Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pulpit Review: On the Apocrypha

Voicu, Sever J., editor. Thomas C. Oden, General Editor. Apocrypha (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament XV). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 547 Pages. Cloth. $40.00. http://www.ivpress.com/ (P) 

This last volume of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture offers commentary from the early church fathers on the deuterocanonical books of the Bible, with insights that will be of great benefit to preachers and teachers alike. Readers will find some ancient authors translated into English here for the first time. Throughout they will gain insight and encouragement in the life of faith as seen through ancient pastoral eyes.
Download an essay by J. Robert Wright on the significance of the art used on the covers of the Ancient Christian Commentaries (http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/1470-art.pdf, publisher's website).
"Deuterocanonical" means "second canon." 

Apocrypha" means "hidden."

Yet, these are not the kind of texts that get attention on the various secular media shows on cable or PBS. An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing other hidden texts denied by a "threatened" or "devious" Church. (Please note the media bias and my own sarcasm...)

The Gospel according to Judas? Irenaus knew of it and that it was Gnostic junk attempting to hijack Christianity. 

The Nag Hammadi Library? Let's just say it was buried for a GOOD reason.

In contrast, very little respect is paid canonical Bible texts. The apocrypha are lost in the shuffle.

Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant groups have their own different lists. Luther included the Apocrypha in his German Bible translation because they were good to read even if they weren't Scripture. Anglicans kept the Apocrypha in liturgical use. The apocryphal books were translated as part of the KJV, but were excluded from English-language mission field editions due to cost. That set a precedent. So, when the German LCMS made the transition to English, the Apocrypha, included in CPH Bibles in German, disappeared in English. We note that Oxford has an ESV now available with the Apocrypha. CPH will have a Lutheran edition of just the Apocrypha available soon.

What of this volume of ancient commentaries on these apocryphal books?

Some critique is in order. I would recommend a new subtitle to the editor for the quote from the Letters of Fulgentius of Ruspe (68-69). "Christians always die at a mature age" is not merely misleading, but contrary to what this father actually said: The Christian who has lived in the fear of God, at whatever age he dies...Wisdom, rather, is a person's gray hair..." I wish to offer gentle correction to Severus of Antioch regarding his discomfort with the physical (89); the Marian tendencies (and his unnecessarily complicated thoughts, 196); and the author of Sirach himself for his lack of clarity (putting the best construction on it) or outright works-righteousness (which may be closer to the truth) when he writes, "Almsgiving atones for sin" (Sirach 3:30, 198). And I would be remiss if I did not mention the influence of 2 Maccabees 12:43-45 on the false dogmatic invention of purgatory (xxvii).

Apocryphal books with patristic commentary in this volume are:
  • Tobit
  • Wisdom of Solomon
  • Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
  • Baruch
  • The Letter of Jeremiah
  • The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
  • Susanna
  • Bel and the Dragon
Texts are the familiar Revised Standard Version, recognizable to both users of the New Revised Standard Version as well as the English Standard Version.

Understand Proverbs as wisdom literature before wading into the Wisdom of Solomon. In the meantime, Augustine is a good guide (47ff). "God loves no one so much as the one who lives with wisdom--but the Lord gives the wisdom!" (103)

Consider Sirach as a commentator on Christians who forget their past:
Do not slight the discourse of the sages, but busy yourself with their maxims; because from them you will gain instruction and learn how to serve great men. Do not disregard the discourse of the aged, for they themselves learned from their fathers; because from them you will gain understanding and learn how to give an answer in time of need. (8:8-9, 218)

Other benefits of this volume also include the most extensive list of "Biographical Sketches" (485ff) and "Timeline of Writers of the Patristic Period" (508ff) of all of the volumes of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.

Get a better understanding of the Apocrypha from an ancient perspective with the Apocrypha volume of Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture!

In closing, note that the Fathers sometimes speak by their silence. Commentaries on Judith, the Greek additions to Esther, 1, 2, 3, and 4, Maccabees, 1 and 2 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh are rare or non-existent, while commentary on the inspired texts of the Old Testament and New Testament is plentiful. While the early fathers may not have always understood justification in line with the clear Bible witness, they did allow other apocryphal, pseudepigraphal, Gnostic, or silly texts to speak for themselves. 

We at QBR are curious to see the electronic edition of the ACCS set for LOGOS 4. We would encourage you to consider three other IVP Academic series: Ancient Christian Texts, Ancient Christian Doctrine, and Reformation Commentary on Scripture (http://www.ivpress.com/academic/). We have reviewed some ACT and ACD volumes and hope to see more soon!

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.