Jesus, Paul, and “Introducing the Apocrypha”

Introducing the Apocrypha - deSilva

David. A. deSilva is a very well educated and intelligent scholar. This writer appreciates his contributions, but this reader was disappointed in this end with his introduction to the Apocrypha. I am critical of critical scholarship. I wrote a short and inadequate review of his text on Amazon, because Amazon offered and its Amazon not JBL or JETS. DeSilva responded with humor that I “returned disappointment for disappointment” (Amazon Review).

I was disappointed when I read deSilva’s text, Introducing the Apocrypha, to inform evangelicals (39–41). In deSilva’s intro to the chapter “Additions to Daniel,” he spoke of the legends and tales of Daniel in Daniel 1–12 (deSilva, 222 ). That is an appropriate position for a critical scholar, but not really evangelical. I must stand by Jesus’s attribution of the prophet Daniel to the book of Daniel (Matt 24:15).

In “Third Isaiah” of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Christopher Seitz noted that critical analysis is speculation. He revealed, “It is one of the ironies of historical analysis in biblical studies that while skepticism over historical veracity rules in one part of the canon, other literary witnesses are accorded absolute historical reliability; the nature and dosage of selectivity is what produces different results” (3:502).

Are There Strengths to deSilva’s Introductions?

DeSilva’s introductions are very useful for presenting the author, date, and setting of each apocryphal writing. DeSilva provided more than simple dates. He explained how scholars date each document. He did not avoid admitting the limitations and difficulties of scholarship to date texts. A strength of deSilva’s book is that he provided the breadth of academic positions to become familiar. For instance, deSilva noted that the Jewish writer believed in the cessation of prophecy (1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). Josephus also understood that prophecy ceased (Ag. Ap. 1.40–41).

Disappointment in deSilva’s Rejection of Biblical Inerrancy

What is so disappointing about deSilva’s introductions? DeSilva wrote to inform evangelicals (40). However, many of deSilva’s points appear to disregard the inerrancy of the Bible. When deSilva addressed formative influences upon these texts, he placed much weight on redaction criticism and especially assuming at least portions of the Documentary Hypothesis even if for critical academic observations. For instance, deSilva identified a deuteronomistic pattern of sin leading to punishment in Tobit and Baruch (70, 207). This student can see his point, and that this pattern persists in apocryphal writings. However, deSilva’s assumption of redaction is a weakness to his text. DeSilva appeared to express disappointment that there was no deuteronomistic theology in 1 Maccabees (257). However, the Christian who accepts Moses’s authorship of Deuteronomy would expect Jews who keep the Torah to have a grasp of blessings for righteous living and curses for sinful living.

This reviewer finds that the author assumed the validity of the deuteronomist and asserted unattributed authors of these texts. In deSilva’s introduction of Baruch, he noted Second and Third Isaiah as actual authors of Isaiah (208). For the same reasons that some critical scholars accept the idea of Second Isaiah and reject Third Isaiah, this Christian rejects the assertion of Second Isaiah because of its speculative nature and inability to explain apocalyptic material throughout Isaiah 1–39 especially the Little Apocalypse (Isa 24–27). Critical scholars assuming redaction criticism push forward dates of OT books and splinter them into multiple redactors. The nature of critical scholarship appeals to the skeptical position of possibility over building a case for probability.

DeSilva also perceived, “Ben Sira has organized his material far better than the compilers of Proverbs did theirs, where it is rare to find two topical sayings side by side, his work still does not readily lend itself to outlines” (153). DeSilva’s position implies a human expectation of God-breathed Scripture when he asserted that Jesus ben Sirach better organized his material than the compilers of Solomon’s Proverbs. DeSilva placed biblical criticism over biblical inerrancy.

Did Jesus Get His Teachings from the Apocrypha?

DeSilva also attributed much of apocryphal writings to influencing the New Testament including Jesus. DeSilva stretched the NT to perceive allusions to the apocrypha. DeSilva declared that Jesus’s Great Invitation “brings together elements from Wisdom’s invitations to do the same” (195). These connections attribute a kind of plagiarism to the NT as though the NT claimed revelation from God from what an uninspired person had already written. Scholars should honestly consider any probable allusions of the apocrypha in the NT and not consider these as a threat to revelation because these share commonality. These writings share a common historical background. However, Jesus did not borrow from the apocrypha. If as deSilva presented that Jesus of Nazareth likely borrowed from Jesus ben Sirach, a believer may understand that Jesus Christ confirmed what Jesus ben Sirach deduced (194). Instead of Jesus taking the Golden Rule from Tobit, the agreements and similarities between Jesus’s moral teachings and other ancient sources like Tobit most probably confirm the natural moral law that Paul noted that is apparent in the Apocrypha (Rom 2:14–15). However, my concern is that deSilva and others assert that the NT present its teachings as revelation from God, yet critical academics credit these teachings to other sources like the Apocrypha. For instance, deSilva suggested the possibility that the ascension of the angel Raphael in Tobit 12 was the model of the NT writers to form the accounts of Jesus’s ascension. Furthermore, deSilva also noted that Jesus’s words resonate the angel’s words about doing God’s will. This is another stretch. DeSilva found that angelology and demonology in the NT developed from the Apocrypha rather than from the influence of reality and the OT (83).

Did Paul Borrow from the Apocrypha?

DeSilva made similar observations that Paul drew from the Wisdom of Solomon 13–14 concerning idolatry and wrote Romans 1 (150). However, this reviewer does not see much that is similar. One can expect similar conclusions about idolatry and its production of wickedness from most Jewish or Christian perspectives. DeSilva also appeared to miss that Paul’s panoply of God most likely came from Isaiah and certainly the guidance of the Spirit. This concept of armor is not from the Wisdom of Solomon 5:17–20 as deSilva asserted (151). One can expect the NT writers to express their humanity in the Bible. Their background may resemble the inherited worldview of Second Temple Judaism, yet this does not mean that the NT writers compromised the full guidance of God’s Spirit in writing Scripture. As Christ is fully God and fully human, the Scriptures are fully God-breathed and fully human.

Conclusion

I was looking for a reliable introduction to the apocrypha, but I get to read the speculations of critical scholarship. My concern increases when any scholar critiques the Bible especially when he professes that he believes. DeSilva disregards biblical inerrancy, and for that, I was disappointed.


Bibliography

David A. deSilva. Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance. Grand Rapids: Bakers, 2002.

Freedman, David Noel, ed. Pages 470–507 in vol. 3 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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2 Responses to Jesus, Paul, and “Introducing the Apocrypha”

  1. ddesilva1967 says:

    Mr. Shifferd,

    I’ll reply here rather than clog up Amazon.com.

    I may seek to do what you would judge impossible, but I try to use biblical scholarship in the service of faith, particularly in the service of understanding these texts better, hearing more of their challenge because we’ve gone further into their world and away from ours, understanding more of their nature on their own terms (which means, essentially, on the terms expected by their contemporary peers). I’m not a Bart Ehrman or a Robert Funk. I LOVE the Scriptures, I LOVE the para-biblical material like the Apocrypha, and I have devoted decades to knowing, exploring, and honoring them — but as they are, not as my faith commitments make me wish them to be.

    Permit me to raise what for me is an obvious problem in your second comment to me on Amazon, i.e., “For now, Jesus attributed Daniel to the prophet Daniel (Matt 24:15).” Is it that simple? You seem to me to be avoiding a very important issue here. In Mark 13:14, there’s no mention of Daniel at all. Only a notice not in Jesus’ voice but in Mark’s — “(let the reader understand).” Then in Matthew 24:15, lo and behold, we get a book reference that helps the reader understand (not to mention the fact that we also get “in the holy place” as a helpful specification of “where [the abomination] ought not to be.” Do we have JESUS attributing this to “Daniel the prophet” (with Mark being DEFICIENT for failing to remember and include this important reference), or MATTHEW helping the reader find the place that will help him or her understand, introducing this into the quotation? (Similarly, did Jesus say “standing where it ought not to be,” as in Mark, or “standing in the holy place,” as, perhaps more helpfully for those who don’t KNOW “where it ought not to be,” in Matthew?) How can we understand and HONOR both representations of Jesus’ discourse, without drawing potentially unhelpful conclusions (i.e., “Jesus said it was in Daniel the prophet, so we can’t think any further about the matter”)? And then, just to show how complex this all really is, look at Luke 21:20, who dispenses with the cryptic “abomination of desolation” language and has Jesus say “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies” instead (I say “instead,” since this is the sign for “fleeing to the hills” in Luke, as the “abomination” was in Mark and Matthew, and the accounts are otherwise parallel). Can we begin to allow ourselves to see that the evangelists are interpreting Jesus? And, back to the point at issue, can we allow Matthew (and quite possibly NOT Jesus) to refer to the book of Daniel as his contemporaries would have referred to it, rather than holding that HE would have had to have known and claimed it to be pseudepigraphic back then in 60 AD or so in order for us to entertain the possibility that the Book of Daniel had a more complex history of composition than the historic Daniel seeing and writing it all? I think I DO honor Scripture when I raise these questions and think about the evangelists’ shaping of Jesus’ saying for their readers, guiding them in its interpretation. Redaction criticism isn’t the enemy of a high view of Scripture (at least, not for people who, like me, think that the evangelists themselves are guided by the Spirit in what they do, even if that means interpretatively shaping Jesus’ sayings). I think I DO honor Scripture by not asking Matthew (or, if it turns out thus, Jesus himself) to make a statement about the authorship of Daniel that would be completely out of place in the first century and not in keeping with any of his contemporary’s thinking about the authorship of a biblical book.

    I’d also like to suggest that “evangelical” covers a much wider range of people who uphold (or, more importantly, LIVE UNDER) the authority of Scripture than those who profess “inerrancy” (understanding it in precisely the way you do, which means also that inerrancy implies a duty to uphold traditional views of authorship and prevents one from making literary observations about the relative degrees of organization of collections of wisdom literature like Ben Sira and Proverbs). I’ll admit that I myself have great trouble with “inerrancy,” and that on the basis of my high regard for what Scripture actually says. If the example from Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse didn’t get the point across, please look at Mark 11:1-25, Matthew 21:1-22, and Luke 19:28-48, and tell me on the basis of these texts what Jesus did after his triumphal entry and on what day. Did he look around the temple, do nothing, and go back to Bethany for the night? Or did he cause a row on the spot and then go back to Bethany? What is the chronological relationship of the cursing of the fig tree, the noticing of the withered fig tree, and the cleansing of the temple? I’m not saying this to “critique the Bible” in any negative way, or to undermine confidence in the Bible, but to try to get at what the Bible really is, what these texts are trying to communicate, and in what way we should view them (is “inerrant” the best word, or is that just born of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, both sides of which were equally driven by modern concerns and definitions of truth?). I prefer to speak of their authority, their absolute claim upon our loyalty and obedience, but not say of them what they do not claim for themselves (especially when, side by side, the Gospels tell us different things about what happened or did not happen on the day of the Triumphal Entry and on the following day). I don’t want to diminish your view of Scripture (GOd forbid!), but I do want you to VIEW the Scripture as it is. I think that will also help you to view my work with greater toleration, even charity, and certainly less disappointment.

    You really don’t seem to like the idea that Jesus or Paul could have learned anything from the Apocrypha, even though the Apocrypha are all texts written by faithful Jews encouraging faithfulness to the covenant. It’s not “plagiarism” for Jesus to learn from the legacy of a faithful old Jew like Ben Sira: it’s what we should expect if we take the incarnation seriously. Didn’t Jesus have to learn, like the rest of us? Didn’t he go to the synagogue and listen to the rabbis every Sabbath (and perhaps a whole lot more, if his 12-year old proclivities are any sign)? Did they contribute nothing to his process of discerning God’s just requirements and God’s heart for the covenant people? (Does our affirmation of his two natures mean that, essentially, he cheated on the “fully human” part?) But I’ll never convince you in this forum that it does not detract from the authority or inspiration of Scripture to suggest that non-canonical works contributed to the message of canonical authors (even though Paul himself overtly quotes Aratus in Acts 17 and Menander in 1 Cor 15, not to mention Jude quoting 1 Enoch). But when you come to that realization hopefully by some other means, then you’ll be in a position to really understand the continuity between the testaments, the genius of our Lord and his disciples, and the fact that God was not, indeed silent and inactive in the intertestamental period. Just because we don’t have the Apocrypha in our canon, it does not follow that none of those authors failed to learn something true from God that could contribute to their descendants (like Jesus, James, and Paul).

    I have provided you with a reliable guide to the Apocrypha. I take you into each text, show you what it shows us about the world, ethics, social tensions, religious traditions, and challenges of the Jews whose situation it reflects, trace out its theological and ethical developments from the Old Testament and its interactions with its own larger literary environment, and suggest its impact on the thought-world of first century authors, including NT authors and Jesus. I just have worked with the Scripture too long and too closely (and love and honor it too much not to let it be what it is, rather that what I want to claim it to be) to pass the litmus tests of “reliability” that you, for some reason, insist upon imposing.

    Kind regards,
    David deS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. deSilva,

      I appreciate your reply and depth of contemplation and study on this material. You make a strong case for Christ learning because he is fully human too. My perspective of Christ is that his growing in wisdom and knowledge was more of an unveiling than learning anew.

      I do not want to over simplify Jesus’s attribution of the abomination of desolation to the prophet Daniel. However, I find that the Gospels supplement each other perfectly and beautifully in harmony. I find that Jesus did attribute the abomination of desolation to Daniel. We may agree that Mark and Luke noted the desolation and made no emphasis on the matter because of their individual focuses in writing. Mark did leave it to the reader to apply the abomination of desolation.

      I see nothing in postexilic Jewish writings questioning or attributing the Book of Daniel to redaction. I see unity in text and an early date via its Persian Aramaic. I see the Essenes referencing Daniel, yet they do so as much as other scriptures and other texts like Enoch. However, I do not see any primary witnesses attesting that the Book of Daniel consists of developed legends and tales accumulated by an author in the second century BC. This simply appears as critical scholars rejecting predictive prophecies especially in the detail that Daniel presents. My conclusion is that Daniel is most probably the product of Daniel’s oversight in the 6th c. BC. I know that is not kosher with critical academics.

      I hold to inerrancy because of Jesus’s sinlessness and infallibility, and so Jesus’s words and all truth that he gave to his apostles via the Spirit is also infallbible. Therefore, I find Christ’s words inerrant and all written revelation that he attributed to God through previous prophets infallible too. For this, I accept Jesus’s collection of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. As Jesus declared, Scripture cannot be broken. We could discuss the early apostolic authority of scripture and canonization too, but I will refrain.

      I have no problem allowing Jesus or any NT writer quoting or applying pagan writers or the Apocrypha. I thank God for His providence of having such historical texts like the Apocrypha along with the DSS and OT pseudepigrapha. My difficulty is preferring the possibility of Jesus learning from the Apocrypha while Jesus’s fullness of Deity and full humanity includes first Christ’s priority of divine knowledge and revelation. Jesus is most probable to speak revelation because of his Deity. I do find your allusions of the Apocrypha in the NT go too far, and I would present these allusions as possibilities and then seek to argue for probability if anyone can.

      I will prayerfully consider your points further. Thank you for replying to me. I think you should post this reply on Amazon to better present your position. I have no further reply or any intention of trolling you. I will consider revisions.

      Respectfully,
      Scott Shifferd

      Liked by 1 person

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