A Critique of Three New Testament Apocryphal Books

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9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

On occasion, some critics raise the question: “How do you know that certain documents known as the ‘New Testament Apocrypha’ are not divinely inspired, and therefore do not deserve a place side-by-side with the widely-accepted New Testament documents?” Many would consider this to be a valid question, deserving of a credible answer. In this brief blog post, three of these books are examined. We shall show from their internal evidence that they are in conflict with traditional Biblical teaching, and therefore have no rightful claim to divine inspiration.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS

The only known copy of “THE GOSPEL OD THOMAS” was discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammedi, Egypt. It is now part of the famous Nag Hammedi Library. The language of the book is Coptic, a language that few contemporary scholars have mastered. Herewith, we present some of the problems found in this “Gospel.”

Thomas 12:1-2 reads: “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘no matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’” We ask, is this exalted view of James the Just in accord with traditional New Testament teaching? Did heaven and earth come into being for James the Just? Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:15-16: “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Does this not contradict the claims of Thomas 12:1-2? Furthermore, in Revelation 21:14, where the heavenly city of Jerusalem is being symbolically described, James’ position as a member of the heavenly community has no more rank than any of the other apostles. It says: “The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (NAB)

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 At Thomas: 114:1-3 we find this dialogue: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of heaven.’” Undoubtedly, we have here some anti-female sentiments in evidence. Again, we ask, is this consistent with New Testament teaching?

For the Answer, let us look at Acts 9:36-41 where we get a different view of women from the Apostle Peter. It reads: “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.” Does one get the impression here that Peter felt that females were not “deserving of life?” There are also many instances where Jesus demonstrates his interest in the welfare of women. For example, think of the experience involving Jesus and the Samaritan woman recorded at John 4:4-42, or the healing of the woman who had a blood flow for twelve years, mentioned in Mark 5:24-34. Again, at Galatians 3:28 29 we read: “And there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (JB)

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THE SECRET BOOK OF JAMES

There is only one extant manuscript of THE SECRET BOOK OF JAMES (or SBJ). It was discovered near Nag Hammedi, Egypt in 1945. The manuscript is in the Coptic language, however, the SBJ was evidently originally written in Greek. The SBJ purports to be a private revelation from Jesus to his disciples, Peter and James (SBJ 2:1-3). We will now examine some of its problem texts.

In an apparent attempt to play down the role of reason, SBJ 3:18 record this admonition from Jesus to Peter and James: “Therefore [become] full of the spirit but lacking in reason. For reason is of the soul, indeed it is soul.” In contrast, notice the apostle Peter’s evaluation of reason as expressed in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.” (AMB) Reporting on the Apostle Paul’s use of reason, Acts 18:4 reads: “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (NASB)

At SBJ 5:3-6, Jesus allegedly said: “Become seekers of death, therefore, like the dead who are seeking life, for what they seek is manifest to them. So what can be of concern to them? So what can be of concern to them? When you enquire into the subject of death, it will teach you about election. I swear to you, none will be saved who are afraid of death; for [God’s] domain belongs to those who are dead. Become better than I; be like the son of the holy spirit!”

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Consider the Psalmist in Psalm 6:5: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee [God]: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (KJV) And the Apostle Paul made this point regarding the eventual elimination of adamic death: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (KJV) Also, at James 5:20: “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (KJV) None of these verses support the idea of seeking death and are therefore in conflict with the SBJ.

Does the New Testament support the view that one can become “better than Jesus,” a thought conveyed at SBJ 5:6? Hebrews 1:3-4 would make that unlikely. It reads: And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (NASB)

Also, consider the limitation placed on Jehovah God at SBJ 9:5 where Jesus purportedly said: “Accordingly, disregard rejection when you hear [it], but when you hear about the promise, exult all the more. I swear to you, whoever receives life and believes in the domain will never leave it – not even if the Father wishes to banish him!” The Neo-Babylonian monarch, Nebuchadnezzar, knew better than this. In Daniel 4:35 we read: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are being considered as merely nothing, and he [God] is doing according to his own will among the army of the heavens and the inhabitants of the earth. And there exists no one that can check his hand or that can say to him, ‘What have you been doing?’” The apostle Paul also wrote: “So, then, it depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). We see therefore that the SBJ is not in accord with the Bible, as we know it.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

THE DIALOGUE OF THE SAVIOR

The DIALOGUE OF THE SAVIOR (DTS) was composed around A.D. 150. Its only discovered copy was written in Coptic and it too was found at Nag Hammedi. It purports to be a discussion between “the Lord” and his disciples. A serious scientific error is found, however, at DTS 15:4-6. There it reads: “He said to them, that which supports the ear[th] is that which supports the heaven. When a word comes forth from the Majesty, it will come upon that which supports heaven and the earth. For the earth [itself] does not move – if it moved it would fall – but (it does not fall) so that the first word might not be nullified.”

No, Bible science differs from this passage. At Isaiah 40:22 we are told that the earth is spherical, and at Job 26:7 we are told that the earth is a free body in space. The traditional Biblical teaching is consistent with established science; however, the description in DTS is consistent with the contemporary thinking of that day, which we know now to be inaccurate.

In summary, several facts weigh against the claim that these three apocryphal books, at least, have a legitimate place next to the generally-accepted Biblical literature. First of all, if the Lord wanted these books to be included in his communication to people, how are we to account for the fact that they were not “re-discovered” until late in the 20th century? Were the ravages of time and the rejection of men able to thwart God’s purpose? Not only are these documents not widely accepted, they are not even complete, containing numerous gaps. Secondly, early New Testament manuscripts do not include them as part of the canon. (An interesting example of this would be the famous Muratorian Fragment, which is dated around A.D. 170). Finally, the doctrinal and historical content of these books often conflicts with the messages contained in the historically accepted books of the Bible. We, therefore, have every reason to reject these documents as having a divine origin.

Anonymous

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