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Apocryphal Writings

a typed transcript of a talk given at a Long Beach, California, Seminar graduation, late in 1967; 27 pp. s.s.; 44 pp. d.s. Also circulated as “Teachings from the Dead Sea Scrolls.” A survey of teachings in a large number of apocryphal, pseudepigraphal and patristic writings. — Midgley

The Status of Apocalyptic

Oseterley: “Apocalyptic Literature” is “the body of writings … which deals with the subjects of the end of the present world-order and the nature of the world to come … There is a certain amount of apocalyptic literature in the O.T. … there is much in the Apocalyptic literature which is independent of anything occurring in the O.T., and for which a different origin must be sought.”  (Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha, p. 57.)  The Apocryphal writings are largely apocalyptic in nature.  Today the term “eschatological” has widely supplanted “Apocalyptic.”

There is no rule for distinguishing apocrypha from canonical writings except the rule of acceptance.  H. H. Rowley: “The idea that any book was written with the conscious purpose of securing a place in the sacred corpus rests on the most unreal conception of the processes of canonization.”  (Relevance of Apocalyptic, p. 78.)

C. Torrey: It was because the Christians made us of apocryphal books that the Jewish doctors banned them.  “Hence … came the determination to do away with the disturbing books, one and all … not only the specifically Christian writings, but also all the apocrypha … in no case was the original Semitic text allowed to survive, either in Palestine or abroad.”  (Apocryphal Lit., p. 15.)

R. M. Grant: “Irenaeus (2nd century) seems to have regarded I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas as scripture; Clement of Alexandria (3rd century) so regarded both I Clement and the Shepherd, and in addition, the letter of Barnabas and the Didache.  Origen (3rd century) treated all of these, except for the Didache, in the same way, though he was aware of doubts about Hermas.”  (Jnl. Theol. Stud. 11:15.)

C. H. Torrey: In the 6th century Julius Africanus distinguishes between 1) books of perfect authority, 2) books of qualified authority (Chronicles, Job, Esther, etc.), 3) “Books of NO authority (Canticles, Wisdom, etc.), (Apoc. Lit., 28f).  “The Greek Church never came to a formal and authoritative utterance concerning the ‘apocryphal’ books …” (p. 34.)  After the 4th century in the West some churches used some apocrypha, and these were called hagiographa of antilegomena (“doubtful”), while the rest of the apocrypha, not in use, were called “apocrypha.”    In the Reformation the first group was called apocrypha and the other “pseudepigrapha.”  (Ib., p. 10.)  In 1382 Wycliffe, following Jerome, declared: “The Apocrypha ‘without authority of belief,’ and in 1520 Karlstadt declared them “worthless for Christian use.”  (Ib., p. 5.)  The Synod of Dordt, 1618-9, declared them “Jewish legends and inventions … merely human books,” (p. 36), and Bishop Lightfoot in 1643, “ … the wretched Apocrypha … this patchery of human invention,” and Art. 3 of the Westminster Confession says they are “of no authority in the Church of God, nor otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.” (p. 37.)  The American Bible Soc., founded in 1816, banned the Apocrypha as “objectionable books, and the latter were more and more rarely seen, whether in American or in English editions.” (p. 48) By 1945 the study of the Apocrypha had “reached a point which is perhaps its lowest ebb.” (p. 40.)  Then came the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls!

What is Canonical?

C. Torrey: “Outside books?  By what authority?  The authority was duly declared, but it continued to be disputed … down even into the 19th century.” (Ib., p. 4.)  “A new terminology is needed … the current classification … as Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha is outworn and misleading, supported neither by history nor by present fact.” (p. 10.)

H. Cadbury: “Canonization may have eliminated expressions that lost ‘heretical’ documents would have given us.” (Davies & Daube, Eschatol. Background of the N.T., p. 319).

S. Zeitlin: “There is a crying need for a proper translation and a scholarly introduction to these Jewish books, which had been thrown aside in time of emergency by the Jews, but which should now be reclaimed by them.”  (Jew. Qt. Rev. 37:248.)

J. Russet: “Today “it is impossible to deny the existence” of “an intermediate class” of writings, “a third class, neither Scripture not Apocrypha.”  Such is the Book of Enoch.  (Biblica 25:334)

E. Stauffer: “Everywhere Jesus was surrounded by an apocalyptic atmosphere.  Whether he would or not, he was viewed as an eschatological figure … So deeply-rooted was Palestinian Judaism of the time in eschatological thinking.”  (Davie & Daube, op. Cit., p. 285)

T. Heering: The old Apocrypha now becomes indispensable to the understanding of the Jewish and the Christian picture.  Actual Semitic versions are found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, showing the great antiquity and influence of these writings.  Today we must study all the literature around the O.T. and N.T.  All ancient literature is becoming one book.  (Z.N.T. Wiss., 17: 214, 222)

E. Goodenough: “Little as it was anticipated in the beginning, I have slowly been forced to suspect that the spiritual history of the development of Western man cannot be written as a series of disjunctive essays on the religion of each successive people and civilization, from Babylonia and Egypt to the present.  Rather it must be seen to be a continuous adaptation of certain basic symbols.”  (Jewish Symbolism, I, viii)

C. Torrey: A work on the Apocrypha “is a comparatively recent need,” (Apoc. Lit., p. v); nobody has cared much until now; in the arrangement of the Apocryphal books … there is no regularity, but utter confusion, in either Greek or Latin codices.” (p. 28)

R. M. Grant: “The writings of the Apostolic Fathers, for example, were written, transmitted, interpolated, disregarded, recovered, and analyzed for theological and polemical purposes from the 2nd century to the 20th, and it seems unlikely that any impartial observer exists who can comprehend them apart from the history of debate.”  (Journal of Religion 39:120)

H. Rowley: “It has always seemed to me curious that those ‘students of prophecy,’ as they are often called, are firmly persuaded that by the exercise of their ingenuity they can break the seal which is on these books, and lay bare their secrets.”  (Relevance of Apocal., p. 12)

Logia of Jesus

It is now generally agreed that some of the more than 100 sayings of Jesus NOT found in the Bible are genuine.  (Expository Times 69 (1958): 97-99)

R. Rogues: Many of the Logia (Words of Jesus) are briefer than their synoptic parallels, others combine elements and episodes that are separate in the N.T., others mix N.T. material with extra-canonical material; others are completely different from anything in the N.T.  The Logia do not follow a consistent doctrinal pattern; each must be studied separately.  The genuine can be distinguished from the spurious only by the new philological and historical “microcriticism,” and there are many which will never yield up their secret to us.”  (Rev. Hist. Relig. 157: 205-217)

N. Köster: Until now the Logia have been treated with scant respect (“sehr stiefmütterlich”) of the newly discovered ones (published in the 1950s).  J. Jeremias accepts 21 as “historically valuable,” and 11 of these as genuine sayings of Jesus.  (Zt. N.T. Wiss. 48:221) “It is unhistorical to confine the study of the words of Jesus to the canon of the Gospels;” W. Bauer has shown that the earliest Christians did not distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy; hence the Logia do not have to be genuine words of Jesus in order to cast valuable light on the teachings and history of the original Church.  (pp. 236-7) Non-canonical Words of Jesus have survived a) in the N.T. itself (Acts 20:35; I Thess. 4:15ff), b) in variant readings of the N.T., c) in the Apostolic Fathers, and d) in recently discovered papyri, especially those from Oxyrhincus.  “The first conscious distinction between canonical and non-canonical Words of the Lord appears in the second half of the 2nd century A.D.  The later heretic-hunters destroyed the non-canonical tradition.” (Ib., p. 223)

H.-J. Schoeps: Who is to tell which is the true tradition: “Is it not quite possible that those who lost out were after all the true heirs of the Gospel?”  (Davies and Daube, op. cit., p. 123)

J. Jeremias: The criteria of authenticity of Logia are 1) External – age and source, and 2) Internal: does it agree with Jesus’s other sayings?  Is it consistent with our idea of what Jesus would say?  (Expository Times 69:97)

J. Jeremias: New discoveries have confirmed the authenticity of Jesus’s Saying of the Bridge and “the amazing fact that a lost saying of the Lord was to be found in an Arabic inscription in a ruined city in North India.”  (Expository Times 69:7)

H. Riesenfeld: How the words were transmitted: “Jesus made his disciples ‘learn, and furthermore … he made them learn by heart’ much of his teaching … authoritative and holy words which he himself created and entrusted to his disciples for its later transmission …” (Ib., 69:130)

The Gospel of Truth and Gospel of Thomas

In 1945 some Egyptian peasants digging in an ancient cemetery near the site of the earliest Christian monasteries discovered a large jar containing 13 bound volumes – about 1000 pages, of which 794 are perfectly preserved – of a 4th-century Christian Gnostic library.  (Rev. Hist. Relig. 1507: 167f; Expository Times 69:167) Of this only three texts have been published to date: the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Philip.1

W.C. Van Unnik: The Gospel of Truth, though Gnostic, displays Gnosticism “of a comparatively innocent kind,” being written in 140-150 A.D., “before the development of typical gnostic dogmas.” (Expository Times 69:169)

C. K. Barrett: Hitherto the history of the Gnosis has been written by its enemies.  The new Gospel of Truth shows that “Valentinianism was more ‘Christian’ than most of its adversaries would like us to think.”  This early Gnosticism was not derived from Pythagoras and Plato, as its opponents said, but from the N.T. itself.  (Expository Times 69:160) The big question is, Was there an ancient pre-Christian doctrine of redemption?  This now appears to be the case, but now the question is, Where did it arise?  (Ib. 169)

G. Quispel: “In so far as Gnosis is pre-Christian, it goes back to heterodox Jewish conceptions, e.g., about Adam and the Name [?] and to the pre-Asiatic syncretism in general.  In its origins Gnosis is Jewish Near-Eastern occultism, Oriental mysticism.”  (The Jung Codex, pp. 76f.)

The Gospel of Truth is today in the Jung Institute in Zurich; the other twelve volumes of the discovery are all in the Coptic Museum at Cairo.  The Gospel of Truth lays great emphasis on pre-existence; typical is the statement “All spaces come forth from the Father, but at first they have neither form nor name … those who are related to the divine know all the spaces.”  “The name of the Father is the Son, through whom the Father reveals himself … The father sent the Son to speak about His place, and to glorify the universe (pleroma); these men participate in God’s face through embraces.”  (Expository Times 69:168.)

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the 49 separate works contained in the Hag-Hammadi collection.  Though the writing itself is from the 4th century, it is from an original older than 150 A.D.  It contains 114 Sayings of Jesus, and is preceded by an Apocrypyhon of John and followed by a Gospel of Philip (not yet published).

R. Roques: “Though they match the N.T. very closely, it is from the Judaeo-Christian rather than the canonical literature that the study (of the Logia in the Gospel of Thomas) is being undertaken.”  Quispel believes that it comes from an original Aramaic Judaeo-Christian Gospel, with some Gnostic alterations.  (Rev. Hist. Relig. 157:106.)  Puech believes that the genuine Logia go back to the Early Church, revealing its “Semitic substratum,” especially Aramaic.  Quite apart from the Gnostic element in them, these Logia “contain a Judaeo-Christian foundation of great importance which has not yet been explored.”  The problem is exceedingly complex.  (Ib. 202-4.)  What makes them especially baffling is that they are secret teachings, given by the Lord only to his worthy disciples … It is “knowledge which admits one to the Kingdom, which is very close to the person of Jesus.”  The object is “to find the Kingdom which is the Gnosis (testimony), which can come only directly from Christ himself.” (Ib. 200, 267-9.)

The Dead Sea Scrolls

F. F. Bruce: “The Qumran library evidently included many apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic works which enjoyed considerable prestige … closely related to the distinctive theology of Qumran … Works which large tracts of the Christian Church were to venerate as deuterocanonical.”  (Faith & Thought 91:18.)  In the DS Scrolls in the interpretation of the Law and the Prophets was itself “a closely-guarded mystery until it was made known in the latter days to the Teacher of Righteousness.” (loc.cit.)

M. Deloor: “Qumran eschatology shows ties with O.T. theology in the strictest sense, but at the same time with apocryphal documents of the XII Patriarchs, Enoch, Jubilees, the Psalms of Solomon, etc., and in other directions it is very close to the N.T. both in ideas and phraseology.” (Rev. Sci. Relig. 26:385f.)

J. Muilenberg: “one other major feature of the O.T. faith is the continuity which persons experience in the history of the faith, notably Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah.  It is interesting to observe the reoccurrence of so-called archaisms in the intertestamentary period, especially in the pseudepigraphal apocryphal writings, in which ancient men of Israel appear again in eschatological contexts – and eschatology which includes beginning and end.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are now contributing to our understanding of this eschatology.”  (Jnl. Bibl. Lit. 77:24.)

G. Graystone: “It is only to be expected that there will be certain likenesses between … the community at Qumran and the Church of the New Law, both of them ‘seeking’ the true God and striving to be perfect, each in his own way … The revelation of the N.T. was not, so to speak, built up on a vacuum.”  (Catholic World, Apr. 1936, p. 11.)

Which Doctrines are Authentic?

H. J. Schoeps: The Church Fathers strongly emphasize the great secrecy of the apocalyptic teachings both of Ebionites and Jews, which can now be detected at various places in the N.T.  (Zt.. N.T. Wiss. 51:102-3.)

G. E. Ladd: “The so-called ‘liberal’ interpretation asserted that Jesus’ religion was neither eschatological nor apocalyptic.”  Actually it was both.  (Jnl. Bibl. Lit. 76:193.)  “The basic elements of apocalyptic eschatology are present in the O.T. prophets and are essential to their point of view of history.” (p. 194.)

E. Goodenough has discovered from the recent archaeological findings that there have always been not on but two types of teaching among the Jews.  The presence and predominance of “Vertical” Judaism is confirmed by “archaeological remains … which quite amaze one familiar with the accepted traditions of Judaism.  No one could be more perplexed than the archaeologists themselves …” (Jewish Symbols, I, vii.)  The “Vertical” Judaism had the sacrament, baptism, and taught of a Savior born to virgin mother (ib. 3.).  It was the rabbis who “allowed the apocryphal books to perish from the Jewish memory,” because “they differed from the legislation favored by the Pharisees and the rabbis,” and because “these books were hard to distinguish from Christian works.”  (p. 8.)  “If we had only the traditions of the Jews themselves … we should hardly have suspected the existence of the whole body of apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature; for these, I repeat, have survived thanks only to the Christian copyists … We know … of all non-rabbinic Judaism only from Christian sources.” (p. 9.)   Until the present decade “it was assumed that all Jews through always as medieval Jews had finally come to unite in thinking.”  (p. 10.)  “Alongside rabbinic Judaism in Palestine in the century or so before the fall of Jerusalem there sprang up a rash of sects … whose interest seems to be in the hero who had tred not a horizontal path but a vertical one up to the throne of God, and returned to tell men of another world.” (p. 18.)  There was constant “tension between the two basic types of religious experience everywhere, the religion of the vertical path by which man climbs to God, and … the legal religion where man walks a horizontal path through this world.”  (19f.)  The Vertical view was too popular to destroy altogether as “rabbinism has fought against its old mystical antithesis through the ages by finally allowing the popular mystic rites to come in, but by teaching the boys of each generation only the rabbinic point of view.” (Ib. p. 20.)

Edited and reformatted by Gary P. Gillum, 2004

1 Numbers in this paragraph (and elsewhere) are very unclear, owing to the age of this 1950s dittoed manuscript (0’s, 6’s and 9’s all look identical) and bleeding of the ink.  These are pure guesses.

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