Were Books Left Out of the Bible?


Sean McDowell explains why some God-inspired writings were excluded from the official Bible.

Over 100 years before Christ was born, all 39 books of the Old Testament had been written, collected, and officially recognized as God’s inspired Scripture (canonized) by the Jewish leaders. By the late 300s the 27 books of the New Testament were recognized as God-inspired. But were there some good spiritual writings that were perhaps God-inspired but were overlooked or excluded from the official Bible? If so, why? And why isn't God still inspiring people to write his Word today?

What Is “Inspiration”? 

There are many people throughout history who have written spiritually inspiring books and letters. But there is good reason they are not considered equal to Scripture. And it is true that the Holy Spirit is alive today and does guide people to write inspiring literature. But Jewish and church leaders long ago concluded that the period of what is called God’s special revelation and inspiration is past.

God spoke directly through his Old Testament prophets in times past to reveal Himself. The New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews said, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). And once God delivered His complete message through His prophets He “closed the book” on the Old Testament. By as early as the 300's BC, all the 39 books of the Old Testament were considered to be the complete revelation of God to the Jewish people.

Jesus confirmed the completeness and authority of the entire Hebrew Scriptures (the 39 books of our current Old Testament) when he said that “everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus was referring to the entire Hebrew Old Testament. Nor did he ever cite any books other than the current 39 books of the Old Testament to indicate there was any other literature that was also God-inspired. And by using the phrase “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27 nlt) in regard to the Old Testament He showed that He accepted the same completed Jewish canon as did Judaism at that time.

The New Testament centers around the revelation of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, as written by His apostles. Obviously the best and most accurate writing about Jesus and all he revealed would be done by those who were in direct contact with him. Thus the men inspired by God to reveal the truth about his Son and His message would either be eyewitnesses or would know those who had personally heard the message of the gospel. By the end of the first century it became clear to the early church that God’s special revelation and inspiration of Scripture was complete.

So the “inspiration” God gives writers today is not a special revelation of himself, but a reflection of what has been given in inspired Scripture. By comparing what people write and teach today with Scripture, we can know if it is in fact the truth of God.

The Apocrypha

Yet early on there were some writings that emerged that some thought might be “God-breathed” Scripture. After the Old Testament canon had been recognized by Jewish leaders and officially closed, certain literature of a spiritual nature remained or appeared. Today these writings are referred to as the Apocrypha, which means “that which is hidden.”

There were 14 books that some people added to the 39 canonized books in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. These 14 books—the Apocrypha—were not accepted by the early church, but they were eventually included in the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church in AD 1546.

These added books surfaced between about 200 BC into the second century AD.[1] They are:

• First Esdras
• Second Esdras
• Tobit
• Judith
• Additions to Esther
• The Wisdom of Solomon
• Ecclesiasticus
• Baruch
• Susanna
• Bel and the Dragon (additions to Daniel)
• The Song of the Three Hebrew Children (additions to Daniel)
• The Prayer of Manasseh
• First Maccabees
• Second Maccabees

The books of the Apocrypha are not part of the Protestant Bible today for good reasons. For example, none of the 14 books of the Old Testament Apocrypha claimed divine inspiration—in fact some actually disclaimed it. Various credible historians, philosophers, and translators such as Josephus, Philo, and Jerome rejected them. They were never quoted as Scripture in the New Testament. And the early Church Fathers excluded them entirely.

The Case of the New Testament

What about the New Testament—were there certain letters or books that some considered Scripture but were excluded? By the end of the first century Paul’s epistles and the four Gospels were widely accepted by the new Christian church as divinely inspired. Peter even wrote around AD 65 that all of Paul’s known writings belonged in the category of Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). But by the middle of the second century there were a growing number of other writings that gained attention, and some wondered if they too were God-inspired. These became known as New Testament apocrypha and Gnostic writings (Gnostic meaning having to do with knowledge).

However, the Gnostic writings were rejected by the early church because they largely contradicted the Gospels and epistles of Paul. Some of these included The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Peter, and The Gospel of Thomas. These writings taught that there were multiple creators; that ignorance was the ultimate problem—not sin; and that salvation was by “spiritual knowledge” for only a few. One Gnostic writing depicts a young Jesus striking other children down for bumping into him.

So by the late 300s, when the Church Fathers had established a clear means to recognize the authoritative Word of God, these works had been long rejected. In AD 367 Athanasius of Alexandria offered the first official list of the 27 books of the New Testament we have today. And by AD 397 the church councils of Hippo and Carthage accepted them as well.

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