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Question

Have certain books been left out of the bible? For example, the Book of Enoch or the Book of Barabas.

Answer

Thank you for your interesting question on the bible; it gets right to the foundation of the Christian faith. Christianity is dependent on revelation. We believe God can only be known if he reveals himself to us. Therefore, recognising where God has revealed himself is very important.

As a result, Christians need to identify which books have divine authority and which don't. It is important to recognise that Christians didn't make the Scriptures divinely inspired, but rather recognised when that quality was either present or absent. Just as a bank will try to verify the signature on the cheque, the church looked for the divine signature in the books accepted as Scripture.

Contrary to the common myth, there was no single meeting that formally decided which books were inspired by God (see Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, 23-24, 73-96). Rather the Christians used certain tests to decide which books were divine or not. Over time, a consensus about the 66 books of the Bible was reached and this was one of the important tests - that a book was accepted as authentic across the whole Christian community, east and west.

The central test of truth for Christians is what Jesus taught with his divine authority. This test can be used to test which books are to be regarded as divinely inspired and authoritative.

With regard to the Old Testament, there are three types of books in it: The 'Law of Moses', the Prophets, and the 'Writings' (mainly the Psalms). The main Jewish 'denominations' accepted them all, while some accepted only the Law of Moses as infallible. In addition, there were religious works of a devotional or polemical nature just like today people may write excellent but fallible books about Jesus. One example of is the Book of Enoch.

Jesus affirmed all the three traditionally accepted kinds of Jewish Scripture by quoting from them in his teaching and by explaining that he had come to fulfil them. He did not endorse other Jewish writings as divinely authoritative. If Jesus didn't affirm books like Enoch as scripture, neither will Christians.

With regard to the New Testament, these books were obviously written after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their authority comes primarily from the apostles Jesus appointed ('apostle' means literally 'sent one') to continue his teachings. They were first of all qualified as eyewitnesses of his life and teaching. Second, he gave them his divine empowering to continue with his own divine authority, promising them: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:26). Third, they were eyewitnesses of the resurrection so that their testimony was certain that he was who he claimed to be. So we find Peter commending the writings of his fellow-apostle Paul as nothing less than divinely inspired Scripture, saying of them, "There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." (2 Peter 3:16).

It was not necessary for a book to be written directly by an apostle as long as it had their approval. One example is the Gospel of Mark. As a companion of Peter in his mission, Mark wrote under Peter's authority and so his gospel was accepted as having apostolic authority. By the time the apostles had died, most of the modern New Testament books were generally accepted, so that there is very little doubt about their standing. The earliest list scholars have found (from AD 170) includes all the Biblical books except five.

Finally, there were just one or two books whose status was not universal, notably Hebrews (because it had no stated author) and 2 Peter (because questions were raised about whether it was really Peter who wrote it). Long before the fourth century these doubts were removed so that what we have today in the New Testament was accepted as having apostolic authority either because an apostle was the author or because it faithfully represented the teaching of an apostle.

So what about other books? Some became popular as helpful devotional teaching but not as Scripture. Others, like the 'Gospel of Barnabas' were shown eventually to be spurious. The most controversial ones that survive were produced by a sect of Christianity called the Gnostics to put their very different teachings 'in the mouth' of Jesus and of the apostles. They were never universally accepted because they contradict the other gospels - and sometimes contain very obvious fables. One story is about the apostle John staying at an inn and getting bitten by bedbugs until he commanded them all to leave, and finding them lined up outside waiting to return the next morning!

An important reason for the eventual condemnation of such writings was that they were not written by the person named as the author, nor even in the same era. The technical word for this kind of writing is 'pseudepigrapha'. These were conclusions reached very early on in Christian history, but modern scholarship makes it even more certain. For example, the four accepted gospels refer to places and names that would only be known to someone in the first century whereas in the counterfeit ones such information is missing.

Some Christians get worried that we may have missed a book somewhere. However, there are two reasons to be confident it is not so. First, all the serious 'contenders' for apostolic authority were circulated in the many hundreds of churches that existed in the first four centuries around the Mediterranean, some of them speaking Greek, others Latin and yet others Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic, etc. Each book had to be hand-copied with great care so that books were not produced without much thought and expense. When a book was universally accepted it was no small matter and it is beyond doubt that we have all those books. Secondly, the God of the Bible exists, and therefore he controls human history. He would make sure the revelation he has given would survive. That is what is evident from the remarkable fact that we have a very similar list to the modern one from as early as 170AD.

Christianity stands and falls by the witness of the 66 books that make up the Bible and these have been preserved with great care through the ages precisely because they were accepted as divinely inspired. I would urge you to read the Bible and see for yourself whether it bears the hallmarks of being God's very truth. Compared with all other supposed 'revelation' they stand in a category of their own for their spiritual clarity, as well as their profound understanding of human nature and of the universal issues of life.

In summary, some books were rejected because they didn't show the marks of true scripture. The Bible says of scripture that, all scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) which is not true of other books.

Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:

  • 2 Peter 1:16-21
  • 2 Timothy 3:10-16

I hope this answer helps you to find peace with God through Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: Watch the video

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*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline


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