For so many people today, it would appear that the Bible is not enough. Should we accept the Apocrypha or the Gnostic gospels?
For so many people today, it would appear that the Bible is not enough. This is the case even (or perhaps especially) among people who have not actually read it. Witness the current popularity of those who would add extra books to the canon of Scripture. Or witness the claims that certain ancient documents are supposedly more reliable than the books of the Bible but were kept out of the canon because of petty jealousies.
The books that allegedly “didn’t quite make it” are not inspired and have no merit.
The last few years have seen the publication of books such as Holy Grail, Holy Blood; The Da Vinci Code; and The Gospel of Judas. What such works proclaim, along with myriad TV documentaries, is that our Bible is suspect, allegedly having been compiled some three centuries after Christ by the winners of an intense theological/political debate. Are such claims true? Are there really other books that should be viewed as Scripture?
Other chapters in this book lay to rest the myth that the Bible was compiled three centuries after Christ. It is the purpose of this chapter to show that the books that allegedly “didn’t quite make it” are not inspired and have no merit compared with the books that are part of the canon of Scripture.
We have become quite used to the word canon these days. The word is frequently used of a body of literature. For example, one can refer to the complete works of Shakespeare as the Shakespearian canon. More bizarrely, I recently read a discussion about whether certain novels about Doctor Who could be considered to be part of the Doctor Who canon. Strangely, this last usage was closer to the correct use of the word canon, as applied to Scripture. The argument went that the novels introduced concepts and ideas that were later contradicted or not found to be in harmony with events reported in the recent revised TV series. Presumably, the writer of the article felt that these Doctor Who novels were not following an accepted rule or pattern.
The word canon, in the context of literature, comes from a Greek word meaning “rule.” We see the word used in Galatians 6:16.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
The Strong’s number1 for the word rule is 2583 and catalogues the Greek word from which we derive the word canon. The word is not referring to a law, but rather a way of doing things—a pattern of behavior. In the context of biblical literature, the word implies that the Bible is self-authenticating—that it is not merely complete, but that it is also internally self-consistent.
Another chapter in this book deals with the subject of alleged discrepancies in the Bible. In that chapter, we see that it is possible to interpret different passages of the Bible as if they contradict each other, but that if one approaches the Bible acknowledging that it is internally self-consistent, then the alleged discrepancies all easily disappear. That is why the apostle Peter describes the people who twist Scripture in this way as “untaught and unstable” (2 Peter 3:16). In our present study, we will see that the extrabiblical writings—and the so-called missing gospels—do not pass the test of self-consistency with the rest of Scripture and are therefore easy to dismiss as not being part of the consistent whole pattern of the Bible—the canon.
The existence in the English language of names such as Toby (from Tobit) and Judith testify to the fact that the so-called Apocrypha was once influential in English society. The word apocrypha comes from the Greek word meaning “hidden.” However, it popularly refers to a group of books considered by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Old Testament.
Traditionally, Protestant churches have dismissed the apocryphal books. For example, Article VI of the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles lists first the canonical books of the Old Testament, and then lists the apocryphal books prefaced with this warning:
And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras, The rest of the Book of Esther, The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Wisdom, The Book of Tobias, Jesus the Son of Sirach, The Book of Judith, Baruch the Prophet, The Song of the Three Children, The Prayer of Manasses, The Story of Susanna, The First Book of Maccabees, Of Bel and the Dragon, The Second Book of Maccabees.
The Hierome referred to in the Articles is Jerome. Jerome lived c. 347 to c. 420. He translated the Bible into Latin—the well-known Vulgate or common version. Originally, he used the Septuagint as the source of his Old Testament translation. The Septuagint (usually abbreviated to LXX) is a translation of the Old Testament into Greek. Many LXX manuscripts contain the apocryphal books. However, Jerome later revised the Vulgate, going back to Hebrew manuscripts for the Old Testament. It was at this point that he expressed dissatisfaction with the apocrypha, making the comment the Church of England used in its Articles above.
The Apocrypha was never originally part of the OT canon and was added later.
This illustrates that it was not merely a Protestant Reformation decision to remove the Apocrypha. In fact, the Apocrypha was never originally part of the OT canon and was added later. Interestingly, the apocryphal books themselves do not actually claim to be canonical. For example, in 1 Maccabees 9:27, the writer states: “So there was a great affliction in Israel, unlike anything since the time a prophet had ceased to be seen among them” (emphasis mine). Moreover, New Testament writers do not quote from apocryphal books, even though they are prepared to quote from other extrabiblical books (e.g., Paul quoted from Greek poets in Acts 17, and Jude quoted from the Book of Enoch).
The apocryphal books fail the internal self-consistency test. For example, 2 Maccabees 12:44 contains this exhortation to pray for the dead.
For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. (Revised Oxford Apocrypha).
This sentiment is contrary to what is found in the rest of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, such as Deuteronomy 18:11 and Hebrews 9:27. Similarly, inconsistencies and inaccuracies can be found between other apocryphal books and the correct canon of Scripture.
Much of the modern preoccupation with extrabiblical writings has come from the publication of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, and the earlier “serious” treatise on the subject, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent. These, and other sensational books and TV documentaries, tend to focus on opposing biblical truth by stating the following:
The “initiates” who have this secret knowledge are reputed to be found in many of the traditional “secret” organizations, such as Freemasons or the Knights Templar. At the heart of the so-called secret knowledge are the various doctrines and practices collectively known as Gnosticism. Before one even notes the way in which Gnosticism diverges from biblical truth, it is worth reflecting that the Bible makes claim that it should be understood mostly by plain reading. Gnostics, on the other hand, always have codes or secret knowledge required to interpret what God has said. Perhaps it was Gnostics that the apostle Paul had in mind when he warned Timothy thus:
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge—by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20–21).
The Strong’s number for knowledge in this passage is 1108 and indicates the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. In the Authorized Version, the word is translated as science. Certainly, Paul’s criticism of the requirement for special knowledge is pertinent even if he didn’t actually have the people we know as Gnostics in mind.
In his book The Missing Gospels, Darrell Bock shows that the documents and people labeled as Gnostic in fact hold to quite a wide variety of views and doctrines. There are, however, some common traits:
An essential aspect of Gnosticism was its view of deity, namely, the distinction between and relationship of the transcendent God to the Creator God. This is important because this view of God produced the orthodox reaction against those texts.2
Bock observes five characteristics by which Gnostic writings differ from the Bible:
Bock goes on to place the rise of Gnosticism as clearly later than the writing of biblical texts, though there may be reference to Gnostic principles in the passage quoted above. Bock shows Gnosticism to be an unbiblical aberration, rather than being able to live up to the claim that it is the correct teaching of Christ—and that all the other scholars down the centuries have it wrong.
Brian Edwards has produced a useful little summary of Gnostic ideas as presented in The Da Vinci Code.3 Some of his thoughts are further summarized in the following.
The Gospel of Thomas does not contain a life story. Instead, it is a collection of 114 alleged sayings of Jesus. Some of these are contrary to the rest of Scripture. Not one serious scholar believes that the document was written by the apostle Thomas.
The Gospel of Philip contains a lot of Gnostic teaching. Some of the teachings are obscure, in a mystical kind of way.
Light and darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor evil evil, nor is life life nor death death.
Other teachings are aberrant, such as the idea that God made a mistake in creation.
For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.
The teaching given here is that the world is imperfect because God made a mistake. The Bible makes clear that God did indeed make the world perfect, but it is imperfect today because of our sin. In other words, by this teaching, Gnosticism is seeking to remove the responsibility from the human race and hand it to God.
The Gospel of Mary purports to be by Mary Magdalene. It certainly attempts to boost her position. It is an article of faith in Dan Brown’s novel that Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus’s chosen successor and wife—and father of his child.
Peter said to Mary, “Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember, which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.”
The legends put forward in the books by Brown and Baigent and Leigh are not new. The legend is that, after the crucifixion, Mary fled, as she was pregnant with Jesus’s son. She eventually arrived in what is today called France. The Merovingian dynasty claimed to be descended from her, as did Joan of Arc, as did the Stuart dynasty in Scotland and England. They claim that the Holy Grail was actually Mary’s womb, and now represents the so-called holy bloodline of descendants of Jesus.
One thinks immediately of Isaiah 53, where the prophet makes clear that the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, will have no descendants.
He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken (Isaiah 53:8).
The only people who can really have any claim of “descent” from Jesus are those of us who are saved by repentance and faith in Him.
When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:10–11).
The concept of a married Jesus runs counter to the whole theme of the Bible. Passages in both Old and New Testaments compare our relationship with the Savior as individuals, but more specifically as the Church to a marriage. See, for example, Song of Songs, Psalm 45, and Revelation 19. If Jesus had a real, earthly wife, then this analogy would be inappropriate.
In the Gospel of Barnabas, it is claimed that Judas took on the appearance of Jesus and was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’s place. The gospel also claims that Jesus told His mother and disciples that He had not been crucified.
It is noteworthy that the Gospel of Barnabas claims that the Messiah was to be descended, not from Isaac, but from Ishmael. The document is therefore much quoted by Muslims wanting to prove Islam to be the true faith. It has since been found that it was written in medieval times long after Christ.4
The Gospel of Judas, an extraordinary document written by Gnostics, claims that Jesus taught one message to 11 of His disciples, but a special, true, secret message to Judas. As part of the secret plan, Jesus persuaded Judas to “betray” Him, thus taking on the highest service for Jesus. This rehabilitation of Judas is remarkable, but as with other Gnostic writings, the authenticity of authorship is dubious, plus it still suffers from being entirely contrary to what is taught in actual biblical books.
The Book of Enoch falls into a different category from the pseudipigraphal or apocryphal works listed above. Although it is an intertestamental book, it is not part of the official Apocrypha. No books from the official Apocrypha are quoted in the New Testament, but there is a quote from the Book of Enoch; Jude quotes a prophecy of Enoch (see verses 14–15), taken from Enoch 1:9. It should be noted that the inclusion of such a quotation in a canonical work does not qualify the rest of the Book of Enoch to be part of the canon of Scripture. A similar example is that Paul quotes Greek poets in his address at Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17). Clearly, the inclusion of this particular prophecy of Enoch proves this individual prophecy to be inspired, but it is not possible therefore to assume inspiration of any of the rest of the book.
The mention in the Bible of extrabiblical literature does not in itself add any authenticity to that literature.
A similar claim of authority is sometimes made for the Book of Jasher. This book is mentioned in the Bible twice. It is referred to in Joshua 10:13 and again in 2 Samuel 1:18. The title literally means “the book of the upright one.” This book is, however, lost, and this loss would itself seem to underline that it is not an inspired, canonical book. Once again, the mention in the Bible of extrabiblical literature does not in itself add any authenticity to that literature. Numerous manuscripts have been published claiming to be the actual Book of Jasher. The most well known of these was published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Another example of their literature is discussed below.
The popular name for the Latter Day Saints’ Church is Mormonism. This name derives from their main “holy” book, the Book of Mormon. Many Christians have written detailed criticism of this work, so this paragraph can do no more than scratch the surface.5 Suffice it to say that there are many reasons why the Book of Mormon cannot be accepted as genuine Scripture. The teenaged “prophet” Joseph Smith supposedly translated it from gold plates. These plates have conveniently vanished. It is remarkable, therefore, that some passages of this book quote word for word not just from the Bible, but from a specific translation of the Bible—the KJV. If the book were genuinely inspired, one might expect it to include the same material. But for the wording to be identical to a specific English translation, when the OT was in Hebrew and the Book of Mormon supposedly in some other language, is beyond coincidence—for example, compare Isaiah 53:5 from the KJV with Mosiah 14:5. Even the (noninspired) verse divisions are identical, proving that the Book of Mormon, far from translating God’s words from gold plates, is, in fact, just made up while using direct copies from books such as the KJV Bible.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, have published a number of magazines (Watchtower, Awake, etc.) and books, without which, they claim, it is impossible to interpret the Bible correctly. Although they claim to believe only the Bible, in practice, their religion has added to God’s words. Not only that, but it has changed God’s Word to suit its own ends. For example, their New World Translation of the Bible famously renders John 1:1 as, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (emphasis mine). This use of the term a god is in contradiction to all accepted translations, and indeed is contrary to the rabbinical concept of the Mamre (or Word of God), to which John, under inspiration, was alluding. As with Mormon literature above, there is a great deal more to be said on the subject of Watchtower literature.6
From Edwards and Bock we have seen that the Gnostic documents are of dubious authenticity, not having been written by the authors claimed for them. Secondly, we have seen that their teaching fails the internal self-consistency test, as the documents contain teaching that is counter to what is taught in the accepted canon of Scripture.
At Answers in Genesis, we understand that the Bible is under severe attack in today’s world. Most of that attack seems to be centered on the Book of Genesis, but this is not an exclusive attack. What better way to undermine our belief in Scripture than to produce extra books, outside of the Bible, claiming that their omission from the Bible was merely due to fourth-century politics.
Neither the Old Testament Apocrypha nor the so-called missing gospels have any right to be treated as Scripture. Their authorship is dubious, their quotability negligible, and their agreement with the rest of Scripture nonexistent. Moreover, the argument about the listing of the canon not occurring until the third or fourth centuries is fallacious. As early as A.D. 90, verses from New Testament books were being quoted and referred to as Scripture.
The reader can be sure to have confidence in God’s Word. It is all true—all 66 books of the accepted canon. For those who would disbelieve parts of the Bible, there is a warning. For those who would like to study all these other possible ways to God, the same warning applies:
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar (Proverbs 30:5–6).