Reading the Apocrypha


We started reading the book of Tobit last week, the first (by way of their arrangement in the NRSV Bible) book of the Apocrypha, described by the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary as:

A group of books that were not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew scriptures, but that were found in the Greek translation of those scriptures (LXX) [the Septuagint]. The books were included in most early Christian versions of the OT (since the LXX was the version of the Bible most used by the first Christians). Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians regard them as scripture and often prefer to call them deuterocanonical books (indicating that they are a “secondary canon” consisting of books added to the canon later than other OT writings). Most Protestants treat them with respect but do not grant them the status of scripture. The books include 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Additions to Daniel (Song of the Three Children [with the Prayer of Azariah], Susanna, Bel and the Dragon), Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. Three additional works are accepted by Greek Orthodox churches: 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and Psalm 151. 

I find reading the Apocrypha a helpful way in which to engage the discussions and controversies regarding the Bible’s creation, transmission, and overall journey toward how we have the various Bible versions we have in our midst today. (If someone says to you, “The Bible says…” it is entirely fair to ask them to specify not only which book, but also which translation, and how certain scholars are of the manuscripts from which that translation was created!) As Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch reminds us,

The canonization of Jewish and Christian Bibles was a long and gradual process that extended over several centuries. At no point did some elite and powerful group make this decision once and for all. Rather, books emerged as authoritative as a result of their enduring popularity, claims about their authorship, historical accidents, and opinions expressed by religious leaders. Many books that circulated widely in ancient Israel and the early church were ultimately excluded from the official canons of church and synagogue. Jewish and Christian leaders vigorously debated the status of several books (namely Esther, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Ezekiel) that would ultimately be included in the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament.

And, “many modern Bibles surround the text with footnotes, explanatory articles, and devotional materials. Because these features can exert a lot of influence on how readers interpret the text itself, it is important to be aware of their source and their theological/ideological slant.”

Additionally, Brennan Breed reminds us, “The Bible we know today took a long journey through many eras, communities, and places before it became the sacred text we recognize today” in a process that took over a thousand years! I had a long process of my own coming to terms with the Bible that was greatly assisted by understanding the many different people and cultures involved in the creation, redaction [editing] and translation of the Bible.

How does your experience of reading the Bible change when you consider the many ways in which many different people in many different times, places, and cultures have wrote, edited, and translated the Bible?


Patheos’ guide on visio divina provides another perspective on this type of prayer:  “Visio Divina invites us to see at a more contemplative pace. It invites us to see all there is to see, exploring the entirety of the image. It invites us to see deeply, beyond first and second impressions, below initial ideas, judgments, or understandings. It invites us to be seen, addressed, surprised, and transformed by God who is never limited or tied to any image, but speaks through them.”

How is your visio divina practice going? What are the similarities and differences you notice between praying this way and doing lectio divina?


This week we’re in “Other Needs” of The Lifelong Activist. Rettig encourages us to create a “Whole Person Goals List”: “Write down your goals for all important areas of your life that weren’t covered in the previous exercises. This could include intellectual, creative, cultural and spiritual goals.” Heck, if you haven’t written any goals for a while, this might be a great time to write down all goals for your life that you can think of at this moment. I’ve found that having goals is an important part of strategic life planning. Having them doesn’t necessarily mean that they happen exactly as you picture, but at least you have something in mind from which to work. 

What are your life goals? What is your plan to achieve them? 

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world! What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.