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The Apocrypha: Missing in Action

November 22nd, 2006
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Did you know that the majority of English Bibles we have now do not contain all the books that historically all Lutheran Bibles always had? That is, did you know that Martin Luther included the Old Testament apocryphal books in every edition of his translation that he worked on, beginning with the first complete edition released in 1534? Where did they go? What happened to them? If we find them, should we put them back in the Bibles that we would use in our churches? Lots to ponder here. I welcome your [thoughtful] reflections. Here’s more information and more questions.

The Apocrypha is the term used to denote the fifteen books included in the Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the Bible) and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible),
which were incorporated in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bible editions These books are believed to
have been composed from about 300 BC. to AD 70. Most were written in
either Hebrew or Aramaic and contain Intertestamental historical works,
additions to various canonical books, devotions, and apocalypses. 

Luther and other reformers decided the Christian
Bible should include only those books of the Old Testament that were in
the Hebrew Cannon. They kept the basic order of the Septuagint, but
ended their book with
the Prophets. The books not found in the Hebrew Bible were placed in
another category as an appendix to the Old Testament. Catholic
scholars refer to this group of works as the deuterocanonical books of
Scripture (those books and portions which came later to be recognized
as authoritative in the church). The Catholic church declared these
books to be authoritative at the Council of Trent (1546) and included
them in their Bible. And there’s the rub. For you see, Rome declared them canonical so that they could make them rule and norm for their false doctrine, including purgatory and prayer to the saints! Declaring them to be on the same level as the canonical Scriptures was something never done and thus, as with other doctrines, Rome certified itself to be neither orthodox nor catholic. But, did this dissuade all English speaking protestants from using these books? No! As early as 1599 some English copies of the Bible omitted the
apocryphal books altogether. The King James Version of 1611,
however, contained them
. These were:

  • Esther (from about the second century B.C.) are popular expansions (six passages) to the biblical story, designed to introduce an underlying religious theme to the Book of Esther, which does not mention the name of God. 
  • Baruch (from about the second to first century B.C.)
    contains a prayer of confession, a poem in praise of wisdom, and songs
    of comfort. The book is attributed to Baruch, who was the scribe of
    the prophet Jeremiah. The book’s theme is the Babylonian exile for
    punishment of Israel’s sins, and foretells the return to Zion.
  • Book of Daniel has three additions (from about 165 to 100 B.C.), which are partly legends about Daniel the Sage and Godfearer and partly liturgical text.
    • Bel and the Dragon (which contains two stories in which Daniel proves the fraudulence of the idols worshipped by the Babylonians as a god.).
    • The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Young Men (recounts
      the prayers of Shadrach, Meschah, and Azariah, and center on the
      misfortunes encountered by Jews despite God’s covenant with them.).
    • Susannah and the Elders (an
      attempt to explain the high regard given Daniel by the Babylonians.   
      The book tells the story of how Daniel saved Susannah from a false
      charge of adultery, prompted by her rejection of the advances of two
      elders.    Daniel’s interrogation of the elders proved that they were
      not telling the true story.).
  • 1 Esdras (the Greek form of the name Ezra) (150 to 100 B.C.)
    is an addition to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.    The book contains
    historical material which formed the basis of Josephus’ description of
    the exiles’ return to Zion from Babylonia.    Its major addition to the
    biblical account is the "debate of the three young men" which
    explains how Zerubbabel, depicted as a bodyguard to Darius I, gained
    permission from the Persian king for the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem.
  • 2 Esdras (from about A.D. 70) is an
    apocalyptic work attributed to Ezra, describing the destruction of
    Jerusalem because of the sins of Israel.    The visions of the future
    tell that after a period of time Israel will be cleansed of its
    sinfulness and Jerusalem will be rebuilt.
  • Judith (about 150 B.C.) contains a tale of a
    heroine, Judith, who used her charm to lure the invading Assyrian
    general Holofernes to his death by decapitation.    She, thereby,
    lifted the siege of her city.    The book is important for its
    description of Judith’s meticulous observance of various religious
  • The letter of Jeremiah (from about 300 B.C.) is a short work
    attributed to Jeremiah in which the prophet condemns the worship of
    idols.     In the Vulgate, the book also contains the letter of
    Jeremiah as the sixth chapter.
  • 1 Macabees (from about 110 B.C.) is the chief source for a history
    of the events of the Hasmonean revolt from the conquest of Alexander
    the Great and is the primary source for information on the events
    celebrated on the festival of Hanukkah. 
  • 2 Macabees (from 110 to 70 B.C.) is essentially
    the same recounting of events as 1 Macabees but, with a stronger
    emphasis of the religious aspects of the revolt rather than serving as
    an historical account.    Among the prominent religious themes in the
    book is the concept of martyrdom.
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, or Sirach) (from about 180 B.C.) is an apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Literature containing poems and proverbs offering advise on practical and godly living similar to the book of Proverbs. 
  • Tobit (500 to 400 B.C.) is a tale of domestic
    piety.    It is the story of Tobit, from the tribe of Naphtali, who is
    exiled to Assyria where, despite his righteousness, misfortune befalls
    him.    The book ends with Tobias, his son, rectifying the wrong done
    to his father.
  • The Wisdom of Solomon (from the first century B.C.)
    pays homage to the traditional founder of Wisdom Literature without
    claiming to be written by Solomon.    The book consists of three parts:
    an eschatology, depicting the ultimate fate of the righteous and the
    wicked; a "wisdom" section, containing the message that God is close to
    the Jews when they adhere to the values created by wisdom; and a homily
    on the Book of Exodus.

Did you know that every Bible published and sold by Concordia
Publishing House, in German, included the Apocryphal books that Luther included and that
there were even readings from these books in the Lutheran Church Year
in The Lutheran Hymnal, and that American Lutherans, such as CFW
Walther preached on texts from these books, albeit rarely? These books never have been
regarded as being of the same authority or canonicity as the other
books in the Old Testament. See John Gerhard’s excellent overview and
discussion of these issues in his Loci, the first volume. But these
books were always regarded as useful for Christian instruction and for
the lessons they provided for virtuous and holy living in Christ.

How is that The Lutheran
Church–Missouri Synod did in fact have the Apocryphal books in its
Bibles right up to the very time when they moved to English? One can
see that every German Bible printed by Concordia Publishing House [and
very beautifully printed I might add!] had the Apocryphal books, but
one is hard pressed to find any English Bible sold by CPH starting in
the early 20th century that contains the Apocrypha. Was it that it was
impossible to locate English translations of the Apocrypha then and
rather than commission translations from the already over-burdened
seminary faculties they just decided not to use them? What there any
cry and protest from the Church when the English Bibles did not contain
them? For decades German Bibles were still sold with the Apocrypha
right along side of English bibles without it?

These are interesting
historical questions and I wonder if anyone has any answers.

Here now is my big question. Would it be hopelessly scandalous to
try to reintroduce the church to these books that were always included
in Lutheran Bibles? That is, could we possibly overcome the perception,
and accusation, that "They are adding books to the Bible?"

You see, the problem is this. At the time of the Council of Trent,
Rome stupidly and unjustly declared these books to be as equally
authoritative as the rest of the books of Scripture, something that
Mother Church had never done before. Neither in East or West were these
books ever regarded as being as authoritative as the rest of the books
of the Bible. But Rome used the Apocryphal books to prop up ridiculous
doctrines, such as purgatory and the invocation of the saints, so,
there you go. However, this fact did not dissuade Luther and the
Lutherans from continuing to use these books as the Church always had.

Hopefully we can discuss not just how we got the point that we are,
but…how best to move past it and reintroduce the Church to these
books without causing scandal. Here’s the problem. In recent years
there have been a spate of books trying to foist the so-called "missing
Gospel" on people, the Gnostic Gospels that no orthodox Christian
communion ever regarded as canonical. Is it possible to navigate
through these dangerous waters and reintroduce the Apocryphal Old
Testament books without hopelessly confusing people? That would be my
major concern.

What do you have to say about this? I would truly be interested in your [thoughtful] responses.

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Categories: Holy Scripture
  1. November 29th, 2006 at 21:15 | #1

    It is a bit curious, or even perplexing to the modern reader, when one sees in Gerhad, for example (as in Vol. 1 of his Loci) that he clearly regards the “OT Apocrypha” as “Apocrypha” — see his “two classes” at the beginning of Chapter 8 — ultimately, he argues that they are all “apocryphal” rather than “canonical.”
    In later volumes of his Loci, however, (Rev. Mayes could verify this, I’m sure) when he has a section on a subject (perhaps Christlogy, the Trinity, etc.) called “Proof from Scripture” he quotes the OT Apocryphal books right alongside the genuine “canonical” books, without any qualifications.
    I think the key is — and you see this as he goes through all the “OT Apocrypha” books in Vol. 1 — that he subjects the “Apocrypha” to the “Rule of Faith.”
    This leads me to another question, then, with respect to Prof. Kloha’s comments (this is not a rhetorical question, but a genuine one). Is it reasonable to assume not so much that the Lutheran view of Scripture (Luther included) has “lowered” the antilegomena to the level of “Apocrypha,” but that the “Apocrypha” had been held “higher” nearly on par with the status of the antilegomena? This “wild speculation” emerges almost solely (thus not considering all the facts, of course) from the meer fact that Apocryphal books are often quoted right alongside Scripture by the Reformers without qualification, just as one today would freely quote from the antilegoumena without offering such qualifications (i.e. “Oh, by the way, understnd what I’m about to say in the light of homolegoumena.”) Further, is it not Luther’s position that the antilegomena should be understood in accordance with the “Rule of Faith,” (as is evident in the homolegoumena) almost in the same sense that one would read the OT Apocrypha? Perhaps the OT Apocrypha is a sort of “step below” the antilegomena (if one is to think of it in such terms), but it does not seem to be so far a step in Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, etc., as it has become on contemporary Lutheranism.
    Either way — it seems clear that the Reformers, and Lutherans running centuries later, felt much more comfortable using the OT Apocrypha that many of us to today.
    Perhaps it is, as has been said, that we have become “fundamentalists,” insisting on an either “all or nothing” approach to Scripture, seeing all books on some sort of equal playing field — and they must be either on the field or off of it.

  2. Cindy
    November 29th, 2006 at 23:32 | #2

    Well, as one of the ignorant, knee jerking, incapable of critical thinking, lay “them” in this sadly “us v. them” sort of discussion, I’d like to say a thing or two. First of all what does “parenting in the pews” have to do with it? (from Barb) Thank the Almighty those little ones are in His Word at His Service. Nuff said on that.
    Secondly, I really am dismayed by the level of pretention in some of the comments, but I have learned a lot from those which have been constructive and not so grumpy. Honestly I didn’t know the antilegomena existed until a few years ago when I attended a local conference aimed at LCMS pastors. It did alarm me at first as a new concept, but the explanations offered by the pastors there were so helpful. As for the apocryphal books, I was actually taught to regard them as completely antiscriptural and not worth exploring – a possible threat to my faith. I guess I bring this up to demo that I am not willfully trying to be ignorant or stuck in the “have not” or “non theologian therefore don’t and can’t care” category. These are questions I never even knew to ask! Why is that? So it’s understandable how the good folk in the pews who want to defend Truth may find the apocryphal addition rather threatening and suspicious at first. It is a good thing to have the questions and concern.
    I happen to agree with those like Holger Sonntag and WRVinovskis who want a separate study book of the Apocrypha, with the clear distinctions btw. text and explanations, the history and proper intro’s, and all other applicable scholarly discussion. That would be great! Some mention of it – not promotion – in Bible classes or flyers just to get our feet wet on the subject would be great, too. But to “just do it” and let the people “just get over it” is beyond insensitive and potentially harmful – you know, the weaker brother admonition. What about not trying to inflict harm or even “heartburn” on the weaker brother? Instead I’m reading some weak brother bashing – a bit distressing.
    I like what Preus said about change and introducing change in “The Fire and the Staff” – main point being if you can’t get it done by teaching, then it won’t really be appropriate to introduce it at all at that time. (As long as the change at issue is not contrary to Holy Scripture, of course.)
    So maybe with some thoughtful teaching, without condescending to or underestimating the good folk in the pew, like me, we could grow to learn and love this part of our heritage rather than be threatened by it or bullied into it. After reading some of these comments I would love to explore this subject, but with all the good and right explanations, too, because I would need them.
    With all this discussion about who is “in the know” and who is not, who has a “fifth grade” level understanding and who is above,etc… I have a stress headache. The comments on this site tend to give me one. I should have known better, but yet here I am. :) I’m just glad my Lord and my God knows about me, and that my level of understanding has nothing whatsoever to do with my salvation – like the baptized infant. Ya’ll have a good evening.

  3. Jeff Kloha
    November 30th, 2006 at 06:25 | #3

    Far from being faith-threatening, it is my experience that discussing the authority of Scripture and the history of the canon actually strengthens faith — because it helps us focus on the centrality of the Gospel, Christ’s saving work for us. The church has frequently strayed from that central message: at the time of the Reformation it was a distinctly non-Pauline version of Jesus as “lawgiver” (not dissimilar to one way of reading James), today it is an unhealthy interest in “end times” and identifying who, where, and when might be the “fulfillment” of the Apocalypse. Reminding ourselves of why the written Word has been given to us will, by the work of the Spirit, help keep us in the Gospel.
    Paul, you ask about Acts (though I’m not sure why). Acts was never disputed or rejected, and theologically has some of the clearest expressions of the Gospel and the centrality of the work of Christ — Peter in Acts 2, Stephen in 7, Paul in 17, etc. It must be read as a clear witness of Apostolic (i.e., Gospel centered) preaching. At the same time, like the catholic epistles, the book was not very influential in the early church, was not read in the earliest lectionaries, not copied in the same codices as the gospels and Paul. This is certainly because it did not offer what would have been decisive passages about Christology or the Trinity or the doctrinal issues of the early church. That is not to say that it was rejected, but its role in the canon is/was different from that of the Four Gospels and Pauline Epistles. The problem we have today is that people do not read Acts to find Apostolic preaching, they read Acts to find the “pristine church” or the “emerging church” (a seminar coming to a EV church near you . . .) Besides, you get to do all kinds of cool stuff, like speak in tongues and heal people. Acts is a narrative about the Spirit’s work in proclaiming Christ. It is far more than a handbook of church structure, and those that push such structures that take the focus off the Gospel, once again, have lost the reason the Scriptures have been given — all because of a “level” view of the canon.
    Keep in mind, the real challenge we face today regarding Scripture is that of the “Gospel of Judas,” and Mary, Philip, Thomas, etc. If we don’t focus on the Gospel, then why not just add these in, too? Take a look at the shelves in Borders or Barnes and Noble — what lost, secret, revealed “bibles” are you finding there? The fact that, as a result, you get a different “Jesus” — and lose the Gospel — should warn us that also in our generation there are those who would try to take the Gospel from us.
    Just a note on the use of the apocrypha/antilegomena in doctrinal treatises: the Lutheran dogmaticians assumed that these writings could be used profitably if used properly, that is, within the canonical framework that has been discussed in this thread, normed by the Gospel.
    My apologies for the long post. A blog is not the best place to review all this, for, as some of the posts suggest, confusion and uncertainty often results from non-contextual words on a screen. If there is confusion, your pastor should be a good guide.

  4. Barb
    November 30th, 2006 at 14:14 | #4

    After reading the many comments. I think a book written about apocrypha would be good, but not in a Bible. In reference to my last comment. I certainly didn’t mean that CPH should quit printing Bibles. I just wondered if one printed with the apocrypha would be the thing to do. In answer to Cindy’s comment. I truly believe after raising our children that how we taught them to focus on the worship service was most important. Driving them to youth groups and helping them with Confirmation class studies helped them stay connected from home through the week. Our actions in the pew taught them how they should worship for the rest of thier lives.

  5. Sophie
    December 2nd, 2006 at 13:13 | #5

    A Roman Catholic visitor just sending some info after reading the Newsletter It would appear some on the blog lack any accurate historical knowledge…
    3. But the seven deuterocanonical books were added at the Council of Trent (1546) in order to justify Catholic doctrinal inventions. (The blogger said “Mother Church “had never done that before.)
    This is a propogated myth that always comes up but is simple to answer. At the Council of Rome in 382, the Church decided upon a canon of 46 Old Testament books and 27 in the New Testament. This decision was ratified by the councils at Hippo (393), Carthage (397, 419), II Nicea (787), Florence (1442), and Trent (1546).
    Further, if Catholics added the deuterocanonical books in 1546, then Martin Luther beat us to the punch: He included them in his first German translation, published the Council of Trent. They can also be found in the first King James Version (1611) and in the first Bible ever printed, the Guttenberg Bible (a century before Trent). In fact, these books were included in almost every Bible until the Edinburgh Committee of the British Foreign Bible Society excised them in 1825. Until then, they had been included at least in an appendix of Protestant Bibles. It is historically demonstrable that Catholics did not add the books, Protestants took them out.
    Luther had a tendency to grade the Bible according to his preferences. In his writings on the New Testament, he noted that the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation were inferior to the rest, and they followed “the certain, main books of the New Testament.” In 1519, this same attitude fueled his debate against Johannes Eck on the topic of purgatory. Luther undermined Eck’s proof text of 2 Maccabees 12 by devaluing the deuterocanonical books as a whole. He argued that the New Testament authors had never quoted from the seven books, so they were in a different class than the rest of the Bible.
    Since it is unreasonable to expect every person to read all of the books of antiquity and judge for himself if they are inspired, the question boils down to whose authority is to be trusted in this matter. One must either trust a rabbinical school that rejected the New Testament 60 years after Christ established a Church, or one must trust the Church he established.
    Which deserves our trust? Martin Luther makes a pertinent observation in the sixteenth chapter of his Commentary on St. John “We are obliged to yield many things to the papists [Catholics]—that they possess the Word of God which we received from them, otherwise we should have known nothing at all about it.”
    Ok, I like your newsletter, and I bleep off into cyberspace now.

  6. Sophie
    December 2nd, 2006 at 13:22 | #6

    Sophie, there is no *myth* at all about the novel step Trent took to safeguard its only so-called “Scriptural” foundation for the heresy of purgatory.
    I am not discussing the doctrine of purgatory simply speaking to the inaccurate statement of Mother church adding these books in at the council of Trent; they were always accepted, The Bible says do not add or detract from this book so we say it’s a heresy to remove those books and Luther had no Biblical authority to do so,
    but it speaks to who are you going to believe when a bunch of Pastors disagree on any issue, or Biblical issue
    I am simply correcting the inaccurate historical comments….
    that is all. You have your right to believe anything but I would hope you would at least want the correct historical facts.
    I like reading the newsletter it’s well written….

  7. February 13th, 2007 at 22:39 | #7

    Hmm, according to this article in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Rome the Damasian List which I think Sophie refers to is a forgery.
    Perhaps that is why some called it a *myth*?

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