Sunday, June 9, 2013

Apocrypha

Philip Jenkins has been doing a series of posts about the differing canons of Scripture accepted by Christians in various places and at various times in the history of the Church. All of the entries have been interesting and informative. Today he describes what has happened with respect to what I have always known as the Apocrypha. Excerpts from "The Second Canon":
.... As used in the Roman Catholic Church, these include such texts as Judith, Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, and some additional passages in Daniel. These works were not formally included in the Hebrew Bible as fully canonical, although they had appeared in the Septuagint.

Different churches had accepted them from the early Christian centuries. Occasionally, some scholars would protest against their inclusion in the Christian canon – Jerome was hostile. But these critics admitted that they were in a small minority, and the church’s overwhelming consensus won out over time.

Even medieval Proto-Protestants like the Waldensians not only accepted and read these books, but seemingly treated them as among their favorite sections of the Bible. They loved stories like Maccabees and Tobit, and venerated the main characters as Christian role-models. ....

Just how Protestants came to lose these books is a curious story. Reformation-era debates over the Bible naturally focused on issues of canon. The Reformers naturally held to the most stringent standards of inclusion, which usually meant accepting the familiar Jewish definition of the Hebrew Bible. ....

But excluding books from the Protestant canon certainly did not mean abandoning them overnight. Most early Bibles did indeed include the “Deuteros,” but segregated in a special section of apocrypha, sandwiched between the Old and New Testaments. This was the solution of Luther (1534) and it was followed by the Geneva Bible, the standard English text for most mainstream Anglicans and Puritans alike for a century after its publication in 1560. (It was many years before the King James overtook it in popularity).

Church authorities were careful to stress that these books should not be taken as fully authoritative. In 1563, for instance, the 39 Articles of the Church of England listed these “other Books (as [Jerome] saith) [that] the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 was tougher still, declaring that “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” ....

English-speaking Protestants lost the Deuterocanon not through any calculated theological decision, but through publishing accident, and at quite a recent date. Prior to the early nineteenth century, Anglo-American Bibles included the apocryphal section, but this dropped out as printers sought to produce more and cheaper editions. Increasingly too, during the nineteenth century, anti-Catholic sentiment encouraged Protestants to draw a sharp line between the two variant Bibles. If Catholics esteemed books like Maccabees and Wisdom, there must be something terribly wrong with them.

As I have noted elsewhere, the sudden loss of those books had unexpected consequences: “That timing meant that when Protestant missionaries set out for Africa and Asia, the Apocrypha did not feature in the Bibles they carried with them, and those texts never had much impact on emerging churches. ....

For whatever reason, then, Protestants over the past century have tended not to know these works. Not only is the OT apocrypha missing from modern Protestant versions  – above all, the NIV – it is not even a ghostly presence, in the form of an explanatory note. I have one NIV Study Bible that offers a couple of dismissive lines on why these books are missing. Seemingly, they contribute nothing to what we learn from the rest of scripture, and are historically wildly inaccurate – in contrast, say, to the still-canonical (and highly dubious) Esther. .... [more]