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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

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Manuscripts

Broken Ancient Pots with Manuscripts

Many ancient texts were not included in the Bible. Perhaps, the most famous are the Dead Sea Scrolls. We may also have heard of the writings of the "Church Fathers." Other "outside books" are the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Apocrypha. Don't be daunted by the big words! Learn more about these books.

Apocrypha

For Protestants, the Apocrypha, sometimes called the Jewish Apocrypha, is a collection of 14 or 15 Jewish texts, most of which were included in a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint (LXX) that was used first by Jews and later by Christians. The books of the Apocrypha are called "Deutero-canonical" by the Roman Catholics and are considered to be inside books. Click here to see a list of the books of the Protestant Apocrypha.

Note! Roman Catholics use the word "Apocrypha" to describe another group of ancient texts-- the Pseudepigrapha.

Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found sealed in clay jars in the caves of Qumran, Israel. They had been hidden for safe-keeping at a time when all Jewish and Christian Scriptures were being destroyed by the Romans. The scrolls contain manuscripts, such as Isaiah, that are part of the Bible but also many other texts that are noncanonical.

Church Fathers

See also: Church History Timeline with Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Fathers (30-313 B.C.E)

"Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused if they do not add to that reading of the Fathers? the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nicea. But who could not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them? with St. Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, and above all, the man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?"

--John Wesley

The "Church Fathers" are classified in two or three groups: If two groups, the Council of Nicaea in 325 is the dividing point: Early Church Fathers (Ante-Nicene) and Later Church Fathers (Post-Nicene). Often special recognition is given to the earliest writings by calling them the "Apostolic Fathers"; that is the writers of these documents lived during the era of the apostles and other eye-witnesses of Jesus Christ.

The Apostolic Fathers include the epistles Clement 1, Clement 2, Barnabas, Polycarp; and Ignatius' epistles to the Ephesians, the Philadelphians, the Magnesians, the Romans, the Smyrnaeans, the Trallians, and to Polycarp; the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, and Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Nag Hammadi Manuscripts

Thirteen papyrus volumes of Gnostic and other texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. This very important discovery includes a large number of primary Gnostic scriptures, Jewish, Christian, and secular -- texts once thought to have been destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define orthodoxy. Some notable Christian manuscripts include:

  • Apocryphon of James
  • Dialogue of the Savior
  • Gospel of Philip
  • Gospel of Thomas
  • Gospel of Truth
Gnosticism was declared a heresy. The Christian manuscripts in this collection are also listed as part of the New Testament Apocrypha.

New Testament Apocrypha

This group of writings, also called the Christian Apocrypha, are texts that were not included in the biblical canon. They include four types of literature: gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses. These books were written for a variety of reasons including:

  • to supplement biblical material
  • to replace other manuscripts
  • to counter the literature and theology approved by Christian orthodoxy, and
  • to edify in an entertaining way.

Apocryphal Gospels

Many of the apocryphal gospels were written to "fill in the gaps" of knowledge about the life of Jesus. People wondered:

  • "What was Jesus like before the age of 12?"

  • Infancy Gospel of Thomas
  • Protoevangelium of James

    "What happened to Jesus in the time between his death and resurrection?"

  • Gospel of Nicodemus
  • Gospel of Bartholomew

These other Gospels were written to answer questions such as these.

Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

Just as other gospels were written, so were other books describing the acts of apostles. For example, the following books expanded on the stories about Paul.

  • The Acts of Paul (Orthodox, 160-190) A collection of legendary stories which emphasize the asceticism of Paul and his followers
  • The Acts of Thecla (Orthodox, circulated separately and as a part of the Acts of Paul, 160-190) Legends about a young virgin from Iconium (now Konya, Turkey) who refused to marry and followed Paul in the face of many persecutions
  • The Acts of Peter and Paul (Orthodox, c. 200)
  • Only the first chapters of this book describing Paul and Peters last days and their confrontation with Nero survive
  • Apocalypse of Paul (Orthodox, c. 380) A widely circulated book which claimed to describe Paul's experiences when he was caught up in the third heaven (I Corinthians 12:2-4)
  • Apocalypse of Paul (Gnostic, 2nd century) This heterodox fragment of a book exalts Paul above all of the other apostles. It is entirely different from the one by the same name listed above.

Pseudepigrapha

The Pseudepigrapha (sued-a-PIG-ruffa), whose Greek, meaning is "writings with false superscriptions," is a group of Jewish and Jewish-Christians texts primarily written between 250 B.C.E. and 200 C.E. They books are not included in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Protestant Apocrypha, or rabbinic literature. Roman Catholics call the Pseudepigrapha the "Apocrypha." See how things can become confusing!

Next: Learn about the Greek Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate and how they are still in use today: Three Early Biblical Translations