Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of Advent each year we change our Sunday Mass readings from one gospel to another. This year we are in year C of the three-year cycle, the year of Luke. However, I thought I might take this opportunity to think not about the gospels but about part of the bible that sometimes causes people confusion.
You might recall how at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral the commentator referred to a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes when in fact the reading was from Ecclesiasticus, a different book. Some of the midweek readings during the past year have also been from Ecclesiasticus and others from Baruch; indeed, the first reading at Mass for Advent 2 this year – and the day this magazine appears – is from Baruch. I know that some members of the congregation have had problems finding these books in their bibles.
The problems arise because of differences between Roman Catholic bibles and Anglican bibles (and, incidentally, Greek and Slavonic bibles which differ from both). All agree on the books of the New Testament, and all agree that the books of the Hebrew bible should appear in the Old Testament. But thereafter differences exist. Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) and Baruch are examples of these differences because they are included in the Old Testament in Roman Catholic Bibles but in Anglican bibles they appear – if at all – in a section known as the apocrypha/deuterocanonical books. In fact, in the New Revised Standard version of the Bible the section headed apocrypha/deuterocanonical books includes eighteen books or parts of books, thirteen of which appear as books in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, four appear only in the Greek and Slavonic bibles and one appears only in the Slavonic bible.
The Greek word apocrypha means hidden away or set aside and is a term usually used by reformed churches, while the term deuterocanonical, a term usually used by Roman Catholics,means of the second canon. The apocryphal/deuterocanonical books are books that appear in the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures, but which do not appear in the final canon of the Hebrew bible itself. Because they are not recognised by the Hebrew bible those compiling the Christian canon of scripture therefore raised questions as to their scriptural authority.
The Roman Catholic church settled its canon of scripture at the Council of Trent in 1546 when it declared anathema anyone who did not accept the canonical status of the books included in the Vulgate, the fourth century Latin bible compiled by Jerome. The Vulgate included the deuterocanonical books that are now in the Roman Catholic Old Testament. However, at the Reformation the protestant churches moved the deuterocanonical books to a separate appendix called the apocrypha, placed after the Old Testament, Luther’s German bible explaining that ‘these books are not held equal to the sacred scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading’. The Church of England followed the reformers in removing the apocryphal books from the Old Testament, yet continues to accord them greater significance than the protestant churches by including some of them in the lectionary. Referring to the apocrypha in article 6 of the articles of religion it states ‘the other books…the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine’.
If you come across a scriptural reference that you cannot find in your bible it is likely to refer to one of the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books. But you don’t need to rush out to buy a bible that includes the apocrypha. Fortunately, if you have access to the internet a Google search will find you all of the apocryphal books to read online.
Elsewhere in this magazine you will find details of the services we hope to hold over Christmas. I hope that you will be able to join us for these and that all of you with your loved ones and friends will have a very happy Christmas.