It seems like every few years there is a resurgence of biblical critics, unhinged doubters and zealous accusers that seek to challenge the authority of God's Word. Many of these individuals are bent on destroying the credibility and challenging the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. A simple Google search will reveal that there are several books written on the subject of "lost" or "hidden" books of the Bible. If you have doubts just browse Amazon. Hundreds of blogs, thousands of speeches and sermons, even television specials are created to discuss this very subject.
What are we to do as a Christian? Is there any validity to these arguments? How can we know the word of God is inspired? Can it be possible that "men" have removed or altered what God intended to be read by every Christian?
Rest easy. I'm with you. I am intrigued and ready for some answers.
One area where we might find agreement is that there is "chatter" among religious and non-religious people. Yes, there are that other religious books (documented and circulated) beyond the 66 books found in our Bible today. Some of these books are even referenced in the Bible. Many of these books have commentaries and entire books written about them. However, they are not included in the current canon of the Bible. And this is for good reason. The blatant truth is that many were written far later than the current canon and/or had little to no consensus on inspiration.
How many books are "lost"? Is there a standard number? Have skeptics agreed on an official number of these "hidden" or lost books of the Bible? No.
Can a credible source or witness prove that these books were inspired and/or intentionally withheld from publication? No.
Recently I heard a claim that over 75 books were removed from the Bible (www.totallythedream.com). The "Literal Standard Translation" came out this year (2022) claiming to offer readers "The Complete 54 Book Apocrypha." Also, many websites offer full content on many of these books. However, there is no consensus. There never will be one.
I've done some research. I want to share some of that material with you. I am certainly not an expert in the field, but I am curious. I've always had a knack for research. Especially historical and biblical sources. So I want to share some of my findings with you. I hope and pray that it will benefit you in your search for answers.
First, let's consider the books referenced in the Old Testament. If there is a discussion about which books should be in the Bible, let's include the books referenced in the Holy Bible! There are at least 20 books found in the Old Testament that are referenced by name. This does not make them "inspired" by default. None of these references offer any jaw-dropping, essential narratives or commands that seem of any value today. These references are simply annotations for bibliographical purposes. However, it is likely that some may be references to books already in the canon, but under different titles (like Acts of the Apostles = Acts or The Apocalypse of John = Revelation). Consider them in chronological order:
Second, let's consider the books containing content between the testaments. These books are often referenced as the "hidden" books because they were "removed" from the canon. The most frequent argument is that these books were at one time included in the Holy Bible (some say for thousands of years) but were removed a little over 200 years ago. The truth is that the Septuagint included some of these books (270 BC) and 12 of these books have been in Catholic Bibles since the Council of Trent (mid 1500s). Also, long before the Council of Nicaea or Trent, the Jews rejected these books as early as 90 AD (Council of Jamnia). Likewise they were rejected by Origen, Jerome, and many other early church leaders. Even liberal scholars today offer a variation of these Apocrypha, Deuterocanon and/or Pseudo-Apocrypha books. There is no specific consensus, but here are the most frequently noted:
III Maccabees (Eastern Orthodox only)
IV Maccabees (Eastern Orthodox only)
I Esdras (Eastern Orthodox only)
II Esdras (Eastern Orthodox only)
Prayer of Manasseh (Eastern Orthodox only)
Psalm 151 (Eastern Orthodox only)
Third, let's consider the books referenced in the Apocrypha, Deuterocanon and/or Pseudo-Apocrypha books. If, in fact, scholars and skeptics wish to embrace the non-canonical books we might as well consider the books referenced in those works and (by means of cross reference) include books referenced in those materials. Obviously, this would be an unending cycle. Here are a few of the references in the "extra" biblical books and letters:
The archives are referenced in II Maccabees 2:1 (unidentified).
The "letters of the kings" are referenced in II Maccabees 2:13.
The "the king's letter" referenced by II Maccabees 11:22.
Fourth, let's consider the books referenced from the Apocrypha, Deuterocanon and/or Pseudo-Apocrypha books in the New Testament. Many would argue that the letters written by Paul and John are specifically calling out doctrine taught in some false writings. It is evident that the majority of the New Testament was written to ensure an accurate record was presented of the gospel and practiced by the early church. It should be noted that Paul loosely quotes, references, or alludes to at least 12 philosophers from 18 different philosophical books (I will write about these reference in a future blog). Here are those references in chronological order:
An unknown messianic prophetic source is referenced in Matthew 2:23.
An unknown messianic prophetic source is referenced in Mark 9:12.
An unknown messianic prophetic source is referenced in Luke 24:46.
An unknown text is referenced in 1 Corinthians 2:9 (possibly Origen).
Paul's earlier letter to the Corinthians is referenced in I Corinthians 5:9.
An unknown version of Genesis is referenced in 1 Corinthians 15:45.
Paul’s earlier letter to the Ephesians is referenced in Ephesians 3:3.
Finally, there are other extrabiblical books that are often discussed in religious forums. Each of these have been scrutinized and screened out of the Apocrypha, Deuterocanon and/or Pseudo-Apocrypha books but seem to be popular in some circles. These include the Book of Enoch (300-100 BC), the Book of Jubilees (200 BC), the Gospel of James (145 AD), the Acts of Paul & Thecla (180 AD), the Gospel of Thomas (250 AD), the Life of John the Baptist, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (800 AD), the Gospel of Mary (5th Century), the History of Joseph the Carpenter (6th Century), etc. There is virtually no end in sight when referencing the books that fit in the Pseudo-Apocrypha (aka fake or false writings). What do we do with these books? Ignore them? Accept them?
My closing thoughts... I am a simple creature. I like things "cut and dried." Preference goes to the black or white, with little to nothing in between. I am also a traditionalist and will almost always err on the side of tradition when it comes to the "gray" areas. However, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I would not recommend wasting your time with these sources for fear of confusion. I cannot encourage the study or application of these extra-biblical reference works. Why? Because the apostles and early Christians did not deem them to be inspired. They saw no value in placing them alongside the inherent Holy Scriptures. Why would I arrogantly think I have better judgment than the men who were empowered by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit? What pride to think that today's scholarship can validate the books that were debunked and disassociated from Holy Writ? Remember the Gnostics. Remember the false teachers of the first century. Most of the New Testament was written to condemn these writings and similar documents and teachings.
Do some of these books have historical value? Yes. Some of these books can give us insight into the minds of the writer and intended audience. However, they can also confuse the reader. Specifically, we must be careful with new Christians that are not grounded in the faith. These books can cause a person to doubt what we know to be the inspired Word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17, II Peter 1:20-21).
If this blog challenges you, that is the intent. This blog is meant to inform and instruct you on the many books that people wish to endorse and/or align with the Holy Scriptures. It is evident that we must not add to or take away from the word of God (Revelation 22:18-19).
If this blog frustrates you, that is not the intent. If you would like to discuss this further, or challenge my research, I am open to discussing it further. Please e-mail me or send me a message. I look forward to welcoming healthy communication on this subject.
You are loved.
Dr. Ray Reynolds
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