Over the last week I have been out at the Waunita Hot Springs Dude Ranch about 28 miles into the Rocky Mountains outside of Gunnison, Colorado. While there I have tried to keep up with my daily readings though a day or two they were not always done at the same time. Reading through the Bible has brought me to that area between Malachi and Matthew in the Protestant Bible called “The Apocrypha.”
This Saturday morning (today), having finished my Psalm time and with nothing else to do I turned to my place to do my “next days reading” which happened to be in the Wisdom of Solomon 10-12. When I finished and engaged in a moment of prayer, I began to reflect on just how rich the material was that I have been reading. Some will cry “heresy” when I say this, but I knew that Jesus, Paul, the Hebrews Preacher, the Church Fathers, Augustine, and millions of believers before me had also read these words and thanked God for them!
There is the wonderful passage in 2.12-20 which the Church Fathers believed was one of the clearest prophecies of the betrayal, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. The promise to the “eunuch” receiving “special favor” from God and “finding a place of delight in the temple of the Lord” (3.14) was often cited as being fulfilled by the Ethiopian in Acts 8.26f. And Paul clearly is referring to, if not outright citing, the wonderful description of the whole armor of God (there are only two places in all biblical Greek where the word “panoplia” occurs, Eph 6.13 and Wis 5.17), this is worth citing in full …
“The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor (panoplia)
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
he will put on righteousness as a breastplate
and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
and creation will join with him to fight
against His frenzied foes.”
For more on Ephesians and Wisdom see Ephesians 6.13: A Short Cultural and Historical Study
The Hebrews Preacher draws on Wisdom 7 when talking to his congregation that was baptized in the language of the Septuagint.
“wisdom, the fashioner/molder/maker of all things, taught me” (7.22, cf. Heb 1.1-4)
“[wisdom] is the breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty … for [wisdom] is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (7.25-26, cf. Heb 1.2-3)
But in today’s reading it is the hunger and thirst for wisdom as a divine gift that caught me. The follower of Yahweh will be known for wisdom and insight as they pray and seek it from him! As the prayer warrior implores …
“O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who make all things by your word,
and by your wisdom have formed humanity, to have dominion over the creatures
you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce
judgment in uprightness of soul,
give me the wisdom that sits by your throne, and do not reject me from among
your servants. For I am your servant, the son of your servant girl, a man who is
weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgment and laws …”
At the end of chapter 11 in today’s reading I found these wonderful and true words.
“But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, SO that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the
things you have made, for you would not have made
anything if you had hated it. How would anything
have endured if you had hated it? Or how would anything
not called forth by you have been preserved? You
spare all things, for they are yours,
O Lord, you who love the living.” (11.23-26)
And in chapter 12 these marvelous truths that are worth placing in our hearts. There is a powerful lesson here for those who mete out condemnation on a routine basis while claiming to be “fruit inspectors!”
“Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us … So while chastening us
you scourge our enemies ten thousand times more, So that, when
WE judge, WE may meditate upon your goodness, and when we are
judged we may expect mercy” (12.19, 22)
There are reasons that some of the Church Fathers, such as Athanasius, who is routinely cited as one that rejected the Apocrypha (he did not), thought Wisdom of Solomon was part of the New Testament!!
As my time was wrapping up with Wisdom of Solomon my mind went to a public rebuke I received on Facebook for daring to say that there was some Spiritual worth in the Apocrypha or other works that are not bound in the pages of the Bible. But something does not have to be canonical in order to be a Gift of Grace from God! Who has not been Spiritually edified by the contents of our hymnals? Who has not been challenged or uplifted or even sometimes “converted” through a sermon? Who has not been blessed to the core by classic works? Anyone that believes in the Triune God will readily affirm such as a given actually!
It is a faux conservatism to claim that God’s people are only receive Spiritual insight or receive benefit from Bible itself! This is self-defeating and even hypocrisy because the folks that make such claims and chastise some of us publicly subscribe to various publications that they would insist teach the truth and point to the way.
But as I was reflecting on that charge in light of this morning’s reading in Wisdom it dawned on me that not only is such a claim not “conservative” but it is actually UNBIBLICAL! The biblical writers themselves cite and point to sources outside the Bible. We have just seen that in Wisdom of Solomon itself there are numerous passages that reappear in the New Testament writings themselves (many more examples could be provided).
The apostle Paul clearly had not only been reading but studying books outside the “Bible” either before or during (or both) his missionary trips. Not only does Paul cite the famous Aratus and his lengthy poem about the gods, Phaenomena 1-5 but he cites it as if what it said was true!! I am sure some one could claim that the Holy Spirit gave Paul sudden inspiration and he never actually read this poem but it makes more sense to say that Paul had done his “homework” and found places that proclaimed truth. So in the poem we read,
“Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoke
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring.”
In Acts 26.13 when Paul is presenting his defense in front of Agrippa and the pagan Festus, Paul quotes a line from a play by Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1624.
“It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (a line that did not appear in his earlier defense in Acts 9).
There are more. Here is a summary of the pagan writings that Paul studied and quoted in the pages of the canonical New Testament.
Acts 17. 8 – Epimenides
Acts 17. 8 – Aratus
Acts 26. 13 – Aeschylus
1 Corinthians 15.33 – taken from Euripedes, and probably Menander
Titus chapter 1.12 – Epimenides
Luke, the author of the Gospel and Acts, clearly did a bunch of study and probably kept the ancient equivalent of “note cards” as he was doing his research to write his material. He states rather forthrightly,
“Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first to write an orderly account …” (Luke 1.1-3)
In the Hebrew Bible we find copious amounts of nonbiblical material cited in ancient “footnotes” with the implied invitation to “go check it out.” So we read of the following examples (not exhaustive) from Chronicles …
The annals of King David (1 C 27.24)
The Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah (2 C 27.7; 35.27; 36.8)
The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (2 C 16.11; 25.26; 28.26; 32.32)
The Book of the Kings (2 C 9.1; 2 C 24.27)
The Decree of David the King of Israel and the Decree of Solomon his Son (2 C 35.4)
The Annotations of the Book of the Kings (2 C 24.27)
None of these writings are in the Bible. Each one is cite to validate a claim made by the Chronicler. Each was available for investigation and the Chronicler never dreamed that God’s people could not learn from or be edified from or learn of God’s wisdom, faithfulness, mercy or truth from any of these sources.
Reading is a Spiritual Discipline
The Bible itself frequently knows of and points to works that are not in the Bible itself. The claim that it disrespects God’s word, or you are putting a book on par with the canon, or that you can learn some Spiritual truth from a work outside the Bible is in direct contradiction of the Spirit guided writers themselves! It is not conservative to make such a claim, it is unbiblical!
God’s word is supreme! But God’s people have prayed with, wrestled with, worshiped with and struggled with God’s word and have left a treasure of Spiritual writings that only fools in the true sense of the word would cut themselves off from. As David deSilva once wrote the Apocrypha is the greatest body of devotional literature in history! In a thousand years, should the Lord tarry, the Spiritual Sword and Wineskins will never have been heard of even by the most erudite historian … but folks will still be reading the Wisdom of Solomon!!!