The Book of Tobit – What is it?

The Book of Tobit is one of the books in the collection of the Apochrypha or Deuterocanonical Books that is considered authoritative in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Protestant groups do not accept the Book of Tobit as it was not considered authoritative in the Jewish collection of authoritative books. Based on fragments of this writing found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the likely origin of the Book of Tobit is the second century BC.

The account includes the story of Tobit (or Tobias) who was exiled to Nineveh with his family around 722 BC after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Tobit and his family sought to live for God. After being blinded, Tobit asks God to allow him to die. The same day, a relative named Sarah asks to die because she had been married seven times, yet a demon named Asmodeus had killed each husband before the marriage could be consummated.

Before his expected death, Tobit commands his son Tobiah to return money to a relative. The angel Raphael accompanies Tobiah. While Tobiah washes his feet in the Tigris River, a large fish attacks his foot. Raphael orders Tobiah to remove its heart, liver, and gall bladder for medicine. Tobiah is told of Sarah and to use the liver and heart of the fish to burn for protection against the demon Asmodeus on the night he weds Sarah.

Tobiah and Sarah wed and return to Nineveh where the angel Raphael instructs Tobiah to use the fish gall bladder to heal his father from blindness. Raphael disappears and Tobit sings a hymn of praise. Tobit then commands his son to leave Nineveh before God destroyed it. Tobias later buries his father and mother and moves to Media with his own family.

Some historical and theological errors in the work have been noted. Among the historical problems noted is that Tobit 1:15 incorrectly notes that Sennacherib was Shalmaneser's son (rather than the son of Sargon II). Also, Tobit implied he was alive during the reign of Jeroboam I (930 BC), but at his death he was noted as 117 years old. However, some scholars have proposed ways of handling these concerns that reveal these may or may not truly be inconsistencies.

Of greater concern are some of the Book of Tobit's theological teachings. One concerning teaching is certainly the apparent condoning of magic in connection with the use of fish body parts to heal or fight off demons. Both a demon named Asmodeus and an angel named Raphael are also mentioned in this writing that are found nowhere in the Old or New Testament. This in itself does not make the account inaccurate, yet is unique information not collaborated in the rest of Scripture. A third concern is the teaching that almsgiving alone would save a person according to the Book of Tobit (4:11; 12:9), a clear contrast with the New Testament's teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). John 3:16 is clear, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

Related Truth:

What are the Catholic Apocrypha / Deuterocanonical books?

What is the canon of the Bible and how did we get it?

Is the Book of Enoch inspired writing? Should the Book of Enoch be in the Bible?

The Book of Judith – What is it?

The Book of Susanna – What is it?

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