GREAT QUESTIONS of THE CHURCH that at least 6 of you have asked:
WHAT is the APOCRYPHA;
WHY do we read lessons from it; and
HOW COME it's not in MY Bible?
Back in an early December, on a quiet and dark Sunday morning, in a service with the second Advent candle now lit, the Reader went up to the lectern and announced "The First Lesson is taken from the Book of Baruch". . . and some of you went: "Huh?"
Or maybe it was at a wedding, and as you sat smiling at the wonder and beauty of it, the Reader announced "The First Reading is from the Book of Tobit". And the wonderful words of Tobias's prayer - ". . . grant that we may grow old together" - rolled right past you, because you were going "Tobit? What's Tobit? Where'd THAT come from?"
Where Tobit came from, and where Baruch came from, is from the Apocrypha, from the Greek "Apokryphos"- meaning "hidden". It is the term given to the collection of fifteen books, or parts of books, written more or less in the two centuries before the birth of Christ. Most of these books were written originally in Greek, as opposed to the rest of the Old Testament, which was written originally in Hebrew.
The Apocrypha is hidden in the back of some Bibles, hidden in a section between the Old and New Testaments in some Bibles, hidden mixed up with the Old Testament in still other Bibles, and hidden so well that it's completely missing in some Bibles. And the "howcum?" of that traces back to the history of Biblical translations and Reformation doctrinal arguments. It's complicated, involving, for example, at least four DIFFERENT languages (yikes!).
By the time of Christ, Jews were living not only in the Holy Land, but scattered throughout the Mediterranean World. The common language of the time was Greek, and, for many of the scattered Jewish communities, Greek was now their language, not Hebrew. To preserve their stories and sacred writings, and so they could pass them onto their children, etc., the Hebrew writings had been translated into Greek. These writings are known as The Septuagint (from the Latin word for 70, because of a legend that 70 scholars translated the Writings into Greek). THE GREEK SEPTUAGINT was the popular text that most of the New Testament writers knew. It contained the writings Christians know as the Old Testament and other sacred writings (The Apocrypha writings!).
Before the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD, a group of rabbis formed a rabbinical council to seek to pull the religious community together in the face of the coming destruction. Among other things, they drew up a list of acceptable Biblical books. This list, "the Hebrew canon", excluded the writings of the Apocrypha. (Robert Bennett & O.C. Edwards write in the Church Teaching Series that they were excluded to eliminate anything that might lend support to Christianity. Remember, this was a time of conflict.) And so, there were now two collections of "Old Testament " writings floating around - the Hebrew canon, in Hebrew, that excluded the Apocrypha, that the Jews used. . . . and the Greek Septuagint, which included the Apocrypha, which the Christians kept using.
When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin about 400AD, he included the Apocrypha. But he remarked in his preface that they should be read for "edification" only, because they lacked true Divine Inspiration. BUT, he included them. St. Jerome's Latin translation, the Vulgate, which included then the Apocrypha, became the Christian Bible for the next 1000 years, until the Reformation. . . when everybody began arguing again.
Various translators and Protestant reformers then did various things with the Apocrypha, depending on doctrine and whether or not they were using the Septuagint or the Hebrew canon. John Wycliffe's English translation did NOT contain the Apocrypha; Martin Luther stuck it at the end in its own section; Miles Coverdale's first complete English printed Bible put it in a section between the Old and New Testaments and the King James translation of 1611 included it. Generally, Roman Catholics (who will call the writings "Deuterocanonical" and not "the Apocrypha") and Orthodox published the Apocrypha as part of the Old Testament; Calvinists and other Protestants did NOT include the Apocrypha in their Bibles; and Lutherans and Anglicans put it in a separate section, stating that no doctrine of faith could be derived SOLELY from the Apocrypha, but that it's worth reading. (Still there? NOW read Article VI of the 39 Articles, on page 868 of the Prayer Book).
So-o-o-o-o, we read it now and then on Sunday mornings, and, in fact, we'll hear from it again near the end of Summer this year. And, it may show up in a wedding you attend.
How else does the Apocrypha show up in our lives? Well, if your name is JUDITH, that's from the Apocrypha; if you ever sang Hymn #396 ("Now Thank We all Our God"), that's a translation from the Apocrypha; and if you ever attended Christmas Midnight Mass - the ancient belief that Christ was born at Midnight comes from a remarkable prophecy in the Apocrypha (Wisdom 18:14-15).