I figured it was about time I would close my Introducing the Apocrypha post with its sequel. My first post was on the history of the Apocryphal writings and how they developed and affected Jewish readers in the NT times. Now I will work to show how aware the NT authors were of the Apocryphal books. [If you’re wondering why I’m writing posts about Apocryphal writings, then you should at least read the beginning of Pt. I].
First off, the NT never cites the Apocrypha as Scripture. When quoting OT Scripture, there’s usually some formula like “as it is written,” “as the Spirit says,” “as the Scripture says,” or simply the word “for.” The NT authors never treat the Apocrypha like they do the Hebrew canon (the Old Testament).
While they might not quote the Apocrypha, there does seem to be paraphrases and allusions to it, (though, because of the nature of paraphrase and allusion, one can’t fully prove the NT author is drawing from the Apocrypha itself).
1. Jesus and Ben Sira
Ben Sira was a Jewish sage in Jerusalem, and his work was well known to first- and second-century rabbis. It would seem that those ministering in Palestine would have some familiarity with Ben Sira’s works.
In Matthew 6:12, 14-15, Jesus emphasis in the Lord’s prayer that our forgiving other people’s sins goes hand-in-hand with God forgiving us of our sins. Ben Sira said it like this,
“Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done”
and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Does anyone harbor anger against another,
and expect healing from the Lord?
If one has no mercy toward another like himself,
can he then seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir. 28:2-4)
Now does this mean Jesus plagiarized?
Negative, Ghost Rider. It helps to show that some of Jesus’ highest ideals were not in opposition to the Jewish wise guys, but instead were in line with their own beliefs. Jesus wasn’t saying anything out of the ordinary. They wouldn’t start to oppose Jesus for His words, for they believed the very same thing.
2. James and Ben Sira
James, the brother of Jesus, was stationed in Jerusalem for most of his ministry. He also appears to be familiar with Ben Sira. James’ epistle resembles the wisdom collection of an OT book more than any of the other NT books. It’s said by some to be the Ecclesiastes of the NT. “[T]he author no doubt enjoyed a broad acquaintance with Jewish wisdom tradition” (p. 24).
The impossibility for God to tempt human beings to sin, as James says in chapter 1 of his letter, again alludes to Ben Sira’s writings.
“No one, when tempted, should say, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and He himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it.”
“Do not say, ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I fell away’:
for he does not do what he hates.
Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray’;
for he has no need of the sinful.” (Sir. 15:11-12; cf. 15:20)
For both sets of people, how do we solve the problem on how temptation exists in world ruled by a God who is righteous and omnipotent? “By distancing God as the cause or source of any evil and placing the responsibility squarely on the individual person” (p. 24).
Again, James’ readers would probably be familiar (more than we are) with this way of thinking and that the idea of a un-tempting God can also be found in Ben Sira’s writings.
Why would this be anything special?
Again, James isn’t the first person to come up with the idea of the God who does not tempt. The problem of evil and temptation has been an issue for millennia (just read Judg. 11:29-40; 2 Kings 6:26-29; Job 24; Ps. 10; 42-43; Jer. 12:1-4; Hab. 1:1-4. It’s everywhere!), and James is not the first person to deal with it. He is not spouting something new, some novel idea to get God off the hook. Ben Sira’s writings are made some 200-300 years before James wrote his letter. The people could look back and agree that God is not the one who tempts. But what James does add is the target of blame: yourself. If it is not God to blame, then who is? Simply look in the mirror.
3. Paul and the Wisdom of Solomon
Paul was familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon, for both speak on the impossibility of the creature condemning the Creator, the pot condemning the potter [Rom. 9:19-24; cf. Wis. 12:12; 15:7], and both view the body as an earthly tent which weighs down the body [2 Cor. 5:1, 4; cf. Wis. 9:15].
4. Hebrews and the Wisdom of Solomon
The author of Hebrews knew of the Maccabean martyrs who chose execution over transgression the Torah during the Hellenization crisis of 167-164 B.C. It’s possible Hebrews 11:35 (those who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection”) would allude to the stories in 2 Macc. 7;9 and 4 Macc. 9:13-18.
Why study the Apocrypha? Or why even read it? Is it important for our salvation? No. But, for history’s sake, for understanding how we got from Point A to Point C, it helps to know Point B. It’s important to know what was in the library of the NT writers, what they had received from their culture, and what helped shape their ideas.
It is in the biblical canon? No, and I’m not saying it should be. Sure, the biblical authors allude to the Apocryphal writings. Paul even quotes a Cretan prophet in Titus 1:12 along with some Greek poets in Acts 17:28. Jude even quotes the Book of Enoch in his letter (v14-15), though he quotes it as if it came from Enoch himself. [In fact, it is entirely possible that Enoch did speak these words resulting in his quote was handed down by tradition, until it was eventually recorded into the Book of Enoch. But that’s an entirely different point.]
The Apocrypha gives us more history and information on Judaism than the Greek poets and prophets mentioned by Paul. The writings were formative for early Christian theology, a heritage shared by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. Even early authors who questioned the status of the writings as Scripture per se, such as Origen and Jerome, used the texts in their exposition of the books of the New Testament and in their clarification of Christology, soteriology, and the life of faith.
Missing the (roughly) 400 years in between the Old and the New Testaments leaves a lot of history to be desired. 400 year ago at this date in history (1614), we were 160 years from fighting the Revolutionary War (1775). Jamestown, Virginia was the first established permanent English colony on the American mainland (1606). Galileo had just spotted Jupiter’s moons through his telescope (1610). In 4 years the Thirty Years War would begin (1618-48). In 6 years the Pilgrims would land at Plymouth Rock (1620). Maryland (1632) and Pennsylvania (1682) would be founded. The Taj Mahal was completed (1643). James II led the first steps to freedom of religion in England (1685).
And look at where we are now. 400 years is a long time. What if there were no writings in those 400 years? Future generations would have no link between the culture and times of 1614 and that of 2014. Looking only at the United States, they would know nothing of the other 43 presidents, winning the American Revolution, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the ratification of the Constitution, the Gold Rush, U.S. Civil War, slavery, slavery abolished, WWI, Pearl Harbor, WWII, the Civil Rights Act, a time before radio and television, the moon landing, the Great Depression, the economic boom of the 1990s, the rise of the internet, presidential assassinations, school shootings, September 11 World Trade Center attacks, the rise of post-modernism, etc, etc, so on and so forth.
Will the Apocryphal writings fill us with all of the tiny details we should know about how the world works? Nah. Will we ever know everything about those 400 years? Nah. Will we ever know everything about our past 400 years? Nah. What counts is knowing the Word of God. And if the Apocryphal writings help us to know His Word more, to piece things together a little better, to know how the biblical authors may have thought, then good.