Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Church Fathers (Seventh Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Discipleship, In Praise of Old Guys, The Church, Theology

When the Reformation happened, it took place upon the shoulders of giants. No, not literal giants, as Joshua and David had killed most of them. I’m talking about the Church Fathers. As just one example, a Logos search of the two volume McNeill edition of Calvin’s Institutes reveals 7 results for Justin Martyr, 18 for Irenaeus, 57 for Tertullian, 20 for Clement, 31 for Origen, 78 for Cyprian, 79 for Bernard, 89 for Chrysostom, 8 for Basil, 74 for Jerome, 14 for Eusebius, 15 for Cyril, 13 for Athanasius, and a whopping 779 for Augustine. This demonstrates that Calvin was trying to “reform” the church, not create a brand new one.

The idea is very simple. There is, as Jude says, a “Faith … once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The Church Fathers are those men–those bishops, pastors, and elders who faithfully passed down this Faith in the days of the early church. Therefore, to see if our own ideas line up with orthodoxy, we have to know what the Church Fathers believed and taught (of course, I’m not saying they all agreed on everything, or that some of them didn’t hold to unusual or even heretical doctrines on secondary issues, but on the essentials, these are the men who fought the good fight of truth and faithfully held firm to the Apostolic teaching).

FathersThis post will introduce and briefly sketch a several of the most important Church Fathers. I’ll take the famous 38 Volume Church Father’s set printed in the 19th century and still in publication to this day as my outline for this entry. This set divides the Fathers into two basic categories: Ante-Nicene Fathers are those who lived prior to the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D). They include (but are not limited to):

  • Vol. 1The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus
  • Vol. 2 – Tatian, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria
  • Vol. 3 – Tertullian
  • Vol. 4 – Origen
  • Vol. 5 – Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian
  • Vol. 6 – Dionysius, Julius Africanus
  • Vol. 7 – Lactantius, Victorinus, Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Early Liturgies
  • Vol. 8 – Apocrypha of New Testament
  • Vol. 9 – New Testament Pseudepigrapha

Then there are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers who go up until around the middle of the 8th century. These include:

  • Second Set – Augustine and Chrysostom
  • Third Set –  Basil, Jerome, Hilary, Eusebius, Cyril, Ambrose, the Ecumenical Councils, and many more.

These can be further subdivided into three to five categories which show the ethnic, geographical, and temporal diversity of the groups:

  • Apostolic Fathers
  • Greek Fathers: Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Cappadocian Fathers, John Chrysostom, and Cyril.
  • Latin Fathers: Tertullian, Cyprian, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory.
  • Syriac Fathers: Aphrahat, Ephrem, Isaac of Antioch, Isaac of Nineveh
  • Desert Fathers.

The following brief biographies come from Introduction and Biographical Information, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005). I put there here as much to provide a go-to resource as to acquaint you with these amazing men. The first set are Ante-Nicene Fathers:

  • Justin Martyr (c. 100/110–165; fl. c. 148–161). Palestinian philosopher who was converted to Christianity, “the only sure and worthy philosophy.” He traveled to Rome where he wrote several apologies against both pagans and Jews, combining Greek philosophy and Christian theology; he was eventually martyred.
  • Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 135–c. 202). Bishop of Lyons who published the most famous and influential refutation of Gnostic thought.
  • Athenagoras (fl. 176–180). Early Christian philosopher and apologist from Athens, whose only authenticated writing, A Plea Regarding Christians, is addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, and defends Christians from the common accusations of atheism, incest and cannibalism.
  • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215). A highly educated Christian convert from paganism, head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and pioneer of Christian scholarship. His major works, Protrepticus, Paedagogus and the Stromata, bring Christian doctrine face to face with the ideas and achievements of his time.
  • Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155/160–225/250; fl. c. 197–222). Brilliant Carthaginian apologist and polemicist who laid the foundations of Christology and trinitarian orthodoxy in the West, though he himself was later estranged from the catholic tradition due to its laxity.
  • Origen of Alexandria (b. 185; fl. c. 200–254). Influential exegete and systematic theologian. He was condemned (perhaps unfairly) for maintaining the preexistence of souls while purportedly denying the resurrection of the body. His extensive works of exegesis focus on the spiritual meaning of the text.
  • Hippolytus (fl. 222–245). Recent scholarship places Hippolytus in a Palestinian context, personally familiar with Origen. Though he is known chiefly for The Refutation of All Heresies, he was primarily a commentator on Scripture (especially the Old Testament) employing typological exegesis.
  • Cyprian of Carthage (fl. 248–258). Martyred bishop of Carthage who maintained that those baptized by schismatics and heretics had no share in the blessings of the church.
  • Novatian of Rome (fl. 235–258). Roman theologian, otherwise orthodox, who formed a schismatic church after failing to become pope. His treatise on the Trinity states the classic Western doctrine.
  • Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/263–340). Bishop of Caesarea, partisan of the Emperor Constantine and first historian of the Christian church. He argued that the truth of the gospel had been foreshadowed in pagan writings but had to defend his own doctrine against suspicion of Arian sympathies.
  • Dionysius of Alexandria (d. c. 264). Bishop of Alexandria and student of Origen. Dionysius actively engaged in the theological disputes of his day, opposed Sabellianism, defended himself against accusations of tritheism and wrote the earliest extant Christian refutation of Epicureanism. His writings have survived mainly in extracts preserved by other early Christian authors.
  • Julius Africanus (c. 160–c. 240). First Christian chronographer who influenced later historians such as Eusebius. Born in Jerusalem, he was charged with organizing a library in the Pantheon at Rome. He was acquainted with Origen during the time he studied in Alexandria and corresponded with him. He died in Palestine.
  • Lactantius (c. 260–c. 330). Christian apologist removed from his post as teacher of rhetoric at Nicomedia upon his conversion to Christianity. He was tutor to the son of Constantine and author of The Divine Institutes.
  • Victorinus of Petovium (d. c. 304). Latin biblical exegete. With multiple works attributed to him, his sole surviving work is the Commentary on the Apocalypse and perhaps some fragments from Commentary on Matthew. Victorinus expressed strong millenarianism in his writing, though his was less materialistic than the millenarianism of Papias or Irenaeus. In his allegorical approach he could be called a spiritual disciple of Origen. Victorinus died during the first year of Diocletian’s persecution, probably in 304.

The Second list are Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers:

  • Ephrem the Syrian (b. c. 306; fl. 363–373). Syrian writer of commentaries and devotional hymns which are sometimes regarded as the greatest specimens of Christian poetry prior to Dante.
  • Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315–367). Bishop of Poitiers and called the “Athanasius of the West” because of his defense (against the Arians) of the common nature of Father and Son.
  • Basil the Great (b. c. 330; fl. 357–379). One of the Cappadocian fathers, bishop of Caesarea and champion of the teaching on the Trinity propounded at Nicaea in 325. He was a great administrator and founded a monastic rule.
  • John Chrysostom (344/354–407; fl. 386–407). Bishop of Constantinople who was noted for his orthodoxy, his eloquence and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places.
  • Jerome (c. 347–420). Gifted exegete and exponent of a classical Latin style, now best known as the translator of the Latin Vulgate. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary, attacked Origen and Pelagius and supported extreme ascetic practices.
  • Augustine of Hippo (354–430). Bishop of Hippo and a voluminous writer on philosophical, exegetical, theological and ecclesiological topics. He formulated the Western doctrines of predestination and original sin in his writings against the Pelagians.
  • Cyril of Alexandria (375–444; fl. 412–444). Patriarch of Alexandria whose extensive exegesis, characterized especially by a strong espousal of the unity of Christ, led to the condemnation of Nestorius in 431.
  • Obviously, many more names could be added to both lists.

Christianity is an historic faith. We are not supposed to be reinventing the wheel all the time. In fact, that is the definition of heresy, for the word “heresy” comes from a word meaning, “to choose.” Heretics choose what they want to believe, regardless of 2,000 years of church history. Rooting ourselves in the Fathers who handed down the Faith once for all entrusted to the Saints through their worship and theology, while battling unbelieving and heretical thought, is important and invaluable.

My suggestion in getting started here is that you pick two or three of those in this list that interest you, do a little more research on them, pick one, scrap all that and start with Justin! I only say that because he’s my favorite. But seriously, pick one and then go for it. Then, before you know it, you’ll be an expert and will surely desire to read even more.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: The Apostolic Fathers (Sixth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Devotional, Discipleship, The Church

My Junior year of college I was approached by Dr. Michael Holmes to be his Teacher’s Assistant. You can’t pass an opportunity like that up, even if you have no idea why he would chose you. So I took the job. That year, perhaps the best flat-out teacher I ever had was working on his now standard apostolic fathersThe Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. The work is now several editions newer, but it still retains the same basic set of books.

Who were the Apostolic Fathers? As Holmes puts it, “The term ‘Apostolic Fathers’ is traditionally used to designate the collection of the earliest extant Christian writings outside the New Testament. These documents are a primary resource for the study of early Christianity, especially the post apostolic period (ca. AD 70-150). They provide significant and often unparalleled glimpses of and insights into the life of Christians and the Christian movement during a critical transitional stage in its history.[1] While it is possible, perhaps even probable that the OT Pseudepigrapha contains Christian redaction (editing) from this era, the Apostolic Fathers are complete books written by the very earliest Christians apart from the Apostles themselves.

The collection usually contains a bit over a dozen books/letters. These consist of:

1 Clement (c 96), 2 Clement (c100?). Written by Clement of Rome (d. 99 AD, Clement served as Bishop of the church at Rome from 92-99 AD), 1 Clement is a sermon, twice as long as Hebrews. It contains some of the very earliest thinking on how to interpret the OT, with Christ and typology being at the very forefront of his thought. It is an amazing little letter.

Eight letters of Ignatius (c35–110). This is not the famous Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) who founded the Society of the Jesuits, but a remarkable (and third) Bishop of Antioch who wrote these letters on the way to die in a Roman Colosseum at the hands of Emperor Trajan. Some of these were written to churches that Paul wrote to (Rome, Philippians, Ephesians) and that John wrote to (Philadelphia, Smyrna).

Martyrdom of Polycarp. This book is both a letter and a martyr act which contains the account of Polycarp of Smyrna (c.69–ca. 155). Irenaeus famously says, “Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed bishop by apostles in Asia and in the church in Smyrna” (against Heresies 3.3.4), Eusebius adds that Irenaeus had, as a boy, listened to “the accounts which (Polycarp) gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V. 20).

Didache. Written as early as AD 50 to the early 2nd century, this contains some of the earliest Christian instruction. If it really goes back to 50 AD, it would be far and away the oldest of all the Apostolic Fathers, and one of the very earliest of any Christian writing, including the books of the NT.

The Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century). Ah, the good Shepherd. This fascinating book contains five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It uses allegory (its allegory of Christian baptism is especially interesting, as it is clearly immersion), and pays special attention to the church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed her.

Epistle to Diognetus, Fragments of Quadratus and Papias. Dating perhaps to 130 AD, the Epistle to Diognetus is one of the earliest works of Apologetics known. The other two are fragments. Papias (c. 70-163) is an important source for learning about the origin of some of the NT books.

I highly recommend these books, especially 1 Clement which is a personal favorite. It is one thing to read people talk about the Apostolic Fathers (secondary sources). But there is no substitute for knowing original sources first hand, especially sources so close to Christ himself. Ours is a religion rooted in real history, and the Apostolic Fathers get us as close to that history as we can get, outside of the Scripture itself.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

[1] Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 3.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Other Second Temple Literature (Fifth Post)

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living, Church History, Discipleship, Uncategorized

Second Temple (S.T.) literature is the entire diverse (and I mean diverse, as there is no such thing as one brand of theology that it contains) corpus of Jewish literature put down in writing between 538 B.C. – 70 A.D. It reflects the theology, history, hopes, and prayers of the Jewish people. It typically includes the OT Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha which we have already looked at, but also Josephus and Philo, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishna, and Targums which we will look at in this post. We should alsoSecond_Temple_view keep in mind that some OT books and many NT books were also written during this time as well.

With all there was to talk about in the previous posts, we have not had time to look at why this literature exists in the first place. But it is an important question. The Jews had been in captivity for 70 years, between roughly 605 – 535 B.C.  The second generation led by Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest returned to Judah to find their land and culture in ruins.  Jews in Babylon were now assimilating a new language, culture, and religion (like Zoroastrianism).  In Judea, Aramaic (now dominated; fewer and fewer people could read or understand Hebrew. Two hundred years later, everyone would be speaking Greek. Around 458 B.C., Ezra is sent by Artaxerxes I to Jerusalem to teach his people the Law of God. It is during this time that Ezra commissions fresh copies of the ancient books to be transcribed. Meanwhile, new revelations from the LORD were given to Ezra, Nehemiah, and later prophets like Haggai and Malachi.

Evangelicals are used to thinking of the years between Malachi and Matthew (roughly 450 B.C. – Christ) as the “silent years.” This phrase refers to inspired prophetic revelation, not to Jewish literary activity. In fact, during this time, the Jews were extremely busy putting down ancient oral tradition into writing for fear that if they did not, their entire history would be erased from memory. This serves as the most important reason that S.T. Literature exists. The second has to do with the Jewish need to try and understand their present circumstances in a theological way. This literature reflects the ability to think theologically about their circumstances, advancing one idea in such and such a book, and another idea in a different book.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Probably the most important discovery of the 20th century in terms of Christianity was the so called “Dead Sea Scrolls.” Discovered in 1947 in a series of caves near the Dead Sea in Israel, this treasure trove of literature opened up new vistas in our OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunderstanding of life amidst one community of Jews in the two centuries just prior to Jesus Christ. They were a group of ascetics, dedicated to poverty, ritual immersions, and priestly rule of law. For a working list of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Table at the end of this post. Among the most important finds at Qumran were copies of the Scripture that dated back 1,000 years prior to our formerly earliest copies of the OT. You can actually purchase a definitive English version of the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (see bibliography in the last post of this series).

Philo and Josephus

Josephus is the more famous of these two historian/theologians. A contemporary of Peter and Paul, “He was a Jewish priest at the time of the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66.  He was captured by the Romans, imprisoned, set free and then retired to Rome where he wrote a history of the Jewish Revolt called the Jewish War.  Later he wrote Antiquities as a history of the Jews.[1] Philo of Alexandria was a contemporary of Jesus (25 B.C. – c. 50 A.D.). He was a hellenistic Jewish philosopher living in Egypt and had an influence on several Church Fathers, especially those of the more allegorical bent of interpretation.


There are many reasons to read these two men. Perhaps the most fascinating is that, each in his own way, they bear witness to Jesus Christ. Josephus actually knew about Jesus of Nazareth and wrote about him (Antiquities 18.63-64). Philo, who does not seem to have been acquainted with Jesus the man, certainly writes about the person Jesus claimed to be: the Logos. Reading Philo on this is often just like reading the Gospel of John.[2] Philo is reflecting here a theology called “Two Powers” by the Rabbis that was common in a lot of Second Temple literature. Two Powers theology believed in only one God, but also a Second Figure that seemed to be both God and yet something or someone other than God, and this becomes a major channel through which NT Christology is developed. For this reason alone I recommend this material is highly.


Mishna is the first major redaction (a form of editing multiple sources into a single work) of Jewish oral tradition. Though not finished until sometime before the death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (217 A.D.), its contents certainly fit the time frame of the NT and even prior to that. Mishna differs from midrash, in that the latter compiles thoughts in a biblical order, while the former compiles them theologically or thematically. There are six “orders” of Mishna:

  • Zera’im (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)
  • Mo’ed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)
  • Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates)
  • Nezikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates)
  • Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the temple and the dietary laws (11 tractates)
  • Tohorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of food purity and bodily purity (12 tractates).

Along with the later (and much larger) collections of Talmud (but to a greater degree than Talmud), Mishna helps us to better understand the thinking of Jews and their Scripture at the time of the NT. You want greater insight into Jesus’ dealing with the Pharisees? You may just find it in the Mishna.


Targums are completely fascinating and some of my favorite ancient literature to read, because Targums are actually paraphrases of Holy Scripture itself. I liken to them in some ways to modern translations of the Bible such as The Message or The Living Bible. Targums were written in Aramaic (a cousin language to Hebrew) for Aramaic speaking Jews before, during, and shortly after the close of the NT. They were often read in the synagogues.

To a greater or lesser degree, depending up on the particular Targum, they follow the ancient Jewish practice—a practice seen in the NT itself—of midrash. You can liken midrash to what is supposed to be a main job description of a pastor. First, he exegetes a text, then it delivers a homily/sermon. Midrash often fills in gaps that are in the Scripture. Thus, in some of the more liberal Targums, you will find short stories that explain some kind of bewildering passage. These stories were rooted in ancient Jewish oral tradition. Being that I have a kind of hobby of writing about biblical giants, I thought I would give you an example. Here is Gen 14:13 from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

And Og came, who had been spared from the giants that died in the deluge, and had ridden protected upon the top of the ark, and sustained with food by Noah; not being spared through high righteousness, but that the inhabitants of the world might see the power of the Lord, and say, Were there not giants who in the first times rebelled against the Lord of the world, and perished from the earth? But when these kings made war, behold, Og, who was with them, said in his heart, I will go and show Abram concerning Lot, who is led captive, that he may come and deliver him from the hands of the kings into whose hands he has been delivered. And he arose and came, upon the eve of the day of the Pascha, and found him making the unleavened cakes. Then showed he to Abram the Hebrew, who dwelt in the valleys of Mamre Amoraah, brother of Eshkol and brother of Aner, who were men of covenant with Abram. (Gen 14:13 PJE, purple is the actual biblical text, italics is the midrash)

There are several Targums, representing many books of the OT. Some books of the Bible have multiple Targums preserved. For example, Genesis-Deuteronomy have versions of the fairly conservative Onkelos Targum which deviates from the biblical text much than the more expansive Neofiti and Pseudo-Jonathan Targums. A final note: Many OT books have ancient Jewish commentaries called Rabbahs (Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, etc. These date a little later than the Targums, are hard to get full copies of in English, but a few can be found online). Pastors such as John Gill often made use of these in his commentaries.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Matt Slick, “Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus,” CARM at, last accessed 3-9-2015.

[2] For a brief snippet on Philo and the Logos see:

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Pseudepigrapha (Fourth Post)

Books, Christian Education, Church History, Discipleship, Scripture, Uncategorized

“Pseudo-who-grapha? Oh boy, what is this post going to be about? First, you suggest I read a bunch of Catholic books (that aren’t really Catholic), now you want me to read gibberish?”

As we continue our tour of ancient literature, we come a collection of books called “pseudepigrapha” by modern scholars. As the etymology implies, pseudepigrapha are books outside of the canon of Scripture that have falsely (pseudes, from which we get words like pseudonym) attributed names as the author (epigraphē). These include books like “1 Enoch,” or “Testament of Judah,” or “Treatise or Shem,” and so on. Most of these books are published only in collections of Pseudepigrapha, though a few can be found in the Apocrypha (such as Baruch) and even some canons of the Bible (such as the Ethiopian church which includes 1 Enoch).[1]

Several years ago I set out to read Charlesworth’s now classic two volume collection of somewhere around seventy pseudepigraphal books. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In all honesty, it was a life changer. It expanded my view of thecharlesworth ancient world while completely fascinating me in the process. Like the Apocrypha, there are various genres of pseudepigrapha. There are apocalypses (1, 2, 3 Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, Apocalypses of Adam, Abraham, Elijah, Daniel, and Ezra, etc). This is my personal favorite genre. There are what are called “Testaments.” These are books that follow a similar pattern to the deathbed scene Jacob at the end of Genesis where the patriarch remembers his past and gives blessings or curses to his descendants. Each of Jacob’s twelve sons has his own Testament in the Pseudepigrapha, as do Job, Moses, Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are romance novels like Joseph and Aseneth (a personal favorite of mine), history books like Jubilees (a book that is 80% Genesis), The Lives of the Prophets (an account of the deaths of many OT prophets), Letter of Aristeas (a tale of how the Septuagint came to be written), and many more. There are wisdom and philosophical books including one of the oldest of these books called Ahiqar, a seventh century B.C. collection of proverbs, and 3 and 4 Maccabees). These are prayers, Psalms, and Odes. These include other psalms of David, a prayer of Joseph, a prayer of Manasseh after he repented and turned back to the LORD (this is a beautiful little prayer), and the Odes of Solomon. Then there are other pieces of poetry, oracles, dramas, and so on.

Pseudepigrapha can be divided into two more basic categories. There are OT and NT pseudepigrapha. OT deal with, well, OT figures, while NT deal with, you guessed it, NT figures. OT pseudepigrapha were originally written by Jews. However, most of these books were actually preserved by Christians. Early Christians were completely fascinated by these books, and a good many of them actually have Christian additions which were often inserted into the text to show how Christ was the person of whom these books spoke (many of these books are fixated on intertestamental Messianic expectations). A great example of this is how right in the middle of the 8th Sibylline Oracle (a completely fascinating series of oracles), you find an acrostic poem where the first letter of each line spells “Jesus Christ, son of God, savior, cross” in Greek. It is inserted into an oracle that is predicting eschatological upheavals.

NT pseudepigrapha were books written entirely by Christians (though a whole collection of these were written by heretics called Gnostics). Some of these books include letters supposedly written by Ignatius (an Apostolic Father), James (Apocryphon of James), Peter (such as The Letter of Peter to Philip), or even Pontius Pilate. There are “gospels” such as The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew or the Gospel of Nicodemus. There are “history” books such as the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea or The Acts of Philip. The point is, Jews and Christians of long ago were as creative and fascinated with writing books as they are today. We have hundreds of such books available that most people have never heard about. Curiously, these NT books actually helped the church formalize their lists of canonical NT books, as it is clear in reading them that they are not authoritative.

So why would anyone want to read pseudepigrapha? Let me use 1 Enoch, probably the most famous of all these books, as both an example and a lesson. First, the example. I have a stand alone copy of 1 Enoch on my shelf that contains over 300 footnotes cross referencing this pre-NT book with the 66 books of the Christian Bible.

Fragment of 1 Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Fragment of 1 Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls


Many of those references are to the NT. 1 Enoch was written prior to any NT book, so that means the NT authors were familiar with it. Many people know that Jude actually quotes from this book (Jude 14, 1 Enoch 1:8). So Jude obviously read the book himself. If he did, why wouldn’t I?

Yet, many Christians are so suspicious of any old book not included in the Bible, that while admitting Jude’s citation, they actually take a very skeptical view that this is the only verse of 1 Enoch that is reliable, and we only know this because Jude quoted it. That leads to the lesson. Jude wasn’t necessarily quoting Enoch because he believed this verse or even the book itself was inspired Scripture (Paul quotes Greek poets). Yet, he did believe the book (not just one verse) was reliable and helpful to illustrate his point. What most do not realize is that he alludes to the book at least a dozen other times in his short little letter (see table at the end of this post).

The way to handle a book like Enoch is a good lesson for reading any ancient literature that relates to the Bible. There is no need to take the skeptical route that we can’t trust it because it isn’t God’s word. No one does that with their favorite modern authors. Nor is there any need to say that one verse must be inspired Holy Scripture because Jude quoted it. Instead, approach it and these other books as valuable information that shed light on the culture and theology of the Bible. Read them for what they are, not for what you fear it would make them if you actually enjoyed them. Read them as you would your favorite authors of today.[2]

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Chart Compiled by Doulgas Van Dorn as taken from George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, ed. Klaus Baltzer, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001) and Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998).

Chart Compiled by Doulgas Van Dorn as taken from George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, ed. Klaus Baltzer, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001) and Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998).

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

Bauckham Pseud

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] An interesting chart was developed by the folks at Logos Bible Software on the various canons of various churches around the world. While there are differences, note that there is not an infinite number of books that are debated. In fact, with how many books we know about from antiquity, the number is absolutely minuscule. Finally, to the best of our knowledge, the OT of most Protestants (the sixty-six books of our Bibles listed in LBC 1.2), was the one used by the NT writers.

[2] For more on this particular topic, see the “Appendix: Extra-Biblical Literature” in my book Giants: Sons of the Gods (Erie, CO: Waters of Creation Pub., 2013), 235-38.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Apocrypha (Third Post)

Books, Christian Education, Christian Living, Church History, Culture, Discipleship, Scripture

Say the word “Apocrypha” to a Protestant and you may find a hand reaching down instinctively to find the six-shooter attached to their hip. “Them’s fightin’ words! That’s what those Roman Catholics think is the Bible. That’s where those non-biblical doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead come from. To even consider readingYosemite-Sam-warner-brothers-animation-30976315-800-766 those books would be akin to blasphemy. If some Roman Priest reads it, you can count me out.” Of course, that would also have to include books like Genesis or Revelation, since they read those too.

The London Baptist Confession talks about the Apocrypha (the only group of books outside of the Bible that it does talk about). “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings” (LBC 1.3). True, we do not consider them Scripture, nor is what I just said in any way meant to give the impression that purgatory and prayers for the dead are true or good. But don’t move too quickly in what the Confession just said. Think about the end, “… or made use of than other human writings.” “What, you mean like the writings of Anton LeVey, Nostradamus, or Edward Casey?” Sure. But also the writings of those like John Owen or John Calvin or R. C. Sproul. “Other human writings” include all of these. (Remember from the Introduction that a key here is to think the best, not the worst, of these books. One can do that without thinking they are Holy Scripture).

Though written by Jews (not Roman Catholics) prior to the NT, and translated by Hellenistic (Greek-ized) Israelites who included them in their Greek OT Septuagint (LXX), the Protestant Reformers were pretty much in agreement that the Apocryphal books should not be regarded as Holy Scripture, as they are not included in the Hebrew canon. Nevertheless, they still had fairly high regard for many of these books. In 1530, the Swiss reformer Oecolampadius stated, “We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the Additions to Daniel; but we do not allow them divine authority with the others.[1] In his introduction to the Apocrypha which he translated into German in his 1534 Bible (he put them as a kind of appendix, but would not include as part of the Bible, a tradition that would be followed in most every Protestant Bible until the late 1800s), Martin Luther wrote, “Apocrypha: these books are not held equal to the Scriptures but are useful and good to read.[2]

Luther’s popularity seems to have brought the term “apocrypha” to the common tongue. So what is the Apocrypha? From a word meaning “hidden” (referring either to their authorship or their not being approved for public religious reading), the Apocrypha refers to a collection of a dozen or so books written in the intertestamental period, between Malachi and Matthew—the so-called “silent years” that were really anything but silent. Rome and Orthodoxy refer to them as “deuterocanonical” (literally “second canon”) as opposed to protocanonical (“first canon”). As their term implies, both consider them Holy Scripture. Protestants do not believe there are levels of authoritative books, so “apocrypha” is a less confusing and better term in this regard.

These books vary in genres. There are wisdom books akin to Proverbs such as Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach) or the Wisdom of Solomon; historical fiction such as Tobit or Judith; history books like the Maccabees (there are 4 books of Maccabees, but at least one is usually included as a pseudepigrapha, see next post); expansions on Scripture such as additions to Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel (including the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews, Suzanna, and the funny and fascinating Bel and the Dragon); prophetic and apocalyptic books like Baruch (Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe in the Bible) or 2 Esdras (Ezra); and songs such as The Prayer of Manasseh.

So why would you want to read the Apocrypha? Here are a few reasons. The first is put in the Preface to the Apocrypha of the 1560 Geneva Bible (which retained the books as an appendix, as did almost every Protestant Bible until the 1800s), the favorite Bible of the Puritans, “… but as books proceeding from godly men were received to be read for the advancement and furtherance of the knowledge of the history and for the instruction of godly manners, etc.” So just like you might go to George Washington’s Rules of Civility, so also you might go to Sirach to learn wisdom (remembering that the President was an Anglican and the author of Sirach was quite possibly a believing Jew prior to the coming of Jesus Christ). Or, just as you might read Anne Frank talk about the Holocaust, so also you might read about the fascinating wars of the Maccabees.

Second, any time you can read other material written near the time of the Bible, it helps shed light on the customs, philosophies, and culture of the biblical authors. This in turn helps you to understand and interpret them more accurately. In this case, this is especially true of the NT authors, who were not far removed at all from the world we read about in Apocryphal books.

Third, believe it or not, you might just find the reading of these books both fascinating and even inspiring (do not read “inspired”), just as you would reading any good Christian book worth its salt today. Fact is, the Apocrypha has stood the test of time in terms of great literature. For that reason alone, but for so many more, they are worth diving into.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Cited in The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Augmented Third Edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 6. This book is a helpful compilation of the Apocrypha along with brief introductions to each book.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999).