Saturday, May 17, 2008

Teaching the Apochrypa

Do any of you pastors catechize your congregation on the Apochrypha? It would seem to me that if not, once again this is a bit of "lost Confession." By that I mean, what is good and right is lost to the dustpile of history. When attempts to recover it are made, it is done so only with great pain and effort, much like with the recovery of the practice of Private Confession among us.

The Apochrypha is often labeled as "books that don't belong in the canon," when quite properly they *do* belong there, but properly used and understood--just as the antilegomena are. In fact, the antilegomena are called the apochryphal books of the New Testament by some resources (Chemnitz). Other books clearly do not belong in the canon; their heretic influences are so strong inclusion precludes inclusion. Still, the Apochypha *may* be included with caution, and has been. They are considered good books, albeit not entirely reliable. So they may be used devotionally.

So why teach the Apochrypha? First, for the reason stated above. Hebrews 11:35 makes a reference that seems to be resolved only by turning to the story of the seven martyrs in 2Maccabees 7. While a doctrine wouldn't be built from that text (nor would one go to James to begin arguing justification!), it still teaches the Christian what it means to suffer to the point of blood for the sake of one's confession of Christ.

Second, we teach the Apochrypha for liturgical reasons. We have hymns written from its text: Now Thank We All Our God (LSB 895), Sirach 50:24; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (LSB 366), Wisdom 18:14-15. At the Easter Vigil we sing LSB 931, All You Works of the Lord (Benedicte, omnia opera). The text is from the song of the three young men, which can be found only in the Apochrypha, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Three Young Men, 35-68. The hymn is listed under "Biblical Canticles." The antiphon for last Sunday and the gradual for tomorrow are both taken from the Apochrypha. We use other words in our worship life which are extra-biblical: the ending to the Lord's Prayer and the Creeds being chief among them. While the words themselves can be found in Scripture, their specific form is not.

I recognize that introducing the Apochrypha in the congregation must be done with patience and delicacy. Still, It is worth the doing for the sake of a greater depth of worship and devotional life in the congregation.