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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






01 January 2007

Lost Books of the Bible


Q: What does the Bible say about people who claim to discover, read, and study so-called “lost books of the Bible”?

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A: We should first note that Scripture doesn’t specify exactly what qualifies a book for inclusion as “God’s Word” or how many of these books there should be. In Biblical studies, the word “Canon” refers to the books commonly accepted as part of the Scriptures. There is no one “canonizing authority” and what should be included varies among churches, confessions, denominations, and individual Christians.

We begin to get into the fringes of Scripture with the Deuterocanonical Books (“of the Second Canon”). In Roman Catholicism, the Deuterocanon refers basically to what much of the rest of Christendom calls the Apocrypha (Greek for “hidden”). These books weren’t ever “lost,” but were never fully accepted among all Christians. Actually, even some of the “Sixty-six,” the books common to most Christian Bibles, met with varying degrees of rejection. These include Esther, Jude, Revelation, and others.

While a few quotes or references to certain apocryphal books appear in the New Testament, this doesn’t mean that they should be automatically accepted and used as the revealed Word of God. After all, Paul quoted pagan philosophers and poets while the Gospels (also Genesis and Job) directly quote Satan! It could be that the first Christians understood these books as religious commentary and used them as commonly understood references in order to illustrate divine points.

JeromeThe early Church Fathers were certainly divided as to how these books should be used. For example, Jerome didn’t hold the Apocrypha nearly so highly as he did the other books included in his Latin translation of the Scriptures. Meanwhile, other theologians cited and relied extensively upon them. Many early Bibles included the Apocrypha and the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1546) specifically affirmed them as part of the Canon.

By placing them between the Old and New Testaments, Luther let the Apocrypha remain in his German translation without indicating that they were on a par with the Scriptures. He desired to show that they were still profitable for Christian edification even if not normative for doctrine. The first Authorized (King James) Version and other early English translations tended to follow Luther’s lead. You can still buy Bibles that include the Apocrypha and, while I don’t consider these books on a par with the “Sixty-six,” I certainly agree with previous generations that we can learn much from them.

The Apocrypha, however, aren’t what people usually mean when they talk about “new” or “lost” scriptures. Instead, they mean either recently discovered works or older manuscripts that continue to resurface with new packaging. Many of these parallel the New Testament in large part, but then veer off into ideas not contained in the Bible. Collectively, a large number of them are called the Pseudepigrapha (“Fake Writings”). A few of these are relatively orthodox but many blatantly contradict the Old and New Testaments. While some may come from “honest” misinformation, others look like intentional attempts to spread false doctrine. “Gospels” account for many of these frauds, including the “Gospel to the Hebrews,” the “Gospel of Thomas,” the recently rediscovered “Gospel of Judas,” and others.

While the Bible doesn’t directly condemn someone who claims to have found a new scripture, it offers certain warnings. These include the dire predictions at the end of Revelation which caution against either subtracting from or adding to “this book.” Even if John only meant Revelation and not the entire Bible as “this book,” the rest of Scripture likewise stands opposed to anything that contradicts it.

Since the early days of the Church, no one has produced or found other books that agree in doctrine with those we commonly accept. While there still may be “lost books” that were spoken or written under divine inspiration, they would have to agree in fact and in faith with those we already have. And (contrary to such false churches as the Mormons) even if “newer” books are discovered, there is no “Newer Testament.” The work of Christ is done, our salvation is complete, and nothing can be added to His efforts without detracting from them.

Wolf in Sheep's ClothingAnyone who produces or promotes anything contrary to the clear words of Scripture that we already have promotes false doctrine. Here, the Bible is abundantly and forcefully clear. All warnings against wolves “in sheep’s clothing, (Matthew 7:15)” the doctrines of “the commandments of men, (Mark 7:7)” the “teachings of demons, (1 Timothy 4:1)” and the like address such heretical and damnable offerings.

If, by some miracle, a newly discovered book agreed with Scripture in doctrine and didn’t contradict the Bible’s historical facts — and if it appeared to have prophetic or apostolic origins — we might be justified in accepting it. We wouldn’t have to, but we could claim it as Scripture. But if we accept anything that denies Christ, ignores other Scriptures, or leads people into false belief or practice, it stands condemned by God’s Word and by the whole Christian Church.

See also my previous post, “Missing” Books of the Bible.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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