Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Luther and the Apocraphya

Here's a brief introduction to these books of the Bible by Rev. Paul McCain:

In the past several decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the so-called "missing books" of the Bible. The work of persons such as Elaine Pagels has made a career of trying to popularize the Gnostic Gospels and other Gnostic literature. The most dramatic discovery of Gnostic texts occurred in the upper Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. The Gospel of Thomas was found as a complete text. These Gnostic texts are often referred to in populist works and the major media as the "missing books of the Bible." Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. They were never regarded as being part of Christian Scripture. Gnosticism, in its variety of forms, was a mixture of pagan philosophy and Christian stories.

A whole cottage industry has developed around these "missing books," pumping out volumes of misleading books and information, leading people to believe that somehow there has been a grand conspiracy to cover up and hide the "real facts" about Christ and Christianity. All one has to do to quickly demonstrate the difference between canonical Scripture and these false Gnostic Gospels is read them. Frankly, the Gnostic Gospels sound like something produced by a person writing under the influence of LSD or other such hallucinogens. So, set the Gnostic literature aside and let's talk about some books that have always been in our Bibles, until the Lutheran Church moved into the English language.

There are, in fact, "missing books" of Scripture: the Apocrypha. For too many years Lutherans, like Protestant denominations everywhere, have thought that these books are only part of the "Roman Catholic Bible." Let's sort out the facts here, and conclude these brief remarks with an excellent introduction to the Apocryphal books by Pastor Richard Sawyer, which I'll provide below.

But let's first talk about how, when and why the Apocryphal books became relatively unknown to English speaking Lutherans. When the first complete edition of the Bible by the Wittenberg Reformers was published, in 1534, Luther and his colleagues included the Apocryphal books, though distinguished from the more universally accepted books, by setting them apart in their own appendix to the Old Testament. Luther's Bible was the first major edition to have a separate section called Apocrypha. Books and portions of books not found in the Hebrew Old Testament were moved out of the body of the Old Testament to this section. The books of 1 and 2 Esdras were omitted entirely. Luther placed these books between the. For this reason, these works are sometimes known as inter-testamental books. The point is that Apocryphal books were never rejected by orthodox Lutherans, but always included in every edition of the Luther Bible and in many German editions of the Bible as well, for instance all German Bibles published by Concordia Publishing House as long as German bibles were publishedl. The Roman Catholic, at the Council of Trent, did something never before done in the history of the church: it put the Apocryphal books on the same level of authority as the rest of the books of the Bible. Why? Because it is in the Apocryphal books that Rome claims to find justification for several of its false doctrines: chiefly, the doctrine of purgatory. But this fact never dissuaded Lutheran Christians from using these books or including them in their Bibles.

In the early years of the 20th century, as Lutherans in the USA began replacing German with English in their churches, and in their Bible translations, the Apocryphal books simply went missing, indeed "missing in action" is pretty much what happened to them. In recent years, interest is increasing in these books, as Lutherans look to reclaim more of their heritage. There is no reason to allow Rome to claim these books as their own, for indeed, they are not the sole possession of Rome, or Eastern Orthodoxy. It will take a lot of careful pastoral instruction to help the members of English speaking Lutheran congregations distinguish the Apocryphal books from the Gnostic non-Biblical books, and to help explain what the Apocryphal books are, and what their traditional place in the Bible has always been in the Lutheran Church. For that matter, the Apocryphal books are featured throughout Western European culture. Perhaps the best way to help Lutherans who are unfamiliar with these books understand their place in the Lutheran Church's own culture and hymnody is to point them to a well-known hymn from the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy: Now Thank We All Our God, written by Martin Rinkart circa 1636 when the devastating Thirty Years War was nearing its end. It depends very much on Luther’s translation of the Apocryphal book of Sirach, Chapter 50.

(from Cyberbrethren)