Apocrypha 102: Reading It

Yesterday we looked at the Apocrypha’s origin and transmission over time. Today, I want to turn our attention to the books themselves and give a few suggestions for fruitful reading.

First, the Apocrypha should not be the first thing you turn to in Bible reading. If you haven’t read the rest of Scripture first, complete that before you tackle the Apocrypha. Having a good grounding in the rest of the canon will aid you in approaching the Apocrypha (and in your general understanding of God and his work in history).

Second, understand that if you are a staunch literalist when it comes to Scripture, you are going to struggle with some of the Apocrypha. Though, maybe no more so than some parts of the rest of the canon. If we are honest, some strange things are recorded in Scripture, and the Apocrypha is no exception.

Third, try to enjoy the experience of reading significant texts for the first time. Most of us first read the Bible decades ago, so it has become familiar. This is good, but we only get to read something for the first time once. Enjoy the newness. Let yourself be surprised, challenged, confronted, and maybe even confounded. I found reading through the Apocrypha for the first time helped me appreciate the rest of the canon, especially the Old Testament.

You will have to decide what translation to read, and where to find it, since many people do not have a Bible that contains the Apocrypha. I recommend reading it in the Revised Standard Version. It is a solid, scholarly translation and its forms should feel familiar to those conversant with the English Standard Version.¹

Finally, you have to decide where to start. I recommend either the Greek version of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, or Ecclesiasticus (aka Sirach). The Esther story is familiar to most and reading the version from the Septuagint merely adds some details to the story. I recommend reading the whole of Esther, not just the additions, in order to help preserve the narrative flow.

Both Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus are typical wisdom literature, similar to Proverbs. Ecclesiasticus seems especially popular with several early Christian writers, as it is frequently quoted. Both are fairly easy to read, without causing too much confusion. Some may be a bit familiar with these two, as they do appear in the Revised Common Lectionary several times.²

First and Second Maccabees³ are also interesting, as they give some insights into the inter-testamental period and the Maccabean revolts that occurred. This background material helps set the stage for the New Testament and the undercurrents of political unrest represented by the Zealots. Josephus also treats these uprisings in his The Wars of the Jews.

Tomorrow we’ll round out our look at the Apocrypha with some comments on the other books included in this grouping.

¹ There is an ESV with Apocrypha available, but only in one particular Bible published by Oxford University Press. I have been unable to find these books in online format. Its a shame that Crossway, the publisher of the ESV, does not bring out printings with the Apocrypha or include them in their broad-based effort to make the ESV available digitally.

² Baruch and 2 Maccabees are also included, but only three Sundays between the 2 books.

³ 3 and 4 Maccabees, whose title would lead one to believe they continue this story, do not actually do so.


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