21 November 2006

On the Public Reading of the Apocrypha

If a lesson from the Apocrphya is read during a Lutheran liturgy these days, eyebrows are raised and heads are scratched. "Has pastor lost it?" the people wonder.

It shows how little we know our history, even our history within the 20th century. I have in my possession a Bible that CPH published around the turn of the previous century. Auf Deutsch, of course. It features not only the canonical Scriptures but also the Apocrypha. All CPH Bibles in German had the Apocrypha. Included in the back of the book is a list of epistles and gospels for the Sundays and major feasts, and then a separate table titled:

"Epistles and Gospels of the Apostles' Days and some Other Festivals which are celebrated in some places."

The "other festivals" includes among others "The Day of Nicholas the Bishop" (December 6), "The Day of St. Laurence" (Aug 11), AND "The Day of the Birth of Mary" (Sept 8). What's so interesting about this is the assigned reading for the day of Mary's birth:

Epistle: Sirach 24:22-31

So it was not all that long ago that a parish in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod might well celebrate the Day of Mary's birth and to add insult to injury actually read from the Apocrypha in the liturgy! Here's to hoping that our good friends at CPH will twist the arms of the ESV folk to translate the Apocrypha in the manner of the ESV and start publishing it again for our people to have in their hands, and maybe even to read from at Church!


David said...

I too enjoy my Bible which includes the Apocrypha, though it isn't Auf Deutsch.

I have not been curageous enough to plan any studies with it yet, but I am considering a brief history lesson focusing on the writings of the early Church Fathers. A little time spent on the Apocrypha might be in order.

Drew said...

Pastor Weedon,

Would/should the liturgical response to these apocryphal readings be "this is the Word of the Lord?"

William Weedon said...


GREAT question. In the old Lutheran liturgy the reading closed with a very safe: "Here endeth the Epistle."

Today, would one say: "This is (almost) the Word of the Lord." ; )

Jim Roemke said...

Pr. Weedon,
I was shocked the first time I read through the beautiful "Meditations on Divine Mercy" by Johann Gerhard. It is full of Apocryphal references. Then I got to thinking, why did I not know about this? The more I learn the more betrayed I feel as a Lutheran in the 21st century by the pastors who did not lead in truth and faithfulness.

ConcordiaPuzzled said...

Imagine my horror when I noticed that the fancy-schmancy edition of the BOC put out by Concordia Publishing House, the "Concordia" edition has a reference AND a picture to Susanna! What the heck?

William Weedon said...

Oh, what else can you expect from McCain? He's a closet Romanist Orthophile Lutheran if ever there were one... ;)

Fr. Hank said...

Until CPH gets it together, the old RSV Apocrypha does quite nicely.

Fr. Hank said...

Just because the Apocryphal books are not deemed full Canon, does not mean they are not 'Word of the Lord', afterall. Wisdom is the speaker.
Besides, the Church of the Augsburg Confession never closed the Canon one way or the other,,,,,, as Pieps and Korby very well drilled into our heads.

Rev. Shane Cota said...

How about it CPH? How about giving us a whole Bible, instead of some Protestant redaction?

I made a rule over a decade ago that I would not buy any Bible that did not include the Apocryphal books. I don't want to get ripped off!!! Anyway, I've found the KJV and RSV with Apocrypha to be the best. (The only time I broke my rule has been to buy a copy of the ESV, so I could check it out.) I even told my people in Bible class to start looking for copies that include the Apocrypha. Am I a crypto-Romanist? Some would say there's nothing "crypto" about it!

christopher3rd said...

I was surprised to see, at our local Pauline Books, a "Catholic Edition" of the RSV with Apocryha. I had never heard of it, but it supposedly goes with the "Catholic" reading where possible. I am not sure if this is a matter of going with the footnoted version from the regular RSV, or if it is more of an alternate translation or text. According to the Wikipedia entry, "In Early 2006, Ignatius Press released the [updated] Second Catholic Edition of the RSV." I wonder if the RSV-CE goes with "virgin" instead of "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14, or if it has put John 5:4 back in.

The RSV-CE contains the Apocryphal books of the RCC, but not the additional books found in the Septuagint and the full Orthodox canon (we'll have to wait for the new LXX translation expected next year, and using the NKJV as a base).

John Canonical said...

Holy Mother Church *never* regarded the apocryphal books as canonical, but as beneficial readings on morals and virtues for the faithful. One need only consult Dr. Johann Gerhard's volume on "Scripture" to receive the testimony of the ancient fathers on this issue. That they deserve to be read is clear, even as it is clear they are not received as canonical.

You boys need to read up on them there fathers!

Rev. Shane Cota said...

So,whatever the "authorities" say, we should still have the apocryphal books in the Bible, because they deserve to be read. I don't think the early Lutheran fathers conceived of a Bible without the apocryphal books.

Chris Jones said...

Whatever the Fathers quoted by Dr Gerhard may have said, the LXX was always the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews, and it was always the Old Testament for Greek-speaking Christians. The Greek Church has never known any Old Testament but the LXX.

The "canonical" Scriptures are those which the Church reads liturgically in her ministry of the Word. The Church has always been willing to include the deutero-canonical books in her liturgical lectionary, so by that measure they are canonical.

Given that the historic Church always included the deutero-canonicals in her lectionary, and the Lutheran reformers never "closed" the canon nor specifically excluded the deutero-canonicals from their canon, I conclude that they are most certainly canonical.

saxoniae said...

God Grant It from CPH has a Bible verse from Wisdom of Solomon (is that Sirach?) for one of its daily devotions. It was mis-labeled by the editor as Song of Solomon in the index though.

saxoniae said...

Addendum: I should have remembered that Sirach was Ecclesiasticus and not Wisdom of Solomon. Still, there's a Walther sermon using the Apocrypha in a current CPH book.

John Canonical said...

John Canonical:

Oh, dear brethren.

Do read more carefully before launching forth thy salvos!

Holy Mother Church, of course, always had the OT apocryphal books, but never did it regard them as canonical. Yes, they were in collections of the Scripture from the ancient of days, but no, they were never regarded as canonical. One would do well to read Blessed Dr. Gehard's very well done discussion of this issue.

How foolish it would be, in our zeal to show our people what the Lutheran Church has always had in its Bibles, to suggest to our folks that they have an "incomplete Bible!"

There is a better way.

Mr. Jones doed need to read his Fathers more closely. One who claims to love the Fathers should not be so quick to dismiss them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed.

Jacob Hammerschlinger said...

Here's an interesting question. 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.

Jacob Hammerschlinger said...

My very good and close friend, Paul McCain, has shamelessly copied my post here and expanded on it and put it up on his blog site, without giving me any credit, as is so typical of him.

Thoughtful engagement would be helpful.

See his post at:


Chris Jones said...

Dear Mr Canonical,

I should be the first one to agree with you that I ought to read the holy Fathers more closely. So should we all. I did not mean to "dismiss" the testimony of the Fathers, so much as to hesitate to count Dr Gerhard among that august company, and to question whether his catena of patristic writings is a fair reading of the sensus patrum. I will admit that I have not read Dr Gerhard's discussion to which you refer; I should be happy if you would provide me a specific reference to it.

I suspect that part of the difficulty between your opinion and mine is a different understanding of the idea of "canonical". For me, "permissible to read in the Church's public worship" and "canonical" are almost (if not quite) synonymous. The common understanding of "canonical" is, perhaps, "that from which doctrine may be drawn"; but how and when, in actuality, is doctrine drawn out of the Scriptures? I would submit that it is primarily and essentially in the liturgy (that is, in and through the Church's liturgical ministry of the Word) that the pure doctrine of Law and Gospel is drawn from the Scriptures and given to the people of God as a means of grace.

Any use of Scripture to "derive doctrine" that is outside of, or essentially disconected from, its liturgical use is problematic. And a notion of "canonicity" which is abstracted from the liturgical context of Scripture does not make sense.

If a passage such as Sirach 24 that Father cited may be read in public worship in the same place where, on another day, St Paul is read; if it is read in the context of the liturgy's setting-forth of the rule of faith; if the liturgical homily may include explanation and interpretation of that text in its proclamation of Law and Gospel; then in what concrete and practical way is it different from "canonical Scripture"?

Jacob Hammerschlinger said...

My dear Mr. Orr, you would do very, very well to get to know Doctor Gerhard. He is the person who coined the term "patrology" and, I would guess, knew "the fathers" quite a bit better than you and me and anyone else putting forward opinions about "the fathers."

You can visit Concordia Publishing House's web site and there find the first published English translation of the first volume of his magnum opus: Loci Theologici.


Blessed Thanksgiving.

Hammeschlinger said...

Or Mr. Jones, rather.

Rev. Shane Cota said...

John Canonical and Jacob Hammerschlinger both seem to be thinly veiled multiple personalities of McCain. I suppose you can cover more blogs with three personalities than with one.

Anyway, I never told my people their Bibles were "incomplete" so don't go freaking out and assuming goofy things like that. I did say something like that in jest, and they thought it was funny. I'm glad my people aren't uptight and ornery about everything like some must be elsewhere.

It isn't like this: "Oh my goodness, this crazy pastor is going around saying we don't have the real Bible!" GASP! "What a bull in the china shop!" "Show your people you care so they care what you say!(or some such thing)" "[insert tired old cliche of choice]"

No, we all get along just fine.

Rev. Shane Cota said...

Well, most of the time anyway.

Matthias Biedenbender said...

Mr. Hammerschlinger and Mr. Canonical, it sure seems to me that the Right Rev. Cotta is wound just a tad tightly, no?

Rev. Shane Cota said...

How many personalities do you have? Egads! Also, I wish my name was spelled "Cotta" due to the Luther connection and the vestment, however it is merely "Cota." How is that for tightly wound?

McCain said...

Lighten up Shane, truly.

William Weedon said...

If you guys don't behave I'll bash you both upside the head with our Church's old Lectern Bible - which of course HAS the Apocrphya - and would require a trip to the hospital. ; )

Seriously, you all are just the victims of the difficulty of the internet medium to convey humor. I think that was what was intended - from Fr. Cota's initial "whole Bible" quote (or however he put that) through to Pr. McCain's many names (and not even spelling the same name the same way twice?). Relax. On this question, I am sure we are ALL in agreement that getting the Apocrypha into the hands of our people again would be a good thing, but the questioin is what would be the best way?

Rev. Shane Cota said...

Fr. Weedon is right. I was just funnin' around. Sorry it doesn't come through well in writing. I don't know how to make those silly faces!

Rev. Shane Cota said...

Also, I want to make nice, because I don't think I could stand a hit upside the head with Fr. Weedon's old Lectern Bible! I already have enough brain damage the way it is!

ptmccain said...

Now wait just a minute, why does Cota get to be "Daddy" and I'm just "Pr."?

Not fair.

And I'm Irish, not Scottish, blast your eyes.

William Weedon said...

Fr. McCain,

Irish? Pity, that. But we can't ALL be Scotish. ; )