The affirmation that by Scripture alone (sola scriptura) one could gain access to all the truth that God desired to reveal to humanity made Martin Luther the more scrupulous in defining the canon of sacred texts upon which to base this foundational principle. As soon as he began translating the Old Testament he consigned the contents of the Catholic Apocrypha to a status more clearly separate from the pure Word of God than it had occupied in the eyes of Holy Mother Church – which from ancient times had itself recognised the lesser legitimacy of the books that made it up. The reformer nonetheless regarded these books – Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobias (Tobit), Jesus Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, Esther and Susanna (Daniel and Susanna) – as worthy of respect. He included them in his complete German Bible and composed introductions to some of them. In the complete Bible of 1534 the Apocrypha appeared as an independently paginated section entitled ‘Apocrypha. Das sind Bücher, so nicht der heiligen Schrifft gleich gehalten, vnd doch nützlich vnd gut zu lesen sind’. Other full and partial editions followed from presses in the German-speaking world, in both high and low linguistic forms.
Within the ambit of Huldrych Zwingli, Leo Jud (1482–1542) saw to press his first translation of the entire Apocrypha in 1529. The title was initially simply descriptive, but the Strasbourg edition of the following year contained an additional valuation of the content: Apochrypha: Biblical Books that, Although the Ancients Did Not Count Them as Scripture, Are Nevertheless Worthy, Useful, and in Frequent Use. Whether in Wittenberg or Zurich, the founding divines regarded the exhortations of certain apocryphal books in particular as essential to the cultivation of devotion and ethical behaviour. The one to which they referred most often is Ecclesiasticus, Jesus Sirach. The vd 16 lists, under Biblia, thirty-seven Latin and Latin-and-Hebrew editions and eighty-seven High and Low German editions, far more than the publications of all the other apocryphal books taken together. Church leaders recommended it to Latinate men at the higher end of the social spectrum, and they included it in vernacular translation in their advice to those hoped-for domestic ‘priests’, the heads of households; to pastors as a topic for preaching; and to schoolmasters and -mistresses for the inculcation of boys of a young age and girls of any age.