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Extra Biblical Writings|
What are They?
Q. Could you please tell me what the difference is between the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Gnostic writings? Our bookstore has them all in the New Age section. Are we to avoid all of these?
Thanks for asking. Your question has to do with what we call "extra biblical writings." These are various writings produced by different groups living in diverse areas at different times. Some help to shed light on Old and New Testament customs and language. Others are cultic, silly and sometimes offensive.
Anything Ancient must be Good?
One assumption people make is to think that if something is ancient it must be full of wisdom and truth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ancient Middle Eastern magic and folklore or modern New Age superstitions are both suspect - they shouldn't be taken too seriously. We need to use discernment when we read extra biblical ancient writings or New Age philosophies. We need to understand that the early Church Fathers did a good job weeding out silly philosophies springing up in the Ancient Near East very early in church history.
Writings from the Apocrypha came from Jewish authors from approximately 200 B.C. and earlier, some as ancient as 700 B.C. They were included in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate Bibles. Early Jews and first century Christians were familiar with these writings and revered them.
The Apocrypha provides a valuable link between the Old Testament and the New Testament period of time. The Apocrypha includes seven books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called ben Sira or Wisdom of Ben Sirach), Baruch and 1&2 Maccabees).
Apocrypha not in Jewish or Protestant Bibles
It is interesting that the Jewish and Protestant Bibles agree that the Apocrypha should not be part of the Old Testament. Neither Jews or Protestants includes the Apocrypha in their Biblical canon. That does not mean they are useless, though.
Catholics, Russian & Greek Orthodox
However, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, and the Greek Orthodox churches include the Apocrypha in their Bibles. Protestants included it until after Luther. In fact, the 1611 King James Bible also included the Apocrypha. This fact sometimes surprises Protestants.
I encourage Protestants to have at least one copy of the Apocrypha in their libraries. While they are not considered inspired like Scripture, they nevertheless provide some valuable historical content and wisdom. The late scholar, Dr. Bruce Metzger, included helpful notes about the Apocrypha in his 1962 New Oxford Annotated Bible, RSV (Oxford University Press). It is still available for purchase (not to be confused with the NRSV annotated Bible).
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
Most of the Pseudepigrapha was written before the New Testament. A few of these books were written at the same time as the New Testament, and a few were written after the completion of the N.T. These are primarily a collection of books which are attributed to authors who didn't actually write them. This is why it is called by a Greek phrase "pseudo" meaning "falsely superscribed," what modern day people call writing under a "pen name."
The Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of Adam are examples of "pen names." Some of these, such as the Book of Jasher and Book of Enoch, are helpful in understanding parts of the Bible. The Book of Enoch has a rather lengthy section about the "angel watchers" mentioned in Daniel, for example. It is fascinating to read. But, the Pseudepigrapha is not on the same level of authority as the Apocrypha.
Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are very early copies of the Hebrew Old Testament plus other writings produced by a community of Jews called the Essenes. The area in which they worked is called the Qumran Community. This community was located near the Dead Sea. When the Romans threatened their existence, they hid many of their writings and copies of the Hebrew Bible in big clay jars and buried them in the caves of rocky hills and cliffs above their living quarters. These are known as the "Dead Sea Scrolls."
The Dead Sea Scrolls are probably the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. Before finding the Dead Sea Scrolls our earliest manuscripts of the Old Testament dated to about 1,000 A.D. After digging up this treasure, we now have copies of the Hebrew Old Testament dating to before Christ. Scholars were astounded to learn that the 1,000 A.D. manuscripts pretty much match the B.C. Hebrew Bible word for word. There were only a few minor differences such as variations in spelling.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is one reason why Jews and Christians can place their faith in the accuracy of transmission of the Bible as we have it. In particular, the Textus Receptus used by the King James translators seems to match most closely. Awesome!
John the Baptist from Qumran?
Some scholars believe that John the Baptist may have come from this community. For one thing both John and Qumran appealed to Isaiah 40:3, ..."The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord." This may be why the Qumran Community lived in a wilderness area below the Dead Sea caves. Referring to John the Baptist, Luke 1:80 says that "the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel." Both John and the Essenes called for repentance and baptism. Both looked forward to the kingdom of God. Both used the words "water, spirit, and fire." John's strange diet of locusts and honey may have reflected the strict diet of the Essenes.
N.T. Fragments among Dead Sea Scrolls?
One question remains: did scholars find evidence of the New Testament documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls? After at least 49 years, scholars were finally allowed to translate the remainder of the scrolls. We have researched a number of sources on this including a personal interview with a noted Hebrew scholor and there is disagreement.
Some sources say they DID find evidence of New Testament fragments. According to one source a fragment released in 1991 refers directly to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As you might imagine, this was not a highly publicized or positive development for Jewish scholars. In all there are possibly about 9 New Testament fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (See references). On the other hand one Hebrew scholar from Jerusalem I interviewed flatly denied the existance of New Testament fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oh well, the debate continues!
The Gnostic writings are a collection of writings primarily found in a place called Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These are mostly writings produced between 200 and 400 A.D. and sometimes based on earlier documents. 1 John 4:2 likely warned against early forms of Gnosticism: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God."
Gnostics believed that matter is bad and spirit is good. Salvation means escape from the evil body. They also believe that Christ didn't really rise from the dead in bodily form. The early forms of Gnosticism are reflected and warned against in 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter and probably 1 Corinthians as well as 1 John.
Kinky Writings - Kooky Peoples
In siding with New Testament writings and the early Church Fathers, we also view Gnostic literature as cultic, "kinky" writings produced by false teachers. It seems that every Easter and Christmas unbelievers and irresponsible scholars derive great joy in pulling out one or another of these texts to "prove" they have the "lost" gospels which shed light on Christianity. Neither holds weight.
Blockbusters such as the Di Vinci Code are nothing more than rehashed Gnostic writings that pop-up from time to time. It happens with such regularity that you would think unbelievers would begin to see through this pattern of deceit. Beware! Gnostic writings are early Middle Eastern heresies. They are no more than kinky writings from kooky peoples!
The fact is there are hundreds - if not thousands - of Extra-Biblical writings produced in ancient times. So have a "ball!" My suggestion is, however, that if you want to read extra biblical literature stick with those revered by early Christians and Jews dating from about 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. After 100 A.D. stick with the writings of the early Church Fathers which provide early commentaries on Scripture and these writings.
By the way Chuck Missler has an excellent audio series on the Da Vinci Code, and Dr. Ben Witherington has a great book called The Gospel Code. I highly recommend that you get both!
Evans, Craig. 1992. Noncanonical writings and New Testament Interpretation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Dr. Robert Eisenman & Michael Wise. 2004. The Dead Sea Scrolls uncovered New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing.
Green, Michael. 2005. The books the church suppressed. Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch.
Kaiser Jr., Walter. 2001. The Old Testament documents. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Jeffrey, Grant. Extraordinary evidence About Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls. www.grantjeffrey.com.
Witherington, Ben. 2004. The gospel code. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity.
Author Valorie Mays Emilio earned her M.A. in History from U.C.L.A. majoring in early church history. She also holds a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Students: Please note that we are using the Harvard Citation Style (similar to the Turabian author-date) which is computer-friendly and allows for some variations in format - not in content. Always check with your professors for required format.
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