“It’s Here and WOW!” Chaplain William Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship, Comments on Publication of The Apocrypha: Lutheran Edition with Notes
What a beautiful volume, it is! CPH’s The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes is a most worthy companion to sit next to your copy of The Lutheran Study Bible.
When you first open it, you will notice right away the similarities in layout. If you’ve mastered navigating TLSB, you’ll feel right at home in The Apocrypha. The text employed is the English Standard Version, and once again it delivers a text that is clear and dignified without being overly colloquial or informal.
But WHY? you might be asking. Why bother?
Well, the Apocrypha is simply part of our heritage as Christians, and specifically as Lutheran Christians. It was invariably published in Lutheran Bibles in Germany, right between the two Testaments and with Luther’s incredibly helpful little note: ”Apocrypha, that is, books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, and nevertheless are useful and good to read.” These are books that were in the Greek translation of the OT but not found in the Hebrew text.
Putting them between the Testaments (rather than inserting them among the books of the Old Testament) is actually a good reminder that they specifically illuminate for us the time period between the close of the OT and the beginning of the New. Just a solitary example: we read in John 10 that our Lord was in Jerusalem “for the feast of the dedication.” Well, you’d search in vain for this feast in the Old Testament writings and might wonder what this IS that Jesus is attending. The answer to your query is found in 2 Maccabees 10:1-8 – the institution of what we call today Hanukah!
You’ll also find some interesting “middle” stories between the Old Testament and the New Testament accounts. Numbers 21:4-9 relates the story of the bronze serpent. And our Lord picks this up in John 3 as a type of His own crucifixion: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…” Between the two accounts, we find this meditation on the event from the Book of Wisdom (16:5-8):
For when the terrible rage of wild beasts came upon your people and they were being destroyed by the bites of writhing serpents, your wrath did not continue to the end; they were troubled for a little while as a warning and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of your law’s command. For he who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw, but by you, the Savior of all. And by this also you convinced our enemies that it is you who delivers from every evil.
And, of course, the Lutheran Church has always continued to make use of parts of the Apocrypha in our worship life. An ongoing frustration in the use of The Lutheran Service Book has been its oblique use of “liturgical text” whenever something was used from the Apocrypha. That’s nice, but WHERE IS IT FROM? Be frustrated no longer. Your handy-dandy Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes gives you the info in a handy chart (thank you, Peter Reske) on pages 387, 388. Ah, so “When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne”—the lovely antiphon for the Introit at the Christmas Midnight Service—that comes from Wisdom 18:14-15! Or the Introit for Easter Tuesday “He gave them to drink of the water of wisdom”? That’s from Sirach 15:3b-4a.
Perhaps most shocking to the sensitivity of modern day Lutherans is that our spiritual forebears not only continued to read the Apocrypha in private in their homes, but even publicly in the Church services! A CPH published German Bible I have lists two readings from the Apocrypha on saints’ days:
The epistle for the day of St. John is provided as Sirach 15:1-8
The epistle for the birth of Mary is provided as Sirach 24:22-31
In Lutheran Magdeburg’s 1613 Cantica Sacra, we note that whole swaths of the Apocrypha were read in the daily Matins and Vespers in parts of the post-Pentecost season: Tobit, Judith, sections from Maccabees.
Some of my favorite sections are the “wisdom literature” (Sirach, Wisdom) and the “liturgical” pieces, above all the Prayer of Manasseh (cf. 2 Chron.33:12-13, 18-19):
for your glorious splendor is unendurable, and the wrath of your threat to sinners is overpowering; yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy… the sins I have committed are more than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied. I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven because of the multitude of my iniquities… I earnestly implore you, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my transgressions… For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, and in me you will show forth your goodness; for, unworthy as I am, you will save me in your great mercy.
But the objection is raised: ”Look, our people don’t even know the canonical Scriptures as they should! Is it wise to bother with introducing them to the Apocrypha?” It’s a fair question, and I’d certainly not suggest that a steady diet of the Apocrypha or anything else (TV, novels, the internet) be allowed to replace the daily discipline of time in the canonical Scriptures. BUT, I suspect the folks who’d have the greatest interest in the Apocrypha are precisely the folks who are INTO the canonical Scriptures already. You know, the kind of folks who will have puckered a brow over a “Feast of Dedication” in John 10 and wondered what further information they might have learned about that.
And I’ll be honest: I think for pastors especially the Apocrypha is invaluable. I mean, we make our promise to conduct all our preaching, teaching and administration of the Sacraments in accord with the faith as it is confessed in the Book of Concord, do we not? But this Book specifically references the Apocrypha more than once. At the very least we should KNOW the context of the passages that are cited. Luther’s, Chemnitz’s, Gerhard’s, and Walther’s sermons are peppered with allusions or references to the Apocrypha and I think we’re definitely the poorer when we no longer “get” those.
What people fear, I think, from the Apocrypha is that somehow publishing this again will elevate these books to the level of canonical Scripture – i.e., to texts that can form the basis for the formulation of the Church’s dogma. But such a fear is more than allayed in the very helpful study notes that accompany this version. Even on the very cover page, Dr. Luther’s words to Eck are cited: ”I know that the church retains this book [of the Apocrypha] as I just said, but the church is not able to grant more authority or strength to a book than the book has on its own.”
The long and short of it: it’s utterly worth each pastor owning and studying in conjunction with the canonical Scripture for the wonderful light it sheds on the intertestamental period, for the place it has historically possessed in our liturgical, catechetical, theological, and homiletical tradition. It’s also utterly worthy of any laity who are already students of the Word of God, for the exact same reasons. Buy it! You won’t be sorry!