Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Apocryphal and other Books Excluded from our Bible by J.T. Sunderland 1893


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It is interesting and natural to inquire, Why does the Bible contain just the particular books it does contain, and no others? Were not others produced by the Jewish people during the thousand years of the Bible's growth? And, if so, why do we have none of them in our sacred volume?

Old Testament Lost Books. — We find, on examination, that no fewer than sixteen books are wanting from the Old Testament which seemingly ought to be there, at least which are referred to in various places in the Bible as if they were equally authoritative with books which are included in the canon. So far as we know, all of these sixteen books, with one exception, are lost. Their names are as follows:—

1. The Book of the Wars of the Lord (referred to in Num. xxi. 14).

2. The Book of Jasher (Josh. x. 13 and 2 Sam. i. 18).

3. The Book of the Manner of the Kingdom, written by Samuel (1 Sam. x. 25V

4. The Books of Nathan and Gad concerning King David (1 Chron. xxix. 29).

5. The Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings xi. 41).

6. The Prophecy of Enoch* (referred to in Jude 14, 15).

7. The Books of Nathan, Ahijah, and Iddo concerning King Solomon (2 Chron. ix. 29).

8. Solomon's Songs, Parables, and Treatises on Natural History(l Kings iv. 32, sec/.).

9. The Book of Shemaiah concerning King Rehoboam (2 Chron. xii. 15).

10. The Book of Jehu concerning Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. xx. 34).

11. The Book of Isaiah concerning King Uzziah (2 Chron. xxvi. 22).

12. The Words of the Seers to King Manasseh (2 Chron. xxxiii. 18, 19).

13. The Book of Lamentations over King Josiah (2 Chron. xxxv. 25).

14. The Volume of Jeremiah burned by Jehudi (Jer. xxxvi. 2, 6, 23).

15. The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (mentioned repeatedly in Kings).

16. The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (mentioned repeatedly in Kings).

Why were these books allowed to perish? Why were they left out from the Old Testament? If Scripture writers themselves referred to them as of equal authority with their own writings, how can a line be drawn between them and genuine Scripture? Indeed, what is it that constitutes genuine Scripture?

But these sixteen books are not all that we get traces of.

Extant Books. — A second list of eighteen writings, now extant, generally known as the Old Testament "pseudepigraphal" books, must also be noticed. I give their names, together with the language in which each is preserved:—

1. The History of Antiochus Epiphanes (Hebrew).

2. The History of Asenath, Joseph's wife (Latin).

3. The Epistle of Baruch (Latin).

4. The Book of Elias the Prophet.

5. The Book of Enoch (Ethiopic and Greek).

6. The Third Book of Esdras (Greek and Latin).

7. The Fourth Book of Esdras (Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic).

8. The Ascension of Isaiah (Ethiopic).

9. The Book of Jasher (Hebrew).

10. The Book of Jezirah, or Creation (Hebrew).

11 and 12. The Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (Greek).

13. The Fifth Book of Maccabees (Arabic and Syriac).

14. The Assumption of Moses.

15. The Preaching of Noah to the Antediluvians, according to the Sibylline Oracles.

16. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Greek).

17. The Psalter of Solomon (Greek).

18. The Book of Zohar, or Light (Hebrew).

According to our standards to-day, the value of these books is not great. Some of them, however, we know exerted a good deal of influence upon early Christian thought, and were held in high esteem even by scholars like Origen.

The Old Testament Apocrypha.—Of much higher value is a third list, of fourteen books, known as the Old Testament Apocrypha. These are:—

1. 1. Esdras. 2. 2. Esdras.

3. Tobit.

4. Judith.

5. The rest of the chapters of the Book of Esther, which are found neither in the Hebrew nor the Chaldee.

6. The Wisdom of Solomon.

7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach.

8. Baruch.

9. The Song of the Three Holy Children.

10. The History of Susanna.

11. The History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon.

12. The Prayer of Manasseh, King of Juclab.

13. 1. Maccabees.

14. 2. Maccabees.

These Old Testament apocryphal books are all extant, and are more or less familiar to the public. They are found in the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, made a century or two before Christ. The Roman Catholic Church claims that they are true Scripture, and prints them as a part of her Bible. Protestants, however, take the responsibility of casting them out; though now and then a Protestant Bible (generally a large one for family or pulpit use) falls into our hands which contains them. Whether these fourteen apocryphal books ought to be in the Bible or not is a question upon which scholars have never been agreed, and upon which the Christian world to-day is about evenly divided. That some of them are superior not only as literature, but in respect to their moral and religious teachings, to several of the books that are now in the Bible, is certain. For example, no unprejudiced mind can hesitate for a moment to place the religious value of the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon or Ecclesiasticus above that of the canonical Esther or Ecclesiastes.

Scriptures outside of the New Testament Canon.—Passing now from the Old Testament to the New, what do we find? Are the books that appear in our New Testament canon all that were written in connection with the origin of the Christian movement? Or, if others were written, how many others? And was there any clear line by which the two classes were separated?

The number of New Testament apocryphal books or fragments that we know to have existed during the early centuries is very large. The names of not fewer than one hundred and nine such works (forty-one extant and sixty-eight lost) are in our possession.

The Forty-one Extant Books.—A translation into English of the whole or a part of the forty-one New Testament apocryphal writings that are extant is often seen printed in a volume, and circulated under the title of the New Testament Apocrypha. A partial list of these writings (with the languages in which they are preserved) is as follows:—

The Protevangelium of James (Greek and Latin).

The Gospel of Thomas (Greek and Latin).

The Gospel of the Infancy (Arabic and Latin).

The Gospel of Nicodemus (Greek and Latin).

The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathsea (Greek).

The Acts of Pilate (Greek and Latin).

The General Epistle of Barnabas (Greek).

The First and Second Epistles of Clement (Greek).

The Apostolic Constitutions (Greek, Ethiopic, and Coptic).

The First and Second Books of Hermas (Greek and Latin).

The Sixty-eight Lost Books.— We have knowledge of these lost writings through quotations from them, or references to them, found in Christian authors of the first four centuries. The names of a few of these, with the writers who mention them, are as follows:—

The Acts of Andrew (mentioned by Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Gelasius).

The Gospel according to the Twelve Apostles (Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome).

The Gospel of Barnabas (Gelasius).

The Gospel of Basilides (Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome).

The Gospel according to the Egyptians (Origen, Jerome, Epiphanius, and Clement of Alexandria).

The Gospel according to the Hebrews (Hegesippus, Eusebius, Origen, Jerome, and Clement of Alexandria).

The Gospel of Matthias (Origen, Ambrose, Eusebius, and Jerome).

The Preaching of Peter (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Jerome, et al.).

The Acts of John (Eusebius, Athanasius, Augustine).

The Gospel of Peter (Eusebius, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome).

The Revelation of Peter (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Jerome, et al.).

These one hundred and nine apocryphal books (lost and extant) may be divided into two classes. One class consists of works that have never been regarded as inspired by any sect or part of the Christian Church.

These were generally written late, in most cases after the second century. The other class consists of books which were looked upon by larger or smaller groups of churches and religious teachers as inspired, and were employed by them as sacred Scripture. Many of these date at least as far back as the second century; that is to say, nearly or quite as early as a number of the books which are included in our New Testament canon. Many of them, too, were read extensively in the churches for two or three centuries, and were looked upon by elders, bishops, and eminent Church Fathers as inspired. In a preceding chapter I have mentioned at least three Gospels which were thus widely employed as Scripture among the early churches; namely, the Gospel according to the Hebrews (called also the Gospel of the Ebionites or of the Nazarenes), the Gospel of the Egyptians, and the Gospel of the Lord (or Marcion's Gospel). But not one of these has a place to-day in our Christian Scriptures, though they probably date earlier than most, if not all, of our present New Testament Gospels. Other writings were held in equally high esteem. The First Epistle of Clement was among the number. This Epistle was read in many churches: it is quoted in the same manner as Scriptures by Irenaeus, and it is found in the Codex Alexandrinus. The Shepherd of Hermas was also read in the churches very generally: it is mentioned as inspired by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, and it is found in the Codex Sinaiticus. Similar respect was paid to the Epistles of Polycarp and Barnabas, the Apostolic Canons, the Apostolic Constitutions; and various liturgies ascribed to Saint Peter, Saint Mark, etc. (published by Fabricius in his Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti), are considered by such scholars as Whiston and Grabe as of equal authority with any of the genuine apostolic compositions.

Now, why have all these books been left out of our New Testament? Who was authorized to omit them? If the clear stamp of the Divine was upon the books which found a place in the canon, but not upon these, it seems strange that so many churches and eminent Christian teachers were unable to distinguish the difference. Is it said that these were omitted because they were not written by apostles? Some of our New Testament books also were not written by apostles. Is it said they were left out because they were seen to be wanting in religious value? This test would doubtless exclude some, but it would hardly shut out others. In ethical and spiritual quality the excluded Marcion's Gospel or Shepherd of Hermas is certainly superior to the included Epistle of Jude or even the Revelation.

Here, then, is the answer that we find to our question, Are the writings which we have bound together in our Old and New Testaments all that were produced by the Jewish people during the thousand years of the Bible's growth? We find coming into existence, side by side with the groups of books which form both of our Testaments, other groups which have been left outside. Nor does there appear any clear line of division between those excluded and those included. If the non-canonical books came into existence naturally, so did the canonical. If the non-canonical books do not claim to be miraculously inspired, the same is true of most if not all, of the canonical. If, when the non-canonical books were written, they were not regarded as sacred Scripture, it is also true that, when the canonical books were written, they were generally not regarded as sacred Scripture: the idea of their sacredness grew up later, and in most cases much later. Nor is the ethical or the religious test one that is more than in part applicable, for the superior ethics and the superior religion are sometimes on the side of the non-canonical or excluded books.

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