Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Sirach

Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Sirach

Part 4 in our Why Read the Apocrypha series where we discuss the books of the Apocrypha. So far we discussed – The Book of Tobit, the Book of Judith, and the Book of Wisdom.

The Apocrypha is a set of ancient writings that were, and in some cases still are included in the Bible. These books were removed from the English translations of the Bible following the Protestant Reformation. However, their validity has been debated long before their removal and in the centuries following. 

The books of the Apocrypha have long been proven to be beneficial to the life of the Hebrews. Many church leaders have deemed them important and useful to read. Many believed these books should be considered inspired and live alongside the books of the Biblical canon. 

I believe these books should speak for themselves.

What are some questions we should ask when reading the books of the Apocrypha?

  • When the books are read in their entirety, do they actually contradict the Bible? 
  • Do they validate the Biblical prophecies? 
  • Are the keeping of the commandments of the Lord mentioned?
  • Do they tell the stories of our people?
  • Who is saying these books are bad? 
  • Should we listen to them, i.e, what is their character or validity? 
  • What are they saying about these books?
  • Are their points validated with evidence or are they just talking?

I believe these and other questions should be asked when deciding whether or not to read these and other ancient Biblical books. The Apocrypha and other ancient Biblical books were buried and safeguarded by our forefathers for hundreds of years. I believe these books should be read because they teach us about God and our history.

Let’s take a peek into the fourth book of the Apocrypha, and let’s find out more.

The Wisdom of Sirach or the Book of Sirach

The Book of Sirach is one of the oldest books of the Apocrypha. Manuscripts of this book were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls and in an ancient synagogue in Cairo, Egypt (Encyclopedia Jesus Ben Sira). It is a book that has been historically held in high regard by our people and the early church. It is a book that discusses the importance of wisdom to the life of the believer and how wisdom is used in our lives. We also see how it is wise to keep the commandments of the Lord and how by doing them we will continue to stay in close fellowship with Elohim.

History of the Book of Sirach 

The book of Sirach, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach, Sirach, Book of Ecclesiasticus, or Ben Sira is the fourth book in the Apocrypha. This book is believed to be written in 200 – 175 BC by Ben Sira of Jerusalem. Ben Sira was a Hebrew scribe and author and was known for being very knowledgeable in the Torah (Wikipedia Ben Sira, Encyclopedia Jesus Ben Sira).

Early Church Leaders and Church Councils

The book of Sirach is included in the Catholic and Orthodox canons and as part of the 1611 King James Bible in the middle section between the Old and New Testaments. This book is not a part of the Lutheran Bible and many Bibles following the Protestant Reformation.

Following the Protestant Reformation, the books of the Apocrypha were removed from the Bible because they were not found in the Jewish or Hebrew Canon of the Bible. This action disregards the Apocrpyha’s usefulness that was recognized throughout the centuries. 

Many of the Roman Catholic Church councils and church leaders regarded the Apocrypha as being canonical- considered part of the Bible. Pope Damasus I, Pope Innocent I, and Augustine, followed by the Church Councils of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), Council of Carthage (419), and the Council of Florence (1442), all reaffirmed this belief.

Like we’ve seen before, Roman Catholic Church councils were a time to reaffirm the church’s beliefs. It was during this time that the Catholic Church continued to see the importance of the books of the Apocrypha.

Other early church fathers, such as Jerome, Rufinus of Aquileia, and the Council of Laodicea ranked the book of Sirach as ecclesial rather than canonical. Meaning they believed the book was more suitable for the Church to read and learn from rather than a book included as part of the Bible for everyone to read as scripture (Wikipedia Sirach).

Note: I do not take the words of the Popes or the decisions of early church councils to be my guide as to whether or not to read a book. However, I do find it interesting that the Apocryphal books were considered canonical throughout the early years of the Church. 

Historical Finds

Fragments of the Book of Sirach were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s and 1960s (Wikipedia Sirach-Manuscripts). You can see the pictures of the scroll fragments on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ website.

Fragments of the book of Sirach were also found in Cairo Genizah– a storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat/ Old Cairo, Egypt. Many of the thousands of manuscripts found in this Synagogue date back to the second century A.D. These manuscripts include liturgical texts, Biblical/ related texts, Rabbinic literature, philosophical/ scientific/ linguistics manuscripts, legal documents, and private letters. These fragments were written in Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew (Wikipedia Sirach-Cairo-Geniza).

Introduction to the Book of Sirach

The book of Sirach is written in a similar style to the book of Wisdom and the book of Proverbs. It discusses the importance of wisdom to God and to the life of the righteous man and gives important information about life. This book mentions that it is important to keep the commandments of the Lord and reminds us to trust and hope in the Lord because he is the true deliverer. 

The book of Sirach stresses the importance of honor towards our parents because in our honor of them we will receive blessings. And lastly, in this book we are reminded of the mercy of Elohim which can be seen all throughout scripture. 

The Lord does everything through wisdom and is the true giver of wisdom to us. 

Sirach 1: 1 – 8:

1 All wisdom from the Lord, and is with him forever. 2 Who can number the sand of the sea, and the drops of rain, and the days of eternity? 3 Who can find out the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the deep, and wisdom? 4 Wisdom hath been created before all things and the understanding of prudence from everlasting. 5 The word of God most high is the fountain of wisdom, and her ways are everlasting commandments. 6 To whom hath the root of wisdom been revealed? Or who hath known her wise counsels? 8 There is one wise and greatly to be feared, the Lord sitting upon his throne.”

In the Book of Sirach, we are reminded several times that it is wise to keep the commandments of the Lord.

Book of Sirach 1: 26: “If thou desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord shall give her unto thee.”

Sirach 6: 37: “Let thy mind be upon the ordinances of the Lord and meditate continually in his commandments: he shall establish thine heart, and give thee wisdom at thine owns desire.”

Sirach 10: 19: ”They that fear the Lord are a sure seed, and they that love him an honorable plant: they that regard not the laws are a dishonorable seed; they that transgress the commandments are a deceivable seed.”

Later, we see that it is wise to fear the Lord, to trust Him, to believe Him, and to hope in Him, because we will never be forsaken if we do. 

Sirach 2: 6 – 11:

6 Believe in him[Elohim], and he will help thee; order thy way aright, and trust in him. 7 Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and go not aside, lest ye fall. 8 Ye that fear the Lord, believe him; and your reward shall not fail. 9 Ye that fear the Lord, hope for good, and for everlasting joy and mercy. 10 Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in the Lord, and was confounded? Or did any abide in his fear, and was forsaken? Or whom did he ever despise, that called upon him? 11 For the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, longsuffering, and very pitiful, and forgiveth sins, and saveth in the time of affliction.”

The mercy of Elohim shown throughout Scripture

Sirach 2: 17 – 18:

17 They that fear the Lord will prepare their hearts, and humble their souls in his sight, 18 Saying, We will fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men: for as his majesty is, so is his mercy.”

This verse reminds me of when King David sinned by performing the census of Israel( 2 Samuel 24:1, 1 Chronicles 21). The prophet Gad gave David three options for his punishment. Two / three options dealt with his enemies triumphing over him for a time and the last option was a punishment from the Lord directly. David chose to fall into the hands of the Lord. David said it was better than falling into the hands of men because the Lord is merciful (2 Samuel 24:14, 1 Chronicles 21: 13). 

I love that both of these verses remind us of the mercy of God. Even when he is chastising us, he is still merciful. 

Principles of the Bible repeated in the Apocryphal books

I love how the principles of the Bible are repeated and are seen throughout all the books of the Apocrypha. 

Like we have seen before, the command to do the commandments of the Lord has been seen throughout the previous books of the Apocrypha and this book is no exception! As we continue to read through the books of the Apocrypha, we see that they do not contradict the Bible. But instead, we see the validity of these books.

In chapter 3 of the Book of Sirach, we are reminded that our honor of our parents is directly related to the blessings we receive in our lives. 

Sirach 3: 5 – 9:

5 Whoso honoureth his father shall have the joy of his own children; and when he maketh his prayer, he shall be heard. 6 He that honoureth his father shall have a long life; and he that is obedient unto the Lord shall be a comfort to his mother. 7 He that feareth the Lord will honor his father, and will do service unto his parents, as to his masters. 8 Honor thy father and mother both in word and deed, that a blessing may come upon thee from them. 9 For the blessing of the father established the houses of children, but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations.”

This is a truth that is seen many times in scripture.

Shemoth ( Exodus ) 20: 12: “ Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the good land, which the Lord thy God gives to thee.”

Ephesians 6: 2 – 3: “ Honor thy father and mother; (Which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”

In the same way as the book of Proverbs, in the Book of Sirach, there are many verses that admonish us as to how to relate with God and others in wisdom.

Sirach 4: 29 – 31:

29 Be not hasty in thy tongue, and in thy deeds slack and remiss. 30 Be not as a lion in thy house, nor frantic among thy servants. 31 Let not thine hand be stretched out to receive, and shut when thou shouldest repay.”

Sirach 5: 4 – 7:

4 Say not, I have sinned, and what harm hath happened unto me? For the Lord is longsuffering, he will in no wise let thee go. 5 Concerning propitiation, be not without fear to add sin unto sin. 6 And say not His mercy is great; he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins: for mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sinners. 7 Make no tarrying to turn to the Lord, and put not off from day to day: for suddenly shall the wrath of the Lord come forth, and in thy security thou shalt be destroyed, and perish in the day of vengeance.”

Sirach 6: 7 – 12:

7 If thou wouldest get a friend, prove him first and be not hasty to credit him. 8 For some man is a friend for his own occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble. 9 And there is a friend, who being turned to enmity, and strife will discover thy reproach. 10 Again, some friend is a companion at the table, and will not continue in the day of affliction. 11 But in thy prosperity he will be as thyself, and will be bold over thy servants.12 If thou be brought low, he will be against thee, and will hide himself from thy face.”

old books the wisdom of sirach
The book of Sirach is over fifty chapters long, and throughout every chapter, we are reminded of the blessings that wisdom provides us- deliverance, mercy, riches, honor, and blessing.

The Wisdom of Sirach is an interesting book in terms of its history and its contents. Historically, it was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls and some of the original manuscripts from that time period can be seen today on the Dead Sea Scrolls’ website! Other copies of this manuscript were found in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, Egypt, showing again how our people cherished this book. The Wisdom of Sirach was later, highly esteemed by the early church fathers and church councils. Regarding the contents of this book, we see how it doesn’t contradict the bible, but instead lines up with the truths and wisdom of Scripture. We see the importance of trusting and believing in the Lord for deliverance, hope, and peace, and how the gift of wisdom will lead us throughout our lives. Shalom.

Old Testament scriptures are from The LXX Septuagint, and the New Testament scriptures are from KJV.

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