Sunday we have a reading from Sirach (10:12-18) which is one of the Books of the Apocrypha. And I thought this reading would be the occasion to write something to you about the Apocrypha.
The Apocrypha are the Biblical Books received by the early Church as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament. They were excluded by the non-Hellenistic Jews from the Hebrew Bible. Hellenistic Jews, on the other hand, included them in their version of the Hebrew Bible that was translated into Greek and is known as the Septuagint.
The Apocryphal Books have had a somewhat ambiguous usage in Christianity. In the Vulgate and versions derived from it, they are mostly part of the Old Testament. But in the Authorized Version (also known as the King James Bible), the Revised Version, and other non-Roman Catholic versions, the Apocryphal Books either form a separate section between the Old and New Testaments or they are left out altogether.
The Episcopal Church’s acceptance of the Apocryphal Books has limits. The Catechism in the Prayer Book defines them as “a collection of additional books written by the people of the Old Covenant, and used in the Christian Church” (page 853). Readings from the Apocrypha are occasionally heard in Church on Sundays in the Eucharist in the place of Old Testament readings and more frequently are heard as the First Lesson at Morning or Evening Prayer.
Though the Apocrypha is heard, a traditional distinction regarding its use is honored in the Articles of Religion, the attempt of the sixteenth-century Church of England to define its theological positions in relation to the controversies of the Reformation. These Articles were accepted by the Episcopal Church in the General Convention of 1801, and, referring to the Apocrypha and Saint Jerome, they state: “And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine” (Prayer Book, page 868). The same position is accorded the Apocrypha by the Eastern churches.
The Book of Sirach also is known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus. The author was a sage who lived in Jerusalem and wrote in Hebrew two centuries before Christ. The author loved the law, the priesthood, the Temple, and divine worship. As a wise observer of life he addressed himself to his contemporaries to help them to maintain religious faith and integrity through study of holy books and through tradition.
In the Lesson appointed for Sunday, forsaking the Lord is the beginning of pride, and pride displeases God. To the proud fall destructive calamities. Even the memory of the proud is destroyed, and God transfers the power of the proud to the lowly. The Lesson is a word to the wise.