Are there really “lost books” of the Bible?

What are the “lost books”?

Over the last few years, there has been quite a bit of discussion regarding writings that have been deemed “the lost books of the Bible.” But is this really a good characterization of these books? What are the books? Were they ever included among the other writings of the Bible? These are all valid questions that surface when one begins to consider this discussion of whether or not these books hold a rightful place in the canon of Scripture.

There are really two categories into which the books fall—Old Testament and New Testament. No surprise there huh? Those books which would fall into the Old Testament are collectively known as the Apocrypha and those which would fall into the New Testament are known as the Gnostic Gospels.

The Apocrypha includes the following 15 books: 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Song of Three Youths, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 & 2 Maccabbees. These books were written during what is commonly known as the intertestamental period, which was roughly from 300 BC – 100 BC.

The Gnostic Gospels are a much broader group of books of which there is no standard list in the sense of a canon. However, some of the more popular books from this group include The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. These books were written anywhere from 100 AD – 800 AD.

Were these books originally in the Bible and then lost?

Let me first introduce you to why many of these books are even considered to have been lost. For centuries, the only Scriptural writings known for the New Testament were the 27 which appear in the Bible today. It was not until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts that anyone even wondered about “lost books” of the Bible. Why, you might ask? It is because this discovery contained many of the books which are now known as the Gnostic Gospels. Before this discovery, there was no real question about the canon of Scripture being purposefully altered.

In fact, the very names given to these two groups tell much about why they are not contained in the canon of Scripture. Apocrypha is a Greek word which translated to English would roughly mean “hidden” or “hard/difficult to understand.” This is very similar to what the word Gnostic or Gnosis means. Gnosis is also a Greek word which means “knowledge.” It came to describe a religious sect that viewed knowledge in a very peculiar manner. They viewed knowledge as a means to the supernatural. Basically, as they gained knowledge they would become more divine. This was not just any knowledge however; it had to be a special knowledge which was taught to you by those who already possessed the higher knowledge. The leaders held the special/higher knowledge and taught it to their initiates/disciples/students in little bits as the leaders deemed the students were ready and able to handle it.

The Apocrypha and the Gnostic Gospels were also never placed in the canon of Scripture because they failed to meet the criteria of which the rest of the books did meet. For the Old Testament, the number one criterion to be considered for inscripturation was prophetic authorship. Along with this was the question of whether or not the prophet was confirmed by an act of God. Furthermore, the Jews did not accept these books as canonical.

The case against the Gnostic Gospels is very similar. All of the Gnostic Gospels were written after the death of the apostles, which was the first criteria for acceptance into the canon—either direct apostolic authorship or apostolic approval. Another criterion was whether they were considered Scripture by the early church, which they were not. Furthermore, they contain teachings which are directly contrary to those books that are considered to be Scripture.

How should these books be characterized?

The books contained in the Apocrypha should not simply be discarded as useless simply because they are not Scripture. They contain some very valuable perspectives and information that add much to the understanding of Scripture. These books add much to understanding what happened during the intertestamental period in terms of Jewish history and religion. For example, 1 and 2 Maccabbees records the history of the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanies, which resulted in the Jews gaining their independence back for some time. The Apocryphal writings are a great source of information that is just not Scripture—much like a modern-day commentary on the Bible can be a great source of information but is not on par with the Bible.

The Gnostic Gospels, however, fall into a much different realm. In general, they do not contain historical information about Christianity or its development. Most attempt to demonstrate that Jesus was Divine but was not human. In doing this, they incorporate many strange teachings that are completely contrary to what the rest of the New Testament teaches. I still would not say that they need to be discarded because they add much to the understanding of the beliefs of the Gnostics.

In short, there are no lost books of the Bible, we are not missing critical parts of the Bible, nor was the canon of Scripture selected to meet the specific beliefs of a select few leaders of the church. The canon of 66 books we possess today is the same canon the early Christians possessed by 100 AD. So don’t worry about your Bible missing books, they’re all there!
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