« PreviousContinue »
and which contains the Apocrypha. This word means concealed; and the books were so called because, like those contained in the third division of the Palestinian canon, they were not read in the public services. These apocryphal books are first found in a collected form in the Septuagint. This is a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was made in Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus; and it receives its name from the fact that seventy scholars were engaged in its production. This version, besides translations of the books recognised in the Palestinian canon, contains also a number of more recent writings, many of which were composed originally in Greek, others in Chaldee or Syriac, but few if any in Hebrew. These later productions were never accepted as canonical by the Palestinian Jews, partly from their aversion to Greek literature, and partly because they supposed the prophetic spirit to have ceased with the last of their own prophets.
The apocryphal books, however, were adopted in the early Christian Church. The Fathers for the first three centuries knew nothing of Hebrew. They used the Greek version of the Old Testament therefore; and from this version the translation into Latin called the Vulgate was afterwards made. The early Fathers constantly quote the Apocrypha with the same respect as the rest of the Bible. The Council of Carthage, at which St Augustine was present and which was held at the end of the fourth century, mentions the apocryphal writings in its enumeration of the canonical Scriptures. And this decision was afterwards confirmed in 1546 by the Council of Trent, which added an anathema against those who did not receive as canonical all the specified books. According to this council, recognising the canonicity of the Apocrypha is part of what we must do to be saved. The Church of England, since its secession from the Church of Rome, refuses to admit the authority of the Council of Trent. In fact it only recognises the authority of four councils, in the decisions of which its own doctrines find support, those viz. of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. In regard to the apocryphal books our Church, like the Lutheran, allows them to form part of the Bible, but denies their inspiration and therefore excludes them from the canon. In other words the English Church has adopted the Palestinian canon and not the Alexandrian. According to the sixth article, the apocryphal books are to be read for example of life and instruction of manners, but are not to be applied to establish any doctrine. The Beformed
Churches of the Continent advocate a strict separation of the two classes of books, and maintain that the Apocrypha should be excluded from the Bible altogether. The British and Foreign Bible Society has adopted for about forty years the practice of circulating the canonical books alone. They were led to take this course chiefly, I believe, through the clamour of their Scotch subscribers.
It is, however, quite impossible to draw any definite line of demarcation between the apocryphal books and the rest of the Old Testament. We are justified in the attempt neither by the authority of the early Church nor by common-sense. Perhaps no man did so much in ancient times as Jerome to make a wide distinction between the canonical and apocryphal books. Hence he is reckoned the bulwark of orthodoxy by writers who maintain the absolute validity of the Hebrew canon. Yet Jerome himself uses the apocryphal books in the same way as the canonical. In one passage he quotes Sirach between Matthew and Luke; and he generally introduces quotations from the Apocrypha with the words—" as the Scripture saith." No doubt some of the apocryphal writings are vastly inferior to some of the canonical, but others again are in some respects superior. Compare, for example, the Book of Wisdom with the Book of Ecclesiastes. The latter, as I have explained to you,1 was written by a voluptuary and a cynic, who denies immortality and maintains that pleasure is the chief end of life. Ecclesiastes stands morally upon a lower level than Lord Chesterfield's Letters. The Book of Wisdom was written evidently with the purpose of refuting the immoral teaching of Ecclesiastes. The author of the Book of Wisdom puts all Koheleth's favourite doctrines into the mouths of those whom he calls "the wicked" or "the scoffers." In the Book of Wisdom it is the wicked who describe human life as short and miserable; it is they who call it madness. It is the wicked who assert that we shall be hereafter as though we had never been; that death and life are determined by chance; that our body will finally be turned into ashes and our spirit vanish into soft air; and that beyond the grave there is nothing but oblivion awaiting us. It is the wicked who say, " Let us enjoy the good things that are present; let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointment." In the Book of Wisdom Koheleth is over and over again contradicted pointblank. For example, in reply to his assertion that he never succeeded in finding a single good woman, the writer of the Book of Wisdom observes sarcastically that those who despise wisdom must expect 1 See my 'Agnosticism.'
to have foolish wives. And in reply to the assertion that the wise man dieth as the fool, the writer of the Book of Wisdom remarks that it is only in the sight of the unwise that he seems to die.
But notwithstanding all this it appears to me that Ecclesiastes is really the more valuable of the two. It is true the author of the Book of Wisdom assumes immortality, but I venture to say no man's faith in another existence was ever strengthened by a perusal of his treatise. It is true that Ecclesiastes denies immortality; but the author deduces for us, acutely and consistently, the corollaries of the denial. His philosophy of life is so mean, so ghastly, so repellent, that we are startled into reflection. We involuntarily say to ourselves—If the denial of immortality leads to such conclusions as Koheleth's, may not, must not, that denial be erroneous? So that, if by inspired you mean orthodox, then it is the Book of Wisdom which is inspired; if you mean clever, then it is Ecclesiastes. And when you talk of "establishing a doctrine," you must remember that there are two classes of people in the world who get their doctrines established in two totally different ways. For one class—by far the most numerous—the doctrine is established when it is stated upon authority; and this authority the Book of Wisdom lacks, because it is ex