!! Course Assignment – Biblical Hermeneutics Mega Course !! A Paper on the Lost Books of the Bible and the Reality of Canonicity !
I finished my Hermeneutics Mega Course, part of my uThM Program and selected this topic for my first course paper.
To do so, I used course lectures from three sources: Koinonia Institute, the Theology Program, and the Master’s Seminary and the additional text, Basic Bible Interpretation.
You can read all of my course assignments here.
Let’s get started….
References and Questions
There are twenty-two references in the Old Testament to books that have been lost to antiquity. A few of those were written by prophets such as Isaiah. Does that mean the canon that we call the bible today is (the 66 books) incomplete? Are there documents laying somewhere in the world, buried deep in the ground, hidden, that pertain to these lost books, the rest of the Scripture? Is that even possible?
If so, how does that possibility affect the doctrine of inerrancy? Are just some books of the bible inerrant while the lost books are (were) somehow inferior in one way or another?
It’s an important issue to wrestle with, for it is impossible to turn a blind eye to the references of these mysterious books found in the Old Testament, nor to the fifteen or more references found in the writings of the new covenant.
When focusing on the Old Testament references, we find a peculiar book cited by none other than Isaiah. The same writer as the book of Isaiah.
So, did Isaiah get the book in the bible correct but screwed up this other book, causing it to be lost over the course of human history? Was it a forged document, written by someone other than the real Isaiah, and likewise not a prophet? But, if the latter, why was it important an accurate enough to be quoted in the Old Testament?
Is it possible something else entirely is going on here?
Does Paul Reference Secular Scripture?
Let’s turn for a moment to the New Testament where we find fifteen references to lost or non-biblical sources by the apostles.
In fact, Paul quotes three different Greek philosophers in his letters. Jude quotes from both the Book of Enoch and the Assumption of Moses.
Enoch’s book we still have today (if it is actually the same document and not a later forgery). The Assumption of Moses has been, like the others, lost.
Stepping back from all of this, we find ourselves in a kind of predicament. How can we justify the doctrine of inerrancy or the doctrine of inspiration without including these other books? What part of the message are we missing? What part of the Word of God have we been deprived of for the last 2000 years? What in the world do we make of Paul’s use of secular, philosophical writings of his day?
How can we hold to the concept of a closed canon, if it’s certainly not complete in the 66 books we today call the bible?
Is canonicity rather in the mind of God than in man? Will there be books in the canonical record in heaven that we did not have here on earth? What if, just as the Jewish believers of the first century did not have all the New Testament books (but did have a few), did they not have the totality of Scripture? Is their salvation in any way less legitimate? How do we know with any certainty that some or all of these lost books might not one day be found because the age in which they are found was in need of their message (a message we were not in need of)?
Fluidity of Canonicity
There is nothing in the bible that states God will not continue his revelation in the future. After the Old Testament, there arrived an intertestamental period where God did not speak with revelation to man (though Catholic’s additional books would disagree).
Our age may simply be another period of silence that ushers in a new age of communication between God and man. The future – a hundred, five hundred, even a thousand years from now – might put the first 2000 years to shame. We have no way of knowing what the future will hold, or how long a span encompasses the times of the Gentiles.
But, Paul’s references already bring up another issue. What about secular writings? What about human wisdom?
Are these writings also Scripture? Paul quotes three times Greek philosophers to make his point. Is inspiration of Scripture absent when Paul uses these examples? Does inspiration and inerrancy somehow extend to these philosophers at these specific points only because they were referenced by Paul (inspiration is in Paul and Paul’s writings) or does Paul’s use of secular, worldly wisdom authenticate their writings for us? Does that authentication then extend to all human wisdom? Is the litmus test the alignment with the rest of Scripture? Does all of human wisdom have some level of redeeming quality to it?
Certainly evolution theory has no redeeming quality to it if it is not at all accurate in reality (it certainly does if it is true). Gnostic and pagan texts, magic, witchcraft, and sorcery texts have no redeeming quality, regardless of their actual level of validity. What about a modern text that argues against the inspiration of Scripture, or sows falsehoods in the hearts of believers?
What of the ministry (and minister) who preaches Christ but also leads their followers away from pagan influences in the modern church (christmas, separate church buildings, marketing schemes, etc)? Are their works any less legitimate?
Surely there is redeeming value in the knowledge and wisdom of men, right? Well, lets see what the bible has to say.
Colossians 2:8 states, “See to it no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.”
1 Corinthians 3:19-20 states, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”
Romans 1:22 describes those who cast off a knowledge and acknowledgment of God as, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
1 Corinthians 1:19-20, 27 describes God’s plan with the wisdom of this world, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?…But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
How then can Paul, on the one hand, quote from the wisdom of this world and yet, on the other hand, declare its utter depravity and futility?
James 3:15-18 seems to make a distinction between two different kinds of wisdom or knowledge, “This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
So, there are two types of wisdom. Godly wisdom and earthly wisdom. Likewise, Paul says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:3). In addition, Paul extends the Scripture to encompass the natural world and all of creation, as it stands as a witness against the lost, holding them to account, “…what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” (Romans 1:19-23). Because these people chose not to glory him as God, were not thankful and instead became futile in their thoughts, their hearts were then darkened. They in turn exchanged the incorruptible God into an image made in the likeness of corruptible man, modeling their objects of worship after animals and birds and other creatures.
So, we see there is truth and then the lie. There is effective knowledge and faulty knowledge. There is wisdom that leads to full knowledge in Christ and then there is natural or earthly, sensual, and ultimately, demonic knowledge.
We know from Paul that, “there is nothing unclean of itself,” (Romans 14:14). We are to test and hold fast to what is good. But we should always, “Distance [ourselves] from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
We can even take this further, beyond the existent books, beyond the lost tomes, even beyond human knowledge or even the evident testimony (and condemnation) of creation. What about the unfinished work in the bible itself?
There are two very significant examples of this. The first is the account of Daniel, where he is told to, “Seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future” (Daniel 8:26). Or, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4-9).
Likewise, another enigmatic reference is in Revelation 10:4, “…when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them’.”
What possibly could they have said? John knows. God certainly knows. I would imagine so do the angels. But why not the rest of us?
This will one day be revealed. What kind of impact will that have on the world? How will it alter human knowledge, in what we know, in how we interact with reality?
In the end, it is apparent inspiration, inerrancy, the canonicity of Scripture is much more fluid than many of us are willing to acknowledge or accept.
Then How Do We Handle Canonicity, Inspiration, and Establish Doctrine?
How should we handle this? What do we do with the extra-biblical references, as the apostles, the prophets, all point at one time or another toward knowledge and wisdom found outside of what we claim to be a closed canon?
Well, we have a few guidepost instructions. “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” for, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Do we, like the Fundamentalist, avoid these extra biblical documents like a plague? Do we, like the Critical Liberal Scholar embrace them as an all-kind of elixir that seems to inevitably lead them toward a destabilization of Scriptural authority and down the road toward utter and ultimate depravity?
First, I think it is safest to say, you should not venture down any road without a prerequisite foundation as has been prescribed.
I can read the book of Enoch without any harm to my own theology, knowing full well I am grounded and stable in my faith, because of my sure foundation in the apostles and prophets. Without that foundation, we are like those Paul described as, “…children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,” (Ephesians 4:14).
Just as Paul quoted Aratus in Acts 17:24-29, or 1 Corinthians 15:33 where he quotes from Menander, or Epimenides in Titus 1:12, we can see there is no overt or specific prohibition against learning, education, knowledge, or even that which is considered earthly, human knowledge.
We are free to quote from any available source, even to ascribe universal truth (as Paul did) to human knowledge, if it indeed aligns with Scripture and is actually true.
In reality, there is no actual separation between secular and sacred in the eyes of God. We are not holy in a church meeting for 40 minutes each Sunday and then separate and distinct, out from under the watchful eye of our Lord the rest of the week.
God desires all of us. Every part of us. Every moment of us. Anything else is idolatry, a division, a distraction, and on our part adultery.
Should we build doctrine on extra-biblical material? I would certainly caution against this. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Did God speak through Aratus? To the extent that he is a creature created by the Lord, who has equipped him, and indwelled in him the spark of life, the ability to function, to live, to grow, to choose. The result of all this, of the massive volumes written by such a one, might have been boiled down to only this single line used by Paul as an example to prove his point. It might have never been Aratus’ motivation. He might not even understand the significance of what Paul’s message was. He very well might have been born, learned, lived his entire life, only to leave behind this fateful quote, while he himself was and will be utterly and inexplicably lost into the outer reaches of destruction forever (1 Corinthians 9:27).
It is the matter of the aggregate, not the individual component parts (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; Revelation 3:18). For, none of us knows what awaits us in the afterlife. None of us who still remain alive know truly what awaits beyond the veil. When we finally, fatefully step across the threshold, we each do so in faith or in disbelief, in the greatest anticipation and fear and dread and fright.
Let all things be done for the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11). Whatever one does, by word or by deed, the litmus test is clear, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20). Let everything we do be for edification and the building up of the saints (Ephesians 4:12, 29).
Are you drawn to extra biblical documents? To worldly knowledge? To education? Human wisdom? Do so in full faith, for anything not done by faith is a sin (Romans 14:14). Will those Christians you associate with who are weak in the faith suffer hardship, worry, anxiety, or even a shipwreck of their faith by your actions? May your liberty in Christ be held a secret between you and God, that you might not be responsible for the destruction of a son of God. It would be better never to read or learn of anything other than Christ crucified than to lose another’s soul. Indeed, for all the worldly knowledge he had obtained, Paul considered it all a loss in light of the knowledge he had of Christ (Philippians 3:7).
In that light, that which is beyond Scripture means little. In the end it is but faith, hope, and love.
The fate and designation of extra biblical documents will only be determined at the end, once all is said and done. I do believe when we all live again in the resurrection, there will be great loss, great weeping and gnashing of teeth. There will be tremendous surprise and all the things and truth and understanding we did not know. We will see how central and how utterly insignificant we truly are in the grand scheme of God’s plan and purpose for his Creation.
Let us abide only with Paul’s advice, “…as many as are mature, have this [same] mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. But, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Philippians 3:15-16).
Until my next review…..
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!