let’s talk about Ecclesiasticus for a minute

This week, the Revised Common Lectionary offers preachers a choice in Old Testament lessons.  Well, that’s not entirely true, actually the RCL offers us a choice between a lesson from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy) and the Apocrypha (Ecclesiasticus).  Every time Ecclesiasticus comes up in the Lectionary, I have to Google it because my HarperCollins Study Bible lists it by the title Sirach in the Table of Contents.

Whatever you call it, the book is assumed to have been written by a teacher called Ben Sira, which I think means son of Sirach and is where the alternative title for this book comes from.  It was written somewhere between 200 and 180 AD as a set of instructions (a book of Wisdom) for the people of Israel to hold onto as Judea was the battle ground between the Seleucids from Antioch and the Ptolemies in Egypt.  The book carried enough importance that it was included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore held a place in the Christian canon very early on.  As time has gone by and as Jewish leaders have argued over the validity of Sirach in their own canon, it has come to be included in various ways across denominations, with more reformed traditions excising it entirely. (Thanks HarperCollins Study Bible and wikipedia for dropping this knowledge on us)

What really gets me about the optional text from Ecclesiasticus for Sunday is just how non-Christian it is.  Or, should I say, just how non-post-reformation Christian it is.  This section from chapter 15 makes the book of James sound soft on works righteousness.  Just read the opening sentence, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.”  Hey now!  Couple this with Jesus’ difficult teaching on the Law and you could find yourself deep in down the road of Pelagianism, a fourth century heresy that is gaining in popularity these days.

It is a tricky passage, and I’m guessing most preachers will choose Deuteronomy instead, but it at least deserves some thought.

2 thoughts on “let’s talk about Ecclesiasticus for a minute

  1. Sirach 15 says exactly the same thing as Deut 30. In Deut 30, Moses says basically the Law is not too hard to do, shut just shut up and do it. Its not like you have to go up to heaven to get it, or across the sea to bring it over, here it is, so just do it already. Corresponding to this, Sirach says “If you want to, you can keep the commandments; to perform acceptable faithfulness is within your power.” Also in Deut 30, God says “Behold I set before you life and death; choose life, therefore, that you may live.” Sirach, in exact conformance with this, says “The LORD has set before you fire and water; reach out your hand to whichever you will; for whichever a man chooses will be given to him.” Now, this last part is not from Deut 30, but in complete conformance with James, when Sirach says “Let nobody say ‘The LORD caused me to fall away’ for you ought not do what the LORD hates.” Even so, James says (as we all know) “God is tempted by evil, neither does he entice any man.” Now Luther hated James for this kind of statement, and it is for similar things that Sirach was thrown out. But nothing in Sirach 15 is at odds with the unquestionably canonical scriptures at all. But both Sirach and the canonical scriptures are at odds with Protestant Gnosticism’s denial of freewill.

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