The Apocrypha – English Standard Version

This compact edition with all eighteen books that are part of the Revised Standard Version will complement most any Bible translation. The ESV Apocrypha preserves the accuracy of the RSV while updating the language to modern English usage, including a new translation of Tobit based on the longer Greek text.

Besides the excellent content, this is a quality hardback book. It measures about 6-1/2 by 9-1/2 inches and is 5/8 inches thick, a great size for carrying along with your Bible. I’m guessing it is about 8-point type (I couldn’t find that listed) in a dual-column format with plenty of white space so it is easy to read. There are 265 pages of Bible text plus the preface and table of contents in front and a few maps relevant to the period in back.

The Apocrypha
English Standard Version
Text Edition

Cambridge University Press
February 18.2021
www.cambridge.org/bibles

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From the Title Page

The ESV Apocrypha was first published by Oxford University Press, copyright ©2009 by Oxford University Press. This edition is copyright ©2017 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The deuterocanonical books of the Apocrypha are adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.

The ESV Apocrypha Text Edition
First Published 2021
Cambridge University Press

I have long been a fan of the New American Standard Bible (NASB). I also find great value in the books of the Apocrypha, but the NASB does not include the Apocrypha. This text edition of the Apocrypha is a valuable addition to Messianic Bible readers and can be used along with most any Bible translation. Messianic believers will be particularly interested in the Hanukkah story told in First Maccabees, as well as additional insight into Purim from the Greek additions to Esther. Here you will also find the Prayer of Manasseh, the visions of Ezra in 2 Esdras, and the expanded story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers in 4 Maccabees – books not included in some Bibles with Apocrypha, particularly Catholic editions. Not included are the books of Enoch, Jashar or Jubilees, which are writings also not found in the Greek Septuagint.

Background

The English Standard Version (ESV) is a Bible translation from Crossway, a division of Good News Publishers, created in 2001. It is itself a revision of the 1971 Revised Standard Version (RSV) from Oxford University Press. While the RSV included the books of the Apocrypha (in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments), the ESV did not. Somewhere between 6% to 8% of the wording of the RSV was updated to modern English usage while maintaining what the translators describe as an “Essentially Literal” philosophy. The ESV was updated in 2007, 2011, and 2016.

Oxford University Press published an edition of the 2007 English Standard Version with Apocrypha in 2009. It is no longer in print. The Apocrypha included all of the books that were in the RSV Apocrypha. The translation of the Apocrypha was nearly identical to the RSV and updated to modern English. The Apocrypha was in a section by itself following the New Testament.

In 2020, The Augustine Institute published the English Standard Version – Catholic Edition (ESV-CE). You can read my brief review of the ESV-CE here. Bibles approved by the Roman Catholic Church include some of the books of the Apocrypha considered by the RCC to be canonical. These are often referred to as the Deuterocanon (second canon). These Deuterocanonical books are interspersed through the Old Testament rather than in a separate section, following the pattern of other Catholic Bibles such as the New American Bible. Not all of the Apocryphal books from the RSV are included in the ESV-CE.

The Apocrypha – English Standard Version

This new, stand-alone edition of the Apocrypha consists of all eighteen books found in the Revised Standard Version Apocrypha. These are the same books that were included as the separate section of the 2009 English Standard Version with Apocrypha from Oxford University Press. The table below shows which books are included in this stand-alone ESV Apocrypha, the RSV, and the ESV-CE.

Book ESV RSV ESV-CE
Tobit x x x
Judith x x x
Esther x 1 x
Wisdom of Solomon x x x
Wisdom of Sirach x x x
Baruch x x x
Letter of Jeremiah x x 2
The Prayer of Azariah and
The Song of the Three Men
x x 3
Susanna x x 3
Bel and the Dragon x x 3
1 Maccabees x x x
2 Maccabees x x x
1 Esdras x x x
Prayer of Manesseh x x
Psalm 151 x x
3 Maccabees x x
2 Esdras x x
4 Maccabees x x

1. In my copy of The New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version from Oxford University Press, only the Additions to Esther are included in the Apocrypha. The ESV Apocrypha and ESV-CE both have the complete book of Esther with the additional chapters.
2. In the ESV-CE and other Catholic Bibles, the Letter of Jeremiah is incorporated as the sixth chapter of Baruch.
3. In the ESV-CE and other Catholic Bibles, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Men is inserted as additional text in the third chapter of Daniel; Susanna is Daniel chapter 13 and Bel and the Dragon is Daniel chapter 14.

I was initially disappointed in the content. There is nothing wrong with it, but most of it is not new. Other than Tobit, the rest of the books are pretty much identical to the ESV with Apocrypha from 2009 that I already had. But since the 2009 edition is no longer available, and since I prefer the NASB anyway, it is really nice to have this small book. Perhaps there was no reason for further updates. As you read this and I am pointing out the few things I found, remember anything that might appear negative is relatively insignificant compared to the volume of the book. I truly like this stand-alone edition of the Apocrypha. I’m not complaining.

Just as the ESV Old and New Testaments are an update of the RSV, so this Apocrypha is an update to the RSV Apocrypha. It is important to note, however, that it is not the same as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Apocrypha ©1989 by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. In fact, this translation of the Apocrypha is nearly identical to the RSV (except for Tobit) with some of the archaic language updated to modern English, most noticeably where Old English pronouns were used in connection with deity. In addition, pronouns for deity are not capitalized, following the format used in both the RSV and the ESV. Consider these examples:

O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants.
(Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-4 RSV)

O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who has made all things by your word and by your wisdom has formed man to have dominion over the creatures you have made and rule the world in holiness and righteousness and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne, and do not reject me from among your servants.
(Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-4 ESV)

And

Then Azariah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and worthy of praise; and thy name is glorified for ever. For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth.”
(Prayer of Azariah 2-4 RSV)

Then Azariah stood and offered this prayer; in the midst of the fire he opened his mouth and said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and worthy of praise; and your name is glorified forever. For you are just in all that you have done, and all your works are true and your ways right, and all your judgments are truth.”
(Prayer of Azariah 2-4 ESV)

Note the change from “God of our fathers” to “God of our ancestors” in this last passage. This is an example of the use of gender-neutral language where the translators felt it was justified. In both of these examples the new ESV text is exactly the same as it appeared in the 2009 ESV.

Some of the awkwardness in wording, inherent in the RSV, has not been revised for the ESV Apocrypha. I would have expected a more flowing English, however it should be noted that translation of the canonical books of the ESV has sometimes been criticized on this point. This is often the struggle between literal and dynamic translation choices in the attempt to be “essentially literal” and shouldn’t be considered a deficiency.

One of the stated goals of the ESV was to correct the “liberal” influence in the RSV on certain key passages. When it comes to the Apocrypha, no such controversy seems to exist. Translations of the Apocrypha do vary on style, and the eloquence of the RSV is apparent in the ESV as well.

To some extent, I don’t think this translation of the Apocrypha goes as far as the ESV did in updating the language. Consider just one example – the English word “heed,” a somewhat dated word meaning to pay careful attention or take notice of something. Some form of the word “heed” (heed, heeds, heeded, heeding) appears in the RSV Old Testament (OT) 108 times, but in the ESV OT it is only used six times. In the RSV New Testament (NT), it is used 28 times, but in the ESV NT it is used only once. However in the Apocrypha, in the RSV some form of this word occurs 20 times, and in the ESV it is still used in the same 20 places. The translation philosophy of the ESV was not followed here. Personally, I think the word “heed” is appropriate everywhere it is found in the RSV, but I have been reading the Bible for nearly sixty years. Someone new to reading an English Bible may find words like this awkward.

Tobit

The most noticeable change in this edition from the RSV and 2009 ESV Apocrypha is the book of Tobit. Tobit is one of the most interesting stories found in the Apocrypha. The first two and a half chapters are written in the first person, then the remainder of the book is a third person narrative.

In simple terms, there are two Greek versions of this book (there are actually more, but these are the primary versions). There is a shorter version, and a longer version by about 1700 words though there are other variations besides the additional words. Most English translations since the mid-1960s are based on the longer version which also takes into account findings in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Tobit in the RSV and the 2009 ESV were based on the shorter version. This new edition of the ESV uses the longer version of Tobit.

Short Version Long Version
2009 ESV with Apocrypha ESV-CE, ESV Apocrypha
Revised Standard Version New Revised Standard Version
Brenton’s Septuagint New Jerusalem Bible
King James Version New Living Translation – CE
New English Bible Good News Bible
New American Bible – RE

The NET Bible Septuagint (New English Translation, not to be confused with the New English Bible), provides both the short and long versions of Tobit.

I found a few anomalies in Tobit. I have a very limited knowledge of Greek grammar, so I will not attempt to say why the translators chose to use these renderings, or whether or not they are correct. I present them here just to say they are different from other translations.

And during the time of King Esar-haddon I came back to my house, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. And at our Feast of Pentecost, which is a sacred festival of seven days, a good meal was prepared for me and I reclined to eat.
(Tobit 2:1 ESV)

Pentecost (in Hebrew, Shavuot) is a single-day feast, not a seven day feast. It occurs at the end of a seven week period. I found no other translation, either from the short or long Greek versions, that reads “seven days” here. This is how other translations render this phrase, none of them referencing “days”:

“sacred festival of the seven weeks” – 2009 ESV, RSV,
“holy feast of the seven weeks” – Brenton, KJV
“feast of weeks” – NEB, NRSV, NJB, NAB, NET
“feast of harvest” – NLT
“festival of weeks” – GNB

Here is another one:

So Tobias went out, called him, and said to him, “Young man, my father is calling for you.” And he entered the house and Tobit greeted him first. And the angel said, “May many things come to be that will give you joy.” Replying, Tobit said to him, “What is left to give me joy? I am a person with no power in his eyes. I do not see the light of heaven, but I lie in darkness like the dead, who no longer see the light I am living among the dead: I hear people’s voices, but I do not see them.” And he said to him, “Take heart! Your healing from God is near. Take heart!” Then Tobit said to him: “My son Tobias wishes to journey into Media. If you are able to accompany him and guide him, I will give you your wages, brother.” He replied, “I am able to go with him, and I know all the roads. I have often gone into Media and crossed all its plains, and I know the mountains and all its paths.”
(Tobit 5:10 ESV)

This lengthy verse only appears in the long Greek version. In the shorter version, as used in the 2009 ESV, it reads as follows:

So Tobias invited him in, he entered and they greeted each other.
(Tobit 5:10 in 2009 ESV, Tobit 5:9 in most other short-version translations)

In the new ESV rendering of Tobit 5:10, Tobit makes a statement, “If you are able to accompany him and guide him, I will give you your wages, brother.” In all of the other long-version translations listed, it is an interrogative. I could not find any other translation that did not present this as a question.

“Can you accompany him and guide him? I will pay your wages, brother.” (NRSV)
“Will you join him as his guide? Brother, I will pay you.” (NJB)
“Can you accompany him and guide him there? I will pay you, my brother.” (NLT)
“Can you go with him and show him the way? I will pay you, of course.” (Tobit 5:9, GNB)
“Can you go with him to show him the way? I will of course pay you, brother.” (NAB)
“Can you go along with him and lead him? And I will give you your wages, brother.” (NET)

Esther

This ESV translation of the Apocrypha includes the complete book of Esther with the additional chapters, as did the 2009 ESV but not the RSV (see my note 1 in the chart above). For consistency, Bible translations of Esther in the Apocrypha always maintain the chapter and verse divisions found in the canonical book. The additional chapters are traditionally designated and inserted in this order:

A:1-17 (or Chapter 11:2-12 & 12:1-6)
– Esther 1:1 – 3:13
B:1-7 (or Chapter 13:1-7)
– Esther 3:14 – 4:17
C:1-30 (or Chapter 13:8-18 & 14:1-19)
D:1-16 (or Chapter 15:1-16)
– Esther 5:3 – 8:12
E:1-24 or (Chapter 16:1-24)
– Esther 8:13 – 10:3
F:1-10 or (Chapter 10:4-13 and 11:1)

This edition of the ESV Apocrypha does not follow this convention.

The first Greek addition “A” is marked as Chapter 1 verses “1a” through “1r”
– Esther 1:1 – 3:13
“B” is instead designated as “13a” through “13g” (because it follows Chapter 3 verse 13)
– Esther 3:14 – 4:17
“C” is instead designated as “17a” through “17ee”
– Esther 5:1-2
“D” is instead designated as “2a” through “2q”
– Esther 5:3 – 8:12
“E” is instead designated as “12a” through “12y”
– Esther 8:13 – 10:3
The final Greek addition “F” is designated “3a” through “3l”

It isn’t a big deal if you are just reading, but if you want to convey a passage to someone else it can be confusing. It actually took me several re-writes just to explain that.

The first two verses of the canonical chapter 5 are repeated in the Greek addition that follows them. Most translations just number through the additional text, as you can see in the traditional list above (Chapter 5:1-2 are not used, or in some cases are bracketed). In the 2009 edition of the ESV Apocrypha this practice was followed and the chapter designations 11 through 16 were used. But in this edition, Chapter 5:1-2 are kept in-between two Greek sections, so they redundant.

It must be noted, however, that this book of Esther is not the Greek version. It is the Hebrew version, with exactly the same text as the canonical book of Esther in the ESV, and the additional chapters from the Greek have been inserted. This makes for a very noticeable and somewhat awkward transition. In the opening chapter before the regular (canonical) Chapter 1, the king of Persia is called by his Greek name, Artaxerxes the Great. Then when you begin reading Chapter 1, he is called Ahasuerus. For the rest of the book, the name switches back and forth whenever the sections change between Greek and Hebrew.

As noted earlier, the Oxford Annotated RSV only includes the additional chapters in the Apocrypha. On the other hand, the Oxford Annotated NRSV includes the Hebrew Esther in the regular canon and the entire Greek Esther in the Apocrypha. In the NRSV, the king is Ahasuerus in the canonical Esther, and he is Artaxerxes in the Apocrypha.

There are other places where the Greek Esther reads differently from the Hebrew version. It has long been pointed out that Esther is the only book of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Old Testament, that does not contain the Divine Name “Yahweh” and in fact makes no direct reference to God at all. However, the Greek version of Esther does directly reference God:

Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him.
(Esther 2:20 ESV from Hebrew)

Esther had not disclosed her country – such were the instructions of Mordecai; but she was to fear God and keep his laws, just as she had done when she was with him.
(Esther 2:20 NRSV from Greek)

And

On that night the king could not sleep. And he gave orders to bring the book of memorable deeds, the chronicles, and they were read before the king.
(Esther 6:1 ESV from Hebrew)

That night the Lord took sleep from the king, so he gave orders to his secretary to bring the book of daily records, and to read to him.
(Esther 6:1 NRSV from Greek)

There are many references to God in prayers found in the additional Greek chapters. In the new ESV Apocrypha book of Esther, the Greek portions are printed in italics so that they are easily identified (besides the odd numbering system).

Daniel

Unlike the book of Esther, the additions to the book of Daniel are not presented as one complete book combined with the canonical text. While they are often combined in Catholic Bibles, most others including the ESV Apocrypha keep them separate. They are:

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Men
Susanna
Bel and the Dragon

When inserted into the canonical Daniel, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Men is between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24, Susanna is Daniel Chapter 13, and Bel and the Dragon is Daniel Chapter 14.

These three books appear to be identical to the way they appeared in the 2009 edition, which is very near the RSV. The only change I found is in Susanna, which I think is an appropriate correction.

“Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us.”
(Susanna verse 20, RSV)

“Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in lust with you; so give your consent, and lie with us.”
(Susanna verse 20, 2009 ESV)

“Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we lust for you; so give your consent, and lie with us.”
(Susanna verse 20, ESV Apocrypha)

I have always thought it ironic that the Hebrew book of Daniel calls Daniel’s three companions by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Greek addition known as the Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three Men (in some translations The Song of the Three Hebrew Children) calls them by their Hebrew names: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

A Few Other Notes

While the Wisdom of Sirach is (essentially) the same text as appeared in 2009, this edition seems to better appreciate the existence of longer versions. Many of the verses that were footnoted in 2009 are now included in the text.

I found a couple of insignificant word changes in the first part of Wisdom of Solomon. They may make the English flow a little better, but they aren’t substantial enough to detail. I’m certain there are probably a few others that I missed.

My review of the ESV Apocrypha was done the old-fashioned way. I read it, and I must say it was enjoyable. At this time a digital copy was not available for me to a complete side-by-side comparison with other translations. And while that method may have allowed me to discover some of the technical nuances of the new ESV Apocrypha, I think I would have missed experiencing the elegance of the text. I highly recommend this version of the Apocrypha for Messianic believers using a Bible that does not now contain these books.

Cambridge University Press provided a complimentary copy of The Apocrypha – English Standard Version Text Edition for this review.

4 thoughts on “The Apocrypha – English Standard Version”

  1. The RSV and the Deuterocanon. The whole of the Deuterocanonical Library acceptable to the mainstream confessions arrived in stages with the RSV.
    In 1957, at the request of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Deuterocanonical books were added to the RSV. Since there was no American Standard Version of the Apocrypha, the RSV Apocrypha was a revision of the Revised Version Apocrypha of 1894, itself a revision of the King James Bible.
    This then made it possible for the Catholic Church to consider using the RSV and by 1965 permission was given to allow Scholars of the Roman Catholic Church to make changes to the text of the RSV so that the version would become acceptable to Roman Catholics. Such changes as “Brothers” to “Brethren” in reference to the brothers of Jesus, as the Church teaches that Jesus had no brothers – ‘brethren’ can allude to cousins or step-brothers. For example, some have postulated that Joseph had children by a former marriage, also the Latin fathers maintained that they were the Lord’s cousins. It was published in 1966.
    In 1973, an inter-confessional edition was issued, expanded to include 3 and 4 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh of the Orthodox Scripture Deuterocanon. This edition of the RSV included the Apocryphal books in an arrangement that would be acceptable to Protestants and Catholics alike. A compromise was worked out providing for the publication of a Bible that would contain four sections, in this order: the Old Testament, the additional books of the Catholic Church, the three books of the Protestant Apocrypha that are not included in the Roman Catholic canon, and the New Testament. The edition was presented to and approved by Pope Paul VI.
    Worthy as it was the ‘Common’ Bible of 1973 failed to live up to its name, as it lacked the full canon of books recognized as authoritative by Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Armenian, and other Eastern churches accept not only the traditional deuterocanonical books received by the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Third Book of Maccabees. Furthermore, in Greek Bibles, Psalm 151 stands at the close of the Psalter, and the Fourth Book of Maccabees is printed as an appendix to the Old Testament. Since these texts were lacking in the ‘Common’ Bible presented to Pope Paul, on that occasion Archbishop Athenagoras expressed the hope that steps might be taken to produce a truly ecumenical edition of the Holy Scriptures.
    In 1972 a subcommittee of the RSV Bible Committee had already been commissioned to prepare a translation of 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151. In 1975 the translation of the three additional texts was made available to the five publishers licensed to issue the RSV Bible. The Oxford University Press took steps immediately to produce an expanded form of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, with the Apocrypha, the edition of the RSV that had earlier received the imprimatur of Cardinal Cushing of Boston.
    This expanded edition was published by the Oxford University Press on 19th May 1977. A special prepublication copy was presented to His All Holiness Dimitrios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and titular head of the several Orthodox churches. In accepting the gift, the Ecumenical Patriarch expressed satisfaction at the availability of an edition of the sacred Scriptures that English readers belonging to all branches of the Christian church could use.

    Reply
    • There are different versions of some of the apocryphal books. Actually, the Roman Catholic canon does not include the book of 2 Esdras, sometimes called 4, 5, and 6 Ezra – the nomenclature can be confusing! This ESV Apocrypha, like the RSV on which it is based, does have the complete book. 2 Esdras has 16 chapters, and the final chapter has 78 verses. The English Standard Version – Catholic Edition (ESV-CE) that I reviewed here does not have 2 Esdras.

      Reply
  2. Wow, there is a lot to consider when deciding on a version of the Apocrypha. Despite the variants, one thing is for sure. Modern Christianity is missing out on some major events of their heritage. I am eager to dive into my recent purchase, which is the Literal Standard Version. Perhaps once I read through this copy, I will order the English Standard Version. Or maybe I won’t wait that long and order it now so I can compare the current version.
    This article–although it discussed more information than I could follow completely–was helpful and pointed out a lot of things that should be considered.

    Reply

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