Dear Aebi: Lost Books Of The Bible?

Charles J. Aebi

A brother asks about “the lost books of the Bible.”  I once was invited to a meeting where these very words were used to describe the subject.  I went, and the books they described were the Old Testament Apocrypha, fourteen books included at the end of the Bible or of the Old Testament in Catholic and some other versions.  Some list fifteen, separating the Letter of Jeremiah from Baruch.  None of these books are found in the Hebrew manuscripts of the O.T., but most of them are found in some O.T. Greek and Latin manuscripts.  Metzger, a textual scholar, says they were written between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D.  Some Jewish religious books were written after the New Testament was completed.

The word apocrypha literally means “hidden.”  Some suggest they were hidden in the sense that they were not circulated with the books of the Hebrew O.T. because they were heretical.  In some of these books (like Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon) history and fantasy are mixed to read like Aesop’s Fables, Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter.  One book, 2 Esdras, claims to predict the future in symbols – in some ways like the book of Revelation.

Some things are easily noticed regarding the O.T. Apocrypha: (1) The Hebrews did not include it in their O.T. manuscripts.  (2) The N.T. never directly quotes an apocryphal book.  (3) Unlike the O. T. prophets, the O.T. Apocrypha does not use the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.”  (4) The O.T. Apocryphal books contradict history and each other, and contradict canonical O.T. books.  (5) The O.T. apocryphal books include fantasy – imaginary tales that do not sound like the factual statements of the O.T. prophets.

There are many New Testament apocryphal books, and they are often even more extreme in their imaginative tales.  They also are thought to have been written over a longer period than the 300 years of the O.T. Apocrypha.  Whereas the O.T. Apocrypha with notes takes up 293 pages, The Apocryphal New Testament by M. R. James is 594 pages long.  It includes over twenty-two “Gospels,”  sixteen “Acts,” six “Epistles,” five “Revelations,” and various heretical books like The Birth of Mary.  In his Preface, M. R. James says, “People may still be heard to say, ‘After all, these Apocryphal Gospels and Acts, as you call them, are just as interesting as the old ones.  It was only by accident or caprice that they were not put into the New Testament.’  The best answer to such loose talk has always been, and is now, to produce the writings and let them tell their own story.  It will very quickly be seen that there is no question of any one’s having excluded them from the New Testament; they have done that for themselves” (xi).  How did they do that?  A few examples will answer that question easily.

The Protevangelium of James says that Mary’s parents took her when she was two years old to the temple where angels nourished her until she was twelve, when all the country’s widowers brought their rods to the priest, who prayed over the rods and gave them back to their owners.  When Joseph, an old man, got his rod back, a dove flew out of it and sat on his head; thus he was chosen to be the husband of Mary, who then wove a purple and scarlet veil for the temple.  Some Scripture is woven into the story (VII-X).  The Gospel of Thomas (XI) says when Jesus was eight years old, Joseph needed a longer board to make a bed; so, Jesus on one end and Joseph on the other, stretched the board to the desired size.  Chapter V tells how Jesus struck dead a boy who had hit him, and when people complained to Joseph, Jesus struck them blind.  The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew says Jesus struck a boy dead for spoiling pools Jesus had made while playing by the Jordan, then raised him from the dead when the parents complained to Joseph and Mary.  This does not sound like Scripture to me; does it to you?  –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent OH 45784. 

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