5:7). It is true that the Apocrypha was widely regarded by Protestants in 1611 not to have the status of full canonicity. However, in the original 1611 edition no disclaimer was included in this regard (one was added in later editions)...."

In other pieces, the implication is that the KJV translators regarded books like "Tobit," "Judith," and "1 Maccabees" as being on an equal level with the canon (as does the Roman Catholic Church in the cases of eleven out of the fourteen apocryphal books).1 I thought it would be useful to summarize the most striking evidence against such misinformation for the benefit of the reader.

Many indications in the 1611 first edition of the KJV make it obvious that the translators did not treat the books of the Apocrypha with the same respect that they did the canonical books. In Catholic Bibles, the eleven books of the Apocrypha considered by the Roman Church to be scripture are interspersed with the Hebrew canon; for example, the Douay-Rheims follows Nehemiah with Tobit and Judith,2 places Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus after the Song of Solomon, and concludes the Old Testament with the Books of Maccabees. The KJV, however, segregates these books between the Testaments. And it is not the first to do this; this separation had been done as early as Wycliffe, and at the Reformation others such as Luther and Coverdale had placed the Apocrypha separately in their complete Bibles.3

The Great Bible of 1539-40 and the Geneva Bible of 1560 even preface the section with a special advisory. The Great Bible's disclaimer takes up an entire page, referring to the section as "Hagiographa,"4 citing Jerome's comments on the book of Judith to the effect that "the auctorytie therof is not esteamed worthy and sufficient to confyrme & stablysh" doubtful matters in that book. Therefore, the reader is warned that "whê[n] thou wilt maynteyne any thynge for certen, rendryng a reason of thy fayth[,]. . . leaue the thynges that are vncerten to folowe the certen. . . . For our Christen fayth consysteth not in doutefull thynges. . . ." 5

The Geneva Bible's prefatory notice deserves to be cited at length:

These bokes that follow in order after the Prophetes vnto the Newe testament, are called Apocrypha, that is bokes, which were not receiued by a cõmune consent to be red and expounded publikely in the Church, nether yet serued to proue any point of Christian religion, saue in asmuche as they had the consent of the other Scriptures called Canonical to confirme the same, or rather whereon they were grounded: but as bokes proceding from godlie men, were receiued to be red for the aduancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the historie, & for the instruction of godlie maners: which bokes declare that at all times God had an especial care of his Church and left them not vtterly destitute of teachers and meanes to confirme them in the hope of the promised Messiáh, and also witnesse that those calamities that God sent to his Church, were according to his prouidence, who had bothe so threatened by his Prophetes, and so broght it to passe for the destruction of their enemies, and for the tryal of his children.6

In other words, the Geneva translators were putting a disclaimer on these books, in the Reformation tradition of considering them (as Luther said) "useful and good for reading,"7 but not equal to Scripture.

Certain details of the KJV's presentation of these books agree with those of Great and Geneva. The KJV lacks a similar advisory to the ones just quoted, but it seems clear that by 1611 the average Bible reader could be expected to have a fuller awareness of why these books were not true scripture than was the case when the Great Bible and Geneva first appeared. Not only had these translations established a precedent of separating these books from the canon, but in 1562 the Church of England had adopted its "Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion" that specifically inventories the Apocrypha’s books under Article VI and heads the listing with these words:

And the other books (as Hierome [Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine. Such are these following . . . .8

With a background like this on hand by 1611, the KJV men probably felt that a specific disclaimer heading these books would be superfluous. But in addition to retaining the separation of the books from the canon, the running heads that in the canonical books summarize the contents of the page below9 are replaced in the  KJV (as they had been in the Geneva Bible) with the generic "Apocrypha" throughout these doubtful books.

Another indicator of the lesser status of the Apocrypha in the first edition of the KJV--where, again, we find a similar practice as in the first edition Geneva--is in the matter of marginal notes that criticize the text.10 These are not many in number, but the fact that the text is criticized at all is a startling departure from the practice of these translations in the Testaments. In 2 Macc. 12:44, where the apocryphal writer commends Judas Maccabeus for his decision to pray for the dead, Geneva's margin contains an extended note contending that "the Greke text is corrupt" and that "this place was not written by the holie G[h]ost" because it disagrees with canonical scripture.11 Likewise, in the book of 1 Esdras, the KJV's margin points out numerous discrepancies in names and details from the true records of the same transactions found in the canon. In chapter 5 of 1 Esdras, we find a couple of extended comments:

[At 5:5:] Ioachim and Zorobabel. This place is corrupt: For Ioachim was the sonne of Iosedech. Neh. 12.10. and not Zorobabel who was of the tribe of Iuda.

[At 5:9:] Parosh, Ezra 2.3. Nehem. 7.9 where for breuity looke for the true numbers of the particulars following: for here they vary much, & the names much more.

[At 5:40:] Nehemias, who also is Atharias, two of one. Nehe. 8.9 and 10.2. chap. 2.63. [i.e., the translators are saying that the apocryphal writer has blundered by making one person in his Hebrew source, the Book of Nehemiah, into two people.] 12

One finds other notations in certain book titles indicating the KJV translators' view of the Apocrypha. Thus the additional chapters to Esther found in the LXX, which Jerome's Vulgate had detached from the Hebrew text, appear with the heading "The rest of the Chapters of the Booke of Esther, which are found neither in the Hebrew, nor in the Calde."13 The additions to Daniel are also marked as "not in the Hebrew," the "Song of the Three Holy Children" with a note that is interesting in another way that we will mention shortly. (It is worth noting that the Geneva's titles to these books are less insistent in this respect than the KJV's; perhaps they felt the matter had been settled by their prefatory note to the section?)14

One more notable feature of the KJV's Apocrypha is the somewhat careless hand with which it appears to have been completed.15 The evaluation of stylistic features is naturally subjective, but I find a notable falling-off from the level of majesty with which the translators rendered the Old and New Testaments. Some of the fault for this must naturally be laid at the door of what they were translating in the Apocrypha--non-scriptural prose which often descends to the prosaic or the ridiculous16--, but it also appears that the uninspired material left the king's men less than inspired:

Oftentimes also fair speech of those, that are put in trust to manage their friends' affairs, hath caused many that are in authority to be partakers of innocent blood, and hath enwrapped them in remediless calamities. (Additions to Esther 16:5)

For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart: Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air. (Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-3)

For like as a vessel that a man useth is nothing worth when it is broken; even so it is with their gods: when they be set up in the temple, their eyes be full of dust through the feet of them that come in. ("Epistle of Jeremy" [Baruch] 6:17).

Such clunky prose cannot be entirely attributed to the king's men, since they were chiefly revising previous English translations;18 nevertheless, they allowed it to stand, which indicates that they were not as concerned about refining the Apocrypha's English rendering as they were the canon's. More concrete evidence of this appears in the manner in which supplied words are denoted. Throughout the first edition KJV, supplied words in the canon are denoted in roman type, to contrast with the black-letter type in which the rest of the text is printed (modern KJV printings render these supplied words in italics). However, in the Apocrypha (and there only, to the best of my knowledge)19, the first edition's roman type is joined by two other marking methods, brackets and parentheses, which also denote added words; in a couple of instances different methods of marking appear in close proximity to each other (e.g., 1 Macc. 1:7 [parentheses], 9-10 [brackets]; 6:31 [brackets], 43 [parentheses]). Some of the brackets even now appear in modern printings of the KJV Apocrypha, although most have been "standardized" to italics. The marking of supplied words in three different ways throughout the Apocrypha, in marked contrast to the practice throughout the canon, is very good evidence that this portion of the 1611 edition was less than carefully prepared.

Another indicator of lack of care is a rather glaring blunder in the title of "The Song of the Three Holy Children" mentioned above. This title, meant to indicate at what point in the canonical book of Daniel the apocryphal "book" was meant to be read, actually references the wrong verse (the first verse of the apocryphal passage itself rather than Daniel 3:23, after which is the true insertion point).20 Now it is true that a certain amount of the gaffes in the first edition's Apocrypha may stem from the printing house of Robert Barker, the "Printer to the King's most Excellent Majesty," who produced the volume; the canonical books are certainly not free from errors of the press in this edition. But features such as book titles can only have been prepared by the translators, or by someone working under their immediate supervision.

The inconsistencies noted above are frequent enough and substantive enough to be indicative of the relative unconcern the translators had for the Apocrypha, and along with the bare-bones presentation and the occasional marginal comment, show beyond any reasonable doubt that these books were not held as sacred by the king's men. Obviously, then, anyone who pretends that the presence of the Apocrypha in the KJV is a substantive issue affecting the reliability of the rest of the translation is either blowing smoke or wallowing in ignorance. To borrow a phrase from these uninspired books, the whole objection is nothing more than "a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers" that "keepeth nothing"!21

(November 25, 1999; revised May 7, 2003 & June 5, 2004; last revisions May 28, 2006)


1The Roman Church does not recognize 1 or 2 Esdras or the Prayer of Manasseh ("Manasses" in KJV) as being part of scripture, but these do appear in an appendix to the Latin Vulgate.

2 For purposes of convenience, I am calling both canonical and apocryphal books by their KJV names, though it should be noted that many of the Douay-Rheims names differ (e.g., "2 Esdras alias Nehemias" for Nehemiah, "Tobias" for Tobit), as do some of those given by the Great and Bishops' Bibles (e.g., 1 and 2 Esdras are numbered as 3 and 4 Esdras). Also, adding to the confusion, modern translations that include the Apocrypha (such as the New American Bible, the current pulpit Bible of the Roman Catholic Church in America) refer to Ecclesiasticus as "Sirach." (The New American Bible also differs in order from the Douay-Rheims [whose order reflects the Clementine Vulgate's sequence], but continues the practice of placing the Apocrypha with the Hebrew canon.)

3 Thomas Witton Davies, "Apocrypha," in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, as given on Master Christian Library CD (Version 6) by AGES Software, Albany, OR. It is well to note here that Geneva's separation of the Apocrypha is not complete, since it places the "Prayer of Manasseh" between 2 Chronicles and Ezra (with the marginal comment "This prayer is not in the Ebrewe, but is translated out of the Greke"). Strangely, neither Geneva, the Bishops' Bible, nor KJV bothers to divide this book into verses; I would be tempted to classify this as another example of the KJV's disregard for the Apocrypha were it not for the example of its predecessors here. Still, it does seem odd that this is the only "biblical book" (to use the term very loosely) that does not have verse divisions in the original KJV.

4 Technically, the Great Bible's term is inaccurate; according to the Oxford English Dictionary (ed. 2), "Hagiographa" actually refers to "The Greek name (lit. 'sacred writings') of the last of the three great divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures. . ."--in other words, the books not considered part of either "the Law" or "the Prophets." But the first English usage in this sense that is recorded by O.E.D. does not occur until 1583, and the Great Bible's use is not registered. It is odd that the Great Bible here did not follow the example of Matthew's Bible, which properly entitles these books as Apocrypha: "The volume of/the bokes called Apocripha:/Contayned in the comen Transl./in Lateyne, which are not/founde in the Hebrue/nor in the/Chalde" (qtd. from the illustration given in David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography, New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1994/2000 [corrected paperback ed.], illustration 11 following p. 214). This Apocrypha title page even looks similar in design to the later one in the Great Bible.

5 "To the Reader," following title page of Apocrypha section ("The volume of the bokes called Hagiographa") in the Great Bible (1540 ed.), CD version (PDF files) by Sola Scriptura Publishing.

6 Apocrypha, "The Argvment," in the Geneva Bible (1560), fol. Cccc.iiii, recto. As given in the facsimile by Lazarus Ministry Press (Columbus, OH; 1998).

7 Luther is quoted from the introduction to "The Apocryphal/Deutocanonical Books" in The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), no page number.

8 Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (NY: Anchor Books, 2001), pp. 223 and 225 (quote on latter page; bracketed addition mine).

9 For example, on the first three pages of Genesis, Geneva gives "The creation of the worlde."; "The creation of man. The creation of woman."; "The woman seduced." Similar running heads appear at the tops of pages (on the side nearest the spine of the book) in most editions of the Bible today.

10 I am grateful to Dr. Thomas Holland for investigating this matter with me and helping to uncover and evaluate this marginal note evidence. Since my original writing of this essay in 1999, he has also made reference to these KJV marginal comments in his book Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version (San Jose: Writer's Club Press, 2000), pp. 94-95.

11 Fol. Bbbbb.ii. recto. Compare also the Bishops' Bible's note at III Esdras (=1 Esdras) 1:38; the facsimile I have (PDF file on CD, 1595 "Deputies of Christopher Barker" ed.) is unfortunately not wholly legible in the margin here, but the words "This place is corrupt" can be clearly seen. Such notes probably carry on the tradition of the Great Bible's admonition "To the Reader" prefacing this section, which had warned that the apocryphal books "haue been corrupted and falsifyed in many places. . . ."

12 These quotations and subsequent ones are taken from the Thomas Nelson reprint (1982) of the first edition KJV. (The 2003 Hendrickson Publishers “1611 Edition, King James Version” provides an identical text, both originating in an 1833 Oxford University Press reprint in modern type.)  

13 This title essentially agrees with those of the Great and Bishops' Bibles in this place. The result of such a separation in Esther is, of course, that the additional chapters are utterly incomprehensible unless one knows at what points the additions are to be inserted into the (canonical) text of Esther. To avoid such confusion, the NRSV's Apocrypha translates the whole of the Greek version of Esther so that the interpolated chapters may be read in context.

14 In fact, in a few instances the KJV's titles are more insistent than those of any of its predecessors as to the unauthoritative character of these books. For example, where the Great Bible refers to "The story of Susanna, whych is the xiij. Chapter of Danyel after the Latyn" (substantially retained by the Bishops' Bible), and Geneva adds that "some ioyne [it] to the end of Daniel," the KJV's title says that Susanna has been "set apart from the beginning of Daniel, because it is not in the Hebrew. . . ."

15I would like to point out that a special division of the KJV translation team, working from Cambridge, was entrusted with "the Prayer of Manasses and the rest of the Apocrypha" (see David Daniell, The Bible in English, New Haven and London: Yale, 2003, p. 436; the translators, including those for the Apocrypha, are listed in Alister McGrath's In the Beginning, pp. 179-182; Thomas Holland's Crowned With Glory, pp. 225-8; and other works dealing with the history of the KJV). Were these men of lesser ability than the remainder of the translators working on inspired scripture? That cannot be wholly true, if true at all, since one of their number was Dr. John Bois, who was later to serve as a member of the final revision team for the entire KJV. Were they simply uninterested in perfecting this less-than-sacred stretch of text, and so let many things pass into their revision that would not have been allowed to stand in the inspired books? Whatever the case, it is difficult for me not to see this as another demonstration that God was at work in the 1611 version, since the variance between the work done on the canon and that done in these uninspired books--all of them the responsibility of one body of men, and with the final editing done by select members of them--is so striking. One would have reasonably expected a more consistent level between the two sections, and perhaps that the whole of the final result could have easily been as mediocre as the "Apocrypha"--but obviously God intended otherwise.

(I should also mention that Alister McGrath in his In the Beginning makes the statement that "The task of translating the apocryphal books was entrusted to the Second Cambridge Company, who are generally thought to have discharged their duties well" [p. 226; emphasis mine]--an appraisal for which I'd be interested in knowing McGrath's basis, but unfortunately this is not stated, and since the volume lacks footnotes throughout and has only a general "List of Works Consulted" at the end, I am unable to trace the source for it. Also unsourced but more believable is Adam Nicolson’s passing remark in God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible [NY: Perennial/HarperCollins, 2003] that the Apocrypha is “generally acknowledged to be the least satisfactory part” of the KJV [p. 199].)

16For an example of the latter, see the preposterous "vision" of 2 Esdras 11:1ff. (an eagle with multiple heads and feathers that reign and vanish, after which the eagle apparently bursts into flames [12:3] !).

17 These quotes follow a modern reprint of the KJV Apocrypha (Oxford, n.d.). It should be mentioned that, like most Apocrypha-only reprints I have seen (and the Apocrypha sources online), this gives the text only; to see the marginal notes, one must consult either the Thomas Nelson or Hendrickson Publishers KJV 1611 reprint mentioned above or one of the large pulpit KJV Bibles with Apocrypha. Or one can consult the splendid New Cambridge Paragraph Bible edited by David Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) to see the notes (but not the cross-references of the 1611 edition, as the editions of NCPB available at this writing do not include cross-references of any kind).

18 Comparison of the three passages cited in the main text between the KJV and its predecessors is instructive. The following table gives all four cited versions in original spelling to allow for complete equality in the presentation. (Note that there are some slight variances in verse numbering between Geneva, Bishops', and the KJV; the Great Bible has no verse numbering.)

APOCRYPHAL REFERENCE (according to KJV numbering)

GREAT BIBLE (1540 ed., Sola Scriptura Publishing CD)

GENEVA BIBLE (1560 ed., Lazarus Ministry Press facsimile)

BISHOPS’ BIBLE (1595 ed. by "Deputies of Christopher Barker," Sola Scriptura Publishing CD)

KJV (1611 ed., Thomas Nelson Roman type reprint)


It happeneth oft also, that they whych be set in offyce by the hyer power, and vnto whom the busynes and causes of the subiectes are cõmytted to be handled, waxe proude, and defyle themselues with shedynge of innocent bloude, whych bryngeth them to intollerable hurte.

And oft times manie, which be set in office, and vnto whom their friends causes are committed, by vaine intisemets do wrappe them in calamities, that cannot be remedied: for thei make them partakers of innocent blood,

It happeneth oft also, that they which be set in office by the higher power, and vnto whome the businesse and causes of the subiects are committed to bee handled, waxe proude, and defile themselues with shedding of innocent blood, which bringeth them to intollerable hurt.

Often times also faire speech of those that are put in trust to manage their friends affaires, hath caused many that are in authority to be partakers of innocent blood, and hath enwrapped them in remedilesse calamities:


for we are borne of naught, and we shall be herafter as though we had neuer bene. For oure breth is as a smoke in oure nosetrels, and the worde as a sparck to moue oure herte. As for oure body, it shall be very ashes that are queched, and our soule shall vanyshe as the soft ayre.

For we are borne at all aduenture, and we shalbe hereafter as thogh we had neuer bene: for the breth is a smoke in our nostrels, and the wordes as a sparke raised out of our heart. Which being extinguished, the body is turned into ashes, and the spirit vanisheth as the soft aire.

For we are borne at all aduenture, and we shalbe hereafter, as though we had neuer bene: for our breath is as a smoke in our nostrels, and wordes as a sparke raised out of our hearts: Which being extinguished, our body shal be turned into ashes, and our spirite shall vanish as the soft aire.

For wee are borne at all aduenture: & we shalbe heereafter as though we had neuer bene: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a litle sparke in the mouing of our heart. Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft aire:


For lyke as a vessell that a man vseth, is nothynge worth whan it is broken, euen so is it wyth theyr goddes. Whan they be set vp in the temple, theyr eyes be full of dust, thorowe the fete of those that come in.

...for as a vessel that a man vseth, is nothing worthe when it is broken, Suche are their gods: when they be set vp in their temples, their eyes be ful of dust by reason of the fete of those yt come in:

For like as a vessell that a man vseth, is nothing worth when it is broken, euen so is it with their gods: when they bee set vp in the temple, their eyes be full of dust through the feete of those that come in.

For like as a vessell that a man vseth, is nothing worth when it is broken: euen so it is with their gods: when they be set vp in the Temple, their eyes be full of dust, thorow the feet of them that come in.

As the reader can see, the passage from Baruch is taken over into the KJV almost exactly as it had appeared in the Great and Bishops' Bibles. The Esther passage, however, is substantially different in Great, Geneva, and Bishops', although Geneva's phrase "calamities, that cannot be remedied" (for Great's "intollerable hurte," retained in Bishops') probably suggested KJV's unfortunate "remediless calamities." The Wisdom passage shows a mix of retention and change in the KJV from the previous versions.

19 Aside from one special case at 1 John 2:23, where brackets are used for the conjunction "but." (The words that follow it, printed in italics in current KJV editions, represent a phrase not in the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text, but found in Codex Aleph and Codex B (among others), the Clementine Vulgate, and modern Greek texts such as Nestle-Aland and UBS. Since the word "but" does not represent anything in any Greek text, the KJV men carefully marked it off in brackets from the rest of the verse.)

20 Quoting both the first edition and modern KJV Apocrypha editions side by side might make this clearer. The first edition gives the following title (brackets in original),

The Song of the three holy children,
which followeth in the third Chapter of Daniel after
this place, [And they walked in the midst of the fire, praising God,
and blessing the Lord.] That which followeth is not in the Hebrew; to wit, [Then Azarias
stood vp] vnto these wordes, [And Nabuchodonosor.]

Modern editions give,


Which followeth in the third Chapter of DANIEL after this place,--fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.-Verse 23. That which followeth is not in the Hebrew, to wit, And they walked--unto these words, Then Nebuchadnezzar--verse 24.

21 "Epistle of Jeremy" [Baruch] 6:70. It may be relevant as well to point out the remark King James I himself makes in Basilikon Doron to the effect that some of the apocryphal books are as close to the genuine writing of the Holy Spirit "as an Egg is to an Oyster" (as qtd. in McGrath, p. 226)!