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Part I Biblical Scroll links to Bible 1. Part II Electronic Bible links to Part 2.
The Bible: The Book That Bridges the Millennia

Other Ancient Texts

Broken Ancient Pots with Manuscripts

Not all ancient Judeo-Christian texts made it into the Christian Bible. These ancient texts are called "outside books," "extrabiblical books," or "noncanonical books."

Christian canons emerged through a complex process in which some books were "chosen" and others were left out. A tradition of use, authority within the communities, antiquity or apostolicity, and orthodoxy were factors in deciding which books were "in" and which were "out."

There are different biblical canons. For example, Roman Catholics have a larger canon than Protestants. This means that Roman Catholics have some inside books that Protestants consider outside.

Books became "outside" because:

  • Some ancient texts were considered authoritative but were dropped before the canon was "closed."
  • Some well-regarded books were written too late and/or not believed to be apostolic, so they were not included. Nevertheless some outside books, such as the Didache, are as old or even older than some of the books that made the New Testament.
  • Other books were accepted by some Christian communities but not others. Sometimes:
  • Still other books never came close to making it "inside.". In addition to heretical books that were excluded, other books were considered to be too outrageous, even though they were very popular. (These books also tended to be written much later than canonical books)
  • A number of books were lost or destroyed.
  • Some old writers were never considered as scripture but have historical value; they may be letters, or histories, or stories, or other kinds of records.

Why Outside Books?

The examples below were selected to illustrate reasons why different ancient texts were excluded.

Almost made the canon:

The Letter of Clement I was written about A.D. 95-6 in the name of the church of Rome and was included in some early canonical lists. Clement I is the oldest Christian manuscript that is NOT in the canon. The letter is now categorized as part of a group of manuscripts called the "Apostolic Fathers," a group of manuscripts written while the apostles and other eye-witnesses to Jesus Christ's life were still alive.

The Didache: The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations is a manual of moral instruction and church practice known for its eucharist service which does not use sacrificial language. The Didache was "lost" for several centuries until it was re-discovered in 1875 in the Jerusalem Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople. Like Clement 1, the Didache is now part of a group of manuscripts called the "Apostolic Fathers," the oldest writings of a larger grouping called "Church Fathers."

Justin Martyr, Click on Image for Larger VersionWritten too late:

First Apology by Justin Martyr . Justin Martyr is one of the most famous Christian apologists (defenders of the faith). He was born about 100 C.E. in Shechem, Samaria. He was converted to Christianity about 130. Justin's works are now part of a group of manuscripts called "Church Fathers." His first apology seeks to disprove Christians from various charges that had been made against them and to justify Christian religion

Labeled Heretical:

The Gospel of Thomas originated from a group that was labeled heretical. Of all of the Christian Gnostic manuscripts that were among those discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, the Gospel of Thomas has the most similarities with the canonical books. It is a collection of 114 sayings (logia) of Jesus, many similar to those in the Bible and others considered by scholars to be genuine sayings of Christ. Thomas was probably written in Syria about 140 C.E. 1

Not Popular Enough:

The Gospel of the Hebrews was a Jewish-Christian Gospel that still existed as late as the fourth century. Written originally in Aramaic instead of Greek like the canonical gospels, it was almost as long as Matthew. Jerome, who found a copy of the book in the library at Caesarea, Palestine was very interested in the book and translated it into Greek and Latin. All of the versions of this gospel have been lost. We have only a few quotations from it in Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, and Cyril of Jerusalem. Biblical scholar Bruce Metzger believes that one of the reasons the gospel did not make the canon was because it was written in a Semitic language rather than the culturally dominant Greek language and because it was mostly used by Jewish Christians, some of whom became regarded as "Ebionite" heretics. 2

Outrageous:

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas opens with a story about five-year-old Jesus making twelve sparrows out of mud. He claps his hands; they come to life and fly away. A nice story but in the next story, child Jesus curses a boy and makes him wither up. Later Jesus is angered when another child bumps into his shoulder and strikes him dead! This gospel, which may be as old as the second century, is a different book from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

Lost:

Many ancient manuscripts have been lost, including some books that are quoted in the Bible, such as the Book of Jasher. Other manuscripts, including the Didache mentioned above, were lost but found again Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi Library.

Historical:

Except for the New Testament, Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius is probably the single most essential document for the study of church history before Constantine.



Next: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Outside Books


Notes
1 Bruce Metzer, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 85-86.
2 Metzger, pp. 169-170.

The picture of Justin is a detail of "Justin" in An Outline of Christianity: The Story of Our Civilization, Vol. II (New York: Bethlehem Publishers, Inc., 1926), p. 55.