What do you think about the books that were left out of the Bible?

It seems to me from our discussions that your question is essentially one about the "canon" of the scripture.  The word "canon" has a history that includes the idea of "rule" or "measure," and thus refers to which sacred writings are the "rule or measure of faith."  In other words, should you accept in a special way those books contained in the Old Testament and New Testament?  You might want to review my article on the apocrypha  for some additional information.

However, let's reconstruct a likely process of how the canon was adopted to help you decide whether or not you should treat the books included in the Bible as special, as somehow definitive of the Christian faith.

One thing to remember is that these books developed within a community of faith.  In the messy business of living and dying, certain books spoke to people more profoundly than others.  Historically, it appears that the Babylonian exile (538 BC) produced a crisis for the Jewish community of faith that caused them to collect and consider authoritative that part of the Old Testament known as the Law.  By 200 BC the section known as the Prophets had become fixed.  The Jewish community of faith considered these written words sacred, as the word of God.  People, and various groups within Judaism, wrote other religious books during this period, but the books included in the Law and the Prophets were considered special.

In 70 AD the Romans violently put down a rebellion in the Jewish homeland. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Temple located within Jerusalem was destroyed.  The destruction of the Temple, and the chaos that followed the Roman action, created another crisis for the Jewish community of faith.  A group of Jewish religious leaders met and decided which books should be included in the Writings, the third and final section of the Hebrew Bible.  They gave a stamp of approval on what practice had largely established.  Now Jewish communities of faith had an authoritative body of sacred writings by which to define themselves.

Also, by 70 AD the Christian community was developing.  Christians accepted the Jewish Scriptures as their Bible.  However, the decision to preach the gospel to people who were not Jewish (the Gentiles) led to new developments.  The apostle Paul was a leading figure in carrying the gospel to people who were not Jewish

Many churches received letters from Paul, and they kept those letters.  You can read in your New Testament Paul's letter to the church at Rome, Corinth, etc.  The first step in the formation of the New Testament canon came as Paul's writings were kept and reread in the light of developing questions.  In other words, his letters were of practical value as questions of faith and practice arose.

As Christianity spread, many were inspired to write religious books.  Much literature developed out of the Christian movement. However, as the original disciples of Jesus began to die, another problem emerged.  Many fantastic gospels had appeared, often filling in silent portions of Jesus life with all sorts of stories.  Before the teachings of the original disciples were lost, a written record was needed.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament were, in the understanding of the church, especially related to these original disciples of Jesus.  These four gospels took a special place, became definitive.  Other gospels of speculation, fantasy, or created to support certain theological positions were rejected.  They were considered to paint a false picture of Jesus and his teachings.

About 150 AD, a Christian named Marcion appeared on the historical radar.  He attracted enough followers to cause problems.  Strongly anti Jewish, he pushed his own canon.  He accepted Luke as his only gospel (since it was written by a person who was not Jewish), and he accepted ten of Paul's letters (probably edited to remove Jewish elements).

Marcion's appearance and popularity may have forced the Christian community of faith to define in an official way which books were to be considered the canon, the rule of faith.  A letter by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, (written in 367 AD) usually is cited as the historical moment in which we see the question settled.  He lists as the canon the 27 books now included in your New Testament.

Actually, by 200 AD, twenty of the books had been accepted as authoritative.  By the time Athanasius wrote in letter in 367 AD, the disputed books of James, Hebrews, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, 2 Peter, and Revelation had also been included.

Notice that the process of deciding which books to include did not occur merely because some senile old men full of pompous authority got together on a rainy afternoon.  In the community of faith, for practical considerations, certain books were accepted and used as better sources in measuring the faith and in finding practical help for living.  When official action was taken by church leaders, they were placing a stamp of approval on practices that had developed within the community of faith.

A person considering the Christian faith today still needs some way to measure the true faith, some standard by which to test ideas.  Christian writings by contemporary authors flood the world, and Christians of all generations have written about their faith.

In the world in which the early church was evolving, people wrote and speculated and even made up fabrications out of then air.  Many would attach the name of some religious figure like Moses or Paul to their writings to give it authority or to relate the writing to a certain line of thought.  If I wrote a book today in the context of 2002 and signed it John F. Kennedy, everyone would know the John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States, didn't write the book.  By doing so, I would place the book in a certain tradition, a certain outlook (at least as I understood it).  Some probably used the name of Moses or Paul or one of the prophets as such a literary device.

We now have discovered whole libraries of writings that occurred during the period the New Testament canon was developing.  Many are available in English today.  For example, the Gnostic library of Nag Hammadi is available to the modern English reader.

However, Gnosticism was one of the early Christian heresies.  In other words, salvation based on knowledge (gnosis) revealed to an elite group was seen as perverting the Christian faith.  Salvation by grace through faith available to all is different than the distant god of the Gnostics who could not become involved in matter (which the Gnostics considered evil).  Jesus, by contrast, is presented as the Word/Logos made flesh (was a real man man of material substance) who dwelt among us (see The Gospel of John, Chapter 1).  The Gnostics might see Jesus as an emanation from God, but the Gospel of John (for example), relates Jesus to God the Father directly.  "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father" (John 14:9).

While research is important and "all truth is God's truth," the Bible speaks to our human condition.  For example, the concept of sin in the New Testament as "missing the mark" seems to speak to most people I know.  "How is it," they say, "that I aimed at the bulls eye and missed?  I wanted a good marriage, but I missed the mark."  God's forgiveness, grace, and love come to us where a part of our daily existence is "missing the mark" even when we have good motives.

In addition to doing research, I believe that we should also read the Bible with a prayer for God to speak to us.  At one point in my life, I became so involved in understanding the text, background, and thought forms of the Bible that every time I picked up the Bible I would bog down in the critical problems.  I lost my ability to read and let the text speak to me.

I found that in addition to thinking critically about the Bible, I also needed to have a devotional time where I read with a prayer in my heart for God to speak to me.  Once, when I had been deeply hurt by some people, in my prayer time the words of Joseph near the end of  Genesis came into my mind.  "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."  I believe God brought those words to my mind, and I could identify with Joseph who was rejected and sold into slavery by his brothers only to find God blessed him and through him blessed others.  I also realized that no matter what the motives of the people involved had been, God would have the last word.  They may have meant it for evil, but God was also working in my life and could make those hurtful events good for me and for others.

The purpose of the Bible is to help us encounter the Living God, find strength for living, and to guide us in how to relate to others.  The experiences of men and women of faith recorded in the Bible are used by God to speak to us.

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