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Don Stewart :: Were Certain Books Left Out of the New Testament Canon?

Don Stewart

In the history of the church there have been certain writings that were given canonical status for a short period of time and by a small number of people. These works had only limited recognition in small geographical areas. They are not "lost Scripture" or works that were left out of the canon. There is no evidence that they should be included in the New Testament canon.

There Are Different Reasons As To Why Some Books Were Considered Canonical

The following works have been accepted as part of New Testament Scripture in at least one of the following ways.

  1. An early church Father, who held to the central beliefs of the Christian faith, testified to its canonical status.
  2. The work is found in at least one of the oldest complete or nearly complete Greek manuscript that contained the New Testament.
  3. It is found in some printed Bibles.

The following works meet at least one of these criteria.

1. The Letter Of Clement (A.D. 90-100)

In A.D. 95 Clement of Rome wrote a letter to the Corinthian church. This is an extremely important work because Clement was the leading elder of the Church of Rome. He wrote his letter to the Corinthians to end a dispute between the laity and the elders. He was probably the same Clement that Paul mentioned in one of his letters.

Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).

This work is found at the end of the New Testament books in Codex Alexandrinus (A) - a fifth century Greek manuscript that contains the New Testament as well as parts of the Old Testament. The church historian Eusebius states that it was read in many churches (Eusebius, History, 3.16)

The book does not claim divine authority. He quotes the apocryphal book of Wisdom as Scripture (chapter 27). There was never any wide acceptance of this work as part of the New Testament.

2. The Second Letter Clement (A.D. 120-140)

This letter was, at one time, attributed to Clement of Rome. However he is not the author of this document. It is basically the transcription of a sermon. It is found at the end of the New Testament in the Greek manuscript Codex Alexandrinus. There is no claim to divine authority within this writing.

3. The Letter Of Barnabas (First Or Second Century)

The exact date of the Letter of Barnabas is uncertain. It was written to show that Jesus is a fulfillment of the Old Testament law. This work is found in Codex Sinaiaticus (aleph) - a fourth century Greek manuscript as well as the table of contents of Codex Bezae (D) - a sixth century Greek manuscript. Clement of Alexandria and Origen quoted is as Scripture. The work does not claim divine authority neither was it written by the Barnabas who is mentioned in the New Testament.

4. The Shepherd Of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas is an early work that some have argued belongs in Scripture. This work is found in Codex Sinaiaticus (aleph) - a fourth century Greek manuscript as well as the table of contents of Codex Bezae (D) - a sixth century Greek manuscript as well as some early Latin translations of the New Testament. Origen and Irenaeus quoted it as Scripture. Eusebius said it was read publicly and used for instruction in the churches.

Some have attributed it to the same Hermas that Paul mentioned in his letter to the Romans.

Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them (Romans 16:14).

The Muratorian fragment said of it.

It ought to be read; but it cannot be publicly read in the church to the people, either among the prophets, since their number is complete, or the apostles till the end of time.

The Allegorical Nature Of The Work

The Shepherd of Hermas is an allegory - similar to John Bunyan's A Pilgrims Progress. This work commands a number of things that are contradictory to the rest of Scripture. This includes the following teachings.

It Teaches The Necessity Of Penance

In "The Shepherd of Hermas" we find the necessity of doing penance for the forgiveness of sin. This is totally opposed to the teaching of Scripture. Forgiveness of sin occurs when one confesses.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

The Holy Spirit Is Wrongly Identified With Jesus

The author seems to identify the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ before Jesus became a human being. Scripture teaches that the Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two distinct persons.

It Has A False Understanding Of The Trinity

The Shepherd of Hermas also teaches that the Trinity came into existence only after Jesus had ascended into heaven. The Bible says that the Trinity has existed eternally.

These teachings make it impossible for this work to be part of Scripture.

5. The Didache

"The Didache" is the "Teaching of the Twelve." An unknown author wrote it in either the first or the second century A.D. Clement of Alexandria quoted it as Scripture but the church historian Eusebius listed it among the rejected writings. It is not found in any canonical list neither was it ever translated by those in the early church.

It teaches a number of things that are contradictory to the New Testament.

Believers Must Fast Before Baptism

The Didache teaches that a person must fast before being baptized in water. In addition, baptism must take place in running water (7:4)

Believers Are To Daily Recite the Lord's Prayer

Believers are to pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day (9:1-5). However this is just the opposite of what Jesus taught. He warned believers against repeating the same prayers over and over again.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).

The Length Of The Apostles' Stay In A City Contradicts Scripture

Genuine apostles were forbidden to stay in a city for more than two days (11:5).

However, the Apostle Paul stayed in Ephesus for eighteen months.

He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:11).

They Are Told Not Test The Prophets

Genuine prophets who spoke by means of the Holy Spirit could not be tested (11:7) However the Scripture says otherwise.

If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret (1 Corinthians 14:27).

Paul also wrote.

Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:20,21).

There Were Certain Days To Fast

According to the Didache, there were certain days in which believers were to fast. They were Wednesday and Friday. Believers were forbidden to fast on Monday or Thursday (8:1) - the days the religious Jews fasted. However there is nothing in Scripture that says anything about fasting on certain days.

There Were Non-biblical Teachings About The Lord's Supper

Unbaptized persons could not participate in the Lord's Supper. Prayers not recorded in the New Testament were given as a pattern for celebrating the Lord's Supper (9:1-5).

Thus the evidence is that "The Shepherd of Hermas" has no place in the New Testament canon.

6. The Apocalypse Of Peter (A.D. 150)

This work was mentioned in the table of contents in Codex Bezae. Clement of Alexandria quoted it as Scripture. It was widely circulated in the early church. However Simon Peter did not write it. It was written about one hundred years after his death.

7. The Acts Of Paul And Thecla (A.D. 170)

The work is found in the table of Contents in Codex Bezae. Origen also quotes it as authoritative Scripture. It is the account of Thecla - a woman who was converted under the ministry of the Apostle Paul (Acts 14:1-7). While it may be based upon a true story the account is fictional.

8. The Letter To The Laodiceans (Unknown Date)

In Colossians 4:16 Paul mentioned a letter to the Laodiceans.

After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).

This work is a compilation of a number of phrases from Paul's writings. The claim of its Scriptural status concerning this work came late in the history of the church. A work with this name is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment but it is not the same written work. This has caused confusion about its status.

Many Latin manuscripts, which were produced for church use, contain this work. In the 10th century Alfric, who later became archbishop of Canterbury, listed the work as among Paul's canonical writings. It has appeared in some Bibles from the 6th to the 15th century. For example, it was part of the Bohemian Bible of 1488.

During the Protestant Reformation it appeared in some English and German Bibles. However its canonical status has never been accepted.

9. Third Corinthians

One work that made it into some canonical lists was Third Corinthians. This was received as canonical by some of the leaders of the Syrian Church in the Fourth Century. However there is no evidence that this work was written by Paul.

These Works Are Not Scriptural But They Are Of Some Importance

These works fail to add anything to God's revelation or to our knowledge of the history of redemption. While these writings cannot claim canonical status there are important for a number of reasons. First, they give us insight into the practices of the early church. In addition, we discover some of the teachings that were circulating at an early date that claimed to be "Christian." Finally, they give further testimony to the genuine books that make up the present New Testament.

Summary

There were a number of books written early in the history that gained some sort of canonical status by at least one church father or are found in at least one of the important ancient Greek manuscripts that contain the New Testament or are found in some printed Bibles.

They include: The Letter of Clement, the Second Letter of Clement, The Letter of Barnabas, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Didache, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, The Letter to the Laodiceans, and Third Corinthians.

These writings were never seriously considered to be canonical by the majority of Christians.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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