Who Wrote the Bible
Who Wrote the Holy Bible? The short answer is the Holy Spirit. This is the answer the Bible gives, and it is also a confessional answer for Christians. This is also the reason why it is called the Holy Bible, the source is divine. The more involved answer is that various men (and perhaps a woman or two) recorded what God had said to them. The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament begins by declaring "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son?" (Heb 1:1-2a). The Son here, through whom God has spoken most clearly, is the life of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ (Greek for lord) or Messiah (Aramaic and Hebrew term for someone anointed to do a task).
So to repeat the first point God has spoken thorough prophets directly, and indirectly, through scribes, psalmists, and others who were under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The more involved answer is how were the works created when God spoke through these many people to produce the Bible? From a human point of view what did the original version look like? In fact was the original version of each book also the final version or did the books develop through the centuries until they reached a final form? What exactly was the process from the speaking of God in various and sundry ways of old or even in the life of Jesus that led step-by-step to the page of the Bible that someone is reading if they were to have a Bible open in front of them?
The first thing to note is that the Christian Bible is a library of at least 66 "books." The number 66 is the number of books for Protestants. However, for Roman Catholics and for the Eastern Orthodox Churches, there are additional books besides the 66 books they share with Protestants. The additional books are the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha.
For Jews there are only the 39 books in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking the Jews do not have an Old Testament so their collection of scriptural books is called the Hebrew Scriptures by Jews or some times the TaNaK. The TaNaK is an acronym that stands for Torah (Books of Moses), Nabi'im (Prophets?also spelled N'vi'im) and Kethubim (Writings?also spelled K'tu'vim).
The Holy Bible is therefore, a library of 39 Old Testament books (Jews only) and 27 New Testament or 66 books for all Christians. In addition Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians have a little over a dozen additional books they count as scripture which are called the books of the Apocrypha. With so many books to ask "Who wrote the Bible?" is tantamount to asking, who wrote the "library?"
Scholars call discussions of the authorship of the books of the scripture "introduction." In other words the "who," "what," "when," "where," "how" and "why" of the writing of the various books of the Bible is "introduction" to the scripture. Consequently scholars refer to the "introduction" to Genesis, or the "introduction" to the Psalms or to the "introduction" of some other particular book.
A great number of books on biblical "introduction" and associated problems that are of a technical and serious quality have been produced by scholars in the last two hundred years. It can be supposed that if all these books on biblical introduction were gathered into a single place they would surely form a small mountain range! But, there is more.
The acceptance of certain books as scripture and therefore as normative in the life of the Church (or Synagogue for Jews and the Hebrew scriptures) is also a matter of the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is called the development of the canon. The word canon is from a Greek word for a measuring stick. If something is canonical then, it is a particular book that measures up to divine standards. If it is non-canonical it is less than scripture.
In the discussion that follows the various books of the Old and New Testaments, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament Apocrypha books, and the writings of Patristics will be examined. Finally a few notes are made about popular novels like the Da Vinci Code or some of the evocative scholarship like Elaine Pagels' book, Beyond Belief, which have attracted renewed attention to some of the books excluded from the Bible.
This field of study is very dynamic with a rapidly advancing scholarship so it is possible to miss something if one is not daily engaged in this area of study. The main goal is to answer the question, "Who Wrote the Bible?" for the general reader in a helpful and informative way.
Who Wrote the New Testament?
In answering the question, who wrote the Bible, the New Testament is easier to describe than the Old Testament so the description will work "backwards" as it were. All Christians accept the 27 "books" of the New Testament as canonical.
In the New Testament there are four gospels and 23 letters. The letters include the history of the primitive Church in the "Book of the Acts of the Apostles" (Praxis in Greek), the epistles of Paul, the general (or catholic) epistles, and the apocalyptic letter of "The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John the Elder." The composition of each of these is a matter of scholarly debate.
The first three gospels?Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because the share the same point of view (Greek syn = same + optic for eye or seeing). Modern New Testament scholarship has attempted to describe the writing of these by noting that there were not any specifically Christian scriptures immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus. What was there then? Preaching and teaching. The preaching is called the kerygma and the teaching is the didache. These are Greek terms because in the spread of Christianity Greek soon supplanted the Semitic Aramaic language used by Jesus and the Apostles. At that time Koine Greek was widely used by many different peoples. This is perhaps like the widespread used of English today as a lingua franca by millions of people whose first language is something else.
How were the Gospels written? The exciting events of the early Church were shared orally at first. Next they were compiled from oral sources into a collection of sayings, and other materials. Then the oral kerygma and didache and other materials (e.g., liturgical formulae, hymns, et al) were committed to writing.
It should be understood that in those times oral remembrance and tradition were often counted as more accurate than writing. This was because forgeries could not be detected as easily as in our day and for other reasons. In addition as the New Testament itself notes the writing was during the life times of people who were still alive and who could refute any errors, or support what was said as witnesses to what was said and done.
Why are there so many possibilities for the human authorship of these books of the New Testament? There are many reasons. The first is that apart from the Bible there is little that is known about the early or primitive Church for the first several centuries of its life. For much of the first 300 years Christians were hiding from persecution. In addition most early Christians were people who were poor, or not the sort to produce literature. The absence of evidence allows scholars, and others who have various motives, to write speculative books on the subject. Many of these works commit the fallacy of ad ignorantum. That is, they are arguments from silence. The speculations of authors who play loose with the facts can be combined with conspiracy theories. This often attracts enough readers to sell books that are not true to the content of Christian faith. Even when debunked the profits attract new authors and new ignorant readers.
The final decision as to which books are scripture has always been made by the Church. The original "autographs" are not longer extant. This means for example that the original copy of a letter by Paul or by some other author of a work of scripture no longer exists. Even if it did exist, it is not clear how one would know it. The decision to the question, "is this book scripture, or not," has been at times influenced by the traditions associated with a book. However, the ultimate criterion has been that the book witnesses faithfully to Jesus as the Christ.
Claims such as those made in the Da Vinci Code that church men hide the real story are not true to the beliefs held by the whole Church at all times and places. It is ultimately the author of the books of the Bible, the Holy Spirit Himself, who is also the verification that the books are authentic.
Who wrote the Gospels? There were a number of people who wrote gospels that were not accepted into the New Testament. A gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, but it is not simply a biography. Also it is more than a moral example story like the ancient Greek biographies. It is a specific genre which is intended to declare the mighty works of God in the life of Jesus of Nazareth so that in believing that God had worked through him the believer could have salvation.
The first Gospel that was later accepted by the Church as canonical is the Gospel of Mark. Mark used a source that is no longer extant. German scholars have called the source Quellen. The German word Quellen means "source," just as a spring is the source of a supply of water. This source was also used by Matthew and Luke. These two later gospels also used material from Mark, and from other sources that neither Mark nor the other uses. These independent sources scholars call "M" (M = Matthew's independent materials) and "L" (L = Luke's independent materials) respectively. The effect is that Matthew, Mark and Luke overlap at points. However, each is an independent work. Each was written to minister to different groups of people at different times. The development of these gospels is called by scholars "the Synoptic Problem."
Who wrote the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke? It should be noted that none of these works includes the name of the author inside the work. The titles and the assigned authorship is the product of tradition. The title was added and is "According to Matthew," or "According to Mark," or "According to Luke." This is what the Church has believed about the authorship of the Gospel. In addition it should also be noted that these works are really the products of communities of believers. They are not the product of lone religious scribblers.
Who wrote the Gospel of John? The Gospel of John was written, according to tradition by John, but which John? The common belief is that it was by John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, but it is possible that it was by a circle of disciples who gathered around John after the Christian faith began to spread. Scholars call the questions about the Gospel of John the "Johannine problem." Tradition ascribes to John four other books?the three Letters of John and the Book of Revelation.
Who wrote the Book of Acts? The Book of Acts (Praxis) is addressed to Theophilus. It is traditionally believed to have been written by Luke the Physician who accompanied Paul on some of his early missionary journeys. Acts is usually accepted as Luke's sequel to his Gospel of Jesus.
Who Wrote Paul's Letters? Paul of Tarsus was an opponent of the primitive church. His conversion and subsequent ministry in the service of Jesus Christ is described in The Book of the Acts of the Apostles. After Paul's conversion he went on three missionary journeys. As the years unfolded he wrote letters to a number of the churches that he had founded and to others. All of Paul's letters that have survived are now included in the New Testament.
The Letters of Paul are arranged in the New Testament by length and are therefore, not in chronological order. Paul's letters are pastoral letters addressed usually to churches, but some are to individuals. They deal usually with problems or concerns in the respective churches. Some of these are called the "prison letters" because they were written by Paul from his imprisonment in
One of Paul's "prison letters," The Letter to Philemon, is the shortest of the Pauline letters. It was written to a convert of Paul's whose slave, Onesimus had run away. Paul while in chains in
Some scholars believe that several of the Pauline letters are pseudonymous. Or that they were written by members of the "
The Church has accepted the letters of Paul that are allegedly pseudonymous as authentic because of their teaching about Jesus. More specifically the teachings in the possibly pseudonymous Pauline letters and in several of the General Epistles (?open letters") to be discussed shortly are held by the common sense of the Church (the whole community of believers) to be faithful expositions of just who Jesus Christ is and what He has done. More specifically the Holy Spirit is believed to bear witness to the hearts of believers as the inspirer of the authorship of these letters even if not written by Paul.
A note on pseudonymous writing in ancient times may be helpful. Today if someone were to author a book and claim that it was written by someone long dead then it would be considered a fraud, an act of plagiarism perhaps. But, in ancient times if someone was a follower in the tradition of a religious figure it would be acceptable to write some literary piece in that figure's name. It as if someone wrote a work to say this is what Daniel or some prophet would say about this problem if he were here today. For the ancient this would be considered acceptable. So for the New Testament to contain a letter assigned to Paul that was actually written by a collaborator or by a follower would have been acceptable to the early Church. Whether this actually occurred is a matter of ongoing debate.
Who wrote the General (or Catholic) Epistles? The General Epistles are a group of letters written by someone other than Paul. They follow Paul's letters in the New Testament. These are the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letter of James, the 1st and 2nd Letters of Peter, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Letters of John, and The Letter of Jude.
Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? The Letter to the Hebrews has at times been assigned to Paul, but from ancient times many scholars have thought that someone else wrote it because the style is different from Paul's. Even today Roman Catholic scholars and many conservative Protestants believe that Paul is the author. Hebrews is addressed to a group of Jews who apparently had fled the Roman armies in the
Who wrote the Letter of James? The Letter of James is thought to have been written by James the leader of the Church in
Who wrote the Letters of Peter? The two Letters of Peter ascribe Peter as their author; however, for various reasons many scholars believe that these letters were written by a younger colleague. Many believe that it was written in Peter's name by "Silvanus" who was a "faithful brother."
Who wrote the Letters of John? The Letters of John are ascribed usually to John the Beloved Disciple. The First Letter of John is more of a sermon address to one or more Christian groups. The other two letters are more personal. In these last two letters the author describes himself as the "elder." It is possible for people to be addressed by different names. The name that one is known by in a family circle, in a circle of friends, professionally, or publicly usually differ. So John the Beloved Disciple grown old may have acquired a new name. The name a child used for a parent and the name a grandchild uses for that parent who is now a grandparent will probably be different.
Who wrote the Letter of Jude? The Letter of Jude is very brief. Some have called it more of a tract than a letter. It is a warning against false teachers who are subverting the "faith once delivered to the saints." It is unique because it cites several non-canonical works that are now called the New Testament Apocrypha or the Pseudepigrapha. Some argue that the author was Jude [Judas] the "brother of James," and therefore the brother of Jesus for Protestants. Others declare that the author is unknown.
Who wrote the Book of Revelation? The Book of Revelation is an apocalyptic writing addressed to seven churches. As an apocalypse it is the "revelation of Jesus Christ to John the Elder." John the Elder may have been John, the Beloved Disciple, or someone else. The letter describes John the Elder on the
There have been numerous scholars and other Christian commentators who have studied "The Book of Revelation." Some have considered it to be unintelligible. Others have used it as a blue print for the future. It is a work which seeks to encourage Christians in situation of adversity or persecution. To describe the several interpretive theories would move into hermeneutics and out of introduction.
Specific and detailed information on all these specific books can be found in general works of the New Testament. A few are cited below. In addition commentaries on individual books abound and almost all of them include brief to extended "introductions" that present the dating and authorship of the book. Those who want to know more about the problems of New Testament authorship can consult these. However, most Christians find these discussions less than interesting and rarely very edifying. For more information see Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 2nd ed. NY:
Who Wrote the Old Testament?
The books of the Old Testament are 39 in number for both Jews and Christians. However, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians add some additional books that are called the Apocrypha. These additional books will be discussed below.
For Christians the 39 books in the collection is called the Old Testament. For Jews the collection is called the Hebrew Scriptures. (Cf.,
The collection called the Writings was not closed until about A. D. 90. At that time the rabbis at the Council of Jamnia chose the books in the in the Writings. The whole collection is called by Jews the TaNaK, for the Torah, the Nabi'im, and the Kethubim, as well as the Hebrew Scriptures.
The books in the TaNaK are in a different order from those in the Old Testament. In addition the books of the Old Testament have Greek names, while the same books in the TaNaK have Hebrew names. For example the first book, Genesis (beginnings in English) is named Bereshith in Hebrew. The books of the Old Testament in Greek take their name from the theme of the book while the same Old Testament books in Hebrew are named after the first major word of the book. How did this happen? Two major things occurred to create the difference. These were translations and an advance in the technology of the making of books.
The Old Testament was first translated into Greek during the Hellenistic Era according to the "Letter of Aristeas" the Pharaoh, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC), wanted a translation for the library at
The Septuagint was read and used by great number of Jews because few knew Hebrew any longer and the working language of great numbers outside of the
When Christianity spread beyond confines of
The Bible is arranged into the TaNaK collections only in the Hebrew Bible. All other versions use the order of the books in the Septuagint. The discussion that follows will follow the arrangement of the books in the order they are found in the Septuagint.
The first five books of the Old Testament are: The Book of Genesis, The Book of Exodus, The Book of Leviticus, The Book of Numbers, and The Book of Deuteronomy. Ancient rabbinical tradition called them the Five Books of Moses. The collective name, the Five Books of Moses that has been received from tradition probably comes from the description of the writing that Moses does in Deuteronomy 32:9-11. Also there are places in other Old Testament books and in the words of Jesus in the New Testament where the first five books are attributed to Moses' authorship. It is very possible that Moses did indeed write the core of several of the books. Some of the vocabulary of these books goes back to at least to Moses' grandfather's day!
However the final form of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is more complicated. Modern scholarship argues that these books were produced by "redactors" or editors who gathered at different times the writings of authors called J for the Yahwist, E for the Elohist, P for the Priestly writers, and D for the Deuteronomist. Some add an R for the final Redactor of the texts. This literary theory of the origin and develop of the books into their final form is called the J E P D theory or the Documentary Hypothesis of Wellhausen.
The "Histories" are the books of the Old Testament that follow the Pentateuch. They include the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
The received tradition assigns Joshua in part or in whole to Joshua himself. Other possible writers are Aaron's son Eleazar or grandson Phinehas. Some modern scholars have formulated the theory that the first six books of the Old Testament, Genesis to Joshua formed the Hexateuch (or six books). These it is claimed were complied by Moses and Joshua but later re-worked by an anonymous compiler of Deuteronomy, called for convenience the "Deuteronomist."
The author of the Book of Judges (Shophetim) is unknown. The book describes the problems of the people under the theocracy of God.
The Book of Ruth is attributed to Samuel by the Jewish tradition. However, it may be later. It describes the life of common people in the period of the Judges. The Book of Ruth can be described as an historical romance, because it tells the story of the romance between King David's great-grandfather, Boaz, and his Moabitess great-grandmother, Ruth. It may actually come from after the Exile as a warning against the policy of forbidding Jews to inter-marry with non-Jews. Some scholars also believe that Jonah (discussed below) was also written for this same reason.
The Books of 1st and 2nd Samuel were originally one papyrus scroll. However, because papyrus scrolls are large and bulky it was divided into two books. This also happened with the Books of Kings and Chronicles described below. In the Septuagint they were divided into four books called the books of the Kingdoms. Or the four books of the Kings.
The date and authorship of the books of Samuel are not known with certainty. It is likely that the author lived after the events occurred. Late Jewish tradition ascribes the books to Samuel the prophet. However, it is more likely that they were written after the death of King Solomon and the division of the Kingdom into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. It cites material from other books?the Chronicles of Samuel, Nathan, and Gad. These books are no longer extant.
Talmud tradition says the prophet Jeremiah was connected to the books of Samuel. Since the books were written from the view point of prophetic preaching, that is, denouncing the people of the era for their disobedience of God, it possibly the case that Jeremiah or others associated with the prophetic schools wrote the book.
It is interesting to realize that there are a number of books mentioned in 1st and 2nd Kings that are cited as support for its message (e.g., The Book of the Wars of Yahweh, The book of the Acts of Solomon, The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah, and it includes large sections of Isaiah.). What this implies is that there was more literary production and recording of memory and history than has survived.
The Books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles were originally one book. They were placed in the Writings (Kethubim) originally. However, in the Septuagint they were placed after the Books of Samuel and Kings. The author according to Jewish tradition was Ezra the Scribe. Modern scholarship assigns authorship to the "Chronicler" an otherwise unknown author. "The Chronicler" used various sources that are no longer extant, the various books of the kings of
The Hebrew Bible originally treated the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah as a single book entitled Ezra. It was placed in the Writings (Kethubim). Ezra the Scribe has been traditionally considered to be the author of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. However, there are reasons for believing that others may have been responsible. It is likely that Ezra wrote most of Ezra, and that Nehemiah is the personal memoirs of Nehemiah, but also edited by Ezra. Scholars do not agree on the matter.
The authorship of Esther is unknown, but tradition says that Ezra or Nehemiah or Mordecai (Esther's uncle) was the author. Esther in the Hebrew Bible is the last of the five books of the Megilloth ("Five Scrolls) which include Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations. These are read at Jewish festivals.
The next block of books in the Old Testament contains five poetical Wisdom Books. These include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
The book of Job does not indicate who the author might have been. Jewish tradition has suggested many different possibilities from Moses to an unknown author who wrote after the Return from Exile.
The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 psalms divided into five parts. The title Psalm comes from the Greek word psalmoi which means a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument. The authorship is varied. Some of the psalms are ascribed to David, Solomon, Ethan, Heman, Moses, the Levites, and others without a certain authorship. The collection as it now exists was the hymn book of the
The book of Proverbs is an anthology of folk wisdom. King Solomon is reported to have composed 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings ). However, the last two chapters of Proverbs says that they these were written by Agur and Lemuel. There may have been some appropriation from the Egyptian book the "Wisdom of Amenemope".
The book of Ecclesiastes (Greek for preacher) is called Qoheleh in Hebrew. However, "preacher" could be fairly rendered as "teacher" in the assembly. Some have argued that the Preacher or Teacher was King Solomon. However, scholars are doubtful that he is really the author.
The Song of Solomon ascribes itself to the authorship of King Solomon; however, even conservative scholars doubt that this is so. The book is similar in style to Ecclesiastes so it is likely that the author was the same for both.
The final books of the Old Testament are the books of the prophets. They are divided into two groups. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel are known as the Major Prophets because they wrote big books. The traditional belief was that the books were authored by the prophets and that is why they bear their names. The "higher criticism" of these books (and the rest of the Bible by liberal scholars) claims that the authors are different.
The Book of Isaiah for conservative scholars was written in whole by the prophet Isaiah. However, liberal scholarship assigns the authorship of Isaiah to at least two individuals on the basis of details internal to the books. For example Isaiah is gloomy and preaches repentance before the day of destruction. However, since beginning with 40 the theme and tone changes abruptly to one of hope, the view is widely advanced that this is a Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah). Modernists claim that this is therefore the joining of the work of two individuals. Others also see the hand of a Third Isaiah in the last chapters of the book in its present form. Conservatives argue that the change at the beginning of Chapter 40 is the result of a hopeful revelation of the future given to the prophet who is inspired by God to write in this fashion. One additional reason for liberal scholars to ascribe multiple authorships to the book is that liberal scholars do not believe that in predictive prophecy. In other words the liberal view is that future events cannot be predicted in advance by prophets or anyone else.
The author of the Book of Jeremiah is held by tradition to be the prophet Jeremiah after whom it is named. It may have been written by the scribe Baruch who is identified as such in the Book of Jeremiah. On the other hand it may be that more was added by others.
The Book of Lamentations, contains sad songs or laments, is also assigned by tradition to Jeremiah, but may have seen editing by others. In modern times a plethora of other authors have been suggested as the author instead of Jeremiah. This is despite the fact that the book itself says that Jeremiah wrote it.
The Book of Ezekiel was written by the prophet Ezekiel in
The book of Daniel is held by both Jewish and Evangelical Christians to have been written by Daniel about 600 B. C. However, since Porphyry (ca., A. D. 260) some, and especially liberal scholars in modern times, have said that the book was written in 167 B. C. during the period of the Maccabean War. If this is so then the author is unknown.
The twelve books of the Minor Prophets are all short. This is why these authors are called the Minor Prophets, they all wrote short books. The name "Minor" implies nothing about the quality of the contents of these books or their message.
The books of the Minor Prophets were written over a period of time from before until after the period of the Exile. The books that are called the Minor Prophets are: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The books of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are named after the prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who are believed to have been the author of their respective books, but with two exceptions.
There is a question about the authorship of the book of Jonah. The book does not plainly state who wrote it. Conservative scholars hold that the book is an historical story by Jonah. Modernist scholars believe that it is inspirational fiction by an unknown author. Their reasons rest in part with their rejection of miracles.
The other book among the Minor Prophets about which there is a question of authorship is Zechariah. Tradition assigns to him the authorship of the whole book. Many Modernist scholars claim that chapters 9-14 were written by someone else. Evangelicals usually say that it is likely that the latter part of the book was written by Zechariah, but at a different time from the first part.
While tradition assigns authorship to the prophet after whom the books of the prophets are named it is likely that others also edited these books to produce them in their final form. It is important to remember that what was written was believed to have been given by inspiration by God and that it was handed down in a community of faith that recorded each book until its form was finally fixed as we now have it.
It is worth noting that at the Council of Jamnia A. D. 90 the Rabbis had to make decisions about which books were to be included canon and which were not. Or more properly they probably decided which books were to be kept in the list of books considered as scripture and which were to be excluded.
By the time of the Council of Jamnia a list of accepted writings had come into wide use. The books of the prophets and the writings were judged to be "scriptural" by their harmony with the Torah.
Another principle was based on the doctrine of prophetic inspiration. Since it was believed then that the Holy Spirit had left
What Are the
Who Wrote the
Eventually a whole group of caves at the ruins of Khirbat Qumran were explored by scientific expeditions. Over 600 manuscripts and fragments were recovered. Written in Hebrew and Aramaic the collection included books of the Old Testament?two virtually complete copies of Isaiah. In addition there were manuals of disciplines, hymnbooks, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic writings, and some of the books of the Apocrypha.
The books are believed to have been part of the library of a Jewish monastic order called the Essenes.
Josephus' works include The Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews, and Against Apion (a defense of the Jews). The reason for mentioning both Josephus and the Essenes is to point out there were numerous religious groups operating in New Testament times. Many produced writings, but not all was included in the canon. And since the Dead Sea Scrolls were lost for 1900 years they also were excluded from the canon unless the
What Was Excluded From the Old Testament?
What are the Old Testament Apocryphal books? Are they canonical? The Old Testament apocryphal books are often called "inter-testamentary" books. That is, they were written between the last of the Old Testament books and the first of the New Testament books. This collection is called the Apocrypha, which means "hidden." In Koine (common) Greek the word apokryphos means hidden. The term apokryphos was applied to books that were not made available to the general public because of their content or because they were considered obscure and difficult to understand. Apocrypha is an Anglicization of apokryphos. In the beginning the word apokryphos was a neutral term.
The books of the Apocrypha were all written by Jews. Most were written in Greek or at least the known copies exist only in Greek.
Jews do not accept the Apocrypha as canonical. They were excluded from the Jewish canon by rabbis by about A. D. 100. They however, were gathered together with the Old and New Testament books and included in the Septuagint for Greeks and in the Vulgate (Latin translation by
As a consequence they were accepted as canonical by all Christians until the Reformation (beginning in 1517). At they time they were excluded from the canon by Protestants. They are however, considered important to Protestants and books that should be read, but not books for preaching and teaching from as authentic scripture. They are accepted as canonical Scripture by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and some other Christians.
Today many editions of the Bible will include the Apocrypha as a separate section between the Old and New Testament books. Sometimes versions of the Bible will place them where the editors think they belong with other books. For example, the "Jerusalem Bible" is a translation executed by Dominican monks living in
Which Books Belong in the Apocrypha?
The books of the Apocrypha are:
I and II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the additions to the Book of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach), Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, I and II Maccabees.
Some of these writings are actually additions to existing books (Esther and Daniel) rather than separate works. None of these was ever a part of the Hebrew canon.
The early Church, in the Councils of Hippo (393) and
At the Council of Trent (1546), Catholics affirmed an Old Testament canon that included all the above works except I and II Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. In Catholicism these seven works (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch [with the Letter of Jeremiah], I and II Maccabees) as well as the longer forms of Esther and Daniel (the Latter including the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon) are frequently referred to as the "Deutero-canonical Books" since their canonicity has not been undisputed by Roman Catholics.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, at the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672, declared the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Judith, I and II Maccabees, and Ecclesiasticus to be canonical. For this Church therefore, "Apocrypha" generally denotes the remainder of the books noted plus III and IV Maccabees and Psalm 151.
The attitude of Protestants toward the Old Testament Apocrypha has varied over the centuries. In Luther's 1534 translation of the Bible, they are placed between the testaments with the heading "Apocrypha these are the books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading."
Most early English translations, except for the translation made by John Wycliff (1324-1384) issued in 1382 have included the Apocrypha. Generally it has been placed between the Testaments. In 1827 after considerable dispute the British and Foreign Bible Society suspended "circulation of those books or parts of books which are usually termed Apocryphal." Only in recent years have these writings been included in editions of the Bible and a less polemical attitude been taken toward the Apocrypha by some Protestants.
Who wrote the Old Testament "Pseudepigrapha"? Excluded from the Bible are many books that are today called pseudepigraphical. These are called the Old Testament pseudepigraphical books. The term "pseudepigrapha" dates from at least the 2nd Century A. D. when it was used by St. Serapion, Bishop of Antioch (190-211). It means literally, "with false superscription." It is applied to books that were falsely attributed to ideal figures featured in the Old Testament.
The "Pseudepigrapha" are those Jewish writings from a few centuries before and after the time of Christ that are not included in the Bible, Apocrypha, or rabbinic literature. These books have never been accepted as canonical by either Christians or Jews. They have attracted attention lately because of the recovery of some of them or parts of them by archeologists. Moreover, they have been used by in the New Age Movement. This is a very amorphous movement that essentially centers about things or experiences that evoke spiritual feelings. In many cases it is a revival of ancient forms of nature religions or is more like Hinduism than anything Jewish or Christian. Many aspects of the New Age Movement are similar to the religious world of the Hellenistic Kingdoms and the
It should also be noted that material from pseudoepigraphal books as well as from the biblical books floated around the
The list of Pseudepigrapha below includes the best known:
(1) The Apocalypse of Abraham, which tells of Abraham's discovery of God and his vision of the heavens, the divine throne and human history.
(2) Apocryphal Psalms, a collection of psalms and poems
(3) Aristeas, a book that relates the events connected with the preparation of the first Greek version of the Torah
(4) The Book of Enoch, which deals with the origin and judgment of sin, including the rebellion of the angel Semihazah.
(5) The Book of Jubilees, which divides the history of the world into Jubilee periods. It is also known as Jubilees, Little Genesis, Apocalypse of Moses, Testament of Moses, Book of Adam's Daughters, and Life of Adam.
(6) The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, which tells of Baruch's vision of the capture of
(7) The Greek Apocalypses of Esdras and Sedrach, which relate to the OT books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and II Chronicles.
(8) The History of Zosimus, the story of the Rechabites.
(9) The Ladder of Jacob, which narrates Jacob's vision.
(10) Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, which paraphrases biblical history from the Creation to the time of II Kings.
(11) The Life of Adam and Eve, which expands the biblical story.
(12) The Lives of the Prophets deals briefly with the main prophets in the Bible.
(13) The Martyrdom of Isaiah, which amplifies the statement in II Kings 21:16 that King Manasseh shed much innocent blood, focusing on his martyring of the prophet Isaiah.
(14) The Odes of Solomon, which presents forty-two joyful poems.
(15) The Paralipomena of Jeremiah, which tells of Jeremiah's life from the destruction of
(16) The Psalms of Solomon, composed of eighteen psalms emphasizing the covenant
(17) Pseudo-Phoclides, which presents pithy sayings in verse form.
(18) The Questions Addressed by the Queen and the Answers Given by Solomon, which supplements the biblical stories of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
(19) Quotations from Lost Works. This book can be found in patristic and other ancient medieval sources.
(20) The Sibylline Oracles, which affirms the sovereignty of God over nations.
(21) The Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch. Also known as Secrets of Enoch or the Slavonic Book of Enoch, this book reflects sacrificial practices.
(22) The Story of Joseph and Asenath, which tells of the conversion and marriage of Asenath to Joseph.
(23) The Testament of Abraham, which relates Abraham's heavenly travels before his death and his struggle with death to retain his soul.
(24) The Testament of Job, which expands on the Biblical book.
(25) The Testament of Moses. Also known as the Assumption of Moses, this book depicts Moses instructions to Joshua.
(26) The Testament of Solomon, which urges hearers to consider last things. (27) The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which consists of the teachings of
Joseph's twelve sons.
Who wrote the New Testament Apocrypha? There also exists what, on the analogy of the Old Testament Apocrypha has come to be called the New Testament Apocrypha. These are works produced by early Christians, which are similar both in content and form to New Testament writings. Among these are gospels, epistles, apocalypses and "acts." These books have been assigned to the various apostles. Although some of these were used by certain groups in the early church, there is no evidence that they were widely circulated or even given authority outside of very limited circles and thus never enjoyed canonical status.
A. Apocryphal Gospels
1. The Pseudo-Matthew, or the Gospel of Matthew
2. The Gospel of Thomas
a. Infancy Gospel of Thomas
b. Coptic Gospel of Thomas
c. The Gospel of Truth
3. Gospels Written Under the Names of Holy Women
a. The Questions of Mary
b. The Gospel According to Mary (Magdalene)
c. The "Genna Marias"
B. Apocryphal Acts
1. The Apocryphal Acts is a document that survives from the early centuries of the Church (NT Apocrypha). The books are purportedly apostolic and enjoyed some status of authority before being rejected and excluded from the Canon. There are five outstanding books
2. Acts of John (ca. AD 150)--professes to record the miracles and speeches of the apostle John in
3. The Acts of Paul--contains a section dealing with Thecla, a girl in
4. The Acts of Peter--2nd Century work which centers on Peter's encounter with the magician Simon Magnus (cf., Acts 8). This document contains a story about Peter is fleeing martyrdom but is rebuked, and returns to be crucified head-down. See the modern novel Quo Vadis?
5. The Acts of Thomas--contains the Hymn of the Pearl, a saga of Gnostic redemption, where the soul of man is set free from the corruption of matter.
6. The Acts of Andrew--possibly 3rd Century, and is biographical and hagiographic in tone and temper.
C. Infancy Gospels
And there is much more. Many of these books are Gnostic writings.
Who Were the Gnostics? There were many Gnostic sects. Some were clearly non-Christian. Others were influenced by Christianity. The movement lasted from about 100-700 A. D. Its main belief was that salvation came through the possession of special gnosis or knowledge (gnosis is a Greek word for knowledge). Only special people could acquire this.
Their world-view was that there was a remote unknown Supreme Being. They believed also that the world had been created by a subordinate supernatural being that was evil. This evil being was the Demiurge. The Demiurge had created the world and ruled the world through evil spirits.
People had also been created with some (or all in some Gnostic versions) individuals possessing a divine spark. However the evil spirits had imprisoned the divine spark in a material body. To escape or to release the divine spark so that the individual could rejoin the Supreme Being, gnosis (a Greek word that means knowledge) was necessary.
The gnosis that the Gnostics taught was a secret knowledge that had been hidden, but it was knowledge about the universe and the origin and destiny of humanity. However, the Gnostics taught that people could achieve salvation if they could acquire the correct gnosis.
The "Christian Gnostics" believed that Jesus was a divine messenger who had brought gnosis to save people. To do this Jesus had come in such a way that he was able to inhabit a human body temporarily. He was able to avoid the imprisoning effects that the evil spirits worked on regular people to imprison their souls.
The Gnostics also denied that Jesus' death on a cross was a real event. In addition they also rejected the Resurrection as unnecessary.
The Gnostic Gospel of Mary of Magdala has been recovered from obscurity. It was probably written in the 3rd Century by Gnostics. This Gnostic fragment and other fanciful ideas have been used by Dan Brown in his novel the Da Vinci Code. The novel is an exciting story for a work of fiction, however, Brown and other suggest that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene; that they had a child; that there is a line of descendants from them alive now; that the Templar Order of Knights was connected with them. This is the stuff of extreme fancy. The idea that the Roman Catholic Church has secretly and murderously suppressed this information for the last two thousand years is a part of Brown's theme. Protestants, who are not at all pro-Romanist, find that this begs belief. Most Christians believe that the books that Brown says were "suppressed" were not "suppressed" but rather were "reject" because they found the Gnostics and other "heretics" not worth reading.
The real story is that there are numerous people who are anti-Christian, but who would use the Church?Roman, Orthodox, or Protestant to further their own agenda. This is really the motivation for the promotion of the kinds of books that are in this genre.
The fact is that the New Testament Apocrypha books have been available for study for centuries. Today they are readily available for purchase from book sellers, or from major libraries. Or sometimes local pastors will have copies of some of this material.
The key point about the New Testament Apocrypha is that it has all been long ago considered and rejected by the Church. Rejected because these books were not believed to be faithful to the tradition of Jesus Christ received from the Apostles. In a word most Christians did not consider them worth reading then, nor worth reading now.
In conclusion one can say that the New Testament Apocrypha and all the Pseudepigrapha have been excluded because most Christians have not found them to be divinely inspired. For the authorship of all biblical scripture is the Holy Spirit.
Who Wrote the Patristic Writings? The Patristics Were Also Excluded From the New Testament.
There is a large body of Christian writing that is not canonical, but is held in special esteem by Christians. These writings are called the Patristics. The first generation of Christians is called the Apostolic Age. It was followed by the Sub-Apostolic Age. From the Sub-Apostolic age and especially from the generation of the Apologists, Christian writings were produced that have collectively been called the writings of the Early Church Fathers or the Patristic Writings. They have been collected and published as the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and the Post-Nicene Fathers. They contain a ranged for literature from church history to manuals. One early work of significance is the Didache which is a well known early non-canonical work. There are many others.
There are also works that were produced by heretical groups or sometimes heterodox groups. These include the Manicheans, the Gnostics, the Marcions and other. Some of the Patristic literature is devoted to refuting the errors of the heretics found in the New Testament Apocrypha.
The books of the Holy Bible were written over a 2,000 year period by many people. During that time and afterward there were also other books written that were excluded. Some were not included and no one knows the reason because the books have been lost. Some were excluded because they were not believed to be faithful to the faith.
For example the Jews to this day reject the books of the New Testament as not authentic Judaism. Christians believe the reverse. This is a phenomenon that can be found in other religions around the world. However what has been included are those books believed to be the divine word delivered to the saints?
This is a very brief list of books that discuss the various books of the Bible or are various versions of the Bible. The Bible is a library and it takes a rather large library to begin to hold all the books written about it. Most of these books are part of the author's personal library and so they may not be the best that are available. Most however are fairly standard works on this subject.
Barrera, Julio Trebolle. The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An Introduction to the History of the Bible.
Doresse, Jean. The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics. NY: Viking, 1959.
Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 2nd ed. NY:
Eissfeldt, Otto, The Old Testament: An Introduction. Translated by
Ewert, David, From Ancient Tablets to Modern Translations: A General Introduction to the Bible,
Hennecke, Edgar. New Testament Apocrypha. Volume I: Gospels and Related Writings. edited by
Hennecke, Edgar. New Testament Apocrypha. Volume II: Writings Related to the Apostles Apocalypses and Related Subjects. Edited by
Kee, Howard Clark. Understanding the New Testament. 3rd ed.
LaSor, William Sanford.
Laymon, Charles M. ed. The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible: Introduction and Commentary on Each Book of the Bible Including the Apocrypha.
McKenzie, John L. S. J. "The Hebrew Community and the Old Testament." The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Edited by Charles M. Laymon.
Meyer, Marvin. W. trans. The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels. NY: Random House, 1984.
Nestle, Eberhard and Nestle, Erwin. Aland, Kurt, et al, Novum Testamentum Graece,
Pagels, Elaine. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. NY: Random House, 2003.
Pagels, Elaine. Gnostic Gospels. NY: Random House, 2003.
Price, James L. Interpreting the New Testament. 2nd ed.
Rahlfs, Alfred, editor, Septuagint.
Robinson, James M. The Nag Hammadi Library in English: Revised Edition. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.
Schaff, Philip. ed. Early Church Fathers: Ante-Nicene Fathers. 10 Vols. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans 1976.
Schaff, Philip. and Henry Wace. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 1st series. 14 Volumes.
Schaff, Philip. and Henry Wace. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. 2nd series. 14 Volumes.
Schiffman, Lawrence H., Reclaiming the
Wise, Michael. Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook. The
Wurthwein, Ernst, The Text of the Old Testament, Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1979.
Dr. Andrew J. Waskey,