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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the New Testament?

Don Stewart :: Were There Some Divinely Authoritative Writings That Were Not Included in Holy Scripture? (Other Letters from Paul)

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Were There Some Divinely Authoritative Writings That Were Not Included in Holy Scripture? (Other Letters from Paul)

Are Some Books Missing From the New Testament – Question 7

Apparently, yes. There seems to be some writings of the apostles that were not placed in Scripture. These writings would have carried their apostolic authority, which, in turn, carried Jesus’ authority.

The evidence is as follows:

1. There May Have Been a Letter Written Before First Corinthians

Paul seemingly spoke of a previous letter that he had written to the Corinthians. He wrote the following to the believers in Corinth:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons. (1 Corinthians 5:9 NRSV)

It is argued that this letter was composed before Paul wrote the book of First Corinthians. Since the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to a church in his position as an Apostle, it would have been considered divinely authoritative.

However, this is not the only possible way to understand this verse. Paul may have been referring to the letter they were reading—First Corinthians. If this is the case, then there is no lost letter.

2. There Seem to Be Other Letters from Paul to the Corinthians That Are Not Found in Scripture

There is another reference in the writings of Paul to a previous letter. We read the following in Second Corinthians:

And I wrote this very thing to you, so that when I came I would not have sadness from those who ought to make me rejoice, since I am confident in you all that my joy would be yours. For out of great distress and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not to make you sad, but to let you know the love that I have especially for you. (2 Corinthians 2:3-4 NET)

This may refer to a letter written to the Corinthian church after First Corinthians, but before Second Corinthians. Consequently, there may have been correspondence by Paul to the Corinthian church between the time he wrote these two letters that are now part of Scripture—First and Second Corinthians. We also read:

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly.) (2 Corinthians 7:8 NRSV)

Again, this may refer to an unknown letter.

3. There May Have Been an Earlier Letter to the Philippians

Paul may have written an earlier letter to the church at Philippi. In the letter that is now part of Scripture, we read the following:

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard. (Philippians 3:1 NRSV)

Some see this as a reference to a previous letter to the Philippians rather than a reference to the same letter that he was in the process of writing.

4. Other Traditions Are Mentioned by the Apostle Paul

Paul also mentioned another letter that he had written to the Thessalonians. We read about this in Second Thessalonians. He said:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NET)

Most likely this refers to First Thessalonians. However, it is possible that it could refer to another letter.

5. Paul Spoke of a Letter to the Laodiceans

There is also a letter that Paul wrote to the Laodiceans. This is another unknown writing of Paul. He wrote to the Colossians about this letter:

And after you have read this letter, have it read to the church of Laodicea. In turn, read the letter from Laodicea as well. (Colossians 4:16 NET)

Some, however, see this as a reference to the Book of Ephesians. There is some evidence that Ephesians was originally a circular letter. Ephesus was only one of the places which the letter was addressed. There is also the fact that when the heretic Marcion drew up his list of Paul’s letters, he titled Ephesians, “Paul’s Letter to the Laodiceans.”

6. Not Everything That God Said Was Recorded in Scripture

Something else needs to be noted. Not every divine word that God gave to humanity was recorded in Scripture. There were many things that Jesus taught, or that the apostles preached, that were divinely authoritative, but, for some reason, have not been recorded in Scripture. John alluded to some of these things that Jesus taught. He wrote:

Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 TNIV)

He also said:

There are many other things that Jesus did. If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25 TNIV)

From these statements of John, we understand that only a small portion of the words and deeds of Jesus were recorded for us.

7. Paul Gives Us an Unknown Saying of Jesus

We know of at least one saying of Jesus that was not preserved in the four gospels, but is found in the Book of Acts. The Apostle Paul said the following:

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35 TNIV)

This illustrates that what we find in Scripture is highly selective.

8. That Which Is Found in Scripture Was Purposefully Preserved

Consequently, to become part of Holy Scripture, a work of an Apostle must have been purposefully preserved. Why certain apostolic letters to churches, if indeed they were written, were not preserved, is not known. It would be fruitless for us to speculate as to why this is so.

Summary – Question 7
Were There Some Divinely Authoritative Writings That Were Not Included in Holy Scripture? (Other Letters from Paul)

There seems to be a few letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to churches that, for whatever reason, were not collected and placed in the New Testament canon. This includes a previous letter that he wrote to the Corinthians before First Corinthians, a letter that he wrote after First Corinthians, but before Second Corinthians, and a letter he wrote to the Laodiceans. There is also the possibility of an earlier letter that he wrote to the Philippians, as well as a letter to the Thessalonians.

However, the existence of all of these “lost letters” is by no means certain. The statement in First Corinthians could refer to that same letter. In addition, the letter to the Laodiceans may refer to the Book of Ephesians. There is not enough evidence to be certain.

We do know that there were a number of things that Jesus said and did, as well as certain things the apostles said and did, that were not recorded for us in Scripture; or anywhere else for that matter.

Consequently, there had to be some type of effort to preserve the writings of the Apostles that became Holy Scripture. If there were other writings by the Apostles that did not become part of the New Testament canon, then we have no knowledge as to why they were not included.

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