Saturday, March 10, 2007

the Apocrypha

It's Saturday. So it's oftentimes a light day in the blog world. Maybe I can get away with a controversial post. Not to say my posts haven't been rather controversial (with some, I suppose), as of late. Though part of blogging is opening up some difficult issues, that may not be easily, if at all, resolveable.

A year ago on Jesus Creed, we had a couple of interesting (to me) posts and conversations on the Old Testament Apocrypha.

I have been charmed and challenged by what I've read from them so far. And I'm reading a book, right now, on the Apocrypha, by David A. deSilva, which challenges Protestants and evangelicals like myself, who have not taken these books seriously.

I will probably post more on this, as I learn more, and think through it, hopefully with others, like you.

You can find these books in editions of the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version). I have a parallel Bible with four translations, which include the Apocrypha (the NRSV, most complete in books included that have canonical status with differing Christian bodies), including the Revised English Bible, the New American Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible.

I am not convinced that these books shouldn't be in our Bibles. Or at least, I believe they have value for us.

There are issues here as to what is considered deuterocanonical and what is not. There is mostly agreement between Christians who hold to them, but some exceptions. Deuterocanonical does not mean a lesser canonical status, but it means books that came later than the Old Testament books, during the Intertestamental period.

There is much more to be said on this, of course. What thoughts or experience might you like to share on this?


Odysseus said...


I have struggled with the idea of this for a while. But something that I find beneficial (for me, at least) is that these books are not in the Jewish Bible. That is, Jews today do not have them in their scriptures.

However, like you, I find great value in them for nothing short of historical data. They contain great insight into how the Jews were dealing with a time after the 'close of the Jewish canon', so to speak.

Something else I find fascinating and something that the church should consider more often is the Septuagint (LXX). Without fail (almost) when the NT writers quote from the OT it is from the LXX. Isn't that interesting? And yet, the only church that I know of who uses this translation of the OT into Greek is, yep, you guessed it, the Greek Orthodox Church. They are in the midst of producing a Bible that contains it.

But no where do the NT writers quote from the Apocrypha. There are some illusions (Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The description is very closely related to the book of Enoch. Jude mentions Enoch as well.) but no quotes. Again, I find this interesting.

Peace to you.


Ted Gossard said...

OD, Yes. There are complexities surrounding this discussion. Even around the Jewish historical take on them.

And while there are no quotations of Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books by NT writers (1 Enoch is not one of those books), as there are from books in our 39 OT canon, yet the influence and allusions to them, seem rich. In other words these book, and especially three of them, as I recall, did impact NT (New Testament) writers. deSilva points out examples of this, in my reading so far.

So where I stand now. Certainly solid on our 66 books. And I prefer a translation with a Bible society behind it, that refuses to even consider translating those books, as has the NRSV, etc.

So I lean towards them not having the same canonical status as the rest of our books. But being good for edification.

Though I also believe that what the Church has said on them, is important. So that leaves me with a sense of ambiguity, since the witness on them is divided (though more favorable to them, prior to the Reformation).

I would like to see evangelicals work more on them. And provide a translation of them, like the TNIV I prefer.

Just my rambling thoughts for now. As I said earlier, so much more can be said on this.

Craver Vii said...

InterVarsity Press is in the middle of a set called The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures (ACCS). I have a few of the books, and they're quite alright. When they're done, it will include a commentary on the Apocrypha. I would like to see how they handle it.

I don't have a problem with seeing value in reading these books, but for me, the main issue is whether a book is the authoritative, infallible Word of God.

Ted Gossard said...

Craver, I hear you. This study does get interesting. Especially when one starts reading about the first five centuries of the Church, after which the canon is settled until the Reformation.

Even before the Reformation, these books were treated as different. And they were, for a number of reasons.

I believe they can have authoritative truth in them, from God, or be, in a sense, from God in a certain kind of way (maybe like Augustine's "Confessions", or Dante's "Divine Comedy"?). Without necessarily being the God-breathed Scriptures.

So I lean towards more of a Reformation take on them (and that's interesting, too).

But deSilva (himself Protestant, and I think evangelical), is convincing me that there is alot of good for us in reading them. As has Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright. And John Wesley liked Ecclesiasticus.

Ted Gossard said...

Although let me say that though the canon is settled, there is still some minor differences between Christian bodies on the books. Though in general, there is agreement.

One factor that gives me a little pause about these books, but doesn't disprove deuterocanonicity to me: Some were apparently originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. We have them in Greek. Those would be in Greek translation. And the translation of the LXX (Septuagint) is uneven somewhat, in how it translates. Sometimes very literal. Other times loosely, more paraphrase.

But settled OT Scriptures we have, at times, were often edited into the form we now have. But that doesn't subtract one iota from their God-given, God-breathed status.

Ted Gossard said...

first paragraph of last comment: I mean IS settled after the first few centuries of the Church, prior to the Reformation.

The Reformation wanted to get back to sources. But in so doing, may have unwittingly threw out history, and the Church's consensus and decision, through those early centuries. Though the Reformation does represent an important part of the Church as well.

Ted Gossard said...

I hope this post doesn't throw anyone into any kind of big or little crisis. This issue and discussion is out there. I was frankly introduced to it, last year, from "Jesus Creed".

Sometimes it's nice not to know issues like this. But I think the books are worth the read.

I don't include them in my regular Bible read. But do want to incoporate them regularly, in my reading.

Ted Gossard said...

I want to add that I'm just one little person. What matters in matters like this, I believe, is the Spirit's guiding of the entire church. So that what is decided together, we may conclude as the will and counsel of God.

My opinion in a difficult matter like this, is just that, my opinion.

Odysseus said...

Great points all! And, you're right...Enoch is not in the Apocrypha (shows how little I know). I would like to say something more regarding the LXX. What I find most interesting is that these were translated by Jews into the language of the day (can you say 'cultural influence?). In other words, the LXX has a profound impact (at least on me) in that the Jews translated their Scriptures and this helps us to understand how they (at least in the close of BCE) understood their Scriptures. Historically speaking, this is enormous. Especially when it comes to 'resurrection'.

The reason I bring this up is that in my NRSV, the 'extra books' will have something to the effect that this are in the Greek translation of the OT -- that they were added when it was translated into Greek.

But, enough of the rabbit trail. I need to go read some more Tobit!

Peace be with you.


Ted Gossard said...

OD, Thanks for those thoughts. It is evident that some of the Apocryphal books seem translated from Hebrew or Aramaic, while others may have been written in Greek, originally. And there is really so much more nuance in this entire matter, than it would appear from what I've said here.

The more I'm reading deSilva, the more I'm thinking, on the one hand, that I see these books as probably not canonical with the 66 books. But on the other hand, that they have value and importance for us. And should not be neglected. That, as you point out about resurrection, add much to our understanding of the world in which Jesus lived, and the New Testament was written.

Kind of where I am, as I read on....

Anonymous said...

Something of interest that I have gleamed about the apocrypha (by the Orthodox of course) is the historical political situation about which the Jews got their Bible in its format today.

During the time of Jesus, the predominant translation in use was the LXX. These kept all of the Apocryphal, and when Jesus seems to make allusions to these apocryphal texts, he does not do it by accident, but because that is exactly what he is doing.

It wasn't until after the destruction of Jerusalem that the Jews changed their cannon. This was first and foremost for political reasons. Up until this point, the Pharisees had been the predominant sect in control, but after the temple destruction, they declined in power, leaving the Sadducees (the modern equivalent are Orthodox Jews) in charge. The Sadducees did not believe, as you will recall in the resurrection and discounted things such as angels, the afterlife, etc. The LXX "apocryphal" books are full of things such as the resurrection and the afterlife.

But, it is also interesting to note that it was not until Luther threw out the Apocrypha in the 15th century that we got the Bible that we have today. And another thing to remember is that Luther also wanted to throw out James and Revelation as well.

The apocryphal texts are complicated, with some things that seem strange and outright wrong if read in the wrong context. But there is something to be said about the fact that every mainline Church that was not a heretical sect for the first 14 centuries of Christianity(Coptic/Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Greek/Eastern Orthodox) have had and continue to have the apocrypha in their versions.

(the only difference b/w the Greek and Latin versions is that the Greek LXX retains Psalm 151, while the Latin Vulgate does not. I am not sure quite why this is though.)

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your comment.

I've become quite settled on relegating the apocrypha to secondary status, but in a way which does not give them status as the word of God, meant for our Bibles.

As I recall in my own reading, not all the LXX had all those books. And it's interesting that not one of them is quoted by Jesus or the New Testament. Yes, allusions are present.

They are important books, surely not just to give us background as your good comment alludes to, but for edification, as well. Maybe they should be in a separate section of our Bibles (of course versions have them, as well as the Orthodox and Roman Catholics- though those two are not in agreement on them all, either, the Orthodox retaining more of them, I understand). It is a shame that most Christians have never read one of those books.

And this problem goes beyond just the Apocryphal books themselves, as I recall. I make this comment, rusty on this subject.

So I don't think they should be included with the 66, but I do think they shouldn't be as neglected as they have been.