Review of The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition with Notes

No Longer Missing In Action: The Apocrypha, The Lutheran Edition

By Pr. Rich Futrell

In 397 AD, at Carthage (today in Tunisia), the Church gathered to resolve an issue: what books being read in the Church are Scripture?  Throughout the New Testament Church’s history, there was never complete unanimity on what books made up the Scriptures; yet, there was general agreement.

But now, two controversies demanded the Church to speak with one voice.  First, some began to add and take away from what the Church had generally recognized as Scripture.  Second, a debate arose on how to treat the books that the  Lutheran Church today calls “The Apocrypha.”  Some viewed those books as secondary canon (Deuterocanon), books of the Bible that would take a secondary role in making Church doctrine.  Some viewed those books as “worthy of being read” (anagignoskomena): they were to be read in Church and preached from, but not used to make doctrine.  Others said, such as Jerome, those books should no longer be used in the Church.

What resulted at Carthage?  The Council provided a list of the books of the Bible that the entire Christian Church would recognize and use.  And what were those books?  It is what today would be the Protestant Bible–including the Apocrypha!

So, why is it now that Concordia Publishing House is printing the Apocrypha apart from the rest of the Scriptures?  That’s a long story, including the greater-Protestant worldview influencing the Lutheran Church and our transition to speaking, reading, and worshiping in English.

When we North American Lutherans stopped using our German Bibles–which always had the Apocrypha in them–we adopted the Protestant English-language Bibles, which by then, already had the Apocrypha excised from them.  Today, almost 100 years later, most Lutherans simply see the Apocrypha as not part of the Bible.  After all, do you own any Bibles that have the Apocrypha in them?

Yet, if we were to go back to the Reformation, we would find that the Lutheran Confessions do not even list what books make up the Bible.  That’s because we had no disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church on what the books of the Bible were.  And the few places where the Lutheran Confessions refer to the Apocrypha, they refer to them and even call them “Scripture” (for instance, Ap, V, 158 and Ap XXI, 9).  And when the Lutheran Church first listed the books of the Bible, the Apocrypha is listed among them (Chemnitz, An Enchiridion).  The one time our Lutheran Confessions use the term “canonical Scriptures” is when they quote St. Augustine, who said that we must not “hold anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God” (AC, XXVII, 28).  And what were the Scriptures for Augustine when he said that?  They included the Deuterocanon, which we Lutherans call the Apocrypha.

So, now I get to my only serious gripe with The Apocrypha: The Lutheran Edition.  It’s an edition with excellent notes and background.  All Lutherans should have a copy and read it.  Where this edition errs is that it calls itself “Lutheran” yet disagrees with the Lutheran Confessions.  For Lutherans, the Apocrypha is Scripture.  So say our Confessions.  Case closed.

That being said, the Lutheran Church has never recognized the Apocrypha as canon–that which the Church uses to make doctrine.  So, when one reads in this Lutheran Edition that the Apocrypha is not “canon,” that is true.  Unfortunately, what the writers leave out is that Scripture contains books the Lutheran Church has never considered to be canon.

All the canonical books of the Bible are Scripture, but not all the Scriptures are canonical.  Revelation is a prime example–it is Scripture but not canonical.  Because of its disputed status in the early Church, the Lutheran Church chooses not to use Revelation to make doctrine.  Yet, we have not tossed out the book of Revelation from our Bibles.  (Luther might have, with the Apocrypha, Esther, Song of Songs, and James.  Yet, he knew such a decision was not his to make and so he left those books in his translation of the Bible.)

So, here we are.  What are we to do with this deficient edition of the Apocrypha that calls itself “Lutheran”?  Buy it, read it, and study it.  You will find much that points to Christ.  You will find much that makes the New Testament more understandable.  You will even find Jesus uphold the Apocrypha book of Tobit in His discussion with the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-28).

As a Lutheran, you will find even more.  You will find passages that some Lutheran hymns use as their scriptural source (Lutheran Service Book 359, 895, 930).  You will find saints in the Apocrypha the Lutheran Church used to remember and celebrate (Tobias, Susanna, and Judith).  You will find introits and graduals in our liturgy that comes from those books.  And if you were to read sermons that our Lutheran fathers preached, you would find Apocrypha texts they read and preached from during worship.  Now, if the Lutheran Church didn’t consider the Apocrypha as Scripture, she surely had a schizophrenic way of showing that!

And so I leave you with this–buy this edition and study it.  Read the historical, background information.  But ignore all the commentary that refuses to accept these books as part of Scripture.  If you approach the Apocrypha in that way, you will be much the richer for it.