Most Protestants have never read the Deuterocanon and it is a major loss for them. This “second [deutero] Canon” in several respects appears not quite up to par with the “first Canon” (what we simply call “Canon”). However, it preserves for us developed Jewish thought from before the time of Christ that is both insightful and helpful in understanding how older Jewish Scriptures were understood.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
In the following, I make some comments on the books in chronologial order in the hope of piquing interest in believers of all stripes to dig deeper into this great treasure God has bestowed to His Church.
- The book contradicts the known Biblical record of history by ascribing to Tobit (an exiled 8th century Israelite) a piety expressed in adhering to the Passover and other Jewish festivals. In fact, Jewish festivals were not celebrated until the time of Hezekiah, and not followed correctly as the Law stipulated until the reign of Josiah. However, Tobit is said to have faithfully taken part in all the festivals (Tob 1:6) in Jerusalem before the fall of Samaria (Tob 1:2), as he was exiled before the reign of Sargon II.
- We are blessed by how the book teaches God’s sovereignty over evil doctrinally similar to the Book of Job. God works all things for good for His faithful servants, even when they are guilty of minor sins (Tobit appeared proud of his piety and falsely accused his wife of stealing food, Tob 2:13.)
- Protestants take issue with “false teachings” found in the book, but these criticisms appear overblown.
- For example, Tob 4:10-11 says, “[A]lmsgiving delivers from death…[for] all who practice it, [it] is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.” Protestants take issue with the implication that almsgiving forgives sins. However, (1) it does not say that and (2) other Scriptures likes James 5:15-16 speak of other things (like confessing sins) giving the believer forgiveness. Tob 4:10-11 was written in a pre-Christian context where there still existed sacrifices. It merely teaches that when divorced from the Jewish sacrificial system, almsgiving was a faithful substitute during that period. Further, in Phil 4:18 Paul calls the Philippians’ almsgiving a “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” So, the words of Tobit are still fitting in a New Testament context as well.
- Further, on that note, there is even doubt that Tob 4:4-4:19 is even original to the book as it is missing from Codex Vaticanus and the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments that exist in Aramaic.
- Like Tobit, Judith appears to have historical details a bit off. For example, the story is about Nebuchadnezzar sending a general named Holofernes to conquer the Jews. The capital of Babylon is Nineveh for some reason, though it can be argued that he was ruling from his summer palace or something of the sort. However, the emphasis on him being the “king of the Assyrians” just seems a bit off. Further, the events of the story occur during the king’s 18th year (2:1), which is 587-586 BC. This is essentially the time when in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles Judah completely capitulated. Yet, in this story, the Jews win a massive victory! Obviously, the chronology barely works, though if one wanted to say that Judith’s victory was the last hurrah for Judah before a massive defeat, it is technically possible.
- The text itself makes several edifying points. For example:
- “You cannot understand the workings of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out His mind or comprehend His thought” (8:14, see also Rom 11:34, Is 40:13).
- “[T]he Lord scourges those who are close to Him in order to admonish them” (8:27, see Heb 12:6, Prov 3:12).
- Against trusting in one’s own strength or works it scolds the Assyrians who “priding themselves in their horses and riders, boasting in the strength of their foot soldiers, and trusting in shield and spear” (9:7).
- In one of the theological questionable passages, Judith prays to God to bless her “deceitful words” to Holofernes (9:13). It is worth noting that Rahab is commended for her hospitality to the Israelite spies (which includes lying to her own countrymen) and David prays to God to confound the counsel of Ahithophel, but then subsequently sends Hushai to be a double agent (2 Sam 15:31-37).
- The Greek version of Esther is considered apocryphal by Jerome and Protestants today. The Masoretic Hebrew version (and the Hebrew in Jerome’s day) contained a much shorter book. For this reason, many believe the Greek version to have interpolations by the translator.
- It is worth noting that this is not necessarily a forgone conclusion. The Greek versions of most Biblical texts follow closer to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Apostles’ quotations , so the rule of thumb should be that the Greek is a more accurate reproduction of the original manuscripts of Scripture, not the other way around.
- Further, being shorter is not always evidence of being an earlier version without later additions. If that were the case, Protestants should accept the Greek versions of Job and Jeremiah, which are shorter than the Hebrew ones. Sometimes, texts are made shorter because a book was purposely abridged.
- Greek Esther, unlike the Hebrew version, highlights God’s providence in explicit terms.
- Quite frankly, it has a better flow and reads much better. The episode where Esther fasts for three days and then approaches the King is much more dramatic in the Greek, and contains great Reformed doctrine too!
Greek Esther 15:1-16
On the third day, when she ended her prayer, she took off the garments in which she had worshiped, and arrayed herself in splendid attire. Then, majestically adorned, after invoking the aid of the all-seeing God and Savior, she took two maids with her; on one she leaned gently for support, while the other followed, carrying her train. She was radiant with perfect beauty, and she looked happy, as if beloved, but her heart was frozen with fear. When she had gone through all the doors, she stood before the king. He was seated on his royal throne, clothed in the full array of his majesty, all covered with gold and precious stones. He was most terrifying.
Lifting his face, flushed with splendor, he looked at her in fierce anger. The queen faltered, and turned pale and faint, and collapsed on the head of the maid who went in front of her. Then God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness, and in alarm he sprang from his throne and took her in his arms until she came to herself. He comforted her with soothing words, and said to her, “What is it, Esther? I am your husband. Take courage; You shall not die, for our law applies only to our subjects. Come near.”
Then he raised the golden scepter and touched her neck with it; he embraced her, and said, “Speak to me.” She said to him, “I saw you, my lord, like an angel of God, and my heart was shaken with fear at your glory. For you are wonderful, my lord, and your countenance is full of grace.” And while she was speaking, she fainted and fell. Then the king was agitated, and all his servants tried to comfort her.
In the Greek version, we can see how the King’s uncharacteristic change of heart is the work of God. God, in His sovereignty, did not rid the King of anger. Ironically, He directed the King’s anger to Haman.
Wisdom of Solomon:
- The book mostly serves as a call of repentance from unbelief. While the book may not appear to be a philosophical defense of religious belief, it very much serves as a Hebrew apologetic against Greek thought (and the polytheism intertwined into it.)
- There is an emphasis on the relationship lady wisdom has with creation. Unlike Prov 8, Wisdom appears to be conflated with God. The gender of wisdom is sometimes confused. In Wis 7:15-22a, “Wisdom” is “the fashioner of all things” and is called “He.” Yet, in Wis 7:22b-25 “wisdom” is suddenly a “she” and is called “a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty.” Emanationism, in Greek thought, does not mean “eternally generated” as doctrines pertaining to Christ state. Emanationism would reduce wisdom to a created being. My best understanding is that there is a difference between Jesus Christ, who created all things (John 1:3) and is for us the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24), and lady wisdom as we see her in Prov 8 and in Wisdom of Solomon.
- The book is clearly prophetic, and in my estimation, it is a disservice to Protestantism that this book is not more widely read and taught. The early church was divided whether Wisdom of Solomon is Scripture. In light of the following, my hope and prayer is that you have a much greater appreciation for those who say that it is:
Wisdom of Solomon New Testament He is found by those who do not put him to the test (1:2). Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:12).* wisdom will not…dwell in a body enslaved to sin (1:4). But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin (Rom 6:17). It is worth noting that nowhere else in the Scriptures is slavery to sin spoken of other than Rom 6. Those who utter unrighteous things will not escape notice, and justice, when it punishes, will not pass them by. For inquiry will be made into the counsels of the ungodly,
and a report of their words will come to the Lord (1:8-9).
Beware then of useless grumbling,
and keep your tongue from slander;
because no secret word is without result (1:11
I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter (Matt 12:36). Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions, he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training (2:12) the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him (Matt 12:14). He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord (2:13). do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God ‘? (John 10:36). He became to us a reproof of our thoughts (2:14). Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matt 9:14) His manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange (2:15) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:5) We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean (2:16) Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” (Matt 15:10-12)
“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 16:11-12).
He calls the last end of the righteous happy (2:16). Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:10). [He] boasts that God is his father (2:16). Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:32) Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.” (2:17-20)
In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” (Matt 27:41-43) Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God (2:21-22). though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened (Rom 1:21). But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them (3:1). What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29). See also Ps 95:7.* Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself, like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them (3:5-6). In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).* They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever (3:8). Do you not know that the saints will judge the world (2 Cor 6:2)? Why have they been numbered among the children of God (5:5)? But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1:12). Please note that the term “sons of God” or “children of God” only refer to angels in the Old Testament, not to the saints. Wisdom of Solomon, is without doubt, the earliest use of the term. But the righteous live forever…Therefore they will receive a glorious crown and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord (5:15-16). Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). See also is 62:3. The first time the term “crown” is used in an eschatological sense is in WoS. I chose to have her [wisdom] rather than light, because her radiance never ceases (7:10). And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev 21:23). wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute (Wis 10:21). Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed (Luke 11:14).* In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts, which led them astray to worship irrational serpents and worthless animals, you sent upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them so that they might learn that one is punished by the very things by which one sins. (11:15-16). Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (Rom 1:22-24). For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured if You had not willed it (11:24-25)?
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will (Ep 1:11). For who will say, “What have you done?” or will resist your judgment (12:12)? You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Rom 9:19) You have filled your children with good hope, because You give repentance for sins (12:19). God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth (2 Tim 2:25). Nowhere in the Old Testament does it explicitly say God grants repentance. For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists, nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works (13:1).
For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator (13:5).
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him (Rom 1:19-21). but they [idolaters] supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them (13:2-3). they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1:25)! And if people were amazed at their power and working…Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things (13:4, 6-9)? Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things…All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law (Rom 2:1, 12). WoS contains the same progression as Romans in showing how all unbelievers are condemned. Those that reject God are in the same boat with those that try to know Him, but do so by their own efforts and speculations. For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes (14:7). The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18). Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God,
but though living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such great evils peace. For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries,
or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure,
but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery (14:22-26).
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them (1:28-32). The above is called a “sin list,” that Paul also uses elsewhere 1 Cor 6:9-10, Gal 5:19-21, 1 Tim 1:9-10, 2 Tim 3:2-4, Tit 3:3. The list in Rom 1 is obviously rhetorically borrowing from WoS, and WoS is the earliest known “sin list.” For to know you is complete righteousness, and to know your power is the root of immortality (15:3). And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). A potter kneads the soft earth
and laboriously molds each vessel for our service, fashioning out of the same clay both the vessels that serve clean uses and those for contrary uses, making all alike; but which shall be the use of each of them the worker in clay decides (15:7).
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use (Rom 9:21)? For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by the thing that was beheld, but by you, the Savior of all (16:7). And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15). you destroyed them [Egyptians] all together by a mighty flood…For by the same means by which you punished our enemies you called us to yourself and glorified us(18:5, 8). [Note: Verse 8 is probably in reference to the Destroyer passing over the Jews but not the Egyptians.] in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you (1 Pet 3:20-21). your all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of your authentic command (18:15-16).
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12).