The Old Testament reading for Wednesday in Holy Week, from the old lectionary, was from the Wisdom of Solomon. Although “Wisdom” used to be included in readings from the pulpit, many Christians today are unfamiliar with its name and contents. For many the word “apocrypha” has the connotation of fishy, wrong or even evil. As in: books that have claimed to come from God, but are not. Like the gnostic gospels of the early church era.
For those who know their Christian history and the traditional creeds, whether Belgic Confession, 39 Articles or Baltimore Catechism, the response is very different.
As to the Reformation: All older King James versions, Luther translations and Statenbijbels include the Old Testament apocrypha. These were considered as books of a distinct category, as containing God’s truth, but in a “hidden” or apocryphal way. For that reason, apocrypha could be used for readings in church. Only, not to establish doctrinal truth independently and only in as far as they agreed with the universially recognized 66 canonical books of the Old and New Testament.
So there is nothing fishy about the apocrypha. On the contrary, they have a confessional status, which is more than one can say for Christian best sellers like Pilgrim’s Progress or the Imitation of Christ. Both in Reformed and Roman Catholic circles. Augustine considered the Wisdom of Solomon as part of the Old Testament. Athanasius did not include it in the canon, but saw it together with other apocrypha, as “appointed by the Fathers to be read”. It is probable that both the Belgic Confession and the 39 Articles reflect the language of Athanasius in asserting that these books may be read in the churches.
What is wisdom?
Even if the teachings of the Wisdom of Solomon do not go back to Solomon himself, although traditionally many believe they do, then it remains clear that they were written before the incarnation of Christ. Contemporal critical scholarship is agreed that Wisdom dates from the first century BC at the latest. So even from a materialistic historical perspective, it is impossible that the writer of Wisdom did a vaticinium post eventum, a fake prophecy after the events already happened, on Jesus Christ, his sufferings and his claim to be Son of God.
Still, that is exactly what the Wisdom of Solomon prophecies about. And Christians used to hear about this prophecy for centuries, all over the world, from their readings in church, also in the churches of the Reformation after the great Western schism.
Let’s share this morning’s reading:
Wisdom 1.16 – 2.1; 2.12-22:
But ungodly men with their works and words called it to them: for when they thought to have it their friend, they consumed to nought, and made a covenant with it, because they are worthy to take part with it.
For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave.
Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education.
He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord.
He was made to reprove our thoughts.
He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion.
We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father.
Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him.
For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies.
Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience.
Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.
Such things they did imagine, and were deceived: for their own wickedness hath blinded them.
As for the mysteries of God, they knew them not: neither hoped they for the wages of righteousness, nor discerned a reward for blameless souls.
While the Dutch Statenvertaling translates verse 18 as “For if the just man be a son of God,” the King James reflects the Greek use of the article with “the son of God”. (Septuagint: εἰ γάρ ἐστιν ὁ δίκαιος υἱὸς Θεοῦ, ἀντιλήψεται αὐτοῦ καὶ ρύσεται αὐτὸν ἐκ χειρὸς ἀνθεστηκότων.) Even without this detail, this passage strikingly foreshadows New Testament events, both in the Gospels and the book of Acts with Gamaliel’s counsel. It also shows up the world who rejected the Christ of God at the time, and perhaps presently, for what they are or were.
In this holy season, it gives us time to reflect on the words of Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)