Most “Church of God” brethren have long realized that there is often a big difference between the truth of God and commonly taught Christian doctrine. Indeed, many Bible truths are not commonly taught, and many commonly taught doctrines are not in the Bible. However, just because a doctrine is not commonly taught, does not mean it is true. As brethren begin to accept their responsibility directly to Christ for what they believe and do, they may come across books that may seem to be on a par with the Bible. Some have internal claims of divine inspiration and have been copied by some of the same scribes who copied the Bible.
Indeed, in the “Religion” section of the local mall bookstore, right next to various Bible translations, sits a book called Forbidden Mysteries of Enoch: Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil by Elizabeth Claire Prophet. Another nearby book on the shelf is titled The Lost Books of the Bible and the forgotten books of Eden. These are two of many books on the market right now that promise to reveal secrets to the reader that have been purportedly somehow lost or even “suppressed” by religious authorities down through the ages.
Is this true? Have Christians and Jews been victims of censorship of true Scripture inspired by the Eternal? Is the Old Testament an incomplete document, which would be improved by the addition of the Book of Enoch and others like it which purport to be written by the patriarchs and prophets? Does the New Testament contain just a fraction of the authentic, divinely-inspired material available about the life and teachings of Jesus and the acts of His Apostles both before and after His death?
A number of articles and tapes circulating in Sabbatarian circles in recent years have begun making strong claims for some of what are called the “Non-Canonical Books”. Sermons and writings use material from some of these books to “prove” various doctrinal, prophetic, and historical points. Have you wondered if you should investigate these claims, perhaps buy a number of these books for your own theological library?
It is not our intent in this article to cover the topic of how the current collection of 66 books in our Bible were chosen and “canonized”, as that is a complex topic in itself. The word “canon” is derived from a Greek word related to the concept of a measuring stick. There are a certain set of books which have been almost universally recognized over the past 2,000 years as being authentic writings, inspired by God Himself, of the patriarchs, prophets, Apostles of Jesus, or their immediate co-workers. This set has become the “canon”—the measuring stick—against which other writings are evaluated. If such writings are at variance with the content of those “canonical books”, they are evaluated as not being worthy being considered “inspired by God” in the same way. We may cover in a future issue of Servants’ News or Shelter in the Word the process whereby the current canon of scripture was arrived at.
In this article, we offer a brief overview of this class of “non-canonical” literature so that you may understand some of the issues involved in this question. We are not suggesting you should avoid these books, or be ignorant of their existence and contents. But we will provide an evaluation of the contents of some which you may wish to take into consideration if you study other literature based on these non-canonical books.
Non-canonical books are typically divided into two large categories:
Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha
This word is derived from the Greek words “pseudes” (false) and “epigraphien” (to inscribe). It means those writings which are attributed falsely to a famous person. There is a collection of writings, mostly dated from 200 BC to 200 AD, which, by their titles, appear to be written by patriarchs or prophets or Apostles. But almost all scholars admit that these names were “assumed” by the real authors to give credibility to their writings. This does not mean that all scholars agree that the material in the books was not inspired by God. For there is in some circles the notion that this using of a “pseudonym” in ancient times was acceptable practice, and that perhaps God even approved of it.
This word comes from a Greek word meaning “hidden”. It is particularly used to describe a collection of books written in Hebrew or Aramaic from about 300 BC to 100 AD, and included in some Bibles, including Catholic versions of the Bible, as a supplement to the Old Testament. These books were never accepted as “canonical” by the Jews, but were popular as supplementary reading in many Jewish circles outside of Palestine. And although they are included in some Christian Bibles, it is usually noted in the accompanying commentary that they were not accepted as of the same level of “inspiration” as the canonical books. Rather, they are included for other reasons, such as providing historical details of the period between the time of the Book of Malachi and the birth of Jesus. For instance, the first and second books of Maccabees are considered by most scholars to be accurate historical accounts.
In addition to the “special” use of the word Apocrypha to designate those books mentioned above, the word is also used in a broad way to cover a wide variety of non-canonical books that purport to consist of hidden information not found in the canonical books.
Some sample titles of Old Testament pseudepigraphical or apocryphal books are:
First Esdras, Fourth Ezra, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah, Daniel and Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasseh, Maccabees 1-4, Psalm 151, The Book of Jubilees, The Books of Adam and Eve, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, various versions of a “Book of Enoch”, The Apocalypse of Adam, The Testament of Abraham, The Book of Jasher.
New Testament non-canonical “gospels” include ones purportedly written by Thomas (including one called the “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” which claims to reveal stories about the youth of Jesus), James, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Bartholomew, Peter and Philip.
New Testament “Apocalypses” (books claiming to be prophetic revelations) include those purporting to be attached to famous New Testament people like Peter, Paul, James, Stephen, Thomas, and Mary the mother of Jesus.
The Book of Jasher
One particularly popular book in some Sabbatarian circles in recent years is the Book of Jasher. It would appear from the articles and sermons which quote this book that its popularity has been particularly related to the way in which it purports to add details to the obscure Biblical reference in Genesis about the “sons of God” who took wives of the “daughters of men”. The Book of Jasher boldly describes this in great detail as the actual physical intercourse between supernatural beings—fallen angels—and human women.
The Book of Jasher was some months ago used by a Sabbatarian teacher to establish some historical points that could never be derived from the Biblical chronology. The same teacher has also used the book to speculate on the issue of the Genesis story mentioned above. As a result, a number of people have written rebuttals questioning the validity of using the Book of Jasher.
Below we share some excerpts from one such article, “The Book of Jasher Debunked”, by Loyd Hohertz. If you find this topic of interest and wish to read the entire article, you may contact him at: Loyd Hohertz; 1479 Valencia Ave.; Pasadena, CA 91104.
Following are a few other interesting statements made by the Book of Jasher:
1. An angel tells Enoch that he is to be taken to heaven to rule over the sons of God (Jasher 3:23).
2. The Book of Jasher states that Abraham was reared by Noah and Shem for many years and yet for a while he worshipped the sun as God (Jasher 9:11–14).
3. The builders of the Tower of Babel shot arrows from its top and all the arrows fell back covered with blood. So they said, “Surely we have slain all those that are in heaven” (Jasher 9:29).
4. Abraham placed meat in front of his father’s idols thinking perhaps they might eat (Jasher 11:29).
5. During the time that Abraham was on his way to sacrifice Isaac, Satan turns himself into a large brook and almost drowns Abraham and Isaac (Jasher 13:34)…
7. Rebecca marries Isaac when she is only ten years old (Jasher 24:39). God directed Abraham’s servant in finding Rebecca as a bride for Isaac, and the entire episode [in the Bible] depicts her as a grown woman (Genesis 24). Nowhere in the Bible do you find God promoting child marriages!
8. Animals are described that, from the middle down, are the shape of men, but the top half, are like bears and other animals. Some had tails that reached from their upper back to the ground (Jasher 36:32)…
15. During the time that the Egyptians were killing the male Israelite newborns, the Israelite women were delivering their babies in the fields. The Israelite women would leave their male babies in the field, and God took care of them. God gave the babies a rock in each hand. From the one rock they sucked milk, from the other rock they sucked honey. God ordered the earth to receive the babies until they were full grown, at which time they returned to their families (Jasher 67:54-59)…
20. When the Egyptians locked their doors to keep the insects and beasts out, God ordered the Sulanath which was in the sea, to come up and go into Egypt. This animal took the roofs off the houses and with its 15 foot long arms removed the locks and bolts from the door so the beasts and insects could come into the houses.
21. The Israelites fight the Egyptians and give them a severe beating before crossing the Red Sea (Jasher 81:17). This is completely contrary to the Bible (Exodus 14:10-14)…
These are only some of the “gems” to be found in the Book of Jasher. A close scrutiny reveals that most of the statements in the Book of Jasher are fraudulent, and additionally many of them are ridiculous, absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous. And, most of its statements that seem plausible, based upon a superficial reading, can easily be disproved with a conscientious comparison with those from the Bible. Under these circumstances, why would anyone be tempted to accept on blind faith any statements from the Book of Jasher that might appear credible, even if they cannot readily be disproved by the Bible? Why are some people so willing to ignore the simple statements of the Bible and its overall character structure and yet are so willing to eagerly and fervently grasp onto deceptive, confusing, and surreal pagan fables?
So, is Jasher a book of priceless knowledge and insight that is necessary reading in order to fully understand the Bible, as proclaimed by Prophecy Flash [a Sabbatarian newsletter available from PO Box 292; Altadena, CA 91003] or is it a pseudospiritual book that misleads, distorts, perverts, and prevents proper understanding of the Bible? It is very important to know which is the truth!
The Book of Enoch
Another popular book among some in COG circles is The Book of Enoch the Prophet. Again, this book also contains a description of the “fallen angels” marrying human women and bearing evil offspring. And it appears that this is one of the primary reasons some use it as documentation. Unfortunately, many such authors and speakers then take the topic one step further and declare that these offspring were the ancestors of one or more racial groups on earth today, usually including Jews and Blacks.
We are quite aware that Jude 1:14 quotes a prophecy of Enoch and that this prophecy is recorded in the Book of Enoch. Also, Old Testament events involving Enoch are nearly all described in great detail in the non-canonical book. But are these signs of legitimacy, or are these signs that someone was going out of their way to try to make this book “look legitimate”?
On the other hand, there are sections of the Book of Enoch that do not parallel any biblical account—and they do appear very different fromn any Bible passages. Judge for yourself from the following sample passages and compare them to your knowledge of the Bible:
3 A cloud then snatched me [Enoch] up, and the wind raised me up at the extremity of the heavens. 4 There I saw another vision; I saw the habitations and couches of the saints. There my eyes beheld their habitations with the angels, and their couches with the holy ones. They were entreating, supplicating, and praying for the sons of men; while righteousness like water flowed before them, and mercy like dew was scattered over the earth. And thus shall it be with them for ever and for ever (Enoch 39:3–4).
The following is an excerpt from a totally contrived symbolic “prediction” of the history of the world, supposedly given to Enoch, covering the time from Adam to Christ, using the symbolism of cows and other animals. The translator of the version from which we quote supplied the supposed “Biblical” references in parenthesis, below, to “validate” this “vision”. Quoting from “Enoch”, chapter 84:
1 After this I saw another dream, and explained it all to thee, my son. Enoch arose and said to his son Mathusalah: To thee, my son, will I speak. Hear my word; and incline thine ear to the visionary dream of thy father. Before I married thy mother Edna, I saw a vision on my bed; 2 And beheld a cow sprung forth from the earth [cattle a symbol of mankind—Ezek. 34:22]; 3 And this cow was white [white=righteous—Rev. 19:8] 4 And afterwards a female heifer sprung forth; and with it another heifer; one of them was black and one was red. 5 The black heifer then struck the red one, and pursued it over the earth [Cain killed Abel]. 6 From that period I could see nothing more of the red heifer; but the black one increased in bulk, and a female heifer came with him [Cain married Sister Aswan]. 7 After this I saw that many cows proceeded forth, resembling him and following after him. 8 The first female young one also went out in the presence of the first cow; and sought the red heifer; but found him not. 9 And she lamented with a great lamentation, while she was seeking him. 10 Then I looked until that first cow came to her, from which time she became silent, and ceased to lament. 11 Afterwards she calved another white cow [Seth]. 12 And again calved many cows and black heifers. 13 In my sleep also I perceived a white bull, which in like manner grew, and became a large white bull. 14 After him many white cows came forth, resembling him. 15 And they began to calve many other white cows, which resembled them and followed each other [Noah’s family] (Enoch 84:1–15).
1 Again I looked with my eyes, while sleeping, and surveyed heaven above. 2 And behold a single star fell from heaven (fallen angels). 3 Which being raised up, ate and fed among those cows. 4 After that, I perceived other large and black cows; and beheld all of them changed their stalls and pastures, while their young began to lament one with another. Again I looked in my vision and surveyed heaven; when behold I saw many stars which descended, and projected themselves from heaven to where the first star was (Gen. 6:1-6). 5 Into the midst of those young ones; while the cows were with them, feeding in the midst of them. 6 I looked and observed them; when behold, they all protruded their parts of shame like horses, and began to ascend the young cows, all of whom became pregnant, and brought forth elephants, camels and asses. 7 At these all the cows were alarmed and terrified; when they began biting with their teeth, swallowing and striking with their horns. 8 They began also to devour the cows; and behold all the children of the earth trembled, shook with terror at them, and suddenly fled away (Enoch 25:1–8).
This kind of nonsense goes on for ten more pages. There is no attempt to “interpret” the dream. It is just left to the reader to do what the translator did—be amazed at how “accurate” the prediction was. We leave it to our readers to evaluate how this compares with the predictive visions in the Bible, and whether or not this book was actually written as anciently as it claims to be.
Here is a description of the birth of Noah, from near the end of the book:
1 After days, my son Mathusalah took a wife for his son Lamech (Lk. 3:36-38). 2 She became pregnant by him, and brought forth a child, the flesh of which was white as snow and red as a rose; the hair of whose head was white like wool, and long; and whose eyes ere beautiful. When he opened them, he illuminated the whole house, like the sun; the whole house abounded in light. 3 And when he was taken from the hand of the midwife, opening also his mouth, he spoke of the Lord of righteousness. Then Lamech his father was afraid of him; and flying away came to his own father Mathusalah, and said: I have begotten a son, a changed son. He is not human; but resembling the offspring of the angels of heaven, is of a different nature from ours, being altogether unlike to us. 4 His eyes are bright as the rays of the sun; his countenance glorious, and he looks not as if he belonged to me, but to the angels.
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
The kind of fabulous yet pointless claims made above for Noah at his birth also show up in some of the New Testament non-canonical books. Here are some samples from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
The stories of Thomas the Israelite, the Philosopher, concerning the works of the Childhood of the Lord.
I. I, Thomas the Israelite, tell unto you, even all the brethren that are of the Gentiles, to make known unto you the works of the childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mighty deeds, even all that he did when he was born in our land: whereof the beginning is thus:
II. 1 This little child Jesus when he was five years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. 2 And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.
3 And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, thy child is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day. 4 And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. 5 and when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.
III. 1 But the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph; and he took a branch of a willow and dispersed the waters which Jesus had gathered together. 2 And when Jesus saw what was done, he was wroth and said unto him: O evil, ungodly, and foolish one, what hurt did the pools and the waters do thee? behold, now also thou shalt be withered like a tree, and shalt not bear leaves, neither root, nor fruit. 3 And straightway that lad withered up wholly, but Jesus departed and went unto Joseph’s house. But the parents of him that was withered took him up, bewailing his youth, and brought him to Joseph, and accused him ‘for that thou hast such a child which doeth such deeds.’
IV. 1 After that again he went through the village, and a child ran and dashed against his shoulder. And Jesus was provoked and said unto him: Thou shalt not finish thy course (lit. go all thy way). And immediately he fell down and died. But certain when they saw what was done said: Whence was this young child born, for that every word of his is an accomplished work? And the parents of him that was dead came unto Joseph, and blamed him, saying: Thou that hast such a child canst not dwell with us in the village: or do thou teach him to bless and not to curse: for he slayeth our children.
V. 1 And Joseph called the young child apart and admonished him, saying: Wherefore doest thou such things, that these suffer and hate us and persecute us? But Jesus said: I know that these thy words are not thine: nevertheless for thy sake I will hold my peace: but they shall bear their punishment. And straightway they that accused him were smitten with blindness. 2 And they that saw it were sore afraid and perplexed, and said concerning him that every word which he spake whether it were good or bad, was a deed, and became a marvel. And when they (he ?) saw that Jesus had so done, Joseph arose and took hold upon his ear and wrung it sore. 3 And the young child was wroth and said unto him: It sufficeth thee (or them) to seek and not to find, and verily thou hast done unwisely: knowest thou not that I am thine? vex me not.
Do these passages from this “lost book of the Bible” line up with what you know of the character of Jesus Christ? Or do they paint Jesus as a carnal person who has to “get back at his enemies”? Does the Bible indicate Jesus drew great attention to himself with miracles as a youngster? Or did he shun public miracles until his “time had come”? (John 2:4).
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas is another non-canonical book (unrelated to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas described above). This purported “gospel” is unlike the canonical Gospels—it does not give a chronological description of the life of Jesus. It rather claims to be a collection of His sayings. Some are the same or similar to sayings in the canonical Gospels. But there are a number which are either at variance with what is said in those Gospels, present a much different view of the thinking of Jesus, or are almost ridiculously obscure, with no attempt to give any kind of meaning to the parables offered.
Sample excerpts from the Gospel of Thomas:
7 Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.”
12 The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?” Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
13 Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.”
Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.”
Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.”
Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.”
Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.”
And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”
Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.”
18 The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
Jesus said, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”
22 Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”
The Bible does contain many deep parables and analogies of Jesus, but the meaning is nearly always explained, either in context or elsewhere. The above stories seem like a combination of Mystery Religion ideas, oriental philosophy and wild human imagination written down and falsely labeled truth.
Book of Tobit
There are so many of these pseudepigraphical and apocryphal books that we cannot possibly give excerpts from even a small percentage of them. So in conclusion, here is one sample from the Book of Tobit which is part of the Apocrypha.
1 Now as they proceeded on their way they came at evening to the Tigris river and camped there. 2 Then the young man went down to wash himself. A fish leaped up from the river and would have swallowed the young man; 3 and the angel said to him, “Catch the fish.” So the young man seized the fish and threw it up on the land. 4 Then the angel said to him, “Cut open the fish and take the heart and liver and gall and put them away safely.” 5 So the young man did as the angel told him; and they roasted and ate the fish.
And they both continued on their way until they came near to Ecbatana. 6 Then the young man said to the angel, “Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?” 7 He replied, “As for the heart and liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman, and that person will never be troubled again. 8 And as for the gall, anoint with it a man who has white films in his eyes, and he will be cured.”
There is nothing here about the power of God to defeat the evil spirit, only a ritual. Occult and witchcraft books are full of these kinds of recipes—but not the Bible!
Common Problems with Most
Some people will still say, “the Bible contains many things that are miraculous or hard to understand, so why shouldn’t we look at these other books with miracles and things ‘hard to understand’?” The answer lies in the purpose of these “deep” and miraculous things. The Bible always has the underlying purpose to teach people to love the Eternal and love their neighbor.
Pseudepigraphical and Apocryphal books nearly always deviate from the Bible in one or more of these ways:
1. Many contain astounding “miracles” that seem to do nothing but make a big show. There is no effort to show that the miracles convict people of the power of the Eternal, as the miracles delivering Israel from Egypt did. There is no record that people repented because of these miracles, as many did with the miralces of Christ. Nor is there symbolic content to the miracles such as the apostle’s miraculous catch of fish (they were to become miraculous fishers of men).
2. Many purport to reveal elaborate details about the spirit world—what scholars refer to as an extensive angelology and demonology—which are not in the Bible. However, the authors usually claim no authority from the Eternal to teach this information, nor do they deal with the clear scriptures in the Bible that tell us not to seek after these things (Lev 20:6; Deut 18:10–11; Isa 8:19; Jer 10:2).
3. Many contain long, drawn-out metaphors or dreams or visions with no apparent purpose, either in clarifying the work of God among mankind, or teaching a useful lesson. These often do not even have an “interpretation” offered in the book itself. These are often incredibly similar in nature to long, drawn-out dreams and visions that one can read in today’s Charismatic literature. There are few stories of these kinds of extensive dreams and visions changing anyone’s life for the better or predicting the future in any kind of helpful way. (Why might someone go to such an effort to produce a long writing if they know that it may not be from God? The answer is that “big lies” often have more credibility than little ones. An investment scam with a fancy building and lots of employees is likely to attract a lot more money than one man working from a rented office. As people tend to believe that a “business that big must be legitimate”, so they tend to believe that “a book that long must be legitimate”.)
4. Many cover extravagant details about matters covered only sparsely in the Bible—with no real purpose to the details outside of satisfying curiosity. It is easy to suspect that someone specifically wrote these topics to stir the interest of those who know the Bible—to make people want to read the book they had concocted.
5. The Bible clearly teaches that God is not a respecter of persons—that He will judge the small and the great based on what they do with their life, not on who they are or what “special knowledge” they have. False religion usually teaches the opposite and this comes out in many of the Pseudepigraphical and Apocryphal books. They tend to teach that certain people, often by knowing certain secret things, have power (often claimed to be of God) that others do not have. They tend to have an “us vs them”, “good guys versus bad guys” mentality. Indeed, many Bible teachers claim that Israel were God’s “good guys” in the Old Testament and that “Christians” are the “good guys” in the New Testament. But notice what the Bible says:
“Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them [other nations] out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you” (Deut 9:4).
“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3)
Even with these problems some believers still may find themselves attracted by these “hidden books”. Why? Some possible reasons:
While there may be some merit to some of these points, these are probably not things that will make our lives sufficiently better or affect how we will be judged later. Please read the articles on Eternal Judgment in future issues.
— Pam Dewey & Norman Edwards