Biblical and apocryphal writings

Biblical and apocryphal writings

The intertestamental period spawned a whole series of writings, some of which are genuine, and have been accepted as such by the Catholic Church (although not by the various Protestant groupings or Judaism), but more too which have turned out to be false, although often well-intentioned.

The apocryphal Old Testament books arose in the second century BC., and can be said to have had a threefold purpose. Some books, such as the Book of Jubilees, a rewriting of parts of the Pentateuch, were written with a juridical aim, that is to strengthen the idea of the Mosaic Law.Others, such as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, had a moral aim, that of inducing greater piety, by producing fictitious accounts of the lives of biblical figures.

The final section covers “apocalyptic” writings, such as the Book of Enoch, and these contain “prophecies” written in the name of a great biblical figure and designed to encourage the people to renew their hope in the Messiah.

The interesting point about many of these writings is that, although non-canonical, they were often held in high regard in the early Church. It was only with the gradual establishment of the canon of the Old Testament that they were excluded.Perhaps there is a parallel here with some of the more modern alleged apparitions, which although seemingly enjoying some support now, will finally turn out to be false.

New Testament writings

The New Testament writings were also subject to this type of imitation, and again it was centuries before the New Testament canon was definitively established throughout the Church. Some of the smaller books were very late in being universally accepted into the canon. In contrast some of the apocryphal writings were very popular before finally fading from prominence.

The four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, suffered most from apocryphal mimicry. This took a number of forms, including Gospels containing heretical or invented material. Infancy Gospels, purporting to give details of Jesus’ early life were very popular, including the Infancy Gospel of Thomas; this has stories of Jesus as a child working miracles. The Protoevangelium of James, gives details of Mary’s early life and names her parents as Joachim and Anna.

A partial listing of apocryphal Gospels indicates how popular this form of imitation was; the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Bartholomew, the Gospel of Matthias, the Gospel of Barnabus, and even the Gospel of Judas!

It is noteworthy how many of these spurious gospels there were, numerous enough to be a threat to the true Gospels.Similarly, there were quite a number of imitations of the canonical Acts of the Apostles, which in the main seem to have been composed by heretics, although some of them may have been revised by orthodox writers. These include the Acts of John, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Andrew and the Acts of Thomas. Apocryphal editions of St. Paul’s epistles also exist, as do imitations of St. John’s Apocalypse.

These include apocalypses of Peter, Paul, Thomas and Stephen.The implications of all this are clear: of all the Gospels, epistles and apocalypses produced during the first centuries of the Church, only a small proportion were authentic. The others were either to a greater or lesser extent heretical, or else pious forgeries written to satisfy a legitimate desire to know more about various characters related to New Testament events.

In some cases they may contain elements of truth, but the Church has not been able to accept them completely.Comparing this with the approved Marian apparitions and their more modern alleged counterparts, we can obviously see that there is a strong possibility that many of them are imitations and not genuine.

Source: J. Steinmuller & K. Sullivan, Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia,Old Testament,(Wagner, New York, 1959).