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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
 sites.google.com/site/rcoamaru/
 
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:Why Books Are Kept Out!
Text:BC 6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ
 
Preached:2007-11-04
Added:2009-04-30
Updated:2009-05-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH VI

(Reading: Psalm 147)

 

Why Books Are Kept Out!

 

 

Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

     You might well have been wondering when we read Article VI.

          Because where did these books come from?

              You’ve never heard of them before.

 

     They are quite a surprise to many of us.

          I have had a number of people come to me about them over the years.

             

     These people have not always seen me because of what they read here in the Confession.

          It has also been when they have come across Bible versions with the books in it.

              For you will find it in editions of the King James Bible.

                   And certainly it’s in the Roman Catholic translations – the Knox Bible and the Jerusalem Bible.

 

     Once upon a time, though, these books were what everyone in the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches knew about.

          Because it was the centre of quite a debate.

              A debate which had the Roman Catholics accusing the Protestants of having mutilated the Bible.

 

     There is even a story that says that right when this debate was at its fiercest Martin Luther ripped all those books out of his Bible.

          That’s how much he was against them, it’s said.

 

     Well, the story is partly right and partly wrong.

          It was right because Luther, and the other reformers after him, refused to concede divine authority to the Apocrypha.

 

     It was wrong because the way those reformers treated the apocryphal books wasn’t that drastic.

          They didn’t write off those books altogether.

              But they did clearly point out why those books couldn’t be part of Scripture.

 

     This is what we will also see in our sermon this afternoon.

          And we begin this consideration of Article VI through considering THE MEANING TO THE APOCRYPHAL.

             

     The key word here, naturally, is ‘apocryphal’.

          It’s meaning helps in beginning to see what the issue is here.

             

     You see, it’s literal meaning is “hidden”.

          That’s what it meant in the original Greek.

 

     To the Jews in the period in-between the Old and New Testament it could have meant one of three things.

          The first is the more obvious sense of the word.

              These were books that were “hidden” in the way of being buried.

     This came from a tradition the Jews had of dealing with holy books that had become useless, such as those that held records of a certain time.

          Because they did not believe they could destroy them they would store them away or bury them in caves.

 

     The second meaning relates to the origin of a particular book.

          In this way the meaning of “hidden”  related to their authorship being unknown or secret.

 

     And then, thirdly, it was used to distinguish certain books which were not to be used when reading to the congregation.

          One Jewish account tells us that by order of Hezekiah The Book of Remedies was concealed from the people, because it undermined faith and trust in God.

 

     The way the Confession in Article VI uses the word ‘Apocryphal’ relates closely to the Jewish.

          That’s why it soon became attached to a number of writings which came from the end of the Old Testament era and during the first centuries of the Christian era.

              They are the books that you’ll find in Roman Catholic versions of the Bible.

 

     We need to distinguish these books from a number of writing which came later, after the early Christian era.

          These are books such as the Gospel of the Twelve, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Paul, the letter of Peter to Jacob.

              The most famous recent one of these is the Gospel of Judas.

     These later ones are quite false or fake.

          The books in Article VI however are not forged or spurious.

              Their origin isn’t obscure because the period they were written between Malachi and the Saviour’s birth.

 

     In Martin Luther’s first complete Bible in 1543, the Apocrypha listed here was placed as an addition to the Word of God.

          Luther wrote this caption to it: “Apocrypha; that is, books which, although not estimated equal to the Holy Scriptures, are yet useful and good to read.”

 

     That’s why we move on now to see, in our second aspect, THE PLACE OF THE APOCRYPHAL.

          This is about how they got into the Bible by the time of the Reformation.

 

     Well, they first were published as part of the Septuagint.

          This was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures produced two hundred years before Christ in Alexandria in Egypt.

              It is said that its name, ‘Septuagint’, which means ‘seventy’ came because seventy Jewish scholars translated the Scriptures into Greek.

 

     Whatever the origin of the name for this translation, however, there were these extra books added to the Old Testament.

          Books which had never been part of the Jewish canon.

              Books which Christ and His apostles never quoted from.

     They were books which the early church leaders Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius and Epiphanius gave no authority.

          Nor did the Church Fathers Athanasius and Jerome recognise them as divine.

 

     But that did not stop them entering into public usage.

          They were often used in public worship.

 

     The reformers took the position of Athanasius and Jerome.

          They did not recognise the apocryphal books as divine.

    

     This is clear from the difference in wording de Bres uses in Article VI.

          Notice his opening words here, “We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal…”.

              So there’s a clear cut difference being made between the 66 books of the Holy Scriptures and these 14 other books.

 

     It was a difference made all the clearer with the decision the Church of Rome made about them.

          The Council of Trent in its fourth session on the 8th of April 1546 pronounced the Apocrypha of the Old Testament to be part of the canon of the Holy Scripture.

              In this way they widened even more the breach between itself and the Reformation Churches.

             

     The reformers did continue to use them, though.

          It was the Dutch who made the most fuss against them.

              At the Synod of Dordt, in 1618 till 1619, the question was raised about whether they should be in the Bible at all.

 

     Many delegates wanted to exclude them altogether.

          They said that these writings were purely human, had never had a place in the Hebrew canon, and contained ideas and advocated practices in direct conflict with the Holy Scriptures.

              But because no other Church outside their country had previously excluded them, and because of the foreign delegates present, it was decided to include them.

 

     It’s an interesting historical footnote that the Remonstrants, who were the main cause for this Synod with their Arminian teaching, said that if the Apocryphal writings were not to be read in the church because they were human writings then neither should the Heidelberg Catechism.

          That may well have been a factor in the final decision too.

             

     For what the Synod decided to do was to insert the Apocrypha after the books of the New Testament.

          That way it was clear these books did not belong to the Bible but were just an appendix.

    

     Besides this, they had a preface warning the reader about the non-canonical nature of these books.

          They were also printed in smaller print and did not have any annotations.

 

     This aspect, though, naturally bring us to the next point.

          For now we see, in the third place, THE CONTENTS OF THE APOCRYPHAL.

 

     This is where we get a good lesson in distinguishing what is scriptural and what isn’t.

          Because you can apply the rules used here across the board to anything anyone claims is divine revelation.

              We have more than our share of these sayings today too!

 

     The first thing we can note here is that these books get it wrong.

          One example is found in the book of Judith.

              There it says that Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Assyrians, that he lived in Nineveh, and that he fought against Israel after the exile.

 

     A second factor here is that they are quite man-centred.

          Some of these books are wonderful tales of fantasy which aim to glorify Israel and her great heroes, especially Daniel.

              So they become a lot like the ancient writings of other religions.

 

     Then, thirdly, they promote false doctrine.

          You will find in these writings the reward you get for doing good works.

              In Jesus Sirach alms and prayers are represented as what gets us credit with God.

     In Second Maccabees we read of a certain Judas who paid for prayers for the dead so they could be atoned for.

          Great for the Roman Catholics but not exactly what you’d associate with a biblical revival!

 

     Another false teaching is what you’ll find in Tobias about angels and demons.

          Also in that book magical practices are mentioned with approval.

 

     If anything, these Apocryphal books are a picture into the times they were written.

          This is further evidenced by the strong influence of Greek philosophy.

 

     Then, fourthly, you have the situation where a number of these writers deny they have divine inspiration.

          This is stated in the prologue to Ecclesiasticus or Jesus Sirach and is repeatedly mentioned by the writer of First and Second Maccabees.

 

     Now you may be wondering why Article VI says what it does about the Apocrypha.

          For there we read that “the Church may read and take instruction” from them.

             

     But the rider to that is very important.

          Because that sentence goes on, “so far as they agree with the canonical books.”

              And it continues, “but they are far from having such power and efficacy that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith or of the Christian literature.”

 

     So far, so good.

          Yet haven’t you been wondering about something else, too?

 

     Ah, where does the Bible itself fit into all this?

          Doesn’t it have something to say on this?

 

     Indeed, it does.

          We may start with the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 3.

              In verse 2 there he is clear that by special providence the Scriptures have been entrusted to the Jews.

 

     This is what the Church Father Jerome confirmed.

          He pointed out the fact that the Jews do not recognise these books in their canon.

              This is a crucial point.

     After all, isn’t this what we read in Psalm 147?

          There the verses 19 and 20 concluded the psalm by stating about the Lord, “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel.

              “He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws.”

 

     Well, we do now.

          God’s Word has gone out to all nations.

              But that certainly wasn’t the case then!

 

     The Old Testament was in the special care of the Jews.

          They were clear on which books were in the sacred canon.

              Right from when those books appeared the Orthodox Jews had pointed out their deficiencies.

 

     Congregation, we see again how the Lord has preserved and kept His Word.

          He has put it into writing.

              He has sorted out what was written.

     He has told us where it comes from.

          It has the mark of dignity and authority.

 

     And now we see by what isn’t in God’s Word how divine the 66 books in His Word really are.

          You have to thank and praise Him for this self-revelation.

              You have to read and hear it all the time!

 

     You see, dear believer, then you will not only know the right thing to do – you will also know the wrong thing you’re not supposed to do.

          Then you won’t be thrown by any missing books of the Bible – you’ll know your Bible that well you’ll know what those books themselves are seriously missing!

              Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray…

     Lord God, we thank You for the Word of truth.

          We praise You that through Your providence You have so worked history so that we would have these pages before us this day.

             

     Stir us by Your Spirit to open them up every day.

          That way those around us will know us as people of the Book.

              And then they might want to hear You speak too.

                   In Jesus’ saving Name, we pray, Amen.

 

         

         

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz

(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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