Can Protestants Be Edified by the Apocrypha?

The Gospel Coalition | 6/20/2019 | Staff
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“What is First Maccabees?”

This question—posed to me by a second-year theology graduate student—reminded me of a gap in knowledge often found among Protestants about the so-called Apocrypha.

King - James - Version - Apocrypha - Section

Though the original King James Version included the Apocrypha in a separate section, essentially all Protestant Bibles after the late-1600s have excluded these books. We now face a strange situation: The Bibles of almost 60 percent of global Christianity (i.e., Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) include these writings as “Deuterocanon,” while many Protestants either don’t know they exist—or view them with suspicion.

But should this be the case?

Apocrypha - Collection - Writings - Hebrew - Sources

The “Apocrypha” are a collection of Greek writings (though some may have had Hebrew sources) that emerged from 300 BC to AD 100 , including the following (brackets indicate debated status):

If we look to our Protestant past, we find a different posture toward the Apocrypha. Article 6 of the Belgic Confession states, “The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books.” The sixth Article of Religion of the Book of Common Prayer reads, “The other books . . . the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners.” And though the Westminster Confession (1.3) takes a negative stance, it still permits their use analogous to “other human writings.” Many Reformers and Puritans were well-versed in them.

Protestants - Use - Apocrypha

What would it look like for Protestants to rediscover a proper use of the Apocrypha?

Doctrinal Authority or Personal Edification?

Question - Debate - Issues - Writings - Authority

Answering this question requires entering into a longstanding debate over two issues: Which writings are the authority on doctrine, and which are useful only for personal edification?

We see glimmers of this differentiation as early as 4 Ezra 14.44–48, but the issue comes to the forefront with Origen, Augustine, and Jerome. Origen and Augustine suggest that the Apocrypha should be received as...
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