F.F. Bruce wrote in his book THE BOOKS and the PARCHMENTS, revised edition, Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, N.J., 1963, in the appendix II, p. 259 entitled, 'THE NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA AND OTHER EARLY CHRISTIAN BOOKS':
"The preface of a book written in 1820 begins with the question: 'After the writings contained in the New Testament were selected from the numerous Gospels and Epistles then in existence, what became of the Books that were rejected by the compilers?'
The very form of the question betrays a misconception... But it is a misconception that is still quite generally entertained: that at some Church Council or other, membership of which was determined by who knows what principle, a body of men sat down with a pile of writings on the table before them and said, 'Now, let's decide which of these are to be accepted as authoritative and which are to be rejected.' In fact, there never was any such Church Council: the Church and the New Testament grew up together.
But were there not other Christian books in existence, and may not some of these have been worthy of canonical recognition? There were other Christian books; if anyone wishes to decide for himself if they were worthy of canonical recognition or not he has only to read them and see, for many of them have survived and are accessible in translation.
The earliest Christian writers outside the New Testament are known as the Apostolic Fathers: they belong to the century between A.D. 80 and 180. Their works are not to be classed as 'New Testament Apocrypha'; they are simply what they profess to be, the writings of Christian men, designed for the edification of their fellow-Christians. But why are they not regarded as canonical? Because they do not bear the marks of canonicity. They themselves recognize the superior authority of the apostolic writings. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, author of seven epistles written while he was on his way to be thrown to the lions in the Roman amphitheatre about A.D. 115, says in his Epistle to the Romans (4.3): 'I do not enjoin you, as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am a slave to this very hour'. Ignatius was very sure of the rightness of his views, and very anxious that they should be accepted, but he does not enforce them with apostolic authority. The 'Epistle of Barnabas', another work included among the Apostolic Fathers (too late in date to be the work of the New Testament Barnabas), among other improbable fancies tells us that the hyena changes its sex year by year and that the hare acquires an additional orifice for each year of its life (these interesting details come out in its allegorization of the Levitical food-laws which distinguish between clean and unclean animals). Clement of Rome, writing to the Corinthian Church about A.D. 95, adduces the fable of the phoenix in illustration of the resurrection. He is a good man, with a pastoral concern for the welfare of his own and other Churches; but how far short he falls of the New Testament level is indicated by the fact that, in spite of his familiarity with the Epistle to the Hebrews, he 'turns his back on its central argument in order to buttress his own arguments about the Church's Ministry by an appeal to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament', a procedure which Professor T. W. Manson rightly describes as 'a retrogression of the worst kind'. The Shepherd, an allegory written by a member of the Roman Church called Hermas early in the second century, was... read publicly in church as a work of edification, but not accorded canonical status. And it was the people who produced and enjoyed writings like these who recognized the superior and divine authority of the New Testament writings, guided by a wisdom which has been acknowledged by the approval of successive Christian generations.
The New Testament Apocrypha properly so called are the various Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses produced during the second century and later under the names of apostles and other associates of our Lord. Most of these belong to the category of religious fiction. Some of our apocryphal Gospels were intended to satisfy the desire for information about the 'hidden years' of our Lord's life before His entry upon public ministry; these include several 'Infancy Gospel'', relating the prodigies performed by Jesus as a child. The apocryphal Acts were largely intended to supply information about the later career of those Apostles who disappear from the New Testament record at an early date. Among the apocryphal Epistles are the letters exchanged between Christ and King Abgar of Edessa and the 'Epistle to the Laodiceans'... Of the apocryphal Apocalypses the most interesting is the 'Apocalypse of Peter,' mentioned in the Muratorian Canon... We know from Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius and Sozomen, that it was read in some churches; it has a literary interest in that its lurid descriptions of the torments of the damned coloured much mediaeval and even more recent pictures of hell, including in particular Dante's Inferno.
Some of these apocryphal writings were designed to lend support to various heretical beliefs and practices; one example... is the Ebionite Gospel which gave John the Baptist a vegetarian diet. This Gospel was perhaps not a new invention but simply an adapted edition of one of our canonical Gospels or of a similar one.
The ancient document called 'The Gospel according to Thomas' has received considerable publicity in the religious and secular press over the last three or four years. It was discovered in Upper Egypt in 1945 or 1946, along with 48 other documents written, like it , in Coptic. These 49 works, from the ancient Christian monastery at Chenoboskion, were contained in 13 papyrus codices. The great majority of them proved on examination to be Gnostic in character, that is to say, they represent a more developed form of the sort of heresy which Paul refutes in the Epistle to the Colossians.
The 'Gospel according to Thomas,' however, is not a directly Gnostic work. It is a collection of about 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, introduced by the preface, 'These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down'; and ending with the title, 'The Gospel according to Thomas'. When scholars began to study it, they realised that portions of it had been known previously. About the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, much excitement was aroused by he discovery in Egypt of papyrus fragments exhibiting utterances ascribed to Jesus, each of them introduced by the words 'Jesus said'. These fragments are commonly called the 'Oxyrhynchus Sayings', from the ancient name of the place where they were found. They were written in Greek, whereas the recently-discovered 'Gospel according to Thomas' is written in Coptic. But it is now clear that the 'Oxyrhynchus Sayings' were fragments of a much larger Greek compilation, which was subsequently translated into Coptic for the benefit of the rank and file of the Egyptians who did not know Greek. And it is this Coptic translation that has now come to light as the 'Gospel of Thomas'. The Greek original of the compilation may be dated about the middle of the second century A.D., the Coptic translation is a century or two later. We may hope that the complete Greek original will yet be found.
The 114 sayings contained in this document are of a varied nature. Many of them are sayings recorded in the canonical Gospels, some of these being almost verbally identical while others have been subjected to greater of less modification. It is not certain, however, that they were directly derived from the canonical Gospels; some at least appear to have been handed down independently by word of mouth until they were recorded in this form. There are other sayings in the compilation which are not paralleled in the New Testament. Some of these could conceivably be genuine; at least they are sufficiently in keeping with our Lord's character and teaching to deserve serious consideration. But the company which they deep makes them suspect, for some of the sayings ascribed to Him in this work are self-evidently spurious, and reflect the Gnostic outlook of the community to whose library this particular copy of the work belonged.
A judicious and reliable account of the whole matter is provided in the recently published Fontana paper-back entitled The Secret Sayings of Jesus: From the Gospel according to Thomas. The authors of this little book point out that the Thomas Gospel differs form the New Testament Gospels in that it minimizes the historical basis of Christianity. To call it a 'Fifth Gospel' is wide of the mark; properly speaking, it is not a Gospel at all. No compilation of sayings of Jesus, even if they were all genuine, can properly be called a Gospel. For a Gospel must declare God's good news; it must tell of Christ's redemptive death. And even those sayings of Christ which refer to His death are significantly absent from the 'Gospel of Thomas'.
Some of the sayings ascribed to Jesus in the 'Gospel of Thomas' are paralleled in other uncanonical Gospels. One of the sayings, for example (one which was preserved in Greek in an Onyrhynchus papyrus), is quoted by Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 180) as coming from the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews'; he quotes it in the form: 'Let not him that seeks [the Kingdom], cease until he find it, and when he finds it he will be astonished. Astonished he shall attain to the Kingdom, and having attained, he shall have rest.'
This 'Gospel according to the Hebrews;, now extant only in fragments, seems to have been a sort of Jewish-Christian Targum or expanded paraphrase of our Gospel of Matthew, circulating in Egypt and Transjordan. It contains some other sayings ascribed to Jesus not found in the canonical Gospels, but they are at best of doubtful authenticity. Jerome identified the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews' with a document which he found in Caesarea, called the 'Gospel of the Nazarenes', and which he mistook at first for the Hebrew or Aramaic original of Matthew's Gospel. Probably the 'Gospel of the Nazarenes' was simply an Aramaic translation of Matthew and a different work from the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews'. At any rate, both these 'Gospels' bore some relation to the canonical Matthew, and are therefore to be distinguished from the great mass of apocryphal Gospels, which are not only apocryphal but fictitious even when not heretical.
One of the apocryphal books of 'Acts' - the 'Acts of Paul' - while admittedly a romance written by an orthodox presbyter of Asia about A.D. 160, contains a pen-portrait of Paul which, from its vigorous and unconventional character, was thought by Sir William Ramsay to embody a genuine tradition of the Apostle's personal appearance. He is described as 'a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, bald-headed, bow-legged, strongly built, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man, and at times he had the face of an angel'.
Many of these apocryphal writings, with the 'Gospel according to the Hebrews' and that of the Nazarenes and some unattached sayings of Jesus, are accessible in English...
[A proper and close analysis of the 66 books of the Bible which produces an understanding of the basic tenets of the Christian faith which is then compared to any extra-Biblical writing will inevitably lead one to the conclusion that the extra-Biblical writing should remain as extra-Biblical, outside of the realm of the absolute and inerrant authority which the 66 books demonstrate and which other writings do not]
Rick Miesel Biblical Discernment Ministries email@example.com http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/ P.O. Box 679, Bedford, IN 47421-0679
The word apocrypha is derived from the Greek abscondita, which historically identified writings which had an obscure origin or which were heretical. In the Talmud the Jewish rabbis used this word to describe works which were not canonical Scripture. The term has come to be applied particularly to the 15 books added to the Roman Catholic Bible but ordinarily rejected by non-Catholics. These were written during the two hundred years preceding and one hundred years following Christ's birth. The Roman Catholic Church considers most of these writings to be part of the inspired Scripture. In 1546 the Council of Trent decreed that the canon of the O.T. should include them (except the Prayer of Manasseh and I and II Esdras) ... the decree pronounces an anathema upon anyone who "does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts" (The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, pp. x,xv). The Council of Trent was an attempt by the Catholic Church to counteract the Protestant Reformation with its battle cry of "faith alone" and "Scripture alone." By adding the Apocrypha to the canon of Scripture, the Catholic Church, in effect, rendered the rest of the Bible impotent. "The books named in the decree [of Trent] include the apocryphal Old Testament books, and placed unwritten traditions of the church upon an equal footing with Holy Scriptures as approved of Christ or of the Holy Spirit. Any appeal to Holy Scripture as expressing the supreme will of God was thereafter useless in the Latin Church" (Edwin W. Rice, Our Sixty-six Sacred Books, p. 112). The Apocrypha have a variety of content. Some are histories of events concerning the Jews. Some are short sayings similar to the Proverbs. Some are sermons; others are like novels. One purports to be symbolical prophecy. Why reject the Apocrypha: It is important that God's people understand why the Apocryphal books (also called the Deuterocanonical Books) are rejected from the canon of inspired Scripture. Because of ecumenical activities involving the Roman Catholic Church, there is an increasing tendency for publishers to include the Apocryphal writings with the Bible. This is being done by the United Bible Societies in many languages. By 1981, for example, the American Bible Society had published over 500,000 copies of the Today's English Version with the Apocryphal books included. In the mid-1980s I visited the Bible Society book depot in Calcutta, India, and was shown massive stacks of Revised Standard Version Bibles containing the Apocrypha. These had been published by the American Bible Society and shipped to India for distribution. The 1992-93 American Bible Society catalog of Scripture Resources lists at least nine different Bibles containing the Apocrypha. Following are the reasons the Apocrypha are rejected by Bible believers: 1. They are not included in the original Hebrew O.T. preserved by the Jews. Ro. 3:1-2 states that God used the Jews to preserve His Word; therefore, we know that He guided them in the rejection of the Apocryphal books from the canon of Scripture. 2. They were not received as inspired Scripture by the churches during the first four centuries after Christ. 3. They were not written in the Hebrew language, which was alone used by the inspired historians and prophets of the O.T. 4. They do not claim to to be the inspired Word of God. Unlike the inspired Scriptures, the Apocryphal books contain no statements such as "thus saith the Lord" or "these are the words of God." 5. They contain teachings contrary to the biblical books. II Maccabees teaches praying to the dead and making offerings to atone for the sins of the dead. Consider this quote from II Maccabees 12:43-45: "He also took up a collection ... and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. ... For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen asleep would arise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead ... Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." The Bible, though, says there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Ti. 2:5-6). Also He. 10:10-14 says believers have been perfected forever through Christ's one sacrifice. Thus, the dead in Christ need no human, earthly prayers or offerings. At death the lost go immediately to a place of torment; thus there is no purpose in praying for them (Lk. 16:22-23). II Maccabees also contains the heresy that deceased saints are interceding in heaven for those on earth (15:11-14). The Bible teaches that it is the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, who is interceding for us in Heaven--not deceased saints (He. 4:14-16; 8:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:1-2). 6. In quality and style, the Apocryphal books are not on the level of Bible writings. Even a hurried reading of the Apocryphal books reveals the fact that here we are touching the uninspired writings of men apart from divine inspiration. These writings are not "God breathed," as 2 Ti. 3:16 says all Scripture is. There is not in the Apocryphal books the supernatural depth and bredth of thought, the rich complexity yet simplicity of language, which goes beyond mere writings of men. 7. The Apocryphal writings are not quoted by the Lord Jesus or the Apostles, while every part of the O.T. Scriptures are quoted. This is a very important point. Though some claim to find allusions to the Apocrypha in certain N.T. passages (Mt. 7:12; 27:43-54; Ro. 9:21; Ep. 6:13-17; He. 1:3; Jam. 1:6,19; 5:6), this is not a proven fact. While it is possible that the N.T. writers were familiar with the Apocrypha, it is plain that they did not directly quote from these books. The supposed allusions to the Apocrypha in the N.T. could just as easily be allusions to other O.T. histories or to facts given directly by revelation. We must remember that the N.T. Scriptures are not the product of man, but of God. 8. Some Apocryphal books, though written as history, are actually fiction. This is a form of deception not found in divinely inspired books of the Bible. "Ostensibly historical but actually quite imaginative are the books of Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon, which may be called moralistic novels" (Oxford Annotated A pocrypha, p. xi). Noteworthy examples of ancient fiction they might be, but such books have absolutely no place among the seven-times purified Word of God (Ps. 12:6-7). 9. The Apocryphal books were rejected from the canon of Scripture by the early church leaders. "It is a significant fact that the best of the early Fathers adopted the Hebrew canon as giving the authoritative Scriptures of the O.T." (Analytical, p. 1083). 10. The book of Tobit contains many false things. First, there is the account of a supposed high and good angel of God who lies and teaches the use of magic! In Tobit 5:4 we are told that the angel's name is "Raphael," but later he lies to Tobit, claiming to be "Azarias the son of the great Ananias, one of your relatives" (Tobit 5:12). This angel professes to be "one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One" (Tobit 12:15). Yet he not only lies about his name, but teaches magic. "Then the angel said to him, `Cut open the fish and take the heart and liver and gall and put them away safely.' ... Then the young man said to the angel, `Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?' He replied, `As for the heart and the liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again. And as for the gall, anoint with it a man who has white films in his eyes, and he will be cured'" (Tobit 6:4,6-8). The Bible clearly condemns magicical practices such as this (consider De. 18:10-12; Le. 19:26,31; Je. 27:9; Mal. 3:5). Second, the false doctrine of salvation through works is taught in the book of Tobit. "For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin" (Tobit 12:9). "So now, my children, consider what almsgiving accomplishes and how righteousness delivers" (Tobit 14:11). These false teachings must be contrasted with Le. 17:11, which says "it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul," and with Tit. 3:5 which says, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit." Third, Tobit taught that help is only to be given to the deserving. "Place your bread on the grave of the righteous, but give none to sinners" (Tobit 4:17). Contrariwise, in Ex. 23:4-5 God taught even in O.T. times that His people were to do good to their enemies and not only toward the righteous. 11. The book of Judith contains the account of how a supposedly godly widow destroyed one of Nebuchadnezzar's generals through deceit and sexual offers. It is also important to note that Judith's counsel regarding resisting Nebuchadnezzar was contrary to that given by God's prophet Jeremiah (Je. 38:1-4). God warned the Israelites to submit to Nebuchadnezzar rather than to resist, because the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Israel was a judgment from God upon the Jew's rebellion and idolatry. The King James Bible and the Apocrypha. It is true that early editions of the KJV (as well as many other Reformation Bibles, including the German Luther Bible) contained the Apocrypha, but these books were included for historical reference only, not as additions to the canon of Scripture. Alexander McClure, a biographer of the KJV translators, says: "...the Apocryphal books in those times were more read and accounted of than now, though by no means placed on a level with the canonical books of Scripture" (McClure, Translators Revived, p. 185). He then lists seven reasons assigned by the KJV translators for rejecting the Apocrypha as inspired. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England clearly states that the Apocrypha have no scriptural authority. "...[the Church of England] doth not apply to them to establish any doctrine." The Westminster Confession says, "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings." Luther included a note on the Apocrypha which stated, "These are books not to be held in equal esteem with those of Holy Scripture..." It is important to note that in the early King James Bibles the Apocryphal books were placed between the Old and New Testaments rather than intermingled within the O.T. itself as is done in Catholic Bibles. In the Jerusalem Bible (a Catholic Bible), for example, Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees follow Nehemiah; the Book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus follow Ecclesiastes; Baruch follows Lamentations; etc. Conclusion: Though some of the Apocryphal books do have historical value, giving information regarding the inter-testament "quiet years" prior to the coming of Christ, there is no justification for giving these a place in the Holy Scripture. Their proper place is on the same level as (if not lower than) the writings of the historian Josephesus or of some other uninspired writer of that period. [The Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas are dealt with under Pseudepigrapha.]