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Ken Stewart

Between Malachi and Matthew

Evangelicals and the Apocrypha

Have you noticed any or all of the following? A mail-order catalogue of household bric-a-brac encouraging you to buy and read "The Missing Books of the Bible"(2 vols. for $9.98)? A well-known Christian folk troubadour offering for sale a cd of songs "taken from Scripture and the Apocrypha"? A major evangelical Christian publishing house that has already won awards for a series of Scripture commentaries that collate the expository comments of early Christian scholars, promising that forthcoming volumes will cover the Apocrypha? A major Bible publisher that has already released an edition of the NRSV including these Apocryphal writings, now preparing a study Bible with explanatory notes on Apocryphal writings just as on Scripture?

All the signs point to the re-emergence of the Old Testament Apocryphal writings as a body of religious literature claiming the attention of evangelical Christians. We are going to be hearing a lot more, I expect, of Tobit, Judith, Susannah, Esdras, Wisdom of Solomon, and the books of Maccabees.

How did evangelical Christianity come to be in this situation, in which it is asked to take seriously once more books which have all but dropped out of sight in its reckoning? In the English-speaking world, at least, misgivings about the rightness of including the Apocrypha inside Bible covers came to a head in the middle of the 17th century. Puritan preachers and theologians such as John Lightfoot (1602-75) went contrary to current policy in advocating their exclusion. Subsequently, the first edition of the Bible printed in America in 1782 excluded the Apocryphal writings. After controversy on the subject in 1827, the British and Foreign Bible Society pledged to print no more Bibles which included the Apocrypha.

The attitude held toward the Apocrypha by the Protestant Reformers in the century preceding Lightfoot had been more cautious. They took their lead from Luther, who reckoned from the time of his 1518 debates with John Eck that the Apocryphal books, ...

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