Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reading the Apocrypha

Ask any person what the difference between a "Roman Catholic" Bible and a "Protestant" Bible is and they'll likely tell you that a RC Bible has "extra books" (or they'll stare blankly at you like you just asked about the Law of Cosines). But what about a "Lutheran" Bible? While Lutherans don't consider the Apocrypha to be on the same level as the rest of the Old Testament, the reformers certainly held these books in higher regard than most Lutherans today. When Luther translated the Bible into German, he included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. In fact, every Bible published by CPH in German until we switched to English after WWI contained the Apocrypha.

Martin Chemnitz described an Old Testament Apocrypha, containing the books most people think of as the extra "Roman Catholic" books, and a New Testament Apocrypha, containing the books whose inclusion in the canon of the New Testament was debatable (2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation). We read the NT apocryphal books, so why not the OT ones? Maybe they're not authoritative like the Pentateuch, but they're still good reading. As long as they are in concert with the agreed-upon books of sacred Scriptures, we can learn from them. But we don't allow them to make any new teachings that we cannot find in the rest of the Scriptures. The same is true of the "apocryphal" books of the New Testament. We can't find teachings in them that are out of harmony with the rest of the Scriptures.

The Daily Lectionary I use (derived from the same one in LSB plus an additional reading from Lutheran Confessions or the Apocrypha) is going through 1 Maccabees right now. This is from today's reading:

"And thus consider ye throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in him shall be overcome. Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms. To day he shall be lifted up and to morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. Wherefore, ye my sons, be valiant and shew yourselves men in the behalf of the law; for by it shall ye obtain glory." (1 Maccabees 2:61-64)

Good stuff.

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