24 Jan 2021

How Can the “Apocrypha” Help Me?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Church History, Discipleship, Jewish Backgrounds, Reading, Septuagint

I have lots of conversations. That is ok since Casper is not a good conversation partner. So I either have conversations going on via text, FB and email, they are usually about several things: someone’s marriage is in trouble (usually looking for a safe place to vent), the Stone-Campbell Movement, the Hebrew Bible or the Psalms, new heavens new earth, Astronomy, Judaism and the Middle Testament. It keeps me on my toes.

But no one ever wants to talk about Jonah, Song of Songs, Revelation or Gilgamesh!

For the last week or so I have been having conversation about the Middle Testament or Apocrypha. The conversation, initiated by him, has been good.

“What is it?”
“Did the Catholics put them in the Bible to support their false doctrine?”
“No New Testament writer knew them or quoted them?”
“They are just nonsense.”

He had all the usual Evangelical prejudices. All of which are incorrect. But the biggest problem was the lack of any real knowledge of them. But for some reason wants to learn more, but I am grateful. So the question was asked,

“How can the Apocrypha help me?”

I answered in several ways. First, because it is a primary source for understanding Jesus and the early church was my answer. The Apocrypha has sometimes been referred to as the “Bridge between the Testaments.” That is both a helpful yet limited perspective.

I illustrated it like this. The Apocrypha gives us “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Have you ever known of some one or thought that you did. You had read about them, saw pictures of them, heard stories about them.

And then met that person. But she or he was nothing like you imagined them to be?

Perhaps the New Testament, and early Christianity, is like that. We hear prejudicial stories about Jews and we impose them (unconsciously) on Jesus’s context and the early Way. The Hebrew Bible, first, is the primary reference. But the “Apocrypha” is like watching a documentary of the life and times in which the Way breathed. The whole world is gently recast, as we see God’s People struggle to be what he wants them to be.

They suffer.
They are persecuted.
They deal with alien/minority status.
They pray and worship.

And all of this is like meeting the person you thought you knew but she or he is nothing like what you imagined. They are not a distorted cartoon but flesh and blood. This is God’s gift of the Middle Testament.

A thoughtful reading of the Middle Testament (Apocrypha) can pay rich dividends in hearing Jesus and the New Testament itself. It is amazing how many stereotypes, that blind us to the plain words of the NT, fall by the wayside.

Besides … Jesus and the NT do in fact know most of the books that we call Apocrypha. Protestant apologetics does not rewrite history.

These books, canonical or not, had a profound impact on early Christianity and it is simply hard to actually understand the early church it as it was without them. Many early Christians knew of Susanna (Greek Daniel) but did not the letter to the Hebrews. Many Christians knew Judith or Wisdom of Solomon but did not Titus. Many young Christians would spend years learning the basics of Godly living through Sirach (it was even called Ecclesiasticus which means “Church book!”) but never heard of Revelation, 2 Peter or (again) Hebrews. This is why every manuscript Bible known to exist includes them. The reason for these facts is that the modern American editions of the King James Version did not fall out of the sky to early Christians (I say modern American editions of the KJV because for centuries the KJV included the Apocrypha and British versions still do).

The second answer is that these books are rich theologically and Spiritually. The church has used them for that for reason. Some of the most moving prayers you will find are in the Apocrypha. I would rather read Tobit than Max Lucado or the Spiritual Sword. In a thousand years, should the Lord tarry, three quarters of the Christian world will still read Tobit but only the rare scholar reading dusty microfilm will have a clue who Lucado was or what the Spiritual Sword was.

They do show us how to pray.
They do offer us discipleship challenges.
They do call us to faithfulness to God.
They do call us to worship only him.

These books are used as sources of devotion in every century of the Christian era. This includes Protestant theologians like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, and many more.

By the way none of this will be evident to a person who approaches these writings with prejudice. Nor will it be evident from a cursory and shallow engagement. But if you sit down and read asking the question, “Why did the early church find so much value, and even inspiration, here?” You will be amazed at what is discovered.

So that is one conversation. Boring to all but me.

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