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Below is a response I wrote to a friend who asked me about the missing books of the Bible. I have changed the names of those mentioned (except my own) to protect and respect their privacy. I hope you enjoy!
Marcos here. I wanted to take the time to answer your question from Tuesday's Bible study and also to give you some resources. Everything I mention here comes from my own studies of Church history, Old and New Testament history, Biblical Languages, and Theology. Although I am not an expert at any of these what I share with you is what I have learned from the experts. Before you read on though I will warn you this is kinda long :/
You mentioned that you believe there is some truth in the Bible but not all because the Catholic Church has books that they have hidden and don’t want people to see. This is actually a really common question and I’m glad you asked it. I think ever since Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code more and more people have been asking that question. Let me start by telling you some things you may already know, then some things you may not know, and finally some resources so you can research it for yourself.
Some Things You May Already Know
The Bible is split into two parts. The Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the history of Israel and the New Testament is the history of the life of Jesus and the church. Both the Old and New Testaments are interlocked with each other and you can’t have one without the other. The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew and the New Testament was written in ancient Greek (both languages are dead today). Although the original writings are gone we have thousands of copies of both the New and Old Testaments in the original Greek and Hebrew. The Bible study that I did with Tom shares some good proof on the reliability of the Bible we have today.
The Old Testament (OT)
We get the OT from the Jews. As far as the OT is concerned there really isn’t much controversy. Not many people argue about missing books in the OT because the Catholic church had nothing to do with the OT. The OT was actually already completed by the time Jesus was alive. The Catholic church didn’t show up till like 3-400 years later so they had nothing to do with it.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to the OT the Catholic church has books that regular Christians don’t accept as part of the Bible. So rather than hiding books they actually add books. These books are actually available for anyone to read. The reason why Christians don’t use them as part of the Bible is because they are not part of the original OT and because they don’t really add anything to the rest of the OT (and sometimes contradict it). As a matter of fact, according to historians, some of them aren't even historically reliable.Here’s a list of a few of them:
- Wisdom of Solomon
- I and II Maccabees
- II Esdras
- And there’s a bunch more.
The New Testament (NT)
The NT was written shortly after the death of Jesus. It is a compilation of eye witness accounts of the life of Jesus, (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) the early church, (Acts) and personal letters written by the apostles themselves (Romans was a letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome, Philippians was a letter Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, Philemon was a letter Paul wrote to a guy named Philemon, Revelation was a letter John wrote to all the churches in Asia-minor etc.). All of the books in the NT were written in the first century A.D.
Some Things You May Not Know
Like I said, nobody argues much about the OT. If it really bothers someone that those books aren’t included in the Bible you can go ahead and read them in a library, buy them in a books store, read them online, or just get a Catholic bible. They are known as the Apocryphal books.
The real question that you asked though is based on the NT. Like I said, all of the NT books were completed in the first century A.D. which was the century Jesus lived in. Jesus died around 31 -33 A.D. (can’t remember the exact date). However, after the first century there are a bunch of other books that were written which weren't included in the Bible. The ones that are usually in question are known as the Gnostic Gospels. These include:
- The Gospel of Thomas
- The Gospel of Mary
- The Gospel of Truth
- The Gospel of Judas
- And there are a few others.
Now the question is, why didn’t these books make it into the Bible? Is the church trying to hide something? The answer is no. Now let me explain.
The Council of Nicaea took place in around 450 A.D. Books like The Da Vinci Code suggest that at that time a group of church leaders got together and decided what books to include in the Bible and what books to reject. However, Dan Brown got his history wrong. There isn't a single reputable, serious historian who would agree with that. The Council of Nicaea didn’t decide what books to include in the Bible, it simply confirmed the books that the people had already accepted for the last 300 years and rejected the books that the people had already rejected. The Catholic Church doesn’t have a vault with hidden books they don’t want anyone to see. All of those gospels not included in the NT can be found in books stores, libraries, and even online.
Now the question is, why didn’t the people accept these books? It’s actually pretty simple. Because they were Gnostic. What does Gnostic mean? Gnosticism was a Greek philosophy that taught that the natural world was evil. That included material things and physical things. Even sex was evil. In order to be saved you had to escape the physical world by escaping the desires of the body including sex and food. They also believed heaven was gained by knowledge, so the more you knew the better your chances. They taught that the God of the OT (the creator) was evil, and that Jesus was good. But since Jesus was good then he couldn’t have come in a real body because real bodies were evil, therefore Jesus wasn't a real person, he just looked like he was. And on and on. The Gnostic gospels have a lot of this philosophy in them which is actually totally contradictory to what the Bible teaches. When people want to know why these books were left out of the Bible my answer is this: “Just go read them and you’ll find out why”
In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, Jesus is quoted saying, “I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” In other words Maria, according to the Gospel of Thomas, you won’t be allowed to go to heaven unless you become a man. However, the Bible teaches that God created man and woman and that one is not better than the other but that they both reflect Him and will both be saved not by gender but by His grace. There are many other examples but I have gone way to long :)
Now how do you know that all I have told you is true? Like I said, there isn't a single reputable historian that would tell you the Catholic Church chose what books go in the Bible. It simply isn't true. Here are some reliable historical books that confirm this:
- History of Christian Thought. by Justo L. Gozalez
- Breaking The Da Vinci Code. by Darrel L. Bock
- The Missing Gospels. by Darrel L. Bock
- Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. by Bart Ehrman
You can get any of these on Amazon.
Also, here is a good video that goes over what I just explained by scholar Bart Ehrman (He is the guy that wrote book number four above. This video basically covers what’s in the book):
None of this proves that the Bible is Gods book but it does prove that there is nothing missing from the Bible. Everything that’s there is exactly what needs to be there. The 2 Bible studies that I did with Tom will help with the “is it Gods book” question.
Hope that helps!