30 August 2012

It's Here and WOW!

Best buds
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." [This by the way was not merely his opinion; it was also the opinion, for example, of St. Jerome or St. Gregory Nazianzus.] 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. [Does Paul echo this in 1 Timothy 1:15,16?]

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 and 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!


Phil said...

When the Apocrypha were read publicly, was the response to them always "Verbum Domini / Deo Gracias"?

William Weedon said...

GREAT question. NO. In the daily office, when these were read, the reading would most often just end with: "here ends the reading."

Carol Fleisher said...

cool! I didn't know Lutherans even agreed with or believed in the Apocrypha. We go to a LCMS church and have never heard it mentioned. We know of it from another denomination we grew up in. My husband has be interested in itthough. Now I know what to get him for Christmas or our anniversary. Thanks for sharing! :)

Chris Jones said...

Are you saying that readings from the deuterocanonical books were / are treated differently from the protocanonical books?

That is, is it the case that protocanonical readings end with "the Word of the Lord" but deuterocanonical readings end with "here ends the reading"? Or are all readings treated the same?

somehow publishing this again will elevate these books to the level of canonical Scripture

It is a curious fact that we Lutherans have no dogmatic, confessional listing of the canon of Scripture. The Confessions reference "Scripture" as authoritative without ever delineating what is and is not to be considered "canonical Scripture." It is as if they presume that "everybody knows" what is and is not Scripture.

And what books are in that unspoken canon that "everybody knows"? If the Confessions (which cite the deuterocanonical books as Scripture several times) and the liturgical practice of the Lutheran Church (which, as you point out, include public readings from the deuterocanonicals) are any guide, the deuterocanonical books are part of that unspoken Lutheran canon of Scripture.

William Weedon said...

Hi, Chris. No, the books were not announced differently. In TLH for instance the first reading concluded:

"Here endeth the epistle" (TLH p. 10, 20)

The canonical status of the Apocrypha is most curiously laid out in Chemnitz' little Enchiridion, where he speaks of both OT and NT Apocrypha, meaning by the latter the Antilegomena. Historically the Lutheran Church observed the distinction that dogma must be founded in the Hebrew Scriptures or in the NT homolegoumena, but certainly continued the reading (public and private) of the other writings as well.

Jay said...

Given the sad state of Biblical literacy in the church today and the minimal amount of time devoted to Bible study by the average LCMS Lutheran, the danger exists that the study of the Apocrypha in the home and/or parish may be substituted for study of "the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" 2 Tim 3:15 NIV 1984

I pray that Bible remains the focus of family devotions, Bible study and Bible Class in our homes and churches.

William Weedon said...


I doubt that those who don't bother to read the Sacred Scriptures will be drawn suddenly to be reading the Apocrypha! But those who love and read the canonical Scriptures will indeed profit by becoming acquainted with these writings - as Luther wrote in his Bible: "they are good to read!"

Chris said...

Fr. Will,

"These are books that were in the Greek translation of the OT but not found in the Hebrew text." Misleading and false. The so called Apocrypha books were always part of the Hebrew Canon until the Jewish rabbis met in Masura in Persian territory in 90 C.E. Their revisions to the canon were exclusively meant to excise and/or revise those parts of their sacred canon which directly pointed to Christ and his fulfillment.

Some have said that the Hebrew text is more reliable than the Greek translation, but the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls definitely points to the Greek text as being more faithful to the original Hebrew than the Masoretic text.

"[This by the way was not merely his opinion; it was also the opinion, for example, of St. Jerome or St. Gregory Nazianzus.]" So, you have two church fathers to support you. But the consensus patruum is overwhelmingly supportive of the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture. St. Jerome and St. Gregory are not infallible.

I'm happy that the Apocrypha texts are being brought back for Lutherans who are now being encouraged to read them though it is a shame that they are still denied their place in the daily lexicon. I only wish that my pastors growing up would have had a high opinion of the apocrypha.

Pr. H. R. said...


What's the historical evidence for that meeting in Masura again? Do you mean Jamnia? What's the historical evidence for that?

The distinction between the Aprocrypha and the OT can be found in the Loci citati vel allegati of Nestle-Aland: the Apocrypha just isn't quoted by the NT. That's very significant.

In short, Chemnitz' treatment is very fair indeed. Even Jerome can be right about something. . .


William Weedon said...


In addition to the concerns Father Heath raised, please do consider that the two fathers I cited are not alone. Why would you assume that St. Gregory of Nazianzus was different from the other Cappadocians? And what do you find in the famous Easter letter from St. Athanasius? So from Egypt, in Asia Minor, over in Rome - it's a pretty wide-spread area, and all saying about the same thing on the canon, no?

Chris said...

Fr. HRC,

You are correct. It is Jamnia.

Fr. Will,

One or two fathers you may have, but the consensus patruum still remains.

Fr. HRC,

Significant, yes, but if direct quotations of the "apocrypha" in the NT were a necessary requirement to include them into the canon, well, I suppose you'd have to excise 95% of the OT canon. The problem that you have (well, you have many problems, but I digress) is that you fail to understand how oral societies function. A direct quotation in a NT work is not assurance that a "text" was not in widespread use or unknown or considered a mere appendix or footnote (again, that's the text mentality from which you must really divorce yourself). You are so bound to the text mentality that it obscures accurate understanding. Ad fontes! only gives you a blurry picture.

Chris Jones said...


If you have been following my comments on this and other Lutheran blogs you know that, in general, I support your position on these matters (even though I am Lutheran and you (if I recall correctly) are Orthodox). However, I feel the need gently to caution you about your tone.

It won't do to lecture men like Fathers Weedon and Curtis about Church history, as if they are ignorant of these things. They are both well-educated and conscientious pastors, and it is unlikely that you are providing them with historical information that they are unaware of. I have no doubt that they know the historical facts as well as, or better than, you or I do. It's just that they place a different weight and a different interpretation on those facts.

I should be very cautious, if I were you, about placing too much emphasis on the Council of Jamnia, and its alleged "exclusion" of the deutero-canonical books from the Jewish canon. There is remarkably little historical evidence that such a council ever took place; and even if it did there is no concrete evidence of what the decisions of the council actually were.

More generally, the whole notion of a "canon of Scripture" is an anachronistic projection of Reformation-era concerns back into the patristic, Apostolic, and inter-testamental periods. There was no "official" canon of Scripture among the Jews before the coming of Christ, and no councils or "magisterium" to settle such questions. Instead, beyond the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (about which there was little or no dispute), there was a variety of other writings in liturgical use, and not every community of Jews had exactly the same collection of books.

Even in the early Christian period there was not complete uniformity as to which books were in use liturgically and were considered authoritative. The very Fathers and Councils to whom we appeal for evidence about the canon of Scripture never used the phrase "canon of Scripture," and the word "canon" in the Greek of the time never had the meaning of "an authoritative list" that we moderns ascribe to it.

My point is that the development of what we call the "canon of Scripture" was a rather sloppy and disorganized process, both among the Jews and the Christians, and we look in vain for a single, definitive decision of what's in and what's out, either among the Jews or the Christians. There isn't any definitive "Jamnia" that excluded the deutero-canonicals; neither is there any definitive earlier Jewish council that included them. Anymore than there is a definitive Christian council or other decision that settles either the OT canon or the NT canon. All that we really have (in both the Jewish and the Christian case) is the evidence of what books were actually used liturgically as "the Word of God." The historical evidence (whether Jewish or Christian), the patristic citations, and the conciliar decisions, are all just testimony to what that liturgical tradition in fact was, and is. Those writings which the Holy Spirit in fact used to speak to the people of God in the liturgical assembly are, by definition, the writings which are canonical Scripture.

By that measure, the canonicity of the deutero-canonical books is on pretty solid ground (even among us Lutherans).

Phil said...

Fr. H.R.,

Do you believe that Jude quotes the Book of Enoch? I only became aware of this question recently.

Chris Jones said...


That's true, and it just goes to show you that whether or not a book is quoted in the New Testament is no indication whether it is canonical. Enoch is quoted in the NT, but it is not generally regarded as canonical (for some reason the Ethiopian Church (a Monophysite body) includes it in their canon, but no other Church does).

JnDamascus said...

For some helpful 1st and 2nd century parallels, see http://orthodoxsteve.blogspot.com/2009/06/ancient-christians-and-council-of.html

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

7Just to add a bit to what Fr. William has said regarding the liturgical response to lections, if one has in mind the Mass, in traditional Latin usage it was often the case that when the lector finished reading the Epistle (and indeed it might be better to give that reading another name, like The First Lesson, because it does happen on certain days that it is from somewhere other than the Epistles, like Acts, & yes, even places like Sirach, etc.) he wouldn't say anything in particular. The people's response to the reading would be "Thanks be to God" (Deo gratias). Now you're wondering how did they know when the reading was finished & it was their turn to respond? That's a good question. The lector might have used a certain inflection at the end; he might have made a signal with his hand, or a turn of the head, or by closing the book, or whatever. I also think that those closest to him (like the acolyte, the deacon, etc) would have been most intuned to these signals, and begun the response for the people. If, on the other hand, one has in mind the Divine Office, in some cases the lesson, again, simply ends with the "Thanks be to God" (say, eg, the Little Chapter at Vespers or Compline); in other cases the lesson is followed immediately with a responsory type of dialogue, which includes a Gloria Patri; and in many other cases, when the lector has completed his reading, he would say "Tu autem Domine miserere nobis" (this has been translated in numerous ways, from the crassly literal to the paraphrase-I like the sort of classic flow of language you get with "But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us"), and the hearers would respond, "Thanks be to God."

Richsheri1 said...

What we can clearly affirm as Lutherans is that the Apocrypha is Scripture. Our Confessions say so and the first Lutheran listing of Scripture (Chemnitz’ Enchiridion) lists the Apocrypha as Old Testament antilegomena. Thus, historically for the Lutheran Church, the Apocrypha was treated the same way we treat the New Testament antilegomena books, such as Revelation.

For most of our history (with the last 100 years being an exception), the Apocrypha was included as part of our lectionaries and Lutheran pastors preached from such texts. We also celebrated and remembered Saints in the Apocrypha. Also, our liturgies to this day have quotations from the Apocrypha. So if the Apocrypha isn’t Scripture, then our Lutheran fathers were having practices contrary to such a worldview.

Our Confessions, practice, and liturgy all attest to the Apocrypha as real, no-kidding Scripture. However, the Lutheran Church has chosen to treat the Apocrypha in such a way where we do not create or make doctrine from such texts because of its disputed status by some in the early Church.

And generally speaking, treating the Apocrypha (or Deuterocanon or Anagiognoskomena depending on your communion) that way has long been the practice of the Church catholic. In the west, we see a decided shift in the Church of Rome at the Council of Florence in 1452 to treat the Deuterocanon as primary canon. Later, at the Council of Trent, this change was solidified. What had long been Deuterocanon for Romans Catholics in word and practice remained Deuterocanon in name only.

What is unfortunate for Lutherans is that, today, we’ve taken Luther’s opinion and made that our doctrine to exclude the books of the Apocrypha in the Bible. Yet, Luther’s Die Bibel had the Apocrypha despite his opinion. Luther was enough of a churchman to know that he didn’t have the authority to remove books from the Bible. That’s why other books Luther said were not scripture at various times he still retained in the Bible, such as Esther, Song of songs, James, and Revelation.

The Lutheran Edition of the Apocrypha is a worthwhile and noble step in having the Apocrypha back in our Bibles. Eventually, it needs to be in a Bible with all the books, in our lectionaries, and pastors preaching from such texts. May God bring this to pass in our day!