The Old and New Testaments are by no means the only works produced by antiquity, in relation to God and the covenants He has made with human kind. Joshua, for example, references the Book of Jashar.[1] The Gospel of Thomas has become popular in previous decades as a work supposedly ignored by the church for reasons which cannot be vindicated. Why are “canonical” books considered substantively different than such works as the Book of Jashar and the Gospel of Thomas? Why not consider some of these “other” writings inspired by God too?

First, consider the Old Testament Apocrypha. Lists of apocryphal works vary some, but most contain these volumes: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, 1 Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy, Additions to Daniel—The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children, Additions to Daniel Susanna, Additions to Daniel Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasses, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees.[2] The Roman Catholic church, for example, contains the Old Testament Apocrypha in its binding of Scripture. Speculations circle the internet from time to time about fourth century affirmations of the Apocrypha being Scripture. Truth be told the Roman Catholic church did not make such an affirmation until 1546 at the Counsel of Trent, reacting to the Protestant Reformation.

In brief, there are three primary reasons we should not consider the Apocrypha to be God’s Word. First, these books are never included in Jewish or early Christian lists of divine works. Second, these books are never quoted in the New Testament as being Scripture. Third, the authors of the Apocrypha themselves did not consider these works to be Scripture.

Though not God-breathed, the Apocrypha is likewise not anti-God. First, the Apocrypha provides important background information to the New Testament, such as the origination of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Second, the Apocrypha contains some healthy amount of wisdom and can be employed for benefit to the Christian.[3] Third, the Apocrypha provides quality ancient literature. For example, our Christmas song “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” originates from an Apocryphal text. All things considered, the Apocrypha is rightly not bound with our 66-book Bibles, yet often incorrectly considered heretical and unhelpful.

All things considered, the Apocrypha is rightly not bound with our 66-book Bibles, yet often incorrectly considered heretical and unhelpful.

Second, consider the New Testament Gnostic Gospels. Gnosticism in the early church was a conglomerate of variant beliefs and sects.[4] Gnostic religions were typically unified around the concept of salvation from the material world. “Knowledge,” or gnosis, was the ideal. New Testament extrabiblical writings have been called also Apocryphal, or Gnostic, distinct from Old testament Apocrypha in both time and substance. Whereas the O.T. Apocrypha can be generally reliable for some kind of edification and utility, N.T. Apocrypha typically is fanciful, abstract, and unhelpful. Yet some today claim Gnostic Gospels were suppressed by the church for hundreds of years, for tribal and corrupt reasons. Is this so? Do these “lost gospels” belong in our Bible?

Most certainly not. Consider this excerpt from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.[5]

I thomas, an Israelite, judged it necessary to make known to our brethren among the Gentiles, the actions and miracles of Christ in his childhood, which our Lord and God Jesus Christ wrought after his birth in Bethlehem in our country, at which I myself was astonished; the beginning of which was as followeth.

When the child Jesus was five years of age, and there had been a shower of rain, which was now over, Jesus was playing with other Hebrew boys by a running stream, and the water running over the banks, stood in little lakes; 3 But the water instantly became clear and useful again; he having smote them only by his word, they readily obeyed him. 4 Then he took from the bank of the stream some soft clay, and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him. 5 But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the sabbath day, went presently away, and told his father Joseph, and said, 6 Behold, thy boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay, and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profaneth the sabbath. 7 Then Joseph came to the place were he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why doest thou that which it is not lawful to do on the sabbath day? 8 Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while ye live remember me. 9 So the sparrows fled away, making a noise. 10 The Jews seeing this, were astonished, and went away, and told their chief persons what a strange miracle they had seen wrought by Jesus.

2:1 Besides this, the son of Anna the scribe was standing there with Joseph, and took a bough of a willow tree, and scattered the waters which Jesus had gathered into lakes. But the boy Jesus seeing what he had done, became angry, and said to him, Thou fool, what harm did the lake do thee, that thou shouldest scatter the water? 3 Behold, now thou shalt wither as a tree, and shalt not bring forth either leaves, or branches, or fruit. And immediately he became withered all over. Then Jesus went away home. But the parents of the boy who was withered, lamenting the misfortune of his youth, took and carried him to Joseph, accusing him, and said, Why dost thou keep a son who is guilty of such actions? 6 Then Jesus at the request of all who were present did heal him, leaving only some small member to continue withered, that they might take warning.

7 Another time Jesus went forth into the street, and a boy running by, rushed upon his shoulder; 8 At which Jesus being angry, said to him, thou shalt go no farther. 9 And he instantly fell down dead: 10 Which when some persons saw, they said, Where was this boy born, that everything which he says presently cometh to pass? 11 Then the parents of the dead boy going to Joseph complained, saying, you are not fit to live with us, in our city, having such a boy as that: 12 Either teach him that he bless and not curse, or else depart hence with him, for he kills our children.

13 Then Joseph calling the boy Jesus by himself, instructed him saying, Why doest thou such things to injure the people so, that they hate us and prosecute us? 14 But Jesus replied, I know that what thou sayest is not of thyself, but for thy sake I will say nothing; 15 But they who have said these things to thee, shall suffer everlasting punishment. 16 And immediately they who had accused him became blind. 17 And all they who saw it were exceedingly afraid and confounded, and said concerning him, Whatsoever he saith, whether good or bad, immediately cometh to pass: and they were amazed. 18 And when they saw this action of Christ, Joseph arose, and plucked him by the ear, at which the boy was angry, and said to him, Be easy; 19 For if they seek for us, they shall not find us: thou hast done very imprudently. 20 Dost thou not know that I am thine? Trouble me no more.[6]

Infancy Gospel of Thomas 1:1-2:20

First, those from Christ’s hometown considered Him a plain, normative carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:51-58; John 6:41-42). They had caught wind of nothing supernatural about Jesus as He grew up. Second, who can honestly read this account and walk away thinking writings such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas should have been inserted after the Gospel of John? The Christ of the Gnostic Gospels is antithetical to the Christ of Scripture.

Though a brief analysis, I hope this study has demonstrated why I do not consider Old and New Testament Apocryphal writings equivalent in any meaningful way with God-breathed, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Scripture.

[1] “A now-lost book of Israelite epic poetry quoted at least twice in the Old Testament (Josh 10:12–13; 2 Sam 1:19–27; see also 1 Kgs 8:12–13). Also known as the ‘book of the upright.’” (Helton, S. N. [2016]. Jashar, Book of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder [Eds.], The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

[2] Charles, R. H. (Ed.). (1913). Apocrypha of the Old Testament (Vol. 1, p. vii). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[3] Such as how The Shepherd of Hermes relates to the New Testament.

[4] A variety of second-century ad religions whose participants believed that people could only be saved through revealed knowledge, or γνῶσις (gnōsis). Gnostics also held a negative view of the physical or material world. Early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, deemed Gnosticism heretical. (Smith, Z. G. [2016]. Gnosticism. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder [Eds.], The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

[5] Not to be confused with the Gospel of Thomas.

[6] Hone, W. (Ed.). (1820). The Apocryphal new testament: being all the gospels, epistles, and other pieces now extant (pp. 60–61). Londone: William Hone.

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