Missing books of the Bible

harry stabbing diary -from pottermore.wikia.comA Muslim, a couple of Evangelicals, a Progressive Christian, and an Orthodox Christian walk into a cafe to talk about Christianity.  The Muslim points to the Protestants and says, “Why do you claim to be Bible-based when Martin Luther deleted books from the Bible?  Even the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox have those books.”  His question is hotly debated for some time.

But here is the answer I provided him about the Old Testament books that seemed to have disappeared somewhere between the 1500’s and the early 1900’s:

1) Martin Luther did not delete those books of the Bible. Even he didn’t have the courage to remove them. He simply put them at the end of the Old Testament (OT) and said they were of lesser importance, calling them the Apocrypha. Due to cutting costs on printing, those books were eventually removed. If you have a Bible printed before the 1900’s (which I do), it probably has those books in them. The complete removal of them, I think, is actually a fairly modern phenomenon.

jewish diaspora2) Most of the early Christians outside of Palestine used a Greek copy of the Jewish scriptures called the Septuagint. At the time of Christ, there were actually more Jews living outside of Palestine (called the diaspora) than those that dwelt within.  Not very many ancient Jews actually knew Hebrew, so a Greek copy of the scriptures was made a couple hundred years before Christ’s time. Their scriptural canon was not completely closed during that period. The Greek Septuagint survived and thrived among the Christians and is still readily accessible today.

3) Martin Luther declared “sola scriptura” which means a faith based only on scripture. He felt that the OT should be translated directly from Hebrew rather than making a translation of a translation, which was an honorable endeavor.

4) The problem: the oldest Hebrew manuscripts he had access to were from the Massorites. In the 10th century, the Massorites created their own way of writing Hebrew with vowels in addition to coming up with a final canon of scripture that did not include several books that were in the Greek Septuagint. Luther was unable to find the additional books of the OT, and therefore felt they were of lesser importance since the modern Jews did not use them.

The Book of Enoch5) My conclusion: the Apocrypha was formed due to an honest misunderstanding by Martin Luther and later reformers regarding how and when the Jewish canon of scriptures was formed. The church fathers, and even the NT writers, quote Jewish scripture outside of the Protestant OT. Much of the short book of Jude, for example, comes from the apocalyptic Book of Enoch.

A couple of thoughts regarding the missing OT books:

1. I’m not sure it is necessarily a bad thing.  Many Protestants are sola scriptura, meaning that they rely upon the Bible only, and whatever interpretation/meaning they pull from it is often both literal and absolute to them.  There is very little consideration for how the scriptures have been understood over the past two thousand years.  With that being said, I would hate to see books such as Maccabees used for justifying a war-mongering attitude, or the book of Tobit used for the formulation of “magical” potions for healing.

2. I used to think it was extremely hypocritical to cry out sola scriptura and then pick and choose which books make up one’s acceptable “Bible”.  But then I realized that it is actually logically consistent to do so.  The canon of scripture is 100% tradition.  Aside from a table of contents that was added to the Bible a few hundred years ago, no single book of the Bible lists which books are acceptable nor does it give criterion for determining an acceptable biblical canon.  Those who cling to the full biblical canon do so wisely, but they unwittingly are appealing to tradition.

So, that’s it.  I’m not going to tie this into Orthodoxy other than to say that I believe that the wisdom from tradition enables us to better interpret the Bible.  The main purpose of this post though was simply to discuss how several books of the Bible got dropped over the past few hundred years.

Update from 9/30/2014

I have learned a bit since writing this post and have found that the Old Testament scriptural canon is not quite so cut and dry.  There are actually varying opinions on it in Orthodoxy.  The best summary may be this: all of the books included in the Jewish canon of scripture are accepted 100%.  The role of the books deemed as “apocrypha” or deuterocanonical varies a bit.  Opinions usually fall into one of three areas:

  1. Many fathers consider them at worst to be beneficial or even required reading.  They’re not scripture, but many parts of them were inspired by God and written by godly men.
  2. Others have deemed them to be scripture, but with a bit less authority (no dogma can be created from them, but there are still scriptural).
  3. They are scripture just like all the other books.

I have heard all three arguments (the first two from highly respected catechism books) and do not wish to make a case for any one in particular.

5 thoughts on “Missing books of the Bible

  1. William Pattison June 9, 2013 — 6:09 pm

    Interesting food for thought. But before Martin Luther, did not Constantine order some “books” to be removed from the Bible? The ones we now know as, for instance, “The Gospel of Mary” or “The Gospel of Thomas” to name a few.

    1. Good question, Bill. That is probably at best a theory that is “pop-history.” Even a brief review of historical writings from the 100’s and 200’s show that there were only four acceptable Gospel accounts for the Christians: the one’s believed to have been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. About fifty years after Constantine, St Augustine, along with several other bishops, headed a council in Carthage, Africa to determine which books of the Bible to include in the canon for the churches in their region. Their decision was nothing new or ground-breaking. It simply made official what Christians had been practicing all along.

      While it was never officially recognized, parts of the Gospel of Nicodemus are the most influential out of any gospel not included in the Bible (the part called Christ’s Descent into Hades). The Gnostics and their gospels were rejected by most Christians because they distorted the message of Christ.

      They essentially believed that all matter was evil. They concluded that the “god” of the Jews was an evil god. A good god then sent Jesus to save us from the material world and pass along secret knowledge to get past different “tests” in the after-life. Only those who were philosophically enlightened could be saved.

      That teaching was heretical to Christians because they felt that creation is beautiful and reveals God to us. Neither it nor our bodies are something to be despised. God, by becoming a man in Christ, redeemed the physical world and is restoring its beauty and glory. The modern Christian attitude of “some day I’ll fly away from this rotten body that is holding back my spirit” is more Gnostic than it is ancient Christian.

      Sorry, that was a very long answer to your simple question 🙂

  2. …this is kinda random…but I love that you posted a picture of Harry Potter with the basilisk fang stabbing Tom Riddle’s diary…sorry, my inner dweeb-dom just had to point that out. 😀

    1. I love that you caught the reference. My inner dweeb-dom just had to tie Harry Potter into one of my blogs at some point 😉

  3. There are also several books various folk, at various times, title the Lost Books of the Bible. A few aren’t even in the Apocrypha, depending on the editor involved. While these are not on a par with the Apocrypha, they are lovely stories. In essence, the stories are not ‘out there’ but can be viewed as poetical, guilty of literary license, and filled with things that tie the childhood of Mary to the crucifixion, and so on. Such books probably ought not be examined with a truly fine eye, but enjoyed as one enjoys a casual conversation. Nice stories are, after all, nice stories. ‘Nuf said, as in don’t stake your faith on what Uncle Osbert found in the gossip column about that cousin of the nephew of the sister of the guy who once saw some really old guy talk about the time that’s coming when Jesus will, might, could…return. And he got all this from some scraps of paper at the back of his own second cousin’s aunt, twice removed, over there in the Holy Land. Or was it Ireland?” But they’re truly fun.

    While some are ‘in’ and some ‘out,’ it appears to me that many of these books are, like the books within the Canon, given lesser weight. The Minor Prophets though are also “minor” based upon numbers of pages included. Major prophets are longest, minors are the shortest. Odd way to weigh a message, but it’s at least some sort of standard.

    As such, it seems entirely appropriate to look not to the Canon alone, but to look at what the Church uses to teach. For this, look at the schedule of readings from those days when churches held two or three or four services a day. Back not so long ago, the churches did several full services a day, meaning two or three homilies a day, and two or more readings per day, plus the Psalms. At least, that’s what I was told when asking about the same thing. Weight given in some appropriate fashion can be inferred from what, over a few years cycle, the Church uses to instruct the faithful. Such an approach gives you the recommendation of the Church as to what really is most important, what’s not quite so, and nothing in the end is left out.

    Finding these sources? Call the closest friend that’s been through all the training. They will know. Those lists take some work and digging around various websites, or finding an Orthodox church with very, very old service books hanging around in the library. I found some in the back of the back of the stacks at the Theology School from my own alma mater. Alma wasn’t too helpful though, so I’d start with a friend that does know something, and avoid the dumbstruck look library workers get when you really stump them. 😉

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