Thursday, May 7, 2009

Apocrypha and False Gospels

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Apocrypha and False Gospels:

Q: What is the “Apocrypha,” and why isn’t it included in my Bible?

The typical Bible which you find in a book store will generally consist of two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. If you examine a Bible which was printed for purchase by Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christians, it will contain 13-15 additional books between the Old and New Testaments, depending on how they are numbered. In general, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians consider these books as part of the Bible, while the remainder of Christian groups do not. Many Christian scholars use the term “Apocrypha, which means “something hidden,” as a title for this group of books because of the disagreement about whether they are properly considered part of the Bible.

Although most Christians outside of the Catholic and Orthodox churches do not consider these books to be part of the Bible, they do still hold them in high regard. Martin Luther included these books when he translated the Bible into German, although he set them apart as an appendix, and John Calvin still approved of Christians studying the Apocrypha, even though he did not consider it Scripture. The primary reasons given for distinguishing the Apocrypha from the Bible are that it contains teachings which are not found in the rest of the Bible, and Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament authors do not quote from them or mention them as Scriptural. Christians generally consider the Apocrypha to be valuable historical information and a useful view into the religious thought during the 400+ years between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus, but the majority of churches do not consider them as part of the Bible itself.

Q: I have also heard much said recently about other books, such as “The Gospel of Mary” and “The Gospel of Thomas.” Why aren’t these included in my Bible?

So-called “gospels” and other questionable books like these have been made popular recently by news stories and books or movies such as The Da Vinci Code. Unlike the Apocrypha, which are respected as authentic books, even if not Scriptural, these other books are widely acknowledged to be inauthentic or even forgeries. While the four Gospels found in our Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are known to have been written by Jesus’ followers within decades after His resurrection, these other gospels are known to have been written at least 300-400 years later. They were usually written by people called Gnostics, who were followers of a teaching which departed from Christianity, and they often used the names of well-known Biblical figures like Peter, Thomas, Mary, or Judas in the title of their “gospels” to make them look authentic, even though those figures had died centuries before. Unlike the Apocrypha, which Christians respect in spite of excluding it from their Bibles, these Gnostic “gospels” are generally regarded as fantasy, forgery, or fraud without any value for the student of the Bible.
You may also encounter other ancient non-biblical books such as the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the letters of Polycarp, which are of a far different sort than the false “gospels.” These are pieces of literature written during New Testament times, but not included in the Bible because the author was not an Apostle of Jesus, the author was unknown, or they were written at too late a date. Christians do not consider these equal to the Bible, but unlike the Gnostic “gospels,” these writings are considered useful history and are often seen as important information about what the church was like during its earliest years.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

1 comment:

  1. what is the term applied to the books of judas, Thomas, Barnaby, by Christian scholars,