Never Without a Witness: The Apocrypha and Spiritual Formation -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 38:0 (NA 2006)
Article: Never Without a Witness: The Apocrypha and Spiritual Formation
Author: David A. deSilva

Never Without a Witness: The Apocrypha and Spiritual Formation

David A. deSilva*

The Protestant Christian who reads her Old and New Testaments listening for God’s Word might suppose that God fell silent between his people’s return from the Babylonian exile until the Word-made-Flesh began to speak anew. But, in fact, we serve the God who was never without a witness, who never left God’s people without the knowledge of God’s counsels. This is good news for us who count on God to speak not just in the fixed forms and limited time of the Scriptures, but rather to make his living voice known in every age—including the present moment!

The intertestamental period was far from silent. It was a fertile period in which the faith of the ancestors was being re-imagined and re-appropriated for the rapidly-changing circumstances of life under the shadow first of Greece and then of Rome, both at home in Israel and abroad in the Diaspora. The absence of prophets did not mean the absence of the voice of God, as spiritual teachers listened for God’s word in their sacred texts, experienced God’s presence through their spiritual disciplines, and called one another to continue to order their lives around the God who was the source of all life. It was a period full of witnesses to life with God, whether they gave that witness in their lives and deaths, or recorded that witness in writing to nurture future generations of disciples.

Now these witnesses, you might argue, were not perfect. You might say that they were merely human writers. But if that is so, even then we must give ear to them, at least with the same earnest attention that we give to the most popular human authors whose spiritual advice we cherish today. But there is still an important difference. There is no doubt that the works of a Max Lucado or Rick Warren represent the finest devotional fruit that blossoms on the tree that is the church, and many are nourished and delighted by this fruit. But the authors of the Apocrypha are located deeper down among the roots of that tree. The apostles themselves drew their nourishment from these roots as the tree began to sprout when it was but a young sapling. In the most formative centuries of our faith, Christian teachers mined these books as rich treasure troves on the life lived with God, and the life of responding to God. The whole tree has continued to be nourished by them, even though some of its branches do not seem to know it.

We can derive much wisdom from our spiritual forebears who left us the books that Protestants call the Apocrypha, that Catholic and Orthodox Christians intersperse throughout their Old Testaments as part of their Scriptures. As the apostles discovered, we too will find that these pious J...

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