Perhaps one of the more startling features of Anglican worship, to our fellow evangelicals, is our occasional reading and use of certain books that aren’t found in Protestant Bibles anymore. To Protestants, these books are known as the Apocrypha. To Roman Catholics, some of these books are known as the Deuterocanon (which means “second canon” or “secondary canon”. To Protestants, these books are an intrusion upon the Old Testament; to Roman Catholics these books are a final wrap-up for the Old Testament era of sacred writings.
How do Anglicans use them, and why?
In one of our most important historical documents, The 39 Articles of Religion, the following is written about these books in question.
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, 1 Esdras [Ezra], 2 Esdras [Nehemiah], Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the greater [Isaiah, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel], Twelve Prophets the less [Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi].
And the other Books (as Jerome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, Tobias [Tobit], Judith, Song of the Three Children [Daniel 3], Story of Susanna [Daniel 13], Bel and the Dragon [Daniel 14], the rest of the Book of Esther, Wisdom, Sirach [Ecclesiasticus], Baruch, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees.
All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical.
That’s our official statement on the matter of biblical canon. As you might imagine, there is some ongoing discussion among Anglicans over just what this means. In general we have low-church perspectives (favoring Protestant thought) and high-church perspectives (favoring Catholic thought). We’ll look at both takes on the issue before settling into the practical solutions worked out in our most important document: The Book of Common Prayer.
What does this Article VI say, from a Protestant perspective?
In line with the Reformers in continental Europe, the stance taken in the 39 Articles sets out a distinction between the undisputed Hebrew Old Testament and the controversial additions found in the Greek Old Testament. They are listed separately in Article VI and a different level of authority is attributed to either group: the undisputed books carry the full weight of biblical authority, while the “other books” are not read “to establish any doctrine.”
Although the document does not use the word “apocrypha,” that is the term that people of this perspective tend to use to describe the “other books.” Apocrypha means “hidden” or “unknown,” and is usually used as a derogatory term to push aside the extra books as spurious, questionable, and unnecessary.
What does this Article VI say, from a Catholic perspective?
In line with the majority of Christian practice before the Reformation, the stance taken in the 39 Articles maintains a place and use for the “other books” listed. Most significantly, it says that “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners.” This rules out the usual conclusion of the Protestant view – to remove them from our bibles and stop reading them altogether. In fact, a sort of middle-road solution was the norm from the time of the Reformation until the mid-1800’s or so: the additional books were still included in Protestant Bibles in an appendix between the Old and New Testaments. That way they’re separated out to note their distinction apart from the regular Old Testament, but not entirely absent so they can still be studied and read.
Although the document does not use the word “deuterocanon,” that is the term that people of this perspective tend to use to describe the “other books”. Deuterocanon means “second canon” or “secondary” canon, thus recognizing a distinction between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek additions yet retaining a place for these books in the canon of sacred Scripture.
How has the Prayer Book handled this tension of perspectives?
Where the 39 Articles can only make statements of belief, the Prayer Book actually provides the unifying practice that Anglicans actually say and do in the course of public worship. As far as historic prayer book study goes, people often point out how the very first Prayer Book (1549) leaned more Catholic, the second one (1552) learned more Protestant, and the third and fourth editions (1559 & 1662) took a more balanced approach between the first two extremes. But something that remained unchanged in each of them was the lectionary (Bible-reading plan) for daily Morning and Evening Prayer.
In that lectionary, the New Testament was read three times through, the majority of the Old Testament once, and parts of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon also were included. From the 14 books or parts of books on the list quoted in Article VI, only Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Sirach were read through in the original lectionary. The additions to Daniel and Esther, the Prayer of Manasseh, the extra books of Esdras, and the Maccabees all were left out. Later versions of the daily lectionary, starting in the 1800’s, started shortening the readings across the board, but somehow managed to start including parts of the books of the Maccabees while thinning out its coverage of Wisdom and Sirach, as well as other parts of the Old Testament.
For what it’s worth, the original lectionary for Sunday and Holy Day Communion services included no readings from the disputed books. However, that lectionary often included nothing from the Old Testament at all.
There is a practice today of stating “The word of the Lord / Thanks be to God” at the end of Scripture readings, but the original Prayer Books had no such feature. Each reading was concluded with the statement “Here ends the reading/lesson,” thus offering no liturgical statement about the nature of the reading’s authority or canonicity. Common practice among evangelical Anglicans today is to say “the word of the Lord” after all Scripture readings, but resorting to “here ends the reading” after a reading from the apocrypha/deuterocanon. This practice implies that the additional books are not the word of the Lord. However, in some early Anglican homilies (including at least one listed in a book of authorized homilies elsewhere in the 39 Articles) quotes from the book of Sirach are labeled as the divine word of God. This reveals that either the additional books were considered God’s Word back then, or that the phrase “God’s Word” was used rather more loosely then than we use it today.
How is the Anglican Church in North America dealing with all this?
The Church province of which I am a part – the Anglican Church in North America – has been developing its position statements and liturgies over the past few years, and the use of the additional books speaks volumes about the expectations of our liturgists (worship planners). At first it looked as though we were heading in a Protestant direction: Question 37 in our official catechism, To Be A Christian, says thus:
37. What other books does the Church acknowledge?
The canon of Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. The fourteen books of the Apocrypha may also be read “for example of life and instruction of manners,” but “not to establish any doctrine.”
Almost verbatim, this takes the Protestant emphasis of Article VI and codifies it. The additional books are shoved more clearly aside, and for the first time in Anglican history, the word “Apocrypha” is used in an official document as a label for those contested writings.
Despite this Protestant-favoring direction, the official liturgies and lectionaries that have been released over the past couple years have revealed quite clearly that this “apocrypha” is here to stay. The daily lectionary still contains portions of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, and the books of the Maccabees, as well as a couple isolated appearances of a couple other “apocryphal” writings. When the daily lectionary has such a reading on a Sunday, it makes an allowance for a regular Old Testament reading to replace it, but for the regular weekdays it makes no such exception. As Article VI unavoidably says, “the other books… the Church doth read.”
Furthermore, the new lectionary for the Communion service on Sundays and Holy Days contains six different days in its three-year cycle that have a reading from the apocrypha appointed. This is pretty similar to recent Anglican lectionaries both in America and abroad, indicating that despite our catechism leaning Protestant on this issue, our practice will remain in step with historic and global Anglicanism.
How am I, Fr. Brench, handling the matter in light of all this?
Even before I entered into the Anglican tradition, I held the books of the deuterocanon / apocrypha in high regard. I was satisfied with the solution in the 39 Articles – that we still read them albeit with a different use in mind compared to the regular Old testament. As such, I have always tried to resist calling them either the Apocrypha or the Deuterocanon, as reflected in the writing of this article. I don’t like how Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles integrate the additional books into the Old Testament as if there was no controversy about their use. I equally dislike how Protestant Bibles omit those books completely. If forced to choose between either extreme, I’d take the Catholic/Orthodox choice because (at the very least) the Anglican lectionaries demand use of the additional books, and I’d rather have them in the wrong place than not have them at all.
Another challenge, from a logistical standpoint, is that the list of “other books” that we have in Article VI contains writings that the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox omit from their Bibles. The Prayer of Manasseh and 3 Esdras are not found in the Roman Catholic Bible, and 4 Esdras is found in neither the Roman nor the Orthodox Bibles. Thus, in order to accommodate the full range of the Anglican lectionaries, we actually need a different Bible edition from either Roman or Orthodox practice! This can prove challenging for us, as the glut of translation options in the Protestant world right now almost never covers the additional books at all, keeping our options limited to only a short list of Bible editions out there.
What about preaching? I can and have both privately taught and publicly preached from the additional books before. One accusation that might be brought against me here is that in so doing I elevate those writings to the level of canonical Scripture in violation of Article VI. But I would point out that Article VI authorizes the use of the additional books for reading and instruction, just not for establishing doctrine. Sometimes preaching is theology-heavy and sometime preaching is exhortation-heavy. According to Article VI, the “other books” are best suited to the latter sort of preaching, and that is precisely what I do. When I include those writings in my pastoral work, it is as supplementary to the theological basis of the uncontested Old and New Testaments. Besides, when establishing doctrine in teaching and preaching, one never relies on one verse alone anyway. There are many cases where sound biblical doctrine is reflected in the additional books, and to quote them in defense and explanation of biblical teaching is no more a sin than to quote J. I. Packer or Richard Hooker or Martin Luther or Saint Augustine to defend and explain biblical teaching.
I recognize that there are many evangelical Anglicans who feel very uncomfortable with the Apocrypha; I grew up in that kind of environment myself. But I take consolation and encouragement in the fact that these books don’t show up in the liturgy very often for the typical Sunday-Communion-only church attendee, and in the rare instances they do appear they’re very usefully synchronized with the rest of the Scripture readings, making it both easy and beneficial to re-introduce them to skeptics in a positive light. As with all writings, familiarity with the text is crucial for beneficial and proper interaction with the “apocrypha,” so the less foreign it is to people, the more we can benefit from them rather than hide from them in fear.