Canon Fodder.



Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8

Do not put your confidence in your money or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’

Do not be led by your appetites and energy to follow the passions of your heart.

And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’ for the Lord will certainly give you your deserts.

Do not say, ‘I have sinned, but what harm has befallen me?’ for the Lord’s forbearance is long.

Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin.

And do not say, ‘His compassion is great, he will forgive me my many sins’; for with him are both mercy and retribution, and his anger does not pass from sinners.


Do not delay your return to the Lord, do not put it off day after day; for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out, and on the day of punishment you will be utterly destroyed.

Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains, they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

Sshhhh…  don’t tell anyone!  This all feels a bit rebellious.  Ecclesiasticus is not in my Bible – well not in the one I normally use – not in most of my shelf-bibles either.  I typed “Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8” into Biblegateway (the excellent online Bible that I normally use) and it came up with no results.  I typed it into Google (the excellent internet search engine I normally use) and this is what happened:


It takes a bit of extra effort to find Ecclesiasticus 5:1-8!

Ecclesiasticus is also known as The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira, commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach, and also known as Ben Sira amongst friends!

It’s not that anyone things its contents are bad or dangerous – it just didn’t make the cut into the most widely accepted “canons” of scripture.

The author, Joshua ben Sirach, or, according to the Greek text “Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem,” was a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem, may have authored the work in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. Ben Sirach is unique among all Old Testament and Apocryphal writers in that he signed his work.

He also owned a very fine hat:


Some people claim that there are several allusions to the Wisdom of Sirach in the New Testament. These include the Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:52 following Sirach 10:14; the description of the seed in Mark 4:5,16-17 following Sirach 40:15; the statement by Jesus in Matthew 7:16,20 following Sirach 27:6; and James 1:19 quoting Sirach 5:11. The distinguished patristic scholar Henry Chadwick has claimed that in Matthew 11:28 Jesus was directly quoting Sirach 51:23, as well as comparing Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (KJV) with Sirach 28:2 “Forgive your neighbour a wrong, and then, when you petition, your sins will be pardoned.”

What’s in and what’s not was once a much hotter topic than it is today, it was all settled (with accepted differences) centuries ago.  The canons are closed.  But should they be?

The Bible is a collection of literary forms organised into books and chapters and verses that reflect in many forms our struggle to understand life and God and the relation between the two.  We can see in the Bible ideas about God emerging and developing – and some ideas being discarded and left behind as new experiences opened our eyes further.  It isn’t a linear progression of wisdom and understanding – we often imagine that we get cleverer as the centuries past – I’m not sure if that’s true, or how you’d even begin to measure it to prove it! But the struggle and the questions and the experience of God continues. Why could there NOT be a book added to the bible? Paul’s letters and the Book of Acts describe an early church coming to terms with its place in the world and the impact of the Gospel on their lives.  Why could not a NEW set of letters to churches be accepted into the Biblical canon?  (The Book of Mormon and the Qur’an are both claimed to be later revelations than the Bible.) To say that the canon is closed is to suggest that God’s revelation is finished – there is no more to come.  You might argue that this is true – that Jesus’ life and death and rising again WAS the last word – nothing more needed to be said…  except that we then included later stuff in the canon! Has God’s revelation stopped?  Is there nothing more to say? It would certainly be controversial to add some more books to the Bible (but they were added centuries ago – and removed! – Why not in the 21st Century?) What is it that hymn says?  “The Lord hath yet more light and truth to shed froth from his Word.” I think I’m going to start writing.  “Phil’s letter to the Devonites” has a certain ring…

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