Are the Apocryphal books worthwhile reading for modern Christians? What faith issues do they
address that might apply to us today?
|Why You Should Read the Apocrypha|
I grew up Protestant. I was taught that there were 66 Books in the Bible - 39 Books in the Old Testament, and 27 Books in the New Testament. I was raised to read the Bible often, and be very familiar with its contents.
When I became a Greek Orthodox Christian, my Bible suddenly had a few more books than it used to have. Over the years, I have learned about these books, and why they're in Orthodox and Catholic Bibles.
But, more than just learning facts about them, I have come to appreciate why they're really valuable reading for all Christians, right now.
These books have always been important, but at this current moment of history, they're vitally important.
First, a quick overview, then on to the reason you should read these books NOW.
There is a 400 year gap between the books of the Protestant Old Testament, and the Protestant New Testament. The books of the Apocrypha were written during the captivity of the Children of Israel - when they were in exile away from the Holy Land. Most of them were written either at the same time as the last books of the Old Testament (by date of writing), or between the end of the Protestant Old Testament, and the Beginning of the Protestant New Testament.
There is a variety of terms for this part of the Bible - Intertestamental Books, Deuterocanonicals, or Apocrypha. The first two terms are more accurate, but I chose the last for this article, because more people understand it.
But, some people misunderstand it. They think "Apocrypha" refers to spurious (false) books like the so called "Gospel of Judas." Those aren't the books I'm talking about here!
First, did you know that Jesus and the New Testament authors frequently quoted the Apocrphya?
If Jesus gave them honor, why would we discard them?
The New Testament clearly states that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah - a feast that we only learn about in the Apocrypha.
Some teach that the Apocrypha was added to the Bible by Catholics - but this is simply not true. The Bible contained the Apocrypha from Pre-Christian times, and it has always been in the Orthodox and Catholic Bibles (there are a few more books and chapters in the Orthodox Apocrypha than in the Catholic one). St. Jerome. who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate in the 4th century, noticed that the books were not part of the Jewish Bible (they were written in Greek, not in Hebrew), so he put them in their own section.
Some modern Protestants argue that the Apocrypha should not be part of the Bible because it has points they disagree with - but shouldn't we conform our lives and thoughts to the Holy Scriptures, not remove things from the Bible that don't conform to our own ideas about God?
Of course, next comes the modern question - "That history stuff is all very interesting - but what does it have to do with ME?"
Or, "But I'm Protestant - these books aren't in MY Bible. And that's a lot of reading! Why should I spend time reading those books?"
Every Christian should read these books, because these are the books that can speak to us in our current situation in a way that other books cannot. And, if Jesus considered them worth quoting from, that should say something to us about their value.
Also, it is important to realize that while many Protestant denominations do not consider the Apocrypha to be part of the official Bible (Canonical), most DO recommend them as beneficial spiritual reading. These books were in the original King James Version, too! So, even if you're King James Only - they're a good read! : )
Now, on to the point of this post - Why is NOW a great time to read the Apocrphya?
The Apocrypha was written at a time when it was a CRIME to behave as a Believer! These books are from the time of the Prophet Daniel, and Queen Esther, and later - when to be caught praying, or refusing to eat Pork, or simply being a Believer was a criminal offense, punishable by death.
We are now entering a time of very mild persecution - by comparison. But, already Christians have lost businesses, a lost jobs, lost professional licensing, been threatened with the confiscation of a home home, or have even gone to jail for practicing their faith.
And many others.
But, in the West -so far, no actual torture or physical martyrdom.
While we're told we can "believe" anything we want, we are increasingly punished for acting in accordance with our beliefs. And, let's be honest, if you say you believe something, but your actions don't show it, you're a hypocrite, not a believer. After all, if you believed your house was on fire, you'd leave right now- not say, "I believe it, but I'd like to keep surfing the net, so I'll stay here."
In the Apocrypha, we read stories of those heroes and heroines who lived their Faith - courageously - even in the face of brutal torture and death.
They can inspire us with courage in these challenging times - just like they did the Martyrs of the first centuries.
When we visited this ancient Catacomb in Cyprus, where early Christians hid from persecution, who did we find was painted on the walls?
St. Salome, the Mother of the Seven Maccabean Martyrs, who steadfastly encouraged each of her precious, beloved Seven Sons as they were tortured to death for their love of God.
This was a story that the brave early Christians took courage from. And, it can be a story that gives us courage today, as we face persecution of much less magnitude.
This story is found in the Apocrypha - in the Books of Maccabees.
Or, we can read of Tobit, who performed the righteous deed of burying those Martyred by their oppressor - even at risk of his own life. That story is in the book of Tobit.
Knowing how to live well, courageously, and righteously under a system infected with sin is a difficult challenge. But the books of the Apocrypha can help us.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)